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.