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NESCPA Legislative Update: Happy Holidays & Here We Go!

December 22, 2023

Below is the first Legislative Update for the 108th Legislature, Second Session, from our lobbyists at Radcliffe, Gilbertson & Brady. Enjoy!  

It's looking rather brown here in Lincoln. I’m still holding out hope for a white Christmas as there’s a 70% chance of snow Christmas day. On Sunday, it’s supposed to be unseasonably warm and raining, so I’ll probably get a muddy Christmas! But, enough about me!

There are only 11 days until Senators are back in town to begin the Second Session of the 108th Legislature. They will convene January 3 for a short, 60-legislative day session that is scheduled to run until April 18. The following is a link to the calendar for your information:

As with all short sessions, bills that were introduced last year but not passed or killed will carry over to this session. In years past, some bills have also maintained their priority status. However, Speaker Arch has announced that priority status will not carry over for any legislation this session and new priority designations will be necessary. If things get bogged down like they did last year, it is anyone’s guess as to whether we will make it to all priority legislation. 

Will we get bogged down again? My guess is, Yes. Why? Things will be contentious out of the gate with numerous proposed changes to Legislative Rules. Proposed changes range from general clean-up to major procedural changes. One of the most controversial proposals will be to alter how Cloture works and reduce the threshold of votes needed to cease debate. No longer would there need to be 33 votes to end debate. Rather the threshold would drop to a minimum of 25 votes including affirmative votes from two-thirds of those present and voting. This is intended to keep senators from skipping a vote or being “present and not voting,” as not voting would reduce the total pool of votes required. Other controversial proposals include eliminating secret ballots for the election of committee chairs, and ending the practice of allowing media representatives to be present during committee executive sessions. Both really bad ideas in my opinion. 

Secret ballots have been one way that senators can avoid undue pressure and vote their conscience for leadership. By eliminating secret ballots, everyone will know the outcome of the election before it happens. Further, allowing the press to sit in on executive sessions is one way to let the public know what is going on with their representatives. Some senators argue that they can have much more open and direct conversations if they are done behind closed doors. But is that how public officials should make decisions? The Legislature is not subject to Open Meetings laws; this is one way to ensure that while they are doing the work of the public, the public knows what and why they are doing it. Again, my opinion.

Rules won't be the only contentious issues in front of the Legislature in 2024. I fully expect that there will be some major fireworks regarding spending, taxes, and social issues that will be reminiscent of last session. Governor Pillen has made it clear that he intends to hold the line and even decrease spending while providing additional tax relief this session in the form of major property tax reductions.  We are going to see legislation dealing with access to facilities for trans-gender students and likely another attempt to further restrict access to abortion. Speaker Arch will have his work cut out for him to keep things moving this year. 

In the interest of keeping things on track, Speaker Arch has released a proposed schedule with a number of dates to remember.  The following are some highlights you may want to make a note of:

January 3
• Convene at 10:00 a.m.
• Bill Introduction begins
• Election of Executive Board Chair (and other offices if necessary)

January 8
• Public Hearing for proposed rule changes

January 10 
• Begin debate of amendments to the permanent rules

January 17
• Last day of Bill Introductions

January 18
• 10:00 a.m. — Governor Pillen’s State of the State Address

January 22
• Public Hearings on 2024 legislation begin at 1:30 p.m.

January 25
• 10:00 a.m. — Chief Justice Heavican’s State of the Judiciary Address

February 14
• Last day to submit a letter to the Speaker requesting the designation of a bill as a 2024 speaker priority bill

February 15, Prior to Adjournment
• Deadline for designation of committee and senator priority bills

February 20
• Speaker will announce 2024 speaker priority bills

February 29
• Final day of public hearings

March 4
• Full Day floor debate begins

March 7
• Appropriations Committee’s mid-biennium budget bills placed on general file

March 12-26
• Debate and passage of the mid-biennium budget bills package

March 18-April 9
• Senators are requested to keep their session day evenings open beginning March 18 and throughout the remainder of the session for extended floor debate.

Having the first few weeks of session tied up in rules debate will give us a welcome reprieve to read bills as they are introduced (and hopefully reduce the number of 3 am bedtimes for me). Start watching your email on the 4th as I will begin sending memos regarding bills of interest. I will also send out links to all bills that have been introduced so that you can review and let us know if there are other things you would like us to keep track of for you. As shown above, hearings will begin January 22. We will coordinate with you regarding any testimony and other actions you need to take.

Finally, I wanted to make sure all of you are aware of the ongoing ballot initiative regarding Nebraska’s tax system.  I have sent information before about Senator Erdman’s Constitutional amendments and proposed legislation that would institute the EPIC Option Consumption Tax. We have been successful keeping those proposals from passing in the Legislature. However, this year, proponents of EPIC plan are currently circulating petitions that would place the Constitutional amendments on next November’s ballot. Word on the street is that they have been very successful in gathering signatures in rural areas of the state. This doesn’t surprise me because who wouldn’t sign if they were told “No more property or income taxes and everyone will pay less in taxes via a 7.5% consumption tax that only taxes new goods and services and exempts all business transactions.” If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

As a refresher, EPIC stands for the Elimination of Property, Income, and Corporate taxes. The practical effect of these proposals would be to eliminate our current tax system and dump the imposition of a consumption tax (or super sales tax) in the laps of legislators in 2025.  I could go on for pages, but this would be disastrous.  There are three things you need to know:

  1. The Constitutional amendments require that all purchases of new goods and all services are taxed with NO EXCEPTIONS. Proponents claim that “business to business” transactions will be exempt but the plain language of their proposal does not allow it. Further, for their revenue estimates to work there couldn’t be any exemptions. 
  2. The 7.5% rate is a myth. The rate would likely need to be over 20%.
  3. Local control over budgets for schools, cities, counties, NRDs, and any other political subdivision would be eliminated. All revenue would flow through and all final budget decisions would be made in Lincoln. After years of reviewing this plan, I firmly believe the only real beneficiaries would be absentee land owners and those with no debt and the ability to shop and do business outside of Nebraska. 

I have been working with others to form a large coalition of organizations to educate and potentially formally oppose the EPIC proposals. If I have not talked to you and you are interested in learning more, please let me know. If you are interested in having someone present information to your business, association, board, or any other group, I am happy to do that, too. This will impact every person and business in Nebraska.

On that happy note, I bid you a fabulous Friday night! Our offices will be closed in the morning on December 26.  As you know, you can always reach us by email or mobile numbers.

I know I speak for the rest of the team when I say that I hope every one has had a wonderful holiday season. For those fellow Christmas observers, I hope that you get to spend time with your loved ones and have a blessed Christmas. Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2024.  

Here We Go! 

Korby M. Gilbertson
Radcliffe Gilbertson & Brady
625 S. 14th Street, Suite 100
Lincoln, NE 68508