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Wednesday, Jan 3rd marked the beginning of the second session of the 105th legislature. As an interesting tidbit of information. This is the earliest date a session of the legislature can convene. According to our state constitution, article III section ten, the legislature shall commence at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January of each year. Since Monday was the 1st, we could start on the Wednesday the 3rd . I am going to take this as a good sign that we are ready to get started and that we will get a lot accomplished during this short session.
As you may know we call this session a short session because we meet for sixty legislative days during even numbered years and we meet for ninety legislative days during odd numbered years. Why do we not meet for the same number of days each year? It’s because during the long session which is ninety days we are tasked with creating the biennium budget.
The short session can be a very busy session for several reasons. For instance, we have several bills that carried over from the last session. Since these bills have already had their hearings we can start to debate them on floor right away. As a matter of fact we will start full session debates on bills starting Monday the 8th. Second, Senators are finishing up drafting new bill for this session and these need to be submitted within the first ten days. Third, sometimes, like this year, we unfortunately had to address a projected budget shortfall. Currently that budget shortfall is projected to be somewhere between 150 to 200 million dollars.
On Wednesday, the Governor will address the Legislature to give his State of the State Address at 10 a.m. in which he will lay out his plan to address the budget shortfall. His plan will then be given to Appropriations Committee to review. The Appropriations Committee will study the Governor’s plan, make some changes and recommendations. I do not see the legislature starting the debate on the budget changes until late January, early February. So in the interim we will be addressing carry-over legislation and starting on committee hearings for the new bills proposed for this session.
One bill that I have written is LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act. This bill looks to guarantee free speech for all on college campuses in the state of Nebraska. The impetus for this bill was born out of well published incident on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus in which a college sophomore was denied her right to free speech. I want to be clear that this is not the only reason I felt this bill needed to written. After it was known that I, along with Senator Edman and Senator Brewer had raised our concerns to the university, our offices were flooded with phone calls, emails of support and stories from others who felt their freedom of speech rights were suppressed as well when they attended college. So it’s not based on a single, isolated incident but a pattern of behaviors over time. Seven states have already passed similar legislation and ten states have legislation pending. Based on communications that I have received from both supporters and detractors, I am drafting an amendment that will strengthen the bill. My ultimate goal is defended and protected everyone’s First Amendment rights to free speech at institutions of higher learning.
This will be a busy short session (60 Days) dealing with the budget shortfall (which I and many of my fellow Senators predicted) and multiple tax reform bills taking center stage.
I am looking forward to working with my fellow Senators to pass legislation this session that will bring meaningful change / relief benefiting all Nebraskans.
Monday marked the seventieth legislative day. We have just twenty days left to this session. Monday morning we voted on and passed 52 bills. These bills now go to the Governor to be signed into law or be vetoed. If the Governor vetoes a bill, the Legislature then has the right to decide to accept the veto or override the Governor’s veto. As a reminder, it takes 30 votes in the affirmative to override a Governor’s veto.
The entirety of the afternoon session on Monday dealt with LB595, which would provide for the use of physical force or physical restraint or removal from a class as a response to adverse student behavior. My office received quite a bit of correspondence from constituents both for and against LB595. Through rigorous debate, several amendments were proposed. Clearly this bill raised emotions. LB595 is addressing a real concern – safety and control in the classroom. I believe that something needs to be done for the safety of all children in the classroom. My hope is that through further conversations off the floor, changes can be proposed to LB595 to make it an effective bill that will protect the rights of all involved within the classroom environment.
Tuesday marked the start of debate on the biennium budget bills. Speaker Jim Scheer made it clear that if any Senator would want to add money to the budget for programs or services, “they” would also have to come up with monies (typically from some other program or agency) to pay for this increase. Hence making their changes budget neutral.
The debate focused on the Appropriation Committee’s proposal to take 15 million dollars each year of the biennium budget from the Highway Cash Fund and redirect those funds to the General Fund. This Committee recommendation represents an historic departure from the belief that gas tax receipts are for infrastructure spending and instead redirects gas tax revenues for General Fund spending. This is an unwarranted use and improper use for financing increased General Fund Spending. Raiding the Highway Cash Fund to subsidize increased state spending is wrong. Our transportation infrastructure, in my estimation, is a priority for the state of Nebraska. Funds should not be raided to balance a shortfall in General Funds revenues.
Wednesday marked the first late night session. The prioritization of who in the state of Nebraska will receive Title X federal grant program funds. Title X provides individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventative health services. None of the Title X funds can be used for abortion services. After eight hours of debate, at 9:00pm, a cloture vote passed and we moved LB327, the primary budget bill, to Select File.
On the home front, I would like to congratulate Longfellow Elementary on being recognized by Solution Tree as a Model Professional Learning Community at Work. Longfellow was one of only 118 schools and districts in the United States to receive this honor. Solution Tree delivers comprehensive professional development to schools and districts around the world. Solution Tree has empowered K–12 educators to raise student achievement through a wide range of services and products. They have offices in North America and Australia. This is truly a prestigious award for Longfellow Elementary. They joined Alcott, Lincoln, Hawthorne and Morton Elementary schools along with Hastings Middle Schools as the only schools in the state to receive this national recognition for improving student performance.
Often you will hear the term “LB” followed by a number, when we talk about a particular bill. Many of you probably think that “LB” stands for “A Lot of Bull,” However truth be told, LB stands for Legislative Bill. While a number of these bills may not grab the headlines or sound very exciting, your legislature is hard at work insuring our state runs smoothly meeting the needs of all Nebraskans. Tuesday, March 28th marked the first full-day debate session.
All committee hearings were wrapped up last week. Committee’s still have work to do choosing which bills are worthy of making it to the floor. With so many priority bills already sitting on General and Select File along with the looming fiscal budget debate, I do not foresee many more bills moving out of committee. These bills will most likely be held over until the next legislative session in January of 2018.
That being said, it was off to races on Tuesday. We debated and passed onto Select File over seventeen bills. LB289, which deals with human trafficking, generated quite a bit of debate on Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s saddens me to think that in this day and age that we are still having to deal with the enslavement of other human beings. This is simply not acceptable. I fully support LB289. The debate on this bill centered on the increased penalties for those who traffic in and “purchase” these human beings for sex. I specifically support the addition of mandatory minimum sentencing for this crime.
With LB447, introduced by Senator Chambers, which deals with the removal of mandatory minimums sentencing for certain drug-related cases, there was a lot debate on which types of offenses deserve mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. This is sure to generate even more debate when both LB447 and LB289 come back for debate on Select File.
My first bill became law this week when the Governor Pete Ricketts signed off on Senator Kuehn’s LB203 unemployment benefits bill. My bill, LB273, deals with accounting calculations for unemployment benefit eligibility. This bill along with another bill LB301 introduced by Senator Albrecht, were folded into Senator Kuehn’s bill. It is not unusual for several non-controversial bills dealing with the same subject matter to be essentially combined in order to streamline the legislative process of debate and voting.
On Monday your State Capitol was buzzing with intellectual energy as talented high school students from across the state attended the Capitol Forum Program. This program is a collaboration of Humanities Nebraska and the Secretary of State’s Office. Students actively engage in the democratic process by debating tough topics dealing with global issues and foreign policy. Although I was unable to attend the event because I had a previously scheduled event in Hastings, my Legislative Aide, Drew Borske represented our office. He shared with me how impressed he was with the Hastings High School students he talked with that day.
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