Bills Scheduled for Hearing This Week
Dollar amounts triggering bidding on county road and bridge projects and materials would be raised by LB623, which will be heard by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on February 19. The committee will also hear two bills addressing county drainage projects. Under LB386,counties entering private property for drainage control measures would have to make a record of the condition of the premises at the time of entry and give ten days' notice to the property owner. LB387 would outright repeal the statutory section that would be amended by LB386.
Bills Heard This Week
Counties could receive property tax offsets if real property purchased with funds from the Nebraska Environmental Trust is later transferred to a federal land management agency under LB57. The Trust Board would have to approve the transfer of the property. Senators heard about a pilot program in Franklin County in which Ducks Unlimited contributes to a community foundation to help offset property tax losses from decreased valuation on wetlands. The Natural Resources Committee heard the bill on Thursday and has not taken action on the bill.
Representatives of counties and other political subidivisons testified before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in opposition to proposed changes to tort claims caps. Existing law sets a cap of $1 million per person for claims arising from a single occurrence and $5 million for all claims arising out of a single occurrence. LB284 would increase the maximum amount recoverable to $3 million per person arising out of a single occurrence and $12 million for all claims arising out of a single occurrence. The higher caps would significantly increase the liability exposure faced by counties and would increase insurance costs. The bill would also extend the time period to file claims from one year to two years. Compared to many other states, Nebraska's caps and filing deadlines are generous.
The Judiciary Committee also heard LB169, a bill to clarify whether the clerk of the district court or election commissioner should serve in the position of jury commissioner in counties between 50,000 and 200,000. Senator Mike Gloor, the bill's introducer, offered an amendment at the hearing to more directly clarify the process by changing the population reference from 50,000 to 75,000. In addition, the committee heard LB482, a bill about private property rights. The committee has not taken action on the bills heard this week.
Senator Ken Schilz offered an amendment to LB215 at Wednesday's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to clarify expenditures of County Visitors Improvement Funds. The amendment states that the funds would not have to be spent in the year they were collected. Existing law provides that once counties have determined that visitor attractions in the county are adequate and do not require improvement, the county board may use the Improvement Fund dollars to promote, encourage, and attract visitors to the county. LB215 would require counties to use the excess funds for those purposes. The bill is intended to provide for more accountability of expenditures of lodging taxes.
Tax sales certificate and treasurer's deed procedures would be revised by LB341, which was heard Wednesday by the Revenue Committee. The bill was introduced by Senator John Wightman to follow an interim study of tax sales issues. The bill would eliminate confusing bid-down procedures, define round-robin sales procedures, eliminate outdated references, increase fees, and revise treasurers deed notice requirements. Several amendments were discussed at the hearing and some will be offered as a committee amendment. NACO supports LB341.
Three election bills were heard by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday. LB235 would reduce the maximum precinct size from 1,750 to 1,000. The bill would require a public hearing before precinct lines or polling places could be moved. LB271 and LB525 would take different approaches to address difficulties in programming election machines in time to meet deadlines for persons voting early in the election commissioner or county clerk's office. LB271, which was supported by NACO and the Secretary of State, would move the deadline by ten days to provide more time for election officials to complete their work. Timelines for voters picking up ballots would not be changed. LB525 would shorten the period for entities to submit candidate names for placement on the ballot.
The Government Committee will hear several election bills on Thursday, February 21. LB292 would allow counties up to 20,000 to conduct elections by mail in approved precincts. Currently this process is limited to counties under 10,000. LB417 would require the Secretary of State to provide guidelines for election workers. LB299 would add details to the process used by counties, cities and some school districts to place the question of whether to elect board members by district or at-large on the ballot.
Bills Placed on General File
LB363, a bill revising public records laws, was advanced by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Monday with a committee amendment. The bill limits the amount that can be charged for providing photocopies of public records to the actual added cost of supplies and equipment used, as well as the costs charged by contractors necessary to comply with the request. The cost could not include a charge for the salary of public officials or employees for the first six hours of searching for, identifying or copying records. Custodians of public records would not be required to provide copies of public records that are available on the their website unless the requester does not have reasonable access to a computer or the Internet or an ability to use a computer. The bill defines the existing four-day time period for responding to records requests and gives the requester ten days to review estimated costs.
The committee amendment would allow custodians of public records to charge for staff time needed to physically redact information from records after the first six hours. If the services of an attorney are needed to review whether there is a legal basis to withhold the record, his or her fees are excluded from the cost of providing the record. The bill has appeared on the General File agenda but has not been debated.