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We have already reached the 2/3 point of the session for this year. As this is my first short-session, I am finding out that these short-sessions are even more intense than the longer 90 day sessions. We have less time to address the important issues facing the Legislature. This is especially true when we have to deal with a budget shortfall during a short session. It is my fundamental belief that we as a state, just like you and I have to do at home, we must learn to live within our means. When revenues are down, we must find ways to reduce spending, while maintaining our priorities and planning for the future. It’s not an easy set of tasks, but it is necessary if we want a secure future for ourselves and the future generations of Nebraskans.
Making tough choices comes with the job of being a State Senator. LB998, which would create the Collaborative School Behavioral Mental Health Program is one such of those tough choices. The bill would create a program where each Educational Services Unit (ESU) would hire a social worker to train teachers, and school personnel to work with parents, schools and providers in the delivery and receipt of effective, family-centered services. On the surface this looks like a great idea to help and train teachers, parents, and school administrators about options to help students with certain needs. However, when you dig a little deeper, there are two concerns that I and many of my fellow Senators have with this bill.
First, we already have resource officers placed in every school. These new positions would amount to a duplication of services already available. The second concern dovetails with first concern because it would add additional FTE’s for the school boards. Yes, the bill does provide private funding for three years, but what happens after three years? Would additional private funding continue to provide funding? More likely, the burden for this program would fall on the shoulders of local school boards to fund this expense after three years. Once a program like this is started, rarely does it go away. So, while on the surface this bill appears to be a good thing, we as a legislature, need to examine what services are already in place as well as the impact a bill will have on our state in the future. The bill had three hours of debate and no action was taken on the bill. Therefore it is likely that this bill will be indefinitely postponed.
Tuesday was our first scheduled late night debate session and we took the full measure of that time by debating till almost midnight. The day was focused on the three budget bills. LB946 authorized the transfer of $100 million dollars from our “Rainy Day Fund” to the General Fund to help address the budget shortfall. This transfer will leave just $296 million dollars in this fund. Within just two years we have cut this fund in half! If we continue down this path, the fund will soon be empty. This is alarming to me. What happens if we are mandated to build more prisons because of lawsuit brought by the ACLU? Where will the $500 million dollars plus to build a new prison come from in our budget? It’s not “raining” right now, we should not be tapping the “Rainy Day Fund” at this time, and we as a legislature should be focusing on fair and balanced cuts to all state agencies.
LB945 authorizes the transfer of cash funds from state agencies to the General Fund. These are agency cash reserve funds and much like the “Rainy Day Fund” we will run out money from these funds as well. Therefore when agencies, for example, need to upgrade computers and software to better care for the people they serve they will not have the money. So instead of replacing and upgrading over time with the cash reserves they have on hand, they will be forced to request an appropriation from the General Fund over and above their operating budget. Both LB 946 and LB945 are short sided stop-gap measures to get us through the year. We, as a Legislature, need to be engaging in more long term planning.
The bulk of Tuesday afternoon and evening debate was on LB944, the main budget bill proposed by the Governor and modified by the Appropriation Committee. The majority of the debate focused on the section dealing with Title X funding for medical clinics. The bill would mandate “objective independence” for healthcare clinics that perform abortions as well as family planning healthcare services. Any clinic that performs abortions would have to show legal, physical and financial separation of abortion services with other services they offer. The reason for adding this provision bill is to ensure that the State of Nebraska will be in full compliance with the Federal Government’s requirement that no monies from Title X funding can be used for abortion services. The concern arose that we as State might be jeopardy of losing these Federal funds from an audit that Planned Parenthood used 6% of their allocated Title X funds for abortion services.
My office received impassioned correspondence, both for and against, the Title X provision of this bill. I believe a lot of mis-information is out there about how exactly this provision would effect healthcare services across the state. First, clinics that do not perform abortion services would be not effected at all. They would continue to receive their Title X funds as they have in past. Second, those clinics that do perform abortions can continue to receive Title X funds for those non-abortion related services they now perform. They just have to clearly demonstrate the legal, physical and financial separation of these services to guarantee that no Title X funds were used for abortion services as mandated by the Federal Government. This provision of the bill DOES NOT take away Title X funding from the state nor does it deny healthcare services.
With the six hours dedicated to debating this bill focused on the Title X provision, we as body were unable to discuss the across-the-board reductions to higher education and other state agencies before a cloture vote was taken. This leaves us just two more rounds of debate to address these very controversial aspects of the bill. The debate on the bill is far from over.
Working with good people from Cairo Nebraska, I have made arrangements to have a Coffee with the Senator at the Medina Street Vault for 9:00 a.m., Saturday, April 7th.
I have been very encouraged with the progress we as a Legislature have been making this week. We have kept filibustering to minimum, and that is a good thing. This is not to say that we have not had lively debate on some of the more controversial bills.
One such bill that effects all of Nebraska, but more so to the rural areas such as District 33, is LB98 which would extend certain levy authority for natural resources districts. This bill would allow local NRD’s to extend the maximum three cent levy authority for fully or over-appropriated districts until 2025-2026. The current law in statute which allows for this three cent override is set to sunset in 2019. The origin of the levy override was created to help NRD’s manage the water conservation issues that arose a little over a decade ago. It was part of Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act. The majority of local NRD’s have already met the goals they set before the 2019 sunset date. Therefore, the program did what it was supposed to do and it is no longer needed. If we extend the sunset date we are essentially allowing a tax increase. I am against any tax increase, especially one that is not needed.
Speaking of making sure we don’t increase taxes for Nebraskans, I voted to advance LB1090. LB 1090 would restore the $134 personal exemption credit that was effectively repealed by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The bill also establishes the Nebraska standard deduction at $6,750 for single taxpayers and $9,900 for head of household filers. The standard deductions for married, filing jointly returns, is double the standard deduction for single returns. By passing this bill, we will ensure that Nebraskans will keep more money in their pockets.
The debate of how to address the current budget shortfall should start to be addressed within the next week on the floor of the Legislature. LB944, which was proposed by the Governor and sponsored by the Chair of Revenue Committee, Senator Jim Smith of Papillion, has had several amendments added to the bill based on discussions with Senators and negotiations with the members of the Appropriation Committee. One area that has received a lot media attention and heavy handed lobbying by the University of Nebraska is the proposed budget cuts to the University of Nebraska system. I predict there will be lively debate on this issue. The question I have to ask to the University is, If you are not willing to take the proposed cuts of just 4 percent while other state agencies have already taken deeper cuts ranging from 5 to 8 percent during the biennium session last year, from what other state services would you suggest we make additional cuts over and above the cuts we are already requesting they take now? Does it come from Health and Human Services that provide a lot of the services to the most-vulnerable people in the state?
If we take more money from the State’s rainy day fund, which has around $296 million dollars, we will have less in our cash reserves, as a state, than the University currently holds in their own cash funds. So the University wants the state to use it’s cash reserves rather than tapping into their own cash reserves when times are tough. We have already dipped into our cash reserves to address the $900 million dollar budget shortfall last year. In June 2017, the state had cash reserves of $680 million dollars. So in just two years we have cut our cash reserves in half. I feel it’s time for the University of Nebraska to step up and do it’s part! Just as a point of reference, salaries for administrators within the University system have rose by 22 percent in just three years. Within the same time frame, other state agencies salaries have risen 8.1 percent.
On a lighter note, it was pleasure to host Pastor Eddie Goff from New Hope Baptist Church of Hastings. He gave the Friday morning Legislative prayer. My Assistant, Alex Gage, then gave the Pastor a tour of the State Capitol. I would like to personally thank Pastor Eddie Goff, Pastor Paul Warneke from Zion Lutheran Church in Hastings, and Reverend Greg Allen Pickett from First Presbyterian Church of Hastings, who generously offered their time and talents in delivering the morning prayer at the State Capitol this year. It was an honor to have them represent District 33.
Just a reminder that the last Coffee with the Senator for this session is scheduled for 9:00 a.m., Saturday, March 31st, at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. I hope to see you there!
On Monday we debated and passed onto select file a very important omnibus bill dealing with opiate prescriptions. Opiate addiction has become an epidemic situation across our great nation. I am proud to say that your Nebraska Legislature is taking a proactive approach in handling this serious issue. LB931 which would provide requirements for opiate and controlled substance prescriptions was originally introduced by Senator Howard from Omaha. This bill, through the committee process, was combined with similar legislation introduced by Senators Kuehn and Linstrom. This new version of the bill is truly a bipartisan effort.
LB931 would essentially prohibit healthcare practitioners prescribing more than a “seven-day supply” of opioid pain relievers to a patient younger than nineteen. A practitioner desiring to prescribe opioids to such a patient for the first time would also be required to discuss the reason for the prescription, and the risks associated with opioid use to the patient’s parent or guardian. The bill includes an exception from the seven-day supply limitation for patients suffering from chronic pain, a cancer diagnosis, or palliative care. Additionally, any healthcare practitioner would be required to discuss the following topics: risks of addiction and overdose, reasons why the practitioner deems the prescription necessary, and alternative treatments that may be available. Finally, the bill would require that persons receiving dispensed opiates would need to provide photographic identification. An exception is provided for patients, residents, and employees of licensed healthcare facilities so long as there are related identification procedures in place at the facility. I feel so strongly about what this bill will accomplish that I have signed on as a co-sponsor of bill.
The combining of bills is not an uncommon process. Often times Senators, working on their own during the interim session, will create very similar bills or have content that fits in with the themes of other bills. By combining these bills we can save a substantial amount of time on the floor by debating one bill rather than several individual bills. Often times these omnibus bills become committee priority bills. Which is a good thing because many of these necessary bills would not be debated on the floor of legislature because Senator’s have selected another bill as their one personal priority bill.
This is exactly what happened to one of my bills – LB366. LB366 would change and eliminate provisions relating to parole administration. The bill was a collaborative effort between my office and the Office of Parole Administration. The bill would allow the Office of Parole Administration to make the needed changes so they can operate more efficiently and effectively as an office. Not too glamourous of a bill, but a much needed one for the Office of Parole Administration. Now instead of this bill languishing in committee and most likely not seeing the light of day, LB366 was added to several bills addressing corrections and it will be brought to the floor and debated by the full legislature. A real win-win.
I have made LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act my priority bill for this session. The bill provides the Legislature with the rules and procedures necessary for the creation of a delegation and the guidelines for them to follow during any Article V convention called by Congress. With the Balanced Budget Amendment to United Stated Constitution having 28 states of the 34 required to call a Convention of States, we could see a Convention of States within the next few years. As a state we must be prepared to act when called. LB1058 would provide the framework for us as a state to effectively participate in any Convention of States Convention.
With the recent terrible events that have taken place at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, we in Nebraska need to address how we as State are going to better protect our most value resource, our children. I have charged my staff with researching options for making our schools a safer and more secure place of learning. One option, I am considering as possible legislation for the next biennium session is to allow teachers and administrators, with the approval of the school board, to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. The bill would require teachers and administrators to take special training by the State Patrol or other certified training groups before they could conceal carry weapons in a school. I would leave it up to the discretion of the local school boards to decide whether or not to allow vetted volunteer staff to be professionally trained to conceal carry to protect students and fellow staff members. I don’t expect any single piece of legislation will solve this complex issue of school shootings but I do believe that we should provide local school boards with options. Currently, Nebraska law only allows on-duty, uniformed law enforcement officers to carry firearms on school property and any concealed weapons are prohibited. In addition, law enforcement response time to a school shooting, no matter how fast they can arrive, it leaves precious minutes in which the active shooter can inflict bodily harm. A well trained conceal carry staff member can immediately engage someone intent on harming students and staff.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of hosting the members of Leadership Hastings group which is sponsored by the Hastings Chamber of Commerce. The Leadership Hastings is a vibrant group of young leaders from our community. I appreciated their visit to the Capitol. As always, please do not hesitate to contact our office. My staff, or I, can be reached at the office in Lincoln 402-471-2712 an visit my Facebook page – Senator Steve Halloran. Thank you for listening…..Have a Great Day in Nebraska!
This week we passed the half way point. Wednesday marked the 30th day of the session. I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. On Friday we are scheduled to vote on 15 bills for final reading. If all those bills pass, we will have passed a total 32 bills to date for this session. During an average short session we traditionally pass approximately two hundred bills. With hearings coming to a close next week, we will be on the floor all day debating, so the number of passed bills should increase dramatically. Priority bills by Senators, Committees, and the Speaker will receive first attention for bill debated on the floor. Bills that were not selected as a priority bills will most like not be brought to floor for debate and therefore the bill will be indefinitely postponed.
March will also usher in debate on how to address the looming two hundred million dollar budget shortfall. My office has received a large amount of correspondence expressing concerns about which programs and agencies, including the University of Nebraska, will have to deal with budget cuts in order to balance the State’s budget. Budget cuts are never easy, no one likes to see a decrease in funds appropriated.
Last session several programs and institutions were hit harder than others. So now, it would seem only fair that those not effected as much by cuts last year should bear more of the burden this year. Cuts need to be fair and balanced. We, as a legislature, will be working hard to minimize the impact of these cuts within the fiscal constraints we have to operate under. The other option to cuts is to raise revenue. The only mechanism the legislature has to raise revenue is to increase taxation, either through raising taxes or removing tax exceptions. When I ask the same people who do not want their budgets cut, what taxes should we raise, typically their first response is, “not mine.” Then it’s usually followed by “my taxes are too high already.” Something is going to have give in this argument.
A number of constituents have mentioned taxing internet sales in Nebraska. Senator Watermeier introduced such a bill last session – LB44. While I agree with this bill, similar bills in other states have been found to be unconstitutional by the districts courts. The Supreme Court of the United States is scheduled to take up this issue later this year. Unfortunately, until they rule on this matter, the collection of internet sales tax will not be an option for increasing revenue in our state.
Speaking of taxes, in March we will also be addressing the several tax reform bills drafted this year. Senator Erdman’s bill, LB829 appears to be destined to be decided by you – the Nebraska voters. The Revenue Committee has not acted to move the bill to the full legislature for debate. This week, petitioners began soliciting the signatures necessary to place the proposal on the November ballot. I encourage you to go the following website to learn more on this ballot initiative – yestopropertytaxrelief.com. I have also posted a link to this site on my Facebook page – Senator Steve Halloran.
Another tax reform bill receiving a lot of press in the media is the Governor’s plan, LB947, which is sponsored by the Chair of the Revenue Committee Senator Jim Smith. The bill has been a work in progress. Several amendments to the bill have been proposed to gain broader support by the public and the Legislature. Essentially, LB947 would convert the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund to provide refundable income tax credits for agricultural property owners as well as homeowners. Tax credits would begin at 12% with a cap of $280 for homeowners. The credits would increase by 2% every other year until they reached 30% in 2031. The residential caps would rise $50 with each increase. The 30% tax credit would mirror the percentage offered by Senator Erdman’s bill or the ballot initiative. However it would take thirteen years to reach that 30% level. I am sure that lively debate will ensue in coming days and weeks.
Just a reminder that the next Coffee with the Senator is scheduled for this upcoming Saturday, March 3rd, 9:00 a.m. at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. I hope to see you there!
The past two weeks have been very for me and my staff. Each week a bill I introduced had its hearing. Last week was LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act, and this week was the hearing for LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act. Both of these bills have received an immense about media coverage. Yes, they are controversial bills, most bills that are important are controversial.
I am very passionate about both of these bills. I believe that we must defend and protect the First Amendment right to free-speech. We may not like, agree with, or even feel disgusted by what a person says but we must defend their right to say what they think. For if we shut down their rights, we may find someday that someone will want take away our rights to voice our opinions. I have been working closely with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, otherwise known as (FIRE) to amend the bill to give institutions of higher learning the ability to create and enforce their own policies regarding free expression on campus while still holding their actions accountable. The amendment has taken a bit a longer that I would like, but I am very pleased with what we have created. The amendment was completed on Friday. As promised, I have sent a copy of the new amendment to those media outlets that requested a copy. You can read the new amendment for yourself by going to the Legislative website and search for LB718.
LB1058 – the faithful delegate act, was heard this Wednesday. The bill provides the Legislature with the rules and procedures necessary to create and guide a Nebraska delegation to any Article V convention called by Congress. The rationale for creating this bill came out of the debate last session on LR6 and the fact that we currently have a Convention of States call for a proposed Balanced Budget Amendment to United Stated Constitution. 28 states of the 34 required to call for a balanced budget amendment convention has been obtained. We could see a Convention of States within the next few years. As a state we must be prepared to act when called. LB1058 would provide the framework for us to effectively participate in any convention of states convention.
I want to thank everyone who came out in person to testify or sent in written testimony on LB718 and LB1058. I know traveling from District 33 to Lincoln during the work day can be a challenge. So, many choose to send it written testimony to be read into the official record. Please be aware that written testimony on any bill must be submitted to the Chair of the committee in which the bill is being heard by 5:00pm the previous day.
There has some been criticism that the Legislature has become too polarized and that we only vote along party lines. While it is true that there are clearly differences of opinion on how we as state should address taxes and entitlements, we can agree on a variety of other important issues. One bill I strongly support is LB1132 brought by Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks. LB1132 provides a procedure to set aside convictions of victims of sex trafficking and to expunge related records. I believe that victims of sex traffickers should not be further penalized by the justice system. In simple terms, the bill would make it possible to essentially remove any record of a conviction the victim of sex trafficking was found guilty of committing. For example, many victims are convicted of prostitution.
Often times I will post articles on my Facebook page without comments. Some have criticized me for not posting any comments. I do not comment this for a very specific reason. I want see what people, mostly from the district, have to say on a topic without being biased by my comments. This along with phone calls, emails, and town hall meetings aid me knowing the heartbeat of district 33 which that I have honor of serving.
Speaking of town hall meetings, the next Coffee with Senator is scheduled for 9:00am, March 3rd, at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings.
On Tuesday of the week we had the public hearing for my bill LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act. I want to thank all the people for and against the bill who took the time to come out and testified using the free speech right to do so. It is important that we have a venue, open to the public, where the free exchange of opinions can be heard. This is truly the crux of what LB718 would achieve on the campuses of institutions of higher learning in Nebraska. LB718 was written to guarantee / protect the free-speech rights for ALL – students, faculty, staff and invited guests.
After carefully listening to ALL the testimony and reviewing the numerous emails and articles written leading up to the hearing and the days that have followed, resulted in me working on a new amendment to the bill that will address concerns that have been raised. I have received a number of requests for this newest amendment to LB718. This amendment is in the final drafting stages. We will release it as soon as it is finished – expected early next week. This amendment was drafted with the collaboration of my office and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, otherwise known as (FIRE). With the University Nebraska Board of Regents only releasing their newly written and approved policy late last week titled: Commitment to Free Expression: Guide for Facilities Use: and Education, FIRE worked with us up to the last minute before the hearing to create a rough draft of a new amendment that we could present to the Education Committee. We continued our discussions after the hearing to take into account the testimony from the hearing. I did not want to release the rough draft that evening because of concerns that there may be changes to the proposed amendment based on the testimony and I did not want to confuse the issue.
Also this week, the second major tax reform bill – LB947 sponsored by Senator Smith on behalf of the Governor had a hearing in the Revenue Committee. I was personally unable to attend the hearing because of my Judicial Committee’s commitments that day. I did speak with my staff and fellow colleagues about the hearing. I was encouraged by several amendments proposed by Senator Smith. Clearly this bill is still evolving. I therefore am withholding my position on this bill. I believe that this bill will be sent out of committee and onto the floor of the Legislature. I further believe this will result in a lively debate.
The third major tax reform bill LB1084 written by Senator Briese who has a hearing scheduled for Thursday, February 8th within the Revenue Committee. LB1084 will generate new revenue by closing a number of current tax exemptions, raising the state sales tax by ½ cent and raising taxes in other areas like the tax on tobacco products. The new revenues that are generated will help fund K-12 education and it will also direct hundreds of millions of much-needed dollars into the Property Tax Credit Fund.
I am STRONGLY for tax reform! My concern leans much more for the need to address property taxes. Property taxes are out of control, especially in rural Nebraska. We have kicked the can down the road for forty years. We, as a Legislative body, must address tax reform this session. I look forward to working with my fellow Senators to make tax reform a reality for the good people of Nebraska.
Recently I signed on to co-sponsored LB747 – the Nebraska Liquor Control Act, authored by Senator Thibodeau. LB747 brings “bottle clubs” in line with other establishment that have alcohol consumed on premise. I have received significant correspondence from constituents who are concerned about operation of these “bottle clubs” operating within our district. I would like to thank all the people who came out to Kitty’s Roadhouse last Saturday for the first “Coffee with Senator” of the year. I always enjoy meeting with constituents and discussing their issues and concerns. The next Coffee with Senator is scheduled for 9:00am, March 3rd, at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings.
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.