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As 2017 draws to a close a new legislative session looms on the horizon. The second session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature will convene on Wednesday, January 3, 2018. This marks the second year of the biennium. A “short session” lasting 60 legislative days, the Legislature is currently scheduled to conclude its work and adjourn in early April.
The first ten legislative days are the only opportunity for senators to introduce new legislation. During that time, new bills will be submitted and referenced to their committee of jurisdiction to schedule public hearings. It is expected that several hundred new pieces of legislation will be introduced.
Because it is the second year of the biennium, legislation that was introduced last year but not indefinitely postponed by Committee or during floor debate remains active. Floor debate this session will begin by debating bills that remain on General and Select File from the previous year. The website of the Nebraska Legislature contains a link to the end of session worksheet which details the status of every bill introduced the last session.
As new bills are introduced, they will be added to the worksheet and their status updated daily as they progress through the system. As bills make their way through the committee and floor debate process, I encourage voters to use the Nebraska Legislature’s website to identify bills of interest, track their progress, and access voting records. A wealth of resources are available at nebraskalegislature.gov for voters to access, including the daily activities of the Legislature.
A biennial budget was created and adopted in the last session to cover the July 1, 2017 through June 30th, 2019 budget cycle. However, actual tax receipts were below the forecast projections during the first three months of the new fiscal year. On October 27, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board revised the revenue forecast. A downgrade of the revenue forecast in the amount of $100 million in the current fiscal year will require modification of the budget adopted last session.
Known as a “deficit budget bill”, this process will make budget adjustments to match the lower revenue forecast and address any additional requests for new spending. The state is constitutionally required to balance its budget. It is also worth noting that receipts for the first month following the revised revenue forecast, November, fell $4 Million short. The budget situation will have a significant impact on the nature of the legislation introduced this session. Any bill that requires an appropriation will need to have a funding source.
Voters should not lose sight of the $235 Million in one-time cash transfers funding state spending in the current fiscal year, and the additional $131 Million of one time money in the second year. The statutory minimum reserve was also temporarily lowered, which has a $35 Million impact. That $400 Million hole, just under 10% of the General Fund budget, will need to be filled with new revenue in the budget to be crafted in 2019.
As in prior years, it is expected that bills will require a priority designation in order to receive floor debate, even if they have been advanced from committee. There will be four afternoons of floor debate before public hearings begin on January 16 and fill the afternoon schedule.
If you are in Lincoln while the Legislature is in session to testify at a bill hearing or observe the process in action, don’t hesitate to contact my office. Public engagement is the foundation of Nebraska’s unicameral process.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!