LINCOLN — Driver’s licenses for young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. Legalized wagering on poker games and tournaments.
A ban on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians. Repeal of the death penalty.
Medical marijuana. Sentencing reform to ease prison overcrowding.
With just 13 legislative days remaining, Nebraska lawmakers have yet to resolve these and other major controversial issues.
Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley of Kearney said the situation means some bills designated as priorities may not get debated this year.
“I’m concerned at this point in time,” he said. “My goal is still to get as many done as we can.”
So far the Legislature has passed 32 of the 107 bills designated as priorities, and 21 await final-round votes. Sixteen priority bills have been stopped in committee or failed to advance after debate. Of the remaining bills, 18 were designated as priorities by the speaker rather than individual senators or legislative committees.
Hadley planned to spend time over the weekend looking at the bills remaining, trying to gauge how much time each would take and trying to decide which ones could wait to be debated until the 2016 legislative session.
“I hate to be the judge of what’s important, but at some point you have to do that,” he said. “We’ll get done what we need to get done this year.”
As speaker, Hadley sets the daily agenda for the Legislature.
He said he hopes to have first-round debate on two high-profile controversies this week, along with taking a final vote on the state budget package.
Legislative Bill 623, sponsored by State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, would allow young immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children to get driver’s licenses.
Nebraska is the only state that denies licenses to those young people, who are permitted to remain in the United States under an executive order of the president.
Gov. Pete Ricketts opposes the bill but has not said whether he would veto it.
LB 586, sponsored by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The measure, which is modeled after Omaha’s anti-bias ordinance, has the backing of some key business groups but faces opposition from some religious groups, especially the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
A legislative filibuster killed a similar bill last year. Morfeld said he is optimistic this year, based on the rapid changes in people’s attitudes.
Before lawmakers have a chance to take up those measures, however, Hadley said he wants to get through second-round consideration of bills addressing Nebraska’s overcrowded prisons and repealing the death penalty.
Three measures aimed at reforming corrections and reducing some prison sentences are set for debate Tuesday. The amount of time that takes will depend on the results of compromise discussions that have been going on since first-round debate.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson and other state and local officials opposed some provisions in the bills that would reduce sentences and increase the use of probation and parole.
There have been no compromise discussions on LB 268, the proposed repeal of Nebraska’s death penalty. The bill won first-round approval on a 30-13 vote, enough to overcome the governor’s promised veto but short of the 33 needed to cut off a threatened filibuster. The bill likely will be on the Wednesday agenda.
Lawmakers also are expected to resume debate this week on a bill to legalize medical marijuana.
Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue, who introduced LB 643, made an emotional appeal for the bill when consideration of it began Thursday.
It faces opposition from the governor, attorney general and several senators, which means debate is expected to be lengthy.
But those high-profile measures aren’t the only priority bills that could take several hours of legislative time.
Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill has two such bills — one that would legalize wagering on poker games and tournaments in specially licensed bars, and another that would allow the state prison system and county jails to charge copayments for inmates’ medical care.
Acknowledging that each bill would take several hours, he said he doesn’t know when, or if, they will be debated this year.
But he said he hopes the Legislature can deal with all of the priority bills in the days remaining.
“It’s going to take some really late nights if we’re going to do that,” Larson said.
Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, email@example.com