As soon as LB574 was introduced, in the first ten days of session, Senator Hunt filed a motion to indefinitely postpone. Also known as an IPP or a kill motion, this is a tool that a Senator can use to oppose a bill and get space in the debate to talk about their opposition. If this motion is passed, it stops all further activity or debate on a bill. It is seen as an extreme motion and Senators generally save IPP motions for bills that they are most strongly opposed to. Procedurally, the Senators will debate the IPP motion before they debate the bill itself (though substantively, the subjects being discussed are often the same), so debate on LB574 opened on the 21st with debate on the motion to indefinitely postpone. At first, debate proceeded smoothly, with Senators starting to share their positions on LB574 and a full queue of Senators prepared to speak.
However, 40 minutes in, Senator Slama moved to called the question. Calling the question is the procedural way of saying “let’s vote now” because it ends debate on a motion and forces the Senators to vote. This should not happen unless there has been full and fair debate on the motion being voted on. Because only a few Senators had gotten to speak and there was a queue of Senators prepared to speak, Lt. Gov. Joe Kelley, serving as chair, declared that calling the question was out of order, or not a motion that she could make at that time. In response to that, Senator Slama motioned to overrule the chair. This is another rarely used motion with large implications. The chair is meant to be a neutral presiding body interpreting the rules as written without political motivations and their rulings are generally accepted by the body. Ultimately however, a majority of Senators voted in favor of the motion to overrule the chair and the IPP motion was voted down. If this technique is continued to be used, it would stifle debate on motions that a majority of Senators deem not worth discussing. It is critical in a unicameral system with fewer checks and balances to have full debate on motions and make sure that one side is not steamrolling another.
On March 28, following the vote to move LB574 forward, the Senators debated and ultimately passed a controversial rules change introduced by Senator Erdman. Senator Erdman proposed this rule change after opponents used a series of bracket motions on the final day of debate on LB574 to take up speaking time. A bracket motion is a motion to delay discussion of a bill to a future date. It is considered a priority motion which means that the Senator issuing it can “cut the line” and speak ahead of the rest of the queue. A Senator can issue a bracket motion, get ten minutes of speaking time, and then withdraw it, guaranteeing a chance to speak without any consequences. Senator Erdman’s proposed rule change would make it so that only one of these priority motions could be used per day.
While opposed by some, the proposed rule change itself is not the controversial part. Indeed, many Senators opposing LB574 acknowledged that the bracket motion technique that was employed last Thursday limited a full debate. What is controversial is that Senator Erdman voted to suspend the rules to allow his change to occur rather than following a typical procedure. Suspending the rules is typically used for one day to allow the body to do something that the normal rules would not allow and is often noncontroversial. The body has never suspended the rules to adopt a rule change. The typical way to make a rules change would involve introducing an amendment and scheduling a public hearing on it in front of the rules committee. If the committee voted in favor of it, it would then go to the floor for a full debate and possible passage. Suspending the rules to change the rules sets up a potentially dangerous precedent that if a majority is unhappy with how a rule is being used, they could quickly change the rules in their favor, rather than going through a traditional process and getting public input.
Unless something changes, Speaker Arch has predicted that filibusters will allow the Legislature to pass only 21 bills in this session. He has named taxes, the budget, education funding, and Voter ID as some of the priorities that he expects to see passed this year. We acknowledge that this puts our Members organizations in a difficult position. Many Members have bills that they have worked hard to introduce and get prioritized to be in a position to pass this session. At the same time, none of us want to see these attacks on LGBTQ+ Nebraskans or reproductive rights advanced. The Nebraska Table will continue to support Members however we can in getting priorities passed this session while fighting against legislation that would harm our communities.