The Nebraska State Capitol pictured at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022.
The Nebraska State Capitol pictured at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS.

Public hearings hosted by Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen on Tuesday, Oct. 18, offered residents of Nebraska’s 1st congressional district the chance to comment on proposed ballot initiatives.

Two ballot initiatives — whether to increase Nebraska’s minimum wage incrementally to $15 by 2026 or to require photo ID to vote in elections in Nebraska — will be decided by voters on Nov. 8. Evnen is required by state law to have the hearings in each of Nebraska’s three districts, with the hearings on Oct. 18 closing the requirement.

Ballot Initiative 433 would increase Nebraska’s current minimum wage — $9 an hour — by $1.50 each year, increasing to $10.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2023, if approved. This would continue until 2026 when the wage would hit $15 an hour, and the wage would be adjusted annually after to account for increases in cost of living. Sixteen proponents and three opponents testified on the measure.

Ballot Initiative 432 would require a photo ID to vote in Nebraska elections, in a manner to be specified by the legislature if approved. Seven proponents and 11 opponents testified on the measure.

Read more here on the minimum wage and voter ID initiatives from Nebraska News Service’s Owen Reimer.

Lawmakers campaign across Nebraska for constitutional amendment

A trio of Nebraska lawmakers traveled across Nebraska to stir up approval for an airport-related amendment to the Nebraska State Constitution.

State Sens. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln and Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn joined U.S. Rep. Mike Flood of Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District in support of Amendment 1 for the Nov. 8 election. This measure would allow cities and counties with airports to spend public funds to expand commercial flight offerings.

The trio also appears in a video advertisement for Amendment 1.

Read more from the Nebraska Examiner’s Cindy Gonzalez here.

University of Florida Faculty Senate considers “no confidence” vote against Sasse

The University of Florida Faculty Senate — a group Nebraska U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse would oversee if appointed the campus’s next president — is set to meet on Thursday, Oct. 27, to consider a vote of no confidence in Sasse’s selection.

A new Florida law meant a UF campus search committee was only required to choose a sole finalist for the position, with some faculty warning they may take legal action over the process. Faculty will use the emergency meeting on Oct. 27 from 3-5 p.m. to debate whether to adopt a resolution of no confidence.

Sasse visited the campus in person on Oct. 10, which was met by protesters over his stance on LGBTQ issues. Some chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ben Sasse has got to go.” 

Outgoing UF President Kent Fuchs’ office warned students they could be disciplined if they violated university regulations. These include that students are not allowed to protest inside the hall where the Board of Trustees will consider Sasse’s appointment on Monday, Nov. 1. 

A UF regulation prohibits protests in campus buildings, though Fuchs noted it had not been enforced in recent years. Students could be disciplined under UF’s student code of conduct.

Read more from The Gainesville Sun’s Gershon Harrell here.

Biden student debt forgiveness paused by court ruling, lawsuit including Nebraska

President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is on hold, in part due to a lawsuit launched by Nebraska and five other Republican-led states.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, Oct. 21, temporarily blocked the Biden administration from following through with loan forgiveness at the request of Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina. 

A day earlier, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey of the Eastern District of Missouri ruled the states did not have legal standing to sue the administration, though Autrey noted the states had raised “important and significant challenges.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett also on Thursday rejected a proposal to put the program on hold.

Biden’s forgiveness plan would forgive up to $10,000 in loan forgiveness, or an additional $10,000 for Pell Grant recipients, to borrowers making no more than $125,000 per year. Or, for couples, up to $250,000 per year.

The Biden administration has until Monday, Oct. 24, to respond, and the six states will have until Tuesday, Oct. 25, to respond.

Read more from States Newsrooms’ Ariana Figueroa and Clark Kauffman.

State senators call for an investigation into Nebraska Department of Education

Five state senators are calling for an investigation into the Nebraska Department of Education or allegedly promoting critical race theory through the pandemic-related Launch Nebraska.

On Monday, Oct. 17, State Sens. Dave Murman of Glenvil, Steve Erdman of Bayard, Steve Halloran of Hastings, Robert Clements of Elmwood and Myron Dorn of Adams announced the investigation at a news conference in the Nebraska State Capitol. They said Launch Nebraska had previously included a link that — after a couple of clicks — led to a culturally responsive education hub and a “CRT Toolkit,” or critical race theory. 

Included was a PDF titled “Winning Racial Justice in Our Schools: Resisting the Right Wing Attacks on Critical Race Theory.” 

David Jespersen, the communications director with the Nebraska Department of Education, also attended the news conference and told reporters the governor’s office had reached out with similar concerns in June. After internally reviewing the issue, the department removed the links that time and no one else had reached out with additional concerns.

Read more from the Nebraska News Service’s Zach Wendling here.

Lincoln City Council approves alcohol at Pinnacle Bank Arena for Husker basketball

The Lincoln City Council on Monday, Oct. 17, approved an ordinance to allow Pinnacle Bank Arena to sell alcohol during Husker basketball games.

The council voted 6-0 — with Councilmember Sändra Washington absent — for the change, suspending rules of a three-reading requirement to pass the measure one week early. This meant alcohol could flow for the men’s basketball game against Chadron State on Sunday, Oct. 23.

However, not everyone is in full support of the change. Representatives from Project Extra Mile and Watchdogs of Lincoln Government warned councilors about potential social, physical and mental harms that could impact college students and other attendees as a result of the change.

Read more from the Nebraska News Service’s Zach Wendling here.

Nebraska Clerk of the Legislature retiring after decades of service

Patrick O’Donnell, the clerk of the Nebraska Legislature since 1978, announced on Tuesday, Oct. 18, he will retire at the end of the year.

O’Donnell was first elected assistant clerk in 1977 and then elevated to the top position when Clerk of the Legislature Vince Brown resigned. Senators have re-elected O’Donnell every two years since.

O’Donnell reflected on the institution he dedicated himself to with the Lincoln Journal Star, while the Nebraska Examiner spoke to state senators and others serving with O’Donnell on his impact.

A hiring committee composed of Executive Board members will recommend a replacement to the full Executive Board. The board will then recommend a selection to the full Legislature, which will vote on the appointment at the start of next year.

Read more here from the Lincoln Journal Star’s Don Walton and here from the Nebraska Examiner’s Paul Hammel.

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.