The Legislature failed Monday to override the governor's veto on a bill that would restore voting rights to ex-felons. The bill, which needed 30 votes to override the veto, fell short on a 23-23 vote.Legislative Bill 75, Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha's priority, would have changed the current law from a two-year waiting period to an immediate reinstatement of voting rights after an ex-felon's sentence or probation.
Wayne opened discussion on the veto override saying he was looking for a "Miracle Monday" to finally get his bill passed.
"A vote against this override is a vote in favor of a past that is based and founded in racism, exclusion and fear," Wayne said.
Wayne said he was referring to older laws against ex-felons voting that were put in place to prevent black men and freed slaves from voting.
"It's a shame that 150 years later, we are still having this debate," Wayne said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill on April 27, saying it would be unconstitutional, arguing that the Legislature would have to amend the constitution before being able to reinstate voting rights.
Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, asked Attorney General Doug Peterson for an opinion on whether the bill was unconstitutional. She said Peterson would not address it because that would also address the constitutionality of the two-year delay that was put in place in 2005.
Ebke said that perhaps that is a sign that the administration knows it is, in fact, constitutional.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha agreed that the legislation is constitutional and that the attorney general knows it is constitutional. He also said that it is his understanding that the governor is telling senators he won't give money to candidates running against them in the next election if they uphold the veto.
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft was the only senator to voice an opinion against LB 75 on Monday. She said that the current two-year waiting period gives ex-felons a chance to reintegrate themselves into society and learn about the candidates in an election.
Brasch had previously voted yes on the bill to move it from select file to final reading. Twelve lawmakers who voted yes on at least one of the three votes in the first three readings changed their vote when it came to the veto. These 12 would have been five more votes than needed to override the veto.
Those lawmakers, in addition to Brasch, were: Sens. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, Tom Brewer of Gordon, Joni Craighead of Omaha, Steve Erdman of Bayard, Mike Groene of North Platte, Steve Halloran of Hastings, Mark Kolterman of Seward, Tyson Larson of O'Neill, Jim Scheer of Norfolk, Jim Smith of Papillion and Dan Watermeier of Syracuse. Larson and Smith changed from yes to not voting.
Wayne said there were no amendments to the bill and the only thing that changed was a phone call and an outside influence, alluding to the governor lobbying to sustain his veto.
"Colleagues, today we took a step back. We took Nebraska back," Wayne said. "I will bring this back, and hopefully we will have courage to do something different. And while Miracle Monday didn't happen today, the cloud of today will remain with this body until we do something about it."