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Friday marked day 30 and the halfway point of the 2016 session. 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 standing committee identifies 2 priority bills, with the exception of the State-Tribal Relations Committee who can designate one priority bill. Friday was the deadline for both senators and committees to identify and submit their priority bills. The Speaker also gets to select 25 priority bills. Thursday was the deadline to submit bills for the Speaker to consider as a Speaker priority bill. Speaker Hadley will announce his priority designations on Monday. Once these bills are announced, we will largely know which bills will–and won’t–be debated this session.
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. This meant frequent executive sessions conducted by the various committees. Committees go into executive session to discuss and vote on bills in their committee. If a majority of the committee votes to advance the legislation, the committee clerk will work with the legal counsel to draft and file a committee statement for the bill. The committee statement outlines the main points of the bill, explains any committee amendments, and lists in person testimony at the bill’s hearing.
This year, I selected LB 754 as my personal priority bill.LB 754 establishes the Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs and a military liaison to work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations. The commission and this point person will also work to support and serve Nebraska’s military and veteran families.
Other Priority Bills of Interest
As I mentioned in earlier updates, Speaker Hadley began accepting priority designations earlier this year. This means we’ve already debated several priority bills, including LB 471 (Howard) prioritized by Senator Lindstrom, which passed 46-0 on Final Reading on Thursday. LB 471 makes important improvements to our state’s prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). Nebraska’s current PDMP has serious deficiencies. Reporting is not mandatory, patients can opt out of the system and patients who pay in cash are not recorded. Often, drug seekers and drug dealers use cash to conceal their behavior. LB 471 addresses all of these issues. What’s more, the Department of Health and Human Services secured grant funding for $750,000 total over four years to fund the changes in LB 471.
Another key priority this session is eliminating the common levy of the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties. I was happy to see Senator Sullivan selected LB 1067, which includes a provision to eliminate the common levy. Senator Sullivan’s bill also includes targeted funding for education improvements for children in poverty. The hearing for the Learning Community bills, including Senator Sullivan’s proposal, is Monday afternoon at 1:30 PM. You can watch the hearing on NET’s website.
Each day before session a guest or a senator offers an opening prayer. I was happy to welcome my own pastor, Rev. Michael Thompson and his family to the Capitol this week. Rev. Thompson, minister at New Life Baptist Church in Bellevue, was the chaplain of the day and gave the opening prayer on Wednesday.
Changes to the Taxpayer Transparency Act
The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony Wednesday on LB 694, a bill I introduced to make a technical change to the Taxpayer Transparency Act. LB 694 exempts the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation from posting certain service agreements on the state contract website for services to specifically-named individuals. The reason for this exemption is to protect confidentiality of individuals receiving specific services, such as medical exams and assistive devices. This bill does not affect public records requests. I believe this bill helps strike the right balance between transparency for taxpayers and confidentiality for those individuals receiving services.
In 2013, the Legislature passed the Taxpayer Transparency Act, a bill I introduced and prioritized to bring additional transparency to the state contracting process through the creation of a publicly available website for all state contracts. From February 20, 2015 to February 11, 2016, there were 10,721 visits to the contract website, according to the Department of Administrative Services. The total number of pages viewed was 89,526 and the database currently holds a total of 147,886 documents. I am proud of our work on this legislation and happy to see taxpayers using the website to see how our government is spending resources through contracts.
I want to thank my long-time friend Dr. Laura Olson for visiting us this week. Dr. Olson is a professor of political science at Clemson University. She enjoyed seeing our Nebraska Unicameral up close, and I enjoyed her visit.
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 bill. 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 package bill. With between 400 and 500 bills introduced in a typical “short 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 1059, is an example of a package bill, as it combines three bills dealing with the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act:
LB 1059: Require certain disclosures under the Community Development Law and the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act
LB 808: Change provisions relating to amending an economic development program under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act
LB 860: Add a type of economic development program under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act
The Urban Affairs Committee’s second priority bill this session is LB 704, a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of various statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes.
Bring your families to enjoy some warm rolls and support area veterans! On Thursday, February 25, Texas Roadhouse in Shadow Lake will donate 10% of all purchases to Veterans of the Midlands Foundation. To support their efforts, mention the fundraiser to your server.
Save the Date! The Brain Injury Association, VetSet Nebraska and Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors are holding a one-day training called No Wrong Door Training & Networking at Bellevue University on March 16 from 8:00 AM-5:00 PM. No Wrong Door is a training for service providers, healthcare providers and others looking to get more information on how to better serve veterans and their families and ensure that veterans and families find the right service, at the right time, at the right place. Registration is $50 and cover workshop sessions, lunch and contact hours for licensed providers. Those interested should register by March 10 here.
All my best,