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Since I selected Legislative Resolution 6 as my priority bill, my office has been receiving quite a bit of constituent correspondence both in support and opposition. One thing I have noticed is that there is some confusion and miscommunication about what a Convention of States represents.
Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing information regarding the history of what our Constitution provides for containing a run-away federal government….namely, Article V. Article V of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and we’re all familiar with that process. It’s happened successfully 27 times in our nation’s history, and it’s how we’ve accomplished some important things, like ending slavery and guaranteeing women’s right to vote. But Article V also grants the same power to the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. That power has not been exercised in American history — yet.
The reason this provision was added to the Constitution was because just two days before the close of the 1787 convention, there was concern raised by George Mason. In keeping with the checks and balances of the Framers, Mason believed that no branch of government should have the power to determine the extent of its own power. He predicted that someday the federal government would abuse the carefully enumerated powers bestowed in the text of the Constitution. When that day arrived, structural amendments would be needed to curtail federal over-reach, but if Congress alone had the power to propose amendments, no corrections would ever be forthcoming. Based on this clear-headed observation, the Framers unanimously added the option for the states to propose amendments through a convention of states.
The U.S. Constitution grants specific, limited powers to the federal government to fulfill its duty to preserve and protect individual rights and promote the “general welfare.” But the Founders recognized that the federal government might overstep and abuse those powers, and that it was highly unlikely Congress would then act to restrain itself. So the Founders also gave the states the power to convene together and propose amendments to the Constitution to restrain federal abuses, in what Article V calls a “convention” of the states.
Article V reads: “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states . . .”
In other words, two-thirds (34) of the states pass an application for a convention to propose amendments, then the states choose their delegates, and whatever amendments are passed at that convention by the states still need to be ratified by the same process as any congressional amendment. Over the years, the states have enacted over 400 applications for a convention, but none has ever been called, because two-thirds of the states have never agreed on the subject matter for such a convention. Several states have already called for a convention to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and impose term limits on federal officials.
Importantly, the Convention does not have power (just as Congress does not have power) under Article V to rewrite or completely overhaul the U.S. Constitution, or propose amendments beyond the scope of the application passed through each state legislature. Two of the nation’s foremost constitutional attorneys have written extensively on the procedural safeguards of a convention of states, and this simulation showed exactly how and why it will work as a check on the federal government, exactly as intended. This is the Founders’ solution to Washington’s hunger for power and institutional corruption, and the states are rallying. Going into the 2017 legislative sessions, eight states have passed the convention of states application. Arizona just this past week became the ninth state. Another 30 states have pending legislation.
We have reached the point in this 105th legislative session where the afternoon hearings for several Standing Committees are wrapping up. All hearings must be completed by March 23rd. The first full-day floor debate begins March 28th after a four day recess/weekend break. These recess days allow Senators and their staff time to prepare for the bills they are introducing on the floor and study the other bills that will be presented the following week.
The deadline for Priority Bills for both Senators and Committees was this week as well. Each Committee is given the ability to prioritized two bills for their particular committee and each Senator is allowed one bill to be his/her Priority Bill. Priority Bills, as the name implies, gives these bills priority over others bills in being brought to floor to be heard and debated on during this session.
The bills I personally sponsored this session were at the request of various agencies, mostly law enforcement agencies. While these all were important bills, none of them rose to the level sufficient for me to choose for a priority bill.
So, I am opting to choose to prioritize another Senator’s bill. In this case I am choosing a Senator Laura Ebke’s Legislative Resolution. LR6 is a resolution to Congress for a convention of the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
It’s hardly news that many Nebraskans believe the federal government is out of control. You may be asking what can we, at the state level, do to rein in the seemingly out of control federal government? The answer lies in the brilliance of our Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution some 230 years ago. The authors of the Constitution anticipated the possibilities of an out of control power grab by the federal government, pulling away the intended authority granted to the states over the federal government. As a potential safeguard against this, they created Article V.
Article V of the Constitution allows for a Convention of States. Article V of the Constitution, sets out two ways to propose constitutional amendments. The usual method is for Congress to put forth amendments, if two-thirds of both houses propose it. The alternative is to have a convention of states craft amendments. The legislatures of two-thirds of the states, or 34 states, must apply to Congress for such a convention to be called.
Whichever way they are proposed, amendments must be ratified by 38 states to take effect.
The goal of LR6 would be to propose constitutional amendments for three very specific purposes; (1) curbing federal power, (2) imposing federal fiscal restraints and (3) putting term limits on federal officials. I argue that the nation has strayed from the original intention of the writers of the Constitution, under which the states formed a federal government but kept significant powers to themselves. The time has come to rein in our “super-sized” federal government. Thankfully our Founding Fathers have given us a means to do this with adequate safeguards to our Constitution.
Eight states have passed Article V legislation. Furthermore, 29 states currently have pending legislation. Nebraska could be added to that list if lawmakers pass Legislative Resolution 6.
Some have legitimately expressed concern that a convention could overstep its purpose and start proposing radical changes to the Constitution. After much research I am convinced that there are safeguards against such a runaway convention, including the steep hurdle of ratification. The convention idea is part of a larger movement to limit the power of government.
This is really an issue about the future of the country. I believe it’s a reasonable thing to be talking about. Many voters I visit with express more concern about what was happening in Washington than in Lincoln. Among their worries were the national debt, taxes, and federal regulations, which are the result of legislation passed by ‘career politicians’.
I am prioritizing this Resolution because I believe it deserves debate by the full Legislature. LR6 details what constitutional changes should come out of a Constitution Convention gathering.
This week I also sponsored two bills in committee hearings. Both bills focused on protecting the good people of Nebraska. LB319 would provide confidentially of first injury reports relating to workers compensation. Currently, these workers compensation reports are not covered by HIPPA regulations and are open to the public. These reports contain personal information about the worker that I feel should be kept private unless that person waives confidentially.
The second bill I sponsored was LB556 which would alter Nebraska’s Criminal Code as it pertains to firearms. This particular bill is quite complex and had several sections dealing with different firearm related offenses. I am just going to briefly touch on one aspect of the bill at this time. A large portion of the bill defines the term of what is a facsimile firearm, a toy gun if you will, and the use of said facsimile firearm in the commission a felony offense. Today’s “toy guns” are not what you and I grew up with as kids. These guns, look, feel, and have mechanical actions and sounds of a real firearm. The perception and fear of the person being accosted by an individual using one of these facsimile firearms is going to be same as if it were a real firearm. Therefore, in my opinion, the use of a facsimile firearms during a crime should carry a similar chargeable offense.
This has been a week filled with “ups and downs”. On Wednesday, the Capitol was all a buzz with excitement to celebrate Nebraska’s 150 years of Statehood. You all have likely seen glimpses in the news media regarding the numerous events in, and surrounding, the Capitol honoring our State’s colorful and meaningful history. John Gale, the Secretary of State read the historic, original proclamation during the Official Statehood Day Ceremony in the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber in front of members of all three branches of government and the good people of Nebraska. Governor Pete Ricketts gave welcome and his remarks which highlighted the qualities that make Nebraska a great state to live and work.
Ultimately, the day was a celebration of what makes Nebraska great….its people. Hard working, principled people of the past and present have created a solid foundation and future for the state which we love to call “Home”.
This 150th celebration of Statehood was the highlight of the week. Legislatively, we have been hamstrung with filibusters by Senator Ernie Chambers and a few other Senators on a bill that would allow the creation of a ‘Choose Life’ specialty license plate.
This “Choose Life” specialty license plate is simply an acknowledgement of Nebraskans respect for life at all stages. This will, if ultimately passed, be one of many license plate choices for Nebraskans. Senator Ernie Chambers has chosen to waste the legislature’s time filibustering a rather innocent bill. No one will be mandated to buy a license plate with the “Choose Life” message. Nebraskans will have the freedom to choose this plate, or some other choice of plate.
Currently 29 other states have “Choose Life” license plates and 15 states have pending legislation for Choose Life plates. As of December 2016, these various states have raised 24 million dollars from the sale of “Choose Life” plates. Here in Nebraska, profits from the sale of Choose Life plates would go towards the “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” program.
It has been a challenge for the majority of the legislative body to be patient while Senator Ernie Chambers abuses the rules of the legislature, consuming our time with these types of nonsense filibusters. We will eventually move to acting on substantive issues such as passing a balanced budget for the next biennium. Please be patient as we deal with these efforts to obstruct by a handful of Senators.
Ending this week was the deadly prison riot at the Tecumseh Corrections Facility. I will limit my remarks on this at this time, because a full investigation is underway by the State Patrol. It is very unfortunate that two inmates lost their lives. This event happened in an area of the prison housing the ‘worst of the worst’ violent criminals. If there is any good news in this event, it would be that no corrections employees were harmed or killed.
With a recess day last Friday and the President’s Day holiday on Monday, I had the opportunity to travel back home to Hastings. This gave me the time to reflect, recharge and visit my Alma Mater, St. Cecilia High School in Hastings.
While there, I enjoyed lunch with a number of class officers and student council representatives. Additionally, I took the opportunity to meet with the school administration team to discuss issues of importance to the delivery of Catholic education. In this meeting, I listened to concerns and hopes for the future of Catholic education and shared any thoughts I had on the legislative topics that were brought to my attention.
The highlight of the day was a meeting with 140 plus high school students. I shared with them my past experiences at St. Cecilia’s and offered some life advice. The meeting ended with a Q & A session delivered through a moderator.
On the legislative side, after two full days of debate we were able to advance LB62 through a first round vote with overwhelming support. The purpose of this bill is to restore the religious freedom rights of teachers. If ultimately passed, it will repeal statutes originally supported by the KKK that prohibited teachers from wearing any type of religious garb. The bill’s only opponent was Senator Ernie Chambers. LB62 would undo the ban on public schoolteachers from wearing religious dress or garb while engaged in the performance of his or her duties in the classroom.
Currently, a person found in violation of current law, as written, could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and could be fined up $100, cost of prosecution or a jail term not to exceed 30 days. Additionally, any teacher found guilty shall be suspended for a year for the first offence and permanently disqualified from teaching at that school. This antiquated law should be repealed because good Nebraskans should not have their jobs, nor their livelihood jeopardized because of simply wearing garb that is reflective of their religious beliefs. Protecting this basic right is very important.
March 4th is a “Coffee with the Senator” double-header! My first coffee meeting will be from 9:00 to 10:00am at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. Then from 2:00 -3:00pm my second coffee will be held in Doniphan at the Doniphan Area Event Center. My staff has recommended to me that I switch to decaf for the second coffee. I hope you can join me for these meetings.
On Wednesday we reached day 30 of the legislative session. Although we have been deadlocked on the adoption of Permanent Rules we did adopt a motion to extend the temporary rules until day 60 of the session. As a reminder, temporary rules are rules that the legislative body operated under during last session. By extending the temporary rules this should allow us to start debating the 110 bills that have made it out of the various Standing Committees.
Along with my fellow Senators I have been reading, researching, and actively listening to testimony on bills brought before the committees. As a result, we should be well versed and ready to debate and vote. It is my sincerest hope that in coming weeks I will be sharing with you the substantive legislative issues that impact the people of the 33rd District.
Your legislature did pass LB22 on February 13th, this bill dealt with adjustments to appropriations and re-appropriations for state operations, aid and construction programs for the current fiscal year. This bills was an interim budget bill introduced by Speaker Scheer at the request of the Governor to address the 120 million dollar budget shortfall for the balance of this biennium budget ending June 30th of this year. LB22 was passionately debated on the floor of the legislature. My office received a large amount of correspondence both from constituents and government agencies. Budget funding cuts are never easy but in a down-turn economy they are necessary. I commend the Governor, the members of Appropriation Committee and my fellow Senators for making those tough decisions. LB22 was signed by the Governor on February 15th.
While it has been a challenging session, it is not all gloom and doom. There are rays of sunshine, these happen most often when constituents travel to Lincoln to visit with us personally. On Monday I had the pleasure to attend the Tri-City Legislative Luncheon. The luncheon was sponsored by the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the Hastings Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce. Several individuals who attended the luncheon also stopped by our office to personally meet our staff. “It’s great to put a face to a name of those with who we have communicated,” said Tom Hastings, the President of Hastings Chamber of Commerce. We could not agree more! If you are in Lincoln, please drop by with your concerns or just to say hi.
Greetings from your State Capitol!
Let me first begin by thanking everyone who came out to my first “Coffee with the Senator” last Saturday at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. The place was packed! I was elated with the turn out and spirited discussion on issues that concern the people of the 33rd District. Although we might not see eye to on eye on every issue, the direct and free exchange of issues and ideas makes these meetings a powerful tool for me to feel the heartbeat of district.
I want to thank the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce and the Adams County Farm Bureau Federation for sponsoring the “Coffee with the Senator” series. I am looking forward to more of these coffees as well as other upcoming town hall meetings throughout our district.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of hosting a very community driven group, Leadership Hastings. Leadership Hastings was started in 1987 and their goal is to enhance the skills of its members so they can go out and be leaders and serve as a resource to their communities. I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with several members over a luncheon.
I also was able to co-host, with several of my fellow Senators, a group of young, aspiring leaders on Thursday. Leadership Tomorrow, which is primarily from the Grand Island area, spent time learning the fundamentals of how ‘their’ legislature works. It is always rewarding to meet with groups that are looking to better the lives of people in Nebraska.
As for the work of your legislature, the various “standing committees” are doing their work. Hundreds of bills have had their hearings and we have hundreds more that are scheduled to be heard in the coming weeks. So far, there are 87 bills that have been passed through to General File. Dismally few bills have been addressed on the floor. The session has ground to a halt over a lengthy filibuster on a “rules change”. Oddly enough, the filibuster is being conducted on a rule change proposed to require proponents and opponents of a filibuster to be on record with their vote on cloture of debate.
I feel we owe the people of Nebraska transparency in how we voted on motions of cloture to end debate and to vote on the bills advancement. My sincerest hope is that we end this filibuster, vote on the adoption of the Permanent Rules for 2017 session and get on with the business of addressing the legislative bills that have been brought to floor for us to discuss.
The majority of the legislative sessions this week focused on LB22. The bill was introduced by Speaker Scheer who is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee at the request of the Governor. LB22 addresses the Governor’s expedited Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget adjustment recommendations. The Governor along with the Appropriations Committee have done a stellar job of dealing with the critical budget the State of Nebraska is facing.
Unfortunately, a vocal small group of Senators have engaged in offering several motions and amendments to delay a vote on the bill. Even after the LB22 is voted on, assuming the bill is advanced to select file, we have another opportunity to debate the merits of the bill. Given the urgency of the situation we need to debate and vote on LB22.
This intentional “delay tactics” being employed is not only holding up the debate and voting on LB22 it is further delaying the ability of your Legislature to address all of the bills currently voted out of committee and waiting to be introduced and debated. As of Thursday February 2nd, which is the twenty-first day of Legislative Session we have 65 bills awaiting debate and we have yet to adopt permanent rules for the session. Normally a new legislative session opens under temporary rules. Temporary rules are those rules that were in place under the previous session.
The Rules Committee during the current session was elected, met and put forth several changes to rules, the legislature is then supposed to vote on the adoption of permanent rules. Currently, the rule for cloture to debate requires 33 votes to close debate. A proposed rule change would require 20 votes to continue debate. This places the responsibility upon the group who desires to obstruct voting on a motion.
A successful cloture vote ceases debate and moves the bill to the immediate vote. Cloture does respect the concerns of minority while also respecting the duty of the entire legislative body to vote on bills that will benefit the good people of Nebraska. I firmly believe the filibuster has less to do about LB22 and more to do with delaying a vote on the rule change proposed and the subsequent adoption of permanent rules for this session.
This is Senator Steve Halloran representing District 33.
Greetings from your State Capitol!
The legislative hearing process is in full swing this week. Once a bill has been introduced by a Senator on the floor of the legislature the bill is sent to Reference Committee for assignment to one of the fourteen standing committees or a Select or Special committee based on the content of Bill. Once the bill has been assigned to the appropriate committee, the committee will schedule a hearing date. The number of bills scheduled for a hearing will vary based on breadth and depth of bills. These hearings provide citizens with direct opportunity to weigh in on public policy. Unless otherwise indicated, hearings begin at 1:30 p.m. Each bill is introduced by the senator who sponsors it. After the senator finishes his or her introduction, the committee chairperson will ask proponents of the bill to come forward and state their reasons for supporting the measure. Then, the chairperson will ask opponents of the bill to state their opinions, followed by neutral testimony. So for the next several weeks I will be busy with committee hearings both listening to bills and presenting them. I serve on the Agriculture, Judiciary, and Business and Labor standing committees as well as the Special committee of Justice Reinvestment Oversight.
I have sponsored six bills for this 90 day session. LB 214 deals with the sustainability of Master Teacher Program. LB 273 addresses the calculation rounding of wages for the based period in unemployment benefits. LB274 amends the Plant Protection and Plant Pest Act to better and more efficiently implement the provisions of the Nebraska Rangeland Grasshopper Control Act, which is being repealed. LB319 provides for confidentiality of workers compensation claims. My fifth bill LB366 help properly align parole administration and the funding mechanisms needed to run that offices duties. The final bill I sponsored was LB556 which addresses the use of facsimile firearm in the commission of a felony. Now these are very simplified overviews of the bills but it does provide a glimpse at the issues I am working on your behalf.
As you are mostly likely aware, after encouragement from many of my fellow Senators, Senator Bill Kintner resigned from the legislature on Wednesday. The Senator made the right choice for himself, his family, and the good people of Nebraska. The entire situation served a major distraction to this legislative session. I am looking forward to focusing on the business at hand.
One of my goals is to add some of District 33’s common sense to the Legislative Body. As the old adage goes, common sense is a flower that doesn’t necessarily grow in everybody’s garden.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions, if you have questions pertaining on the legislative process or policy, you may speak with my Legislative Aide Drew. If you would like schedule an appointment, you may speak with Alex my Administrative Assistant. Either I or my capitol staff can be reached at the office in Lincoln at 402-471-2712. I also encourage everyone to visit the official state legislative website at Nebraskalegislature.gov and follow me on Facebook at Senator Steve Halloran.
The first day of the 105th Legislature, in the year of our great state’s 150th anniversary, we started with the elections of Speaker and Committee Chairmen. This followed by senators’ appointments to committees. The Legislature’s Committee on Committees granted your new Senator his three requested committees….Judiciary, Agriculture and Business & Labor.
Newly elected chairs moved into their committee offices, more senior senators got to pick from remaining offices and eventually, us freshman drew out of a hat for remaining offices. By the end of the third day, senators are settling into their new space. Computers, phones, and copiers are reassigned and we are now ready to roll.
Within the first ten legislative days, we must have all proposed legislation handed into the Clerk. It happens fast. I am personally not crafting a bill to sponsor for this session. There will, however, be some bills which are created by others such as the Attorney General’s Office, Parole Board, etc. which I have offered to sponsor through the various committees. This will be a great opportunity for ‘hands-on’ learning of the legislative bill process.
Our District is blessed with two capable gentlemen who will be assisting your Senator through this 105th Legislature. Our office’s Administrative Assistant is Alex Gage. Alex will facilitate keeping your Senator on schedule, taking your calls and emails and generally keeping the office running smoothly. Our office’s Legislative Assistant is Drew Borske. Drew will be assisting your Senator in researching issues for bill creation, helping to prepare for committee hearings and generally being the constituents’ liaison on issue questions.
Once this session has started rolling with bills working their way through the respective committee process, we will then be able to have information to bring to ‘town hall’ meetings throughout the 33rd District. Tentatively, our first town halls will be after the first of February….stay tuned for dates to be announced.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2712 with any comments, questions, or concerns.
Sen. Steve Halloran
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