A total of 655 bills and six constitutional amendments will be considered by the Nebraska Legislature this year. Here's a look at the major issues and important bills. A complete list of proposed legislation is available on the Nebraska Legislature's website.
Major issues of the 2013 session
Heineman's tax plan
In his State of the State address on Jan. 14, Governor Dave Heineman called for a “bold and courageous” look at eliminating the state income tax paid by individuals and corporations. His plan would eliminate state personal and corporate income taxes, and replace that tax revenue by eliminating about half the state's $5 billion worth of sales tax exemptions.
The governor said his goal was not to increase or decrease state taxes but to shift the tax load onto sales taxes and create a simpler, more modern state tax system. The Legislature will debate two bills.
The more ambitious bill, LB 405, would eliminate all Nebraska corporate and individual income taxes, including those levied on retirees, and shift $2.4 billion of taxes onto sales of items that are now tax-exempt, including purchases by farmers, businesses, churches and other nonprofits.
A second plan, LB 406, would eliminate the state's corporate income tax, and lower — not eliminate — income taxes on Social Security checks and other pension income. It would require a $395 million tax swap.
Tuition freeze for Nebraska students
Heineman proposed a two-year tuition freeze for all Nebraska students attending the University of Nebraska campuses in Lincoln, Kearney, Omaha, including the NU Medical Center, as well as Chadron, Wayne and Peru State Colleges.
Heineman recommended state funding increases $68.3 million to allow the university and state colleges to forgo tuition increases for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. Tuition rates for out-of-state students could continue to increase. So could room and board rates and other fees.
Nebraska employers could ban guns in their workplaces but not in their parking lots under a proposal sponsored by Mark Christensen of Imperial, one of the Legislature's strongest gun-rights advocates. Legislative Bill 335 would allow gun owners to store firearms in their parked vehicles, regardless of the employer's gun policies. The bill also applies to the parking lots of stores, businesses or any other place where a motorist can legally park.
Omaha Senator Brad Ashford introduced two bills that also address the rights of gun owners. LB 50 would hold gun owners liable if they fail to safely secure a firearm later obtained by a juvenile or person with mental illness. LB 148 would make it a crime for convicted felons to possess ammunition, treating bullets as the law currently treats firearms.
Changes for OPS board
Omaha senator Scott Lautenbaugh introduced a bill that calls for reorganization of the Omaha Public School board this spring.
Legislative Bill 125 calls for a nine-member board, with an election to be held this spring along with the city elections. The board now has 12 members. In addition, the bill would limit members to two consecutive terms in office.
New measures for safer driving
LB 10 by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist would raise seat belt violations to the level of a primary offense. LB 118 by Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff would do the same for texting while driving.
Currently, police can ticket drivers for the offenses only if they pull them over for a primary traffic violation. So, forget to belt up then blow a red light while reading a text from your wife and you'll pretty much score a trifecta for the arresting officer.
Under the new bills, police won't need another reason to write you up for no belts or no sense (that's shorthand for driving while texting.)
Other notable bills and amendments introduced
(Click each bill's title to learn more.)
End taxes on Social Security and veterans benefits
Sens. Bob Krist and Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha and Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont all introduced bills to exempt Social Security benefits from taxation (Legislative Bills 5, 17 and 74.) Krist and Janssen also sponsored bills to exempt military retirement income (LBs 5 and 75).
LB 18: No state insurance for lawmakers
LB 18, sponsored by Nordquist, would prohibit members of the Legislature and certain constitutional officers from participating in the state insurance program.
LB 79: Better disclosure on political donations
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln sponsored LB 79 to repeal the Campaign Finance Limitation Act, which was declared unconstitutional. Funds collected under the act would allow the Accountability and Disclosure Commission to create an electronic filing system for political contributions. It also would lower the dollar amounts that would trigger disclosure.
LB 89: Immunity for storm shelter providers
LB 89, introduced by Sen. Ken Haar of Lincoln, would provide liability immunity for those who provide emergency storm shelters for people who lack safe places to wait out severe storms, such as trailer park residents.
LR 1CA: Allow teens to run for the Legislature
Legislative Resolution 1CA, sponsored by Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill, would make 18 the minimum age to run for the Legislature to match the federal voting age. The current minimum age is 21. Because the change would involve a constitutional amendment, it would require a vote of the people.
LR 2CA: Majority plus four to raise taxes
Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha introduced another constitutional amendment, LR 2CA, requiring the vote of at least 29 senators to enact a new tax or raise an existing tax. Currently, passing such a proposal would require a simple majority, 25 of the 49 senators.
LB 127: Preregister teens to vote
Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill introduced LB 127 to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. Qualified teens who preregister — typically at the same time they obtain driver's licenses — would not be allowed to vote in an election until after they turn 18.
LB 131: Prohibit tobacco from school campuses
Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha sponsored LB 131 to create a “tobacco-free environment” at all Nebraska schools. The bill would prohibit students, staff members and visitors from using any tobacco products on a school campus or at an off-campus school event. About one-third of Nebraska schools currently have comprehensive tobacco-free policies.
LB 132: Teen tanning salon ban
Nordquist also introduced LB 132 to prevent teens younger than 18 from using tanning beds at commercial salons or health clubs to reduce their risks of contracting melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
LB 134: Inheritances for children conceived after a father's death
Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery introduced LB 134 to assist children conceived through artificial insemination after the death of their fathers. The bill would allow the children to obtain Social Security survivor benefits in response to a recent Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that said such a child was precluded from the deceased father's estate.
LB 148: No ammunition for kids
Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford sponsored LB 148 to make it a felony offense to sell or give ammunition to juveniles in the same way it is illegal to sell or give firearms to juveniles. The bill makes exceptions that allow relatives to provide ammunition to be used for legitimate sporting or educational purposes that involve direct adult supervision.
LB 246: Prison co-pays
Jail and prison inmates would be charged a $10 co-payment to get health care under LB 246, introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill. The co-payments would not be required in emergencies, for infectious diseases, for chronic conditions, for mental health care and in specified other situations. Inmates could not be denied care for lack of a co-payment.
LB 258: Cellphones and buses
School bus drivers would be prohibited from using a cellphone or any other type of wireless device while driving. LB 258, introduced by Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, would not bar drivers from using a dispatch radio.
LB 264: Caregiver credit
Nebraskans caring for elderly people in their homes could qualify for a $500 tax credit under LB 264, introduced by Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln. The credit would apply if the elderly person has problems dressing, bathing or getting around.
LB 271: Early voting
Early voting would be allowed for 25 days, a decrease from the current period of 35 days, under LB 271, introduced by Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha. Secretary of State John Gale recommended the change to give election officials more time to program special voting machines for blind voters. A blind woman in Lincoln filed a complaint this fall because the machines were not available when she tried to vote early.
LB 273: Faster keno
Fans of keno would not have to wait as long between games under LB 273, introduced by Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber. The measure would allow games every three minutes, rather than the five-minute wait under current law. Previous attempts to shorten the time have been unsuccessful.
LB 293: Gun privacy
LB 300: Abortion information
Legislative Bill 300 by Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha would require videos of unborn fetuses be made available, along with other abortion-related information, on the state website. Clinics that provide abortions would have to link to that site. The measure is this year's priority for Nebraska Right to Life, which hopes the videos would discourage pregnant women from pursuing abortion. The bill sets out the exact language and the size of type that clinics would have to use for the link.
LB 304: E15 ethanol for Roads Department
LB 304. by Sen. Norm Wallman of Cortland would mandate the burning of E15 ethanol fuel in vehicles belonging to the Nebraska Department of Roads starting in 2014. The fuel contains a blend of 15 percent ethanol, typically made from corn.
LB 309: Simplified benefits
LB 309 by Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln requires the Department of Health and Human Services to simplify the process of applying for Medicaid, food stamps and other public benefits. The bill directs HHS to maximize information-sharing among benefit programs and to renew different benefits simultaneously.
LB 314: Escort service regulations
LB 314 by Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial would set regulations for private escort services, such as requiring both the service and its employees to be licensed. The bill also would attempt to prevent such services from acting as fronts for prostitution by prohibiting escorts or their customers from engaging in activities that involve the removal of all clothing or touching while in a semi-nude state.
LB 338: Medicaid discrimination
LB 338 by Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island would bar health care providers and facilities from discriminating against Medicaid patients. The bill would make providers and facilities subject to disciplinary action against their licenses if they are found to discriminate.
LB 362: End state park permits for residents
LB 362 by Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln would abolish state park permits for residents and fund parks with a $7 fee charged on most vehicles and trailers when they register. Vehicles with Nebraska plates could then enter parks without a permit. Nonresidents still would be required to buy permits.
LB 365: Mandatory CPR training in school
LB 365, also introduced by Avery, would require Nebraska high school students to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other first aid skills before they graduate.
LB 370: State aid to cities and counties
LB 370 by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha would restore state aid programs for cities and counties based on their populations. Local governments that accept the state money would be required to reduce their property tax collections by a corresponding amount. The bill does not designate how much money would be directed to the local governments.
LB 379: Restrict prison furloughs
LB 379 by Sen. John Nelson of Omaha would prohibit furloughs for most prisoners convicted of gun crimes or being habitual criminals. The bill, endorsed by Omaha's mayor and police chief, is in response to last year's fatal shooting of an Omaha man by police after the man reached for a gun outside a nightclub. Despite a history that included gang involvement and gun offenses, the man was on his 11th furlough when he was shot.
LB 382: Winner take all in presidential elections
LB 382, also sponsored by Janssen, would end Nebraska's system of splitting its three electoral votes in presidential races. Under the bill, whichever candidate wins the state's popular vote would take the state's electoral votes. Nebraska and Maine are the only states that don't use a winner-take-all system.
LB 393: Off with motorcycle helmets
LB 393 by Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins would allow motorcyclists 21 and older to ride without helmets. The bill would, however, require eye protection.
LB 407: School aid
The state school aid formula would be modified to control the growth of aid under LB 407, introduced by Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids. The bill would phase out restrictions on spending growth and on property tax levies that had been imposed to help the state balance its budget two years ago. Estimates of the financial impact of the bill are not yet available.
LB 412: Drone spying
Law enforcement would be barred from using unmanned drones to collect evidence under LB 412, introduced by Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus. The bill is titled the “Freedom From Unwarranted Surveillance Act.”
LB 438: Problem schools
The state could intervene with up to five of Nebraska's lowest performing schools under LB 438, introduced by Sen. Greg Adams of York. The bill would require the State Board of Education to name intervention teams to work with schools on plans for improving student test scores. The bill also requires those schools to form local operating councils to advise the principal.
LB 460: Student vaccines
Students going into the seventh grade and again at age 16 would have to get a vaccine booster for meningococcal diseases under LB 460, introduced by Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha. Meningococcal diseases include meningitis and serious blood infections and can be fatal.
LB 472: Flying lanterns
The flying lanterns containing an open flame that have become popular at Independence Day celebrations in recent years would be banned under LB 472, introduced by Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber. He has said the lanterns are a fire danger.
LB 480: Career education
Students at Nebraska community colleges in high-need fields could get grants to help pay for their studies under LB 480, introduced by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha. The bill creates a public-private program that would provide grants worth up to $1,000 per year.
LB 485: Discrimination
Nebraska employers would be prohibited from discriminating based on sexual orientation under LB 485, introduced by Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln. The bill also bars discrimination based on marital status, adding both characteristics to current laws barring discrimination in employment matters based on race, color, sex, age, national origin, religion and disability.
LB 540: Pledge of Allegiance
Legislative Bill 540, introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, would rescind a rule passed by the State Board of Education requiring teachers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom.
LB 543: Death penalty
Chambers, a leading opponent of capital punishment, introduced LB 543 to repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without parole. The senator regularly introduced repeal bills during his previous 38 years in the Legislature.
LB 517: Prenatal care
Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont introduced LB 517 to repeal a law passed last spring to restore taxpayer-funded prenatal care for the unborn children of illegal immigrants. Such babies automatically become citizens on birth and are eligible for state-funded health care, but Gov. Dave Heineman and others say prenatal care ought to be handled by churches and nonprofit groups, not taxpayers. The state's cost is about $650,000 a year.
Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln introduced a measure to repeal a bill passed two years ago that earmarks a quarter-cent of the state's sales tax to new highway and street construction. Conrad said that earmarking is bad public policy and that the governor's proposed expansion of sales taxes would create a windfall of $44 million for road building, which is not what the Legislature intended.
LB 578: Freedom of conscience
Health care providers would get sweeping protection for refusing to participate in, or to refer patients for, care that violates their religious, moral or ethical beliefs under LB 578, introduced by Sen. John Nelson of Omaha. The measure would protect health care facilities as well as individuals.
LB 593: Charter schools
Five charter schools could be created in Omaha to serve up to 1,000 students under LB 593, introduced by Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh. The schools would operate outside of school board control but would receive public funds from students' home school districts. The bill does not provide for charter schools outside Omaha.
LB 503: Child welfare investigations
State officials would be authorized to use a less adversarial approach in responding to some allegations of child abuse and neglect under LB 503, introduced by Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln. The alternative approach would be used when the danger to a child is low. The goal would be to get help more quickly to families and to keep children from becoming state wards.
LB 507: Child care
LB 507, the “Step Up to Quality Child Care Act,” would require the state to develop a quality rating and improvement system for applicable child care programs. The aim would be better early childhood education, according to the bill from Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln.
LB 517: Irrigation
LB 517, introduced by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, would create a task force to come up with plans to sustain water used for irrigation and other uses. Carlson said the current use of water resources in the state is not sustainable.
LB 590: Horse racing
Lautenbaugh will try again, via LB 590, to allow betting on “historic horse races” at the state's thoroughbred tracks. The idea, designed to help struggling tracks, failed last year.
LB 553, 554: Teacher retirement
Retirement benefits for new teachers in the state and Omaha Public School retirement plans would be adjusted to save money under two bills introduced by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha. Cost of living adjustments for both plans would be reduced to 1 percent a year, and benefits would be the result of a five-year average instead of three years. The Legislature's Retirement Committee also could adjust contribution rates for the retirement plans under LB 553 and LB 554.
LB 600: Inheritance taxes
Gov. Dave Heineman dropped his plan to eliminate the tax, paid to counties. But Sen. John Wightman of Lexington proposes, in LB 600, to reduce some tax rates charged on inheritances.
LB 634: Wildfires
Devastating fires last summer prompted Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis and eight other lawmakers to introduce LB 634. It would require the state to station two aerial tankers near Valentine and Chadron to fight fires and take other steps to prevent and battle forest and range fires. The state now has to call in airplanes from other states to dump fire retardant.
For more on all 655 bills, visit the Nebraska Legislature's website.