May 15, 2015                                                                 Legislative Report Archive 

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gastaxGas Tax Veto Override Successful

Thirty senators voted to override Governor Ricketts's veto and implement a gas tax that will generate $25 million each for counties, cities and the state. LB610 will phase in a gas tax increase of 1.5 cents annually for four years. The bill, which had been prioritized by Senator Curt Friesen, was passed by the Legislature last week and vetoed by Governor Ricketts. Senator Jim Smith, Chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications, filed the override motion.


Thanks to all county officials who contacted their senators on LB610 and the override. Senators who spoke in favor of the override mentioned the calls and emails from their county official constituents.


The senators listed below voted to support the override. Please thank them for their support of county government. Their contact information is available here.


Baker, Campbell, Coash, Crawford, Davis, Friesen, Gloor, K. Haar, Hadley,Hansen, B. Harr, Howard, Hughes, Johnson, Kolowski, Kolterman,Krist, Kuehn, Lindstrom, McCollister, Mello, Morfeld, Nordquist, Pansing Brooks, Scheer, Schumacher, Seiler, Smith, Stinner, Williams



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 prisonrefAmended Prison Reform Bill Sent to Final Reading

On Tuesday lawmakers advanced three bills aimed at prison overcrowding to Final Reading. LB605 would revise sentencing, including classifications of penalties, punishments, probation, and parole provisions. The bill as introduced was based on recommendations made by the Council of State Governments (CSG) in a study with Nebraska stakeholders. Amendments adopted on General File moved away from the recommendations but Select File amendments return to some of the original recommendations.


AM1530, which was adopted on Select File, rewrites the bill. It is the product of negotiations between members of the Legislature, county attorneys, public defenders, and judges. It removes a controversial one-third sentencing rule for higher felonies that was intended to ensure that prisoners interact with the Board of Parole by the time they reach one-third of their maximum sentence. Other sections would clarify that a life sentence for a juvenile is possible but not mandatory and provide for a presumption of probation for certain lower level felonies. The amendment doubles the amount of grant funding that would be available to counties to pay for additional beds in jails as a result of LB605. Although the CSG report estimates that 32 inmates will be added to county jail populations, county estimates are higher. The Crime Commission would be responsible for oversight and administration of the $500,000 appropriation and would develop rules and regulations to implement the process.


The trailing appropriations bill, LB605A, was advanced from General File on Wednesday but does not reflect all of the changes to LB605 that were adopted on Select File. Amendments to align the bills will be offered to LB605A on Select File.


LB598 would implement recommendations about providing treatment and segregation of mentally ill inmates, create the Office of Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System, and increase reporting requirements. It would move the Parole Board from oversight by the Department of Corrections. An amendment was adopted to change references to "solitary confinement" to "restrictive housing".  


LB173 would revise habitual criminal statutes, sometimes called "three-strikes" laws, that provide for enhanced penalties upon a third felony conviction. An amendment was adopted to require the third felony to be a violent crime in order for the enhanced penalty to apply. The bill would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for Class IC and ID felonies.


LB347, which would expand the jurisdictions of the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare, was returned from Final Reading for technical amendment.


Several interim studies will continue the examination of prison reform.

  • LR38 (Seiler) Interim study to examine statutes governing prisons and parole to ensure the Board of Parole is independent from the Dept. of Correctional Services
  • LR39 (Seiler) Interim study to examine certain acts to ensure the evaluation procedures regarding potentially mentally ill and dangerous inmates and potentially dangerous sex offenders are clear and consistent
  • LR265 (Davis) Interim study to examine minor traffic violation, adult, and juvenile pretrial diversion programs authorized by counties and municipalities


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fireIndependent Fire District Levy Advanced

Rural and suburban fire districts could levy up to 10.5 cents if the district is located in a county with a levy of at least 40 cents or if the county board did not authorize levy authority in the previous year. Since the property tax system was restructured in 1996, fire districts have been considered miscellaneous districts subject to levy allocation by their county boards. If funds are needed beyond the allocation, the fire district may use an election or town hall meeting process to gain levy authority. LB325 was advanced from General File on Tuesday and advanced from Select File today.


LB259, the Personal Property Tax Relief Act, was also advanced from Select File on a voice vote today. The bill would exempt the first $10,000 of value on tangible personal property taxes in each tax district. In a distribution process similar to homestead exemptions, taxing entities would be reimbursed for taxes lost.


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interimstInterim Study Resolutions Offered
County populations, property valuation, and other topics of interest to counties will be examined during interim studies this summer. Although Thursday was the deadline for the introduction of most interim study resolutions, each legislative standing committee may introduce one additional study resolution before the session ends.


Study resolutions are prioritized by the chairperson of the committee to which they are referred. Public hearings are held throughout the summer on selected studies. A complete list of interim studies is here.

Some of the studies of interest to counties not mentioned elsewhere in this report are: 
  • LR196 (Hansen) Interim study to examine current state statutes governing population thresholds for Nebraska counties
  • LR215 (Johnson) Interim study to examine implementation of the recommendations of a report produced as a result of LR309, 2013, relating to the feasibility of creating a buffer strip program
  • LR222 (Crawford) Interim study to examine issues relating to family and medical leave
  • LR228 (Harr) Interim study to examine the Commission of Industrial Relations
  • LR252 (Judiciary Committee) Interim study to examine court costs and fees in Nebraska
  • LR257 (Kuehn) Interim study to examine how to create a sustainable and adequate stream of state funds to local public health departments to ensure the departments are able to meet their core responsibilities and functions
  • LR258 (Johnson) Interim study to determine whether the Real Property Appraiser Act should be amended
  • LR261 (Mello) Interim study to examine implementing the use of body cameras for state and local law enforcement in Nebraska
  • LR266 (Larson) Interim study to examine state law as it relates to weight limits for a single axle and a group of axles and the maximum load limits for motor vehicles carrying agricultural products or commodities
  • LR273 (Davis) Interim study to examine the current practices of municipalities using tax increment financing under the Community Development Law
  • LR282 (Mello) Interim study to examine the reasons for the higher cost of juvenile services under the Office of Probation Administration
  • LR295 (Bolz) Interim study to examine how to improve behavioral health and mental health services in Nebraska in order to prevent crime and reduce costs associated with the incarceration of people who have heightened behavioral and mental health needs
  • LR302 (Schumacher) Interim study to examine whether imposition of a sales or income tax upon the sale of agricultural land may provide funding for a targeted property tax relief fund for agricultural property owners
  • LR306 (McCollister) Interim study to examine ways in which medicaid expansion could be implemented in Nebraska under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for medical assistance for newly eligible individuals
  • LR311 (Harr) Interim study to examine Second Chances, the operating while intoxicated jail diversion program in Iowa, to determine whether the program would be workable in Nebraska

  • LR317 (Smith) Interim study to review the Nebraska Rules of the Road and provisions which establish maximum weight limits

  • LR318 (Smith) Interim study to conduct a comprehensive study of Nebraska's state and local roads system

  • LR326 (Davis) Interim study to examine the procedure for and use of like-kind exchanges under section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code and their impact on the taxable value of agricultural and horticultural land

  • LR327 (Davis) Interim study to examine the procedures and categories used by county assessors to classify types of land for valuation and taxation purposes

  • LR328 (Davis) Interim study to examine options for implementing a "circuit breaker" tax credit to protect agricultural property owners from a property tax overload

  • LR330 (Gloor) Interim study to examine the structure of, compliance with, and administration of real and personal property taxes

  • LR333 (Watermeier) Interim study to examine methods to improve government efficiency

  • LR339 (Garrett) Interim study to examine the current statutory requirements governing the removal of roadside vegetation

 snahpshotsSnapshots of County Issues
Schedule for Next Week

Today is the 81st day of the 104th Legislature, First Session. Nine days remain in this 90-day session, with adjournment scheduled for June 5. For the rest of the session, senators will follow a schedule of 20-minute lunch breaks while the body stands at ease. Debate is expected to go late into the night next Monday and Tuesday. In addition, debate will begin at 9:00 a.m. on May 18 and 26. Traditionally the body convenes one hour later on the first working day of the week to allow senators more time to drive to Lincoln.


Hearing on Fracking Bill Scheduled
The Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing on May 27 from 12:00 to 1:30 on a bill to add duties to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission. Under LB664, the Commission would require persons disposing of wastewater injected into Nebraska wells to list all of the chemicals in the wastewater and provide semiannual updates. The lists would be public records. Because the hearing is on the 87th day, the bill will not pass this year. An interim study, LR154, will examine the authority of the Commission and its role in decisions regarding the disposal of salt wastewater into dry wells. A second study, LR247, will examine the process of eliminating the Commission.

Biennial Budget Package Passes

Senators gave final approval to an $8.7 billion budget on Thursday. The budget includes a $64 million increase to the Property Tax Credit Fund. The other bills in the budget package are LB656, LB657, LB658, LB659, LB660, LB661, and LB662. The budget must be passed by the 80th day in a long session.  


LB657 contains a new requirement that counties receiving Highway Allocation Funds must confirm with the Department of Roads that they plan to continue to accept their share of the distribution for the current fiscal year.


Election Bill Sent to Governor

LB575, an election clean-up bill was passed by the Legislature this week. Among other changes, it would increase the minimum amount each political subdivision is charged for placing an issue on the ballot to $100 and expand mail elections to allow candidates to be included on the ballot.

Bills Signed by Governor Ricketts

The following bills of interest to counties were signed by Governor Ricketts on Wednesday:

  • LB414 exempts fraternal benefit societies from property taxes, effective January 1, 2016.
  • LB132 requires a vote of the people before a joint public agency can issue bonds. Refunding bonds are exempt if the final maturity date is not extended and there is no additional principal.
  • LB561 clarifies requirements for irrigation district elections.
  • LB264 allows education, training, or service completed by members of the armed services or reserves to be accepted toward state credentialing for certain licenses.

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