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Sarpy County Sewer Bill Advances
On Thursday April 13th we debated LB253 during the first round of consideration. LB253 is a bill I introduced to give Sarpy County and the cities within it the legal authority to work cooperatively to develop and fund a regional wastewater system. This regional sewer system will provide the infrastructure necessary to support economic development in the county as it continues to grow. One great example of the challenges our lack of existing infrastructure poses to that growth is the the newly announced Facebook project. Although we were able to bring them to Sarpy County, the development requires an expensive pumping station to pump sewage over the ridgeline and an acre for acre commitment to defer land from development because the existing sewer system north of the ridgeline is nearing capacity. A regional sewer system will ensure that more businesses and residents will be able to locate in Sarpy County and utilize land with more cost-efficient and sustainable sewage services. The county and cities have worked with HDR to develop a careful, staged plan so that the sewer system can be built in phases as development expands to maximize the ability of the sewer and development fees to cover the costs. LB253 was advanced successfully to Select File for the next round of debate. An Omaha World Herald article on LB253 can be found here.
Local Firearm Ordinance Bill
On Wednesday, LB68 was advanced to Select File. LB68 is a bill that would preempt local ordinances by eliminating the authority of political subdivisions to regulate firearms. When LB68 was introduced, it was portrayed as a bill that would eliminate confusion about the patchwork of regulations for those carrying concealed weapons by creating uniform regulations across the state. However, LB68 as amended, allows different rules for cities of the metropolitan class. The only metropolitan class city in the state is Omaha. As a result of these changes, residents in Bellevue will continue to face the same issues LB68 was supposed to solve whenever we drive into Omaha. The bill as it is now drafted also does not allow cities to restrict open carry guns in public places like parks and public buildings and it has a liability provision that opens cities up to expensive legal suits. Although I am opposed to LB68, especially as it now stands, I understand the concerns expressed to me about conveyance issues and I am willing to work on those issues. There is an amendment to LB68 that solves this issue that is important to gun owners across the state much more effectively. Should that amendment get adopted, I would be in support of the bill.
Senator Chambers Residency Challenge
For several months I have served on a special committee assigned to consider a formal challenge to Senator Chamber’s residency status. The rules of the legislature allow an unsuccessful candidate in a legislative race to file a challenge if they have evidence that the newly elected senator is not a legal resident of their district. According to the Nebraska Constitution, candidates for a legislative seat must meet three requirements: be at least 21 years old, be registered to vote, and be a resident of the district they’re running to represent for at least one year prior to the election date. In this case, the challenger alleged that Senator Chambers, who represents District 11 in north Omaha, was not a resident of that district.
On Friday April 7th the special committee held a public meeting to hear several hours of testimony and to consider evidence from the challenger and Senator Chambers. Only testimony from the challenger, Senator Chambers and his attorney, and other witnesses invited by the two sides was allowed; in other words, it was not a public hearing like those often held at the Capitol, where anyone is invited to testify. As in a court case, the only evidence allowed to be considered was evidence submitted by the two parties. After considering all the evidence presented to us, the committee voted unanimously to recommend dismissal of the challenge. This week the committee also voted unanimously to adopt a report that explains the legal reasoning for our decision to dismiss the challenge. In these residency challenge cases the burden of proof rests with the challenger. The report stresses that the challenger in this case was not able to produce sound admissible evidence; that the law on residency puts special emphasis on a person’s voting record and intent to return regardless of where he or she may be spending his or her time; and that Senator Chambers produced strong evidence on these fronts. The report now goes to the full Legislature, which must vote to confirm or reject our recommendation. For more coverage of this story, you can read the Journal Star’s summary here.
Tobacco Tax Poll Results
Thanks to all of you who took my informal poll about the tobacco tax! Though it’s a small sample, it’s always interesting to hear from you. Similar to the results for the Nebraska population in general, in which over 70% favor increasing this tax, over 80% of this small sample supports increasing the tobacco tax (over 70% strongly in favor and over 10% moderately in favor).
Events This Week
This was a wonderfully full week for meeting with constituents and other Nebraskans. On Tuesday morning the Autism Society of Nebraska held their legislative breakfast, bringing together autistic Nebraskans, their families and care attendants, and senators to talk about the opportunities and challenges they experience every day. On Tuesday evening Humanities Nebraska hosted a reception. Humanities Nebraska supports artistic and cultural events throughout the state.
On Wednesday the Nebraska Association of Social Workers held its annual legislative day. Over 100 social work students, instructors, and practitioners from across the state came to the capitol. I enjoyed speaking to the group and eating lunch with a table full of Creighton social work students who are already working with hospital patients, school children, sex trafficking victims and clinic patients in our area. After lunch the chamber balcony benches were full of social workers and social work students watching the gun bill debate.
On Thursday morning a small group of AmeriCorps volunteers came to visit my office. Several of them are serving in Bellevue Public Schools with College Possible, a program that helps students prepare and succeed in college. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet with these volunteers and to hear about their work in the Bellevue schools.
Unicameral Youth Legislature
I invite all Bellevue high schoolers to apply for the annual Unicameral Youth Legislature, which this year will run June 11-14. High school students will take on the role of state senators at the State Capitol: participants will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation, and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral. The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will get to learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff. Scholarships are available; you can get more details about the program here, or you can call the Unicameral Information Office at 402-471-2788. The deadline to register is May 15.
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All the best,