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The budget bills, LB 944, LB 945, and LB 946 were debated again on Select File on Wednesday, March 21st. While LB 945 and LB 946 passed on to Final Reading, the budget discussion was focused again on LB 944 and mostly debate on Title X. Title X is a federal grant program that provides funds to the Department of Health and Human Services to be distributed among clinics to provide family planning and preventative health services. Governor Ricketts included language in his budget proposal that mandates no “funds disbursed under such program shall be paid or granted to an organization that performs, assists with the performance of, provides directive counseling in favor of, or refers for abortion.” Title X funds have always been intended to be kept separate and distinct from abortion-related activities, this new provision will provide accountability and ensure that this is the case. Senators Wishart and Pansing Brooks offered amendments to edit or remove Title X language form the budget, many of my fellow senators and I do not support either amendment. The University of Nebraska’s budget was also discussed after Senator Erdman offered an unsuccessful amendment that would cut their state funding an additional $17.3 million. I did not support this provision, but I am in favor of the University of Nebraska system looking into making further cuts in the administration in order to tighten their budgets just as the rest of the state has done. When a cloture motion was presented to end debate on LB 944, it fell just short of the needed 33 votes at 30 “Yes” votes. When a bill is being filibustered, a cloture motion is needed to end debate. If a cloture motion is successful, senators move on to give the actual bill an up or down vote, if a cloture motion is not successful debate may continue immediately after or on a different date.
Late Thursday night we began debate on LB 295, Adopt the Opportunity Scholarships Act and provide tax credits. This bill would provide for a 75% tax credit for every dollar donated to a private-school scholarship granting organization. Participating schools must be accredited by the state and follow nondiscrimination requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. This bill will encourage private donations to scholarship funds that assist low-income students to attend a private school that best fits his or her needs. In 2017, over 600 students were denied scholarships in Nebraska due to lack of funds, this bill encourages donations to prevent children from being unable to afford a school that best suits them. It is a common myth that this will pull funds from public schools, but this argument is false. LB 295 will help steer private, not public, funds to assist private school students. Similar laws are currently implemented in 18 states, including Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and Oklahoma, in which more than 250,000 students have received assistance and the public schools continue to flourish. I was disappointed that Senator Harr motioned to indefinitely postpone LB 295 without giving the bill the opportunity to be introduced for a fair debate, luckily we voted the motion down and were able to begin debate over Thursday night and Friday morning. I am in strong support of LB 295 and supporting school choice in Nebraska. I am hopeful this bill will pass and we can start improving educational outcomes for our children.
On Friday, the Legislature debated LB 944 again, and again the topic of debate was Title X funding. After hours of debate, Senator Stinner moved to invoke cloture to break a filibuster, the motion failed by just two votes. I was very disappointed to see fellow senators fail to follow through with their promise to end debate on the bill and put our state’s financial future in jeopardy. After the cloture vote, Speaker Scheer made comments that described how I felt well, “if I can’t trust people when they say a ‘yes’ is a ‘yes,’ this institution is in a world of trouble.”
Next week, we expect to debate the budget further and begin debate on Governor Ricketts’ tax plan, LB 947. The Nebraska Farm Bureau recently endorsed the Governor’s plan which would provide home and agricultural land owners with new refundable tax credits that would be phased in over 12 years. I look forward to debate and coming to an agreement that will benefit all Nebraskans.
Live coverage of the full session of the Unicameral is also available at www.netnebraska.org/capitol
I want to encourage my constituents to reach out to me at 402-471-2716, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to write me at:
Senator Joni Albrecht
State Capitol, Room 2010
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-4604
I take into consideration every letter, email, and phone call my office receives when I consider legislation. I truly value your input and suggestions on the issues before the Legislature. It is of great importance that I hear from you in order to do my job.
I look forward to hearing from you!