We’re about a month and a half away from the second session of the 105th legislature. Most of the 49 senators gathered this week for a meeting to prepare. Many are talking about “new” bills they will introduce in this next session.
Senators can introduce new bills only in the first 10 legislative days of the session. That deadline is the Jan. 18. I have several ideas for new bills that I’ll be talking about in the weeks to come. Suffice to say, the learning curve for me and the staff has been very steep, but we know how this place works now and will avoid a lot of the heartache we faced last session. Lobbyists and special interest groups fill the hallways during the first ten days hawking bills. Some of them do fine work and promote worthy issues so I’ll listen to them, but my constituents give me all the bill ideas I could ever need.
Before everyone sends me new bill ideas, I want you to ask, “Is another law really what we need?” We have a lot of laws right now, and one particularly troubling thing I’ve noticed is the laws that force another entity of government to do something, yet do not provide any resources necessary to do it. They call this “unfunded mandates.” The federal government does this to Nebraska, and the legislature does this to counties, cities, towns, school districts, natural resource districts, etc. For example, lacking prison beds because of our overcrowding problems, counties end up housing more prisoners in their jails. The State directs hospitals to provide healthcare to people on MEDICAID, but do not fully reimburse the hospital. The legislature passed laws that overhauled the State’s 911 emergency system. The counties have old 911 communications equipment that doesn’t interact with the new Internet-based systems. Who pays for all this? We need to systematically identify and reexamine these mandates if we are ever going to have a realistic conversation about reducing property tax because the main source of revenue a county has to address these things is property tax.
Of the thirteen bills I sponsored last session, one was passed into law. One advanced to general file. The remaining eleven bills are “held in committee.”
LB 504 (wind energy moratorium) and LB 576 (freezing property taxes) remain my top priorities. Since the end of the last session, I’ve lobbied the senators of the Revenue and Natural Resources Committee looking for a compromise or amendment language that could get these two measures advanced to general file. Each senator gets a “priority bill” which means if it makes it out of committee, it is guaranteed to be put on the agenda and debated on the floor. If a Senator listens to his constituents, figuring out their priority bill is easy. Many thousands of you have made it very clear the top two issues facing the district are wind energy and property taxes, so one of those two subjects will be my priority bill next session.