State budget: Something for everyone to hate

Thursday, March 22, 2018

McCOOK, Neb. — As the Nebraska legislative season ticks down, state lawmakers are still tied up over trying to pass a budget

The last day of the state legislature is April 16 and late nights have been the norm, as state senators try to get a budget bill passed, Dist. 44 State Sen. Dan Hughes said this morning at the Chamber of Commerce legislature conference call.

The mainline budget bill, the contentious LB 844, that includes cuts to the University of Nebraska system and endorsed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, was debated last night with much of the focus on a provision in the bill concerning Title X funding to health clinics. The provision would prohibit federal Title X funds from being paid or granted to an organization that performs, assists, provides counseling in favor of or refers for abortion services. Title X funds are already prohibited by federal law to be used for abortions.

Hughes said senators came to an impasse in debating the amendment, with some saying it’s a separate policy issue that shouldn’t be in the budget and others saying that Title X funding has always been in the budget. When a motion was made to invoke cloture, or to force a vote on the bill, it did not get enough votes to pass.

Technically, senators do not have to pass a budget this year as the state can operate on last year’s budget, Hughes said. But it would not be in the best interest to do that, he added, as it would entail taking more out of reserves.

Pressure to pass a budget bill is mounting, Hughes said, acknowledging that LB 44 has been controversial. “It has something in there everyone hates,” he said this morning, adding that he found it unfortunate that members of the Appropriation Committee, who voted it out of committee, did not vote in favor of it on the legislative floor.

“It’s in limbo at this point,” he said of the bill, but that it would be debated again today.

His priority bill, LB 1009, has advanced essentially the same, but with speed limits on Interstate 80 eliminated. The bill originally created a super-two rural highway classification, such as the one proposed between North Platte and McCook and changed maximum highway speed limits. Pending Nebraska Department of Transportation studies, speeds would increase on two-lane highways from 60 to 65 mph and on four-lane expressways to 70 mph. It would have also allowed speed limits on Interstate 80 to increase from 75 to 80 mph.

With an amendment introduced yesterday in the state legislature, the Interstate portion was stripped out.

Another bill passed this week by the legislature yesterday was vetoed by Gov. Ricketts.

LB 350, according to the committee statement, would allow any individual convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, who was sentenced to any punishment other than probation or fine, to petition the court to set aside their conviction once their sentence is completed. The court would be required to deny the petition if: the individual has pending charges in any foreign or domestic court; if they are required to be entered on the Sex Offender Registry; for any misdemeanor or felony violation of Nebraska Rules of the Road or a motor vehicle homicide; or within two years of a previous attempt to seek a conviction set aside.

If the conviction is set aside, the court would reinstatement petitioner’s rights except for the individual’s right to possess a firearm.

Hughes said the governor had reservations that some serious infractions could be set aside with this bil. Hughes said it is his understanding that the introducer of the bill, Sen. McCollister, would not attempt to override the veto.

Other issues Hughes addressed this morning included:

* LB 44 has failed, a bill that would have required online retailers without a physical presence in Nebraska to collect and remit sales tax. Hughes said a major concern was a pending federal Supreme Court decision concerning that same issue. Lawmakers wanted to wait until the ruling on that case was released, Hughes said,

* LB 1008, a “Christmas tree bill” with five different bills, includes LB 820, introduced by Hughes. LB 820 concerns wording that would not require the public power industry to release proprietary or commercial information if it would benefit business competitors. His amendment is likely to be carved out of LB 1008 so it can be discussed separately, Hughes said.

* in response to a question this morning by a participant, the $4 million that Colorado will pay Nebraska for compliance with the Republican River Basin Compact, the money will go to the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources for surface water projects in the Republican River Basin.

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