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As the Session winds down, there are less than 10 days remaining, a lot of work is being done. Senators are working through lunch and staying into the evening trying to get as many of the issues debated as possible.
The Governor approved our budget with no vetos. Included in the budget is funding for three of my bills, the federally qualified health centers, the Access College Early Scholarship Program, and the Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund. The budget contains adjustments for state agencies, funding for an infrastructure bank for expressways, bridges and economic development, ongoing prison reform, deferred maintenance for the state’s community colleges, as well as funding for repair of a levee around Offutt Air Force Base. Overall, spending growth was held to 3.5%.
Over the past week, we have debated some controversial issues. One was Senator John Kuehn’s right to farm constitutional amendment. I supported this bill as it is important to protect our farms and ranches in Nebraska. The bill generated extended debate with many Senators expressing their concerns about the bill. Because it appeared there would be no agreement on the bill, Senator Kuehn agreed to bracket LR 378CA until April 20, 2016, essentially killing it for the year.
Medicaid expansion was another bill that generated strong debate. Many Senators had misgivings about the expansion of Medicaid saying it was too costly, the federal government could not be trusted to keep up their funding, and that expansion in general was not sustainable. While this bill would have been the most conservative expansion plan in the country, operating as a three-year pilot project, with no compromise or agreement on the bill, it was bracketed until April 20, 2016. The introducer of LB 1032, Senator John McCollister, has said he will bring this bill back again next year.
The Governor’s property tax proposal bills came up for debate this week. The first bill, LB 959, would make small changes to the school funding formula in hopes of providing progress towards property tax relief. These changes are expected to provide about $8.5 million in property tax relief, however, financing would need to be made up from the state’s general fund. LB 959 was advanced to Select File. The second part of Governor Ricketts’ property tax proposal, LB 958, generated a little more debate. The bill cleared first round debate and was advanced to Select File, but not without much discussion, tense negotiations between urban and rural Senators, and ultimately a last minute compromise. Under the compromise, agricultural land owners would get an additional $20 million in property tax credits, down from the Governor’s proposed $30 million.
My priority bill, LB 1082, was signed by the Governor. This bill changes the powers and duties of the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The bill will require periodic sampling and reporting of fracking wastewater, as well as monitoring of produced water transporters. The bill also reduces the promotional duties of the Commission, allowing it to focus on health and safety issues relating to oil and gas in the state. It has been a long journey, with a lot of of interim work including hearings, town hall meetings, and reviews, but we came up with what we thought was a good step forward in protecting our state’s underground water supply.
Many issues have yet to be debated. Some fairly controversial ones are up for debate next week. LB 643, Senator Tommy Garrett’s medical marijuana bill carried over from last session, will generate much discussion and debate. This bill currently has five amendments pending so debate will be robust. LB 10, Senator Beau McCoy’s winner-take-all bill, also carried over from last year, will be debated. This bill would award all electoral votes to the statewide winner of the presidential race. Nebraska is the only state in the nation other than Maine to award its electoral votes by district rather than bundling them all for the winner. Also up for debate is LB 745, Senator John McCollister’s Game and Parks Commission bill. This bill would raise all Game and Parks permit fees. Senator Ernie Chambers has introduced over a dozen amendments to the bill, so I anticipate extended debate on LB 745. These, as well as many other bills, are waiting for debate before the final day of the legislative session, April 20, 2016.
It has been an extremely busy session. A lot has been accomplished, but a lot remains to be done. I want to thank my constituents, as well as all the citizens of Nebraska, who have taken the time to contact me via telephone, email or written letter expressing your views and concerns.