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Just under five hundred bills and legislative resolutions were introduced during this legislative session. Bill introduction is limited to the first ten days of a legislative session. The Legislature is currently in the process of conducting public hearings on every piece of legislation that was introduced.
Chief Justice Michael Heavican presented his 11th State of the Judiciary to the Legislature this past week. He spoke of problem-solving courts, noting that Nebraska has two new Veterans Treatment Courts. Veterans courts are designed to give persons who have served in the armed forces, and may have substance abuse or mental health issues that contributed to their criminal behavior, a second chance, by utilizing intensive judicial and probation supervision and trained veteran mentors. The other problem-solving courts are primarily drug courts. The participants must overcome addictions and commit to rehabilitate themselves. Every problem-solving court participant is one less person incarcerated.
Chief Justice Heavican mentioned that they were beginning implementation of reentry courts, to provide additional supervision to individuals returning to society from incarceration or post-release supervision. He also noted that there has been an increase of approximately 1,400 individuals in the adult probation program over the last two years, indicating that both judges and probation officers are doing their part to implement the directives from the Legislature regarding Justice Reinvestment. He was pleased to announce that the recidivism rate for all adult probationers was approximately 15%, which is a very good number based on adult probation national standards. The Chief Justice emphasized that there is a large demand for increased probation services and specialty courts, particularly to address mental health issues, which saves money in the long run. However, he noted that with the budget shortfall facing the Legislature, it will be difficult to attain additional funding.
I introduced four bills this year. LB 745 deals with sales tax refunds in situations where sales taxes have been overpaid or should not have been paid. The legislation focuses on local option sales tax refunds of at least $5,000. It requires the Department of Revenue to notify the affected city or county within 20 days of receiving the claim and to give them the option of having such refund deducted from their tax proceeds in either a lump sum or in 12 monthly installments. This will allow cities and counties to better plan for such occurrence. I have worked with Nebraska City and the League of Nebraska Municipalities on this legislation.
Currently there is no formal process for naming sites or structures in the capitol, on the capitol grounds, or within the capitol environs. LB 746 authorizes the Nebraska Capitol Commission to take on this responsibility. The members of the Nebraska Capitol Commission include the Governor, the Speaker of the Legislature, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the dean of the College of Architecture, the director of the State Historical Society, and three other members appointed from each congressional district.
I introduced LB 861 in an effort to help Johnson County taxpayers with expenses arising from incidents occurring at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. Under the legislation, if a county’s costs for prosecution stemming from a single incident at a correctional institution exceed 2 ½ cents per $100 dollars of taxable valuation of property subject to the levy, such costs in excess would be paid by the State of Nebraska.
Finally, LB 980 would allow for over width permits, not to exceed 12 feet, on the Interstate in order to haul hay bales. Surrounding states allow for such permits and in working with the Nebraska Department of Transportation, I have found that they are not opposed to this. A public hearing date has been set for January 30, before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
The Executive Board, of which I serve as chair, introduced LB 744 and has scheduled a public hearing for January 22. The purpose of this legislation is to clarify existing procedure for election contests and qualification challenges to a seat of a member of the Legislature. The legislation codifies what is in rule regarding election contests and qualification challenges.
As public hearings get into full swing, I encourage you to inform me of your opinions on the legislation. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.