Happy Arbor Day! This holiday, first celebrated in Nebraska in 1872, was originally promoted by Nebraska resident J Sterling Morton. It is a day to celebrate nature, and the many ecological benefits of trees in particular. If you want to learn more about the history of Arbor Day, you can read about it here.
Late Nights Begin
Wednesday April 26th was our first scheduled late night for this session. As we come closer to the end of the session, the Speaker typically sets out specific days as designated late nights. Assigning those days ahead of time allows senators to clear their evening schedules so that the bills taken up in evening sessions get debated fairly. This year there are 10 late nights scheduled.
If you tune in on NET TV or on the web stream, you may notice that it gets quite dark in the Chamber. While it looks darker on TV than it actually is – especially since we all have personal lamps at our desks – it is true that the original lighting rigs, installed during the Capitol’s construction in the mid-1930s, do not cast particularly strong light. The dim lighting adds to the special atmosphere of those late night sessions.
This week’s late night was devoted to discussion of the 2017-18 biennial budget. Unfortunately, instead of talking about the money being spent and cut in various categories, we ended up spending hours on controversial language that was put into the budget bill concerning how Title X federal money gets distributed to health facilities in the state. This language is similar to language that in previous years was submitted as an actual legislative bill and debated as a policy bill, where it would get full vetting and debate. This year it was put into the budget bill and consequently took time away from important discussions about the tradeoffs and choices in our funding for all agencies in the state. At 9:00 pm the Speaker called for cloture and the main budget bill moved to the next round. There was recognition that we will have some major changes to debate in the next round already because on that same day the new budget forecast came with more bad news. We now have $55 million more shortfall to fill.
On April 27th, I and other members of the Executive Board voted unanimously to give Speaker Scheer “Speaker Major Proposal” authority on our four major budget bills. This authority allows the speaker to order the amendments and motions on the bill. So, someone cannot prevent an amendment from being heard by filing motions nor prevent amendments that the body wants to consider by having a host of previously filed amendments. The rules allow a speaker to designate 5 such bills each year. This is the first time I have seen the rule used, but it is an appropriate use of the rule given the challenging budget situation and the tough politics of this session.
Bill Signing Ceremonies
On Tuesday April 25th I joined a number of senators, stakeholders, and veterans for a bill signing ceremony with Governor Ricketts. Most bills are signed privately by the Governor in his office, and do not receive a particular ceremony. Occasionally, however, the Governor will choose to give special attention to bills that he wants to highlight. In those cases, the Governor invites sponsoring senators and their staff, state agency leaders, interested members of the public, and the media to his office for a signing ceremony. On Tuesday he signed three bills – LB88, LB340e, and LB639 – that will benefit veterans and their families.
LB88 is Senator Carol Blood’s bill to tackle occupational licensing issues, particularly as they relate to spouses of servicemembers; LB639 extends veteran preference hiring rules to include military spouses as well. Finally, LB340e is the bill to transfer administration of the state’s veterans homes from the Department of Health & Human Services to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. DVA Director John Hilgert, National Guard Adjutant General Daryl Bohac, and a number of veteran organization representatives were present for the ceremony. I want to thank all of them for their service to our state and our nation.
Bellevue Art Show Judging
On April 23rd I had the honor of helping to judge entries at the 15th annual AC Lofton Bellevue High School Art Show. The event, which was open to students from any of Bellevue’s four high schools, was co-sponsored by the Bellevue Artist Association. It was a pleasure to see so many talented artists displaying their hard work – the hardest part of judging was not being able to award every single one of them! You can learn more about this annual event at this excellent Bellevue Leader profile here.
Events This Week
This week I was able to attend several excellent events. On Wednesday April 26th I joined University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds and Lunch with Hank Bounds and the University Advisory Council (UAC) for lunch at Innovation Campus. The UAC is a group of community representatives from across Nebraska who come together on a biannual basis to discuss the University’s activities and initiative. Particularly in this budget climate, it was extremely helpful to talk with the UAC and discuss some of the priorities, challenges, and opportunities faced by the University and all of its staff and students.
Friday April 28th was a busy day. At 7:30 am I attended the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Legislative Coffee. Together with several of my fellow Sarpy County senators, we took questions from the attendees and discussed the budget, pending tax proposals, and many of the other important issues facing the state.
In the afternoon I joined Creighton students and alumni for a Java for Jays meeting. The informal event is based around a public service theme, and was an opportunity to discuss potential career paths, trends and research in the field, and any other questions the students may have. It’s a great chance to talk with students who are interested in public service and give them an inside look into what a public service career entails.
Finally, in the evening I attended the USSTRATCOM Annual Awards. This event is a chance to honor both military members and civilians for outstanding support to the command’s global strategic missions. This gala event showcases some of the outstanding men and women who support USSTRATCOM’s work at home and abroad.
Happening in the District
There are a number of events taking place in Bellevue on Sunday April 30th. First is the Sarpy County Earth Day Celebration & Expo, an annual event to raise awareness of environmental principles and honor Earth-friendly efforts in the community. This year the Expo will be held at the BPS Lied Activity Center at 2700 Arboretum Drive. The event runs 12:00-4:00 pm; full details of the day’s activities can be found here.
Second is the Sarpy County Museum’s Famous Nebraskans and the Great War event. Running 2:00-3:30 pm with free admission, the event will feature Peru State College professor and historian Spencer Davis. He will discuss the ways William Jennings Bryan, George Norris, and Willa Cather reacted to the outbreak of World War I. You can find full details of this event here.
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All the best,