An attempt Monday by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld to attach an amendment to a housing bill that would put a moratorium on evictions during a public health emergency such as COVID-19 failed on a largely partisan vote.
The housing bill (LB866), up for debate for the first time, was introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne. It would require Omaha, Lincoln and other cities of a certain size to report to the Legislature regarding efforts to address availability and incentives for affordable housing.
Cities with populations of more than 50,000 would have to adopt an affordable housing action plan.
Morfeld's amendment would ensure Nebraskans have homes during times of crisis, such as a pandemic. COVID-19 has placed many people at risk of losing their homes, he said.
"And if you don't think this is a problem," he said, "just after the governor's moratorium (on evictions) ended, in Lancaster County alone, there were 64 evictions."
The amendment would also protect a landlord from being foreclosed upon during the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, Morfeld said, Nebraska faced a severe shortage of affordable housing. As of 2018, Nebraska had a shortage of 67,130 affordable and available rental units. And when there's a shortage, he said, renters are forced to pay more of their income on housing.
Since the pandemic began, many people have lost their jobs or been furloughed.
Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood challenged the germaneness of Morfeld's amendment because it was a new subject not covered by the bill and had not had a public hearing.
Morfeld said Wayne's bill deals with housing needs, as does his amendment, to assure affordable housing is accessible and to help keep people in their homes. It is responsive to the pandemic and follows a natural and logical sequence to the bill, which is required by the rules of the Legislature for germaneness.
When Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, who was sitting in the president of the Legislature's chair, ruled the amendment not germane, Morfeld challenged the ruling, saying nothing is more important during a pandemic than a person being secure in their home. A lot of considerations and bills must be addressed in the next two weeks, he added, but if people don't have a roof over their heads, everything senators do is inconsequential.
The challenge failed on a 30-19 vote.
Senators recessed for lunch before voting on Wayne's bill and did not immediately return to it Monday afternoon.
Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt said after the vote she supported the amendment as a direct response to constituents who have reached out to her daily during the pandemic, asking to protect them from homelessness during the biggest public health crisis of their lifetimes.
"This was a common-sense response to a need that so many Nebraskans have told us is clearly important to them," she said.
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