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[Author: Mark Othmer, 05.2016 | Keywords: Nebraska Field Notes, Nebraska Legislation]

The 104th legislature, 2nd session, of the Nebraska Unicameral came to a close on April 20, 2016. Since this was the 2nd session of the 104th legislature, all bills not acted on or passing final reading (the third round of debate) will die. There were 445 bills introduced this session, which were added to the 411 that were carried over from the 1st session, so there were over 850 bills available for senators to act on during this 60-day session. In election years, the session only lasts 60 days, which allows senators to return to their districts to prepare for the primary election. (In non-election years, the session lasts 90 days.) Of the bills available for action this year, approximately 250 advanced through the whole process to become law. From my perspective, every bill that required action this year received attention, while many bills did not, for various reasons.

The Role of the Filibuster

Filibusters remain a fact of life in any legislature, but this year it seemed like the Nebraska Unicameral started them early and continued often. Senators are all pretty bright individuals, so it is no surprise that they have figured out the numbers game involved with a filibuster. While it only takes 25 votes to advance a bill to the next stage of action, it takes 33 votes to stop debate on any bill. If you cannot successfully get 33 votes in favor of cloture (end of debate), the bill fails. Each bill that makes it to first round may be debated for six hours before a cloture vote becomes mandatory. There are several tactics used by senators to keep six hours of debate going, such as enlisting the help of other senators, adding amendments that require debate, additional votes and so forth. If the bill does make it to the next step, which is select file, it can be debated again, this time for a total of four hours. Lastly, a third debate could occur at final reading and may last two hours.

As you can see, the desire to stall all action in the Unicameral by way of filibuster can and is done on a regular basis. Often, a compromise must be reached to stop a filibuster so other legislative business can take place. When this happens, the rights of the minority have been protected, which is the real reason a filibuster is allowed during the legislative process. While it can be quite frustrating (especially to those waiting in queue for their bill to come up for debate), removing the opportunity to filibuster would be a great disservice to the legislative process, especially minority interests.

INEDA Legislative Action

There were only two bills in the Unicameral this year where the INEDA legislative committee recommended action, one in support and one in opposition.

LB977 I-NEDA supported and actively worked on this bill throughout the last interim and during this session. This bill was the result of several hearings held across the state as part of LR317, a resolution to study the use and operation of farm equipment and implements of husbandry on the roads and highways throughout Nebraska. The new law, which will be enacted this July, will allow agricultural equipment and implements of husbandry to exceed weight limits with restrictions following the current bridge formula in relation to crossing bridges. When ag equipment or implements of husbandry cross a bridge or culvert it will NOT be exempt from vehicle weight requirements. The law also allows local authorities by “ordinance or resolution to prohibit the operation of vehicles upon any highway or impose restrictions as to the weight of vehicles, for a total period not to exceed 180 days in any one calendar year.” The adoption of an ordinance or resolution by local officials will require a hearing process and vote of local authorities to enact such restrictions.

INEDA views this bill as a major victory since it accurately defines agricultural equipment and implements of husbandry, along with granting an outright statewide overweight exemption while still allowing local authorities to protect roads and highways from overweight traffic if they deem it necessary. We owe a great deal of thanks to the Nebraska Cattlemen, Farm Bureau, the Governor’s office and several state employees for their contribution and help in making this victory possible.

LB1072 The Fair Repair Act was covered in Andy’s column in this magazine (page 3) so I will not go into great detail here. This bill, which was opposed by INEDA, subsequently died having never left the Judiciary Committee. I want to thank the dealers and manufacturer representatives who traveled to the Capitol to testify against this bill.

Legislation of Interest

There were several bills of interest that INEDA did not actively oppose or support, but instead provided information to senators and other interested parties on the subjects of these initiatives. These included:

LB 958 This bill will provide an additional $20 million in property tax relief and is available to ag land owners only. This group would see around $108 per $100,000 valuation in additional property tax relief.

LB959 This bill makes changes to portions of the school aid formula and will shift $8.5 million from the general fund to school aid, allowing for property tax reduction in the same amount.

LB 960 This bill creates an infrastructure bank and provides $450 million over 17 years to: 1) accelerate the State Highway Capital Improvement Program, including the designated expressway system; 2) create a voluntary county bridge match assistance program on a pilot-test basis; and 3) establish the Economic Opportunity Program, which would help finance transportation improvements that attract and support new business development and business expansion. In addition, $40 million of the total would be allocated and set aside for matching grants to repair and replace county bridges, with an additional $20 million of the total going toward transportation-related economic development projects. This bill will also utilize a “design and build” concept of construction in an effort to expedite projects, with the goal of completing the unfinished 600 miles of the expressway system by 2033.

More Information Available

If you want to know more about what happened in the 2016 session of the Unicameral, plan to attend the Summer Legislative Meeting & Golf Outing held at the York Country Club in York, Nebraska on June 30. We will also discuss the just completed primary elections and take a close look at all of the district senator candidates for the fall general election. I hope to see you there!

About the Author

Mark Othmer

For nearly 20 years, Mark has traveled across Nebraska calling on members. A “regular” at the State Capitol, Mark keeps his finger on the pulse of legislative issues affecting members. When he’s not driving across Nebraska, Mark can be found golfing, cheering on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and spending lazy afternoons at the family farm.