Legislative Update 4/8/2016

The Nebraska Legislature’s 2016 session is quickly coming to an end.  Tuesday, March 29 marked the 50th legislative day leaving just 10 more legislative days remaining in this year’s session.  What follows is a brief report on a couple of bills of interest to the Nebraska Catholic Conference that were debated last week.

LB 690  Introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld, this bill removes the prohibition on eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for persons who have three or more felony convictions for possession or use of a controlled substance or have been convicted of a felony involving the sale or distribution of a controlled substance.

Under current law, only individuals with such drug convictions are prohibited from access to food assistance under SNAP after serving their sentences.  The Nebraska Catholic Conference supported this bill because adequate and nutritious food is a fundamental human right and a basic need that is integral to protecting the life and dignity of the human person.

Eliminating access to SNAP for people who have at some point in their lifetime committed certain crimes is counterproductive to successful re-entry into society and is an affront to human dignity.  Persons who have paid their debt to society and their families should not be penalized for the sins of the past, especially by withholding food assistance.

LB 690 was advanced to the full Legislature by the Health and Human Services Committee but was not designated as a priority bill.  In a short legislative session, most bills that are not prioritized do not get debated so LB 690 was amended to LB 910, a Judiciary Committee priority bill, during first round of debate by the full Legislature.

When the bill came up for second round debate, it hit a buzz saw of opposition by a handful of senators and the Governor.   A filibuster of the bill ensued and a motion for cloture (to stop the filibuster) fell short of the 33 votes necessary to be successful.

Voting for cloture (NCC’s position) were the following senators:  Baker, Campbell, Chambers, Coash, Cook, Crawford, Davis, Garrett, Gloor, Haar, Hadley, Hansen, Harr, Hilkemann, Howard, Kolowski, Krist, Larson, McCollister, Mello, Morfeld, Pansing-Brooks, Schilz, Schumacher, Seiler, Stinner, Sullivan, Williams.

Voting against cloture were these senators: Craighead, Fox, Friesen, Groene, Hughes, Johnson, Kintner, Kolterman, Kuehn, Lindstrom, McCoy, Murante, Riepe, Schnoor, Watermeier.  Present but not voting were Senators Bloomfield, Bolz, Brasch, Smith.  Senators Ebke and Scheer were excused.

LB 586  Introduced last year by Sen. Adam Morfeld, this bill would have made “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected classifications under Nebraska’s employment laws.  The Nebraska Catholic Conference opposed this bill because it would force employers (including the Church and its institutions) to affirm sexual behavior and relationships that contradict the moral teachings of our faith, as well as the destructive concept that one’s nature as male or female is a social identity that one can change at will.

LB 586 was debated several hours last year before being pulled from the agenda due to lack of support.  However, the bill carried over to this year’s session and was re-prioritized by Sen. Morfeld.  It was debated four more hours last week before being “bracketed” (killed) by a vote of 26-18.

Senators voting to kill LB 586 (NCC’s position) were: Bloomfield, Brasch, Craighead, Davis, Ebke, Friesen, Garrett, Groene, Hilkemann, Hughes, Johnson, Kintner, Kolterman, Krist, Kuehn, McCoy, Murante, Riepe, Scheer, Schnoor, Seiler, Smith, Stinner, Sullivan, Watermeier, Williams.

Senators voting against killing the bill were: Baker, Bolz, Campbell, Chambers, Coash, Cook, Crawford, Gloor, Haar, Hadley, Harr, Howard, Kolowski, Larson, McCollister, Mello, Morfeld, Pansing-Brooks.