Government Military and Veterans Affairs

Omnibus elections bill clears first round

Lawmakers amended a bill Feb. 5 to create an omnibus elections measure and advanced it to select file.

Sen. Tom Brewer
Sen. Tom Brewer

As introduced, LB287, sponsored by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, would have prohibited the formation of new entities under the Joint Public Agency Act. A Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee amendment, adopted 44-0, removed those provisions and replaced them with the original version of Brewer’s LB514 and six other bills.

Brewer said LB514, the committee’s annual cleanup measure, was gutted last year to become the vehicle for voter ID. It originally contained updates to the state’s election laws recommended by the Nebraska secretary of state. Among other provisions, the bill would:
• revise petition procedures;
• change procedures for early voting ballot delivery and payment of recall election costs; and
• revise requirements for third party return envelopes for voter registrations and early voting ballot requests.

Provisions in the original bill related to electioneering were not included in the committee amendment.

Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood offered an amendment to add the provisions of his LB390, which would change provisions related to early voting. That bill was advanced from committee to general file last year, but was not scheduled for debate.

Among other provisions, the Clements amendment would shorten the time period during which early voting ballots are available from 35 to 30 days prior to an election, beginning in 2025. It also would clarify that an agent may return a completed ballot to the election office on behalf of no more than two early voters and prohibit an agent from being a voter’s employer.

The amendment would exempt nursing homes and long-term care facilities from the ballot return cap, provided a facility registers an employee with the secretary of state as an agent for the facility.

Clements said the change in early voting ballot availability was a “logistical” concern for election officials. Currently, Nebraskans can vote early in-person for 30 days prior to an election, he said, and the amendment would harmonize the availability of early voting ballots with that time frame.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn supported the Clements amendment, saying it would prevent ballot harvesting — allowing third parties to collect and return multiple completed ballots — which she described as “very dangerous” and something that should not be allowed, especially on school bond issues.

Brewer, chairperson of the committee, said that while he wasn’t against the content of Clements’ amendment, he opposed it due to its potential to derail the rest of the committee elections package.

“I consider it an unfriendly amendment simply because my mission, as the chair of the Government [Military and Veterans Affairs] Committee, is to figure out how to get this bill — that includes five other senators’ bills plus the elections cleanup bill — through this body,” he said.

The Clements amendment was adopted on a vote of 25-14, but Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne offered a motion to reconsider that vote.

“The adoption of [that amendment] turns this into a filibuster,” Wayne said.

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln supported the reconsideration motion, saying Clements’ amendment would unnecessarily restrict voter access and faced considerable opposition at the public hearing. Including it in LB287 could jeopardize passage of the underlying bill, she said.

Clements also expressed support for the reconsideration motion, saying he had been contacted by the secretary of state’s office indicating concern that his amendment would “sink” the committee’s entire elections package.

The reconsideration motion was adopted 41-5 and Clements subsequently withdrew his amendment.

The following bills were included in the committee amendment:
• LB47, introduced by Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams, which would amend the Open Meetings Act to authorize rural fire districts to post notice of their meetings prominently in three conspicuous places, instead of the current requirement to publish in a newspaper of general circulation in the public body’s jurisdiction;
• LB269, sponsored by Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman, which would remove obsolete language in state law related to the 2021 redistricting process;
• LB302, introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, which would make a number of changes to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Act regarding salary and conflict of interest disclosures;
• LB313, sponsored by Kearney Sen. John Lowe, which would amend state election law regarding the process for filling vacancies in Nebraska’s delegations to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives; and
• LB513, introduced by Brewer, which would provide for alternative means of public notice under the Open Meetings Act when timely newspaper publication is unavailable and add two categories of public bodies that may expand videoconferencing for their public meetings.

Following adoption of the committee amendment, lawmakers voted 44-0 to advance LB287 to select file.

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