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On March 15, LB44 which is bill designed to collect state sales taxes already owed on internet purchases fell victim to a filibuster in the Legislature. Introduced and prioritized by Syracuse Senator Dan Watermeier, LB44 was introduced last session in an attempt to require larger online retailers with no physical presence in Nebraska to collect and remit sales taxes for purchases by Nebraska customers. The bill aims to provide parity between online retailers and those with brick-and-mortar facilities. This bill had made passage to final reading. Senator Watermeier agreed to pull LB44 back to Select File to consider an amendment to the bill. After debate, the bill failed to obtain a cloture vote. The bill will not be heard again this session.
Two other bills that were hit by the filibuster were LB873 and LB921. LB873 is an Urban Affairs Committee omnibus bill. An omnibus bill is a bill consisting of several bills with similar content areas rolled into one. The bill stalled because of the land bank provision of the bill. The land bank provision dealt with allowing local governments to set up a land bank. A land bank is an organization set up by local governments that can acquire vacant, abandoned, dilapidated, or properties deemed important to the community. The properties are rehabilitated and then sold. The concerns raised by some members of the Legislature is that these land bank organizations have too much non-public control and create an unfair business climate against private developers.
LB921 introduced by Senator Lowe from Kearney. This bill would lessen the licensing requirement by not requiring employees who are constructing a farm building but are only handling the electrical wiring and wiring components to be licensed. Employees who are doing the actual installation would also not need to be licensed if under direct supervision of someone with the appropriate license. The impetus for this bill has to do with the lack of licensed professionals. Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell opposed the bill and read a letter he received from the state electrical board, which indicated that the bill creates “serious safety concerns.” Debate ended without a vote.
We are scheduled to have eleven late nights out of the sixteen days we have left in the session. These will be very busy and long days ahead. Wednesday’s debate focused on LB944 which the is main budget bill. The bill’s debate last week solely focused on the Title X funding language in the bill. The first portion of the day’s debate was on the amount of funding cuts to the University of Nebraska system. Senator Erdman proposed an amendment to LB944 which would have increased the budget cuts to the University system that were closer to those funding cuts suggested by the Governor.
I was in agreement with Senator Kuehn of Heartwell when he said that this is not a case of either you are with the University or you are against it. This issue is not that simple. What we are looking at is the overall budget and role the University has in the budget. You can support the University while at the same time examining the operational efficiencies of University. After several hours of debate the question was called, debate ceased, and the amendment failed on a vote of ten for, thirty-two against, and seven present not voting. Following the failed amendment by Senator Erdman, Senator Wishart proposed an amendment to once again address the Title X language in the bill. Title X funds are granted by the Federal Government to be disbursed to women’s healthcare services within the federal requirements that none of these funds can be used for abortion or for referrals to abortion clinics. After two hours of debate, Senator Stinner requested a cloture vote on the entire bill. The cloture vote failed, so debate ended and we moved onto the next bill on the agenda.
On Friday Speaker Scheer brought LB944 back to floor for debate based on the promises made by several filibustering Senators that they would vote for cloture after two hours. The two hours were consumed by further discussions on the Title X provision. At the two hour mark, the Speaker invoked cloture. The cloture vote failed by two votes. The Speaker, rightly so, in my opinion, then chastised those Senators who gave their word that he/she would vote for cloture and then instead voted no or not voting. When LB944 will be brought up again for debate is unclear, hopefully Monday. However, we as a Legislature must pass the budget in the next 12 days to avoid line-item vetoes by the governor that can’t be addressed. If the bill isn’t passed, the state would revert to the two-year budget approved in 2017. This could lead to a need to call for a special session towards the end of the fiscal year ending in June.
Late Wednesday night LB1081 which became an Education Committee omnibus bill did pass onto Select File. One bill that was rolled into this omnibus bill was the third grade reading proficiency bill LB651 by Senator Linehan. This particular bill was a hot topic at many of my town hall meetings last year. To alleviate some of those concerns raised, I can tell you that the bill was modified from its original language by removing the most controversial portion of the bill which dealt with the issue that if students by end of third grade were not deemed proficient in reading, those students would not be promoted to the fourth grade. With the removal of this portion of the bill, I feel this piece of legislation will help our schools focus on the importance of reading to overall student success in the classroom. We learn to read so we then can read to learn.
LB778 which would require voter approval for school district building levies introduced by Senator Groene from North Platte was a contentious bill. The bill would simply clarify that special tax/building fund could not be used to build a new school building or add additional footage to existing school buildings or purchase. The bill would give voters more say in the process by requiring a bond vote by the public. The bill did not have enough votes to invoke cloture, so the bill failed.
Just a reminder that I will have two “Coffee with the Senator” left in this year’s legislative session. The first town hall will be Saturday, March 31st at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings and the second meeting will be Saturday, April 7th at the Medina Street Vault in Cairo. Both meetings will start at 9:00 a.m. I hope to see you there!