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With less than 25 working days remaining in this year’s session, my rookie session has gone fast and well. The following is a status report:
LB 156 which allocates an additional million dollars of funding to the Angel Tax Investment Credit Act, moved to the second round of debate. This program is creating new high tech jobs in Nebraska and keeping investment dollars in Nebraska. If passed and signed by the Governor, this program will have a total of four million dollars in funding.
LB 242, the bill to raise additional funds for the promotion of dry beans, was signed by the Governor. Dry beans are a major cash crop in the Valley and, like any product, research, development and marketing promotions are critical. In addition, the local Panhandle Research Station will have the funding it needs to improve bean production.
LB 561 will accomplish a long overdue revision to the laws concerning surface irrigation districts. This bill advanced to the second stage of debate. LB 561 will streamline the operation of these water districts and provides voting by mail so they can operate more efficiently and continue to provide the irrigation water that is the life blood of agriculture in the Valley.
In the budget bill, Child Advocacy Centers will receive $500,000 for the next two years. The funding will provide statewide access to services to children who are alleged victims of sexual abuse, or serious physical abuse or neglect, have witnessed violent crime, are found in a drug endangered environment or have been recovered from a kidnapping. Such Centers provide expert forensic interviews to help heal the child and hold perpetrators accountable.
And finally, the provisions of LB 533 are also in the budget package. It will provide funding for the new medical practice simulation center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center with Scottsbluff as its first satellite site.
I introduced LB 512 as a place holder for possible revisions to the current Oil and Gas laws. I introduced this bill in response to concerns about the application for approval of an oil and gas waste water disposal well in Sioux County. The issues were discussed again this week as a part of the confirmation process for the Governor’s new appointment to this Commission. The Confirmation Report was accepted, but with concerns about the Commission’s process for reviewing applications.
It is my position that this pending disposal well proceeding must be done correctly and must consider all of the relevant factors. Because the hearing testimony was conflicting, I have asked for a comprehensive study to be done over the summer involving the public, the Oil and Gas Commission, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Natural Resource Districts. The Natural Resources Committee has the jurisdiction to conduct this study.
Other issues considered this week of interest to the District include:
The increase in the tax on gasoline advanced but faces a promised veto by the Governor. The bill, LB 610, which would raise the gas tax six cents over four years and is billed as a way to generate money for bridge and road work, advanced on a 27-14 vote. Less than two hours later Governor Ricketts formally announced that, if the bill passed, he would veto it. With Monday’s vote, the Legislature avoided one telling test of the measure’s support and whether enough political will would exist to override Ricketts’ veto, if necessary. The bill advanced without the need for a motion to stop debate, or a closure motion, that requires 33 votes. I continue to believe our roads infrastructure needs additional funding, and a majority of the contacts from District constituents support this position.
Criminal justice debate dominated the week. Speaker Hadley scheduled the package of bills intended to address Nebraska’s correctional problems this week. The goal of LB 605 is to start the State down the road to the enhanced use of probation for non-violent offenders.
Despite all work that was done over the summer, criminal prosecutors expressed strong objections to several of the provisions of LB 605, the first bill of the package. The bill advanced, but only after assurances that the remaining issues will be addressed by the parties before the bill is addressed on the second round of debate.
A second bill of the package, LB 598, also was advanced. This bill is intended to address the rules for how and for what reasons prisoners are segregated, established an independent Office of Inspector General and established the process for removing the administration of parole out of the Corrections Department.
The third bill that is being discussed primarily addresses issues concerning what makes a criminal a habitual criminal. LB 173, sponsored by Senator Chambers, also advanced to the second stage of debate. LB173 would amend the “habitual criminal” statute, so it applies only to “violent offenses.” LB173 would also eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence for a habitual criminal enhancement. The minimum penalty would be 10 years, instead of a 10 or 25 year mandatory minimum. The next issue on the agenda will be the debate on the repeal of the death penalty.
As always I would appreciate any thoughts and inputs. My contact information is: Senator John Stinner, District 48, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509, Phone (402) 471-2802. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org