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The first session of the One Hundred Fourth Legislature came to an end on May 29. While I am disappointed my priority bill (LB 357) to reduce taxes for families and businesses did not make it to the floor for debate, I am pleased major transportation-related issues were tackled.
Most importantly, the Legislature approved a bill guaranteeing funds for our transportation infrastructure. As the chairperson of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, I am keenly aware of the immediate necessity to address over $10 billion in highway needs and to repair nearly 3,000 structurally deficient bridges. I introduced LB 610 to incrementally increase the gas tax by 6 cents over a four-year period. Federal highway funds are becoming unreliable and our state gas tax rate has remained flat for over 20 years, not keeping up with inflation.
Our transportation infrastructure is integral to keeping and attracting businesses to grow our state’s economy. I believe the most appropriate way to ensure we have adequate funding is to tax those who use our roads, including those who travel through the state. Without the fuel tax, the only funding options are either increasing property taxes or diverting General Fund dollars from other government services, such as education and Medicaid.
Another significant transportation bill was LB 629, which regulates ride-sharing operations. In the past few years, transportation network companies have been cropping up across the world and have proven to be a popular transportation option. Uber and Lyft both began operating in Nebraska over a year ago, despite not having authorization to operate in the state. While I generally support the free market principle of limited government, it became clear from other states’ experiences some sort of regulatory oversight was necessary to protect the public who use the service, as well as the drivers who provide the rides. After long and often-contentious negotiations, all interested stakeholders agreed to the provisions of LB 629, including requirements for vehicle inspections, background checks and liability insurance.
Finally, LB 623 was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Legislature to allow drivers licenses for immigrants who qualify under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Prior to the Legislature’s action, Nebraska was the ONLY state that denied licenses to DACA grantees. We were in danger of becoming uncompetitive in the global market by obstructing a significant portion of our workforce. LB 623 had the backing of large array of groups, including the State Chamber of Commerce, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Cattlemen.
While it was a great accomplishment get these critical matters addressed, many important transportation issues remain for the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Over the legislative interim, the committee will be conducting a comprehensive study of our roads system, which will include an examination of our funding sources, allocation and use of those funds by local governments and the structure and efficiency of the Nebraska Department of Roads. The study will include public hearings throughout the state.
Though the Legislature is not in session again until January 2016, my office remains open year-round, and I encourage you to contact me at (402) 471-2730 if you have any questions or concerns regarding your state government.