The Nebraska State Capitol
LB 1191 would give funding to Nebraska’s Native American communities to improve their water supply. The bill went before the Appropriations Committee on March 3.

Nebraska’s congressional delegation addressed business leaders at an annual gathering hosted by the Greater Omaha, Lincoln and Nebraska Chambers of Commerce on the state of multiple issues on Thursday, Aug. 25. Among the problems the Republicans spoke on was immigration, in which Sen. Ben Sasse blamed a lack of progress on both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden. Read more from the Omaha World-Herald’s Dan Crisler here.

Sen. Deb Fischer was scheduled to attend but did not due to a death in her family.

Flood to visit southern border Monday

Rep. Mike Flood, who plans to visit the country’s southern border on Monday, Aug. 29, said immigration needs an overhaul and emphasized the need to build a wall along the border and use technology to accomplish those goals. He also pointed to fentanyl as flowing across the border. His Democratic challenger, State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, told the Nebraska Examiner she hopes he returns “with real solutions and this isn’t just a gimmick.” Read more on Flood’s trip from the Nebraska Examiner’s Paul Hammel here.

Congressional leaders blast Biden loan forgiveness plan

Every Nebraska congressional leader at an annual business summit on Thursday, Aug. 25, blasted President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in loan debt for some students. Rep. Don Bacon said Biden is “spending like nobody’s business” while Sen. Ben Sasse called the action unconstitutional and disastrous. Freshman Rep. Mike Flood criticized the plan as having to do more with elections than the economy. Read more from KETV’s Andrew Ozaki here.

Biden’s executive order would erase $10,000 in federal student loan debt for individuals with annual incomes below $125,000, or households earning less than $250,000. Students who received federal Pell Grants and meet these criteria would see an additional $10,000 canceled. Student loan payments were set to start back up on Wednesday, Aug. 31, but this has been extended through the end of the year. The Associated Press explains more here.

In a statement, Rep. Adrian Smith suggested the plan would drive up the national debt, drive down the value of collegiate or technical education and make “record-high inflation even worse.” Sen. Deb Fischer, in her own statement, called Biden’s move “yet another economically backwards policy” unfairly pushing the burden of the loans onto all taxpayers, adding fuel to the “inflation fire.”

Battlegrounds emerging for impending legislative session

Medical, recreational marijuana

Though advocates fell short in a petition drive seeking to legalize medical marijuana, efforts are being turned to another move that may include recreational cannabis. Two petitions — one to legalize marijuana and the other to establish regulation for medical marijuana — failed to garner enough signatures and qualify in enough counties.

The Nebraska Examiner’s Paul Hammel reported conversations about a future initiative will include both medical and recreational cannabis, according to a Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana official. And they have an ally in the Nebraska Legislature: State Sen. Jen Day of Gretna, who said she will introduce a bill in the 2023 session to legalize medical marijuana. Those efforts could include a special session this fall. Read Hammel’s breakdowns on the issue here and here.

On Twitter, Day said: “Special session? 2023 legislation? 2024 ballot initiative? Medical cannabis is coming to NE whether the ‘powers [that] be’ want it to or not. Every option will be used. Nebraskans deserve this and want it. Let’s go.”

State Sens. Adam Morfeld and Anna Wishart, both of Lincoln, have been at the forefront of the issue, but Morfeld is term-limited and will depart the legislature later this year. 

Herbster’s ‘Nebraska First’ campaign

Charles W. Herbster, runner-up in the GOP governor’s primary race earlier this year, announced a new political action committee on Thursday, Aug. 25: “Nebraska First.” Part of the PAC’s focus will be on pushing state and local officeholders further to the right, starting through two priorities. 

These include the elimination of the nonpartisan Nebraska Unicameral’s secret ballot system for selecting committee chairs and a commitment to “constitutional carry” in the state. State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon led that initiative earlier this year, falling two votes short of advancing, but Herbster’s group will have candidates commit to the issue. This would allow Nebraskans to carry a concealed handgun without a state permit or background check. Read more from the Nebraska Examiner’s Aaron Sanderford here.

In lighter news: Huskers lose in Ireland but Ricketts looks to win in trade partnerships

The Huskers lost to Northwestern in Dublin 31-28 on Saturday, Aug. 27, but the trip paved the way for a trade mission in the United Kingdom. Gov. Pete Ricketts said on Wednesday, Aug. 24, the mission had been centered on increasing Nebraska’s agricultural and insurance industry growth opportunities. Ricketts said then the delegation — including 48 or 49 participants — would meet with multiple contacts before attending the football game. Read more on the trade mission from the Lincoln Journal Star’s Don Walton here.

Nebraska Republicans, Democrats hopeful for big wins in November

Republicans eye four-seat gain in Legislature

Though the Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan, composed of 32 registered Republicans and 17 Democrats, the new Republican State Chairman is looking to expand their majority in the chamber. Eric Underwood said on Friday that while he’s looking to support Republican Jim Pillen for governor and reelecting Nebraska Reps. Mike Flood, Don Bacon and Adrian Smith, another goal will be electing more Republicans for a “36-strong” coalition.

Such a group would provide the Nebraska GOP a “filibuster-proof” majority, allowing a unified coalition — or at least one that gets 33 senators — to break any opposition, end debate and pass more consequential legislation. A sizable increase could also allow efforts that failed earlier this year to become legal reality: notably further restrictions on abortion and expanded access to handguns without a state permit or background check. Read more from Don Walton for the Lincoln Journal Star here.

Democrats look to capitalize on abortion

Now-Rep. Mike Flood, a Republican, won the special election on June 28 to replace nine-term Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, beating Democratic State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. But with the election four days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal right to abortion, passing the responsibility to individual states, a strong performance by Pansing Brooks has Nebraska Democrats eager for upsets across the board in November.

The Hill spotlighted the race and its impacts nationally. Pansing Brooks outperformed President Joe Biden’s 2020 performance in the district, and with the same happening in three other special elections in Minnesota and New York — and a strong Democratic performance in Alaska’s special election — Democrats are hopeful the tides are turning in their favor. 

Across the border, Kansas overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have granted authority to regulate abortion, and as Pansing Brooks and Flood set for a rematch in November, Democrats are optimistic while Republicans remain confident in maintaining their hold in public offices. Read more from The Hill’s Zach Wendling here.

Zach Wendling is a senior journalism and political science double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on political, policy and governance reporting. He is the spring 2023 intern for the Nebraska Examiner and has been published in publications across the state as part of the Nebraska News Service. Wendling interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. and worked for The Daily Nebraskan at UNL. He is one of the founding members and inaugural president of UNL's new campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.