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Days 34 through 37 (February 29-March 3) continued the march toward Day 60 and the conclusion of the 2016 session (and the 104th Legislature).
As mentioned last week, LR35—my application for a Convention of States to consider proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution which would place fiscal restraints on the federal government, and control the power of the federal government, was recommitted to committee. That is something that is rarely done, and when it is, it usually means the end of the bill for the session. The Government Committee sent LR35 back on to General File on Wednesday afternoon with a minor amendment (proposed by me) to address some of the objections. While the resolution maintains its status as a priority bill, with 23 days left in the session, I’m not sure whether it will make it back onto the agenda. We are researching options and history of these types of resolutions, as I write this.
A number of bills were on Final Reading this week, and moved on for the Governor’s signature. Most were relatively non-controversial in the earlier stages of debate (where bills are usually killed, if they’re going to be). Senator Scheer’s LB53 allows single license plates (for the back) along with a sticker for the front window for certain types of cars which would need after-market add-on for front license plate placement. Our newest senator, Nicole Fox who was appointed from District 7 during the interim last year saw her first two bills passed into law this week.
General File bills which got the most attention (and time) this week included Senator Sullivan’s LB371, which would have created the Council for Educational Success, which failed to advance due to a sense that this was a new organization and new expense which would be duplicating already existing efforts; Senator Williams’ LB919 (which I co-sponsored) which authorizes the creation of additional “problem solving courts” like the “drug courts” that many jurisdictions already have (this one moved relatively quickly); Senator Cook’s LB83 which would adjust the Employment Security Act and allow claims of discrimination to go to the Nebraska EEOC for employers with more than 2 employees, instead of the current 15 (it should be noted that claims can already be made to the Federal EEOC for the lesser numbers, and this would just allow a more local claim). This bill squeaked through by one or two votes on General File, and will probably be challenged again on Select.
As we left on Thursday, we had just taken up LB344—a bill which would allow natural resource districts to have the power to issue general obligation bonds. While NRD’s do great work in Nebraska in water management and flood control, there is a concern about granting more power to tax to the NRD’s while we’re trying to achieve some level of property tax relief.
Regular committee hearings came to a close on Thursday. Next week we’ll be moving to all-day sessions on the floor, rather than the half day session + afternoon committee hearings we’ve had until now.
Our next town hall event will be in Plymouth on Saturday, March 12 in the common room at Maple Leaf Housing, 112 East Maple Street at 10 a.m.
On Saturday, March 19, we’ll have two town hall events. One will be in Exeter at 10 a.m. at the Exeter Senior Center, 217 South Exeter Avenue. The other will be in Crete, in the United Church of Christ fellowship hall at 2 p.m. The address for that one is 440 East 12th—enter through the main level door on along 12th Street.
As always, feel free to contact my office at any time, or email me with questions or concerns. I try to answer them all, although sometimes, it takes a little longer if it’s a busy week. Office number (402) 471-2711; email email@example.com.
Last week was a busy one–even with the state holiday day off on Monday.
On Tuesday, we welcomed former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, from Oklahoma, to Lincoln. He came here as a supporter of the Convention of States Project, which is connected to my LR35–which would serve as Nebraska’s application for a convention of states to consider proposing amendments which would limit the power of the federal government, impose some sort of fiscal restraints, and consider term limits for federal officials.
It should be noted that no matter what comes out of any convention called under the authority of Article V of the Constitution, that’s just the “proposal” stage–just like when two-thirds of both houses of Congress propose amendments. The second stage comes in the ratification of the amendments, when three-fourths of the states must approve of any amendment (that’s 38 states) before they become part of the Constitution. That resolution will likely be on the floor on Tuesday, so will likely have been decided–at least on General File–before you read this.
On Wednesday, I introduced two bills in two different committees. LB936 would make changes to our Inheritance Tax structure. Inheritance taxes are taxes paid by those who have inherited money or property. We currently have a 3 tiered system of inheritance tax assessments. For those who are first degree/direct relatives, the tax is 1% on the value of the estate on anything above $10,000. For second degree relatives (nieces, nephews, etc.), the tax is 13% on the value of anything above $15,000; and for non-relatives (or distant relatives, step children, etc), the tax is assessed at 18% for anything above $40,000. You can do the math, but when I opened on the bill, I provided an example which pointed out the disparities–property (which is taxed via property tax before the decedent’s death and will be taxed to the beneficiary after): on 320 acres of property at $6000/acre, a first degree relative would be taxed about $18,800; a second degree relative would be taxed $244,000; a non-relative/distant relative would be taxed $338,400! While I doubt this bill will move anywhere this year, I think this is a conversation we need to have: is it good public policy for the state to tax people based on the relationship that they had with someone who remembered them in their will?
The other bill I introduced, was LB992, which would provide some limits on the ability of political subdivisions to use what’s known as a Certificate of Participation bond to purchase certain items on installment contracts. At this point in time, the only statutory we can find for the use of these particular bonds are for Primary class cities (Lincoln).
Our week on the floor was taken up with the question of whether there should be a constitutional amendment on the ballot which would allow 18 year olds the opportunity to run for the legislature and other state offices. The bill was ultimately killed on the floor through filibuster. Likewise, we spent most of Friday on LB970, which would regulate certain types of gambling (fantasy sports, keno, etc.). The debate revolved around whether this represented expansion of gambling, whether fantasy sports are “games of skill” or “games of chance”, and how much of this was constitutional. We will finish debate on this on Monday. At this point, it doesn’t look like it will have the votes to break cloture
As always, feel free to contact my office. On Saturday, the 27th, I’ll be in Friend, at the City Hall, for a Town Hall meeting, at 10 a.m. Everyone is welcome. More details will follow, but there will also be a Town Hall event in Plymouth on Saturday, March 12, and one in Crete on Saturday, March 19.
Days 22 through 25 of the Legislative session (February 8-11) consisted of a lot of “consent calendar” action. As I’ve discussed before, “consent calendar” items typically represent what one might consider “routine” or “non-controversial” bills. Typically they’re extensions of current programs, minor revisions to existing law, authorizing updates to practices based on changed technology, etc. On Monday, we moved 13 Select File consent calendar items to Final Reading, as well as 5 non-consent items to Final Reading. One of my bills will be on Final Reading the next time we have that on the calendar–LB270, which is a bill that I carried for the Department of Labor.
It appears that several more of my bills will be on Consent Calendar a bit later, as well.
Consent calendar limits debate of the bill to 15 minutes (we typically take less time), and any three members of the legislature request that it be taken off of the Consent calendar, it will be (so that it can be put on the regular agenda for longer debate).
Tuesday was a “make-up day” for the “snow day” we’d had the week before. We checked in early on Tuesday morning, but weren’t in session on the floor. Committee hearings which were scheduled for the previous Tuesday afternoon were held in the morning, with our regular afternoon hearing scheduled after lunch.
Wednesday was taken up primarily with LB188–Senator Watermeier’s bill which seeks to define “innocent third parties” who are injured during a vehicular pursuit by law enforcement. This bill was filibustered, but ultimately (after 6 hours) moved from General to Select File. I suspect that there will be some discussions about the tightening up of language at that point. The point of this bill is to limit liability to cities, counties, and the state, should law enforcement engage in a pursuit that results in the injury to someone in the fleeing vehicle who is not the driver.
Thursday was “our Friday” last week. We moved a number of General File committee bills, and then came to a screeching halt when we reached LB970. LB970 is Senator Larson’s “gambling bill.” The debate centered on several things–among them, whether or not provisions of the bill (which, when amended, would actually be three bills combined into one) are contrary to Nebraska’s prohibition on gambling (limited gaming is still allowed); whether the adaptations to some of the constitutional forms of gaming cause it to be unconstitutional, and so on. Senator Chambers attempted a “kill” motion on the floor. Debate stretched into the noon hour, and the legislature adjourned before a vote could be taken.
We have Monday off (state Holiday–Presidents Day), and go back into session at 10 on Tuesday. We have a bunch of Consent Calendar items, followed by some Select File items. We may or may not get back to LB970 before Wednesday.
Senator Laura Ebke
The storm this past week placed a bit of a damper on the week’s legislative schedule, as Tuesday was designated as a “check-in day”. Check-in days are days where those who are able to get to the Capitol, come in and check in, and when a quorum of senators (25) have checked in, the body immediately adjourns. All committee hearings were postponed for that day. It took 45 minutes beyond the 10 a.m. start time to get a quorum–those who live in Lincoln, those who have session housing in Lincoln, and those who decided ahead of time to spend the night on Monday night, eventually got in. Most of those who drive in everyday made it home on Monday night before the storm hit, and ended up staying home and digging out of driveways for Wednesday’s session.
Items of interest that have been discussed on the floor this week:
A number of “consent calendar” bills which were on General File were moved to Select File. In order to be “consent calendar eligible” a bill has to be non-controversial (typically, meaning that no opposition was shown in committee hearings), and is typically something which is statutory clean-up or relatively minor in nature. A number of bills will likely be moved on the consent calendar this year.
A proposed constitutional amendment–which would make those 18 years and up eligible for service in the Legislature and other state office (currently, the lower age limit in 21) moved from General File to Select File after some debate. If that is passed on Final Reading, it would be put on the ballot this fall for determination by the voters.
On Thursday, two bills moved from Select File to Final Reading. One, LB136, would prohibit the so-called flying lanterns, which many have deemed to be a fire hazard above and beyond typical fireworks; the other, LB471, creates a universal, online, prescription drug monitoring system. While there may be some liberty interests at stake with both of these bills, the threat of doing harm to someone else’s property is significant enough with respect to flying lanterns that a majority thought it worthy of banning; and the increasing number of prescription drug related addiction (and crime)–not to mention the issues of health care providers wanting to make sure they aren’t prescribing drugs to people which may interact with drugs someone else has prescribed–meant that LB471 moved with virtually no opposition.
On Thursday, a filibuster was begun on Senator Watermeier’s LB188, which would define “innocent third parties” for purposes of being eligible to sue in the case of injury as a result of vehicular pursuit by law enforcement.
Before resuming the debate on LB188, the Legislature will act, on Final Reading, on some (or all) of these bills: LB176 (the Competitive Livestock Markets Act); LB47 (Anatomical Gift notation on Motor Vehicle Licenses); LB190, which makes a minor tweak to the current Concealed Handgun Permit application process, and allows spouses of active duty military members to waive some of the residence requirements as can the service member; LB285, which modifies some elements of the Civic and Community Center Financing Fund.
All in all, we continue to move through the session. As of last Friday, we had finished 21 days of the 60 day session. With 39 days to go, and many bills still being held in committee, or carried over from the last session–in addition to the new bills from this year–it seems likely that the combination of a sense of urgency to “get things done”, the inevitable filibusters, the desire of outgoing senators to “leave a legacy”, etc. will result in an interesting 2 ½ months–probably with both entertaining and frustrating moments.
Senator Laura Ebke
For those who may have been watching the Legislature during the past week, you might have been reminded of the old Mark Twain quote: “People who love sausage and respect the law should never watch either one being made.”
As we wait for this year’s bills to start coming out of committee and onto the floor, our mornings in session have been spent in confirming appointees for various boards, commissions, and agency positions, and trudging our way through bills that were placed on General File yet last year.
On Monday, we took up debate on my LB289, a gun “preemption” bill which would have universalized gun laws throughout the state. My argument is and has been that from both a Second Amendment and Nebraska Constitution issue (Article 1, Section 1), all citizens of Nebraska should have a reasonable expectation that if they are obeying the laws in one place of Nebraska, that they’re obeying them in all places.
Not surprisingly, Senator Chambers decided to lead a filibuster against the bill, which meant that we would require 33 votes to stop debate and move to actual consideration of the legislation. Rules of the Legislature allow 6 hours of debate on General File before a motion to invoke cloture can be made. We used up all of those 6 hours on Monday, Tuesday and the first 1 our so on Wednesday. I worked with several Lincoln and Omaha senators to try and come to some sort of compromise on issues related to Lincoln and Omaha ordinances which exceed current state law where guns possession is concerned, but unfortunately, we couldn’t come to agreement prior to the Cloture motion being filed. Ultimately, the bill failed to get a final vote, as we came up one vote short of the 33 needed to break cloture.
Following that effort, we moved through a number of bills in fairly short order–including the movement of LB471 (Prescription Drug Monitoring) to Select File; LB47, as amended (the Motor Vehicle Operator’s License Act relating to anatomical gifts, which now makes the question optional, rather than mandatory) to Final Reading, and others.
My LB270–a bill I carried for the Department of Labor last year, finally emerged from committee, and was advanced without controversy to Select File.
Committee hearings are going in full swing. A number of constituents have stopped by when they’re in town–and I thank them for that. You’re always welcome to drop by, and if I’m not in, my staff will be happy to chat for a few minutes. If you want to have extended time visiting with me during the session, it’s probably best to give us a call and try to set up a time–days are pretty packed.
As always, you can contact me via my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or my office phone number, 402-471-2711. Sign up for my email updates here: http://lauraebke.com/sign-up
State Senator, District 32
This past week saw more bills introduced, and a little bit of action on the floor. Bills which were addressed on the floor included LB285, introduced by Sen. Riepe of Ralston. This bill tweaked some provisions related to local sports arena facility financing. It had no fiscal note, and I voted favor of moving it to Select file. This was the only bill we dealt with this week which was not filibustered.
The first filibuster of the session was on Sen. Watermeier’s LB47. LB47 would mandate the answering of question regarding anatomical gift/organ registry on driver’s license applications. That question is currently an optional question as we apply for driver’s licenses, and not answering does not affect whether one is issued a license. The bill advanced to Select file after 6 hours of debate. I voted NO on advancement because I believe that mandatory questions should be relevant to one’s ability to drive a car, and I don’t see how whether you answer “yes”, “no”, or “choose not to answer” on a question about organ donation is relevant to the ability to drive a car. I do not oppose added education about the issue, or having it as a question that is optional.
The second bill taken up (and filibustered) was Senator Larson’s LB619. LB619 would have defined poker as a game of skill, and allowed bars with liquor licenses to apply for special permits to have “poker rooms”. This bill was not without problems. Nebraska’s constitution prohibits the expansion of gambling through “games of chance.” Much of the debate revolved around the question of whether Poker was a game of chance (which would be unconstitutional), or a game of skill (which could theoretically be licensed and regulated). Ultimately, the cloture motion on this bill failed, which means that unless votes can be found, the bill is re-prioritized, and re-scheduled by the Speaker, it’s dead.
Finally, Senator Larson’s LB113 continues to be debated on the floor. It would allow correctional facilities (both state and county) to charge a co-pay of up to $10 to inmates for medical visits that are non-emergent, non-chronic care follow ups, and non-psychiatric in nature. The bill was brought to Senator Larson by a county sheriff in his district, who suggested that he was having to occasionally expend man hours and time in his department transporting prisoners to the doctor for “unnecessary” medical visits. This bill is in the process of being filibustered by Sen. Chambers, and will come up for a vote sometime on Tuesday when we return from the MLK break.
My office and I are back in the swing of the “session schedule”, and we’re happy to take your phone calls or email–or to meet with you when you’re in the Capitol. My office is Room 1110, inside the west doors of the Capitol. My office phone is 402-471-2711. Email me at email@example.com. I am also sending out occasional–sometimes more detailed–email newsletters. If you’d like to receive those, you can sign up here: https://lauraebke.com/sign-up
The Second Session of the 104th Legislature began this past Wednesday (January 6). I’d like to provide you with a few first impressions, but that’s all they’ll really be, two days in.
For the next 10 days, bills will be introduced. The first three days were spent exclusively with bill introduction in the morning. While we seem to be on a pace to to have 500-600 bills introduced, most of those will likely not be debated during this session, and anything not debated on the floor at the end of the session, will die, as the 104th Legislature comes to a close.
Since there is not a lot of substance to talk about in the way of bills as I write this, let me say just a little bit about the process–something that I wouldn’t have felt competent to talk about it any great detail last year at this time, as I entered my first session as a senator.
A “Legislature” (we’re in the 104th) is divided into two sessions. A new Legislature begins in the odd numbered years, after the election and swearing in of new members (and those re-elected). So, a senator who serves a full eight years (with the current term limits) will serve during four Legislatures.
Bills are introduced during the first 10 days of each legislative Session. Resolutions which don’t require hearings (congratulatory resolutions, etc.) can be introduced throughout the session. Every bill introduced, is then referenced (assigned) to one of the committees, based on the subject matter content of the bill. Committee chairs then schedule hearings for the bills; in most committees, somewhere in the neighborhood of four bills will receive hearings each time the committee meets. Depending on the committee, it may meet 1, 2, 3 or 5 times per week.
Nebraska’s legislature is somewhat unique, in that EVERY bill introduced receives a public committee hearing. At those hearings, the senator who has introduced the bill will talk about the bill, and then citizens and any interested parties are given the opportunity to speak in favor of–or opposition to–the bill. Typically, comments on the bill are limited to 3 minutes per person, so if you come to speak on a bill, be sure to have your remarks prepared, and have them be concise.
Committees will vote later on the disposition of the bills. They can “advance” the bill to General File for floor debate by the full legislature, or they can indefinitely postpone (IPP) a bill (which essentially kills it), or they can just leave it sitting in committee. Although there is a mechanism in the rules which allows bills not advanced from committee to be pulled to the floor from the committee for debate, I haven’t seen that happen in my time, and I understand it has been some years since it’s happened.
Once on the floor for debate, bills are scheduled for debate by the Speaker. The order in which they’re scheduled is dependent on a variety of factors, which vary by Speaker. Each bill goes through three rounds of voting. General File is the first round of debate. General File is a good time to figure out whether a bill is going to have problems passing or not, as opposition will generally show up to a bill on General File, if there is any. If a bill is passed on General File, any amendments made on the floor are added to the bill (a process referred to as “engrossing”), and the bill is placed on the schedule to be taken up on Select File. As with General File, Select File is another opportunity for senators to look the bill over, express objections, etc. A bill can fail to advance to the next round of debate anytime it can’t accumulate at least 25 votes.
When a bill has passed through Select File, it is sent to the bill drafting office for “final engrossing” before it will sent to the floor for Final Reading. At that point, if no amendments are made, and the bill is approved, it will go to the Governor’s for his signature and become law. If there are problems on final reading (amendments are made), it will go back to final engrossing and return to Final Reading. Or, if a bill is not approved on final reading, it effectively dies.
This process maximizes the opportunity for careful and thoughtful consideration. Nothing can be “rushed through”. Both senators and attentive citizens have opportunities to let their positions be known.
Next time, I’ll talk about some of the bills that have been introduced, and more about where I think the focus will be in this session. Please feel free to contact my office (Room 1101 in the Capitol) at 402-471-2711 if you have any questions. If you’d like to sign up for my email updates delivered directly to your email box, you can do so here: https://lauraebke.com/sign-up. I’ll be sending out general emails about what’s going on, on a nearly weekly basis throughout the session, and will send out “hot topics” emails as conditions warrant.
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