LINCOLN — A bill that would allow autonomous cars to operate in Nebraska was advanced by lawmakers on Monday, but it was far from a smooth ride.

Senators debated the measure for several hours before advancing the bill and several amendments to a second round of debate on a 33-13 vote.

Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln said she introduced Legislative Bill 989 so the City of Lincoln could conduct a pilot program with autonomous shuttles running in the city’s downtown area.

Last week lawmakers approved adding an amendment introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill to authorize driverless vehicles to operate on public roads in Nebraska and included rules and regulations for operating them.

Wishart said together the bill and the amendment put in place a regulatory framework for the cars that supported public safety and business and makes Nebraska a leader in the technology.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson objected to Larson’s amendment and said it opened up the state to autonomous vehicles without looking at insurance requirements or rules of the road.

“I think the risk is too great to just open this up,” Friesen said. “I feel it needs to be more controlled.”

Friesen then tried to attach his small cell, or 5G, wireless bill to LB 989. Last week Friesen’s LB 389 stalled, and he was not optimistic that he could get 33 votes on his bill to overcome a filibuster.

The wireless industry supported Friesen’s bill and said it would help Nebraska ramp up for the next generation of high-speed communications.

In making his case, Friesen said if cities are not equipped with small cell technology then the most advanced autonomous vehicles would not be able to run.

“They work hand in glove,” Friesen said of the technology. “They fit together.”

Wishart argued that attaching Friesen’s bill to hers would sink both bills, and ultimately senators voted down combining the bills.

Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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