Capitol View

Lawmakers Adjourn 103rd Legislature First Session

By J.L. Schmidt, Statehouse Correspondent, The Nebraska Press Association

The Legislature has adjourned, but the work has just begun.

This was the “long session,” the 90-day first session that traditionally includes passage of a new two-year state budget. Done.

Ernie Chambers failed in his 38th try to ban the death penalty. The measure never got past first-round debate (a bill needs three rounds before a final vote) and was tripped up by a legislature filibuster. Suprisingly, Chambers, the master of that legislative tactic, wasn’t the one doing all the talking. The bill (LB543) remains alive and could be considered in next year’s “short” 60-day second session.

Governor Dave Heineman failed in his attempts to drastically change the state’s tax system with two bills. But he succeeded in getting lawmakers to agree to study the situation. A tall order but a necessary one to update the decades-old studies that have become the benchmark.

Chambers succeeded in convincing his colleagues to pass a resolution (LR155) to establish the Tax Modernization Committee to review and recommend updates. The resolution creates the committee from members of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee and the chairs of Appropriations, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Planning and two senators selected by the Legislature’s Executive Board. The veteran lawmaker emphasized that the committee will produce a preliminary report to the Legislature and the governor by December 15, 2013, and a final report by November 15, 2014. The committee will meet at least once annually to review and evaluate the tax code.

The Legislature also approved a resolution (LR22) to study how to control costs and improve quality in Nebraska’s healthcare system. The Health and Human Services Committee will cooperate with the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee to convene policymakers and stakeholders to review healthcare coverage, cost and delivery. The committees will be briefed before November 1 and may conduct public hearings to gather input.

The resolution’s sponsor, Senator Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, said passage of federal healthcare reform has provided the state an opportunity to discuss what Nebraska’s healthcare priorities should be and how to achieve them. Campbell chairs the Health and Human Services Committee.

Banking Committee Chairman, Senator Mike Gloor of Grand Island, said the study is necessary because 25 percent of the state budget is spent on healthcare issues and the amount is growing.

In addition to taxes and healthcare, lawmakers will also be studying water issues. Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Senator Tom Carlson of Holdrege, sponsored a bill (LB157) to create a task force to look at the sustainability of the state’s water resources and recommend changes in water management and policy.

The Water Funding Task Force will include members of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, the director of the state Department of Natural Resources, the chair of the Natural Resources Committee and 10 additional members appointed by the governor. A report is due to the Legislature by December 31.

Water issues are complicated because water flows through Nebraska and other states, upstream and down, have federally monitored demands on the flow.

There is a lot of work ahead for lawmakers before they convene next January.

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