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The 107th Legislature, First Session adjourned sine die last week. It has been an eventful first session in the Legislature, with some successes and some setbacks. Here are some of the highlights:
Housing Protections For Domestic Violence Victims
LB320, my priority bill, was signed into law by the Governor on May 5. It provides important housing protections for domestic violence victims, including: that a victim of domestic violence cannot be evicted for criminal activity when that criminal activity is the act of domestic violence committed against them; and allowing victims of domestic violence to obtain a release from their rental agreement without penalty. A domestic violence victim can receive these protections by certifying with a qualified third party that provides domestic violence services, seeking a protection order, or reporting to law enforcement.
LB320 also contains the provisions of six other bills which make necessary updates to the state’s Landlord-Tenant Act. The pandemic exposed many inequities in housing that have existed for a long time, including how the eviction process is stacked against tenants, most of whom lack legal representation. There were many bills introduced this session related to tenant rights, and the Judiciary Committee held two full days of hearings on these bills. I want to thank Sen. Wendy DeBoer of District 10, who serves on the Judiciary Committee and negotiated the package of bills that the committee amended into LB320. Those bills are:
LB45, introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen, which allows for a continuance in eviction proceedings upon a showing of good cause. Previously, a tenant could only receive a continuance upon a showing of extraordinary cause, a standard that effectively meant no continuances were ever granted.
LB46, also introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen, which clarifies the provisions for proper notice of eviction.
LB246, introduced by Sen. DeBoer, which requires a reference to the specific statutory authority under which an action for possession is sought.
LB268, introduced by Sen. John McCollister, which requires 24 hours written notice before a landlord enters a tenant’s unit.
LB277, introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt, which harmonizes provisions of the Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act to mirror those in the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.
LB402, introduced by Sen. DeBoer, which requires a report by the Supreme Court regarding eviction proceedings, with data broken down by county.
These small but important changes to the Landlord-Tenant Act will protect tenants but also add clarity to the law and lead to a more just system.
Several bills I was proud to support as a co-sponsor also passed and became law.
LB64, introduced by Sen. Brett Lindstrom, phases in an exemption of Social Security from state income tax over the next ten years.
LB255, introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen, adopts the In the Line of Duty Compensation Act.
LB260, which was introduced and prioritized by Sen. Hunt, allows someone who has temporarily left work to care for a family member to be eligible for unemployment.
LB307, introduced and prioritized by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, provides a right to counsel for juveniles. I worked with Sen. Pansing Brooks, Sen. Lathrop, Speaker Hilgers, and Sen. Groene to get a compromise together on the floor that addressed the opponents’ concerns and cleared the way for passage.
LB396, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt, adopts the Nebraska Farm To School Program Act.
LB452, introduced by Sen. Terrell McKinney, adopts the Financial Literacy Act.
LB108, introduced and prioritized by Sen. McCollister, expands eligibility for SNAP benefits. It overcame a gubernatorial veto with 30 votes to become law.
LB306, introduced and prioritized by Sen. Brandt, expands eligibility for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP. It overcame a gubernatorial veto with 32 votes to become law.
Unfortunately, some other bills that I signed on to support did not have the necessary support to advance this session.
LB241, Sen. Tony Vargas’ bill to protect Nebraska meatpackers, was bracketed until after the session adjourned by a majority of the Legislature.
LB376, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh’s bill to provide a family support waiver for developmental disability services, was unable to overcome a filibuster.
LB474, Sen. Anna Wishart’s Medical Cannabis Act, also fell just short of the necessary votes to overcome a filibuster.
Other Important Legislation and Issues
The Legislature passed the state’s biennial budget in April, funding state government and programs for the next two years and postponing a decision on the construction of a new prison until next year. I was present not voting on LB383, which sets aside $100 million for future construction in the Capital Construction Fund, because I do not support spending money on a new prison when we have not done enough to reduce incarceration.
As a member of the General Affairs Committee, I was involved in the debate on two important committee priority bills: LB561, which put together the regulatory framework for the racetrack casinos which were approved by voters in the 2020 election; and LB274, which updated liquor laws to permanently allow for the “to-go” alcohol that has been allowed during the pandemic.
The debate on LB561 was long and complex, and it was returned from final reading twice for separate amendments to get it over the finish line. I was concerned about the impact on the existing community betterment funds derived from Keno lotteries, so I brought an amendment which the committee adopted to allow for the use of an app at an existing Keno facility to play Keno games. Ultimately, that provision was stripped out of the bill. But Sen. Lathrop brought an amendment that required casinos, if they offered Keno, to abide by the same laws for Keno games that Keno facilities operate under. The bill passed and was signed by the Governor.
In LB274, I wanted to make sure that communities had adequate notice of liquor license holders who chose to offer to-go alcohol, so if there is a problem it can be addressed at the local level. I worked with Sen. Suzanne Geist, the sponsor of the to-go alcohol portion of the bill, on compromise language that provides for such notice.
On the Natural Resources Committee, I led questioning of the Governor’s four nominees for the Nebraska Environmental Trust board. Over the past few years, the Environmental Trust has strayed from its duty and lacked the transparency and accountability we need as a state. When the nominees for the Environmental Trust got to the floor I opposed them, because their records did not live up to the standards we should uphold. Unfortunately, a slim majority of the Legislature approved all four nominees, but I am committed to protecting the Environmental Trust’s mission.
I remain concerned about the ongoing environmental crisis with the AltEn ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, and introduced legislation this year in the Judiciary Committee (LB634) to hold commercial sellers liable for unsafe disposal of treated seed. I also worked with Sen. Bruce Bostelman on an amendment to strengthen the provisions of LB507 which bans the use of treated seed in ethanol production if it results in a harmful byproduct. I will be working with the Natural Resources Committee during the interim to see if any legislation is required to improve enforcement of or compliance with environmental regulations.
Other Bills and Resolutions
One other bill I introduced passed this session. LB317 creates a Nebraska History license plate to benefit the Nebraska State Historical Society and replace the Nebraska 150 license plates which will expire next year.
I offered two ceremonial resolutions which were adopted by the Legislature:
LR96 recognized the week of April 10-17, 2021 as Field Club Days.
LR238 recognizes the efforts of Yates Illuminates in serving refugees, immigrants, and residents of all ages.
While we will be returning this fall for a special session on redistricting, bills introduced during the session which just concluded will carry over to the next regular session in January. This includes several bills I introduced, like LB419 to provide a tenant right to counsel, LB636 to eliminate cash bail, and several sentencing reform proposals.
I introduced four interim studies which I will work on with my staff and the relevant committees over the next several months.
LR147 to examine the transfer of state-owned property to local political subdivisions.
LR183 to examine Nebraska law related to body-worn cameras.
LR187 to examine liquor laws in Nebraska.
LR188 to examine reward-based conservation programs.
Office and Staff
Our office is currently in Room 1306 on the first floor of the Capitol, but we anticipate we will be relocated when the next phase of the Capitol HVAC project begins. We will keep you up to date when that happens.
I have two staff members who assist me in drafting legislation and responding to constituents. My administrative aide is Dave Schinzel, who has worked in the same position for Sen. Gwen Howard and Sen. Sara Howard in District 9. My legislative aide is Dave Sund, who is a graduate of Creighton Law School and previously worked for former Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle.
You can contact our office by phone at (402) 471-2723 or email firstname.lastname@example.org