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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.
Letter from the Legislature
Senator Laura Ebke
April 16, 2015
We have now reached the time in the session when “bigger stake” items are being considered. This week, we dealt with a number of them.
One of my bills, LB 599, advanced from General File (first reading) to Select File this week. LB 599 would establish a “Student Minimum Wage” in the state of $8/hour (which is the current state minimum wage in the state). This bill was brought to me by the Grocers’ Association and had broad support (and some opposition). There was a concern, after the raising of the minimum wage via ballot initiative last year, that we may have forgotten about the consequences that might have on young workers, still in school, many without work experience. While I believe that the job market is such that employers in many of the towns of our district will not be able to hire workers at this lower wage, in some of the smallest towns, where there are “mom and pop” types of businesses, a slightly lower wage (still be in excess of the Federal minimum wage), may help to incentivise employers to give young workers their first chance at a job. There is significant research which suggests that, over the long run, those first jobs are very important to long-term wage success for individuals–and of course employers are still free to pay more–this would just be the baseline.
LB 599 deals with a law that was passed via the Initiative process last year, and in order to change it, it will take a supermajority, or 33 votes, to pass on Final Reading. This is a Constitutional requirement, and one which anticipates that most legislation needs to have a means for change, as new issues are brought up. For instance, because the minimum wage is statutory in nature, but was done via Initiative this time around, the Legislature would need to have a supermajority in order to RAISE the minimum wage, as well.
On Thursday, we took up LB 268 on first reading (General File). LB 268 proposes to abolish the Death Penalty, and replace it with life in prison without chance of parole. This is an emotional issue, on both sides of the debate, however we moved through it in about 4 hours on Thursday, rather than going a full 8 hours of first round debate. It advanced with 31 votes, or nearly the two-thirds majority that would be required for an override of a governor’s veto.
On Sunday, the 19th, I will be in Fairbury at the Rural Fire Station on the north side of town, at 1:30 p.m. We will be honoring 26 emergency responders, agencies and others who worked the Livingston Enterprises fire of March 22. I will be delivering copies of a Legislative Resolution recognizing their efforts.
Letter from the Legislature
Senator Laura Ebke
April 10, 2015
Returning from our Monday, post-Easter, recess day, the week of April 7-10 saw the on-floor efforts of the Legislature expanding significantly. I’ll cover those, and a few bills from the previous week, in this update.
In addition to a number of relatively routine bills, there were several bills that took up significant debate time on the floor of the Legislature.
LB 610, introduced by Papillion Senator Jim Smith, seeks to raise gas taxes to help fund road projects. This is still a hotly debated issue, although it was passed on General File and will be coming up for second reading on Select File next week.
The Medicaid Redesign bill, LB 472, was “bracketed” this week. Concerns were raised about potential add-on costs to the state. Some suggested that we ought to “get money back that we’d paid to the Feds”–although the latest data my office could find suggests that Nebraska is already a “net taker” of federal funds–in other words, more money flows back to Nebraska than Nebraskans pay in through the tax system. LB 472 could come back next session, although will not likely see any more action during this session.
LB 419 is a bill that allows zoos to be exempt from collecting or paying sales taxes. The argument in favor of this was that it was good for tourism, and would allow the zoos to put more money into upgrading their facilities.
Finally, LB 132 was one of my bills. This bill will require that Joint Public Authorities (JPAs)–such as those used to create the new arena in Lincoln–would be required to have votes of the people any time they are using bonding authority that would affect property taxes. A loophole–discovered in the original JPA bill passed in 1999–leaves the option open for these JPA boards, if they have the taxing authority from one of the governmental entities that created the JPA, to bond without a vote. This was mentioned in the legislative record in 1999, but the legislature at that time chose not to address the loophole. In an era when property taxes are of great concern, the time seemed right to protect the taxpayers from additional taxation without a vote.
We will be moving to extended sessions (going into the evening) the last week of April, and have at least 3 night sessions scheduled each week until we adjourn on June 5. My plan is to have at least one of my staff in the office until at least 8 p.m., or until we adjourn for the day (whichever is earlier), to answer calls that might come in (and to help me with research I might need while on the floor). As always, please feel encouraged to get in touch with us anytime.
Letter from the Legislature
Senator Laura Ebke
The last couple of weeks have been interesting ones in your Legislature. Most of the standing committees have finished up their work for the year, and on Monday the 23rd, we started all-day sessions.
While we have lots of discussions regarding budgets and taxes coming up, two things have gotten a lot of attention: the question of whether we ought to submit a recommendation for two consecutive 6-year terms for legislators (as opposed to the current limit of two consecutive 4-year terms) to the voters for possible amendment to the state constitution; and Senator Ernie Chambers’ comments made during a Judiciary Committee hearing on March 20.
On the question of changing term limits (or total number of years a person can serve before sitting out a term), I have taken this position: 1) the voters, through a petition process, decided in 2000 that two consecutive 4-year terms was enough; 2) the voters, several years ago, turned back a recommended amendment by the legislature for three consecutive 4-year terms; 3) as such, the voters have made it clear that they don’t want to increase the length of term limits, and we ought not waste our time dealing with this; and 4) if the voters want to change the constitution, they can do so through a petition process like they did before.
That said, I understand the philosophical idea that elections should be our term limits, and voters can vote people out of office. In theory, that’s true; in reality, it is the rare incumbent who doesn’t get re-elected to almost anything–the advantages of incumbency–from name recognition to fundraising are significant.
Where Senator Chambers’ comments are concerned, I am conflicted. I believe his words– which were metaphorical in nature, but compared the police with ISIS, and suggested that if HE carried a gun, maybe he’d “shoot first and ask questions later”–were meant to make a point, not to incite any kind of violence, or to suggest that he would actually engage in any violence. But the words were uttered, and some have become very upset by them.
On Thursday (the 26th) about half of the legislators in the body rose to speak to those words–some demanding an apology from Senator Chambers; some demanding his resignation. He stated that he would neither apologize, nor resign. Where this issue goes from here, we’ll see.
Thank you to the 15-20 folks who attended our coffee in Crete on Friday the 27th. In addtion to Crete and Wilber, there were constituents from Fairbury and Geneva there, as well. We’ll be announcing our next coffee, soon.
Letter from the Legislature
Senator Laura Ebke
March 20, 2015
The last two weeks, since my last note to you, have included a recess day, and lots of discussion about LB10–a bill to change our electoral vote selection process in presidential elections. The goal of LB10 was to do away with Nebraska’s current system of choosing electoral votes on the basis of congressional district level votes–2 of the 5 electoral votes go to the statewide total winner, and then 1 vote each goes to the winner of the congressional district winners.
I opposed going back to the winner-take-all method (where the winner of the statewide vote would get all 5 votes) based on my reading of history, as well as my belief that the current system is not broken.
After an 8 hour General File filibuster, followed by a 4 hour Select File filibuster, the bill failed to advance to Final Reading because the motion to invoke cloture (end debate and move to the vote) failed. I voted against the motion to invoke cloture.
Committees are just about done meeting. Next week we’ll start our all-day sessions (meaning on most days, we’ll meet in the morning, take a lunch break, and then meet for several hours in the afternoon). By the end of the session, we’ll probably be meeting in the evenings, as well.
This week, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with local start-up business folks in Fairbury, Crete and Geneva as part of the GROW Nebraska open house at the Capitol. I also met with a group of students from Wilber-Clatonia who were promoting Tobacco Awareness. Last week, I met briefly with the 4th graders from Crete who were here visiting.
On Friday, March 27, we’ll be having another recess day, so we’ll be having one of our “casual coffees” in Crete. I’ll be at 9th Street Grill at 9 a.m. I’ll buy the coffee–if you’d like to have breakfast there, you can come a little early and order on your own, if you’d like. Join us, if you can. We’ll be having more events in other areas of the district in April and May, and then this summer, I look forward to talking with many of you.
Letter from the Legislature
Senator Laura Ebke
Every week is different in the Nebraska Legislature. Over the course of the first week in March, we advanced LB 10 (changing our method of allocating our Electoral College votes to “”winner-take-all”). I voted “NO” on the advancement, and I believe that next week there will be more debate on it during Select File.
Priority bills have started being designated by committees and individual senators. Priority bill designation is a way to try and ensure that the bills which are deemed more important actually get debated. Most senators have introduced 10+ bills (evidenced by the 650-some bills introduced this year), but the reality is most senators probably only have one or two of those bills that they care about that much.
I was happy to visit with the members of Fairbury High School’s Culinary Class this week. They stopped by the office, we got a photo, and then they spent a little time in the gallery before they had to run off to their next event. Next week, 4th graders from Crete will be visiting the Capitol!
Urban Affairs, one of the committees that I sit on, has finished its work–as a committee–for the year. Bills have been voted out, or held, in committee. We plan some interim studies this summer and fall on the use of TIF’s (Tax Increment Financing).
LB366 advanced to Select File. LB366 would raise the Personal Needs Allowances for those dependent on Medicaid. The current PNA is $50–which allows those who live in nursing homes and other alternative living arrangements–to retain that much from any income they have to spend on extra “care and comfort” things not covered by their arrangement with the nursing homes. The bill (as amended) would raise the PNA to $60. The problem is that the taxpayers will pick up the difference–so $10/person/month for all who have Medicaid covering the costs of their care. I voted “NO” because it’s likely that we won’t have money in the budget for this, anyway.
As always, please feel free to be in contact with me and my office. We are in the process of scheduling a coffee in Crete yet in March, and plan on having one somewhere in Thayer County in April. Be sure to come and see us if you can!
Letter from the Legislature
Senator Laura Ebke
With the adjournment of the Unicameral on Friday, we marked the conclusion of our 35th day of this year’s Legislative session. Fifty-five days are left in our 90 day session this year. Those 55 days will be spread out, though, as our last day is scheduled to be June 5.
Earlier this week, I got the opportunity to speak to the 4th graders at Crete Elementary School, and help them kick off their studies on Nebraska government. They’ll be coming to visit in the Capitol in a few weeks. They asked a lot of great questions, and yesterday, I received a package of thank-you notes in the mail from them.
We spent the first four days of this week talking about two bills on General File: LB10 and LB77. LB10 would change Nebraska’s current allocation of electoral votes in presidential elections to a winner-take-all system, from our congressional district allocation. The debate on that bill was suspended after Wednesday, as the sponsor had to be out of town. We’ll take that back up at some point.
LB77 was a bill that made some changes to Medicaid, and added family planning services to some of their programs. That bill failed to advance (it takes 25 votes to advance to the second reading). There are a number of other health care/Medicaid related bills that will be on the docket in the coming weeks.
We continue to enjoy contact with folks from the district. Not many days pass without us receiving a phone call, letter or email (and occasionally a drop in) from folks in the district. I enjoy hearing from you, and getting your input. Remember, however, that there are always two sides to the story. I’ll listen to anyone who contacts me, but sometimes your neighbor has called me, too, with a different perspective.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please get in touch with us. My office and I try to respond as soon as possible–although if we’ve had an exceptional amount of traffic, it will sometimes take us a few days to respond.
Senator Laura Ebke, LD 32
February 13, 2015
We’ve now moved to the point where our daily session agenda has expanded. This week marked the first week that bills were on “Select File” (the second reading). Traditionally, bills move through Select in fairly short order, and are sent to the “engrossment” process. Engrossment is the process of putting the bills in final form, with any amendments integrated, and making sure that everything is consistent with current laws on the books. After engrossing, bills are moved to Final Reading, where the Legislature considers whether or not to pass them and send them to the Governor for signature. On Final Reading, bills CAN still be amended and sent back to engrossing.
LB 18, which has gotten a little bit of attention because of the opposition to it, sought to mandate meningitis vaccines for all students entering 7th grade, and then a follow up one at age 16. As a mandated bill, students could have been prevented from attending school without the vaccine. Debate centered around the necessity for a mandate; meningitis, while serious when contracted, is extremely rare, and not nearly as contagious as many of the childhood diseases that are already mandated. Ultimately, because of the opposition, the sponsor of the bill made a “bracket motion until June 5.” June 5 is the last day of the session, so the motion to bracket until that date essentially kills the bill for this year.
On Thursday, we considered our first round of Final Reading bills–a series of “Revisor Bills” which are intended merely to repeal obsolete statute and get them off the books–for instance programs that had end-date termination provisions.
Bills continue to move out of committee and on to General File. According to the schedule, committees should wrap up their work by about March 20. Some of the committees have a lighter load, and will likely be done sooner.
In Judiciary Committee we’ve started hearing a number of bills related to the Corrections system. There seems to be a lot of desire to see major changes to the way we do the Corrections business, following the findings of the special investigative hearings last summer. That is, by far, the busiest of my three committee assignments, and I think we’re probably not very far from hearing days that go well into the evening–I’ve heard stories of 10:30 p.m. hearings…
As always, if you have any questions or concerns that my office can help you with, feel free to call the office at 402-471-2711, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see some of you at the coffee we have scheduled in Fairbury (at Sweet Creations) at 9 a.m. on Monday (the 16th). We hope to be able to announce the schedule for our next event next week. I’m going to try and have at least one event in each county before the end of the legislative session.
The pace continues to quicken in your Nebraska Legislature. Morning sessions, afternoon committee hearings, and countless meetings with constituents and interested parties. We’ve had a number of bills moved out of committee, and have started taking those up on General File during the morning session, gradually moving things to Select File (the second reading). Nebraska bills have to be voted on 3 times before moving to the Governor’s desk, so all bills are still up for discussion, in some form, yet.
One of the most interesting debates for the week revolved around LB 18. This bill is proposed by Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, and intends to mandate vaccination for bacterial meningitis for students as they enter 7th grade, and then again at around the age of 16. I am, quite frankly, concerned about this bill. It was moved to Select File, but 12 or 13 of us voted against advancement.
My concern with this bill is one of principle. I’m not convinced that there is truly a public health concern–at least at this point–to justify mandating these vaccines. Bacterial meningitis is extraordinarily rare. There has been no case in Nebraska for several years. Meningitis can be devastating, but not exceedingly contagious–most cases are single incidences, and not outbreaks.
We have many public health issues–measles, mumps, chickenpox, whooping cough, etc.–which all have a history of being very contagious. Those are all mandated vaccines for school attendance. I favor an educational mandate–to give parents and young people information about bacterial meningitis, so that they can make good decisions about the risks, but I’m not convinced that a mandate is the appropriate course at this point.
Continue to be in touch with the office, and stop by if you’re in town!
Senator Laura Ebke
This week has been an interesting one. We spent 3 days in session this week discussing LB 88. LB 88 is a bill sponsored by Senator Campbell from Lincoln, and it deals with the raising of the amount that counties can charge for fees for marriage licenses. The proposed change would be from $15 to $50. Senator Ernie Chambers decided to use this particular bill as a vehicle for teaching the new senators how to manage the floor debate, so he has engaged for the last several days in an “extended debate”, offering amendments, and using various other available rules to hold control of the floor. Time for debate of a bill is capped at 8 hours total, so we will finish up LB 88 on Monday, and move to other items on the agenda.
Committee schedules continue to be full. The Judiciary Committee, which is the three-day committee that I sit on, has around 105 bills to give hearings to before the mid-March deadline for the end of hearings. We hear 4-5 a day, so far, with hearings beginning at 1:30 and going until we’re finished.
Speaking of things Judiciary, the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, Michael Heavican, gave his State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature on Thursday. I was honored to be named as one of five members of the “escort team” for the Chief Justice and Supreme Court—and in listening to the Chief Justices address, I was awed by the work ahead of the Judiciary Committee on which I serve. We will be the first stop toward addressing the many corrections issues facing our state.
Citizens of the district have started figuring out where the office is, and how to get hold of us. We have talked with many, had a number of drop ins, are eager to see the many Fourth Graders who will be visiting the Capitol in a couple of months. If you’re in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by. If you want a refill of coffee, we’ll be happy to fill your mug!