Full agenda for Unicameral

Friday, 21 April 2017

By Tom Venzor, Nebraska Catholic Conference  

While the legislature’s days are winding down with less than thirty days of business remaining, the legislative workload is increasing as major tasks remain. For example, the legislature still has to address the statewide budget and numerous priority legislation.

Statewide Budget Bills. In odd-numbered years, the legislature has the duty of establishing the state’s two-year budget. At the beginning of the session, a budget is submitted by the Governor. The Appropriations Committee of the legislature then conducts public hearings on a variety of budget bills. Around this time in April, the Appropriations Committee offers a recommended budget to the full legislature.

The budget bills offered by the Appropriations Committee must be placed on first round of debate (General File) by the 70th day of legislative calendar. The legislature must pass the budget bills by the 80th day of the legislative session.

Once passed, the budget is sent to the Governor for approval or rejection. Notably, the Governor has the prerogative to veto in total or issue line-item vetoes of the budget. If there are any vetoes, the legislature may override them with 30 votes.

This year, the legislature will be considering budget bills at the beginning of next week (April 25) and will spend whatever time necessary until the 80th day (May 10) to finalize the state’s budget.

Establishing the state’s two-year budget is no easy task. The budget consists of billions of dollars. The budget must consider all revenues (such as sales, income, and property tax receipts) and all expenditures (such as spending on education, healthcare, and roads). There are numerous stakeholders—including those within both the public and private sphere—who seek to impact and influence the budget.

While the NCC oversees a small number of budgetary issues, all of us should have a particular interest in the overall fiscal and economic welfare of our state. As Catholics, we know that important principles such as the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity, solidarity, and the common good should be chief considerations in crafting any public policy.

Priority Legislation. In addition to budgetary concerns, the legislature has been diving into a variety of legislative priorities. Each Senator may designate one bill as their key priority legislation. Each legislative committee may designate two bills as their key priority legislation. The Speaker of the Legislature may designate 25 bills as his priority legislation. In addition, the Speaker may designate other bills for the consent calendar, which typically consists of non-controversial legislative efforts that pass through the legislative process with ease.

By designating a bill as priority legislation, it provides a guarantee that the issue will be debated by the whole legislative body, assuming the bill has advanced from the committee hearing process. These legislative priorities will consume the remaining time available in the legislative calendar that is not devoted to the budget.

Legislative priority bills also run the spectrum of topics. For example, this year there are legislative priorities on issues such as income, sales, and property taxes, electioneering, workforce development, healthcare reform, transportation, education and education financing, economic development, aid to the poor, and criminal justice.

As our elected officials turn their attention in a direct way to the budget and continue to focus on legislative issues deemed most important to our elected representatives and their constituencies, please offer your prayers that our Senators will be good stewards of the state’s resources and work through the issues with wisdom, understanding, and charity.
The NCC will continue to arduously work on those issues which our Bishops have deemed particularly important to the common good. Pray for our work!