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May 8, 2015                                                                 Legislative Report Archive 

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gastaxLegislature Approves Gas Tax Increase

On a 26-15 vote, senators gave final-round approval to LB610, a bill to increase gas taxes over the next four years. When fully implemented, counties and cities would share $50 million and the state would receive $25 million. The county and city share would be placed in the Highway Allocation Fund along with a portion of motor vehicle sales tax receipts. The Fund is evenly divided between counties and cities. The overall county share is distributed to individual counties based upon a formula that includes population, lineal feet of bridges, motor vehicle registrations, miles of county roads, and the value of farm products.

                                                                                                                                   

Governor Ricketts vetoed LB610. NACO is working to maintain the 30 votes needed to override the veto and will notify county officials as soon as we know the date for the override vote.


 

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electionElection Clean-Up Bill Advances from Select File

Concerns about how to keep ballots secret led to the introduction of an amendment to require a secrecy sleeve for mail-in ballots during second-round debate on LB575. Senator Paul Schumacher offered the amendment in response to constituents' fears that their ballots are being read by election workers and his concerns that the current process for returning mailed ballots violates the Nebraska Constitution. The secrecy sleeve concept was originally introduced this year as part of LB121, a voter ID bill, but the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee did not advance the bill to the floor.

 

Senator Schumacher said that since absentee voting requirements were eased in the late 1990's, voters have been encouraged to vote early by mail. Some elections are conducted on an all-mail basis and some precincts vote entirely by mail. He argued that flimsy envelopes and the fear of curious election workers could chill voters who want to be sure their votes are private.

 

Senators discussed election procedures, the cost for additional envelopes and postage, and the constitutional requirements for secret ballots. Several questioned whether the amendment was allowed under the germaneness rules since the initial bill was still in committee. Senator John Murante, chair of the Government Committee, Senator Kathy Campbell, and others suggested delaying further debate until a committee comprised of the Secretary of State, election commissioners, NACO, and senators could work out a solution during the interim. The secrecy envelope amendment failed on a 10-30 vote.

 

An amendment was adopted to make minor clarifications to the bill. AM1510 would change a 30-day cooling off period before a governor-appointed election commissioner could run for office. It would specify that if pollworkers choose to donate their pay to an entity to recruit more pollworkers, the entity must be structured as a 501c3 corporation, rather than a political entity. In addition, the Department of Motor Vehicles would be allowed to transfer social security numbers to the state for voter registration.

 

Other sections of the bill as advanced would:

  • Clarify language requiring counties and other entities to fill vacancies within 45 days
  • Change the deadline for write-in affidavits from ten days prior to the election to the "second Friday" to address concerns in counting days
  • Allow early voting requests to be submitted by email
  • Replace "a majority" with "one-half or more" for certain vacancies that trigger a special election
  • Require voter history to be completed within 30 days after the election rather than 60 days after the election
  • Remove primary election information from early voter return envelopes
  • Increase the minimum rate each political subdivision is charged for placing an issue on the ballot from $50 to $100
  • Allow poll workers to choose not to be paid or allocate their pay to an organization contracted with the election commissioner to recruit poll workers
  • Add an address confirmation option for certain persons who wish to register and vote early on the same day
  • Expand mail elections to allow candidates to be included on the ballot

 

In a procedural move to provide an opportunity to speak, a motion was made to bracket the bill and later withdrawn. Senator Adam Morfeld discussed the role of the Secretary of State in creating guidelines for election workers as mandated by 2013 legislation. He argued that the documents available to election officials in the Secretary of State's secure website do not comply with existing laws.  

 

LB575 advanced to Final Reading.

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budgetAmended State Budget Adds $4 Million Property Tax Relief Funds
As the result of higher projections by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board, lawmakers added $4 million to the Property Tax Credit Fund before advancing the $8.7 billion, two-year budget from the second round of debate. Senators previously approved an additional $60 million for the fund. Another major budget change provided funds for a geothermal heat pump system for the Capitol.

The mainline appropriations bill, LB657, contains a new reporting requirement for counties and cities receiving Highway Allocation Funds, effective July 1. The proposed new language is found on page 66, line 26 of the Enrollment and Review amendment, ER114. It states:

It is the intent of the Legislature that the Department of Roads shall, in July of each year, contact each county and municipality receiving funds distributed through the Highway Allocation Fund and request confirmation from such county or municipality that they plan to continue to accept their share of Highway Allocation Fund distributions in the current fiscal year. The request and confirmation may be in electronic form. All confirmations from the counties and municipalities shall be compiled and submitted electronically to the Clerk of the Legislature.  

 

The budget must be passed by the 80th day in a long session. Tuesday is the 78th day. Today and Monday are recess days. A summary of the budget-making process is available on the Legislature's website.The Appropriations Committee's April 28th Biennial Budget Report can be found here. The other bills in the budget package are LB656, LB658, LB659, LB660, LB661, and LB662.   

 

 

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prisonPrison Reform Bill Scheduled for Second-Round Debate
Three bills on prison reform will be debated on Select File on Tuesday and a fourth is scheduled to be returned to Select File for an amendment.

LB605 would adopt some of the recommendations made by the Council of State Governments, the Judiciary Committee, the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigatory Committee, and the Justice Reinvestment Initiative working group. The bill would change classifications of penalties, punishments, probation and parole provisions, including indeterminate sentencing. Other sections of the bill would help ensure that enrollment in a medical assistance program is suspended, rather than terminated, when an enrolled individual becomes an inmate of a public institution.

Two amendments are pending. Included within AM1530 are provisions that would revise the proposed County Justice Reinvestment Grant Program and state intent language to appropriate $500,000 to the program. The program would apportion the dollars in accordance with a formula based upon the total number per county of individuals incarcerated in jails and the total capacity of jails. As initially provided in LB605, the program would not have become effective until three years from the enactment of LB 605: however, AM 1530 reduces that timeframe to one year from the effective date of LB 605. AM1330 would set maximum, minimum, and mandatory minimum sentences and require post-release supervision.

LB598 would implement recommendations about changing and providing treatment and segregation of mentally ill inmates, create the Office of Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System, and increase reporting requirements. An amendment has been offered to revise solitary confinement language.

LB173 would revise habitual criminal statutes to apply only to violent offenses. It would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for Class IC and ID felonies.

LB347 is on Final Reading but would be returned to Select File for an amendment since bills cannot be amended on Final Reading.It would expand the jurisdictions of the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare. Two amendments have been filed regarding requests for confidential information.
 

 

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consent Bills Advanced to Final Reading by Consent Calendar

The Legislature used a consent calendar process on Tuesday and Wednesday to advance  bills from Select File. In mid-March, senators were given an opportunity to recommend noncontroversial bills for the consent calendar. According to the Legislature's rules for consent calendar, if three members object to the consideration of a particular bill on the consent calendar, it is removed. Debate on each bill is allowed for 15 minutes, after which a vote is taken to advance the bill and any pending motions or amendments. Any amendment adopted, other than a standing committee amendment, which adds new subject matter to the bill results in the bill not being scheduled at the next stage of debate.

 

Some bills of interest to counties include: 

  • LB138 would name the Land Surveyors Regulation Act and add a code of practice to the rules and regulations of the Nebraska Board of Examiners for Land Surveyors. The code would govern the professional conduct of surveyors.
  • LB55 would give the Adjutant General flexibility to make expenditures of up to $25,000 for disasters or emergencies without an emergency proclamation by the Governor. Currently the funds are earmarked for aerial suppression for wildfire and hazardous materials response. A committee amendment was adopted to provide clarity to the role of the Adjutant General.
  • LB334 would repeal the Nebraska Workforce Investment Act due to enactment of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014. The Nebraska Act is not in compliance with the federal law.
  • LB464 would eliminate requirements to include social security numbers and IRS taxpayer identification numbers on effective financing statements on farm products. The Secretary of State has developed a unique identifier system to prevent possible future disclosures in public records.
  • LB123 would require registered warrants to be paid in order of registration to particular funds. The bill was introduced in response to concerns about the payment of multiple warrants issued by sanitary and improvement districts.
  • LB277 would clarify that special assessments in sanitary and improvement districts survive the issuance of a tax deed. Legislation adopted in 2011 authorized the special assessments to survive the judicial foreclosure method of obtaining title after taxes are delinquent, but the tax deed sections were omitted at that time.
  • LB283 would give school districts and educational service units the same authority to make emergency expenditures, enter into contracts, and incur obligations as other local governments in emergency situations. An amendment was adopted to change references to obtaining a certificate as proof of the emergency to using a proclamation of the emergency.
  • LB375 would revise the Nebraska Real Estate License Act so that a broker's price opinion or comparative market analysis could be used for real property tax appeals.
  • LB570 would expand the ability to use golf cars in areas not adjacent to golf courses, subject to approval and regulation by counties and cities.
  • LB408, as introduced, would change the penalty for a corporation's delinquent property taxes from a felony to a misdemeanor if the tax amount is less than $1,000. County treasurers, who send the delinquency notice to corporate taxpayers, suggested that the penalty was unnecessary because tax sales encourage the payment of delinquent taxes. A committee amendment was adopted to outright repeal this section of statute (77-1726).
  • LB412 would revise C-BED (Community-Based Energy Development Act) laws to eliminate a requirement for a county board resolution in support of a wind energy project. Instead, only counties that have adopted zoning regulations requiring a planning commission, county board, or county commission approval for the C-BED project would have to pass a resolution in support. An amendment was adopted to allow zoning approval adopted by the county board to substitute for the resolution.
  • LB479 would strike language limiting military memorials on public lands or in public places to service related to the Civil, Spanish-American, World Wars, Korean, or Vietnam conflicts. Instead, counties, townships, cities, and villages could commemorate the service of members of the armed forces in any conflict.
  • LB424 would expand the nameplate capacity tax structure that is currently applied to wind energy to other renewable energy sources. The nameplate capacity tax is a substitute for the taxation of personal property.
      

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 snahpshotsSnapshots of County Issues
Schedule Change for Next Week
During the final weeks of the session, the Legislature often meets until late in the evening. Last week a revised schedule with a 20-minute "at ease" lunch break and a 7:00 p.m. adjournment was used as an alternative to late nights. Senators will follow this condensed schedule when they reconvene on Tuesday. The schedule for the remainder of the session will be announced next week.

Fracking Bill Introduced

Senator Ernie Chambers offered a rarely-used motion to introduce a new bill on the 77th day of the session. Under the Legislature's rules, new bills can only be introduced during the first ten days of the session unless the body suspends the rules to allow a later introduction. The bill Senator Chambers proposed, LB664, would create a new reporting requirement for companies engaged in fracking, which is the disposal of wastewater generated from oil and gas well production. Persons applying for permission to dispose of such wastewater would have to provide a listing of all chemical in the wastewater and provide semiannual updates. The listings would be public records.

 

An interim study resolution, LR247, was introduced by Senator Ken Haar to examine the role and process for eliminating the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that regulates oil and gas wells. 

 

Personal Property Tax Relief Act Advanced

Personal property owners would receive a $10,000 exemption from the valuation of tangible personal property in each taxing district under LB259. The state would calculate the rate for centrally assessed property and reimburse counties for the losses.LB259 advanced from General File with a $19.6 million fiscal note.    

 

Livestock Development Grants Advanced for Livestock Friendly Counties

Counties designated as livestock friendly could seek up to $15,000 in grant funds for livestock development planning and up to $200,000 for associated public infrastructure improvements pursuant to LB175. The Department of Agriculture would administer the program. The bill advanced from General File on Monday. 

 

Judges Retirement Bill Advances With Agreement to Drop New Diversion Fees
A proposed $6 fee on pre-trial diversion cases was the focus of debate on a bill to help fund retirement for judges. Lawmakers began first-round debate on LB468 late last week and advanced the bill on Monday with an agreement to eliminate the proposed new fee. An amendment has been filed for Select File debate that would incorporate the agreement and increase the portion of existing court fees designated for judges retirement.

Wind Energy Tax Credit Fails After Filibuster
A bill to provide tax credits for wind farms and other renewable energy facilities failed to advance from the second round of debate when a motion to invoke cloture and end a filibuster was unsuccessful. A motion has been filed to reconsider the cloture vote on LB423.

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