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With a year of experience, and no longer a true freshman with the appointment of Nicole Fox replacing Senator Nordquist, I am feeling better prepared and ready to get this session underway. Summer seemed so short. Since this is the second session of the 104th Legislature, all of the ceremonial procedures such as electing chairpersons carry over from last year, except because of the resignation of Sen. Jeremy Nordquist who chaired the Retirement Committee an election was held and Sen. Mark Kolterman was elected to chair that committee.
Before the session even started, Speaker Hadley sent us a memo with some new procedures and outlined the first ten days of the session. As speaker, he ruled that “full and fair” debate under the cloture rule would be met after 6 hours of debate during the first round. This is a change from the current precedence of requiring 8 hours of debate. His reasoning was that with only 60 days to pass bills, getting hung up on filibusters would not get them very far. It seems we use this process more often than in the past, but that could also be because of term limits and the push from senators that are leaving after this session.
He also said that he would not allow any Speaker Priority Bill, to be amended unless he has agreed to it prior to its adoption. In the past Senators have tried to amend their bills into another Senator’s bill in order to get it through without a priority designation. The Speaker has promised to make sure all priority bills will be dealt with this session.
The first few days consisted of bill introduction, and debate on the rules that govern how the Legislature operates. Another attempt by Sen. Bill Kintner to do away with a secret ballot for election of speaker and committee chairs was turned down. Sen. Kintner tried and failed twice last session to get a roll call vote for election of committee chairs. He said it was a matter of transparency. The legislature operated under the open vote method until the early seventies when the secret ballot was initiated.
Debate began on 2015 priority bills left incomplete last session due to time constraints – LB 47 requires a person to indicate whether or not they wish to be an organ donor when applying for a state driver license or ID card. After six hours of debate the bill was advanced to the second stage of debate. LB 619 authorizes licensing for two types of poker games – draw and community card games. As this is being written we are still debating this bill. Bill introduction lasts for 10 days and hearings will start on the Tuesday the 19th. Some of the issues that I’m sure will be debated this year include cleanup issues on prison reform, mental health treatment, Medicaid expansion, and hopefully a number of bills dealing with property tax relief. The recent one hundred thirty million dollar shortfall in revenue projections will be a major factor in how we deal with any spending bills being considered.
As a member of the transportation committee one of the major issues that we will be looking at is how we can speed up the start time on road construction projects. The Governor has proposed an infrastructure bank that would be funded with money from the cash reserve and new ways to proceed with how we handle the design and bidding process on new road construction. I will follow up in a future column with the specifics on this bill. Bills I have introduced include LB814 which removes the one and one half mile restriction on obtaining a school permit, LB 785 which would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to make changes that will provide cost savings and streamline functions of the department, and LB 735 which would allow for articulated buses to be operated by a transit authority.
The Governor gave his State of the State address on Thursday outlining his plan to address the approximately one hundred forty million dollar shortfall in the budget this year while still finding some dollars to add some beds to the Lincoln Correctional Facility. While not having much time to study his proposal I do think his approach to balancing the budget by transferring unspent department funds, cutting some spending and not needing to transfer large sums from the cash reserve is a solid plan. We will have another revenue projection by the end of February that could change things if revenue projections fall even further as I suspect they will. Any bills with a fiscal impact will wait for final approval until this projection is in.
My number one priority is to find a solution to lower property taxes across the state and especially to those who own agricultural land. Several proposals have been introduced using many different approaches. The Governor has worked with Senator Sullivan and Senator Gloor on proposals that will hopefully be coming out of the Revenue and Education Commitee’s. The long range goal of changing how we fund K-12 education hopefully can be addressed through other bills that are still being introduced. Hopefully by combining some of these proposals we can gather enough votes to get something done.