Not Enough Hours in the Day or Days in the Session

January 11, 2022

The Legislature simply won't have enough time to address everything senators want to this session.  That was the message given this morning by Speaker Mike Hilgers. Today is the fifth legislative day and through day four, senators had already introduced 282 new bills, five Legislative Resolutions calling for constitutional amendments, and two other resolutions. Many of these proposals could take days to debate, days we are not likely to have. Thus, if it doesn’t have to be done this year, it probably won't get done.

The remaining question is who gets to decide if “it” needs to be done this year? Answer: He who controls the Agenda, aka Speaker Hilgers. He listed a handful of contentious issues that are likely to see floor time:  corrections reform / a new prison; K-12 school funding; 2nd Amendment concealed carry without a permit; abortion; and tax “relief” in the form of income and property tax cuts.  Then there’s the elephant in the room - $1 billion in ARPA funds to spend, and probably a half billion of general funds many senators want to spend.  What could possibly go wrong?

Senators have 55 legislative days left to conduct business. That includes hearings for all new legislation, three rounds of debate for each bill that makes it to the floor, and lots of political posturing. The Speaker has passed along a number of important dates to keep in mind as we progress. They are as follows:

  • Thursday, January 13th:  Governor Rickett’s State of the State Address at 10:00AM
  • Tuesday, January 18th:  Public Hearings begin at 1:30PM.
  • Thursday, January 20th:  Last day of bill introductions.
  • Friday, January 21st: Chief Justice Heavican’s State of the Judiciary Address at 10:00AM.
  • Thursday, February 17th:  Deadline to request a Speaker Priority designation.
    • The Speaker can have 25 priority bills.
  • Tuesday, February 22nd:  Deadline for designating senator and committee priority bills.
    • Each senator gets one priority and committees each get two.
  • Wednesday, February 23rd:  Speaker will announce his priority bills.
  • Thursday, March 3rd:  Last day of public hearings.
  • Tuesday, March 8th: Full day floor debate begins.
  • March 14 – April 12:  Late Nights.

This Thursday will be the first opportunity for all of us to see what Governor Ricketts wants to do with the ARPA funds.  It will also provide some insight into his other goals for the session.  Many senators have been holding their ARPA proposals in order to see just what the Governor wants to do and whether that would satisfy their goals.

The rules have changed multiple times regarding what will qualify for ARPA funding.  The latest federal rules were released late last week.  Many of us have drafted and redrafted proposals in order to give them the best chance of qualification and adoption.  The new rules are nearly 200 pages in length and (as you can imagine) somewhat confusing.  In order to assist senators, the Legislative Fiscal Office and Senator Stinner held a joint briefing this morning where they presented a more simplified version of the guidelines.  I have attached the presentation for your information below, but can tell you that the most important qualifications to keep in mind are in the following list.  In addition to fitting under one of the qualifying categories, proponents must be able to answer all of these questions in a manner that demonstrates that the proposal is appropriate for ARPA funding:  (found on page 12 of the presentation)

  1. What is the population (“class”) that experienced the impact?
  2. Did the identified class suffer a harm due to Covid-19?
  3. What was the magnitude of the harm?
  4. What data is available to demonstrate the magnitude of the harm?
  5. Does the response address the identified harm or impact?
  6. Is the response reasonably related to the harm?
  7. Is the response reasonably designed to benefit the impacted population or industry?

At last count there were proposals to spend approximately $4 billion of the $1 billion.  Yes, you read that correctly. I’m guessing the guidelines presented today will dramatically impact a number of those requests.

Senators are currently debating a handful of bills from last year that were selected as senator priority bills for 2022.  So far, they have advanced a measure that would add Nebraska to a group of states calling for a “convention of the states limited to proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”  Sounds pretty good on the surface, but rather vague at the same time.  Gave me a few flashbacks to my third year of law school when I did my senior research project on the issue of constitutional conventions.  My advice – Be Very Careful!  This morning they debated the elimination or reduction of the inheritance tax and will continue to debate it when they reconvene at 1:30.  Next up – Tax credits for contributions to scholarship programs that provide scholarships for students to attend private K-12 schools.  Things are going to get contentious quickly!

Hope you have a great afternoon!

Korby M. Gilbertson
Radcliffe Gilbertson & Brady

View the Legislative Fiscal Office ARPA Presentation