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The One Hundred Seventh Legislature, Second Session convened January 5th at 10:00AM. While this is the shorter sixty day session of this biennium, much work lays ahead for our forty nine member body. In addition to the numerous bills not acted on last year that carried over to this session and the numerous bills introduced this session, there are also extra general funds available due to better than expected revenue forecasts, and around $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds up for grabs. In the first three days of bill introduction alone, numerous bills were introduced requesting in excess of $300 million of ARPA funds. Needless to say, budgetary and ARPA related spending bills will consume a great deal of debate this legislative session. Tax relief will also be a topic of conversation this session, though it is still unclear what that form of relief will look like. While some in the body are touting income tax relief, many senators, including myself, are still focused on property tax relief, whether that be through increasing aid to schools with spending lids or aid to local governments. As a member of the Revenue Committee, I will have a front row seat for these conversations, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to find a solution to the property tax burden affecting all Nebraskans.
Some members also got a head start on priority bill designations. Due to the lack of time and the abundance of work, there is a very good chance that not all senator priorities will be debated this session. Next week the legislature will take up LR14, introduced by Senator Steve Halloran of Hastings, calling on congress to convene a convention of the states to propose amendments to the United States Constitution. The scope of the convention called for by this resolution would be limited to amendments imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting its power and jurisdiction, and term limits for federal officials. Two-thirds of states must make an application for such a convention to convene. The Speaker will also schedule LB310, introduced by Senator Robert Clemnts of Elmwood, which changes inheritance tax rates and exemption amounts, and LB364, introduced by Senator LuAnn Linehan of Elkhorn, which would adopt the Opportunity Scholarships Act. All three of these proposals will generate considerable debate as we begin our work in Lincoln.
In other news, the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) awarded Nebraska Broadband Bridge Program grants this past week to telecommunications companies across the state. The PSC received seventy-six applications for awards. Providers were given the opportunity to submit a challenge to an application if the challenger provides broadband services in the proposed project area, or provides broadband service in an area proximate to the project area and intends to provide service within the project area within eighteen months. Twenty-three applications were challenged, with some of those applications receiving multiple challenges. While the PSC had $20 million in funds available to distribute, they chose to award just over $17 million to telecom companies that will serve approximately 12,392 locations. The PCS included in their order that projects must be completed by July 5th of 2023. The PSC will have the opportunity to award an additional $20 million in grants next year in the second year of the Broadband Bridge program. Hopefully the additional broadband infrastructure provided by this program will ignite growth and opportunities in classrooms, boardrooms and in living rooms across the state for all Nebraskans.
As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or concerns. My mailing address is Senator Curt Friesen, District 34 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509-4604. You can also reach me at my office in the State Capitol by phone at 402-471-2630 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the large number of emails I receive from all over the state during the legislative session, I would appreciate it if you would include your address when you email. This way I can ensure I am giving first priority to constituents who contact me with their comments and concerns.
An issue that will soon be debated on the legislative floor is one that would call for a convention of the states to propose constitutional limits on the power of the federal government.
Legislative Resolution (LR 35) was introduced by Sen. Laura Ebke last session and designated as her priority bill this year. LR 35 would limit the convention’s agenda to constitutional amendments to impose fiscal restraints, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and require federal term limits.
LR35 calls for Nebraska to join other states in passing an application that calls for an interstate convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution. State legislatures are granted this power under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The language of LR35 is verbatim to applications that have been filed in other states, as any interstate convention must have a foregoing, agreed upon scope and subject for which the convention is called.
The convention will only occur after two-thirds of the states (34 states) pass the same application. Currently, five state legislatures have approved a similar measure. Once the requisite 34 states have passed the same application, Congress shall call the convention. After the convention is called, delegates (officially called commissioners) are chosen by the states – the process for choosing delegates is decided by the legislature in each state. Each state legislature may send as many delegates to the convention as it chooses, but each state is allowed only one vote at the convention. The delegates may be given instructions on how to vote by their state legislature and are legally bound to adhere to them.
Since the convention only has the power to propose amendments, ratification takes place following the convention. While at the convention, any amendments proposed and/or passed must fall within the preordained scope specified in the 34 matching applications passed by the state legislatures. In the case of LR35, the scope is to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.
In order for a valid amendment to emerge from the convention, it must pass with a simple majority vote. After passing the convention, the amendments – before becoming part of the U.S. Constitution – must still be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states (38 states). Multiple legal safeguards are in place to prevent the ratification of any amendment that deviates from the scope of the convention.
Reports acknowledge a number of well-established facts about the operation of Article V’s Convention mechanism, including:
The founders of the Constitution included this process as a way for the states to bypass Congress in getting needed amendments passed;
The process is an alternative to federal deadlock;
Congress has a no authority to veto amendments proposed at an Article V Convention; and
The President plays no role in the process.
Opponents of this measure warn of the possibility for a runaway convention that exceeds its initial scope and even endangers components of the Bill of Rights, like the Second Amendment…but it only takes 13 states to block any amendment that would be proposed from the convention and state legislatures could control who represents them.
I, along with many of you are very concerned with what has been happening at the federal level. If you look at what’s been happening over the last fifty years many of us are unhappy with the direction we are headed. We have burdened our children and grandchildren with a $19 trillion (and growing) national debt crisis that if not addressed will consume our federal budget. We have regulatory agencies that seem to write rules and regulations without regard to the will of the legislative branch, and a judicial branch and executive branch that continually over reaches their authority. It’s time for the states to take back some of the power they have ceded to the federal government.
One last note…on Friday, February 26th I will be in Central City at the Venture Center, 1532 17th Avenue, from 7:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m., for a Town Hall meeting sponsored by the Merrick County Farm Bureau and the Central City Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s an opportunity for you to stop by to voice your concerns about state issues and to hear updates on legislation.
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