By Tom Venzor
Before I jump into my column, thanks to all who attended this year’s Catholics at the Capitol. More than 100 Catholics attended—a great turnout considering the recent flooding that has devastated so many communities and undoubtedly kept many more Catholics looking after those concerns closest to home.
State Treasurer John Murante gave an inspiring keynote talk and discussed St. Thomas More’s influence on his public service as a State Senator and now State Treasurer. As well, he proposed St. Thomas More as an example for us in our duties to the state and to God.
At our luncheon, Sen. Joni Albrecht, Sen. Mike Hilgers, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, and Sen. Mike McDonnell further inspired us with how their Christian faith plays a daily role in their policymaking responsibilities. Each Senator shared their wisdom for how Catholics can be effective constituents and influence the lawmaking process.
In between these great talks, our attendees were impressive in their charitable and forthright advocacy with the numerous State Senators who came out to visit with their constituents. Undoubtedly, those who attended made a positive mark on the Unicameral.
We hope to see more of you next year—and, don’t forget, you can be a Catholic at the Capital any day of the week!
As of April 12, the Nebraska Legislature will be two-thirds of the way through their legislative session—Day 60. In even-numbered years, this would mark the completion of the legislative session. But this is an odd(-numbered) year and session is just getting started, so to speak. As the saying goes: “Full steam ahead!”
The remaining 30 days of legislative activity will be marked by all-day legislative debate, including numerous late-night sessions. Already, last week’s first full week of debate has proven to be a microcosm of what lies ahead: briskly moving through relatively non-controversial legislative bills, extended debate on difficult policy decisions, and the occasional filibuster usually led by the one and only Sen. Ernie Chambers.
In the days to come, the Unicameral will address pressing public policy issues. The Appropriations Committee will soon advance their finalized state budget proposal to the whole legislative body. Their preliminary proposal entailed $9.36 billion of spending over the next two years.
In other words, the Legislature’s task to steward Nebraska taxpayer dollars is an enormous responsibility. The budget has far-reaching implications and affects programs for the poor and vulnerable who utilize critical public assistance programs, such as Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance, and developmental disability aid. The budget also directly impacts other important governmental services, such as our courts, corrections systems, and community college, state college, and university systems.
Pray for our legislators as they address the budget. Pray for their discernment and wisdom, especially as they recognize the needs of those who are most vulnerable in society.
As well, the Legislature’s Revenue Committee has had significant, ongoing conversations about tax reform. There has been dialogue about property tax relief, especially for agricultural producers. This has been accompanied by sales and income tax adjustments, as well as how this all affects public education funding. Each of these issues on its own is monolithic, and taken altogether the tasks amount to rolling a rock uphill. The question is whether the rock can be pushed to its summit, without plummeting back downhill.
Pray for our legislators as they also address tax reform. Pray for unity and charity, especially as they maneuver the multi-faceted issues that such policies implicate.
In addition to these key policy matters, the Legislature has nearly 150 other legislative bills that are designated as Senator, Committee, or Speaker priority bills or consent calendar bills. As with bill introductions, the subject matters of these bills run the gamut of issues from A to Z. There are bills pertaining to eminent domain and renewable energy, revenge porn, business incentives, college savings plans, mental health services in schools, affordable housing, land banks, jailhouse informants, medical marijuana, the opioid crisis, gambling, among many others.
Moving forward, the Nebraska Catholic Conference will be specifically advocating on issues related to the right to life of the unborn (LB209), school choice (LB670), the death penalty (LB44), human trafficking, care for creation (LB243), food assistance (LB169), and the dignity of pregnant mothers who are incarcerated (LB690).
We ask for your continued prayers as we seek to bear the light of Christ in the public square!