When we get to the end of a legislative session, it becomes easy to look back and think of all of the things we should have done and there are even a few things we could have done differently however, here we are at the end not only of the session but of the biennium as well. As I have said in this column on occasion, what isn’t done by now is done. If not passed into law, the measure must be reintroduced next year or at some time in the future. While most ideas have appeared here in one form or another, shelf life for bills is very limited.
As I traveled not only the district this last year but around the state as well, a few topics were foremost on people’s minds. I spoke about taxes last week and in previous columns. We began some programs but quite honestly, we didn’t go far enough. Noting that it is now the tax filing deadline I can see that perhaps we need some work done on the state income tax laws. Property taxes were also high on the list of issues to fix and in particular agricultural land valuations. Various “fixes” were offered but nothing really of substance passed. Senator Hadley of the Revenue Committee has promised hearings over the summer and into the fall on this particular tax. I will attend as many of those hearings as I can. I fully anticipate these to be public in nature so if you can, call my office to find out the schedule.
Water was prominent but rather late this session. LB 1098 was offered and argued strenuously. The bill makes major investments in rural and metro water projects. There will be $11 million used annually from the General Fund for water sustainability projects. This is a huge increase from amounts taken currently. This first year this money will be coupled with a $20 million appropriation allowed by the Appropriations Committee. This combined amount will be used for projects including drinking water, irrigation, habitat conservation, flood control and recreation just to name a few. Lake Wanahoo will be a beneficiary of this money though the amount at this time is unclear. Omaha will receive $1 million annually to help with their federally mandated sewer renovation. This bill creates an expanded Natural Resources Commission to review applications for grants and to award the funds. This is major legislation that concerns what has been described as the issue of the decade, water supply and management.
Prison reform issues have become law. After the tragic serial killings last summer in Omaha, there were several unanswered questions about the accused and his incarceration and release along with the major overcrowding that we currently have in the system. Bills were introduced and passed to begin, and I stress the word begin, to address these issues. This will be an ongoing process for many years.
Veterans finally started to see some movement on legislation designed not only to help them but hopefully, keep them in our state as well. We passed laws allowing for certain tax exemptions, tuition assistance programs, modified homestead exemptions and military license plates. We owe those that have defended our country respect. Also, as I said, veterans have much to offer with the training they received in the military and since their discharge. We need to keep them around.
A bill that was defeated on Final Reading, LB 1092, was a bill I supported. This bill would have allowed the state to issue up to $200 million in bonds for road construction. The bonds would not have been allowed to be issued after June 30, 2017 and would require that bonds carry an interest rate no higher than 5%. We have always been a pay-as-you-go state meaning we wouldn’t bond to go into debt to do projects of any kind. That was the argument here. Do we allow bonding now at a time when construction bidding is proving favorable and interest rates are low or do we see how funds coming in from the Build Nebraska Act, passed three years ago, come in and get a bit of history to see if that money supply is sufficient. I am a conservative but I also promised to help complete road projects in District #23 such as the Highway 30 project east of Schuyler. I remain committed to this notion.
Next week will be the last regular column of the session. I will try to give you a few final observations and thoughts.
Senator Jerry Johnson