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Last week the legislature continued working through the dwindling number of remaining bills. Although off to a slow start, as the session progressed we moved through most bills pretty quickly.
The Speaker announced that if things stay on track he expects to adjourn sine die on May 23, the 86th legislative day, rather than waiting until the scheduled June 2 adjournment date.
Two voting rights bills sparked some heated debate. Historically, in Nebraska and the country as a whole, voting rights issues have almost always been contentious and these were no exception.
LB75, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would immediately restore voting rights to those convicted of a felony on completion of their sentence or probation. Nebraska law currently requires a two-year waiting period.
The bill passed on April 24 by a 27-13 margin but was subsequently vetoed by the governor and returned to the legislature. An attempt to override the veto came up 6 votes short of the 30 needed. The final vote was 23-23.
I voted for the bill when it was considered by the legislature and also voted to override the governor’s veto. It seems to me if someone has fully completed their sentence they should be given a fair chance to rebuild their lives in a positive way. Immediate restoration of voting rights is one way we can send a message of support for those in an already difficult situation.
Voting rights were also the focus of legislation proposed by Sen. John Murante of Gretna. LR1CA would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the election ballot in November 2018. If approved, the amendment would require Nebraska voters to present a photo ID before being allowed to vote.
Murante argued that the ID requirement would restore voter confidence in the election process by ensuring that only those who are qualified to vote are allowed to cast ballots. Opponents contended that voter ID requirements place unnecessary burdens on many groups, would be costly to put in place, and are likely to incur legal challenges.
Ultimately, there was not enough support in the body to move ahead with the resolution. A motion to end debate and allow a vote on the proposal received only 26 votes. Thirty-three votes are needed to invoke cloture.
I think both sides of this debate make valid points. Since we already require that people have ID in many situations, adding this as a condition for voting doesn’t seem especially onerous. At the same time, I would be very concerned if this created a legitimate barrier to someone’s ability to cast their ballot.
Secretary of State, John Gale, has consistently provided assurance that Nebraska’s election system is secure and voter fraud is not an issue in the state.
In the end, it may make the most sense to allow the public to make the final decision on whether this is something Nebraska needs.
Another bill receiving a lot of attention last week was LB632 brought by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill. The bill would make several changes to Nebraska’s liquor laws. A provision impacting the craft beer brewers in the state was a sticking point for some senators.
As introduced, LB632 would require all alcoholic beverages purchased for resale in the state be “at rest” in a licensed wholesale warehouse before distribution. An amendment offered by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue would require that a distributor take possession of the beer but not be required to transport it to a warehouse that might be hundreds of miles away. This extra step would be costly for brewers, especially those outside of Omaha and Lincoln.
I have been contacted by quite a few craft brewers from all across the state who shared in the view the original bill would have harmed the burgeoning craft brewing industry. I voted in support of both the Blood amendment and to advance the bill. The amended bill passed by a vote of 40-0.
Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss. My email address is email@example.com and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.