State Sen. Mark Christensen planned to introduce a water bill this morning that could make a big splash -- or at least cause a few ripples.
Speaking at the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative conference call, Sen. Christensen said his bill would use 70 percent of sales taxes collected from rapid response areas in the Republican River Basin -- those closest to the river -- for a water solution fund.
The bill is similar to the one passed by the Legislature two years ago that allows city sales tax revenue collected at the Omaha Qwest Center to pay back Qwest Center debt.
Christensen said the bill has the potential to garner up to $25 million every year.
It would be a way to generate cash for the Republican River Basin area, to fund water issues in the area.
Water issues can get very emotional, he acknowledged, with many in the Legislature agreeing it's important, yet reluctant to part with state dollars.
But nothing will be solved without long-range planning, he believes, which he hopes will be addressed by another bill he's introduced this week, LB1016.
That bill will create the Nebraska Statewide Water Planning Commission, comprising seven members appointed by the governor.
This commission will operate separately from the commission already under the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, yet would use the same budget.
It would create a statewide plan for future use of water in the state, maintain and maximize water use in the state, and create a plan to manage water in the state.
The water plan could include a study on the cause and effect of groundwater declines, he added.
Evaluating all causes of stream depletion is vital to the issues facing the Republican River Basin, Christensen said, as "if you don't know what causes it, how can you solve it?"
Christensen also touched on another bill he's introduced, which would forgive the $9 million loan borrowed last year by the natural resources districts in the Republican River Basin. The money was used to pay irrigators who sold their water to the NRDs in 2007, as a way to meet compliance with the Republican River Compact.
He doesn't expect much support for LB932, Christensen said, although the courts have made it clear that compliance is a state issue. In addition, the NRDs have no way to pay back the funds.
Although he believes the bill is the right thing to do, "Just because it's right doesn't mean it always gets done," he conceded.
Other bills Christensen mentioned included:
* LB999, introduced by Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, that would prohibit all new hospital construction for two years, except for those designated as critical access. Christensen said he would talk to Campbell about the bill to find out the motive behind the bill.
* LB1001, introduced by Sen Charlie Janssen of Fremont, that would keep undocumented students from qualifying for in-state tuition at colleges. Nebraska's law current law, in 2006, allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition if the student graduated from a Nebraska high school after living here three years. Janssen's bill would not apply to any undocumented student in college as of September 2010, or any current high school senior.
Christensen said he was asked to co-sign on the bill but declined. Still, when he was campaigning, the majority of the people in his district did not support in-state tuition for children of undocumented workers.
But Christensen said he can see both sides of the issue. Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of Nebraska's population and an educated workforce only benefits the state.
He's also worked with one individual whose work visa has expired and has struggled for 16 years to become a legal citizen.
"It's a difficult issue ... it should be defined and simple if we want to make them U.S. citizens and if we don't, we shouldn't even have the process," he said.