The 1998 Special Legislative Session


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and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA)
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The 1998 Special Legislative Session

Governor Nelson and his staff may have been caught off-guard briefly during the debate on LB 1175 (1998).  But they would ultimately have the final word.  On May 4, 1998 the Governor exercised his constitutional prerogative to call the Legislature into special session for the purpose of addressing the matter.1 The Legislature would be convened in special session for the first time in six years.

The Nebraska Constitution gives the Governor the authority to convene the Legislature in extraordinary circumstances, and also gives the Governor the authority to limit the scope of the special session.2  The idea is to prevent the Legislature from enacting legislation beyond the original purpose set forth by the Governor.  In this case, the Governor established a very narrow agenda.  The Legislature was to meet beginning on May 13th and enact provisions of LB 1175 with the exception of the Wickersham amendment (AM4207) relating to "fully funding" the state aid formula.3

For a legislative body that receives very little pay in terms of salary, special sessions are often viewed as intrusive to what little time legislators have away from the Capitol.  Special sessions are not necessarily an economic hardship for all senators, but they are intrusion nonetheless.  Therefore, when the Legislature convened on May 13th the general mood was one of anxiousness to finish its work, and quickly.  The exception, perhaps, was Senator Ernie Chambers who used the special session to further his political agenda on the issue of closing Peru State College.  The issue had been raised in the 1998 regular session, but the disposition, or perhaps lack of disposition, was not to Senator Chambers' satisfaction.

Accordingly, one of the three bills introduced in the 1998 Special Session, LB 3, related to the closing of Peru State College.  One of the bills, LB 2, related to necessary appropriations for the operation of the Legislature in special session.  And the other bill, LB 1, pertained to the stated purpose of the special session as proclaimed by the Governor.  Legislative Bill 1 would enact LB 1175 (1998) minus the controversial provisions contained in the Wickersham amendment.4

The Peru State College bill, LB 3, did have a public hearing on May 14th, but even Senator Chambers knew the bill would go no further.  In fact, the bill was never advanced from committee.  The public hearing for LB 1, also held on May 14th, was the real focal point of the special session.  In truth, more words would be spoken and more time would be consumed at the hearing for LB 1 than the entire floor debate for the bill in the succeeding days of the special session.  The public hearing would also make history in that it was the first such hearing to be broadcast via the Internet for public viewing.

Interestingly, Senator Bob Wickersham, whose amendment initiated the special session, would have the opportunity to face those who testified that day due to his membership on the Education Committee.  And one of the individuals to testify on the bill would be the man who called the special session.  Governor Nelson chose to testify personally at the hearing rather than delegating the duty to one of his staff.  His comments were carefully crafted to avoid giving the impression that he was anti-education in light of his opposition to a provision that would fully fund the state aid formula.  "Education continues to be a top priority of my administration," Governor Nelson said in his opening comments.5

He went on to defend his support for education, citing the major increases to public education within the past year.  Said Nelson:

This past session we approved a significant increase in the amount of state aid going to benefit public schools, including $9.7 million for educational service units, $200,000 for school nursing services, and $3 million for programs with students with high abilities.  In the 1998-1999 fiscal year, the state will provide nearly $744 million in general funds for state aid to education; an increase of more than $143 million over the previous year.6

Governor Nelson said his administration "addressed the demand for property tax relief" by adding a spending lid to the levy limits enacted in 1996, referring to LB 299 (1996), the companion bill to LB 1114 (1996).7

The Governor was careful not to directly attack the merits of the Wickersham amendment to LB 1175, especially with the senator present at the hearing.  He referred only briefly to the amendment saying, "A debate over the more controversial school funding issues for the future can and, I'm sure, will be dealt with at a later date."8  The important thing, he said, was to take on the pressing issues within LB 1 and, specifically, to remove "the uncertainty regarding reimbursement for special education."9

LB 1 mirrored LB 1175 in that it repealed several existing sections of law that would have otherwise eliminated the existing special education cost reimbursement system.  The sunset date of the special education funding formula was August 31, 1999, but it was believed that waiting until the 1999 Session would have left school officials in limbo as to funding expectations and budgeting.

Also testifying was Steve Milliken, Special Services Director for Westside Community Schools.  Milliken spoke on behalf of the Nebraska Association of Special Education Supervisors and said his association supports the continuation of the existing funding formula as a means of funding special education programs.  Said Milliken:

Although the current funding formula is not a perfect system, it's a system which we believe has not only guaranteed that students with special needs become identified, but also assisted the state in providing quality services which we believe to be some of the best supports in the nation for students with disabilities.10

Milliken and other testifiers wanted assurances that the Legislature would not re-evaluate its decision to maintain the existing system.  But the Education Committee and the Legislature as a whole had no intention of taking on new substantive issues in this particular special session.

LB 1 was advanced from committee the very day of the hearing on a unanimous 8-0 vote.11  The bill then proceeded to advance and ultimately pass by unanimous votes throughout the legislative process.  Governor Nelson signed the bill into law and the controversy was put to rest, at least for 1998, but the issue of fully funding the state aid formula would not disappear for very long.  In fact, Senator Wickersham would take up the mantle of full funding once again during the 1999 Legislative Session.

Table 110.  Summary of Modifications to TEEOSA
as per LB 1 (1998 Special Session)

Click to view file

Source:  Legislative Bill 1, Slip Law, Nebraska Legislature, 95th Leg., 1st Spec. Sess., 1998, §§ 15-36, pp. 9-26.

1 Id., 13 May 1998, 2.
2 Neb. Const. art. IV, § 8.
3 Neb. Legis. Journal, 13 May 1998, 2.
4 Legislative Bill 1 (1998), Change provisions related to education, sponsored by Sen. Ardyce Bohlke, req. of Gov., Nebraska Legislature, 95th Leg., 1st Spec. Sess., 1998, title first read 13 May 1998.
5 Committee on Education, Hearing Transcripts, LB 1 (1998), Nebraska Legislature, 95th Leg., 1st Spec. Sess., 1998, 14 May 1998, 49.
6 Id.
7 Id.
8 Id.
9 Id.
10 Id., 58.
11 Committee on Education, Committee Statement, LB 1 (1998), Nebraska Legislature, 95th Leg., 1st Spec. Sess., 1998, 14 May 1998, 1.


























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