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We had a short, but very busy week. Friday was Arbor Day and the legislature was not in session. We got a lot of bills passed final reading and sent to the governor. We debated some controversial bills, got started on the budget, and did our first (of many) late night sessions.
My priority bill, LB 340, was signed in law by the governor this week. LB 340 takes the control of Nebraska’s Veteran Homes out of the Department of Health and Human Services and puts it under the control of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is a very good thing for a host of reasons. LB 340 is also the first piece of legislation I have ever had signed into law as a new Senator. I want to thank the many folks who have congratulated me on this. More is coming!
Sen. Groene’s (North Platte) LB 595 was heard this week. I think it is a good bill. It would protect teachers and school administrators from violent students. It was a hotly debated bill. The opposition filibustered it and filed a large number of amendments and motions against it. Like everything else this session, Sen. Groene will have to round up 33 votes to invoke cloture (stop debate and vote on the bill) in order for this measure to advance. We’ll see how this works out.
Sen. Linehan (Omaha) made a fairly rare motion to “pull” one of her bills out of committee to General File. LB 651 would adopt strict standards for school reading proficiency and would cause children to be held back in school if they fail to meet the standard. I support this bill but I seriously doubt it will go anywhere this session. I hope I’m wrong.
Sen. Smith (Papillion) introduced LB 461 last week. In my opinion, this is probably one of the most important bills we will debate this session. It makes significant changes to property and income tax laws in Nebraska. Along with many others, I have introduced an amendment to this bill. AM 1104 makes a few very important changes and additions to the bill. I think LB 461 will come up for a second round of debate sometime in the first week in May. I will have a very hard time supporting LB 461 if the changes and additions I have proposed in my amendment are not included in the final bill.
Debate began on the budget this week. Nebraska is over $1 billion in the red. The legislature must make some serious spending reductions to balance the budget. Wednesday we received another “Revenue Forecast” which predicted another $55 million LESS in revenue, making the requirement to come up with a balanced budget even more difficult. The arguments on the floor are along two lines of thought. Those who want “more revenue” (raise taxes) so State spending on their favorite programs can continue without interference, and those of us who believe money is best left in the hands of the people who worked for and earned it, and we should cut State spending instead.
I think the people of Nebraska are the best judge of what to do with their money. Just because the forty-nine of us Senators got elected to public office doesn’t suddenly make all of us a bunch of masterminds who know best how to spend someone else’s money. We need to focus on making sure the essential, constitutional functions of State Government have adequate resources (law enforcement / public safety, courts, correctional facilities, infrastructure and schools) but beyond that, I think a spending idea must demonstrate it serves an urgent public necessity and not just some special interest. We will spend most of what remains of the legislative session arguing about the budget, so I will be commenting further about it in the weeks ahead. I am finding out that Ronald Reagan was right; there is nothing quite so permanent as a government program.
Let me close with a word on the White Clay situation. I have received quite a number of calls and emails both for and against closing the liquor stores there. To start with, please remember that a State Senator has no more influence over those decisions than an ordinary citizen does. Secondly, I have always said and I will continue to say that I want to see the law followed. Whether or not beer is sold in White Clay has to be a decision reached after the law has been followed. Nebraska’s motto is “Equality before the law” and I want to see that motto lived up to in this and every case. Clearly, that process is well underway. At some point soon, I believe the Courts, the Attorney General and the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission will sort out this situation and reach a decision. Until then, speculation doesn’t make anything any better, so I urge folks, regardless of which side of this issue you are on, please let the legal system work through this issue. Regardless of the final decision, I will continue to lead the effort to make things better in White Clay. I will not spend my term as your State Senator turning a blind eye to this lawless place and simply kick the can down the road as my predecessors have done. Beer or no beer, whats going on in White Clay is wrong and it needs to change.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 471-2628.