On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee voted to advance LB 390 to General File for debate by the full Legislature. LB 390 is my personal priority bill this year. The bill creates the Medical Cannabidiol Pilot Study within the University of Nebraska Medical Center for patients who suffer from intractable epileptic seizures. It allows access to low-THC cannabidiol oil for patients under the supervision of a neurologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Under LB 390, the only allowed substance is cannabidiol or CBD that contains .03% THC or less. This is the same amount of THC found in industrial hemp and is too low to produce a high for recreational use. I look forward to discussing this bill with my colleagues on the floor in the weeks ahead.
Consent Calendar is a legislative process established in Rule 5, Section 6 of our Legislative Rules. This process allows non-controversial bills, often with technical changes, to be debated in a streamlined fashion. The Speaker of the Legislature determines which bills are eligible for Consent Calendar. At a minimum, Consent Calendar bills must meet the following criteria:
No opposition testimony at the bill’s hearing, unless a committee amendment completely addresses the opposition’s concerns.
The topic the bill opens up is non-controversial.
The bill does not adopt a new act or make several changes to an existing law.
The bill does not have a general fund impact. Similarly, tax expenditure bills are not eligible for consent.
The bill was reported to General File by March 23, 2015.
Per legislative rule, any bill on Consent Calendar can be removed from the agenda by the written request of 3 or more senators. If this happens, the bill will be passed over and will not come up for a vote. Similarly, if an amendment to a Consent Calendar bill that adds new subject matter is adopted on the floor, the bill will not be placed back on the agenda.
This year I submitted a request for consideration of LB 541 as a Consent Calendar bill. LB 541 brings the retention of expired state contracts posted on the state contract website created by the Taxpayer Transparency Act in line with the state agency general retention schedule of 5 years post-expiration.
In 2013, the Legislature passed LB 429, a bill I introduced and prioritized, to bring additional transparency to the state contracting process through the creation a publicly available website for all state contracts. The current statute requires indefinite retention because there is no timeline for retention. LB 541 clarifies that the state contract website, operated by the Department of Administrative Services, will follow the state agency general retention schedule.
Veterans Writing Workshop this Week
Since September, Humanities Nebraska has partnered with the Veterans Administration in Lincoln to organize six-week workshops for veterans and active duty military members. The latest workshop, called “Standing Together” began on January 17. In addition to writing strategies and techniques, workshop participants also read Simon Wiesenthal’s “The Sunflower” and Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.” A similar workshop series in Omaha is planned this fall. If you are interested in participating in a future workshop or know a veteran who might benefit from the series, please contact Beverly Hoistad at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Week in Urban Affairs
On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 152, one of the Urban Affairs Committee’s two committee priority bills for the session. LB 152, which authorizes cities and villages to borrow directly from banks and other financial institutions, would help smaller cities and villages that run into cash-flow issues when, for example, a city-owned vehicle breaks down and must be quickly replaced. Nebraska generally follows the legal doctrine known as Dillon’s Rule, which means that municipalities may only exercise those powers that are expressly granted to them by the state – without authorization, cities and villages would be unable to borrow from local banks located in their communities.
While LB 152 was one of the first bills heard this session by the Urban Affairs Committee, it was also one of the bills that was discussed most often by the committee in executive session. Most borrowing by cities and villages currently comes in the form of municipal bonds, many types of which must be approved by the voters. Committee members were initially concerned that without some type of limitation, direct borrowing could be used as an “end around” for cities to avoid traditional bond financing. To address those concerns, the committee spent a significant amount of time working on the bill to place reasonable restrictions on municipalities’ ability to borrow directly from banks.
LB 152 provides a perfect example of the role that committees play in the legislative process. Prior to advancing the bill, the committee carefully crafted amendment language that balanced the need for flexible municipal financing tools with ensuring transparency in local budgeting and avoiding the possibility that municipalities would use direct borrowing to avoid going to the voters. While direct borrowing represents an important new tool in the toolbox for municipalities, the work of the committee ensures that traditional bond financing will continue to be used in cases where it is clearly warranted.
Visitors this Week
I spoke with students from Avery Elementary in Bellevue and North Star HS in Lincoln
I met with Bellevue West students who are a part of No Limits , a youth-led tobacco prevention group
I enjoy visiting with visitors from the district. Avery Elementary was the first 4th grade class to visit this year. I met with a couple of Bellevue West students this week who were at the Capitol for a Humanities Nebraska workshop on political issues. This week I also had a chance to speak with nursing students, including many from Creighton, about health bills and the importance of being engaged in state politics. If you are ever at the Capitol, make sure to stop by my office in room 1212 and say hi!
Our office received a number of calls and emails this week regarding Senator Chambers’ comments that were made during a dialogue with Senator Garrett at a concealed carry hearing last Friday. While no other senator, including me, condones Senator Chambers’ remarks, the context of those remarks has been lost in the media frenzy. In that dialogue, Senator Garrett implied that Nebraska citizens might want to carry a gun if they are going for a family outing to Chili’s or Applebee’s because they were afraid of ISIS. After that comment, Senator Chambers argued that he and others in his community had reason to fear law enforcement and that discussion included unfortunate and inflammatory remarks that received a great deal of press attention this week.
To those concerned that it was not discussed by his peers, know that Senator Chambers’ comments were discussed thoroughly Thursday morning on the floor. Several senators expressed their concerns about the comments and there was a serious debate about free speech in the legislature and our personal responsibilities in our own speech and in our responses to others who make comments on the floor and in hearings. While no other senators, including me, condone the remarks, the freedom of speech is a fundamental right that must be protected.
At one point in that debate Thursday morning, Senator Mello noted that many senators in the Legislature who did not publicly criticize Senator Chambers have regularly supported police in tangible ways by protecting their sick leave, protecting their collective bargaining rights, and protecting their access to healthcare and education. I would put myself in that category. I did not participate in public outrage over the remarks, but I have worked hard to serve those who serve us in public safety roles in bill after bill. For example, one of the first bills I introduced was LB 321. LB 321 eliminated a provision requiring police officers in first class cities like Bellevue and Papillion to spend down their sick leave or personal leave before receiving short-term disability benefits. Prior to the enactment of LB 321 as part of a larger Nebraska Retirement committee package in 2013, officers could face a situation where they return to work after an injury in the line of duty without sick leave to care for themselves or someone in their family.
Many on the floor demanded a retraction, clarification, or apology. It is important to note that Senator Chambers did clarify in a follow up news account that he did not want to encourage anybody to shoot anyone. After our floor debate on Thursday he was talking to reporters, so I expect more clarification of his comments appeared in news outlets at the end of the week.