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Meeting with CASA members from Sarpy County at the Capitol this week.These volunteers advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities.
Voter ID Bill Dies
On Wednesday 25 Senators voted to bracket LB 111, a bill to require voters to provide state issued identification to vote. This kills the bill for this year. I was one of the 25 senators voting to bracket the bill. As I said on the floor, elected officials in a democracy have a two-pronged responsibility: to represent the public and to protect fundamental constitutional rights. When there is an issue that is popular with the public, like voter id, that contradicts a fundamental constitutional right, I have a duty to protect the constitutional right. The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights because it is critical for citizens to protect all other rights. Our Nebraska constitution establishes a very high standard on the right to vote, “All elections shall be free; and there shall be no hindrance or impediment to the right of a qualified voter to exercise the elective franchise.”
There have been no cases of voter impersonation fraud in Nebraska. Senator McCollister noted on the floor that the conservative Platte Institute had examined the issue in the state and found no impersonation voter fraud. We have stiff sanctions against such fraud should it occur. Several senators from both parties spoke against the bill. Although most expected a long filibuster on the bill, after a just a few hours of debate the motion to bracket the bill was successful and the bill died.
Hearing on Unfunded Mandate Facing Counties, including Sarpy County, Set
Next Thursday, the Revenue Committee will hear testimony regarding LB 391, a bill to restore a ½ percent monthly commission to counties who collect more than $3,000 in motor vehicle sales taxes on behalf of the state. Prior to October 1, 2002, counties received a 2.5% commission on the first $3000 of motor vehicle sales taxes collected in the county during the previous month, and a .5% commission on tax collections over $3000. This .5% commission was eliminated as part of a larger budget package during the state budget crisis that year.
This is one of fourteen unfunded mandates my office identified as part of LR 582 this summer. In Sarpy County, the County Treasurer collects taxes on motor vehicle sales as part of the motor vehicle registration and titling process. As part of this process, county employees may need to track down paperwork from out-of-state or private sellers before completing the sale. This work takes time and the current 2.5% commission does not accurately reflect the costs to counties to collect these taxes. Currently, Sarpy County receives only $21,600 annually for collecting these taxes. If LB 391 passes, this number would increase to approximately $109,000 a year. In 2013, Sarpy County officials estimated the cost to collect these taxes at $103,000 a year in staff time and resources.
What Happens After A Bill Hearing?
Once a bill’s public hearing is complete, the introducing senator works with the committee chair and committee members on any necessary amendments before the introducing senator requests the committee chair place the bill on the executive session agenda for a committee vote. The frequency of executive sessions vary from committee to committee. In the Urban Affairs committee, for example, the committee generally meets in executive session on Tuesdays following the day’s hearings.
If a majority of the committee votes to advance the legislation, the committee clerk will work with the legal counsel to draft and file a committee statement for the bill. As I mentioned in an earlier update, the committee statement outlines the main points of the bill, explains any committee amendments, and lists in person testimony at the bill’s hearing. The bill is then placed on General File, the first of three rounds of debate.
The Speaker shapes the agenda and order of bills each day. During the first half of session and prior to the priority bill deadline, bills generally appear in worksheet order–that is, the order in which they are reported to General File. Once the priority bill deadline has passed, only bills with a priority designation and on General File are eligible for floor debate until all priority bills have been heard.
This Week in Urban Affairs
Historically, tax-increment financing, or TIF, has been one of the more controversial topics under the jurisdiction of the Urban Affairs Committee. Under Nebraska’s community development statutes, municipalities can utilize TIF for the redevelopment of properties that have been deemed “substandard and blighted”. As applied, TIF allows the municipality to issue bonds to pay the costs of a redevelopment project, with the increased property tax revenues from the redevelopment area dedicated to paying off the bonds. After fifteen years (or earlier if the bonds are paid off sooner), the increased property tax revenues revert to the city’s general fund and to other political subdivisions which have a property tax levy on property within the redevelopment area.
This past fall, TIF was also the subject of one of the committee’s major interim studies, LR 599.
This week, the Urban Affairs Committee will be hearing three bills dealing with TIF:
Yesterday, four bills from the Urban Affairs Committee were passed on Final Reading and forwarded to Governor Ricketts for his signature. The four bills, all of which passed unanimously, were:
Justice Reinvestment in Nebraska
In an earlier update, I highlighted the work of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to address the serious issues facing our state’s Department of Corrections including overcrowding and limited post-release supervision of individuals with serious felony offenses. This working group, with the assistance of the Council of State Governments, produced a report in January with three strategies and a variety of policy options to address these concerns.
The three strategies are: one, make improvements to our parole system to reduce recidivism; two, provide for post-release supervision while meeting victims’ needs; and three, shift nonviolent, low-level offenses from incarceration to probation. Some of the proposed policy options that meet these strategic goals include prioritizing probation resources for felony probationers at highest risk for reoffending, improving the collection of restitution for victims, requiring that all individuals with serious felony convictions be supervised post-release, and fully adopting and integrating evidence-based practices into parole supervision. A complete listing of these policies is available in the CSG report, which can be found here: http://csgjusticecenter.org/jr/ne/
LB 605, introduced by Senator Mello, contains many of these policy options. The hearing for LB 605 in front of the Judiciary Committee took place yesterday afternoon. I look forward to working with the Judiciary Committee and my colleagues to address prison overcrowding and our high recidivism rates.
Sue in the News