Legislature's last days will be busy
Watch closely. The final two days of the 2004 Nebraska legislative session will be packed with action. In a telephone interview Tuesday from his office in Lincoln, State Sen. Tom Baker predicted that two constitutional amendments -- one dealing with casinos and the other with the state fair -- will be placed on the November ballot by the lawmakers.
The casino plan, which calls for one casino in eastern Nebraska and one in the western part of the state, is contained in a measure labeled LR14-CA. That's the Legislature's abbreviated way of saying Legislative Resolution14-Constitutional Amendment.
If approved, the constitutional amendment concerning casinos will appear on the general election ballot in November. In large part, the proposed constitutional amendment is an attempt by the legislature to head off initiative petition efforts to win voter approval for video slots in bars, keno parlors along the Interstate, and a casino in Omaha. The legislators are concerned about that approach because it would take control of gambling away from the lawmakers and put it in the hands of an independent commission.
Whether one or both of the gambling plans win voter approval, it is likely that the action will open the door for gambling on Native American reservations. That's because of legal precedence in other states, allowing reservations the same gambling rights as that of any other special interest group.
The other constitutional amendment expected to win placement on the ballot is the one dealing with funding assistance for the Nebraska State Fair. That plan -- contained in LR209-CA -- would authorize the use of $2 million in lottery funds each year to help with fair expenses.
Voter approval is being sought because fair attendance and income have declined dramatically in recent years. Without new sources of funding, supporters say the Nebraska State Fair will either have to be scaled down, moved or eliminated.
All in all, Sen. Baker regards the 2004 legislative session as fairly successful. "We dealt with the budget issue and we faced several other most pressing concerns," he said. More work remains, but Baker expects passage this week of his bill calling for incentive funding of the new ethanol plants in Trenton, Axtell, Plainview and Central City. The funding measure, LB1065, would raise $33 million through a combination of corn and milo checkoff receipts, off road gas taxes and $1.5 million each from the general fund and the leaking storage tank penalty fund. The total raised would still be $9 million short of the anticipated need for existing plant incentives, but it's much closer than before.
Still unresolved is incentive funding for newer plants, such as the ones near McCook and Cambridge. However, under the ethanol incentive legislation, the state is legally obligated to pay the incentives and will have to face up to the issue in future sessions.
That's the way it is in the Legislature. A lot was accomplished in 2004, but much more remains to be done in the years to come.