Floor Progress on Bills Picks Up
This week the Legislature pushed ahead with debate on many bills on the floor. Once a bill is out of committee, it sits in line (called Worksheet order) to wait its turn for floor debate. The Speaker usually puts bills on the floor in this order until we get to late February or early March when we switch to Priority bills. Floor debate and votes for bills includes three rounds. The most extensive debate generally occurs on the first round, General File.
This week we debated 17 bills from the Worksheet order and two Committee Priority bills. Among the 17 bills that passed the first round were: a bill to update our dental practice laws; a bill to remove from statute a prohibition on teachers in public school wearing “religious garb” that was put into law as part of an unfortunate anti-Catholic historical period; a bill to prohibit someone with existing unpaid campaign violation fines from filing to run for office again; and a bill to require someone who leaves employment without cause to requalify for unemployment insurance by working to earn a set amount that contributes back into the unemployment system. We ended debate on Friday in the middle of a discussion of a bill to allow a “Choose Life” license plate in the state with funds going to a child abuse prevention fund. One bill, a Keno bill, was Indefinitely Postponed on the floor, which is a polite way to say that it was killed for the session.
The second round of debate is Select File. Sometime during debate in the first round, a senator raises concerns about a need for an amendment, and then the amendment gets worked out and is debated as part of the Select File debate. This week, we debated and passed an amendment that I asked for to an Egg bill (LB 134 by Senator Brasch) out of the Agriculture Committee. During General File debate, I raised the concern that the bill as written would apply regulations to people who give eggs to their friends and neighbors. I asked that we add an amendment that clarified that the regulations only applied to those who sell eggs in the state. Senator Brasch agreed to bring an amendment to the bill when it came up on Select File. We passed that amendment on the floor on Thursday and then voted to advance the bill on to Final Reading (the third round of debate). One of my friends who likes to give away eggs delivered some free eggs to my office after that vote with a nice note. This example illustrates how important it is to read the bills and to work to clarify laws so that they don’t create unneeded regulations.
We debated two Priority bills on Friday. I expect most of our floor debate will now turn to Priority bills. Unlike any other state, Nebraska allows each senator to pick one priority bill. Each committee picks two priority bills and the Speaker picks 25. These bills get prioritized for floor debate, so instead of following Worksheet order, priority bills get scheduled by the Speaker for floor debate.
Most of my committee work this week was listening to hearings of other senator’s bills and asking questions. We only had two of our bills in hearings, both on Friday: one each in the Health & Human Services and Revenue Committees.
First was LB588, which provides that individuals engaged in the practice of reflexology, and whose services are not designated or implied to be massage or massage therapy, are not required to hold a license under the Massage Therapy Practice Act.
The second bill was LB253, which I introduced on behalf of Sarpy County. This bill amends the 1994 Industrial Construction Sewer Act, sponsored by Senator Paul Hartnett, that was vital for the northern part of Sarpy County to build sews and grow without using property tax dollars. This sewer bill in the 1990’s was key to Sarpy County’s growth. Now we face a new sewer challenge and LB 253 provides a way for Sarpy County to negotiate an agreement with Sarpy cities and S.I.D’s to build sewer capacity for the rest of the county. Commissioner Don Kelley came to testify in support of the bill and said that it was the most important economic development bill for Sarpy County this year. County and city leaders have been working on plans for this sewer challenge for about 10 years. LB 253 creates a framework for the next steps to move forward. The authority in the bill also has important environmental implications. Regional sewer services can help counties avoid the proliferation of individual or community septic systems as they expand and develop areas with minimal sewer infrastructure. It just so happened that today was a day when the Utility Construction Association was at the capitol for their legislative day. I talked with them during their breakfast and one of their members from Wayne Nebraska testified in a neutral capacity for the bill. He stressed the value of regional sewer agreements to reduce reliance on septic systems to protect the environment.
Midwestern Higher Education Compact Visit
On Thursday and Friday a delegation from the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC) visited Nebraska for their annual state visit. In addition to meeting with legislative leadership and sitting in on morning debate, they hosted a dinner in Lincoln. It was a great opportunity to familiarize attending senators with MHEC’s mission, and to meet with people on the front line of Nebraska’s higher educational institutions.
MHEC is a collaborative interstate compact dedicated to promoting higher educational opportunities in the Midwest. For 25 years, MHEC has helped educational institutions in its 12 member states work toward greater access, affordability, and quality. MHEC administers programs such as the Midwest Student Exchange Program, in which public institutions agree to charge out-of-state students within the exchange no more than 150% of in-state resident tuition for specific programs; the Multi-State Collaborative on Military Credit, which works to help veterans transfer their military training and experiences into college credit and successfully pursue college credentials; and the eTranscript Initiative, which offers a simplified way for students in member states to transfer information between high schools and colleges.
I serve as one of five MHEC Commissioners from Nebraska; I am also a member of the Executive Board and serve on the Strategic Planning Committee. It is always a pleasure to have MHEC visit our state, and I look forward to continued work with them on higher education issues.
Creighton SCSJ Visit
On Monday I met with a group of ten students at the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ) at Creighton. These bright young people were interested in discussing mental health policy, immigration, environmental justice issues, and many other topics. It was a pleasure to join them and discuss these important issues, and wonderful to meet such promising young people.
Dinner with Nebraska Teachers
On Wednesday the Nebraska State Education Association held its legislative dinner, giving senators the chance to meet with educators at all levels from across the state.
Hearings of Interest February 27 – March 3
The Legislature’s 14 standing committees hold public hearings on dozens of bills each week. Next week we have seven bills up for hearings. You can access the full hearing schedule for the next two weeks here, but I’d like to highlight a few from among the committees that you may find particularly interesting for the coming week.
Monday: The Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the University of Nebraska System’s budget request. With the state facing a budget crunch, this hearing will allow the Appropriations Committee to speak with representatives from the University and members of the public about proposed appropriations and cuts. The committee’s full budget recommendations can be found here. Also on Monday, my LB302 and LB303, to appropriate funds for mental and behavioral health fellowships, will have their public hearing in that committee.
Tuesday: The Transportation & Telecommunications Committee will hear LB627, which relates to the operation of autonomous motor vehicles on Nebraska’s roads.
Wednesday: LB504, which will be heard in the Natural Resources Committee, would place a moratorium on industrial development of wind energy projects in the Sand Hills region, and create a task force to study future development prospects.
Thursday: The Government, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee will hear LR1CA, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to present government-issued ID when voting.
Friday: I will present LB252 before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. LB 252 requires that groups who specifically target a candidate with ads to voters in that jurisdiction in the 30 days before an election follow reporting requirements to provide transparency and accountability for these ads. A current loophole allows groups to avoid this reporting if they claim that the ads are information ads instead of campaign ads.
Nebraska Statehood Celebration
All of Nebraska is cordially invited to celebrate Nebraska’s Sesquicentennial Statehood Day at the Capitol on Wednesday March 1st. The event is free and open to the public; the full program can be found here, but highlights will include musical performances in the Capitol Rotunda, and a ceremony in the George W. Norris Chamber. Come join the celebration!
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All the best,