After a Friday-Monday
extended break for the Easter weekend, state lawmakers have just three days
remaining in their 2012 regular session. Thursday (April 12) is the
anticipated day for adjournment sine die, but the last day, the 60th,
could be held set back in order for the Legislature to consider any vetoes
made by the Governor after Wednesday, the 59th legislative day.
It’s a balancing of interests: the Governor has several days after the
Legislature passes a bill to exercise his veto authority; the Legislature
would like to know all his decisions before ending its session.
After 57 days of session, the 49
legislators have finished a lot of their "heavy lifting." Some significant
decisions remain, including some with spending implications, but with the
mid-biennium budget adjustments completed, the remaining route to the finish
line is mapped out. There still could be some bumps and potholes in the
The budget package is unique and
interesting. It provides for some deficit appropriations and some new
funding (LB 968), transfers funds to cover other items (LB 969), taps into
some of the state’s cash reserve for major projects, including $50 million
for a cancer research center at UNMC and $15 million for Nursing and Allied
Health Professions at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (LB 131), and
appropriates nearly $7 million to pay claims against the state authorized by
the state claims board (LB 1072).
Also tied to the budget process
this year was the Governor’s desire to provide tax cuts. As the bill
introduced for this purpose on his behalf, LB 970, went through the
committee and floor-debate processes, components dealing with the
inheritance-tax and corporate income tax were eliminated and the reduction
appeared to be settled as just over $97 million in individual income taxes
over the next three years. For most taxpayers it will be modest relief.
The chairperson of the Revenue
Committee and principal floor manager of LB 970, Sen. Abbie Cornett of
Bellevue, called it a "down payment on the tax relief we promised in
January;" whatever that means.
With just three days remaining,
this is also a worthy time to update a few bills of interest to the Nebraska
Catholic Conference, and addressed previously in this column.
as proposed to be amended by its sponsor, Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha, on
behalf of a coalition of pro-life advocacy organizations, including NCC, ran
into a buzz saw of angst-based pushback from lobbyists for health care
organizations, led by the Nebraska Hospital Association and the Nebraska
Pharmacists Association. They and others expressed concerns about the scope
of the amendments and potential consequences. They left few scenarios
untapped in vigorously reacting with a "parade of what-if horribles," mostly
exaggerated, but still effective in attacking the formulation, if not the
premise, of the proposed amendments. As a result, the process stalled and LB
461 remained stuck in the Judiciary Committee.
The proposed amendments would have
statutorily protected rights of conscience of health-care providers and
facilities on a comprehensive basis. Providers and facilities would have
been protected from discrimination and adverse administrative actions when
exercising their right not to participate in any health care function that
would violate their religious beliefs and/or convictions of conscience.
Senator Steve Lathrop of Omaha, a
member of the Judiciary Committee, led discussions to try to find a
consensus among the opposing views, but the overall matter was too complex
and the divide of views over the value ascribable to convictions of
conscience too wide to achieve results before time ran too short.
The goal of protecting rights of
conscience in health care is far from dismissed. It is compelling and will
be pursued again next year as better, tighter legislation.
moved smoothly through the legislative process to passage and anticipated
approval by the Governor. It gives Nebraska a stronger response to the
serious, but largely hidden problem of human trafficking for sex or labor.
It will increase public awareness by establishing a state commission, which
will engage the assistance of the National Human Trafficking Resource
Center. The legislation also strengthens criminal penalties for forcing or
enticing a person into prostitution.
first introduced in 2011 and carried over to 2012, did not make it out of
the Revenue Committee. That’s a lousy outcome for the legislative idea
embodied therein. The bill proposed to establish a state income-tax credit
for donations to organizations that would distribute their revenue as
private-school tuition scholarships.
For the parents and patrons of Catholic schools who
contacted one of more of the Revenue Committee members about LB 50: thanks
for taking action. Your collective expressions caused the legislators to
notice your advocacy and established a foundation for more effective
advocacy in the future. For the many who were urged to speak out but didn’t,
you could still do so now, by expressing your disappointment over how LB 50
was ignored by the Revenue Committee; and then again next year when a new
bill proposing this good idea is introduced.