One of my jobs as Speaker is to set legislative recess days when the legislature will not be in session. Friday the 15th is only the second recess day of this session and the following Monday will also be a recess day. This four day weekend allows the senators to return to their district and spend some quality time with their families, work at their other job if need be, and attend functions in the district. Those of us who live closer have the luxury of making a quick trip home during the week to meet all of our obligations. However, those who live further must sacrifice that time in their district because of drive times. It also gives us a little breather in the midst of hearings and floor debate.
The recess day came at a very opportune time. An issue arose during debate regarding the setting of hearing schedules, hearing a bill already advanced out of committee, and another bill not being heard until much later. Senator Steve Lathrop of Omaha has a bill removing a sunset provision regarding Worker’s Compensation for first responders who seek mental health treatment for post traumatic stress disorder after a disturbing call. In the previous legislation, senators were concerned that there could be a tremendous increase in claims under this provision, and subsequently inserted a sunset clause on the law. LB 21 removes the sunset. Only one person has made a claim for PTSD worker’s compensation payment. The intent of the bill is not at issue, but the procedure of the hearing process is.
Senator Lautenbaugh, also of Omaha, has tried to get a number of worker’s compensation bills advanced from the Business and Labor committee, with little success. He filed a number of motions and amendments to LB 21 until his bills have had a public hearing which are scheduled toward the end of the hearing process. This can mean his bills may not have a chance for debate this session due to time constraints. Senator Lautenbaugh wants to hold up LB 21 until his bills have been heard by the committee.
The debate on Thursday focused on the powers of a committee chair to set hearing dates, bills with similar subject matter, overriding a committees process, and yes even some personality issues. The issue is unresolved and will resume on Tuesday when we reconvene.
Also heard this week was a bill I introduced before the Urban Affairs Committee. LR 29CA proposes to submit an amendment to the voters at the General Election in November, 2014, to amend Article VIII, Section 12 of the Nebraska Constitution. This Section authorizes cities and villages to use tax-increment financing (TIF) to rehabilitate and redevelop blighted and substandard property.
The amendment would: (1) replace the requirement that property be designated “substandard and blighted” with language stating that property must be “in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment,” and (2) extend the maximum length of time to repay TIF bonds from fifteen years to twenty years.
York, Stromsburg, Seward and other communities in my district, and statewide, have benefited from TIF. The words ‘blighted and substandard’ have a negative connotation. What a community who wants to use this tool is really trying to do is redevelop or rehabilitate those areas of a town which are struggling with revitalization. The changes to the constitutional language more appropriately describes what communities use TIF for and still reflects existing statutory language. LR 29CA was supported by the League of Municipalities, and a number of towns, including Lincoln, and Omaha. TIF helps communities of all sizes and LR 29CA simply makes the language clearer.