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Week 4 of legislature has been a typical work week during a short session. Early morning meetings with my staff. Floor debate from nine a.m. till noon. Meetings over the lunch hour. Hearings that run late into the night, followed by meetings with my staff who provide me prepared materials to review that evening. Then I get up the next morning and do it all over again. It keeps me pretty busy, but it is rewarding work knowing that I and my fellow Senators are looking out for the best interests of the good people of Nebraska.
My staff and I have been preparing for Tuesday’s hearing, January 30th, on my bill LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act. This bill and the events that precipitated the writing of this bill has received quite a bit of media attention both locally and nationally. I want to provide some clarity about what has been written about the bill. First, this is not a bill to restrict or squash free-speech on college campuses. Quite the opposite! The goal of LB718 as amended by AM 1553, is to guarantee / protect the free-speech rights for ALL – students, faculty, staff and invited guests. Everyone should have the right to be heard.
Second, the bill does NOT outlaw counter-demonstrations. All points of view should and need to be heard. It is through the free flow of information and ideas that we are able to make educated and sound decisions. The bill does state that counter-demonstrations may be held so long as such conduct is lawful and does not interfere with the free expression rights of others on campus by materially and substantially disrupting activities and the functioning of the institution. In simpler terms, respecting the rights of others to freely speak and display materials. This should encourage dialogue rather that a shouting match and name calling.
Third, it requires institutions of higher learning to report on an annual basis any incidents that happen on campus during the year and how those situations were handled by the institution. It holds the institutions accountable for protecting the free-speech right of all on college campuses.
Recently the Board of Regents for University of Nebraska passed the Nebraska Policy Commitment to Free Expression; Guide for Facilities Use; and Education. I would like to compliment the Board of Regents for unanimously adopting a new free speech policy. This is an important first step toward addressing the serious free speech issues that I and my fellow Senators Steve Erdman and Tom Brewer identified at UNL. While this is a positive step, we must still see how the new policy will be implemented by the NU Administration. There are areas in their policy that need further clarification. This is one reason why I am continuing on with LB718. Additionally, LB718 as amended is not limited to the University of Nebraska but encompasses all public institutions of higher learning in the state of Nebraska. I encourage you to read the bill as amended and to testify on this bill. Your voices need to be heard. Again, the hearing will be held on Tuesday, January 30th within the Education Committee. The Education Committee meets in room 1525 of the State Capitol.
Shifting gears, two bills that I have received quite a lot of correspondence about from constituents were LB780 and LB1022. LB780 introduced by Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks from Lincoln seeks to outlaw the manufacture of “bump stocks” and “silencers” or, more accurately “suppressors” and make it a crime to possess these items. The comments we received were overwhelmingly against this bill. I agreed with the comments that “suppressors” needed to be taken out of this bill. I had my staff draft an amendment that would strike out any reference to “suppressors” from the bill. During the hearing, Senator Pansing-Brooks did remove this language from the bill. As a result of her actions there was no need for me to submit my amendment. One would have to assume that she received the same type of correspondence that I had received. It just goes to show that correspondence matters!
The second bill, LB1022, known as “Adopt the Irrigation Tax Act” was introduced by Senator Paul Schumacher from Columbus, Nebraska. As with LB780 the correspondence we received was clearly against the bill. The costs to farmers would be astronomical. Rest assured, I will not be in support this bill.
This week’s message will be short and sweet. We have a lot happening at the capitol. Committee hearings on new bills began this week. In total 469 new bills and 13 legislative resolutions were submitted this year. That brings the total number of bills for biennium session to 1,136. In Nebraska, every bill receives a hearing. These hearings are often called, “the second house” or the “people’s house” because these hearings present the opportunity for interested parties and the public at large to express their opinions about bills being proposed. Senators usually serve on more than one committee. Currently I serve on three committees: Agricultural Committee, Business and Labor Committee, and Judiciary Committee.
My busiest committee is the Judiciary. By the end of this first week of hearings, we as committee will have heard testimony for no less than fifteen bills. Often these hearings go late into the night. However, the time spent is well spent. The testimony help inform myself and other Senators which enable us to make better decisions on whether or not a bill should be voted out of committee and sent to the floor of legislature for debate by the entire body.
The two bills that I submitted this session are LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act and LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act. LB718 ensures that the Free Speech rights, granted in United States Constitution, are protected for everyone on Nebraska’s public institutions of higher education. The public hearing for this bill is scheduled for January 30th within the Education Committee. Since the bill was submitted, I have had further discussions with several parties. As a result of those discussions, I wrote an amendment to the bill to make the bill stronger. I encourage you to read the amendment and to testify at the hearing later this month.
LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act directly addresses concerns by those who unrealistically fear a “runaway” convention. LB1058 creates a structure for how the State of Nebraska will elect and govern delegates to a called Convention of States by the United States Congress. In the coming weeks I will discuss in more detail each of these bills. Again, I encourage you to read the bill and contact my office if you have any questions on LB718 and LB1058.
Saturday, January 27th the Adams County Farm Bureau Federation and Hastings Area Chamber will be hosting my first Coffee with the Senator this session at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. The meeting will start at 10:00 a.m. I hope to see you there!
We hit the ground running during week two of legislative session. On Monday we started to debate general file carry-over bills from last session. During the second session of a biennium, bills can be “carried-over from the last session and debated. However any bills that are not passed during this session will be indefinitely postponed. In simpler terms, the bill is now dead. If a Senator such as my self wants to bring back a bill, the Senator will have to resubmit the bill the following year and go through the entire process again as if it was a new bill. The bill will have to be referenced to a committee, have a hearing, be voted out of committee and then placed on general file. The success of a bill in the past does not always guarantee future success. Committee make-up of members can change as well as social and political climates of the day.
One such bill that has gone through this process several times is the “helmet bill.” Over the years this bill has come to floor in many different forms. This year it was LB368 which sought to change helmet provisions, change passenger age limits, and require eye protection for operators of motorcycles and mopeds. The bill was brought by Senator John Lowe. The bill was unable get the necessary thirty-three votes to evoke cloture and end debate last session. The bill saw new life this year when Senator Bob Krist made it his priority for this year. When a Senator designates a bill as a priority bill, it “jumps the line” and it is called to floor over other non-priority bills. Therefore LB368 was debated on Monday and then again on Wednesday. Once again, the bill was unable to gain the necessary thirty-three votes to evoke cloture. The bill will most likely not be brought back to floor this year. So if a Senator wants to present a helmet bill next year, he or she will have to start all over again.
Wednesday was also the day the Governor presented his State of the State address to the Legislature and the people of Nebraska. Governor Ricketts plan is one of several tax relief plans being proposed this session. I have been posting links to these bills on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SenatorHalloran/) so you can read these for yourself. Through discussions with my fellow Senators I have heard that there may be additional tax relief related bills to be presented this session. I encourage you to share your thoughts with my office on these different proposals.
I fully support tax relief and reform in Nebraska. The federal government in Washington, D.C., has struggled to reach solutions that will unleash a new era of American economic growth, many state governments have forged ahead in meeting their particular fiscal and economic challenges. Many of our surrounding States that have adopted pro-growth policies have seen their economies grow. Many of the more successful, economically growing states have found that competitive tax policies are the key towards viable growth. Nebraska’s focus should be on pro-growth policies. One of the goals of implementing pro-growth tax policies is to first stop the out migration of citizens. Citizens are increasingly “voting with their feet” and moving to states with better economic outlooks. This underpins the fact that taxes absolutely bear a relationship to the economic health of our state. Nebraska is a small population state and can be easily influenced by people leaving our state to due to our burdensome taxes.
Governor Pete Ricketts, in his State of the State address, declared his interest in reducing both income taxes and property taxes. His proposal is dependent upon economic growth, with tax reductions triggered incrementally when economic growth occurs. I personally believe that without first reducing taxes, economic growth will be sluggish. My preference for tax relief would be to focus on property tax relief. As your representative, I have heard from constituent after constituent that property taxes are unreasonably high, and there has been a loud cry for property tax relief. I have not heard this same concern for income tax relief.
Here are some facts regarding Nebraska’s property taxes.
I am looking forward to a healthy tax reform debate on the floor of the legislature. It is my sincerest hope that we as a body can come together and pass meaningful tax relief this session for the good people of Nebraska.
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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