January 8th, 2014

Thank you for visiting my website. I am honored to be your State Senator representing District 30 in the Nebraska Legislature.

My doors are always open and I encourage you to contact me with concerns you may have or any pending legislation.

My staff in the Capitol office look forward to hearing from you and assisting you. Please feel free to contact me using the information to the right.


Norm Wallman

Wallman’s bill aims to keep children fed

March 2nd, 2012

February, 2012

This year I introduced and prioritized LB 1090. It would provide grants for the Summer Food Service Program. This bill would help children access nutritious foods during the summertime when they are susceptible to hunger. In Nebraska, 20.7% of the children can’t always count on their next meal. The Summer Food Service Program is a federally funded USDA program. Unfortunately, barriers such as the ability to purchase refrigerators, dishwashers and information to families, prohibit school districts and nonprofit organizations from serving the meals. LB 1090 would provide a modest, one-time grant to programs in high-need areas of Nebraska, with a preference to programs using educational and/or physical enrichment activities. Since I prioritized this bill, it will be considered ahead of other bills.

LR 365 was recently adopted by a 40-0 vote. It provides for the continuation of the Developmental Disabilities Special Investigative Committee. The resolution would extend jurisdiction for one year

A series of tax relief proposals were heard before the Revenue Committee. One measure, introduced by Senator Nordquist would exempt Social Security benefits from being taxed. Nebraska is one of only five states that tax Social Security benefits; however the other four exclude the portion that is paid to the federal government. Another proposal came from Senator Mello. It would give homeowners approximately $76 million in property tax relief through an exemption on the first $8,000 of a home’s value. He said the tax cut would deliver between $150 and $160 in property tax relief to the average Nebraska homeowner. A third bill, introduced by Senator Wightman, would increase exemptions for the state’s inheritance tax and lower the rates over time. The senator said his measure would give counties time to adjust their budgets gradually, following cuts in state aid last year. Lastly, Senator Heidemann’s bill, LB 1061 would slow the increase in property taxes paid by farmers and ranchers. Heidemann said ag producers are paying an unfair share of the cost of K-12 education through property taxes, which have increased 54 percent in the past five years.

Companies looking to build a large data center could receive tax incentives to locate in Nebraska under a bill that advanced from select file recently. Under LB 1118, introduced by Senator Cornett, a company investing at least $300 million in qualified property for the purpose of building a data center would qualify for the incentives. They must also create 30 or more new jobs. On the floor, Senator Cornett emphasized the importance of the Nebraska incentives and stated our neighboring states have more attractive plans. Other senators mentioned the need to remain competitive as the data storage industry grows. I agreed that this bill could improve our state’s economic development in the future and voted with the majority. Many people want to settle in small, safe communities with good schools and the data centers are ideally suited for rural Nebraska.

We gave second round approval to Senator Avery’s proposed constitutional amendment (LR19CA) that would allow impeachment of a public officeholder for any misdemeanor alleged to have been committed to attain office. Currently the Constitution only allows for impeachment for misconduct while in office. As you may recall, David Hergert ran for the Board of Regents in 2004 and was impeached by the Legislature in 2006 for breaking campaign finance laws to win the 2004 election. Hergert was found guilty on two of 10 counts, false reporting and obstructing government operations. Under state law candidates had voluntary spending caps of $25,000 for the primary and $50,000 overall. Candidates who agreed to abide by the limits qualified for public funds if their opponents exceeded the cap. Candidates who did not abide by the caps had to estimate what they would spend and inform the state Accountability and Disclosure Commission when they reached 40% of that total in order to trigger the release of matching funds. Hergert did not agree to the cap and spent $65,000 in the primary, thus qualifying his opponent for $40,000 in public funds. Hergert then estimated that he would spend $40,000 for the general election but exceeded the cap and didn’t notify the commission by the deadline. That deprived his opponent $15,000 in matching funds in the closing days of the campaign. Hergert spent much of his money advertising that attacked his opponent, who won the primary by 18 percentage points but lost by 11 percentage points in the general. After the election, Hergert reported spending nearly $90,000 on his campaign, more than twice his estimate. Senator Avery’s measure faces one more round of consideration. If it passes, it will be placed on the ballot for Nebraska voters to consider.

Wallman supports Education Committee bill

March 2nd, 2012

February, 2012

The Legislature is in its 6th week of business. We will continue floor debate in the morning and then hearings in the afternoon. All day floor debate begins on February 27 after committee hearing completion.

Senator Greg Adams, the Education Chairman introduced LB 946. Under it, Nebraska’s six community colleges would receive funding based on a new formula. After three years of negotiations Adams explained on the floor how state aid would be divided among them. A point of contention between Omaha’s Metropolitan Community College and its counterparts said it subsidizes smaller colleges with money from Metro, which has more students and provides larger economic benefits for the state. According to Senator Adams, his bill would make it easier for the colleges to predict how much they would receive each year based on the proportionate share of aid received. All six colleges supported the compromise and we advanced the bill on a 40-1 vote.

Another bill I supported, LB 677, was advanced from general file. It would extend minimum sentences for persons convicted of assault on a health care professional while the health care provider is engaged in his or her official duties and would serve a mandatory minimum sentence of six months imprisonment for third degree assault, one year imprisonment for second degree assault and two years for first degree assault. Health providers work in unique environments where many patients and family members are coping with stressful issues that can cause people to become violent. More than 2,000 assaults were reported by registered nurses in 2009.

The Governor asked Senator Cornett to introduce LB 970 on his behalf. It would reduce income taxes and eliminate the inheritance tax. In 2007, Nebraska repealed the estate tax, which was imposed upon a person’s assets after his or her death. The remaining inheritance tax is imposed on beneficiaries of those assets. The executive director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials said the mandates placed on county governments by the Legislature are unrealistic if tax revenues continue to decrease, given the cut in state aid to counties in 2011. If the county loses this revenue and continues to provide state-mandated services, there would be no option but to increase property tax by 8 to 11 percent. With a projected budget shortfall in 2013-15 of $346.7 million, I question whether this is something we should do, especially if counties are forced to raise property taxes. The bill remains in the Revenue Committee.

Another proposal the Governor wants, LB 971, is to merge the Department of Economic Development and Labor Department into one agency and name Labor Commissioner Catherine Lang as the new head of economic development. He stated the two agencies complement each other and by July 1, the Labor Department staff would be absorbed into economic development. An amendment to LB 971 would require a strategic plan, consultation with people in the workforce and economic development, identify the main purpose of each program and benchmarks for improvement. It would also transfer safety inspectors to the state fire marshal’s office. The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee took no immediate action.

The Performance Audit Committee has agreed to audit the NE Department of Roads to examine how they select, prioritize and fund highway projects. There has been a lot of discussion and questions about the agency. With the passage last year of a funding bill that earmarks a quarter of 1 cent of the 5 ½ cent state sales tax to roads that could bring in $60-$65 million annually, it is only prudent to examine how the department is operating before the collection of dollars begin in 2013. With the audit, there is a chance to look more at the effectiveness of the operation and a comparative analysis of how other states use their road funding dollars. It has been 14 years since an audit has been done.

Legislature moves forward

March 2nd, 2012

January, 2012

As we proceed into our second session of the 102nd Legislature, we’ve begun our committee process during the afternoon hours while debating carryover bills from the 2011year. A bill I introduced last year came up before the Legislature for debate and we gave first-round approval that would make it illegal to bring contraband items, such as cigarettes, cell phones, a hacksaw blade, or a handcuff key into county jails. LB 415 would give officials more leverage to keep jails safe. It would allow prosecutors to charge anyone introducing any sort of contraband with a misdemeanor that would carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail or a $1000 fine. An amendment was added to the bill that would require sheriffs to list all prohibited items on a sign so all visitors could see. Lt. Amber Mulbery, the Gage County jail director, brought this matter to my attention after a female inmate sneaked a cellphone into the jail after she was arrested. On a subsequent strip search, a vial of urine was found, which the woman planned to use to cheat on a drug test. No one spoke against this legislation and I anticipate it passing.

Governor Heineman delivered his State of the State address stating his top priority this year should be tax relief for middle-class Nebraskans. He also cited the Nebraska Advantage program and other tax reforms as important incentives to businesses and families to locate in Nebraska. Although Nebraska’s net tax receipts grew by $349 million in 2011, we have demands staring us in the face for state dollars, including the stability to our child welfare system, K-12 education, new highways and the University of Nebraska. Additionally, as I mentioned in my last article, the Legislature’s fiscal analysts pointed out a 2013-15 projected budget shortfall of $346.7 million. There is much to be decided this session as to how we want to move forward with our priorities so many.

There were 468 bills introduced this year, along with six proposed constitutional amendments. I introduced five new bills including:

1. LB 876- require each mammogram report to include information about the woman breast density
2. LB 877- require disclosure of hydraulic fracturing treatment information
3. LB 878- change public election calendar, vacancy ballet and county machine provisions-this is a cleanup bill for the Secretary of State’s office
4. LB 906- change death benefits under the NE Workers’ Compensation Act
5. LB 1090- provide for the awarding of grants and the distribution of information relating to the Summer Food Service Program by the State Department of Education
As these bills move through the process I will write more about them.

Lastly, the Legislature has debated a proposal for several mornings that would reduce state regulations on political robocalls. As you may recall, regulations were put in place in 2008 after robocalls were used during campaigns. Some people received up to 20 automated calls per day using an unauthorized greeting in an effort to alienate voters. There were endeavors to trace the origins but they were unsuccessful. LB418, introduced by Senator Nelson would strip oversight by the Public Service Commission and leave it with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission and do away with a requirement that robocall sponsors submit a script within 24 hours of placing a call. Some senators argued that such a requirement was an unconstitutional infringement on free speech, while others, like myself, felt it was a “consumer protection bill” that holds people accountable if using questionable tactics or partisan operatives posing as educational, non-advocacy groups. After 8 hours of discussion, we failed to get a cloture vote, which takes 33 votes, and most likely, the bill is banished for the remainder of the session.

Session 2012

March 2nd, 2012

January, 2012

Greetings to all of you as we begin our 2012 year and this second session of the 102nd Nebraska Legislature. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the state’s first unicameral legislature. Among our major priorities expected to dominate this session are:
1. The Health and Human Services Committee made 18 recommendations for child welfare reform, including returning case management to the state, creating a separate Department of Children’s Services, establishing a Children’s Commission to oversee child welfare and having an inspector general to investigate child welfare issues.
2. Health insurance exchange planning to help people and small businesses buy affordable private health insurance. They are meant to offer a choice of insurance plans and establish common rules. States have until 2014 to create their own exchanges or have the federal government do it for them.
3. Proposed merger of the Economic Development and Labor Departments.
4. Several bills dealing with job creation and building the state’s economy.
5. Constitutional amendment to allow senators to serve three terms instead of two four-year terms.
However, as I have stated many times before, the state budget is always a concern and I know we will be watching the forecasting board with their economic predictions. According to the Legislature’s fiscal analysts, the state could have extra money in 2012-2013 but showed a projected budget shortfall in 2013-15 of $346.7 million. That statistic will be on the minds of us all as we decide whether Nebraska should spend more money on issues important to us or remain cautious.

New bills are introduced for the first 10 legislative days, or until January 19 but floor debate on bills carried over from 2011 began on January 10. Live coverage of the legislative session is provided at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov, where citizens may also find information about bills, the legislative calendar and Nebraska state senators. Committee hearings are scheduled to begin on January 17 and will continue through February. I will again sit on the Agriculture and Business and Labor Committees but have moved from the Health and Human Services Committee to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs. Jeni Bohlmeyer, who lives near Adams, continues to serve as my Legislative Aide and Beth Otto from Lincoln, serves as my Administrative Assistant. Please feel free to call my office if you have questions at (402) 471-2620 or stop by the Capitol in room 1406.

This past October, my Legislative Aide, Jeni Bohlmeyer spoke at the 10th annual breast cancer awareness event where their goals are to raise awareness, educate men and women, and to encourage regular health check-ups. Jeni spoke about LB 876 that I introduced this year regarding “patient notification” for women with dense breast tissue. These women might benefit from supplementary screening tests, including an ultrasound, MRI or both, depending on individual risk factors and makes it a requirement that their breast density information be reported. One of the strongest known risk factor for breast cancer is high breast density where mammograms may be less effective. I currently have 25 co-sponsors for the bill and will be writing more about this issue as it goes through the legislative process.

Another bill of mine, LB415 that I introduced last session, will be on the agenda this week. This bill makes it a Class I misdemeanor to unlawfully possess or provide to a prisoner in jail contraband, like cigarettes, money, lighters, matches and cell phones. While these are legal items to possess when an individual is not in jail, possession within the prison can make it difficult to safely manage the jail. A committee amendment was added that a list of all items considered contraband be openly posted for all visitors to see.

For you information, several bills passed by the Legislature last year have already taken place but there are several that went into effect January 1. Among them are laws that will increase the tracking of chemicals used to make methamphetamine, allow low-speed vehicles on Nebraska streets with a posted speed limit of 35mph or less, changes in how the state treats drunken drivers with the use of vehicle interlock devices, and higher park entry fees. Annual resident permits for state parks and recreation areas will go from $20 to $25 per car and nonresident permits from $25 to $30. Temporary permits will increase by $1 each.

Bill Debates

February 22nd, 2011

There were 698 bills and 51 constitutional amendments introduced during the first 10 days of this 90 day legislative session.  I remain on the Agriculture, where I was elected Vice Chairman, Business and Labor, and Health and Human Services Committees.  We now have floor debate in the morning and hearings in the afternoons until mid March.  This past week’s snow storm created hazardous travel conditions for all Nebraskans but with the prompt snow removal by the Department of Roads, not one legislative day was cancelled.  I drove Highway 77 from Cortland to Lincoln with no problems and am very appreciative of the long hours and intensive work provided so the rest of us can reach our destinations. 

 One of the first bills heard before the Health and Human Services Committee was LB68 that would add certified nurse midwives to the list of practitioners who cannot be denied clinical privileges based on their credentials by any hospital licensed under the Health Care Facility Licensure Act.  Certified nurse midwives who have a practice agreement with a supervising physician may practice midwifery at the physician’s office or facility where they have been granted privileges.  However, there seems to be cases where midwives have been denied privileges at hospitals for no other reason than belonging to the category of certified nurse midwife.  The demand for midwives is continuing to grow, not only in Nebraska, but many states in our country.  I was born at home and think this law will help Nebraskans access the kind of care they want. In Committee, I made the motion to advance the bill to general file with a 6-0 vote and the entire body moved LB 68 on the first round of debate with a 40-0 vote.

In 1997, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and the Department of Interior formed a unique partnership with the goal of managing the Platte River. Water users from the three states and local and national conservation groups joined the effort. Together, they developed an approach for improving the management of the Platte — for the health of the ecosystem and the people that depend on it.  This year Senator Fischer introduced LB 229 that would divert $7 million (half the lottery profits) annually from the NE Environmental Trust Fund for 10 years toward the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, which is estimated to cost the state about $53 to $100 million through 2018-19.  However, a constitutional amendment that passed by Nebraska voters in 1992 called for lottery proceeds to be spent on education and the environment, and in 2004, voters modified the original setup by designating 44.5% for education, 10% for the Nebraska State Fair and the remainder for compulsive gamblers.  I am concerned there could be legal action taken with the passage of this bill.  

 Other bills introduced this session that are of interest include:

 LB 493 – Senator Pahls introduced this bill that will keep children on health insurance policies until age 26.

LB 554 – Senator Harms’s bill prohibits open containers of alcohol in or on a vessel, motorboat, or personal watercraft.

LB 508 – Senator Bloomfield introduced this bill that says convicted sex offenders could not live within 500 feet of a park.

LB 199 – Senator Dubas’s bill is aimed at ensuring that foster parents are paid sufficiently to cover basic needs.

LB 521 – Senator Fulton’s bill would block Nebraska abortion providers from duplicating an Iowa program that makes drug induced abortions available in rural areas.

LB 123 – Senator Heidemann’s measure would allow schools to discipline students cyber-bullying.

LB 438 – Senator Howard’s bill would increase fines for those parked illegally in a handicapped parking space.

LB 428 – Senator Cornett’s bill would adopt the Ag Tax Credit Act to Nebraska farmers and ranchers where property tax payments are deemed too great for the income they receive.

LB 565 – Senator Ashford wants secure storage of firearms and notice of such requirement by retailers upon sale and creates the offense of improper storage of a firearm.

LB 569 – Senator Coash’s measure would require employers to e-verify the immigration status of new employees.

There were a few measures introduced dealing with drunken driving that imposes tougher DUI penalties, requiring ignition interlocks and making bars legally liable when they serve intoxicated patrons.   I think some of these bills are due to three high-profile cases in Omaha last fall where innocent people were killed by drunken drivers.  LB625 would mandate that drunken drivers have their licenses revoked and require judges to order them to use interlocks while LB 693 would make bars liable for damages caused by drunken patrons they serve.  LB 675 would double the fines for drunken driving convictions and LB 659 would make it a crime to drive after using a controlled substance.

 Several bills were introduced the last day of bill introduction ranging from eliminating the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations, which resolves labor disputes between public employees unions and state or local governments, to curbing its powers.  There have been ongoing talks aimed at developing a compromise and Senator Lathrop, the Business and Labor Chairman, introduced LB 397 to serve as a vehicle to that reform.  The Committee will make our decisions to best resolve their differences after hearing all the bills in this area that come before us.

Back to Work

January 10th, 2011

Our 90 day legislative session began on January 5th with 135 bills introduced and 11 resolutions, including four proposed constitutional amendments.  The constitutional amendments address county government, highway bonds, reducing the maximum number of days for regular legislative sessions, and horticultural land valuations.  With several controversial issues pending, like privatization of the state’s child welfare services or enacting tough, but potentially unconstitutional, measures to identify illegal immigrants, the overwhelming issue this year is our looming multi-million dollar budget gap.  In a brief inaugural address to the Legislature, the Governor stated entire programs and a variety of other programs are expected to be slashed or eliminated to handle our budget woes. The state has cut spending for the past couple of years and still needs to find ways for operating efficiencies; however, we also need innovative thinking of how state services are delivered.  One suggested idea is speeding up the parole of hundreds of short-term state prison inmates, allowing us to close entire wings of state prisons.  It costs five to 10 times more to house an inmate than to supervise one on parole.

This year we have another major challenge of redistricting based on the 2010 Census, something most of us have not faced before due to term limits.  Besides approving new districts for state senators, we will draw new district lines for the state’s three US congressmen, districts for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, Nebraska Supreme Court, Public Service Commission and State Board of Education.  How a district is drawn can influence who is elected.  A more personal job for senators is the redrawing of our own legislative districts.  Due to population numbers, redistricting has moved legislative seats from the rural areas to the eastern part of the state and colleagues come up short by losing the district they represent and know.  I anticipate the same impact again and fearful rural Nebraska could lose two senators to the more populated areas.

The Nebraska Legislature has its official site, www.nebraskalegislature.gov for you to view live coverage of floor activity and public hearings.  At this site you can also find introduced legislation, search statutes, etc.  By selecting the website on the left side menu under senators, you will have a better understanding of my committee assignments, the bills we carry, and status of the bills.  I encourage you to take advantage of this service.  If you are interested in the Unicameral Update on line, a news source produced by the Clerk of the Legislature’s Unicameral Office, the news link at the left side of the website will allow you to subscribe to that.  However, if you prefer to have it mailed to you weekly, you may subscribe to the print version at no cost by contacting the Unicameral Information Office by phone at (402) 471-2788.

I will continue to sit on the Agriculture, Business and Labor, and Health and Human Services Committees.  Jeni Bohlmeyer, my experienced Legislative Aide who lives near Adams, came on board with me when I started four years ago.  My Administrative Assistant, Beth Otto from Lincoln, has been with me for 2 years but has worked at the Legislature for several years.  Please feel free to call my office if you have questions at (402) 471-2620 or stop by the Capitol in room 1406.

No rest in Legislature

September 16th, 2010

The Governor signed legislation in 2006 to create a state veterans cemetery system to honor the service that Nebraskans offered to their country.  In August I attended the dedication of the first state veterans’ cemetery in Alliance.  The land used was once an Army Airbase during World War II where many memories and structures still exist.  Other state cemeteries will follow for Nebraskan veterans, their spouse and dependent children.

 Nebraska ended the last fiscal year on June 30 with revenues falling more than $76 million below forecast.  The July tax figures pushed the shortfall to more than $95 million.  Both sales taxes and individual income taxes came in below the expectations.  However, according to Tax Commissioner Doug Ewald, both of those would have balanced out by higher than expected corporate income and miscellaneous taxes if not for an unexpected refund of nearly $19 million paid out under the state’s business tax incentive program to a single company.  With that information known to us, I think it wise to look at August and September revenues before deciding about a special session to deal with the shortfall.

 The Health and Human Services Committee, which I am a member, met the last week of August to hear what social service programs, not mandated by the federal government, might be cut to meet the 10% target suggested by Speaker Mike Flood.  I stress again that these cuts may or may not be items that can actually be endorsed at this time but need to be identified for reduction, consolidation or elimination to address the budget shortfall.  All committees have the grueling process of what possible legislation may be needed to address the shortfall of $751 million that requires statutory changes for the January 2011 session.

 Our legislative committee also met and gathered information on Nebraska’s efforts to improve its treatment of troubled children and their families.  Last fall, the Nebraska Health and Human Services contracted with five private child welfare agencies to care for children and families in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.  Six months after the contracts were signed, Cedars Youth Services and Visinet dropped out, citing they were losing too much money because of inadequate state payments.  HHS officials told us they are working closing with the three remaining providers, who are spending millions of their own dollars in an attempt to make it work and cover losses.   However, as we listened to testimony and asked questions, I wonder if they can hang on long enough before reforms are made.  We will meet again to hear from two groups representing families later this month.

 As of the middle of August, Nebraska and Wyoming are the only two states in the nation who have not applied for any money from the stimulus program called TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families) Emergency Funds.  There has been a disagreement of how much the state would receive.  According to Health and Human Services, the state could get about $6.34 million but others believe, according to federal document eligibilities, that amount could be as much as $28.7 million.  Whatever the dollar amount, when we know private companies are struggling and two have folded trying to treat needy families, I believe Nebraska should apply and understand we plan to apply.  It is frustrating, however, since the money was available back in April 2009 and missed opportunities are now in the past.

Town Hall meetings

March 1st, 2010

I am holding three townhalls within the next month.  I hope to see many of you to share my perspective of the 101st legislative session and also allow District #30 residents to ask questions they may have.  Dates and times are:

 Friday, February 26 at 8:30a.m. at the Beatrice Chamber Conference Room located at City Auditorium, 205 N. 4th, Beatrice, NE

Tuesday, March 2 at 7:00p.m. at Haven Manor Assisted Living, 730 Larkspur Drive, Hickman, NE

 Monday, March 15 at 7:00p.m. at Gold Crest Retirement Center, 200 Levi Lane, Adams, NE

Last week Senator Harms introduced LB 258, that would increase penalties for convicted teens by mandatory impoundment of their driving license for those 18 and younger for 30 days to a year, depending on the number of convictions, or he could delay a juvenile from getting a license.  After a couple hours of debate, Senator Karpisek introduced an amendment that leaves these decisions up to the judge.  I believe the amendment was a much better alternative, as it gives our judicial system the tools they need for making decisions with minors in possession of alcohol.

 Friday was our last day to prioritize a bill.  Each senator may select one bill, each committee may select two and the speaker may select up to 25 bills.  A priority bill is generally considered ahead of other bills in debate.  I chose LB 870 that changes the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act provisions relating to personal injuries.  Current law disallows workers’ compensation benefits for mental injuries suffered in the absence of corresponding physical trauma.  This bill would create a limited exception for first responders, either paid or volunteer, who only suffer mental injury.  The mental injury must be a result of extraordinary and unusual conditions as compared to the normal conditions of the employment.

 We were 3 votes short of the 25 needed to advance a constitutional amendment that would have allowed betting on horses in local taverns.  The amendment would have given Nebraskans the opportunity to vote whether they would allow off-track betting to financially supplement the horse racing industry, in addition to local approval of the idea in any city or county that wanted a satellite betting facility.  I supported the measure, as it would bring in an additional $6 million a year in revenue.  Horse race betting has declined since the arrival of casino gambling in Iowa but it does generate more than $29 million and provides about 2,500 jobs.  Since we continue to face challenges of the present economy, I didn’t feel this was the time to stop the amendment in its tracks.

Looking forward to 2010

January 22nd, 2010

On January 6th State Senators convened at the Capitol for the second session of the 101st Nebraska Legislature.  Since this year is an even-numbered year, it will consist of 60 working days and expected to end on April 14.  There were 290 bills carried over from last year and we began debate on them Monday, January 11th.   As you may recall, we held a special session last November and cut $336 million from our two-year budget.  Analysts predicted a slow economic recovery and said state governments would face budget difficulties even after the overall economy starts to rebound.  Unfortunately, that seemed to be the case, as tax receipts in December were almost 10 percent less than expected.  Most of us are looking at the bottom line and if there is a bill that has a fiscal note, which means the bill would cost money, we won’t be introducing it nor will bills on final reading from last year have an easy time passing this year.  However, we still have plenty of issues to debate this year that involve using little to none of the states general fund.  Among that list are:  water regulation, embryonic stem cell research, community college aid formula, wind energy, kindergarten entry age, juvenile justice system, self-defense laws and texting while driving. 


For more information you can go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov to watch live feed of the floor debate and legislative hearings.  You can also find information about state senators, bills, and the session calendar. 


On our first day of general file we heard Senator Cornett’s bill, LB 72.  It would require the Department of Education to establish guidelines for schools that have students’ with life-threatening allergies.  Although the bill included strategies to reduce exposure to allergens, I felt school districts could develop their own policies.  It was an unfunded mandate where responsibilities would fall on the classroom teacher who already has enough to do.  And lastly, it was a bill with a fiscal note attached with a onetime price tag of $46,000.  In the end, 27 of us voted against the bill on the first round of debate.


There are things Nebraska can do to help raise revenue.  We rank third in wind energy potential; however, laws need to be reworked to build up the new industry without damaging public power that focuses on keeping rates low rather than taking on the expense of generating power for other states.  Another obstacle involves the cost of building transmission lines.  Rural areas are usually the best places for wind farms but lack the extensive, heavy-duty transmission grid needed to carry electricity for out-of-state purchasers. Some want to build farms without a transmission grid in place and utilities that typically build the grids don’t want to risk construction where no generation facilities exist.   And lastly, there is the question of eminent domain, that is, who should have the ability to obtain property for construction without the owner’s cooperation and who should regulate the wind industry?  Nebraska has more hurdles to jump because public power utilities don’t qualify for major federal incentives to build wind farms; however, we need to show private developers that we are open for business.