This Week in Lincoln: Back to Business in the Unicameral


January 18th, 2019

Each Friday morning, the KVNO News website will provide a recap of Fred Knapp’s updates on the Nebraska Legislature for NET News. These stories run daily on 90.7 FM at 7 a.m. and 12 p.m., but in case you missed them, here they are again:

FRIDAY, JAN. 11 – Health care was at the center of the third day of the Legislature, with senators introducing bills addressing abortion, vaping, feminine hygiene, and conversion therapy.

Sen. Joni Albrecht put forth a measure that would require abortion providers to tell women it may be possible to reverse the effects of an abortion-inducing drug if quick action is taken. Albrecht described her bill as “pro-woman, pro-information, pro-life, pro-choice.”

As for vaping, Sen. Dan Quick proposed raising the legal age for vaping from 18 to 21, as well as prohibiting selling people younger than 21 flavored liquids containing nicotine.

Newly-elected Sen. Megan Hunt introduced several bills, one of which that would eliminate the sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Another would combat conversion therapy, which tries to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

MONDAY, JAN. 14 – Two major issues were on the table during the fourth day of the session: capital punishment and public power transmission.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks introduced a measure that would change how Nebraska implements the death penalty. The proposed legislation would require two state senators, selected by the Executive Board, to witness any execution.

It would also prohibit anyone from limiting witnesses’ ability to see any part of the execution and allow people participating in the execution to wear masks to hide their identity. Pansing Brooks opposes the death penalty, but if executions are to be carried out, she wants them to be more transparent.

Sen. Tom Brewer’s legislation on eminent domain would eliminate state law that allows the use of eminent domain to build transmission lines for privately developed renewable energy generation.

This measure is in opposition to the R-Project transmission line proposed by the Nebraska Public Power District, which is meant to reduce congestion and increase reliability, as well as provide an opportunity for wind and solar projects. Brewer believes eminent domain should not be used for private projects.

TUESDAY, JAN. 15 – Gov. Pete Ricketts laid out his proposed budget in his State of the State speech on the fifth day of the legislative session.

He started out optimistic, describing the state as “strong and growing.” He then began to address specific details of his budget that address key issues like property taxes, prisons and Medicaid expansion.

The latter will likely result in less money for other areas, such as education and tax relief, Gov. Ricketts had said in December, but this latest proposal increases spending in those areas. Some senators gave the budget their support; others are wondering how to balance tax cuts and increased spending.

“I’m a little confused at some of the spending that he proposed and the tax cuts he’s also proposing at the same time,” said Sen. Adam Morfeld. “So it’s going to be tough for us to balance both of those.”

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 16 – A plan introduced on the sixth day of the session by Sen. Tom Briese intended for property tax relief would increase taxes like sales, cigarette, and alcohol.

It would raise an estimated $783 million; the net effect could cut property taxes by 15 percent. It will likely face opposition from Gov. Ricketts and others opposed to a tax shift.

Other legislation introduced Jan. 16 included a proposal introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart that would limit state employee workdays in 24-hour facilities to 12 hours or less, and a bill by Sen. John McCollister that would set aside $200,000 to study the need for electrical transmission lines for alternative energy.

Also introduced was a resolution by Sen. Steve Halloran asking Congress to call a convention of the states. This convention would propose constitutional amendments imposing fiscal restraints and limiting power of the federal government, as well as imposing term limits on Congress.

THURSDAY, JAN. 17 – The minimum wage was up for discussion at the Unicameral on the seventh day of the session, with two different proposals introduced.

Sen. Dan Quick’s proposal would raise the minimum wage – currently $9 an hour – every year by the average increase in the consumer price index for the previous five years, rounded to the nearest nickel and capping annual increases at three and a half percent.

Sen. Megan Hunt, meanwhile, wants to raise wages for workers such as waiters that are exempt from the general minimum wage due to tips. Her proposal would raise their current minimum wage of $2.13 an hour to $3.60 next year and $4.50 in 2021.

Criminal justice was also a focal point of the session as Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican gave his State of the Judiciary speech. Heavican spoke on the benefits of using specialized problem-solving courts, such as drug courts or veterans’ courts.

State Treasurer John Murante rolled out a package of proposals that included a goal for “every kid in Nebraska” to be able to graduate debt-free through savings and investment from a two- or four-year college.

As well as keeping up with the legislature through daily updates, you can also watch the Nebraska Legislature live on NET World.

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