State senators complete bill introductions, fall short of record volume

By: - January 18, 2023 4:49 pm
Nebraska State Capitol Building

The Nebraska State Capitol Building. (Rebecca S. Gratz for Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — State senators have wrapped up the bill introduction period for the 2023 session, falling short of filing a record number of proposals.

A total of 812 legislative bills were introduced through Wednesday — the deadline for bill introduction — which is short of the record 885 bills introduced in 1997 for a similar  90-day session.

Bill limit rejected

The 1990s were a big decade for bill introduction, with more than 800 bills introduced four times, in 1991, 1995, 1997 and 1999, during the first year of the Nebraska Legislature’s two-year sessions.

State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair had introduced a rule change to limit each of the 49 senators to introduce only 12 bills each session. He contended that too many proposals are being introduced, which has reduced the time available to debate bills.

Hansen said he could see bill introductions rising even higher.

But the Rules Committee, during an executive session Tuesday, did not advance the bill limit proposal.

Sens. Wendy DeBoer of Omaha and Eliot Bostar of Lincoln each questioned whether a limit was necessary and whether such a limit would work.

Bostar said lawmakers would “find a way” around any limit by combining more subjects into one proposal. Introducing bills, DeBoer and Bostar argued, was a way to represent a senator’s constituents, and limiting it would be problematic.

190 measures introduced Wednesday

Among the 190 bills and proposed constitutional amendments filed Wednesday were proposals that would:

  • Allow teachers to use “reasonable physical intervention” to “safety manage” unruly students. Legislative Bill 811, introduced by Glenvil Sen. Dave Murman, is similar to other student discipline proposals made in recent years. The ACLU of Nebraska is opposed to the bill, saying the answer is “more funding, resources and training” for educators, not physical force.
  • Require voter approval of a development project receiving more than $20 million in tax-increment financing or TIF. Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh said that the city has been “reckless” in its use of TIF and that voters, under LB 746, would be required to approve large development projects that use TIF “before we tear down libraries or build streetcars.” That is a reference to the already approved use of more than $60 million in TIF for the new Mutual of Omaha building and a streetcar line.
  • Allow the state to give out up to $10 million a year in “emergency” food grants to qualifying nonprofit organizations. LB 763 was introduced by Omaha Sen. Wendy DeBoer.
  • Allow a losing election candidate to request a hand recount. LB 808, introduced by Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran, comes after an unsuccessful legislative candidate in Lincoln, Russ Barger, was denied a request for a hand recount. A judge ruled that state law requires recounts to be conducted the same way the original vote count was done, by machine. Secretary of State Bob Evnen has said there’s no reason to believe that a hand recount would be superior to one done by machine and that the state’s vote-counting machines have been proven highly accurate in frequent testing.
  • Limit school superintendent salaries to no more than five times what is paid to a first-year teacher in that school district. Murman, who chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee, introduced LB 800, which is titled the “Superintendent Pay Transparency Act.”
  • Allocate $100 million over two years to the State Department of Economic Development to develop “innovative housing solutions.” Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne introduced LB 789. Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha would allocate a similar amount under LB 786, but funds would be directed to Omaha’s housing needs.
  • Return the state to a “winner-take-all” system of awarding electoral votes for president. Sen. Loren Lippincott of Central City introduced LB 764. Such proposals have failed in the past. They seek to do away with awarding three of Nebraska’s five electoral votes by district. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, won one of the state’s votes that way in the 2nd Congressional District in 2020, while former President Donald Trump won the statewide vote and the other two congressional districts.
  • Allocate $60 million in state funds to help Sarpy County build a new sewer system south of Gretna. Bellevue Sen. Rick Holdcroft introduced LB 769, which would aid the $250 million sewer project, which is being built in phases to open up more land in southern Sarpy County for development. The return on investment is “billions” of dollars of new tax revenues for the state, Holdcroft said.
  • Protect medical professionals who decline to participate in a health care service on the basis of “conscience,” moral or religious belief. The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, LB 810, was introduced by Murman and 13 other senators.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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