We’re about a month and a half away from the second session of the 105th legislature. Most of the forty-nine senators gathered this week for a meeting to prepare for the next session. Many are talking about new bills they will introduce in this next session. 667 bills were introduced in the last session. Some of them were killed in committee (“indefinitely postponed” they call it) Some advanced out of the committee and stalled on the floor during general file debate because there wasn’t 33 votes needed to end a filibuster. Most of the bills ended up in the most common status; “held in committee.” In plain English that means they don’t have enough votes on the committee to be advanced to general file, or “voted out of committee.”
Several hundred more bills will be introduced in this next session starting January 3rd. Senators can introduce new bills only in the first ten legislative days of the session. That deadline is the 18th of January. I have several ideas for a few new bills I would like to introduce that I’ll be talking about in the weeks to come. Suffice to say, the learning curve for me and the staff has been very steep, but we know how this place works now and will avoid a lot of the heartache we faced last session. Lobbyists and special interest groups fill the hallways during the first ten days hawking bills. Some of them do fine work and promote worthy issues so I’ll listen to them, but my constituents give me all the bill ideas I could ever need.
Before everyone sends me new bill ideas, I want you to ask, “Is another law really what we need?” We have a lot of laws right now, and one particularly troubling thing I’ve noticed is the laws that force another entity of government to do something, yet do not provide any resources necessary to do it. They call this “unfunded mandates.” The federal government does this to Nebraska, and the legislature does this to counties, cities, towns, school districts, natural resource districts, etc. For example, lacking prison beds because of our overcrowding problems, counties end up housing more prisoners in their jails. The State directs hospitals to provide healthcare to people on MEDICAID, but do not fully reimburse the hospital. The legislature passed laws that overhauled the State’s 911 emergency system. The counties have old 911 communications equipment that doesn’t interact with the new Internet-based systems. Who pays for all this? We need to systematically identify and reexamine these mandates if we are ever going to have a realistic conversation about reducing property tax because the main source of revenue a county has to address these things is property tax.
Of the thirteen bills I sponsored (some call it “carried”) last session, one was passed into law. One advanced to general file. The remaining eleven bills are “held in committee.” Of these eleven bills, I am becoming more confident we will get LB 499 passed. It helps protect our Nebraska bee keepers. LB 497 should pass easily as well. It makes a small but important administrative change to how Nebraska keeps certain important records for Veterans and makes life easier for them. I have five bills held in the Judiciary Committee. Three deal with gun laws. One is about the eVerify system to stop illegal aliens from taking Nebraska jobs. Another is about our State government collecting union dues on behalf of the unions. These five bills are not going anywhere because the political ideology of the majority of the members of this committee is not supportive of the topics raised by these five bills. Following the next election when the first session of the 106th legislature meets in January 2019, committee membership will be decided and this might change.
Until the composition of the Judiciary Committee changes, I’m not going to waste my time bringing another bill before that committee. I’m going to try and get the committee to meet in Executive Session and at least vote on my five bills. They will all lose, they might even kill them, but at least I’ll have a report from the committee that documents how the Senators voted.
Of my four remaining bills, LB 504 (wind energy moratorium) and LB 576 (freezing property taxes) remain my top priorities. Since the end of the last session, I’ve lobbied the senators of the Revenue and Natural Resources Committee looking for a compromise or amendment language that could get these two measures advanced to general file. Each senator gets a “priority bill” which means if it makes it out of committee, it is guaranteed to be put on the agenda and debated on the floor. If a Senator listens to his constituents, figuring out their priority bill is easy. Many thousands of you have made it very clear the top two issues facing the district are wind energy and property taxes, so one of those two subjects will be my priority bill next session.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.
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