Capitol Digest reporters photo xcapitoldigest capitoldigest

From left, World-Herald legislative reporters Martha Stoddard, Paul Hammel and Aaron Hegarty.

The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.

Enhanced TIF for “extremely blighted” areas. A week after his proposal was blocked by extended debate, State Sen. Justin Wayne won initial approval for his proposed constitutional amendment to provide enhanced tax-increment financing benefits for developments in “extremely blighted” areas across the state.

Under Legislative Resolution 14CA, cities would be able to pledge 20 years of the additional property taxes generated by a new development to the development’s cost, if the construction happened in an area with high unemployment.

Tax-increment financing in traditional blighted areas must end after 15 years.

Wayne said a longer time frame is needed as an incentive for economic development in areas like north Omaha and Thurston County, which usually are bypassed for such projects.

Last week, a longtime foe of tax-increment financing, North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, led opposition to the proposal, arguing that TIF was designed to redevelop blighted areas but had been misused by cities for new development that would have happened anyway.

Groene dropped his opposition on Thursday, and LR 14CA advanced from first-round debate on a 40-0 vote. Wayne said afterward that he would drop a slew of amendments he had filed in retribution for the constitutional amendment being blocked.

OPS pension. The Legislature’s retirement committee has advanced a bill that would explore having the state take over administration of the Omaha Public Schools pension system.

Legislative Bill 31 asks the state’s Public Employees Retirement Board, which administers state pension systems, to by 2020 prepare a plan to take over the OPS fund, looking into whether there would be cost savings for the district. Even if the state did assume the duty, the fund’s current $771 million shortfall would remain the responsibility of OPS.

Beatrice Six settlement. Gage County, which owes $28 million to six people wrongfully convicted of a 1985 slaying, would be able to impose a half-cent sales tax to pay off the judgment more quickly under a measure given 40-0 first-round approval on Thursday.

A two-thirds vote of the County Board would be needed to authorize the tax.

Supporters say the measure would ease the burden on homeowners and farmers who would otherwise cover most of the Beatrice Six court award through property taxes, which were increased in September.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop said the Judiciary Committee rejected an alternative proposal from Sen. Myron Dorn of Adams, who used to serve on the Gage County Board, that would have had the state help pay off the $28 million debt.

Lathrop said that if the state did that, it would probably also be asked to help pay off the $700 million-plus problem facing the Omaha schools pension program and the $2 billion federal mandate to redo the sewer system in the Omaha area.

The Beatrice Six — Joseph E. White, Kathleen Gonzalez, Tom Winslow, James Dean, Debra Shelden and Ada JoAnn Taylor — collectively served more than 70 years in prison for the 1985 homicide of Helen Wilson of Beatrice.

Wilson’s death has since been linked to a former Beatrice resident who died in 1992.

The case gained national notoriety for having the largest number of defendants wrongfully convicted in a single prosecution.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

Reporter - Metro News

Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.

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