This week in the legislature was all about the budget and the Department of Health and Human Services. Last Tuesday the legislature passed the three major budget bills – LB331, LB332, and LB327. I along with several other Senators had some strong reservations about the under lying assumptions utilized to create the budget. As a group we held a press conference on the steps of the State Capitol to voice our concerns. The major issue, in my opinion, is the overly optimistic revenue projections for the next biennium. The Appropriations Committee is operating under the assumption that we will see revenue growth of roughly 5% a year for each of the two years. Given the flat growth we experienced the past two years combined with my knowledge of the agriculture marketplace, I just don’t see that 5% growth in revenue is realistic. What this could mean is another large budget shortfall and quite possibly the need for a special session in the fall to either make draconian cuts or the push for tax increases as some Senators have suggested. I in no way want to raise taxes or have to make crushing cuts. That is why I feel we needed to make more cuts to the current budget instead.
A week ago, Friday, the Governor announced his first line-item veto. He cut a little over $11.5 million dollars from the State Capitol HVAC renovation project. According to the Governor, this will not stop the project from moving forward with current construction but it will need to have additional funding added to future budgets to complete the project. During the same press conference he clearly indicated that further vetoes were to follow. On Monday the Governor used this line-item veto authority to cut an additional $45 million dollars from the budget. With his earlier veto, the total amount of cuts to the budget equaled $56.5 million dollars.
By law, the Appropriation Committee has 24 hours to respond to the Governor’s vetoes. Tuesday morning the committee recommended that lawmakers restore $32.7 million back to the budget. An important point to know about this process is that the legislature only has the ability to vote for, or, against a specific line-item veto. We are not allowed to make dollar amount changes nor suggest cuts from other items of the budget that the Governor did not veto from the bill. For example, the first veto override vote was to restore $300,000 dollars to probation services. We as a body can only vote to restore the entire $300,000. We cannot change the amount to say restore $150,000 of the $300,000. Additionally, we could not have voted to take additional funds from the University or the Supreme Court, as several of the constituent emails I received suggested, as an offset to the items that were vetoed. As a body we voted to reject to restore the $300,000 in funding for probation services.
The large portion of the day’s session was the debate to restore $32.5 million dollars for Medicaid and people with developmental disabilities. As a package the body did not vote to override the veto. Several amendments offered by individual Senators looked to override individual line items of the $32.5 million dollars. A majority of these amendments were pulled by the Senator who introduced them. Other efforts to amend did not get the required 30 votes to override the Governor’s veto. The debate was highly emotional and these were not easy decisions. There was a considerable amount of misinformation and fear mongering during the debate. My decision not to override the Governor’s vetoes was based on research and subsequent conversations I had with fellow Senators, the Policy Research Office, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and not as a result of the Governor’s pressure as some of my fellow Senators tried to imply.
We requested and received from the Department of Health and Human Services the real impact theses line-item veto cuts would have on their department and more importantly the people they serve. I wanted to share with you some of their response to our requests.
They noted that Legislature passed LB 327, which appropriated $1.69 billion dollars for the two-year funding for Nebraska’s Medicaid program. Governor Ricketts made a line-item veto of $11.8 million in each of the two fiscal years. That is just $23.6 million out of a 1.69 billion dollar appropriation. This equated to a 1.4% percent reduction in each fiscal year. According to DHHS, the line-item veto of funding in the Medicaid aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. The Medicaid aid budget is a block appropriation based on forecasted need and the department has the responsibility to manage the program within its appropriation and minimize adverse access-to-service issues for Medicaid eligible individuals and families. Additionally, the veto does not impact services not covered by Medicare like long-term care, nursing home care, and assisted-living care services. The Medicaid program will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical services like long-term care.
The so-called cuts in funding to the Behavioral Health aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. Nebraska is split into six “regions.” These are local units of government that the state partners work with to do planning and service implementation. The amount of funding included in the line-item veto represents just 1% of total contract funds allocated to the Behavioral Health Regions. Historically, behavioral health providers under contract with the Regions have received a 10% increase in rates over the last four years. Those rate increases are sustained in the current budget plan.
The line-item veto of funding in the Children & Family Services budget will not mean providers or contractors will receive across-the-board rate reductions. Children & Family Services has identified efficiencies and expects to save $1 million a year with a new statewide contract for drug testing of parents involved with the child welfare system. Those savings more than take care of the $640,000 annual cut in child welfare services.
Sustaining these cuts was difficult, particularly in the light of the efforts to unnecessarily shame those Senators who were supporting the fiscally responsible vetoes of the Governor. After my discussions with Health and Human Services, I felt confident that they can find cost savings to offset these cuts and still provide quality services during these challenging times.
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!
To mix things up a bit, I am going to lead off with events that happened outside of Lincoln. Monday I had the pleasure of meeting with the good people of Nebraska. My first meeting of the day was with the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association in Grand Island. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with these folks. After a brief review of current legislative activity, we engaged in a lively Q & A. Much of the questioning centered around the significant tax impact on fixed income of retirees. I also shared with them some detail regarding my priority bill, LR 6, calling for Nebraska to join in an Article V Convention of States. The group was very interested and engaged in some thoughtful discussion.
Later in the afternoon, my Legislative Aide and I attended a town hall style meeting with the Junior and Senior students from the Wood River High School – the home of the Fighting Eagles. The meeting was held in their beautiful auditorium. Students studying Political Science were tasked with researching a current legislative bill of their choice. They were assigned to study the bill and follow its progress through the session. After a very nice introduction, students were encouraged to go the mic and ask questions about their particular bill. Many of these bills were not specific to my committees so, with the assistance of my Aide, I did my best to answer their questions. I was very impressed by the whole event. I was first and foremost impressed by the students. Likewise, I was also impressed with the school’s faculty and their interaction with their students. It is clear to me that Wood River, Nebraska has a bright future. These students were the consummate professionals – they were educated, prepared, and polite. I was also impressed with the structure and concept of holding a town hall meeting for high school students. They are learning how to be actively engaged in their responsibilities as citizens to their local community and state.
Tuesday marked the start of 3 late night sessions in a row. The first night focused on LB461, the Governor’s and Revenue Committee’scomprehensive tax plan. For the first time in many years, the Revenue Committee advanced a comprehensive vision for tax reform in Nebraska. Legislative Bill 461, the Nebraska Taxpayer Reform Act, was intended to rein in high property and income taxes on families, farmers, and businesses across the state.
The bill had two major components. One component dealt with changing the methodology for measuring valuation of farmland for property tax purposes. Historically, land valuation has been based upon the recent history of land sales in the community. Instead, this legislation would create a methodology for measuring valuation based upon the income-producing history, using an 8 year Olympic average, dropping the high and the low. This was not designed to give quick property tax relief. Over time, this would at least allow farmland valuation to “float” with the commodity markets….avoiding the squeeze landowners are experiencing now trying to pay high property taxes with low commodity prices.
The second component of the bill focused on reductions in income and corporate tax rates. These small incremental reductions in tax rates would be triggered only when there is a 3.5% or more increase in projected revenue to the state. The bill was far from perfect. I voted for this legislation to advance it to ‘Select File’ for further amending and debate. Unfortunately, the bill’s sponsor failed to motivate enough support to give some hope for some tax relief and the bill failed to pass.
LB98, which would have extended certain levy authority for NRD’s, was also heavily debated. LB98 would have given a 10 year extension of the sunset date of the 3-cent property tax levy for fully appropriated NRD’s. I did not vote for cloture on this bill. This did not impact our NRDs, but it would have potentially increased property taxes for others. I could not bring myself to raise someone else’s property tax.
On Wednesday the majority of the day and night’s debate was on the mainline budget – LB327. The focus of the debate was not on overall spending but rather on a small provision of the bill dealing with the prioritization of which facilities would receive Title 10 Federal funding. There was a lot of misinformation and hyperbole about this issue. Ultimately, an amendment offered by Appropriation Committee Chair Senator Stinner pulled the controversial provision from the bill and this appropriation bill was passed onto Final Reading.
We have a long way to go before we pass the final biennium budget for 2017-2019. The Appropriations Committee has been meeting 5 days a week, since the beginning of the session to work through nearly a billion dollar shortfall in revenue. I am troubled that, to make the numbers work, this committee has proposed pulling funds from a number of agency funds and to draw significantly on the “rainy day fund”. In addition, I am concerned that this next biennium budget is built on a false premise…..namely, an overly optimistic increase in state revenue. In spite of this last year’s tax revenue income growth being a little south of 1%….this committee is projecting an increase of 5% in tax revenue. This state’s economy is highly dependent upon our great Agriculture industry. The folks in Lincoln and Omaha are a bit clueless about commodity prices and rural property taxes. If they had a better grasp of economic reality, they would lower their expectations for state revenue.
Late into the night on Thursday we continued our debate on LB44 the “Internet Sales Tax Collection.” I conceptually support the premises behind the crafting of this bill. I believe that we should have a level tax playing field. All goods purchased for consumption in Nebraska should have the same tax levied on those goods regardless of how they were purchased. The issues I have with the bill are to do with the constitutionality and the mechanisms used to collect these taxes. The bill needs much more refinement to become a functioning law. Debate ended without a vote, essentially the bill is dead for this session. Senator Watermeier the Chair of the Executive Committee, the bill’s sponsor, said he did intend to bring the bill back next year.
My staff and I hope everyone enjoyed their Easter Holiday. After the four day recess it was full bore ahead for the unicameral. The week was full of high profile and controversial bills.
The week started out with LB640 introduced by Senator Groene, Chair of the Education Committee. LB640 looked to change the way schools were funded. Specifically how property taxes are calculated and distributed. The bill would provide property tax relief by lowering the maximum levy from 1.05 to 1.00. By doing so, property taxes will be offset by property tax relief aid. If funding fell short, local school boards can request to raise the mill levy to 1.03 with a super-majority of the board after a public hearing. I support this concept because it gives a voice to the local citizens who will be paying for an increase in their taxes.
On Wednesday, both the Medical Marijuana bill, LB622 and the “The Shield” bill – LB611 were debated. LB622 introduced by Senator Wishart is a bill looking to create an entire system and network for the growing, processing, dispensing and prescribing of marijuana in various forms to treat a variety of medically diagnosed aliments. What concerns me about the bill is the vagueness of how many of these complex issues are to be addressed and regulated. A lot is left up to be figured out later. I am not comfortable as a legislator of putting the cart before the horse. This bill was a refinement of a bill presented last session and I feel it still needs even more refinement before we would consider passing it into law.
The third highly controversial bill discussed on the legislative floor was LB661 by Senator Kuehn. This proposed legislation provides for confidentiality of information relating to a death penalty lethal injection. Basically, it would protect the identity of any person or entity that manufactures, supplies, compounds, or prescribes substances used in carrying out of the lethal injection as part of the death penalty process. The reasoning behind the bill is to protect from harm and harassment those individual and companies who make available these supplies needed to carry out the will of the people of Nebraska, who voted to retain the death penalty in our state.
All three of these bills had robust debate but were unable to garner enough support to end debate and move to a vote. Therefore, Speaker Scheer removed them from the agenda. Each of these bills may be brought back to floor if the Senator who sponsored the bill can prove to the speaker that he or she has the 33 votes to bring debate to a close and trigger a vote on bill.
Thursday was slated as the Consent Calendar day. The Consent Calendar refers to process where non-controversial bills receive limited debate, just 15 minutes, and then the bill is voted on for advancement to Select File. More often than not, these bill are simple clean up bills requested by governmental agencies and departments.
On Friday we will be starting to address the 2018-2019 biennium budget. I will spend much time discussing the budget during my address next week. I can tell you that I have been attending several meeting this week on budget to better prepare for debate to follow.
On the local scene, I want to congratulate the City of Hastings. The City of Hastings was awarded the “Governor’s Showcase Community Award.” This award recognizes the outstanding efforts by communities over the past five years who have demonstrated the ability to identify community development goals; combine local, state, and federal resources to achieve those goals; and successfully execute projects having a positive impact on the community. This is an incredible honor for Hastings. To see a picture of the presentation visit my Facebook page – Senator Steve Halloran.
As we approach the intense discussions and debate centered on the next biennium budget, the legislature has been working its way through various “Senator”, “Speaker” and “Committee” priority bills.
The first day of last week, the focus was on my priority legislation LR6. LR6 is a legislative Resolution to Congress for a Convention of States to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Article V allows, as part of our core Constitution, for two methods to “propose” amendments to the Constitution. One method, with which we are most familiar, allows our Congress, by a two-thirds majority to propose amendments to the Constitution. The second method, which is gaining in popular momentum, is for the states to call for a ‘convention of states’ for the sole purpose of “proposing” amendments. The crucial, common safeguard with method, is the required ratification by three-fourths of the states’ legislatures. That means that 38 states must agree on the proposed amendment. That is a tall order – and it should be!
As we have previously discussed, the Founding Fathers were skeptical that the Federal Government would be able to dutifully restrain itself. So, to allow the states to have a Constitutional mechanism to rein in an out-of-control federal government in the event the federal government superseded its Constitutional authority, our founding fathers created two options within Article V to propose amendments to the Constitution.
Why did I choose this issue for my priority bill? Our federal government was designed by our Founders to have limited powers, with all other unlisted powers being granted to the states. Bottom line, the states were granted higher authority, by the Constitution, over the federal government. Unfortunately, over time, “career politicians” have excessively taken authority away from the states. The result is a $20 trillion National Debt, a mountain of expensive and burdensome regulations both on individuals and businesses, and an erosion of our personal liberties.
LR 6 is a narrowly defined resolution. It parallels a nationwide effort to call for a convention of states. This resolution focuses on limiting the terms in office for federal office holders (term limits), fiscal constraint (some form of balanced budget amendment) and reduction in regulatory authority. After some hours of vigorous debate, we fell short by only a few votes from moving this legislative resolution to select file. It seems as though a verbal minority, using unfounded fear mongering, are OK with an out of control federal government which has created deficit spending our children into a huge national debt. Their laisez-faire attitudes towards fiscal responsibly threatens our nation’s very survival.
Currently, LR6 is not scheduled for further debate, however the resolution is still active and eligible to be brought back onto the floor. We have the votes to pass LR6! We need just a handful of swing votes to evoke cloture so we can cease debate and bring it to a vote. Nebraska needs to be on leading edge of this historic effort – to use the powers granted to the states by the Constitution to create positive change for all Americans.
Just as there are serious issues at the Federal level we too have serious fiscal issues in our state. Nebraskans are having to deal with a double hit of extremely high property taxes combined with a sluggish Ag economy has resulted in a huge shortfall in revenue to the state. This shortfall has resulted in a billion dollar budget deficit. The Revenue and Appropriations Committee have been working tirelessly since the session began and are about to present a proposed budget to the Legislature. Debate on biennium budget is schedule to start on April 21st.
Yes, we are about to drill into the most crucial of our responsibilities as state legislator – a balanced budget. There will be some pain but I believe the state should have to behave in the same manner as our families do when income slides, we tighten our belt to deal with the reality of revenue shortfalls. District 33 families are part of the economic engine that makes our state run smoothly. My priority will be on you! The state will thrive if you are allowed to thrive.
On a lighter note, I always try to add a little local flavor at the end of my addresses. We had the pleasure of meeting with several school groups from District 33 this week. Logon to my Facebook page “Senator Steve Halloran” to view these pictures.
Last week we reached day 60 of the Legislative session. This means we are two-thirds of the way through the 90 day session. We have much more to cover in the next 30 session days, including passing the 2018-2019 biennial balanced budget.
The early part of week focused on LB46 which would provide for “Choose Life” License Plates in the State of Nebraska. The bill successfully was moved to a cloture vote after a long filibuster attempt lead by Senator Ernie Chambers. During the filibuster Senator Chambers offered no less than 25 floor amendments to prolong debate. Most of these amendments dealt with changing the wording of the plate. Some of these proposed changes were; “Honest Officials,” “Abolish Death Penalty,” “It Could be Worse,” and “This Too Will Pass.”
Senator Chambers was correct on one point, this too will pass. Governor Pete Ricketts signed LB46 into law on Wednesday stating, “This is the first pro-life legislation signed into law in years.”
“Across Nebraska, pro-life values permeate our culture,” With this bill, Nebraska joins numerous other states who offer ‘Choose Life’ license plates. While this is a small step, it is an important one for pro-life Nebraskans. Thank you to Senator Watermeier, Senator Friesen, and each senator who voted for this legislation. The broad-based support reaffirmed that being pro-life is non-partisan in Nebraska.”
This week we also debated LB68 introduced by Senator Mike Hilgers of Lincoln. This bill looked to harmonize the patchwork of firearms laws across the state. Currently, a person traveling across the state in a motor vehicle could in one part of the state be in full compliance of the law and in another part of the state be in violation of law. Active debate lasted for several hours and many amendments were introduced. At the end of the day it was clear that debate would continue for some time, so the Speaker at his discretion, seeing the need to address other bills, pulled LB68 from the agenda for the following day. This is not an uncommon practice especially when the session time is growing short and other bills need to be heard and voted on. This same situation arose on the Thursday with Senator Morfeld’s bill – LB173 dealing with discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Now this does not mean that these two bills are dead. They may be introduced later in the session or held over until the next session.
Alex, my Administrative Assistant was able to attend the Nebraska Department of Education Youth Leadership Legislative Breakfast at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln on Thursday, April 6th. He met with several FFA student delegates from our District (see picture below). If you or a group are visiting the state capitol please let my office know, we would thoroughly enjoy meeting with you.
My office has received a number of correspondences with regards to my vote on LB622 – Adopt the Medical Cannabis Act. I did vote no on LB622 because I have concerns with its implementation as well as a number of safety concerns. While the bill is quite voluminous in its size, there are a lot of details missing that raised some serious concerns for me.
For one, there will be a patient registry, I have concerns about insuring personal privacy. This Act will authorize manufactures and dispensaries be set up and regulated across the state? The language in the bill is very vague on this issue. “Independent laboratories” are to be chosen by the manufactures. Historically, self-regulation does not work effectively. Along the same line, what are correct dosage / strengths needed to properly treat the patient? Who will determine the criteria of the quality and purity of the “drug” and its manufacture?
I also have concerns about the breadth and depth of the research. While I heard some personal success stories in the hearing, I did not hear much with regards to clinical studies or FDA approval. Secondly, if cannabis is so safe, why is there a clause granting immunity from liability for the new state government department overseeing this program?
Additionally, at what level /dosage of medical marijuana is a person impaired enough to no longer safely operate an automobile? We have standards for alcohol and means of measurement of alcohol levels. Should we not have similar standards for medical marijuana? We have to address the safety concerns of a person under the influence of medical marijuana and potential impact to the public. Finally, there is a significant net fiscal note through fiscal year 2018-2019 of nearly 2 million dollars attached to the bill.
The committee vote was 7 to 1, so it was clear that my no vote on LB622 would not affect the eventual outcome of whether or not it would pass out of committee and be sent to the legislative floor for a full and fair debate. I voted no to ensure my concerns were put on the official record. For individuals seeking some potential remedy for pain and suffering, I do support LB167 – which includes cannabinol as a Schedule V controlled substance for the treatment of health issues such as seizures.
On Tuesday, I was able to meet with a few home school families from Hastings who were visiting the Capitol to learn about how government operates. I met with Ethan Rogers, Riley Rogers, and members of the Shade, Swanson, and Baker families. The adventure to the Capitol was especially important for the members of the Shade family, as one of their children will be graduating in the spring. As a part of their larger overall field trip to Lincoln, the families also visited Morrill Hall, the Sheldon Art Gallery, and the Lincoln Children’s Museum. It sounds like they made the most of their journey, and it was a pleasure meeting with them.
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.
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