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Days 78 through 81 of our legislative session were full of controversial and difficult issues, making for long hours, heated debate, and input from many constituents. Among other bills, the following issues were discussed: the budget, gas tax increase, criminal justice and prison reform, death penalty, drivers licenses for DACA youth brought into the country illegally, anti-discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and medical marijuana.
As required, the Legislature advanced a budget on Day 80. Overall, the budget increases spending by 3.1%, totaling approximately $4.3 billion. This represents the third-lowest spending growth in the last 15 biennial budgets. Governor Ricketts will now review the Legislature’s proposal. The Governor can line-item veto the budget, meaning he can strike certain spending provisions while keeping others. After the budget returns to the Legislature, we vote to uphold or override the specific line-item vetoes.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Legislature engaged in an 8-hour first-round debate on LB643 which would legalize medical marijuana. The bill presents a number of problems. The biggest problem is the following: while there is certainly anecdotal and personal evidence that medical marijuana has helped a number of individuals with specific medical issues, medical marijuana lacks rigorous, objective scientific research. This is also the concern of major medical associations and providers. There is a lack of data regarding its potency, efficacy, and safety which should cause caution on this issue. Not only could it be harmful to adults, but could be more harmful for children who already suffer tremendously. Ultimately, LB643 was advanced to second round of debate by a 27-12 vote.
On Thursday, we debated the Governor’s veto of LB610 regarding the gas tax increase. The Legislature decided to override the veto with the necessary 30 votes. I did not support the veto override. This increases the total tax to 31.6 cents per gallon over the next four years leading to the 16th highest tax in the nation.
We also debated the always controversial issue of prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender orientation (LB586). I also opposed this bill because of its numerous problems. First, the legislation lacks proven case evidence. For instance, the city of Omaha has a similar policy in place. While approximately ten claims were filed last year, no actual violations of discrimination were found. Additionally, private business owners are capable of implementing a similar policy. Furthermore, the bill offered no robust religious exemption despite claims to the contrary. LB586 is a serious and direct threat to our first liberty, religious liberty. Ultimately, the bill failed to gain support, but will likely be taken up again next year.
On Friday, the repeal of the death penalty (LB268) advanced a second time. Debate on this bill occurred in light of recent news items: the tragic deaths of a Hispanic mother and her 5-year old son in Omaha, the brutal deaths of two inmates at the Tecumseh prison, and the State’s purchase of the necessary drugs to carry out the death penalty. Staunchly opposed to the repeal of the death penalty, I spoke about the purpose to carry out the highest degree of punishment as fitting justice for murderous criminals who commit the most heinous of crimes. Ultimately, LB268 survived a 4-hour filibuster and advanced by a 30-16 vote. The bill must still pass a third round of debate and a certain veto by the Governor.
As always, please contact me, administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or legislative aide, Tom Venzor, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or e-mail at email@example.com.
Keeping the Good Life Growing in Nebraska,
Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16