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The wind farm bill (LB104), by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, passed 38-2 and would would remove a barrier to the development and export of wind energy in Nebraska. It would offer tax incentives that could lead to Nebraska getting a $300 million to $400 million wind farm project by TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, Kan.
There is speculation that Gov. Dave Heineman might veto the measure because he says tax breaks should go to Nebraska taxpayers first. But he also supported a concept that was rolled into the measure that took away Omaha’s ability to raise its sales tax.
It takes 30 votes to override a veto.
Lawmakers rejected a second attempt by Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala to gut Lathrop’s bill and replace it with a version of another (LB402), by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, that would encourage more local ownership of renewable energy projects. It would have allowed a sales tax exemption on materials used in the projects, as long as a percentage of gross revenues went to Nebraska businesses or individuals. The exemptions would start at 10 percent for the first year, go to 15 percent the second year and 20 percent in the third year.
Some groups, such as the Nebraska Farmers Union and Center for Rural Affairs, have said they support LB402 because it would create more economic development in rural areas by requiring purchases from Nebraska to qualify for tax breaks. The Sierra Club supports both bills.
Schilz noted that because Nebraska is a public power state, TradeWind would be required to offer 10 percent of the power it generates to Nebraska utilities while shipping 90 percent out of state.
Nebraska lags in the production of wind energy. Iowa, for example, generates more than 11 times as much wind power as Nebraska — 5,137 megawatts to 459, according to the American Wind Energy Association. And Nebraska ranks last among its neighboring states.
Proponents of LB104 said the state needs to act now if it wants to develop its abundant wind resources, because a major wind-energy incentive — a federal production tax credit — is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
Lathrop’s bill would fall under the Nebraska Advantage Act, which took effect in 2006 and is meant to encourage companies to expand and create jobs by offering them tax incentives. To date, some 320 companies have applied for Nebraska Advantage credits and created 20,500 new jobs.
The measure would provide a sales tax exemption for the purchase of turbines, towers and other wind-farm components, which Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma have used to create a wind-energy boom. Meanwhile, Nebraska has lagged behind, ranking 26th of the 39 states that generate wind energy, despite having the fourth-best wind resources in the country.
The juvenile justice overhaul (LB561), by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, commits $14.5 million to help reorganize the juvenile justice system to focus on mental health treatment instead of punishment.
The mission of juvenile offender centers at Kearney and Geneva would change under the plan. Nebraska will be spending $44 million per year for juvenile justice services once the new system is up and running. Ashford said the bill emphasizes working with the families of juvenile offenders.
The $21 million spent each year at the youth treatment centers would go to the court system to help set up treatment programs.
Ashford’s bill will create an Office of Juvenile Assistance under the court system to oversee juvenile probation, a statewide expansion of the Nebraska Juvenile Service Delivery Project, coordination of work with local and national experts in the delivery of evidence-based services, the Office of Violence Prevention and the newly created Office of Juvenile Diversion Programs and Detention Alternatives.
The measure, co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Krist of Omaha and Kathy Campbell and Amanda McGill of Lincoln, passed 44-1.
Other bills passed Wednesday included:
* DESIGNER DRUGS: A bill (LB298) by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha to update laws passed two years ago aimed at compounds used to make synthetic drugs, such as K2 and bath salts. In what has turned into a game of leapfrog, the bill bans the newest generation of substances used to make so-called “designer” drugs. McCoy’s bill updates Nebraska’s Uniformed Controlled Substances Act to include third and fourth generation synthetic cannabinoids used to make the drug commonly known as K2 or Spice. It also would include synthetic phenethylamines used to make Blue Mystic, 7th Heaven and Smiles, and synthetic tryptamines commonly known as Foxy. The vote was 44-2.
* PUBLIC RECORDS: A bill (LB363) by Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln will help to ensure the public can access government records and data at a fair cost. The bill will close a loophole in the public records law that some public entities took advantage of to make public records so expensive to acquire that they, in effect, discouraged public access, Avery said. It says that a public agency or political subdivision can charge a fee for making copies of public records, but it can’t exceed the actual, reasonable cost of making the copies. No charge for searching, identifying and copying the records can be added to the cost until the time would go beyond four hours. And no charge can be added for legal review of the public records when seeking a reason to withhold the requested information. The vote was 44-0.
* EMPLOYMENT PILOT: A bill (LB368) by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue to create a subsidized employment pilot program for low-income Nebraskans that allows small businesses to grow, while minimizing risks involved in hiring new employees. The program would last four years, beginning July 1, 2014, and would subsidize employees at 100 percent the first two months, 75 percent in month three, 50 percent in months four and five and 25 percent in month six. The subsidy would end after the six months, with the hope that the employer would keep the recipient on the job after that. The vote was 34-7.
* ENLIGHTENED TERMINOLOGY: A bill (LB23) by Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney replaces the antiquated and pejorative term “mental retardation” with a more enlightened and contemporary expression “intellectual disability” in state laws. The amendment for the terminology change, offered by Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, became a part of LB23, which is intended to revise and improve the operation of the provider tax for intermediate care facilities for people with developmental disabilities. The vote was 46-0.
* FOSTER CARE: A bill (LB216) by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill would help support young people who age out of foster care up to age 21 with Medicaid, postsecondary education assistance, living expenses, placement in a foster home, institution or independent living; and continued case management to help access additional supports. The program would be voluntary, and eligibility limited to former state wards age 19 to 21, excluding those who entered the foster care system through the Office of Juvenile Services. Youth in foster care would receive information about the program at age 16. The program would not begin until the Department of Health and Human Services state plan amendment receives federal approval. If the state plan amendment is denied, a state-only version of the program would be implemented as a pilot project. The transition program would cost $2 million in state general funds over two years and $2.6 million in federal funds. The vote was 44-2.
* ALTERNATIVE MINIMUM TAX: A bill (LB308) by Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus eliminates the state’s alternative minimum tax. It also allows businesses to spread out their losses over 20 years on their state tax returns instead of the current five. The alternative minimum tax was created to make sure that people who invested in tax shelters paid at least a minimum amount of income tax. But Schumacher said that tax shelters are seldom used any longer and the tax, which was aimed at high-income earners, was affecting more middle-income earners. The vote was 48-0.
* CHILD CARE: A bill (LB507) by Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell would require quality standards for providers who get the largest share of state assistance money. It would require a five-step quality rating and improvement system for centers caring for children whose parents qualify for assistance. Other child care providers could participate voluntarily. The cost of the bill over the two-year budget would be $4.3 million. Income of those eligible to participate could not exceed 125 percent of the federal poverty level in 2013-14 and 130 percent of the poverty level in 2014-15. The vote was 42-1.
* CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH: A bill (LB556) by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill creates a pilot program to offer behavioral and mental health screenings to children, using computer technology to connect them remotely with mental health professionals. The program, to be run by the University of Nebraska Medical Center, would include three health clinics, with at least one in an urban area and one in a rural setting. Optional behavioral health screenings could be offered by physicians at the time of childhood physicals. The results of such behavioral health screenings and any related documents would not be included in the child’s school record or even provided to the school without the express consent of the child’s parent or legal guardian. The cost to the state of the pilot project would be $903,000 in 2013-15. The vote was 42-0.
* CLIMATE DATA: A bill (LB583) by Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm provides the governor and other interested persons with information and research on the impacts of cyclical climate change in Nebraska, including impacts on physical, ecological and four economic areas, and attempts to anticipate the unintended consequences of climate adaptation and mitigation. It facilitates communication between stakeholders and the state about cyclical climate change impacts and response strategies. By Sept. 1, 2014, an initial report on cyclical climate change in Nebraska and possible impacts to agriculture, water, wildlife, ecosystems, forests and outdoor recreation would be prepared. A final report would be given to the governor and Legislature by Dec. 1, 2014. The vote was 32-12.