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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to have a Constitutional mechanism to rein in an out-of-control federal government in the event the federal government superseded its Constitutional authority, our founding fathers created two options within Article V to propose amendments to the Constitution.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.
What a great opportunity!
Unicameral Youth Legislature
June 11-14, 2017
Learn what it’s like to serve as a state senator. The Unicameral Youth Legislature is a four-day legislative simulation in which high school students take on the role of lawmakers. Student senators sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators, staff and lobbyists. Bill topics are based on legislation considered during the most recent legislative session. From driving laws to the death penalty, topics selected for the legislature are diverse and engaging.
Legislative activities are conducted at the Nebraska State Capitol Building in the historic Warner Chamber, which was home to the Nebraska Senate until the state consolidated to a one-house legislature in 1937.
The youth legislature is organized by the Nebraska State 4-H Office and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Office youth development program. The Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature, through the Unicameral Information Office, serves as a technical consultant for the Unicameral Youth Legislature.
Scholarships are available.
Contact the Unicameral Information Office for more information.
Phone: (402) 471-2788
Since I selected Legislative Resolution 6 as my priority bill, my office has been receiving quite a bit of constituent correspondence both in support and opposition. One thing I have noticed is that there is some confusion and miscommunication about what a Convention of States represents.
Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing information regarding the history of what our Constitution provides for containing a run-away federal government….namely, Article V. Article V of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and we’re all familiar with that process. It’s happened successfully 27 times in our nation’s history, and it’s how we’ve accomplished some important things, like ending slavery and guaranteeing women’s right to vote. But Article V also grants the same power to the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. That power has not been exercised in American history — yet.
The reason this provision was added to the Constitution was because just two days before the close of the 1787 convention, there was concern raised by George Mason. In keeping with the checks and balances of the Framers, Mason believed that no branch of government should have the power to determine the extent of its own power. He predicted that someday the federal government would abuse the carefully enumerated powers bestowed in the text of the Constitution. When that day arrived, structural amendments would be needed to curtail federal over-reach, but if Congress alone had the power to propose amendments, no corrections would ever be forthcoming. Based on this clear-headed observation, the Framers unanimously added the option for the states to propose amendments through a convention of states.
The U.S. Constitution grants specific, limited powers to the federal government to fulfill its duty to preserve and protect individual rights and promote the “general welfare.” But the Founders recognized that the federal government might overstep and abuse those powers, and that it was highly unlikely Congress would then act to restrain itself. So the Founders also gave the states the power to convene together and propose amendments to the Constitution to restrain federal abuses, in what Article V calls a “convention” of the states.
Article V reads: “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states . . .”
In other words, two-thirds (34) of the states pass an application for a convention to propose amendments, then the states choose their delegates, and whatever amendments are passed at that convention by the states still need to be ratified by the same process as any congressional amendment. Over the years, the states have enacted over 400 applications for a convention, but none has ever been called, because two-thirds of the states have never agreed on the subject matter for such a convention. Several states have already called for a convention to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and impose term limits on federal officials.
Importantly, the Convention does not have power (just as Congress does not have power) under Article V to rewrite or completely overhaul the U.S. Constitution, or propose amendments beyond the scope of the application passed through each state legislature. Two of the nation’s foremost constitutional attorneys have written extensively on the procedural safeguards of a convention of states, and this simulation showed exactly how and why it will work as a check on the federal government, exactly as intended. This is the Founders’ solution to Washington’s hunger for power and institutional corruption, and the states are rallying. Going into the 2017 legislative sessions, eight states have passed the convention of states application. Arizona just this past week became the ninth state. Another 30 states have pending legislation.
We have reached the point in this 105th legislative session where the afternoon hearings for several Standing Committees are wrapping up. All hearings must be completed by March 23rd. The first full-day floor debate begins March 28th after a four day recess/weekend break. These recess days allow Senators and their staff time to prepare for the bills they are introducing on the floor and study the other bills that will be presented the following week.
The deadline for Priority Bills for both Senators and Committees was this week as well. Each Committee is given the ability to prioritized two bills for their particular committee and each Senator is allowed one bill to be his/her Priority Bill. Priority Bills, as the name implies, gives these bills priority over others bills in being brought to floor to be heard and debated on during this session.
The bills I personally sponsored this session were at the request of various agencies, mostly law enforcement agencies. While these all were important bills, none of them rose to the level sufficient for me to choose for a priority bill.
So, I am opting to choose to prioritize another Senator’s bill. In this case I am choosing a Senator Laura Ebke’s Legislative Resolution. LR6 is a resolution to Congress for a convention of the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
It’s hardly news that many Nebraskans believe the federal government is out of control. You may be asking what can we, at the state level, do to rein in the seemingly out of control federal government? The answer lies in the brilliance of our Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution some 230 years ago. The authors of the Constitution anticipated the possibilities of an out of control power grab by the federal government, pulling away the intended authority granted to the states over the federal government. As a potential safeguard against this, they created Article V.
Article V of the Constitution allows for a Convention of States. Article V of the Constitution, sets out two ways to propose constitutional amendments. The usual method is for Congress to put forth amendments, if two-thirds of both houses propose it. The alternative is to have a convention of states craft amendments. The legislatures of two-thirds of the states, or 34 states, must apply to Congress for such a convention to be called.
Whichever way they are proposed, amendments must be ratified by 38 states to take effect.
The goal of LR6 would be to propose constitutional amendments for three very specific purposes; (1) curbing federal power, (2) imposing federal fiscal restraints and (3) putting term limits on federal officials. I argue that the nation has strayed from the original intention of the writers of the Constitution, under which the states formed a federal government but kept significant powers to themselves. The time has come to rein in our “super-sized” federal government. Thankfully our Founding Fathers have given us a means to do this with adequate safeguards to our Constitution.
Eight states have passed Article V legislation. Furthermore, 29 states currently have pending legislation. Nebraska could be added to that list if lawmakers pass Legislative Resolution 6.
Some have legitimately expressed concern that a convention could overstep its purpose and start proposing radical changes to the Constitution. After much research I am convinced that there are safeguards against such a runaway convention, including the steep hurdle of ratification. The convention idea is part of a larger movement to limit the power of government.
This is really an issue about the future of the country. I believe it’s a reasonable thing to be talking about. Many voters I visit with express more concern about what was happening in Washington than in Lincoln. Among their worries were the national debt, taxes, and federal regulations, which are the result of legislation passed by ‘career politicians’.
I am prioritizing this Resolution because I believe it deserves debate by the full Legislature. LR6 details what constitutional changes should come out of a Constitution Convention gathering.
This week I also sponsored two bills in committee hearings. Both bills focused on protecting the good people of Nebraska. LB319 would provide confidentially of first injury reports relating to workers compensation. Currently, these workers compensation reports are not covered by HIPPA regulations and are open to the public. These reports contain personal information about the worker that I feel should be kept private unless that person waives confidentially.
The second bill I sponsored was LB556 which would alter Nebraska’s Criminal Code as it pertains to firearms. This particular bill is quite complex and had several sections dealing with different firearm related offenses. I am just going to briefly touch on one aspect of the bill at this time. A large portion of the bill defines the term of what is a facsimile firearm, a toy gun if you will, and the use of said facsimile firearm in the commission a felony offense. Today’s “toy guns” are not what you and I grew up with as kids. These guns, look, feel, and have mechanical actions and sounds of a real firearm. The perception and fear of the person being accosted by an individual using one of these facsimile firearms is going to be same as if it were a real firearm. Therefore, in my opinion, the use of a facsimile firearms during a crime should carry a similar chargeable offense.
This has been a week filled with “ups and downs”. On Wednesday, the Capitol was all a buzz with excitement to celebrate Nebraska’s 150 years of Statehood. You all have likely seen glimpses in the news media regarding the numerous events in, and surrounding, the Capitol honoring our State’s colorful and meaningful history. John Gale, the Secretary of State read the historic, original proclamation during the Official Statehood Day Ceremony in the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber in front of members of all three branches of government and the good people of Nebraska. Governor Pete Ricketts gave welcome and his remarks which highlighted the qualities that make Nebraska a great state to live and work.
Ultimately, the day was a celebration of what makes Nebraska great….its people. Hard working, principled people of the past and present have created a solid foundation and future for the state which we love to call “Home”.
This 150th celebration of Statehood was the highlight of the week. Legislatively, we have been hamstrung with filibusters by Senator Ernie Chambers and a few other Senators on a bill that would allow the creation of a ‘Choose Life’ specialty license plate.
This “Choose Life” specialty license plate is simply an acknowledgement of Nebraskans respect for life at all stages. This will, if ultimately passed, be one of many license plate choices for Nebraskans. Senator Ernie Chambers has chosen to waste the legislature’s time filibustering a rather innocent bill. No one will be mandated to buy a license plate with the “Choose Life” message. Nebraskans will have the freedom to choose this plate, or some other choice of plate.
Currently 29 other states have “Choose Life” license plates and 15 states have pending legislation for Choose Life plates. As of December 2016, these various states have raised 24 million dollars from the sale of “Choose Life” plates. Here in Nebraska, profits from the sale of Choose Life plates would go towards the “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” program.
It has been a challenge for the majority of the legislative body to be patient while Senator Ernie Chambers abuses the rules of the legislature, consuming our time with these types of nonsense filibusters. We will eventually move to acting on substantive issues such as passing a balanced budget for the next biennium. Please be patient as we deal with these efforts to obstruct by a handful of Senators.
Ending this week was the deadly prison riot at the Tecumseh Corrections Facility. I will limit my remarks on this at this time, because a full investigation is underway by the State Patrol. It is very unfortunate that two inmates lost their lives. This event happened in an area of the prison housing the ‘worst of the worst’ violent criminals. If there is any good news in this event, it would be that no corrections employees were harmed or killed.
With a recess day last Friday and the President’s Day holiday on Monday, I had the opportunity to travel back home to Hastings. This gave me the time to reflect, recharge and visit my Alma Mater, St. Cecilia High School in Hastings.
While there, I enjoyed lunch with a number of class officers and student council representatives. Additionally, I took the opportunity to meet with the school administration team to discuss issues of importance to the delivery of Catholic education. In this meeting, I listened to concerns and hopes for the future of Catholic education and shared any thoughts I had on the legislative topics that were brought to my attention.
The highlight of the day was a meeting with 140 plus high school students. I shared with them my past experiences at St. Cecilia’s and offered some life advice. The meeting ended with a Q & A session delivered through a moderator.
On the legislative side, after two full days of debate we were able to advance LB62 through a first round vote with overwhelming support. The purpose of this bill is to restore the religious freedom rights of teachers. If ultimately passed, it will repeal statutes originally supported by the KKK that prohibited teachers from wearing any type of religious garb. The bill’s only opponent was Senator Ernie Chambers. LB62 would undo the ban on public schoolteachers from wearing religious dress or garb while engaged in the performance of his or her duties in the classroom.
Currently, a person found in violation of current law, as written, could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and could be fined up $100, cost of prosecution or a jail term not to exceed 30 days. Additionally, any teacher found guilty shall be suspended for a year for the first offence and permanently disqualified from teaching at that school. This antiquated law should be repealed because good Nebraskans should not have their jobs, nor their livelihood jeopardized because of simply wearing garb that is reflective of their religious beliefs. Protecting this basic right is very important.
March 4th is a “Coffee with the Senator” double-header! My first coffee meeting will be from 9:00 to 10:00am at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. Then from 2:00 -3:00pm my second coffee will be held in Doniphan at the Doniphan Area Event Center. My staff has recommended to me that I switch to decaf for the second coffee. I hope you can join me for these meetings.
On Wednesday we reached day 30 of the legislative session. Although we have been deadlocked on the adoption of Permanent Rules we did adopt a motion to extend the temporary rules until day 60 of the session. As a reminder, temporary rules are rules that the legislative body operated under during last session. By extending the temporary rules this should allow us to start debating the 110 bills that have made it out of the various Standing Committees.
Along with my fellow Senators I have been reading, researching, and actively listening to testimony on bills brought before the committees. As a result, we should be well versed and ready to debate and vote. It is my sincerest hope that in coming weeks I will be sharing with you the substantive legislative issues that impact the people of the 33rd District.
Your legislature did pass LB22 on February 13th, this bill dealt with adjustments to appropriations and re-appropriations for state operations, aid and construction programs for the current fiscal year. This bills was an interim budget bill introduced by Speaker Scheer at the request of the Governor to address the 120 million dollar budget shortfall for the balance of this biennium budget ending June 30th of this year. LB22 was passionately debated on the floor of the legislature. My office received a large amount of correspondence both from constituents and government agencies. Budget funding cuts are never easy but in a down-turn economy they are necessary. I commend the Governor, the members of Appropriation Committee and my fellow Senators for making those tough decisions. LB22 was signed by the Governor on February 15th.
While it has been a challenging session, it is not all gloom and doom. There are rays of sunshine, these happen most often when constituents travel to Lincoln to visit with us personally. On Monday I had the pleasure to attend the Tri-City Legislative Luncheon. The luncheon was sponsored by the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the Hastings Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce. Several individuals who attended the luncheon also stopped by our office to personally meet our staff. “It’s great to put a face to a name of those with who we have communicated,” said Tom Hastings, the President of Hastings Chamber of Commerce. We could not agree more! If you are in Lincoln, please drop by with your concerns or just to say hi.