The Nebraska Legislature's 2013 session begins Wednesday Here are some storylines we'll be following during the 90-day session.
Welcome back, Ernie
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers sat out a four-year term because of term limits, but the former senator from District 11 is back in the saddle after a big win over incumbent Brenda Council. Chambers has 38 years of experience in the Legislature and knows how to use it; he's well-known for his skills at blocking or altering legislation. What will his impact be in 2013? Stay tuned. Read more.
New leaders stepping up
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, Appropriations Committee Chairman Lavon Heidemann and U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer are out because of term limits. On Wednesday, senators elected Greg Adams of York to replace Flood. Adams, who has experience on the Education Committee, has not always been in agreement with Gov. Dave Heineman. Omaha Sen. Heath Mello's election to lead the Appropriations Committee is another signal that the Legislature is becoming more moderate. Mello also has clashed with the governor. In all, 11 new senators are headed to Lincoln and only Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford has more than six years of experience. Read more.
Governor wants 'better tax climate'
Heineman, who has two years left in his term, plans to unveil details of his tax plan during his State of the State address on Jan. 15. Solid details before then aren't likely, but Heineman seems to be backing off the idea of axing the state income tax. Regardless, he's pushing for change for individuals and businesses. He has suggested eliminating the state corporate income tax and lowering the state income tax to a flat rate of 2.9 percent, and eliminating some sales tax exemptions and introducing some new fees. His goal: Bring business to Nebraska. “We're 31st out of 50 states in business tax climate. We're not in the top half. I know we can do better,” he said. Read more.
Action on higher education costs
Earlier this week, Heineman and and higher education leaders laid out a plan to freeze tuition for two years for in-state students at the University of Nebraska and state colleges. A state funding increase of $68.3 million over two years would be necessary to make that possible. Could the Legislature make it happen? Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have seen tuition increase every year since 1987. “It's a very creative idea, but it has to be considered in the larger context of the budget,” said State Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and Education Committee member. Read more.
Punishment for juveniles who commit first-degree murder
Senators are poised to take on sentencing options for juveniles who take lives. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. How senators alter the punishment options and whether they apply to 26 inmates currently serving life for crimes committed as juveniles are among the questions to be answered. Read more.
More to watch
» Whether Heineman, with two years left in his term, can get more traction for his ideas after losing some battles with lawmakers last year.
» Whether Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha can balance an ambitious legislative agenda and lead the Judiciary Committee while making a run for Omaha mayor.
» How cautious senators will be with new spending proposals, given the current economic climate.
– From World-Herald archives
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