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The Downhill, Sort of

Last week, the Legislature reached Day 30, the halfway mark for this session’s legislative activity. Of course, by the time you read this column, the Legislature will have completed Day 36 of legislative activity. In terms of days left on the calendar, the Legislature is very much on the downhill, with just over 20 days left before Day 60.

Last week also marked the end of committee hearings for legislative bills that were newly introduced in January. This means the Legislature will now be in all-day floor debate. As Speaker Jim Scheer noted, this marks the real beginning of the Legislature’s work. They will now need to come together and decide the fate of numerous legislative proposals.

As I’ve told people, half of the legislative session might be behind us, but 90% of the work remains ahead of us.

As the Legislature picks up steam and heads downhill, they will only be dealing with “priority” bills. Each Senator can designate one bill as their “priority” legislation. Each legislative committee can designate two bills as the committee’s “priority” legislation. And the Speaker has designated 25 bills as his legislative “priorities.” In short, these bills have been deemed as the most important out of the more than 1,200 bills that have been introduced between last year and this year.

In total, there are 105 legislative priority bills the Legislature needs to dispose of either by passing them into law or shelving them for another legislative day in the future. Notably, some of these legislative priorities have been addressed, but most of these bills must still be debated.

Among the legislative priorities, there are several bills that the NCC either supports or opposes.

In the “support” category are three bills.

The first is LB814, Sen. Suzanne Geist’s (Lincoln) effort to ban the gruesome practice of dismemberment abortion, which I wrote about last week.

The second is LB1202, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan’s (Elkhorn) effort to provide more scholarship opportunities for low-income kids, so they can attend a school that best fits their educational needs. I will write about this effort soon, as the committee hearing was recently held.

The third is LB1080, Sen. Steve Lathrop’s (Omaha) effort to ensure that every school—public and private—has certain policies governing relationships between a student and a school employee or teacher. This is intended to prevent sexual misconduct and child abuse, and to create safer and healthier environments for every school-aged child.

In the “oppose” category is one bill.

This bill is LB627, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks’ (Lincoln) effort to create special legal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity within the state’s employment laws. Her legislation would also authorize local governments to create similar legal protections in the context of housing, public accommodations, and employment.

This legislation was debated early in the session last year for three hours and failed to garner the necessary support to advance in the legislative process. Sen. Pansing Brooks has prioritized the legislation this year, which means the legislation will get a fresh three hours of debate. This issue has recently received increased media attention as the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce offered their support for this legislative policy.

I have written extensively on this issue in previous years and will again do so in the very near future. For now, suffice it to say that LB627 is bad policy.

It is unnecessary, as it has never been demonstrated that there is any kind of unjust discrimination occurring in Nebraska that requires a fundamental shift in the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

It is unfair, as similar laws around the country have had a detrimental effect on the 1st Amendment free speech and free exercise of religion rights of many individuals and organizations of faith (e.g., Jack Phillips in Colorado and Barronelle Stutzman in Washington).

While the NCC is keenly focused in on several legislative priorities, there are numerous other legislative proposals that are worth your study and attention. There are issues related to property tax and school finance reform, business tax incentives, expansion of facilities for UNMC, criminal justice reform, rural broadband internet access, college athlete compensation, housing, among many other issues.

As we enter into the last half of the session, recall the words chiseled into the side of the State Capitol: “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.” As our Legislature works away, Nebraskans are called to remain vigilant to their activity.

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