Nebraska lawmakers on Wednesday introduced 168 bills, among them:
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» Highway construction. 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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.
» 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. — Paul Hammel and Martha Stoddard