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Water refund bill hearings set next week

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A bill introduced on behalf of Gov. Dave Heineman, which would refund property taxes determined to be unconstitutional, will have its committee hearing March 11 at 12 noon.

Sen. Mark Christensen plans to designate that bill as his priority if it's advanced from committee onto the floor, he said this morning at the Government Affairs Legislative conference call at the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce office.

Christensen had added an amendment to his own bill, LB 651, which would have refunded the property taxes.

This bill is not a repeat of LB 701, he stressed. Although he wasn't sure if it would come out of committee, LB 651 is still not dead in the water, Christensen added.

The bill creates a revolving loan fund that could be used by natural resources districts for district projects. The fund would have been financed by the nearly $9 million owed to the state by the three Republican River Basin NRDs, who borrowed the money to pay for water rights they purchased last year. The water was later diverted to Kansas to help comply with the Republican River Compact.

If LB 651 comes out of committee onto the floor, it would be revamped to remove the funding for the revolving loan coming from the NRDs repayment, Christensen said. It would also eliminate the forced bonding and add language to open up the bill to all NRDs in the state with river basins or sub basins that are designated as fully-appropriated.

Water woes are making waves across the state, with another bill scheduled for debate this morning that would allow NRDs with river basins preliminarily determined as fully appropriated but without a final determination to still issue water well permits. Currently there is a stay on water wells with a preliminary determination of full appropriation.

The bill, introduced by Sen Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, is in response to the eastern part of the state now facing water restrictions, Christensen said.

Christensen said he's been telling eastern senators for years that dwindling water supplies is not just a western problem but that his concerns were not taken seriously.

Christensen said he is also in the process in securing letters of support from area schools for a bill pertaining to the Nebraska Department of Corrections Work Ethic Camp in McCook.

The bill was advanced out of committee without any opposition, he said, but if it is not assigned to the consent calendar or designated as a priority bill by a senator, the bill will not be heard on the floor.

The bill allows offenders to work with proper supervision at area school facilities. Currently, those at correctional institutions can enter into arrangements with any other board or agency of the state, any natural resources district, or any other political subdivision, except for political subdivisions connected with education.

Another bill that has advanced out of committee but still waiting for a scheduled date on the consent calendar or speaker prioritization is one that would allow the director of the Corrections Department to assign inmates currently incarcerated to complete the program at the Work Ethic Camp.

Other bills Christensen discussed included:

* LB 307, which removes life imprisonment for youth who are 18 years and younger who are convicted of a Class I felony, such as murder. This allows the court to take into consideration the lack of maturity, age, physical, and mental condition of those youth under the age of 18. Christensen anticipated controversy over this bill as legitimate concerns can be made both for and against the bill. The reason behind it is to allow juveniles convicted of a Class I felony but who showed good behavior while incarcerated to be released rather imprisoned for life. Christensen said although he understands that people can change, family members of victims may not agree to an earlier release.

* LB 260, that compensates those who are wrongfully convicted and incarcerated and later ruled to be innocent: As it stands now, the bill would allow payments for those wrongfully incarcerated to receive $25,000 plus other reimbursements. Christensen said the bill could end up being very expensive and could open a "Pandora's box" if families could sue for retroactive payments. He said the bill is now being worked on to get the language cleaned up before it is debated on the floor.

* a bill that would have eliminated payday lenders has been killed in committee and Christensen doubts if anything will happen with additional restrictions geared toward the industry.

* Christensen predicted more debate over LB 261, that provides for the use of machine-readable information encoded on drivers' licenses and state identification cards that retailers will scan when alcohol is sold. This has advanced out of committee. Concerns include that this data could susceptible to identity theft.

* LB 64 that requires contractors to be licensed: Christensen agreed that the bill would saddle contractors with extra expenses and is not needed, especially with the troubled economy.

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