Christensen priority bill advances 36-0

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A bevy of bills are flying toward final readings, including Sen. Mark Christensen's priority bill, LB1094, which was approved 36 to 0 Wednesday on the first round.

The bill would use $9 million from the state's cash reserve fund to pay irrigators who sold their water to the Republican River Natural resources Districts.

The NRDs would then pay back the money using property and occupation taxes collected this year under LB701.

Christensen said the rapid first-round approval of this bill was shocking, yet pleasing. He credited behind-the-scenes work and senators who understood the issue as reasons the bill passed so easily.

The bill was helped along also because Sen. Ernie Chambers did not oppose it, Christensen said, but honored his agreement to leave it alone.

Chambers had threatened to opposed LB1094 if Christensen brought forth a resolution that if approved, would have put on an initiative ballot the repeal of affirmative action.

However, the bill still hinges on approval of the budget, set to start next week.

Christensen said he's already been in contact with Republican River NRDs to submit applications to receive the funds. The NRDs have indicated to him that written applications are ready to go.

It would take about two weeks after the applications are submitted for the irrigators to be paid, he said.

Another bill discussed yesterday, LB958, has basically become a "clean-up bill" regarding firearms, Christensen said. Although originally introduced to ban certain types of assualt weapons, in wake of the Van Maur shooting in Omaha, the bill has been amended to rectify old statutes that are out of date, such as requiring a firearm permit from local police stations. This is no longer needed with the "insta-checks" done by the federal government when the gun is purchased, Christensen said.

The bill is "doing nothing new," Christensen said, although senators received plenty of e-mails from those who opposed the bill before the amendments were adopted.

Still, Christensen said he and other senators found surprising the lack of prolonged debate of this bill, or with LB1094.

"Nobody here could believe you could do a water and gun bill in one day," he said.

Christensen said he will have none of his own bills heard for the rest of the session, eitther on the consent calendar or on the regular agenda.

That's because several of his bills were either killed in committee or rolled into another bill, such as LB 700 that he first introduced in 2007. That bill, which prohibited cloning, was rolled into LB606, the Stem Cell Research Act that has been placed on Final Reading.

The act prohibits public or governmental facilities from creating or destroying embryos, he said. The bill isn't as prohibitive as his original bill but it does prohibit funding to private/public partnerships as well, he said.

Another one his bills dealt with clerical issues concerning county treasurers and taxes authorized under LB 701, but that wasn't submitted to the speaker and so won't be heard this session.

Christensen said he still concerned about LB1092, which would require seat belts in school buses purchased by 2010.

Although he's been reassured by lawyers not to worry about it, Christensen said the language in the bill is still not clear if bus drivers or school districts can be open to potential lawsuits if a student unbuckles his seatbelt and is later injured.

Another concern he had was how the requirement would fiscally affect school districts.

"I'd like it better if it wasn't mandated," he said.

Other bills up for final reading include:

* LB11056, which was passed on final reading today and allows the voluntary merger of first-class cities who share a common border subject to approval by voters.

* LB962, passed on final reading today, that changes provisions to open meetings so members of the public can speak at open meetings without having to be put on the agenda

* LB912, that provides financial assistance for a convention center in Lincoln using sales tax rebates.

The state legislature will end in less than a month, on April 17.

A total of 102 bills were designated as priority this session by lawmakers.

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