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Legislature

Senators begin final readings on bills on the final day of the legislative session in 2018 at the Capitol.

Nebraska senators introduced 138 measures Thursday on the first day of bill and resolution introductions, including tax bills, legalization of medical cannabis, and a bill to require public schools to post "In God We Trust" in prominent locations. Another 83 bills and one proposed constitutional amendment were introduced Friday, the second of 10 days of bill introduction in the 106th Nebraska Legislature.

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard proposed a vote of the people on a constitutional amendment (LR3CA) that would provide for a refundable state income tax credit for 35 percent of local property taxes paid.

That proposal would appear to result in well over $500 million in annual property tax relief.

By comparison, an earlier citizens initiative drive that was subsequently withdrawn proposed a 50 percent credit that would have resulted in an estimated $1 billion of property tax relief.

The new proposal would require the votes of at least 30 senators to be submitted to a vote of the people in 2020.

Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha proposed income tax reform (LB50) that would adjust some tax brackets while increasing income tax rates for high-income Nebraskans.

The top tax rate would be hiked from 6.84 percent to 7.84 percent for Nebraskans earning more than $100,000 a year and those earning in excess of $1 million would pay an additional 1 percent surtax on that additional income. Nebraskans with income in excess of $2 million would pay a 2 percent surtax on that additional income.

Sen. Tom Briese of Albion sponsored a bill (LB18) that would divert the sales tax revenue collected from online sales to the state's property tax credit cash fund.

Other bills introduced on Thursday:

Death penalty repeal

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers introduced legislation to do away with the state’s death penalty. But he also wants that to extend to prairie dogs and mountain lions. The repeal of the death penalty (LB44) would replace the punishment for first-degree murder with life in prison. He also seeks to repeal the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Management Act (LB45) and eliminate the hunting of mountain lions (LB46).

Medical cannabis legalization

Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart has introduced legalization of medical cannabis (LB110), which covers its prescription and production in a bill that would allow the drug to be prescribed for a variety of conditions, including cancer symptoms, glaucoma, seizures, HIV symptoms and other illnesses as determined by a health care practitioner. A dozen other senators signed on to the bill.

Restoration of voting rights

A bill (LB83) introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne would restore voting rights upon completion of felony sentence or probation.

Cutthroat trout?

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango would add to the mountain lion conservation license plates with sandhill cranes, big horn sheep and cutthroat trout. His bill (LB128) would have the Department of Motor Vehicles come up with the three designs reflecting support for the conservation of Nebraska wildlife.

Texting while driving changes

Texting and other interaction with electronic devices while driving would become a primary offense with a bill (LB40) by Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha. Anyone with a driver’s license, school permit or learner’s permit could be ticketed if spotted texting, instant messaging, sending email or looking up websites while operating a motor vehicle.

Tuition for service members

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue sponsored a bill (LB6) allowing active duty military stationed in Nebraska, their spouses and dependents, to pay in-state tuition to colleges and universities. Sen. Sue Crawford, also of Bellevue, grouped service members enrolled in vocational rehabilitation programs into those who can pay in-state tuition in a similar bill (LB122).

State contract protests

A bill (LB21) from Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward would require the Department of Administrative Services to create a formal protest procedure “for any contract for services” exceeding $5 million awarded by state agencies.

Community college tax levies

Kolterman also introduced a bill (LB27) that would afford the state’s community colleges more flexibility in how they use their locally assessed property taxes. The measure does not raise the levy cap of 11.25 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

"In God We Trust"

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard wants Nebraska’s public schools to display the national motto “In God We Trust” in each classroom or prominent place in each school building “where each student shall be able to see and read it each day school is in session.” Erdman’s bill (LB73) also requires the Nebraska attorney general to defend school districts in civil litigation related to the motto.

Bills introduced Friday:

After falling to a filibuster in the last legislative session, Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte will once again offer legislation that would allow teachers and administrators to use physical restraint on students who become violent toward themselves or others.

Any physical act to restrain a student would not be considered corporal punishment under Groene’s bill (LB147), nor would educators be disciplined if they were “acting in a reasonable manner” based upon a recorded history of disruption or abuse by the student.

Two years ago, Groene introduced the bill to address a “breakdown of discipline in the classroom,” but although his plan was backed by the Nebraska State Education Association, it met resistance from several senators who had experience as teachers or administrators.

Unable to reach the 33 votes needed to end a filibuster last session, Groene pulled his bill.

Vapor products

A bill (LB149) by Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island would make it illegal for people under the age of 21 to buy vapor products or flavored liquids to be used in vapor products. Anyone selling vapor products to persons under the age of 21 could be cited with a misdemeanor.

Native women

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon sponsored a bill (LB154) requiring the Nebraska State Patrol to author a study on the number of missing Native women in Nebraska, the barriers to providing state resources to address the issue, and proposed legislation to address the problem. The report would be due to the Legislative Council by June 1, 2020.

Eminent domain

Brewer also introduced a measure (LB155) that would eliminate the ability of electric suppliers to the state to acquire land rights to put in transmission lines for privately developed renewable energy sources through eminent domain.

Property tax amendment

Schools would be limited to raising 33 percent of their operational funding through property taxes under a proposed constitutional amendment (LR5CA) by Brewer.

Gay conversion therapy

Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt’s bill (LB167) would make therapy to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity illegal, while a second bill (LB168) would classify gay conversion therapy as a misdemeanor.

Mandatory minimums

Certain class I felonies would no longer carry mandatory minimum sentences under Sen. Ernie Chambers' bill (LB176). Class IC felonies, punishable by up to 50 years in prison, would switch from a mandatory minimum of five years imprisonment to a minimum of five years, while class ID felonies would move from a mandatory minimum of three years in prison to a minimum of three years.

Death penalty study

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld introduced a bill (LB207) that would form a Death Penalty Defense Standards Advisory Council to develop and recommend “guidelines and standards for death penalty defense systems,” including the American Bar Association’s Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, and how such guidelines may be implemented in Nebraska. A report would be due to the Legislature by May 1, 2020.

Wage sharing

A bill (LB217) by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks would make it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who discussed their compensation with another employee.

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