Before I begin, go and register for Catholics at the Capitol at www.NEcatholic.org.
We are officially beyond the halfway point of the legislative session. We are on the descent, but in a lot of ways we are just beginning the ascent. The Nebraska Legislature will soon begin full-day legislative debate. This will be accompanied by “late-night” sessions (possibly debating bills until midnight). All to say, the second half of the session is set to be a grueling, tense, and intense 45 days.
As we hit the midway point of the legislative session, this milestone brings with it the designation of “priority” bills. But what are priority bills? And what purpose do they serve?
Each session, the Unicameral handles between 500 to 900 legislative bills. This is more bills than can possibly be debated. Priority bills create a mechanism for determining what are the most important bills. Each senator is allowed to pick one “priority” bill. Each standing committee is allowed to pick two “priority” bills. The Speaker of the Legislature can pick up to 25 “priority” bills.
This equates to 107 total “priority” bills—a much smaller and manageable universe of legislation for state senators to address.
As legislation advances, it is not uncommon for other bills to be added to it. Legislation sometimes has so many other added bills that it is often called a “Christmas tree” bill, while the added bills are called “ornaments.” This allows for more than just “priority” bills to advance through the process.
This year, the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) has either supported or opposed over 50 legislative bills. But how many of those bills have been designated “priority” bills by either a senator, a committee, or the speaker?
There have been 14 bills that we have worked on that are designated as “priority” bills. Of those, we worked very closely in the development of nine of those bills. We’ve got a full, exciting session ahead of us.
What kind of bills are included in these 14 bills?
We’ve already been talking about some of these bills. For example, Sen. Joni Albrecht designated the Nebraska Heartbeat Act (LB626), to protect preborn babies with beating hearts, as her priority bill.
Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, has once again chosen the Opportunity Scholarships Act (LB753), to provide low-income families school choice options, as her priority bill. Sen. Brian Hardin designated the First Freedom Act (LB277), a bill to increase religious liberty protections, as his priority bill. (Take note that LB277 was introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer, but it was designated as a priority by a different senator, which occurs regularly.)
Sen. Dave Murman chose the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act (LB810), which provides medical conscience protections for health care practitioners, as his priority bill.
There are other important bills designated as priorities which we have not yet talked as much about.
Sen. Kathleen Kauth introduced two critical bills to address the transgender problem. She has prioritized the Let Them Grow Act (LB574), which would ban health care professionals from providing transgender medical interventions to minor children. LB574 protects kids from having life-altering hormone injections or surgical mutilations by doctors.
Sen. Robert Clements prioritized Sen. Kauth’s Sports and Spaces bill (LB575). This legislation protects girls sports by prohibiting biological males from competing in girls’ athletic competitions.
Sen. Danielle Conrad designated LB294 as her priority bill. She introduced this bill to provide economic support to families raising children by providing them state child tax credits. Sen. Jen Day designated LB84 as her priority bill. She introduced this bill to make sure low-income families maintain access to food assistance (known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP).
On the education front, Sen. Bruce Bostelman prioritized LB165, which was introduced by Sen. Suzanne Geist. This important piece of legislation expands college savings accounts to be used for elementary and high school tuition expenses.
Speaker John Arch designated as a Speaker priority bill LB647, which was introduced by Sen. Mike McDonnell. This bill makes key updates to our state’s textbook loan program and would allow non-public school families to access textbooks provided on loan by the state.
Sen. Lynne Walz prioritized LB516, which provides school safety grant funding opportunities for public and non-public schools.
The Education Committee designated Sen. Linehan’s LB385, which addresses teacher recruitment and retention, as a committee priority bill.
As you can tell, the NCC is working on some major issues in the second half of the session. Of course, there are numerous other bills that have been prioritized and we certainly encourage you to learn more about those priority bills at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov.
In the meanwhile, pray for us, our state senators, and all those involved in state government as the legislative session moves forward!