LINCOLN–Time is running out for Nebraska state senators to get their bills passed before the last day of the current legislative session, recently announced by Speaker Jim Scheer as May 31 — four days shy of the regular 90 days in odd-year legislative sessions. Now it’s crunch time for the state’s budget plan and for bills offering property tax relief. Catch up on last week’s developments in the unicameral below.
New property tax bill proposed in place of stalled LB 289
The main legislative vehicle which lawmakers hoped would create property tax relief in Nebraska was LB 289, co-sponsored by Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan and North Platte Sen. Mike Groene. The bill would raise or impose taxes on various items like cigarettes, soda, candies and car repair services, among other things, to increase state aid to public schools, thereby lessening the load carried by property taxes in funding Nebraska schools.
That bill has faced heavy opposition in recent weeks, however, particularly from Gov. Pete Ricketts — who wrote the bill off as an ineffective shifting of tax burdens — and from Nebraska’s largest public school districts. LB 289 includes a measure meant to even out the amount of aid given to schools across the state, bumping up the aid given to many rural schools but giving major school districts fewer avenues through which to levy their own funding.
On May 16, Sen. Tom Briese of Albion offered up an alternative (LB 183) that retains many of the sales taxes in LB 289, but cuts out the impact on school districts. Instead, the revenue from the new taxes would be funneled into the state’s property tax credit program, growing that fund by about $150 million per year. Briese’s bill also leaves out the cigarette tax increase and state sales tax increase of half a percent proposed in LB 289.
Linehan thought Briese’s new proposal would provide a good compromise for the time being to provide some property tax relief in the interim, but she said she will continue working with school districts and officials before bringing the legislation in LB 289 to the unicameral again next session.
Ricketts, meanwhile, was still dissatisfied with legislators’ efforts and vowed to veto Briese’s bill if it were to tally the votes needed to reach his desk. LB 183 will hit the unicameral floor again on May 22 for second-round debate.
Sex trafficking, ‘revenge porn’ bills advance
Legislators voted to advance a pair of bills on May 16; one would give prosecutors more investigative freedom in pursuing sex traffickers, and the other would outlaw “revenge porn,” or harassment by sharing lewd photos or videos of a person.
The first bill, LB 519 introduced by Sen. Julie Slama of Peru, would allow law enforcement to tap phones of traffickers and would expand the statute of limitations for the crime from three to seven years, while abolishing the statute of limitations for trafficking cases involving minors. The bill advanced on a 45-0 vote.
The latter bill, Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld’s LB 630, would make revenge porn illegal. Under the bill, a new offense called “sexual extortion” would become illegal, too, essentially forbidding blackmailing people for money with threats of distributing sexual photos or videos of themselves. LB 630 advanced on a 36-0 vote.
Omaha Sen. Wendy DeBoer’s LB 680, under which lawsuits against people sharing or threatening to share revenge porn would be allowed, advanced with a 39-0 vote.
Medicinal marijuana sponsors set sights on 2020 ballots
As was predicted, a bill that would legalize medicinal marijuana stalled out after a filibuster on May 15. The bill’s introducer, Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, didn’t expect it to pass in the first place, and it met opposition from many senators — like Slama and Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg — who worried about the societal impact of cannabis legalization and the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved such medical treatments.
Securing the 33 votes needed to end the filibuster is unlikely, Wishart said, so she and Sen. Adam Morfeld are working to get enough signatures for the public to vote on the issue on the 2020 ballots. If the proposal reaches the ballot, Wishart is confident Nebraskans will vote ‘yes.’
State budget plan moves on to final round of consideration
After debate on May 15, legislators voted 40-7 to advance a $9.3 billion state budget plan to the final round of debate. The budget’s highlights include a $51 million addition to the state’s property tax credit fund and $1.2 billion of allocations to the University of Nebraska over the next two years.