Nebraska Legislature finishes 'impactful' session

June 1, 2023, midnight ·

Governor Jim Pillen speaks to the Legislature Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Governor Jim Pillen speaks to the Legislature Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Legislature wrapped up its 2023 session Thursday, with praise from Gov. Jim Pillen for its far-reaching impact, and with one final filibuster.

Speaking to the Legislature toward the end of its final day, Gov. Jim Pillen praised what senators had accomplished.

“I'm incredibly honored to be here with you in this unbelievable chamber to mark the conclusion of the one of most impactful sessions in this body's history,” Pillen said.

The governor said legislators had accomplished what voters wanted done.

“They elected us to do big things, to make tough choices, to tighten the government's belt, and to make transformational change in areas most important to our future: our kids, our tax policy, our agricultural industry -- the backbone of our state -- our economy, and our conservative Nebraska values,” he said.

Pillen praised senators’ decisions to cut taxes and increase educational spending, while downplaying controversy over social issues.

“We know another term of what media sometimes will characterize as controversial. I think most of us just simply call it common sense,” he said.

He specifically praised a law that banned most abortions after 12 weeks and limited gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

“We made one thing crystal clear to the world. Nebraska will protect its children. We will protect babies in their mother's wombs. We will protect our kids as they grow. And we will not allow a vocal minority to threaten their safety and well being,” he said.

Sen. Danielle Conrad, who opposed that law, praised most of Pillen’s speech, but not that part.

“I'm glad that he highlighted opportunities we had to work together on public education and tax relief, but I was dismayed to hear the governor really lean into a hard, far-right radical agenda when it comes to the suppression of human rights,” Conrad said.

Action on the Legislature’s final day, before Pillen’s speech, included final passage of LB50, a criminal justice reform bill. The bill allows prisoners who receive a sentence of up to 20 years to be eligible for parole 2 years before their mandatory discharge date.

Those with longer sentences would be eligible after serving 80 percent of the time before their mandatory discharge date.

Sen. Justin Wayne, chair of the Judiciary Committee, has argued the change is designed to prevent inmates from “jamming out,” or leaving prison without supervision. The Nebraska County Attorneys Association opposes the change, and Sen. John Lowe spoke against it as well.

“We need to protect the citizens of the state. And for these people that have gotten the felonies, they need to serve their time. We need to protect the people of the state of Nebraska that are innocent,” Lowe said.

But Sen. Rick Holdcroft supported the bill, reading an endorsement from the Omaha Police Officers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“This bill embodies our organization's core values and aims to enhance public safety, promote fairness, and foster rehabilitation,” Holdcroft read.

Senators voted 34-15 to pass the bill.

The session ended with one final filibuster, this one by Sen. Julie Slama, who objected to final passage of voter ID legislation. Slama argued the bill fails to implement the requirement that people show a photo ID to vote, as mandated in the state constitutional amendment approved by voters last November. She said she was fulfilling a promise to filibuster against the bill, while offering Speaker John Arch the opportunity to cut off debate.

“I'm going to take it to cloture. The speaker does have a choice here, in that if he wants to invoke cloture after 15 minutes rather than two hours, I'm cool with that,” Slama said.

Arch declined, citing his policy of requiring eight hours of discussion on the first round of debate, four on the second, and two on the third before debate could be cut off.

“My February 10 memo identified what full and fair debate is, and I've stuck to that throughout the whole session. And so I don't think I want to do that on the last day and change that,” Arch said.

And so Slama continued her filibuster continued, to the displeasure of Sen. Steve Erdman.

“The reason we're here today is because of her unwillingness to work with people and do the things that needed to be done to get this bill here. So she's here today wasting our time for some other purpose. I don't know what it is exactly, but she may get one vote. She was gonna get two before she stood up and did this. And now I'm gonna vote for this. What she's done is put two hours of our life to waste for nothing,” Erdman said.

Slama continued, saying she was building a legislative record for a legal challenge to the bill. After two hours, senators voted to cut off debate, and then voted 38-1 to give final approval to the voter ID bill -- the last bill passed by the 2023 Legislature.