The Legislature started the week off by debating whether or not to override Governor’s Ricketts veto on LB75. LB75 sought to remove the two year waiting period to restore voting rights for persons convicted of a felony. The veto override was hotly debated by Senator Wayne who introduced the bill. My staff and I received phone calls, emails, newspaper editorials, and questions during a recent town hall meeting. It was intimated by some constituents that I “flip-flopped” on the issue because the Governor somehow pressured or influenced me to change my position on LB75. This is simply false. I did not support LB75 as written. However, I offered Senator Wayne a friendly amendment. We were working together on an amendment while the bill went through both General and Select file. Ultimately we could not come to friendly agreement. Rather than adding a hostile amendment on the floor, I informed Senator Wayne that I would not be supporting the bill on Final reading. I was not pressured in any way and I did not flip-flop, I was working with a fellow Senator to make changes to the bill. Sometimes we can come to agreement and other time we can respectfully disagree.
On Tuesday I strongly supported the passage of the funding bill attached to LB289 – the sex trafficking bill introduced by Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks. Yes, Republicans and Democrats can agree. It saddens me that in this day and age that we are still having to address the issue of slavery and exploitation of young women and men. We now have the penalties in place that fit the severity of crime these sex traffickers commit.
Final approval of the budget bills LB327, LB331 and LB332 happened on Tuesday as well. All three bill had an emergency clause attached. An emergency clause allows the bill to take effect immediately after the Governor signs the bill. An emergency clause bill requires a super-majority vote of 33 yes votes to pass rather than the usual simple majority of 25 votes.
A number of rural conservative Senators, including myself, did vote no on all three of the budget bills dealing with cash transfers and appropriations – to take a stand against a budget which, we believe, is based upon a false premise. The Appropriations Committee had to first fill the gap in the nearly 1 billion dollar shortfall in the last biennium. To do this, they proposed a series of one time transfers from various agency funds and a significant draw-down of our rainy day fund. In addition, this budget, in my opinion is founded on an overly optimistic assumption of fiscal projections that our state economy will grow at 5 and 5.5% for the next two years of the upcoming biennium. Unfortunately, our economy is flat…virtually no growth this past year. This unreasonably high revenue projection, caused the Appropriations Committee to look at budgeting income that is not likely to occur.
We stood against this budget, because we have deep concerns that the State will soon find itself in a deficit position. We hope we are wrong, but if we are correct, we are very likely to see the Governor will have to do either a series of line item vetoes, or have to call for a special session to deal with revenue shortfalls. Thursday morning Governor Pete Rickets called a press conference to set the record straight on current tax revenue. The April revenues, forecasted back in February, was $533.3 million dollars. The actual number, which still needs to be certified, was $477.8 million dollars. This is a $55.5 million dollar shortfall. The forecasting board has missed the last 14 out of 22 revenue forecasts. We have to be more fiscally realistic about the next biennium budget. My gut tells me that we will be very busy next week addressing the Governors response to the budget bills sent to him by the Legislature.
Thursday we debated the much anticipated LB651 which addresses third grade reading proficiency. This is an extremely important issue that needs to be addressed and debated. The ability to read has been demonstrated over and over in research to be the fundamental skill that leads to the future success of a child. After three hours of debate the Legislature adjourned for the week. LB651 will most likely not be debated again this session but I believe the conversation will go on during the interim and we will see this bill brought back to the floor during the 2018 legislative session.
May 6th was the last scheduled “Coffee with the Senator” for this year at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. I wish to thank the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, the Adams County Farm Bureau Federation, and Kitty’s Roadhouse for coordinating and hosting these town hall meetings. I also would like to thank all of the people who attended and participated in these lively discussions. While we may not always see eye-to-eye on particular issues or bills, I know that we all value the opportunity to have open and honest discussion on topics that concern the good people in District #33.
We are looking at the possibility of having a series of wrap-up meetings later in the year. These meetings would discuss the past session and solicit input on what topics and concerns my office staff and I could be focusing on for future legislation. Stay tuned!