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The Appropriations Committee presented their Preliminary Budget Report to the Legislature this past week. Basically, it contains the Governor’s proposed changes for the current biennium, primarily composed of a 2% and 4% across the board reduction to the current biennial budget in order to address the $173 million budget shortfall. The committee is in the process of hearing testimony on the impacts and ramifications of these reductions, prior to making any final decisions.
The Nebraska Economic Advisory Board will meet on February 28 to review the existing forecast, based on the impacts of the federal tax changes, as well as any changes due to economic conditions and revenue performance. By the 1st of March, the Appropriations Committee will finalize their budget proposal, using the input obtained from the budget hearings and any updated revenue forecasts from the Advisory Board.
The public hearing was held this past week before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on LB 1009, which proposes to increase the maximum speed limit on various highways.
The bill was introduced by Senator John Murante and was brought to him by the director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation. At the public hearing, the director of the NDOT explained that in 2015, the State Highway Commission asked the department to begin an examination of the speed limits on 2-lane state highways that were posted at 60 miles per hour. The department gathered information on approximately 4,000 miles and found that 75% of the study locations recommended an increase from 60-65 mph based on driver expectations and actual usage. Furthermore, the department annually conducts speed studies on segments of expressways, freeways, and the Interstate.
The director explained that doing these studies on a segment-by-segment basis is rather inefficient when many of the roads being examined are fundamentally the same when it comes to an engineering and design perspective, yet some are posted at 60 mph and others at 65 mph. Therefore, LB 1009 was introduced to bring consistency and uniformity to the system.
The proposal is supported by the 85th Percentile Principle. Under this method, engineers monitor the speed of traffic and consider the speed at or below what 85 percent of vehicles travel as a proper speed, while also taking into consideration traffic volumes, roadway geometry, existing traffic control devices and crash data.
Although LB 1009 allows the department to raise the speed limit from 75 to 80 mph on the Interstate, this change would only be made if the results of an engineering study deem it appropriate. Such study has not been completed at this time.
Opponents stressed that speed is a factor in an increased number of accidents and the severity of accidents. Safety advocates testified that research has shown that fatalities increase by 4% on highways and 8% on Interstates and freeways for each 5 mph increase in the speed limit. Representatives of the trucking industry noted that it takes a loaded semi two football fields to stop at 65 mph. It was estimated that if the speed limit were to increase by 5 mph on the Interstate, a commuter from Lincoln to Omaha would save approximately 2 minutes.
In his budget recommendations contained in LB 944, Governor Ricketts revised the distribution of federal Title X healthcare funding to prevent the use of taxpayer dollars for abortions and abortion-related services. Although the restriction on taxpayers’ dollars being used to fund abortions is already in law, the governor’s proposal would also prevent a provider from receiving Title X funding if they refer or provide directive counsel for abortions.
The public hearing lasted almost 7 hours, with testimony heard from those in support and in opposition to the revision. Title X funds are used to pay for contraceptives, cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and related services for lower income men and women. Although some said that clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, could still be eligible for Title X funds, others questioned this, as Title X clinics are required to provide abortion information when requested, which could jeopardize their funding. More than 55,000 people visited Title X clinics in 2016 and opponents worried that if such clinics closed, other providers may not be available to offer such services.
As the Legislature proceeds with floor debate in the mornings and public hearings in the afternoons, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the legislation before us. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My telephone number is (402) 471-2733 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.