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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.