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After extended discussions on the floor over the course of several days, the Legislature has again been able to progress forward, moving bills through the stages of debate. Two of my bills have advanced to Select File, which is the second of three steps every bill must go through.
I introduced LB 239, a simple bill to harmonize county and state laws concerning the notice of hearing dates. Because my bill was similar to others brought to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee, one bill was broadened to include several of these senator’s concepts. As a result, my LB 239, which was amended into LB 212 by the Committee and then the Legislature without dissent, has moved on to Select File.
My bill to address the federal judgment due in Gage County was taken up on the floor on Thursday. LB 472 would allow a county to collect a sales tax, in the amount of one half of one percent, to pay only federal judgements, and then the tax would end. In my opening remarks about LB 472, I emphasized that imposing an additional tax on citizens in the county was not anything an elected official, at the state or county level, would wish to do. However, the judgment is due and must be paid. The options have been exhausted. This is not a “want” or a “need”, it is a federal court ordered mandate.
Consequently, the best way to meet the obligation is to pay it off as quickly as possible, in a manner that is fair to the claimants and all the citizens of Gage County. My fellow senators agreed. I had two amendments to the bill to add clarifications to the use and duration of the sales tax collection. After brief discussion, the body voted overwhelmingly to accept my two amendments and advance the bill.
I mentioned the lengthy and somewhat contentious debate that occurred earlier this week. Let me address some of the procedures that made that happen. The Speaker of the Legislature has held to the practice of allowing three hours of debate on a bill, and then moving on to other bills until the introducer can show there is enough support among the members to end a filibuster. If that can be shown, the Speaker will put that bill back on the agenda, where it can have another three hours of debate and then go to a cloture vote.
A cloture vote to end a filibuster, which requires 33 yes votes, is a taken in order to stop debate; then a vote on the actual bill is taken with no further discussion allowed. Historically, some senators have been known to never vote for cloture for philosophical reasons, believing that debate should continue for as long as it takes. Other senators always vote for cloture, thinking that several hours of talk is enough and minds are not going to change. Of course, actual circumstances will vary according to the subject matter of a bill any time cloture is invoked.
Last week, a bill on the floor was debated up to the three hour time limit and no vote was taken, despite assurances that the discussion was not meant to be a filibuster. This sparked a heated exchange among several senators, which grew to include a number of different bills and issues. Two recess days and a long weekend did little to diminish the sentiment on these issues. The dialogue continued when the Legislature reconvened on Tuesday, with several senators placing amendments on bills that were on the agenda.
The process of making motions and placing amendments is sometimes used as a way to get time to speak on the floor. This is fully within the rules of the Legislature and can be a useful tool. Priority Motions jump ahead of any other amendments or discussion on a bill; and this resulted in the previous week’s conversation continuing throughout the session on Tuesday. However, the remainder of the week progressed a little more smoothly and we were able to act on a fair number of bills.
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