Budget changes among Monday’s legislative moves

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March 25th, 2014

Lincoln, NE — Most of the $8 billion, two year budget was passed last year, so the budget bills passed Monday were additions to that.

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Sen. Heath Mello, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers have the right priorities.

“Ranging from water policy to deferred maintenance of our state park system to job training to trying to help and provide services for the 1,700 on the developmental disabilities waiting list,” Mello said.

The budget contains increases of $31 million for water projects, $15 million for parks, $10 million for job training and $5 million for developmental disabilities.

Senators voted 40-8 in favor of the main budget bill. Among those opposing it was Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion.

“What we have is, we have a budget with a lot of good things in it, to do a lot of good things. But when you look at the overall spending, we’re going to be around 7 percent or so when all is said and done. I think that’s an unacceptable and an unsustainable rate of spending,” Kintner said.

Nebraska State Sen. Heath Mello represents district 5 in South Omaha. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Nebraska State Sen. Heath Mello represents district 5 in South Omaha. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Mello disputed that, saying the increase is closer to 5.5 percent. Gov. Dave Heineman now has five days to issue any line item vetoes, after which lawmakers will have the opportunity to override those vetoes.  A dispute over water sustainability could still provoke a fight over another bill that would govern spending on water projects, but a compromise is still being negotiated.

On another subject, senators passed a ban proposed by Sen. Ernie Chambers on hunting mountain lions in Nebraska. Once again, Heineman has five days if he wants to issue a veto.

Last week, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh had blocked a final vote, after Chambers threatened to block Lautenbaugh’s proposal to expand betting on horse racing.

Monday, Lautenbaugh stopped trying to block the mountain lion bill and said Chambers had agreed to withdraw his amendments blocking the horse racing proposal. Chambers confirmed that, but predicted it would make no difference because Lautenbaugh didn’t have enough votes on horse racing. Lautenbaugh said he remains confident.

Sen. Beau McCoy, another opponent of the horseracing proposal, said he has not agreed to any deal.

“I have no intention of a compromise. None,” McCoy said.

Debate on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it is not subject to veto by Gov. Dave Heineman. But it would still require 30 votes to be placed on the November ballot.

And, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act held a news conference to call attention to the March 31 deadline to sign up for coverage. Nordquist said more than 25 thousand Nebraskans have signed up so far out of the goal of 32 thousand. He said those who don’t get insurance and don’t qualify for an exemption face fines of between $95 and 1 percent of their income, up to $285, on their taxes next year. Nordquist had this advice for those who haven’t signed up because of controversy over the law:

“It’s the responsible thing to do for yourself, for your family, and for the general public at large, to get coverage. For too long we’ve had too many uninsured people who have ended up as a cost in our emergency rooms and those costs being shifted across our health care system. So it’s the responsible thing to do for society at large but also it’s the right thing to do for yourself and your family,” Nordquist said.

Nordquist said states where the governor or congressional members have supported the law have seen better rates of sign ups. A spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Heineman, a critic of the law, had no immediate comment when asked what advice the governor would give to people facing the signup deadline.

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