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I was happy to be part of a panel on Thursday to discuss issues of gender inequality and women in government. The panel was held at the Capitol and hosted by the UNL Women’s Center and the YWCA
Priority Frenzy Week
We are nearly halfway through the legislative session. At this point in the session, the debate on the floor turns to those bills that have a priority. This past week was the deadline for all priority designations and proposals. In all other states, the Speaker and the majority party decide which bills get time on the floor. In Nebraska we have a unique priority system. Each Senator gets to select one bill as his or her priority. These bills get top priority for floor debate at some point before the end of the session. Each committee identifies 2 priority bills. Thursday was the deadline for both senators and committees to identify and submit their priority bills. The Speaker also gets to select 25 priority bills. Wednesday was the deadline to submit bills for the Speaker to consider as a Speaker priority bill.
Since all of the priority deadlines were this week, and since getting a priority designation on a bill is so important, this week was a hectic one. All of the senators were scrambling to try to get their most important bills voted out of committee before the priority deadlines so that they could propose them as Speaker priority bills or line up a Senator to make the bill his or her personal priority bill. The Speaker is unlikely to pick a bill that has not gotten out of committee and individual Senators tend to be reluctant to pick a bill as a priority if it has not gotten out of committee by the deadline.
I made LB 390 my personal priority bill even though it has not been voted out of the Judiciary Committee yet. I talked with committee members and was assured it had the votes to get out next week and would be voted on next week. Therefore I was willing to take the risk on this important bill that provides a pilot project for those with intractable epilepsy. I worked hard early in the week to try to get one of my unfunded mandate bills out of the Revenue Committee in time to request a Speaker priority. I wasn’t able to get that done because the Revenue Committee had so many other bills that were also being pushed by other senators who were also wanted a bill out in time for priority deadlines. However, I was able to get another important bill out of Judiciary in time to request a Speaker priority for that bill. That bill (LB 459) establishes protections for child victims in pre-trial discovery.
Gone but Not Forgotten: Working Together to Ensure Unclaimed Remains of Veterans Receive a Dignified Burial
Big thanks to Bill Henry for his help on LB 146
On Thursday, Bill Henry with Missing in America Project Nebraska Chapter visited the Capitol to watch as the Legislature passed LB 146 on a 44-0 vote. The idea for this legislation was brought to our office by Bill Henry this summer. Bill has been instrumental in garnering support for LB 146 and getting the legislation passed. LB 146 will help funeral homes work with veterans service organizations like Missing in America Project to inter unclaimed remains of veterans for burial in a veteran cemetery. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.
LB 146 is one of five military and veteran bills I introduced this year. The Legislature passed four of the five already this year. Two (LB 109 and LB 219) are now law. The other two (LB 272 and LB 146) await the Governor’s signature.
LB 109 changes requirements for veterans attending a public college or university to bring a bill we passed last year (LB 740) into compliance with new federal law. Under LB 109, all veterans who left active duty service within the past three years and their dependents are eligible for in-state tuition. LB 219 adopts the Uniform Deployed Parents and Custody and Visitation Act to create a legal process for military families with shared custody during a deployment. LB 272 creates a voluntary veterans preference in private employment for veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans or spouses whose veteran was killed in action.
Update on Military Retiree Tax Bills
Military retirees are an important economic asset to our state, which is why I was encouraged to hear Gov. Ricketts commit to a sizable military retirement investment in his State of the State address and pleased to see that he reinforced that commitment in his budget statement. What this actually meant in the legislative process is that he reserved over $20 million dollars outside of specific spending programs to be used for tax relief in his budget request to the legislature. This is in addition to some dollars that he set aside for property tax relief.
Four senators, including me, introduced military retirement tax relief bills. In the Legislature, these bills compete against all other tax reduction proposals for that money. Senators have introduced over $100 million this year for tax relief. Some of these other tax cut proposals include bills to lower the income tax rates for all taxpayers, bills to provide more property tax relief, and many bills for tax exemptions and incentives for education, tourism, and even food sales by veteran service organizations. It appears to me that the Governor has not prioritized directing all of the $23 million to military retirement tax relief at this point given the mix of tax reduction proposals being considered. Similarly, the Revenue Committee appears committed to trying to tackle a broader tax reduction package with the limited revenues available.
I have been negotiating with members of the Revenue Committee on a smaller package that addresses what I see as the most egregious element of our current policy, which is that military retirees who have already chosen to live in Nebraska don’t qualify. As of last week, the Revenue Committee had not voted out an amended version of LB 267to address this situation. However, the chair of the Revenue Committee assured me that the bill is not dead and we would continue our discussions. He knows from our discussions that this is a critical year to correct this situation since the policy passed last year goes into effect next year.
Update on the Learning Community
Senator Sullivan used her personal priority to ensure that her Learning Community bill makes it to the floor this year. This is good news because it ensures that we will have a floor debate about the Learning Community this year. Senator Sullivan’s bill has several provisions that allow school districts to return to pre-Learning Community rules on several issues including boundaries. It does not yet go far enough yet in terms of eliminating the common levy and ensuring strong boundary negation processes. However, I have been working hard with the three school districts in my legislative district (Bellevue, Omaha, and Springfield-Platteview) and members of the Education Committee to continue to push for the bill to address these concerns before it gets to the floor.
This Week in Urban Affairs
In addition to each senator’s personal priority bill, each standing committee of the Legislature can designate two bills as committee priority bills. While committee priority designations are at the discretion of the committee chair, most committee priority bills tend to be consensus bills that have the unanimous support of committee members. This is the case with both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills this session.
Another common feature of committee priority bills is what is referred to as a “christmas tree” bill. With more than 650 bills introduced in a typical session, committees will often combine multiple bills dealing with the same subject into one bill. One of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills, LB 324, is an example of a “christmas tree” bill, as it combines three bills dealing with sanitary and improvement districts (SIDs):
LB 324: Provide authority to SIDs to contract for solid waste collection services
LB 197: Provide additional powers to certain SIDs
LB 420: Require acknowledgments from purchasers of real estate in a SID
The Urban Affairs Committee’s second priority bill this session is LB 152, a bill that would authorize cities and villages to borrow directly from banks and other financial institutions. While most municipal borrowing comes in the form of municipal bonds, many smaller cities and villages run into cash flow issues when, for example, a city-owned vehicle breaks down and must be quickly replaced. As amended by the committee, LB 152 provides municipalities with the authority to utilize direct borrowing in these and other instances, but contains important protections to ensure that municipalities are not using this tool to avoid using traditional bond financing, which often requires a vote of the people.
Sue in the News