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We will be taking a closer look at some of the mechanics for the remainder of the short session. This past week, we started full-day debate. At this point of the legislative calendar, debate begins at 9:00 AM each morning and adjourns around 5:00 PM. Late night debate will begin next week. The Legislature can go as late as 11:59 PM during late night debate.
We are over halfway through the 60 day session and have the most important issues of the session still to come on the floor, including property tax relief. On Day 40, which is expected to be March 12, we will discuss biennium budget adjustments. The current budget, set in 2019, continues through the end of this year, but state spending will be adjusted to reflect the surplus of revenues beyond the original budget. The budget adjustments have to be passed by Day 50 of the short session, which is currently scheduled for April 1.
There is no “consent calendar” legislation during the short session of a biennium. The consent calendar is a list of bills, which are typically apolitical cleanup legislation, that had no opposition in the committee hearing and advanced to the floor unanimously. Consent calendar streamlines passage by allotting 15 minutes of debate for each bill.
Without a consent calendar this year, many of these noncontroversial cleanup bills are assembled into “Christmas tree” bills. This means that there is one “vehicle” bill with several bills amended into it that advanced from the same committee. Time in this session is extremely limited, and dozens of necessary bills would not advance without Christmas tree bills or the consent calendar. For example, this past week the Legislature advanced LB 881, which was a Christmas tree bill from the Judiciary Committee. LB 881 included ten other bills, many of which would have been included on the consent calendar if it had been available this year. Christmas tree bills generally average around four bills, but there is no official limit to the number of bills advancing from the same committee which can be included.
Priority bills are also very important during a short session. The Speaker of the Legislature schedules all priority bills before any non-priority bill. Each Senator can designate one bill as his or her priority bill. It does not have to be one they introduced. Each committee gets to have two priority bills and the Speaker can have 25 that he prioritizes. In total, over 100 priority bills are allowed a pass to the front of the legislative line for floor debate ahead of non-priority bills.
Several strong bills advanced past the first round of debate last week. LB 755 advanced, permitting barbers and cosmetologists to provide their services to clients who are homebound. It also contained LB 825, which will add Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) to Nebraska’s newborn screening panel. SMA is a disease which, if caught in early infancy, can be relatively harmless. If not caught in its early stages, the consequences can be fatal. LB 755 represents a solid combination of a rollback in excessive government regulation and the addition of a test to Nebraska’s newborn screening panel that will save lives. LB 965 was also advanced. This bill would establish a language assessment program for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. LB 839 was amended into LB 965, which recognizes American Sign Language (ASL) as an official language of our state and permits schools to offer ASL courses to count towards world language credits. These bills all advanced with my support.
As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.