The table has been set, it is time to fish or cut bait. You probably wonder just what the heck I am talking about. Well, here in the Nebraska Legislature we have just finished the first 10 days of the session. The importance of this date is that no more bills can be introduced for consideration this year. It seems that in each of my earlier years here we have had constituents and others contacting us to introduce legislation on one topic or another well past the time allowed for introductions and some have been quite unhappy to learn that the rules just don’t allow it. One of the unique things about our legislature, compared to other states, is that every bill introduced will have a public hearing. If we allowed unending bill introduction, I am afraid we could never finish the work we do here on an annual basis.
Following along with the above, we had 655 bills and 4 constitutional amendments introduced this year. You probably have read or heard about many of these ideas already. Judging from our e-mails and regular mail, there are many areas that are of interest to you and will be to me as well.
One bit of advice I have received and have tried to follow here is that I don’t get too involved in most of the issues unless they are advanced from the various committees to General File, for the first round of debate before the full legislative body. Obviously, my staff or myself continues to look over the multitude of bills before us and “monitor” their progress as many like to say. Naturally, I participate in the bills that I introduce, totaling 10 personal bills this year and several other committee bills from the Agriculture Committee for which I am responsible as well as the bills before the other committees to which I am assigned. Often, what a bill looks like today however, is nowhere near what comes out at the end of the session due to amendments, mergers with other bills, etc. I hesitate to “sign on” to certain pieces of legislation that I feel have a significant chance for change and I certainly don’t want to tell you that I support something and then watch it change or become a part of something else which I can’t support.
Also this past week we heard the first State of the State address given by Governor Ricketts. As with most speeches of this type, the hopes are many but the Legislature is a separate branch of government from the Governor so at this point we can only hope for consensus on most issues. The speech centered on several points that have had extensive media coverage as well as the cost for these programs and just the general cost of running the state. Remember, for the first time in many years, we have a trained businessman in the top spot with little to no political experience.
The governor, among several issues, proposed a two-year, 3.1 percent budget growth rate. He asked for $57 million in new money to be spent on prisons over a three year period. Following a theme he put forth during his campaign, he wants $400 million returned to the taxpayers from the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund and $120 million in property tax cuts. He included increases for state aid to schools, the University of Nebraska system as well as state colleges. Increases in provider rates for child welfare, developmental disabilities, federal Medicaid match money and over $17 million in reimbursement to the federal government for mistakes made in foster care payments. These ideas and others were presented while also promising no tax increases.
This all sounds ambitious at this point of the legislative session but I guess now we’ll see where the rubber meets the road.
Senator Jerry Johnson