NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Tom Brewer

Sen. Tom Brewer

District 43

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at tbrewer@leg.ne.gov

05-23-2018 Weekly Update

May 23rd, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
05-23-2018

Memorial Day weekend is upon us. This day we honor those who died wearing the uniform of our country. If you’re a veteran, I’d imagine you’re like me. Every day is Veterans Day. To all of you I say thank you very much for your service every day of the year. To the family and friends of loved ones who died in the line of duty serving their country I say, may God bless you. These are the “Gold Star” families. Memorial Day is the special day we remember your sacrifice.

A “gold star” refers to a small “service flag” that was invented and approved by the Department of Defense during World War 1. The rectangular flag with a white field and a red border with up to five blue stars in the field signifies family members in the military. I have one with two blue stars for my son and daughter in the military, so does my legislative aide Tony for his two sons that are serving. When a “gold star” is displayed instead of a blue one, that signifies family members who died in the line of duty.

Regardless of branch or component. Whether active-duty or reservist. Whether a 30-year career or were drafted. These are the Americans who gave all of themselves in service to our nation. As the old saying goes, all gave some; some gave all. For those we lost, we honor you this weekend.

I encourage you to participate in a Memorial Day ceremony somewhere. I hope we all take a moment this weekend and quietly reflect how lucky we all are to live in a place surrounded by fellow countryman of this incredibly selfless stature. We are truly blessed. I’ll be speaking at the Arnold Cemetery this Memorial Day, and then attend a ceremony at the Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell.

Every Memorial Day I re-read a letter sent during the Civil War by President Lincoln to a Mrs. Bixby of Boston. In the spirit of Memorial Day, I thought I would close this weekly update with this letter.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

05-18-2018 Weekly Update

May 18th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
05-18-2018

The primary election is behind us. Once again I was impressed by the people in our district. The percentage of registered voters who turned-out for the election was 24% for the State-wide average. Turn-out in the 13 counties that make up the 43rd Legislative District was 34%. Three of our counties (Blaine, Grant and Logan) were in the top 10 of all 93 counties of the State, with Blaine County having the #1 highest voter turn-out in Nebraska at 74.3%!

2/3 of the population of Nebraska live in just 3 counties (Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy). The average turn-out in those three counties was just 21.6%. The highest percentage of people may live in the Eastern end of the State, but the highest percentage of voters live in the Western end.

Because of our historically high voter turn-out, Western Nebraska is most definitely not taken for granted on Election Day. Candidates know the deciding votes for a lot of elected offices are far away from Lincoln and Omaha. Close races for State-wide or Federal office are often not decided until after the polls close in the Mountain Time Zone part of our State. Western Nebraska decides a lot of elections because WE VOTE. I think that is something Western Nebraska can and should be proud of.

Once of the most important aspects of government in Nebraska is called “local control.” The idea is city councils, town or village boards, county commissioners, the county sheriff, school boards, natural resource districts, the board members of our public power organizations, the board of regents who run our University – all represent local control. The more local government is, the closer to the people government is; the better it is. Local units of government impact the lives of ordinary Nebraskans in a far-more direct and daily way. They are much better able to be responsive and react to the needs of a community than any agency of the State or Federal government ever could.

I think the farther down the ballot you go, the more important the elected officials become. The people who decide to give of themselves, to sacrifice time away from family and career, often for little or no compensation, are the ones who belong at the top of the ballot. They’re your neighbors and friends. They’re on the NRD board or the town council. They’re who the parents go to on the school board. They’re the ones helping make the county the place you want to live in. They work to make our university something you can be proud of, or our public power organizations something that put the people of Nebraska first. Their place on the ballot doesn’t do justice to their importance.

Between now and November I urge everyone to take some time and learn about all the folks “at the bottom of the ballot.” They deserve just as much recognition – and scrutiny – as everybody else.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

05-11-2018 Weekly Update

May 11th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
05-11-2018

Over the course of the two sessions of the 105th Legislature, I introduced 20 bills, prioritized two others, and co-sponsored many others, especially property tax bills. Along the way, the people (The 2nd House) play a vitally important role in this process. Many of my colleagues comment how much they admire how involved and dedicated the people of my district are. No other Senator enjoys the incredible devotion my constituents bring to an issue. I am so blessed in that regard.

Here is a brief summary of my 22 bills;

LB 121 would have un-taxed military retired pay so military retiree veterans would choose to live in Nebraska when they leave the service. Every state we share a border with either doesn’t tax military retirement or does so at a rate much lower than we do. This died in the Revenue Committee.

LB 165 would have implemented the eVerify system to keep illegal aliens from working in Nebraska. Like every other bill of mine that went before the Judiciary Committee, this died.

LB 340 was a bill I prioritized to put the Veteran Homes in Nebraska under the Veterans Department and take it out of the Health and Human Services department. This passed into law.

LB 497 was a bill to keep up with technology. It makes an important record for veterans (DD Form 214) available in electronic form. We’re one of the first States to do this. It passed into law.

LB 498 would have made a small change to the Homestead Exemption Act for veterans, assigning the benefit to a person instead of a physical address. This died in the Revenue Committee.

LB 499 was a very simple bill designed to protect Nebraska bee keepers. Though very popular with the Agriculture Committee, we just couldn’t find language that the Department of Agriculture could live with and it died in committee.

LB 500 would have exempted law enforcement professionals from the requirement of going through concealed carry classes to privately carry a handgun. This died in the Judiciary Committee.

LB 501 would have made a law that required businesses to post a sign if they didn’t want customers carrying concealed weapons. This died in the Judiciary Committee.

LB 502 would have implemented “Constitutional Carry” in Nebraska. Kansas and many other States have this. The idea is the 2nd Amendment is the only “concealed carry permit” you need. The opposition by the hoplophobes to this idea in the Judiciary Committee was expected. This bill died in committee.

LB 503 would have done away with the State collecting union dues on the behalf of a government employees union. This didn’t have the votes to get out of the Business and Labor Committee.

LB 504 was my bill to put a moratorium on wind energy development in the Sandhills of Nebraska. This died in the Natural Resources Committee on a 4-4 vote.

LB 505 was a bill that would have required certain information about refugees being resettled in Nebraska to be made public. This died in the Judiciary Committee.

LB 576 would have put a 4-year cap on property taxes while we worked on solving that problem. Like a lot of good ideas to address the property tax problem, this died in the Revenue Committee.

LB 752 would have taken the right of eminent domain away from private wind energy developers. The Judiciary Committee killed this as well.

LB 753 would have made tuition assistance for National Guard members a little easier process. This didn’t make it out of the Government and Military Affairs Committee because we had some issues with some of the language.

LB 754 was a bill to cut the price of a Nebraska Park Permit in half when you register your vehicle. Kansas did this a few years ago. The Natural Resource committee loved the idea, but State computer systems between Game and Parks and DMV are not compatible so we have to sort this out.

LB 755 was a bill to let towns pass ordinances to allow licensed ATVs to drive at night if they were correctly equipped. We needed some adjustments before we could get this bill voted out of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Because of the short session, there was no time left for it to be put on the agenda. I want to thank the town of Mullen for bringing me this idea.

LB 807 was the State Tribal Relations Committee priority bill that changes Nebraska’s statues in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. Willa Cather and Chief Standing Bear will be Nebraska’s new statues. This bill passed into law.

LB 825 was a simple bill I carried for the State Auditor to clean up and harmonize some language in the law. The State Auditor and the Counties are going to work together to perfect the wording in the bill. It will probably be re-introduced next session.

LB 929 codifies in the law certain rights for National Guard members. It was voted out of the Government Committee. Due the short session, there was no time left for floor debate.

LB 1054 was my priority bill to require counties have ordinances or planning resolutions in place before wind energy could be developed. This bill tried to make good neighbors out of wind energy. It died on a 4-4 vote in the Natural Resources Committee.

LB 1070 saves small school districts the cost of a yearly special election to keep their school open. Now the question only has to go on the ballot once every five years. This came to me from the Loup County Schools. This bill was passed into law.

Immorally high property taxes, stopping wind energy from hurting their neighbors, and holding public power accountable to the people remain my top priorities for next session.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

05-04-2018 Weekly Update

May 4th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
05-04-2018

“Operation Mongoose,” which was our request for a special session to address property taxes, failed. Then can you imagine how disappointed everyone was when we found out through the newspaper that the ballot initiative to lower property taxes was stopped? The organization running it announced they were unable to raise the needed money. They also questioned whether or not the “method” being used would actually work. The announcement was sudden and unexpected. The many senators, staff and other citizen and industry groups that had all worked on property tax reform for over a year were not forewarned of the announcement. This is unacceptable. I am forced to wonder if there was a political reason for killing the petition in the no-notice, abrupt way it happened.

For some reason the potential donors that were identified early in the process all dried up. Something changed their minds. A number of people and organizations were publicly opposed to the ballot initiative from the start. I’ll leave it to others to speculate.

In addition to the money drying up, they also questioned the “method” of the ballot initiative. I am at a loss because the people of Nebraska have the constitutional right to use three different tools. (1) A ballot “initiative” that enacts a new statute (the people pass a law). This was the method chosen for the property tax ballot initiative. (2) A ballot “initiative” that enacts a new constitutional amendment. (3) A ballot “referendum” which is the people vetoing a law that the legislature had passed. This happened with the death penalty a few years ago.

Some say that even if the people passed the ballot initiative to lower property taxes, it would deadlock the legislature. This means they would not be able to pass the laws needed to implement it. Another theory is 33 votes (2/3 of the body) could modify what the people just passed. With 33 votes, it could be dramatically changed and watered-down to some fraction of the people’s original intent. Any vote to change what Nebraskans’ just passed on the ballot would be on that Senator’s record. I certainly wouldn’t want such a vote on my record.

Should these concerns stop the people from performing their role as the 2nd House of government in our State? I think these theories are a ceramic vessel of fecal matter, and in no way justify frustrating the people’s constitutional right to address the most serious problem in Nebraska.

So where does that leave us? Stay tuned. I’m not done yet.

On another note, please be patient with us for the next month or so. Renovations in the Capitol are forcing a number of senators to move their offices into tower. We will soon be on the 11th floor.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

04-27-2018 Weekly Update

April 27th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
04-27-2018

I was embarrassed to learn this week that our University’s faculty is once again embroiled in scandal. Patricia Hill, a UNL Sociology Research Professor, was charged by police in Alexandria, Virginia for vandalizing the home of a National Rifle Association lobbyist. Amanda Gailey, Associate Professor of English, harassed the family of the lobbyist by demonstrating in front of their home. She carried a sign that read, “NRA Chris Cox profits off dead kids.” As you’ll recall, this is the same Professor Gailey who accosted the young student handing out literature on campus for a conservative organization last August.

During this past session, Mo Neal, a Professor Emeritus of Art from UNL came to my office and handed me a Barbie doll covered in red paint along with a photograph of one of the murder victims from the Florida high school shooting. I was one of several Senators who received a “Bloody Barbie.” The rationale behind this behavior is the idea that supporting our Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, and supporting organizations who defend it, makes you complicit in the murder of school children.

The crime of murder has been illegal since the dawn of human civilization. Trampling the 2nd amendment constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans – the idea these university professors promote – has no effect on murder. I am forced to ask; do they want to prevent murder, or do they want to take away our 2nd Amendment rights? These two ideas are mutually exclusive. Banning guns does not stop murder because the only behavior being controlled is that of law-abiding people. Murderers are criminals. They do not obey the law.

I am very sensitive about the infringement of ANY constitutional right. As a solider and now as a State Senator, I took an oath to support and defend the constitution. UNL’s representative said what these professors are doing is “…on their own time and (they) were expressing their own beliefs.” What they are doing is attacking our constitutional rights. One shouldn’t use 1st Amendment rights to justify attacking the rights afforded by another constitutional amendment.

Our University system has over 16,000 employees. It’s the largest employer in Nebraska. The legislature appropriates nearly $600 million to it every budget. Over 1,000 of these employees make over $100,000 a year in salary paid for by your tax dollars. Is it too much to expect some modicum of professionalism from those teaching Nebraska’s sons and daughters?

After the scandal involving the young sophomore trying to hand out conservative literature on campus last summer, Chancellor Bounds and President Green promised me personally they were going to take steps to correct the lack of standards that govern the conduct of our University’s faculty and staff. Whatever they are doing doesn’t appear to be working. Does academic tenure prevent a professor from being fired for improper conduct?

I urge readers interested in this topic to kindly contact the University Regent who represents our part of Nebraska. This is Mr. Bob Phares. He can be reached at (308) 532-3180, or by email at; bphares@nebraska.edu. The elected Board of Regents are the ultimate authority at our University.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

04-20-2018 Weekly Update

April 20th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
04-20-2018

“How ya gonna pay for it?”

This is what I hear every time someone brings up the subject of out-of-control property taxes. Of course they are referring to how the legislature would appropriate sales and income tax revenue to pay for a portion of what property taxes currently pays for. This means how our 244 K-12 public school districts are funded. Right now, property taxes in Nebraska pay about 60% of the funding for public schools. There are over 14 school districts in my legislative district. If you take out the schools that receive state aid, the average amount of funding derived from property taxes for the remaining schools is 72%. The national average is about 40%.

Nebraska has the 5th highest property taxes in the country because we don’t appropriate near enough sales and income tax revenue to fund K-12 education. We are almost dead last in the country, 48 other states appropriate more sales and income tax revenue for K-12 education than we do. The problem persists because the Legislature won’t compromise. The solution has to be a combination of three things. Spending shifts that shut down and take revenue from other government programs, (to attract conservative votes). New revenue generated from ending certain sales and income tax exemptions (to attract liberal votes). Also limits need to be considered on a school district’s ability to assess and levy property taxes (to prevent the problem from ever happening again) I favor a balanced approach where 1/3 of the funding for our schools comes from each of the 3 sources of revenue.

No idea by itself has 33 votes to break a filibuster, so year after year deadlock ensues, both sides blame each other for the impasse, and the property tax problem continues like it has for over 40 years. Closing down an entire agency of state government and furloughing state employees, for example, or an out-and-out increase in a sales or income tax “rate” are both poison pills for either side to swallow. The cuts and new revenue compromise will have to be very nuanced and the product of intense negotiations with ALL the stakeholders at the table. In the end, both sides will have to hold their nose to vote for it. No one will like it, but it’s the only way to get to 33. The people may very well force this compromise to happen if they pass the ballot initiative this fall.

Conservatives have to understand that the political composition of the legislature will NEVER allow spending cuts to be the only way to fund property tax relief. Liberals have to understand that the political composition of the legislature will NEVER allow new taxes to be the only way to fund property tax relief. Both sides have to compromise and agree to a little of both.

I doubt my idea to call a special session will attract 33 senators to sign-up by the deadline, Monday the 23rd of April. Nonetheless, the 12 senators who have joined me thus far form a nucleus of those who are dead serious about this problem. They have each shown leadership. There is interest in forming a working group over the interim, and developing legislation for next session. My goal is to have this bill be LB 1. It needs to be the first one referenced. It needs to be the first committee hearing. It needs to be the first bill voted-out of committee. It needs to be the first bill put on the agenda for floor debate. Its clear the Speaker is serious about this issue too, so I would hope he would designate this bill as a “Speaker Major Proposal” so it has some procedural advantages. I want to devote the session to this before we have prairie dog debates or abortion fights. Whether the people pass the ballot initiative or not, this must happen before we spend days on end arguing about community gardens, medical marijuana or self-driving cars. We spent less than two days debating property taxes this session. Frankly, that’s the beauty of a Special Session – it has to be about a single subject and nothing else.

One of the taxes I could vote for to help lower property taxes would be on wind energy. There is about 1,300 Megawatts of wind energy generation installed in Nebraska (and more being built all the time). It makes electricity about 40% of the time. About 4.6 million megawatts of electricity is made by wind energy in Nebraska each year. The private operators of these things make $23 in federal tax credits per megawatt hour. That comes to about $106 million of our federal tax dollars going to the private wind energy companies over and above what they make selling the electricity. If we tax them at $10 per megawatt hour, for example, we’d get about $50 million we could put towards property tax relief. It’s worth noting wind energy “costs” our public utilities money which ends up on your bill. Our electrical transmission system is built to distribute electricity to serve demand (load) not “export” the surplus electricity made by wind energy. Without the need to export surplus wind energy, things like the R Line project wouldn’t be needed. This cost on our electrical infrastructure should be paid for by the private wind developers. As it is, we are privatizing profits by socializing the cost. There’s more than one reason to ask wind energy to pay their own way. Asking them to help pay for public education is a good idea.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

04-13-2018 Weekly Update

April 13th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
04-13-2018

This week I sent a letter to the Secretary of State asking for the legislature to be called into Special Session. The reason I did this is because once again, the legislature failed to pass a bill that reduces property taxes. This is unacceptable. In the letter I specified property tax reduction as the purpose for the special session. Special sessions can only be about a specific purpose.

Ordinarily, the Constitution allows the Governor to call a special session. However, there is a provision in our legislative rules and the Nebraska law that allow the legislature to do this. The Legislature has never done this in the history of Nebraska.

In order to do this a senator requests a special session in a letter to the Secretary of State. The letter must contain the signatures of at least ten senators. My letter had the signatures of 13 senators whose districts represent over 75% of the land area of Nebraska. The Secretary of State then notifies the remaining senators in writing that this request has been made. Other Senators who also wish to have a special session have ten days to reply in writing to the Secretary of State. The Speaker announced today that the 10th and final day for senators to add their name to the list is 5:00 p.m., Monday the 23rd of April. If 20 more senators sign, for a total of 33, the Governor must call a special session within 5 days. By my reckoning, the earliest that could happen would be Monday the 30th of April.

This special session idea has made everyone running for re-election concerned. It conflicts with their re-election campaigns for the primary election coming up in May. While I understand their concerns, I also understand the need to finally resolve the most serious issue facing our State.

Year after year nothing happens. Senators leave the session and declare the other side is to blame. They encourage their constituents to keep voting for them so they can “keep up the fight.” The reason we never “win” the fight is because we fail to compromise. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had multiple good bills that address this issue die on the floor. Many good bills also remain trapped in committee. There is not another issue that has been more thoroughly studied. We’ve been over this problem ad nauseam. Senators being called into Special Session with an election looming and a campaign to get back to, will be empowered by a sense of urgency that I think has been missing. During my Army career, I was always amazed by what could be accomplished by a group of highly motivated people. The property tax solution could come from the shortest Special Session in history.

I encourage Nebraskans to contact every Senator in the legislature and urge them to sign the letter for the special session before Monday the 23rd of April. This link contains the information you need to contact them: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/senators/senator_list.php

The other reason I took this approach is because I cannot tell my constituents that I’ve “tried everything” to solve the property tax problem until I actually have tried everything. This really is the last legislative tool in the tool box. We can’t wait for the next legislature. The people didn’t send us here to “keep up the fight” for property tax reform year after year. They sent us here to finally win the fight and get something done. This problem must be solved NOW. If this doesn’t work, the people must pass the Property Tax Ballot Initiative in November.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

04-06-2018 Weekly Update

April 6th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
04-06-2018

The Governor’s Budget Bill, LB 947 had its three hours of General File debate this week. It is now in “Bill Purgatory” (a status known as “Speaker Hold”). This happens to a lot of bills. They end up in Speaker Hold because the bill doesn’t have 33 votes to end a filibuster.

Sen. Groene’s bill (LB 640), Sen. Friesen’s bill (LB 1103) and Sen. Briese’s bill (LB 1084) all address property tax relief through changes in school funding. These bills died the same death. A number of other bills that address property tax relief (including mine, LB 576) were never even voted out of the Revenue Committee and remain stuck there.

Following Sen. Friesen’s bill dying on the floor, the Speaker (Sen. Jim Sheer) addressed the body. Once again he urged members to work together to come up with a compromise. He stressed how incredibly important property tax relief is. He all but demanded action happen this session. Five senators who have property tax bills voted out of committee have been invited to meet in the Speaker’s to hammer out a compromise. As I’ve said before, property tax relief is not just a “problem” it has reached the point of being immoral. I applaud the Speaker Sheer’s leadership. This is the most important thing that has happened since I’ve been in the legislature.

The bottom line is we have until Monday. Once again I am reminded that no form of government will reform itself. It must be forced to. I have not given yet.

The longer I’m a Nebraska State Senator, the more I become convinced the Unicameral (one-house) “experiment” we have in Nebraska has reached the end of its usefulness. I’m becoming convinced the only hope for rural Nebraska is to go back to a two-house State government. In 1936, the last year of the Nebraska bi-cameral legislature, there were 100 representatives in the house, and 33 senators in the Senate. In the land area of the 13 counties of the 43rd district as it’s currently drawn, there would be at least 2 representatives in addition to the 1 senator. Two more voices in the legislature speaking for the Sandhills makes me happy. Of course everything would be apportioned on population, so the urban areas would also grow proportionately in representation as well.

One of the main reasons I believe we need a two-house system is because of its inherent checks and balances on government. George Norris (Father of the Unicameral system) argued the people would be “the 2nd House.” They would provide the “check” on government that we lost by going to our one-house legislature. In theory, our Unicameral would be “extra” transparent so the people could provide this check on government power. This has not occurred in my view. We’ve had a Unicameral for 81 years. We’ve had a property tax crisis for roughly 50 of those years. Year after year, a majority of senators in the Unicameral Legislature have ignored the problem. Since we’ve been a Unicameral, the people, through the ballot initiative and referendum process, have attempted to amend the Nebraska constitution and/or pass laws through the ballot process 57 times. Many of these efforts addressed lowering property taxes.
This only counts the measures that actually collected enough signatures and were put on the ballot. Before the Unicameral started in 1937, the people only used the ballot initiative and referendum process 18 times.

I’m forced to wonder, if the people really were successful in performing the “check” on State government that George Norris envisioned, then why did they have to resort to doing scores of ballot initiatives since we became a Unicameral? Why must the people now resort to using the ballot initiative process to try (again) to lower out of control property taxes? Why must the Speaker resort to weekend meetings to try and pass something the people have been screaming about for generations?

For the “2nd House” (the people) to be an effective check and balance on the 1st House (the Unicameral) the will of the people has to respected and not ignored.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

03-29-2018 Weekly Update

March 29th, 2018

Senator Tom Brewer
43rd District
03-29-2018

The “cloture vote” I’ve talked about several times finally happened on the budget this week. On the third attempt to pass it, the vote was 43 yes, and 4 no. The budget advanced to “final reading” which is the last stage of debate before it is sent to the Governor for his signature.

Speaker Sheer showed leadership this week bringing Senators from both sides of the issue together to negotiate a compromise. They put language in an amendment to “clarify” the part of the budget that deals with the Title X Federal funding that Nebraska receives. This allowed us to finally invoke cloture and advance the budget.

The whole argument over the budget boiled down to abortion. Federal Law says Title X funding is supposed to be used to run healthcare clinics for poor people. The federal law also says if any of the money ends up being used for abortion, the State can lose it’s $1.9 million in federal funding. On two different inspections, the State Auditor found that our Title X funding was being co-mingled between healthcare for poor people and with abortion and related activities. We needed language in the budget that put safeguards in place to be sure and separate the funding.

The senators who support abortion all howled in protest saying this was all about closing down abortion clinics. One of the teaching assistants from the University even dropped off a flyer to my office depicting a crime scene photo of a woman who died from a botched motel room abortion in the 1960s. She implied my vote for the budget means I somehow support women dying from this practice. Her ghoulish reasoning reminds me once again of the problems we have with that institution.

I think abortion is murder and we should close abortion clinics, but that’s not the law of the land right now. Regardless, this was never the issue in the first place. This is about stopping the mistake of spending federal money on something federal law prohibits. In so doing, this is about protecting the money the federal government gives us to help provide healthcare to poor people.

In other news, I voted for Sen. Brasch’s “pull motion” to bring LB 1069 to the floor today. This motion “forces” a bill out of a committee. It is rarely used and often fails. It was successful today with 27 yes votes. The bill is about teaching Americanism in our schools. It is updating a 1947 law. What absolutely astonished me was debate that ensued and the vote. Why wasn’t this 49-0? What could possibly be wrong with making sure our school children are taught how exceptional and unique the United States is? We’re all Americans. This isn’t a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative issue. One of the Senators opposed to the bill said the idea we should teach the evils of Nazism and Communism to our school children was like the McCarthyism of the 1950’s and was “indoctrinating” our children. This bill will continue to be hotly debated as it moves through the process.

LB 947, the Governor’s property tax bill, will be debated on Tuesday, the 3rd of April. This would be a very interesting debate to watch. You can see it on-line here:
http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand

Sen. Smith who sponsored the bill says it has a “very narrow path” to success. This bill will likely need 33 votes to break the filibuster (cloture). It is a very modest proposal that doesn’t do near enough in the way of property tax relief, but I will vote for it. I would rather have part of something than all of nothing.

The voice of the people who live in the rural areas of our State is shrinking. After the next census in 2020, and the re-districting that will follow, it will be silenced even more. I believe the “experiment” with our one-house Unicameral has out-lived its usefulness. It was never intended to disenfranchise those who live in the sparsely populated parts of our State, but that is exactly what has happened. Next week I’ll go into more detail about how our legislature is broken.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

03-09-2018 Weekly Update

March 23rd, 2018

This past Thursday the balcony was full of fourth grade students visiting the Unicameral. As he often does during debate, Senator Ernie Chambers made disparaging remarks about the bible, Christianity, and made disgusting references to female anatomy. In response, the chaperons for the school children took them out of the balcony. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this has happened.

 

This behavior rightfully outrages my constituents and I agree with them. The bottom line is there is a rule that is supposed to prohibit such things, but it effectively can’t be used. Let me explain what the problem is.

 

Our State Constitution says the Legislature will make its own “rules.” The rules say a senator “…shall confine his or her remarks to the question before the Legislature.” This rule is broken every day by any number of different Senators. Rule 2, Section 8, “Transgression of Rules, Call Member to Order” is the rule that is supposed to enforce order in the body. The rule is so vague it can’t be enforced. The rule requires the legislature to answer two questions. (1) Whether or not a senator is out of order is a simple majority vote without debate. (2) The question of the consequences for breaking the rule IS DEBATABLE. For example, the consequence could be a senator not allowed to speak for the rest of the legislative day. This debate would be endless because there isn’t 33 votes to end a filibuster over the question of consequences. Each Senator would argue to maintain their freedom to say to whatever they want in debate on the floor.

 

In researching this I have found the wording of this rule has been this way over 40 years. Our rules are based on “Mason’s Rules of Order” as many State legislatures are, but Nebraska is unique. Since 1937, the traditions governing debate have evolved in our Unicameral system in a way that encouraged the most “full and fair” debate possible. Compared to every other State, Senators in Nebraska have MUCH greater freedom to express themselves on the floor. No one I know of has ever heard of a successful use of Rule 2, Section 8. I think we need to change it so it can be used, but we need to be careful what we wish for. That said, I think the right balance can be found.

 

Rules are reviewed and adopted for each new legislature, so we will have a chance to debate/revise them in January 2019 at the beginning of the 106th legislature. Any change to Rule 2, Section 8 to make it enforceable will be seen as an effort to chill political speech. They will say it threatens full and fair debate. I would argue the change is needed as we now live in a different age. Political discourse has turned ugly and course. The restraints that modesty and manners once had on the etiquette of public speech are un-done today. Changing this rule is larger than just one senator and really addresses the Legislature as an institution. I think the change we need reflects how our society has changed.

 

I believe we can enforce civility and decorum in our legislature. We also can protect our unique tradition of giving Senators the most latitude of any State legislature in the country. It’s darn sure worth trying. We shouldn’t have to be worried about what grade school kids might hear when they come to watch the legislature in session.

 

The “Rules of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature” I made reference to can be found here:

https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/Current/PDF/Rules/RuleBook.pdf

 

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; tbrewer@leg.ne.gov. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.

 

Sen. Tom Brewer

District 43
Room #1202
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2628
Email: tbrewer@leg.ne.gov
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