Sen. Chambers slow-walks Legislature over Electoral College


April 7th, 2016

Sen. Ernie Chambers speaks in the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Sen. Ernie Chambers speaks in the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Sen. Ernie Chambers continued to slow-walk the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday, delaying votes on key bills in retribution for votes he didn’t like.

Lincoln, NE – Toward the start of Wednesday’s debate, Chambers identified one of the causes of his displeasure: LB10, a bill favored by the Republican Party, to return Nebraska to winner-take-all Electoral College voting.

“I told you all as a beginning, when Sen. McCoy brought that LB10 and the Republicans took over the chamber, that the rest of the session is mine. And I heard them back there, laughing, because they thought I was as weak-kneed and lily-livered as they are,” Chambers declared.

Chambers then threatened to force up to four hours of debate on every bill, while hinting he might relent if senators made some unspecified deals with him.

“I intend to go through it on this bill and every other bill on this agenda, with the exception of some that I think ought not to be dealt with in that fashion. And that is done to show that I am flexible – that I take care of the things in which I have an interest, in the same way that others take care of what they have an interest in,” he said.

Some senators tried appealing to Chambers on behalf of bills they support. Sen. Mark Kolterman did that on a proposal dealing with dental hygienists’ scope of practice.

“I would appeal to you, Sen. Chambers, to consider letting us vote on this bill. I know you’re unhappy about the outcomes of several bills this past couple of weeks… On the other hand, it almost feels like we’re all being held hostage by one person, which is really unfortunate for the state of Nebraska,” Kolterman said.

Unfortunate or not, Chambers ran out the hour and a half allotted for that bill. Not all senators said they were upset. Sen. Bill Kintner told Chambers his tactics would save Kintner work trying to kill bills he doesn’t like. “So you’re mad, so you’re going to slow this whole thing down. And we’re going to go to a crawl. We’re only going to pass a few bills, ‘cause you’re going to eat up the time. I’m not losing any sleep,” Kintner said, with a laugh.

Kintner identified bills creating a bipartisan redistricting commission and allowing professional licenses for people brought to the country illegally when they were children as examples of what he wants stopped.

The biggest target of delaying tactics was a package of three bills dealing with schools and property taxes. One would eliminate penalties for schools if their levy drops below a certain level, a second would abolish the common levy for schools in the Omaha metro learning community, and the third would increase a property tax credit for farmers.

“What is the linkage between these bills?” Chambers asked Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Kate Sullivan.

“First of all, I didn’t want them to be linked, Sen. Chambers. But the reality is, apparently they are,” Sullivan replied.

“And without saying whether it’s worthy or not, what would that linkage be?” Chambers continued.

“If I get this bill, then you get that bill,” Sullivan said.

“Horse-trading, kind of?” Chambers asked.

“Sort of,” Sullivan said.

Some suggested the pieces of the package weren’t worth it. Sen. Paul Schumacher said farmers who want relief from skyrocketing property taxes wouldn’t be satisfied with the deal lawmakers were cooking up. “They were expecting a steak instead of a piece of crust from a piece of bread. That’s what that bill is. You get something for the Omaha thing, the ag sector will get a little piece of crust over here, and we will all hug each other and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ Schumacher said.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield referred to the fact that the proposed property tax credit for owners of agricultural land has been reduced from $30 million to $20 million. “People across the state of Nebraska have stood up and said loudly and clearly ‘We need property tax relief.’ What do we get? Chicken feed, and part of that is taken away,” Bloomfield complained.

After four hours, senators voted 44-1, with Chambers the lone no vote, to stop debate, and then advanced the bill. They then moved on to debate the learning community. Late Wednesday afternoon, that bill appeared to have enough disagreements to take up the allotted time, even without Chambers participating.

With only four business days left in this year’s session, the question of which proposals there will still be time to deal with looms ever larger.

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