30 Days to Go
Today (Tuesday, February 25) marks Day 30 of Nebraska's 60-day legislative session this year. Halfway there. In reality, probably a little over halfway, because Speaker Scheer has typically tried to close the session out between days 57 and 59. If you look at the Legislative Calendar found here, you'll see that Day 59 falls on April 16, and Day 60 falls on April 23, leaving working days as recess in between. That is a historical tactical decision by speakers, so that might be passed and sent to the Governor on Day 59 can have an opportunity to have vetos overridden, should the Governor decide to veto a late bill. If the Legislature sends bills to the Governor and then adjourns sine die for the year, then vetoed bills have no opportunity to be revived.
Hearings will finish up later this week, and then the legislature will go into all-day sessions on the floor (meaning a roughly 9-12, 1:30-4:30 schedule on the floor each day). I suspect that once we get into mid-March, the Speaker will start scheduling evening sessions, as well, several times a week, adding another few 3-hour chunks of debate a week.
At this point in the session, it is highly unlikely that the legislature will get to anything that is not designated as a "priority bill." Each senator can designate one bill as a personal priority (it doesn't have to be a bill that the senator introduced). Each standing committee gets 2 priority bills. And senators can petition the Speaker to designate bills as one of the 25 priority bill he gets to identify. Do the math, and that will come out to a little over 100 priority bill designations.
In a short session, the number of pieces of significant legislation that are debated without a priority after Day 25 diminishes to about zero. Priority bills are often bills that are of special importance to someone, but that also means that they may be more controversial and less routine, so debate may go on longer.
The rules of the legislature are such–with cloture rules and filibusters, debate time, etc.–that it will be tricky to get all of the bills debated on the floor on General File (first round). Some of the bills will die after a 3-hour debate and not enough support to move to Select (second round); others will use up several hours before advancing to Select File. Because three rounds of debate are necessary, every bill has three opportunities to move quickly–or to move slowly. The Speaker will have a challenge to get bills that are out of committee and prioritized, debated. Here are a few bills that I've been watching, and the prospects for their disposition.
LB974–the Revenue Committee's tax bill has had its first 3 hours of debate on General File, and needs another 3 hours before a cloture motion to end debate can be filed. The bill would make significant changes to the way that schools are funded (by providing a foundation aid for each student), would change the calculation of local property taxes over several years time by reducing the percentage of valuation that can be taxed on both ag and non-ag properties, and would ultimately reduce the amount of local property taxes that property owners have to pay. This bill is a high priority for many in the legislature, and I expect it will ultimately be able to show enough support (the sponsor needs to demonstrate that there are 33 votes for cloture) for the Speaker to bring it back on General File. If it survives General File debate and moves to Select, however, I doubt that will be perfectly smooth sailing from there, and that there will be new issues brought to the floor on Select File–meaning that there will be more extended debate on the bill. Whether it ultimately passes, and is sent to the Governor, in some form is a coin toss from my perspective.
A bill that we were working with Senator Andrew La Grone on–LB1187–appears not to have a path forward this year, as it was not prioritized by any senator. LB1187 would provide for Universal Recognition of most occupational licenses for workers coming from other states. The ultimate goal with this bill is to make Nebraska a place where workers can come easily–whether as spouses of people who are transferred here (as with military), or those who have been away from their home state for a while and would like to get closer to their extended family and the "good life" again. Many states are working toward universal recognition, including our neighbors in Iowa. We were "this close" to getting this bill out of committee with a priority designation, but time just ran out–as often happens in a short session–and a few unexpected roadblocks went up at the last minute. The Platte Institute team will continue to work to expand freedom for workers during the interim.
You can see the full list of priority bills and their current status here. That includes all senator, committee, and speaker priorities. In doing a rough count, it looks to me like about half of the bills have been advanced from committee (meaning that they're on General, Select or Final Reading–or have been passed). For those who are still in committee (a "Referral" designation), senators will be working with the committees to urge them to get them out of committee as soon as possible. The clock is ticking, and the later that a bill comes out of committee, the less likely it is to have time for three rounds of debate, passage, and the Governor's signature.
In addition to LB974–the tax bill that is a Revenue Committee priority sitting General File, there are several priorities that caught my eye.
Today, Senator Hunt's LB962 was advanced to Select File on the floor. It would allow student-athletes to use their names, images, expertise to earn money while still in college.
Senator Kolterman's LB720 is sitting on Select File. It would adopt the ImagiNE Act and create some new tax incentives. It will likely sit for a while until a decision is made on LB974.
Senator Groene's Student Discipline Act changes in LB147 (introduced last year) has been prioritized by Senator Murman. Based on the amendments already filed on that bill, I would anticipate a filibuster, which means it will use up at least three hours of time–six if the sponsors have the votes to invoke cloture.
The Government Committee has focused its priorities this year on provisions for voting by mail in certain counties. My suspicion is that because it has to do with election procedures, that other election/voting-related bills will be attached to it as a "Christmas tree" bill (sometimes also referred to as a "committee omnibus" bill). This process of amending multiple related bills into one, is one of the reasons that Committee priorities haven't been advanced. Committees wait to see what bills receive independent priority designation from either a senator or the speaker before they decide which bills to amend into the "Christmas tree."
I would suspect that by late this week or early next week, most priority bills will have been advanced from committees (if they're going to be–there's no guarantee of that), and the unicameral will busy trying to churn through them, one way or the other.