The governor’s budget bill, LB 947 had its three hours of general file debate this week. It is now in “Bill Purgatory” (a status known as “Speaker Hold”).

This happens to a lot of bills. They end up in speaker hold because the bill doesn’t have 33 votes to end a filibuster.

Sen. Mike Groene’s bill (LB 640), Sen. Curt Friesen’s bill (LB 1103) and Sen. Tom Briese’s bill (LB 1084) all address property tax relief through changes in school funding. These bills died the same death.

A number of other bills that address property tax relief (including mine, LB 576) were never even voted out of the Revenue Committee and remain stuck there.

Following Sen. Friesen’s bill dying on the floor, the speaker (Sen. Jim Sheer) addressed the body. Once again he urged members to work together to come up with a compromise. He stressed how incredibly important property tax relief is.

He all but demanded action happen this session. Five senators who have property tax bills voted out of committee have been invited to meet in the speaker’s office to hammer out a compromise.

As I’ve said before, property tax relief is not just a “problem” it has reached the point of being immoral. I applaud Speaker Sheer’s leadership. This is the most important thing that has happened since I’ve been in the legislature.

The bottom line is we have until Monday. Once again I am reminded that no form of government will reform itself. It must be forced to. I have not given up yet.

The longer I’m a Nebraska state senator, the more I become convinced the Unicameral (one-house) “experiment” we have in Nebraska has reached the end of its usefulness.

I’m becoming convinced the only hope for rural Nebraska is to go back to a two-house state government. In 1936, the last year of the Nebraska bi-cameral legislature, there were 100 representatives in the house, and 33 senators in the senate.

In the land area of the 13 counties of the 43rd district as it’s currently drawn, there would be at least two representatives in addition to one senator.

Two more voices in the legislature speaking for the Sandhills makes me happy. Of course everything would be apportioned on population, so the urban areas would also grow proportionately in representation as well.

One of the main reasons I believe we need a two-house system is because of its inherent checks and balances on government. George Norris (the father of the unicameral system) argued the people would be “the 2nd House.” They would provide the “check” on government that we lost by going to our one-house legislature. In theory, our Unicameral would be “extra” transparent so the people could provide this check on government power. This has not occurred in my view.

We’ve had a unicameral for 81 years. We’ve had a property tax crisis for roughly 50 of those years. Year after year, a majority of senators in the Unicameral Legislature have ignored the problem. Since we’ve been a unicameral, the people, through the ballot initiative and referendum process, have attempted to amend the Nebraska constitution and/or pass laws through the ballot process 57 times.

Many of these efforts addressed lowering property taxes.

This only counts the measures that actually collected enough signatures and were put on the ballot. Before the Unicameral started in 1937, the people only used the ballot initiative and referendum process 18 times.

I’m forced to wonder, if the people really were successful in performing the “check” on state government that George Norris envisioned, then why did they have to resort to doing scores of ballot initiatives since we became a Unicameral?

Why must the people now resort to using the ballot initiative process to try (again) to lower out of control property taxes? Why must the speaker resort to weekend meetings to try and pass something the people have been screaming about for generations?

For the “2nd House” (the people) to be an effective check and balance on the 1st House (the Unicameral), the will of the people has to respected and not ignored.

 

Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; [email protected] Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.