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.