With 26 days left in session, Nebraska lawmakers pass 1 bill

Apr 18, 2023, 12:03 PM

With only 26 days left in the 90-day legislative session, Nebraska lawmakers have finally passed a single bill. Now they have only about 200 left to go.

In any other year, the Nebraska Legislature would have passed dozens of bills by now. But it has been hamstrung by progressive lawmakers filibustering every bill before the body this session — even ones they support — to protest conservatives’ push to pass a ban on gender-affirming care for minors.

During the last 90-day session, in 2021, legislators had passed 74 bills by Day 64 — the point they reached Monday night when they passed this year’s first bill — and 48 of them had already been signed into law by the governor, Clerk of the Legislature Brandon Metzler said.

This year’s late date for passage of the first bill is not unprecedented, he said. The body once took up to 70 days to pass its first bill. But it is unusual, and the bottleneck of bills that have not advanced is unprecedented. As of Tuesday, only 10 bills had advanced to the last of three rounds of debate that a proposal must survive to be passed; 218 remained stuck without having gotten a first round of debate.

“Normally, we’d have a stack of bills ready to pass, and we just don’t have that this year,” Metzler said.

Even with the bottleneck, Metzler expects around 200 pieces of legislation to be passed by the end of the session in early June. That’s thanks to several procedural moves, including one by the Speaker of the Legislature to extend debate into the night starting in late March. Lawmakers also have begun advancing so-called Christmas tree bills — the practice of adding bills as amendments to a main bill and passing them as one package.

The lone bill to make it through all three rounds this session passed nearly six weeks after the liquor taxation measure was first debated and filibustered for eight hours by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh had no qualms with the bill itself; in fact, it had the support of all 49 lawmakers in the country’s only one-house, officially nonpartisan legislature. But Cavanaugh had promised at the beginning of the session to filibuster every single bill — even ones she supported — if conservative lawmakers advanced the trans health bill.

When that bill was advanced by the Legislature’s conservative-led Health and Human Services Committee in late February, Cavanaugh made good on the promise, declaring she would “burn the session to the ground over this bill.”

After the bill bill again advanced from the second round of debate, despite the promises of its opponents to stop filibustering other bills if conservative lawmakers either killed or scaled the trans bill back to ban only gender-assignment surgery for minors.

At least 13 states have now enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota and West Virginia. Bills await action from governors in Kansas, Montana and North Dakota. Federal judges have blocked enforcement of laws in Alabama and Arkansas, and nearly two dozen states are considering bills this year to restrict or ban care.

Three states — Florida, Missouri and Texas — have banned or restricted the care via regulations or administrative orders, and Missouri’s is the only one that also limits the treatments for adults. Texas’ governor has ordered child welfare officials to investigate reports of children receiving such care as child abuse, though a judge has blocked those investigations.

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With 26 days left in session, Nebraska lawmakers pass 1 bill