Property taxes collected under the water law created by LB 701 could be refunded with an amendment added on to LB 651, one of the bills Sen. Mark Christensen has introduced this session.
But whether the taxes will be refunded to only those who filed a protest remains to be seen, Christensen said this morning at the Government Affairs Legislature conference call at the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce.
As the law reads now, if a protest form was not filed within 90 days of paying the taxes, "it's gone," Christensen said.
But he agreed that the LB 701 property taxes should be refunded to everyone who paid then, regardless if a protest form was filed or not, as many people were not aware that a form had to be filed.
His amendment would more than likely have the property tax returned as a credit, Christensen said. He added that he hoped the lawsuit that challenges the occupation tax under LB 701 as unconstitutional, still pending in District Court, is expedited, so if that tax is ruled illegal, the tax can be returned as well.
According to Christensen, refunding those taxes will not be as difficult, as protest forms can be filed up to a year after a court ruling declares an occupation tax unconstitutional.
LB 651 is not a repeat of LB 701, Christensen added. The bill, slated to be heard Feb. 26 in the Natural Resources Committee, would create a state revolving loan fund, where money could be borrowed by natural resources districts to pay for projects owned, operated or financed by natural resources districts.
The loans would be paid back by additional taxing authority given to NRDs.
Under the bill, preference would be given to request by NRDs that are within a river basin, sub basin or is bound by a interstate compact or formal state contract or agreement.
The revolving loan fund in the bill was initially to be funded by the $9 million due the state by the three natural resources districts in the Republican River Basin. Those NRDs borrowed the money from the state in 2008 to pay for water purchased from irrigators in 2007.
In other legislative matters, many of the bills that are generating contentions are still stuck in committee, Christensen said.
His own bill, LB 5, that would allow trapping in county ditches, has been advanced to select file but has has sparked its own controversy, he added.
Some senators are against the bill due to safety concerns. To dispute that, Christensen said he and his staff demonstrated how safe legal traps actually were, by snapping them on the feet and hands of senators who opposed the bill.
"We couldn't get an ouch of them," he said. The demonstration was to prove that photographs of mangled limbs found on the Internet were the result of illegal trapping and not the kind of traps that are supposed to be used.
An amendment has been added on to the bill that will allow counties to opt out, but Christensen he wasn't sure if the demonstration was enough to change the minds of opposing senators.
Another battle is brewing over LB 83, he said, a bill that will protect domestic pets from being used as a threat during a divorce. This bill, if not well defined, can slide down a slippery slope and be used for cattle and other livestock, he believed.
An amendment has been added to exclude animals for commercial use, but that's still not clear enough, Christensen said. He gave the example of a family with three horses, that were used commercially to check cattle yet also used by the family for personal use with recreational riding.
"It's still not a good bill even with the amendment," he said.