March 4, 2015

Medicaid nursing home residents could get raise in allowance

Sen. Colby Coash

Sen. Colby Coash

Nursing home residents on Medicaid would get a slight bump in their personal allowance under a bill advancing in the legislature.

State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln supported his move to raise the monthly allowance from $50 to $60 by telling colleagues it’s time to provide an increase.

“Think about the people who will come after us and what kind of position are we going to put them in where they will be asked to do something similar and it will be 500%, because we didn’t take a small step when we had the opportunity,” Coash told colleagues during legislative floor debate.

The original bill (LB 366) sponsored by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks would have increased the monthly stipend to $75. Coash amended the bill to lower that increase to $60, lowering the cost to $1.2 million over the next two years.

Some legislators objected to spending the extra money, arguing that there are too many measures calling for small increases, which would undermine efforts to keep spending in check and pay for property tax relief.

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion says the Unicameral cannot afford to keep giving in to the emotional appeals sponsors of such legislation use.

“’Just $500,000; these people didn’t do anything wrong. They really need our help,’” Kintner stated advocates would plead. “You’ll hear that and your heart strings will get pulled. And then it goes on, and on, and on, and on. Now, I watched this my first two years. I watched this body go on a spending spree like I never thought I would see in this state.”

Other opponents argued that any increases to Medicaid recipients should go toward medical expenses, not for small, personal items.

Winner-take-all Electoral College bill advances, barely (AUDIO)

Sen. Beau McCoy (left) consults with Sen. John Murante during legislative floor debate

Sen. Beau McCoy (left) consults with Sen. John Murante during legislative floor debate

A measure proposing Nebraska revert to the winner-take-all distribution of presidential electors has cleared an important hurdle, yet still faces an uncertain future.

Supporters broke a filibuster without a vote to spare when Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha switched and cast a ballot to end eight hours of debate he called a waste of time.

“Continuing to say, ‘No this is not a partisan issue.’ Everyone knows it’s a partisan issue,” Krist tells reporters.

Though Krist believes the first round of extended debate proved meaningless, he holds out hope an additional four hours might flesh out the pros and cons of LB 10.

Only Nebraska and Maine award presidential electors by Congressional district. Every other state sticks to the winner-take-all formula.

While Maine adopted the Congressional system in 1969, Nebraska has only had it since 1991. It had never made a difference in Nebraska until 2008 when Democrat Barack Obama successfully snatched an electoral vote from Nebraska when he won the Second Congressional District of Omaha though Republican John McCain won the state handily.

Krist says he likely will offer an amendment to the bill, calling for a University of Nebraska study to determine if switching back gets the results supporters claim.

That, of course, would occur only if the bill passes, which is not guaranteed, primarily because Krist won’t guarantee he will vote again to end a second filibuster expected when the bill returns for its second round of debate.

As for the bill sponsor, Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, he won’t even concede he’ll face another filibuster.

“Well, I would assume that we’ll have a discussion that’s as robust as it was on General File, but there’s no guarantee of that,” McCoy tells Nebraska Radio Network.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Legislature tables expanded gambling measure

A proposal to ask voters to strike down Nebraska’s ban on gambling has been tabled for the session.

Legislators passed on a 27-16 vote a motion to table by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, who objected to a provision in the bill that would allow the Unicameral to expand gambling without taking the issue to a vote of the people.

“That the legislature should not have the preeminent place for that. It should be the people of Nebraska making that decision of whether or not they want to expand gambling,” McCoy tells Nebraska Radio Network.

McCoy says the state should maintain its current system that allows expanded gambling only if voters approve a constitutional amendment.

LR 10CA would have asked the voters to allow the legislature to expand gambling through a simple majority vote.

“Very, very different policy than what we have today and one that I believe wasn’t what the people of Nebraska wanted,” McCoy says. “And I think you just saw with a vote from the Unicameral, not what the majority of the members of the legislature feel like should happen, either.”

The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, argues that the Nebraska Constitution over the years has been amended to permit the Unicameral to decide a number of issues once decided only through a vote of the people, including horse racing and lotteries.

The constitutional amendment would not have authorized new games of chance, but would have removed the last prohibition on the legislative authority over games of chance.


Gov. Ricketts, AG Peterson defend Nebraska definition of marriage (AUDIO)

Attorney General Doug Peterson answers questions along with Gov. Pete Ricketts during Capitol news conference

Attorney General Doug Peterson answers questions along with Gov. Pete Ricketts during Capitol news conference

Governor Pete Ricketts stands by his support of Nebraska’s definition of marriage, despite a federal judge’s ruling overturning it.

Attorney General Doug Peterson has appealed the ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Federal judge Joseph Bataillon has struck down the state ban on same-sex marriage, though he made his ruling effective a week from today, giving the state time to appeal the decision.

Ricketts and Peterson held a joint news conference at the governor’s Capitol office today.

Ricketts said if the state definition of marriage is to be changed, it should be changed by the voters.

“And while I know this is a difficult issue for many families, including my own, I don’t believe that this is an issue that should be decided by the preferences of one judge; that this is an issue for the people of Nebraska and that I will work with the Attorney General to continue to uphold the constitution,” Ricketts told reporters.

The Attorney General’s office filed its appeal immediately after Bataillon issued his ruling, hoping for an outcome similar to 2006. That year, Bataillon issued a similar ruling against the constitutional amendment approved by Nebraska voters in 2000. The appellate court overturned Bataillon and let the law stand.

Peterson said he expects the United States Supreme Court to rule later this year on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, a point the judge did not address.

“I think it’s important to note in Judge Batallion’s opinion, he chose not to make a decision as to whether or not marriage between a same-sex couple was a fundamental right and I think that’s the key legal issue,” Peterson stated.

Peterson said his office has asked the 8th Circuit to prevent the Bataillon ruling from going into effect until it decides the issue.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court will go a long way toward clarifying the issue this summer.

“Our position is that under good, appropriate constitutional analysis and good constitutional law for this issue it is to be decided by the states and for the states to decide it they need to go through the very process that we went through in this state back in 2000 where 70% of Nebraskans found that marriage should be constitutionally determined to be that just between a man and a woman,” Peterson said.

AUDIO:  Gov. Peter Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson react to ruling on Nebraska definition of marriage. [4 min.]

ACLU celebrates same-sex marriage ruling

thB9NB8EE5The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says a federal judge’s ruling striking down a ban on same-sex marriage should be a cause of celebration.

“Today is a day for celebration, because the love and commitment our clients share will finally be entitled to the equality and respect they deserve in the eyes of the law,” Nebraska ACLU Executive Director Danielle Conrad tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

The ACLU represented seven same-sex couples which challenged the state definition of marriage constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2000. The judge sided with the couples and struck down the state law.

Conrad says the ruling is important to a significant population of the state.

“Today, Nebraska’s motto of equality before the law will ring true for gay and lesbian Nebraskans who seek to have their marriages recognized or who seek the freedom to marry right here in our great state,” according to Conrad.

Senior United States District Judge Joseph Bataillon struck down the state ban on same-sex marriage, yet delayed enforcement of his ruling for a week.

That gives the state time to appeal the decision.

Attorney General Doug Peterson is asking the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to keep Bataillon’s ruling from going into effect until it decides the issue. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court could decide the issue this summer.

Conrad says the ACLU is ready to defend the ruling against the state’s appeal.

In 2006, Bataillon issued a similar ruling against the constitutional amendment approved by Nebraska voters in 2000. The 8th Circuit overturned Bataillon and let the law stand.