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As expected, long hours and lengthy conversations characterized the past week in the Legislature. We are the point in the session where some big issues are on the agenda. When much is at stake, the different needs between the legislative districts become more evident, leading to extended debate. On two days we stayed in session well into the evening hours. By statute, the legislative day must end by 11:59 pm. We came very close to that mark on Wednesday, adjourning at 11:36 pm.
Final reading was held on Thursday for the 30 bills on Consent Calendar. The Consent Calendar is a way for the legislature to move bills through the process that are fairly straight forward. For a bill to be placed on the Legislature’s Consent Calendar, the sponsor of the bill submits a letter to the Speaker. Only bills which had no opposition at the hearing can be submitted to the Speaker; or if there was opposition, any concerns must be addressed. Also the bill had to have advanced from committee with no dissenting votes from committee members – only then can a bill be considered for Consent Calendar. After the letter is submitted to the Speaker, his office reviews all requests. The Speaker decides which bills will be on Consent Calendar and then the list is printed for all the senators and the public to see.
I wanted to explain this process in relation to LB 533 which was on Consent Calendar, to indicate at no time was this bill ‘slipped in’ or ‘rushed through’ but was offered honestly and within all the rules of the legislature. It had a public hearing, it had General File and Select File debate. Senators, staff, lobbyists, organizations, constituents and even the executive branch, have the opportunity to review all bills and amendments that are introduced.
I had not heard from anyone who was in opposition to LB 533 until late Thursday, after floor action on the bill. The bill had a public hearing on February 21st before the Judiciary Committee. The day of the hearing, no one spoke in opposition to this bill and all eight senators who serve on this committee voted to advance the bill out of committee. LB 533 did pass on Friday morning. Another bill on the Consent Calendar, LB 427, relates to the legitimacy of children born to parties in a marriage. LB 427 strikes the words, “the wife” and replaces it with “either spouse.” This bill was passed on Final Reading earlier on Thursday with 40 senators in support.
Some communication to my office said that Federal law states a marriage is between a man and a woman. However, in June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision making gay marriage legal in all 50 states. Our personal opinions aside, this is now the law to which states must adhere.
The debate about property tax became linked to business incentives this week as we took up LB 720 and LB 183 on the floor. LB 289 is continuing to be discussed among senators but does not have the 33 votes to proceed. I saw an editorial that said there were a lot of wheels spinning, but none getting any traction. That is a good description of the problem when it comes to finding property tax solutions. For example when one suggestion to lower land valuations to 50% for taxing purposes was amended out of LB 183, a number of senators would no longer support that bill. Another idea to remove sales tax exemptions on certain products and services was rejected by several others. Opinions differ on how, and how much, to cap spending and to cap tax credits, causing some to say they can’t support a bill on those grounds. We have senators digging in their heels on revenue and spending, some because they feel it represents their views and their constituents, and some for political reasons. I am not saying any of these reasons are right or wrong, but the result is a lack of consensus it takes to move a solution forward.
This has been a trying process and certainly reinforces the comment that if reforming the tax code was easy, it would be done by now. However, it is important to note that none of these proposals are dead. I will help work on these over the summer interim, and any bills held over to next year can be taken up for debate right where they were left when we reconvene next January. Remember also that new bills can be introduced to correct things that aren’t working in the laws that do get passed in this session. All this to say – don’t give up hope.
As we recess for Memorial Day, I am grateful for all who have served in the armed forces. We have just a few days left in the session – whether we adjourn early or stay until day 90. Please continue to contact me with your concerns. My office is open year round, and the answering machine is always on. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620.