The Legislature began debate Monday on a controversial voter ID bill. But senators saved their harshest rhetoric for child welfare issues that they'll debate over the next several days.
Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont introduced the voter ID bill. If it's amended as the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee recommends, it would require voters to show either a government-issued photo ID or a county-issued acknowledgement of registration before voting.
Supporters say it's a common sense measure to protect the integrity of elections. Opponents say it will suppress turnout among poor, minority, disabled and elderly voters who are less likely to have a driver's license, for example.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege asked Janssen about its practical effect. Carlson said in Holdrege, poll workers are likely to recognize 95 percent of the people voting, and added "I think that other 5 percent should have to show their ID."
I think all hundred percent should have to show it," said Janssen.
"That's the nuisance part of this bill," replied Carlson. He then then turned his questioning to Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, an opponent of the bill, asking "Why can't we put common sense to a law which is supposed to serve a good purpose?"
Common sense would say if we have a problem, fix it. We don't have a problem. It's like fool's gold. It's shiny, it glitters, but it's fool's gold," Avery said of the bill.
Janssen predicted he would eventually have to seek a cloture vote, requiring 2/3 of the legislature, to cut off an expected filibuster and vote on the bill. Such votes traditionally don't happen until eight hours of cumulative debate. With only two and a half hours on the clock so far, and lawmakers now scheduled to take up child welfare bills, a vote is not likely to take place this week.
On child welfare, senators warmed up their rhetoric in advance of major bills being considered. At issue Monday was a relatively small bill expanding the work of seven child advocacy centers around the state. The expansion is estimated to cost less than $1 million in a child welfare system that has grown from about $105 million to $130 million as the state tried to privatize it over the last two years.
After senators expressed concern about the cost, Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop spoke up. "We are not going to have this conversation here and do it without spending money. This is not a special interest group.' It is the kids. It is a duty the state has to the welfare of the children. And we have made a complete mess of it. The privatization effort has been a miserable, unmitigated failure," he declared.
Lathrop, a registered Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, has often clashed with the administration of Republican Gov. Dave Heineman. But on this subject, the harsh rhetoric was not limited to Democrats. Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, a registered Republican, also was tough on the administration's child welfare reform.
The process was ill-conceived, not thought out well, not contracted well, (with) no management oversight, no financial oversight." Krist said. The restoration of where we need to go is going to cost money."
Still Carlson, also a registered Republican, expressed reservations. "The problem is, if we have problems, which we do, throwing more money at a problem doesn't solve the problem," he said.
Senators voted 41-0 to advance the bill, but the heavy lifting still lies ahead.