Winner-take-all fails; Medical marijuana amendments considered


March 18th, 2015

(Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

(Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

An attempt to return Nebraska to the winner-take-all system for electoral votes in presidential elections failed Tuesday in the Legislature. Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee is considering an amendment to tighten regulations for the proposed legalization of medical marijuana.

As students in civics classes will tell you, presidential elections are decided, not by which candidates wins the most popular votes, but by which one wins the most electoral votes.

Each state gets a number of electoral votes equal to the number in its congressional delegation. In Nebraska, that’s five, for the two senators and three representatives. Forty eight states give all of their electoral votes to whoever gets the most votes statewide. But in 1969, Maine decided to give the statewide winner two votes, and award the others to whoever won each congressional district. Nebraska followed suit in 1991.

Sen. Beau McCoy, sponsor of the attempt to switch back to the system used in other states, said supporters of adopting the current system had suggested Nebraska could be a trend-setter. But McCoy said that hasn’t happened. “It has not been a trend. It hasn’t happened in any other state. It hasn’t even gotten close in any other state. In fact, in other states, it’s actually been vehemently opposed – going to the district method of apportionment – by individual state Democratic parties. That’s definitely the case in the state of California. It’s the case in the state of Pennsylvania, and in a variety of other states,” McCoy said.

McCoy is a registered Republican in the officially nonpartisan Unicameral. Nebraska Democrats, a minority party in the state, have resisted switching back to winner-take-all. Sen. Ken Haar, a registered Democrat, said the chance that the outcome in at least one district could be up for grabs increases the chance that candidates will pay attention to Nebraska. “Presidential candidates do not campaign in states in which they’re comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. Presidential candidates concentrate their public appearances, their organizational efforts, their advertising, their polling, and their policy attention in states where the outcome is not a foregone conclusion,” Haar said.

Democrats in the Legislature have been solidly opposed to switching back to winner-take-all, while most Republicans have supported the idea. But Republican Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus has broken with his party, criticizing a 2011 resolution by the state central committee that called winner-take-all a “litmus test” for Republicans. Tuesday, McCoy read a letter from current GOP chairman J.L. Spray calling that a nonbinding resolution. McCoy called on his colleagues to exercise their own judgment on his bill, LB10. “LB10 is not a litmus test of conservatives, or Republicans, or anyone else. You haven’t heard me twist your arm. I haven’t asked where you’re at on this bill, because this is up for you to decide,” he said.

Sen. Ernie Chambers, an independent, said Republicans are still upset that Democrat Barack Obama got an electoral vote from the Omaha-area Second Congressional District in 2008. “Not only did that candidate pick up that vote, that candidate became president of the United States. And I think that is the fact that has chagrined Republicans more than anything else,” Chambers said.

When the time came to vote on a motion to cut off debate and vote on the bill, McCoy needed 33 votes. He got 31 – all from Republicans. All 13 Democrats and Chambers voted against it, along four Republicans: Schumacher, Sen. Laura Ebke, Sen. Kathy Campbell, and Sen. John McCollister.

Tuesday afternoon, members of the Judiciary Committee briefly discussed Sen. Tommy Garrett’s bill to legalize medical marijuana. They took no action, because Garrett has proposed an amendment to change the proposal that they said they need to study. In an interview with NET News, Garrett explained the idea behind the changes he’s proposing. “We want to make this the tightest piece of legislation we can possibly make it so that there’s no slippery slope involved. We’ve looked at every possible area that someone might pick this thing apart. You know for the medicine, we (require) childproof containers. We just want this to be as tight as we can possibly make it, so that this is controlled. It’s medicine, and there’s not going to be any foolishness or any holes where someone might try to exploit or abuse this,” Garrett said.

In addition to packaging requirements, other changes proposed in the amendment are requiring people who staff so-called compassion centers, where the drug would be dispensed, to report suspected violations of the law to the Department of Health and Human Services. Labelling requirements would also be increased, and identification cards would have to be tamper-proof. Garrett said he’s confident he has the votes to get the bill out of committee, although he’s not sure what will happen when the bill hits the floor of the Legislature.

“But if we can get it off the floor, of course, then we’ve got to deal with the governor. And the governor has told me he wants to wait for the FDA (the federal Food and Drug Adminstration). And my response to that is that Washington is broke – it’s been hard broke. If we wait for the FDA, we’ll be waiting years,” he said.

Garrett said that would be unfortunate, since there are many people who could benefit now. Opponents claim the bill would start the state down a slippery slope toward legalizing recreational marijuana

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