Seatbelts, school funding and the death penalty rounded out the discussion during a town hall meeting with Sen. Mark Kolterman on March 27.
Kolterman spoke in Seward and York, giving his views and hearing from constituents about topics currently under debate in the Nebraska Legislature.
Kolterman said after 53 days in the unicameral, his time thus far has been split between work on the senate floor and committee hearings. Senators now are spending all day in debate on some of the 655 bills that were introduced in the first 10 days of the session.
“I didn’t go down there with the idea of adding a lot of laws to the books,” Kolterman said, adding that many of the bills introduced this session aim to “clean up” problems that previous legislation caused. Kolterman introduced five bills to the senators, 18 of whom are new this year.
As he spoke with citizens in Seward, Kolterman emphasized his priority bill, LB232, which would give students attending private, not-for-profit colleges and universities financial aid similar in amount to what they would otherwise receive from a public school.
“If there’s a better fit for you than the University of Nebraska – Kearney or the Med Center, you should be able to go where you want to go without having to go outside the state,” Kolterman said. “I’d like to keep students in Nebraska.”
Kolterman estimated that the 14 independent colleges in Nebraska receive about $300 in state aid per four-year degree, but that aid given to students at public schools generally falls between $5,700 and $6,700 per year.
“Private colleges do a far better job graduating students than state schools…and they graduate more minority students,” he said. “Private colleges are economic drivers in their communities.”
The bill, introduced by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, is modeled after Iowa’s funding pattern and focuses largely on Pell Grant funding.
Another topic that arose at the meeting dealt with Nebraska’s death penalty, a law Kolterman said should be repealed.
“I don’t think we ought to take people’s lives. If I’m going to be pro-life, it needs to be all the way around,” he said, also speaking out against abortion and using state funds to support Planned Parenthood procedures.
He said the death penalty costs the state an unnecessary amount of money to administer because it allows a person to appeal his or her case up to six times. The last state execution was carried out in 1997.
“It’s not a deterrent for crime if you look at what’s going on in society,” he said.
Additionally, Kolterman addressed LB610, which calls for a 1.5 percent increase per year in gasoline tax over the next four years. Funds generated by the tax would be evenly distributed to cities, counties and the state department of roads and designated for use toward roads, city streets and bridges.
“I don’t like taxes, but I overwhelmingly hear people tell me to add the gas tax,” he said. “We need to have good roads and good infrastructure.”
The majority of the 20 attendees at the meeting were in favor of increasing the tax.
Kolterman made it clear that he is against adding more government regulations, something he shared in regard to mandating the use of motorcycle helmets. Kolterman said people should, without a doubt, wear a helmet but that it should be a matter of common sense, not a mandate.
“I don’t like government in our lives. Every time you turn around we’re passing another bill that regulates our lives,” he said.
The bill, LB31, would repeal Nebraska’s mandate on wearing helmets on motorcycles and mopeds. It failed following a filibuster on March 23.
Kolterman’s anti-regulation opinion stuck on LB18, requiring seventh and 11th grade students to receive a bacterial meningitis vaccination.
“There’s only been one case in Nebraska in 10 years. It’s not an epidemic,” he said.
The bill was bracketed in February and will not be debated again until June.
Kolterman said he does support requiring seatbelts on school buses, but that the statistics aren’t strong enough to support LB373, that sought to mandate them but failed in the legislature at the beginning of March.
For more information on bills currently under debate, visit www.nebraskalegislature.gov.