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This column covers legislative days 17 through 20.
As of adjournment on Thursday, February 6th the 2020 Legislative session is one-third of the way to completion. Each biennium in the Unicameral is made up of one 90-day session and one 60-day session. The first twenty days of this session have flown by and most senators have not yet chosen a priority bill. Some may be waiting for their bills to make it through the hearing process where they are vetted by those who may want to testify. Others may be continuing bill work through amendments and other improvements.
My first bill of 2020 was heard in the Government, Military, and Veteran’s Affairs Committee on February 5th. LB 1211 would require that political subdivisions first identify the amount of money to be raised from property taxes before they set out to compose a budget. The intent of bringing this bill was to begin a conversation about the process of budgeting taxpayer money. In businesses and homes throughout the state, decision-makers first identify how much money they anticipate making over the next year. Most Nebraskans do not spend outside of their means and budget according to their expected annual income. I wanted to open up a discussion about how the budgeting practices of our local governments could be improved by adopting a similar mindset and approach toward the spending of taxpayer money.
On February 4th we discussed a constitutional amendment proposed by Speaker Scheer of Norfolk that would allow the Unicameral to be expanded from its current number of 49 senators up to a total of 55 as needed. There has been much debate about representation of rural vs urban priorities in the legislature and some senators felt a proposal like this would allow senators to be better representatives of the constituents in their district. Legislative District 16 includes just over 36,000 residents in three different counties, which is close to an average size district. However, it is fairly condensed compared to Legislative District 43, represented by Senator Brewer. District 43 includes about 38,000 residents in 13 different counties. Legislative District 14, represented by Senator Arch of Omaha, includes over 37,000 residents and is located in a small area of Omaha. One analysis of the proposal estimated the addition of more senators would result in each senator representing fewer than 30,000 residents, allowing them to be more responsive to the residents of their district. Though there are some potential positives to this proposal, I have significant concerns about the fiscal cost, among others. The proposal did not come to a vote.
Please continue to send in your thoughts on various bills as they come up in committee or for debate on the floor. My staff has enjoyed hearing from you on the phones as well. As always you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the office to speak with my Administrative Assistant, Ellie Stangl, or my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell. To read all introduced legislation please visit nebraskalegislature.gov. You may watch the live stream of the session when available at netnebraska.org.