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The budget bills are scheduled for final reading on Tuesday, April 20. I am not accepting additional consent calendar request letters, however, I do plan to have two more consent calendars yet this session.
Bills I plan to schedule for general file debate next week include:
LB 2 (Briese) Change the valuation of agricultural land and horticultural land for certain school district taxes
LB 39 (Lindstrom) Change the Sports Arena Facility Financing Assistance Act
LB 51 (Lathrop) Change and provide qualifications for and duties relating to certification of law
enforcement officers, require accreditation of law enforcement agencies, prohibit chokeholds in
law enforcement, and require policies on excessive force
LB 408 (Briese) Adopt the Property Tax Request Act
LB 485 (DeBoer) Change provisions relating to child care assistance
Thursday, April 22, I will be scheduling LB 408 for the beginning of that day. Friday, April 23, I will be scheduling LB 131, and LB 147. LB 131, a bill to change provisions relating to the enactment of ordinances, is one of the Urban Affairs committee’s priority bills and includes the provisions of six additional bills in the committee amendment. Additionally, next Friday I intend to schedule Senator Halloran’s motion to place LR14 on general file pursuant to Rule 3, Section 20(b).
The next three weeks will be a significant push from the body to get through our work. I want to remind the body of the scheduled late nights and to be prepared on these nights to potentially go beyond 7 if warranted. In addition, I want to give the body notice that depending on the progress made during the week I reserve the right to make the last day of the week a full working day (with a lunch break) rather than a half-day.
Last, as a reminder, we will start the taxation and spending measures the week of April 26.
This year I plan to alter the long-standing tradition of working late into the night at the end of the session. Rather than work late into the night, I intend to schedule “early evening sessions” with an adjournment time somewhere between 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., although a few evenings may be a little later. The specific adjournment time each evening will be dependent upon the Body’s progress on that day’s agenda.
For each scheduled evening, we will work throughout the afternoon and evening without a dinner break .
Please reserve the following dates for the Legislature to work during the early evening hours:
Tuesday, April 13;
Tuesday, April 20;
Thursday, April 22;
Monday, April 26;
Tuesday, April 27;
Wednesday, April 28;
Tuesday, May 4;
Wednesday, May 5;
Thursday, May 6;
Monday, May 10;
Tuesday, May 11;
Wednesday, May 12;
Tuesday, May 18;
Wednesday, May 19;
Thursday, May 20;
Monday, May 24;
Tuesday, May 25;
Wednesday, May 26;
Tuesday, June 1.
I expect to cancel some of these “reserved evening sessions.” The deciding factor for working beyond 5:30 will be dependent upon our workload for that day/week. I will provide you with as much notice as possible of such a cancellation, although I expect it to be sometime each afternoon.
If I find that our progress necessitates a few late nights, I will be revising this schedule to include late nights for some of the days scheduled for an early evening adjournment.
As we move into the final two months of the session, I want to provide you with a big picture schedule for the next few weeks.
Next Thursday, we will begin debate of the budget bills on general file. I hope to complete the budget with final reading by the following Thursday. My priority for the next two weeks will be the finalization of the state’s biennial budget, our only constitutional responsibility as a Legislature.
Following the adoption of the budget, I will be scheduling taxation and spending measures. This will be the focus for the two weeks following the final reading of the budget.
We will be building on our weekly scheduling rhythms that we have implemented this session. Specifically, on the first day of the week, we will continue our 10:00 am starts with a short consent calendar. After consent calendar we will debate speaker priority bills. The speaker priorities generally were selected in a way as to not include controversial bills, and the combination of consent calendar and speaker priorities will allow us to make for a productive start to our week. The last day of the week will continue to be final reading and Christmas tree bills. The middle of the week I will work to schedule what I anticipate will be the more difficult or intense debates.
My scheduling philosophy has been to try to make consistent progress throughout the session and not to force a large volume of work into the last working days of the session. As part of this effort I am preparing for a different evening schedule than in years past. Rather than a number of very late nights at the end of session—in which it is less likely that we are doing our best work—I intend to have later evenings earlier in session. Accompanying this announcement I have prepared a separate memorandum announcing a schedule for days we may work through the early evening hours and adjourn sometime before 7:45 p.m.
My hope is that this will even out our work. If our progress necessitates a few late nights, I will be revising the schedule to include late nights for some of the days scheduled for an early evening adjournment.
And finally, I want to continue my practice of providing early notice to the body of the bills which will be debated the following week to allow senators time to prepare. A reminder that this list is not necessarily inclusive of all the bills which may be scheduled as more bills may be added if time available warrants the need for additional scheduling. Also, as a reminder, being listed on the agenda for next week is no guarantee that the bill will be taken up on the floor next week.
These bills are listed in numerical order and do not indicate the order they will appear on the agenda or which day of the week each bill will first appear:
LB 2 (Briese) Change the valuation of agricultural land and horticultural land for certain school
LB 17 (Kolterman) Change actuarial valuation and amortization provisions for certain state retirement systems
LB 81 (Hilkemann) Provide authority for sanitary and improvement districts to own, construct, and
maintain public parking facilities
LB 108 (McCollister) Change provisions relating to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
LB 307 (Pansing Brooks) Change provisions relating to appointment of counsel for juveniles
LB 423 (Lathrop) Require registration of home inspectors
LB 497 (DeBoer) Provide for compensation under the Nebraska Crime Victim’s Reparations Act for health care providers examining or treating victims of sexual assault or domestic assault
LB 527 (Walz) Change provisions relating to transition services for students with a developmental
LB 664 (Groene) Change distributions from the Mutual Finance Assistance Fund
My current intent is to schedule LB 17 for Wednesday morning, depending on our progress.
On Monday we will begin convening on the first day of our work week at 10:00 a.m. Of the 58 bills that have been designated as either a senator or committee priority bill, 35 bills are still in committee. By the end of this morning when all priority bills will have been designated, that number could significantly increase. Given the number of designated priority bills which are still in committee, I plan to adjust the schedule on Monday to provide time in the afternoon for committees to hold an executive session. We will adjourn on Monday after our morning session. In order to accommodate some executive session time for all committees, I am asking two-day committees to utilize the time between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. for holding any needed executive session so that the three-day committees may hold an executive session beginning at 2:15 p.m.
On Monday morning we will pick up with the bills left at the end of Thursday. Added to Monday’s agenda will be Senator Aguilar’s priority bill, LB 371, which would allow games of chance under the Nebraska Racetrack Gaming Act at state, district, and county fair locations, and one of the Agriculture’s Committee priority bills, LB 324. LB 324 was introduced by Senator Brandt and changes provisions of the Meat and Poultry Inspection Law.
On Tuesday I intend to continue with priority bills left unfinished from Monday’s agenda, and add LB 88, Senator Morfeld’s priority bill relating to free speech rights of student journalists and student media advisers. On Wednesday, I plan to schedule LB 561, a General Affairs Committee priority bill that changes provisions of the State Racing Commission and the Nebraska Racetrack Gaming Act. The committee amendment to the bill includes an amended version of LB 560, the enabling legislation for the law created by Initiative Law 2020, No. 430 and 431.
Thursday, I intend to schedule time for the “Christmas Trees” that have been reported out of committee. I plan to schedule LB 320 and LB 507. LB 320, Senator John Cavanaugh’s priority bill, changes provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act. In addition to the underlying bill, the committee amendment includes portions of six other bills. LB 507, one of the Natural Resources’ Committee priority bills, includes the provisions of four other bills in addition to the underlying bill which prohibits the use of treated seed corn in the production of agricultural ethyl alcohol in certain circumstances. My hope is that the extra notice allows the body time to review the bills that are included within the carrying bill and to avoid surprises when those bills are debated.
The deadline for the designation of committee and senator priority bills has been extended from Thursday to Friday, March 12, prior to adjournment.
The deadline for submission of a speaker priority request letter continues to be tomorrow, Wednesday, March 10, prior to adjournment.
Thursday, March 11, prior to adjournment is the deadline for the designation of Committee and Senator Priority Bills.
Wednesday, March 10, prior to adjournment is the deadline for a senator to submit a letter to the Speaker requesting designation of a bill as a Speaker Priority Bill. Speaker Priority Bill designations will be announced prior to adjournment on March 16.
Today I want to share with you some details on the Legislative Schedule as we move forward.
In addition to scheduling morning floor debate on Tuesday, February 16, I plan to schedule morning floor debate on Tuesday, March 2. The afternoon of both days will be devoted to public hearings.
The mornings of March 9, 10, and 11 will be floor debate with the afternoon available for public hearings and/or executive sessions. Friday, March 12 will be a 9:00 a.m. check-in day, with the full-day available for Friday committees to utilize. All committees, other than the Judiciary Committee, have been directed to schedule their final day of public hearings by March 4; Judiciary Committee’s last day of scheduled public hearings will be March 12. For committees other than the Judiciary Committee, the week of March 9 will be available for executive sessions and Covid-related public hearing “make-up days” if circumstances warrant a committee canceling a public hearing due to the full committee quarantining due to a Covid exposure.
All day floor debate will begin on March 15.
Today’s Friday Floor announcement will be short.
First, beginning Monday we will start convening each day at 9:00 a.m. and adjourn most days by 9:15 a.m. after checking in. All-day hearings begin on Monday and will proceed throughout February and into the first of March. I will be discussing with the committee chairs their work loads prior to deciding and announcing sometime in the near future a date for the conclusion of public hearings.
Next, I have decided to schedule the morning of Tuesday, February 16th for floor debate and have notified the committee chairs of our Tuesday committees to not schedule public hearings on that day. I intend to also schedule another morning of floor debate on Monday, March 1st, or Tuesday, March 2nd, once I discuss with our Monday and Tuesday committee chairs their work loads.
Also, a reminder to senators and legislative aides that all of the statements of intent for bills scheduled for public hearing Tuesday through Friday next week are due to the respective committees on Monday by 9:30 a.m. The statements of intent for bills scheduled for public hearing on Monday are due to the respective committees by 9:30 a.m. this morning.
And finally, the Nebraska Legislature’s website will be updated no later than noon today with the information for the public about the new options available this session for them to provide input to this body that I shared with you yesterday, including activating the link for online submission of comments for a bill.
All Day Public Hearings
We are in unprecedented times with the Covid-19 pandemic. Families, businesses, and governments are making decisions daily as to how they respond, balancing essential functions and safety of the public. The Legislature is not immune from these decisions. As Speaker, a significant priority is avoiding a suspension of session. Keeping our session intact is both good for the body and for the citizens of Nebraska who expect their Legislature to continue to do their work during this time. While a suspension may become unavoidable at some point, I believe there are measures we can take to lessen the likelihood of that occurring, and advanced planning will maximize our chances at continuing with the session uninterrupted.
To that end, I have decided to structure the session to accommodate all-day committee hearings beginning on January 25th, with morning hearings beginning at 9:30 a.m. and afternoon hearings beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Gathering in large groups, as we would in floor debate, creates one of the most direct ways in which an exposure and/or self-quarantine of significant numbers of senators could occur and cause a suspension of session. This schedule will lessen the amount of time we are gathering on the floor as a large group during January and February, the projected peak time for the virus. In addition, senators who need to self-quarantine during committee hearings are less likely to miss out on core legislative functions as, unlike floor debate, there are options for them to meaningfully participate in the committee process without being physically present. Last, I believe all-day hearings will make efficient use of our time during this early phase of our session.
This decision is not made lightly, and not without significant input and consideration. I have spent weeks collaborating and discussing this proposal with the Speaker’s office and the Clerk’s office, as well as the standing committee chairs, working to determine the feasibility, risks, and potential downsides of such an approach. Of serious consideration was the safety measures and public input options that we could provide to the public to have their voices heard. On balance, I believe that this is the right approach to allow us to continue our work as a co-equal branch of government and to keep us on the field during this pandemic while balancing the needs of the public and being responsible partners.
Critical to this decision is protection of the public and allowing their voices to be heard. The Nebraska Legislature takes seriously the right of the second house to participate in our unique public hearing process, and to do so in a safe manner during this pandemic.
To that end, sometime next week we will announce expanded options for citizens testifying and having their voices heard without having to sit in the committee hearing rooms all morning or afternoon. In addition, next week I will be announcing Covid protocols for public hearings that have been formulated with the input and agreement of the standing committee chairs. These two sets of measures—expanded options for input and safety precautions—will help ensure that the public function as the second house safely.
I am waiting to announce the date on which public hearings will end until after the ten days of bill introduction concludes. At that time I will know what the workload is for each committee and I will have had an opportunity to consult with the chairs of committees with the largest workloads.
The all-day public hearing structure does not mean we will not have floor debate in February. I will be working with the chairs of committees with fewer bills to arrange some mornings for scheduled floor debate.
Last, I want to acknowledge and thank the committee staff, in particular the committee clerks and legal counsels, who will help to execute these changes. We have solicited and incorporated input from committee staff, and we are here to assist you in any way that we can in this process. I personally appreciate your help in making sure that this works and that we can fulfill our constitutional functions.
Rules Debate and Schedule for Next Week
In my memo dated January 8th, I had indicated the debate of the motion to adopt permanent rules would begin on Wednesday, January 20th. I am rescheduling that debate to begin on Thursday, January 21st. The start time for Wednesday and Thursday will remain the same. We will convene at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday and at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. On Wednesday will we will adjourn around 11:30 a.m. or when introduced bills have been processed by the Clerk’s office. On Thursday, the Chief Justice will be giving his State of the Judiciary Address followed by the rules debate. On Thursday we will recess at noon and reconvene at 1:30 p.m. to continue debate of the rules. Adjournment may be as late as 6:00 p.m. that day dependent upon our progress. If the rules debate is still pending on Friday, it will not be a check-in day as previously announced, and instead will be a full morning session to finalize our permanent rules.
While Wednesday is the last day of bill introduction, some senators have indicated to me they would like to introduce the remainder of their bills on Tuesday. The Revisor’s Office will be open on Monday and in order to guarantee the receipt of your 3-parts by Tuesday prior to adjournment you will need to order them by 5:00 p.m. on Monday. You may request your 3-part by phone or email but if your email is not acknowledged, I would recommend you phone the office for confirmation.
Revision/Clarification to the Food Policy
The Speaker’s Memo dated January 8th noted that “Food sponsored by groups or senators will not be distributed to members of the Legislature in the Chamber or to their offices.”
In response to questions regarding the direct delivery of food by sponsoring groups or individuals to senators’ offices, I am requesting no one deliver to senators’ offices unsolicited food. In other words, I am requesting no door-to-door delivery of food to a senator’s office without the senator’s or staffs’ prior knowledge and agreement to accept the food item.
On the other hand, if senators or staff are participating in a meeting, either in person or virtual, and the sponsoring group provides food for the meeting that the participants have prior knowledge of and agreement to accept, that is permissible.
There is significant interest in the rules surrounding filibusters and when a motion for cloture will be considered to be in order by the presiding officer. This memo is meant to lay out how I intend to approach cloture motions during the long session of the 107th Legislature. The procedure is briefly laid out here; my reasoning is further below.
General Rule Regarding Cloture
In general, the following rules apply to a bill:
1. On general file, full and fair debate will have occurred after 8 hours of debate;
2. On select file, full and fair debate will have occurred after 4 hours of debate;
3. On final reading, and assuming that a motion for cloture had been adopted on either general file or select file, full and fair debate will have occurred after 2 hours of debate; provided, however, that if no motion for cloture was adopted on either general or select file, then full and fair debate will have occurred after 4 hours of debate on final reading.
In potentially rare instances, it may be that a bill is of such complexity, importance, and/or materiality to the State of Nebraska that additional time for debate is necessary. In such instances, on general file full and fair debate will occur at 12 hours, with appropriate adjustments made on select file and final reading. In such a case, I intend to provide the body advance notice of the threshold before each stage begins.
Conversely, while it is not my current intent to do so, I reserve the right, judging on the quality of the debate and the complexity of the bill, to adjust the threshold downward. If that happens, I will treat such occurrence as “precedent” and apply that decision in similar situations regardless of bill or introducer. Please note that my expectation is that floor debate addresses the policy under consideration and is not a member or members talking about unrelated issues to just run out the clock.
Analysis and Reasoning
The motion for cloture goes to many issues at the heart of our work — the proper use of floor debate, which is one our most important tools, the proper allocation of scarce time, as well as important principles of process including fair notice, uniformity, and equal application of rules. I have elaborated on my reasoning here so that the body can understand how I have tried to balance these issues to further our work.
Rule 7, Section 10 sets out the cloture motion. It provides that “the presiding officer may rule such motion for cloture out of order if, in the presiding officer’s opinion, a full and fair debate has not been afforded. Such ruling by the presiding officer shall not be subject to challenge.”
The rule provides three specific elements — (1) the motion for cloture is within the discretion of the presiding officer; (2) a standard of “full and fair debate”; and (3) that the motion is not subject to challenge.
Nowhere do the rules specify any specific time for when “full and fair” debate will occur; indeed, what is “full and fair debate” will depend on a variety of factors, including the complexity of the bill, the substance of the issue, and the importance to the State, such that full and fair debate could not reasonably be determined by a clock.
Despite the inevitable variation between bills, as a historical matter, previous Speakers have set a threshold at which “full and fair” debate occurs. That hour threshold has varied but often has been either 8 hours or 6 hours on general file. At one point in time, the cloture rule had a threshold of 8 hours at each stage of debate.
As a matter of principle, I do not agree that an hours threshold accurately captures the spirit of the rule which requires only “full and fair debate” for the specific bill. Nevertheless, I am adopting such a rule for four reasons.
First, providing a rule in advance gives fair notice and the opportunity for proponents and opponents to rely on set rules for debate. Relying on discretion, or a messy set of potentially conflicting precedents of decisions of the presiding officer erodes predictability and undermines our work.
Second, and critically, an hours threshold promotes a significant principle to this session–fairness and equal treatment. We are a body of 49 equal members and each member must have confidence that the rules will apply equally to each; leaving the decision to pure discretion invites arbitrary application of the rules.
Third, an eight-hour threshold on general file is a reasonably accurate proxy for adequate debate on most, if not nearly all, issues. The majority of bills will never debate eight hours in total; in contrast very few bills, if any this year, will not have been fully debated by the end of eight hours. In that way, the eight hours should account for most, if not all, circumstances.
Fourth, in explicitly allowing for potential (if rare) deviations, there is enough flexibility in the system to handle the one-off occurrence that does not fit within this structure. In deciding on the possibility of a 12-hour threshold at general file, I am recognizing that for some bills 8 hours of debate is simply not enough time to fully debate.
In deciding on deviating from 2 hours at final reading, my reasoning is this: 2 hours at final reading presumes a lengthy debate at previous stages of debate. A bill debated 8 hours on general file and 4 hours of select likely does not need many more hours of debate on final reading. At the same time, it is highly discouraged that, absent extraordinary circumstances, a filibuster should begin at final reading. When such debate at previous stages has not occurred, then additional hours at final reading will likely be necessary.
Some discussion in my time in the body has been around whether 6 hours, or 8 hours, or some other period, may discourage or encourage filibusters. While that can be a factor in the number of filibusters, especially at extremely low thresholds, that was not a primary factor in my analysis. Outside of extremely low hours thresholds, I believe that the number of filibusters are driven by two primary variables–the number of bills passed out of committee that truly merit extensive debate and the culture within the body and the associated respect for floor time. If there are abuses of floor debate and/or an “overuse” of filibuster there are other means by which the body can react and correct; the cloture rule is too imperfect of a mechanism, with too many potential unanticipated consequences, to be used as such a tool.
While I anticipate that these procedures will cover the entire session, given the uncertainty of whether or not this session could be shortened due to Covid-19 or other unforeseen circumstances, I do reserve the option to change these procedures with notice to the body beforehand.
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