Tempers flared in the Nebraska Legislature Thursday, as lawmakers grappled with how to proceed in the face of an increasing number of filibusters.
Meanwhile, senators compromised on election laws, and debated help for young people leaving foster care
It’s that time of the legislative session when senators begin to chafe at recognizing they may run out of time to pass bills important to them. Goading them on is Sen. Ernie Chambers, who has reverted to his filibustering ways on returning to the Legislature after a four-year absence.
Chambers was at it again Wednesday, stretching out debate on a bill he opposes dealing with the Environmental Trust. Chambers made no secret of his strategy. "The more of these kind of bills you give to me, the more I control the agenda and the movement of the Legislature, and there’s nothing you can do about it because the rules are on my side," he said.
Thursday, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh decided to make a point about the tactics of Chambers and other senators who prolong debate by giving Chambers time. Lautenbaugh introduced a meaningless amendment to a bill dealing with reports on economic incentives, arbitrarily changing a date from February 1 to March 1.
That caused Sen. Bob Krist to say the emotional maturity of the Legislature had sunk below that of a 10-year old. "I want to be more respectful to people, and I want you to be more respectful of others as well. And if that’s wrong, then you get up and tell me it’s wrong," he said angrily. "You get up and tell me that’s wrong to be respectful to 48 other people who get paid a thousand dollars a month and all the food you can eat to be here to do the work of the citizens of the state of Nebraska. Let’s get to work."
Unfazed, Lautenbaugh continued speaking about his amendment, using one of Chambers’ familiar refrains: "You can try to stop me, you can try to shut me down, but it will never work, because I own all of you."
When Chambers laughingly protested "No you don’t, I do," Lautenbaugh rephrased himself "Okay, I’ve rented all of you then. With an option."
He then stated his point seriously. "We are wasting a ton of time, and you all have priority bills, and you have to be prepared to do something about it in relatively short order. Because the clock is ticking."
Lautenbaugh suggested senators could do things including not observing the unofficial rule allowing eight hours of debate before voting cloture to end a filibuster. Chambers said that wouldn’t affect him. "I’m not affected by anything anybody says, even Sen. Lautenbaugh, and those who say you can vote for cloture immediately. Do it – if any of those things were addressed toward me -- do whatever you want to do. I will win. Because I don’t care. And you all do," he declared.
That indifference may or may not be tested when Chambers’ priority bill, to abolish the death penalty, is debated later this session.
Meanwhile, lawmakers compromised on a proposed change in election law. Lautenbaugh had proposed shortening the time for in-person voting at election offices from 35 to 25 days before an election. That was to give time to program voting machines for visually impaired people and give everybody the same amount of time to vote.
Some senators had protested against shortening the voting period by 10 days, so Lautenbaugh agreed to five. The bill then got first round approval on a vote of 31-0.
Lawmakers also began debating a proposal to extend benefits, including housing stipends, for 19 and 20 year olds who "age out" of the foster care system. Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, sponsor of the legislation, said nationally, about 20 percent of such youth end up homeless. "Sadly, some end up in human trafficking or selling themselves for sex so they can put a roof over their head," she added.
McGill’s bill would offer housing stipends up to $500 a month for 19 and 20 year olds who live on their own. Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion questioned that idea. "Boy, giving a 19-year-old troubled kid a free apartment, I’m not sure anything good becomes of that," he said, while adding "I may not know."
Lawmakers moved on to other subjects without reaching a vote on the bill.