Tax Subsidies, DACA Professional Licenses, Eased Windpower Regs Pass


April 14th, 2016

Sen. John Murante promotes a redistricting commission (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Sen. John Murante promotes a redistricting commission (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

More tax subsidies for convention centers and arenas, professional licenses for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and eased regulations on wind power projects were among bills passed by the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday.

It was a day filled with rhetoric and realpolitik, as the Legislature scrambled to pass bills on the next-to-the-last day of its 2016 session.

Both R-words were on display as lawmakers considered a bill to increase tax subsidies for convention centers and arenas like those in Omaha, Lincoln, and Ralston. Sen. Mike Groene compared the legislation to the economic planning process in the former Soviet Union. “This body does believe that we need a five-year-plan on economic growth. We need this body to decide on every aspect of our free-market system with some kind of incentive. Some kind of program,” Groene said.

Groene proposed an amendment that would have killed the bill. Sen. Ernie Chambers said that wasn’t going to happen. “Yakity, yakity, yak. That’s all it is. We now have been reduced to a mere debating society,” Chambers said.

Chambers contrasted Groene’s effort to his own contribution to killing LB10, the winner-take-all Electoral College bill. Chambers had initially threatened to filibuster every bill, but then relented, as several senators switched their votes to kill the bill. “I have a reason for what I do. When the reason is no longer there, I don’t do anything. What I wanted to see happen was LB10 die. And it died,” Chambers said.

Groene acknowledged his opposition to the subsidy bill wouldn’t work, but said he was laying down a marker for the future, just as Chambers had done previously. “Am I trying to kill this bill? No. I’m making a point,” Groene said. “I watched a man for 40 years fight his battle on an issue. He kept standing at the mic, preaching his sermon on the death penalty. Forty years it took him. He did it.

“I’m not as young as he was when he started, so I don’t have 40 years. But I’m going to keep preaching comprehensive tax reform – tax breaks for everyone, and none for the lobby!” Groene said.

Groene then withdrew his amendment, and the bill passed, 43-4. By the end of the decade, it will cost the state an estimated $10 million a year, split between convention center/arena developments and affordable housing subsidies.

Lawmakers also gave final passage to a bill providing $20 million in property tax credits to owners of agricultural land. The vote on that was 47-1.

And lawmakers passed a bill allowing people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to get professional licenses for occupations ranging from teacher to racetrack worker. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Health Mello, but is opposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Sen. Bill Kintner, another opponent, cast it as a stark choice. “You can vote for law and order. You can vote for the rule of law. You can vote to support the actions of a lawless administration in Washington – the Obama administration. You can vote to stand with Gov. Ricketts or you can vote to stand with Sen. Mello. It’s your choice. But I think you ought to be able to stand with the vast majority of Nebraskans who support the rule of law,” Kintner said.

In an interview, Mello suggested Kintner was framing the question about his proposal, LB947, incorrectly. “It wasn’t about picking sides. It trying to do a commonsense proposal to address workforce shortages that we have in the state,” Mello said.

The bill passed, 33-11. It would take 30 votes to overcome a gubernatorial veto, if Ricketts issues one.

Senators also passed a bill easing regulations that have to be followed for private wind power developments. Once again, Groene was prominent among the opponents. “We are privileged to have the only public power in the nation. So what do we do? We slap them in the face. We tell public power ‘You can’t manage your grid.’ We need just a few individuals who can make a profit off windmills to trump a syystem that works,” Groene said.

Sen. John McCollister asked his colleagues to support the bill, touting what he said would be the benefits of wind power development. “Please help me reduce property taxes. Help me bring extra farm income into our state, and reduce needless regulation,” McCollister said.

Lawmakers passed the bill on a vote of 34-10.

And late Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers passed a bill that would have a bipartisan commission, instead of a legislative committee, draw up the initial maps for redistricting congressional, legislative and other electoral districts after the census every ten years. The bill passed 29-15, with four senators not voting. Once again, it would take 30 votes to overcome a possible gubernatorial veto.

Lawmakers will now adjourn for a week, returning next Wednesday for a final day which will include considering any veto overrides.

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