Nebraska Legislature Session End

Nebraska Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha smiles Friday during debate on his successful motion to override a Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of Wayne's bill that would allow the Omaha Transit Authority to expand and levy property taxes outside its current limits. 

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.

Regional Transit Authority for Omaha area. On the final day of the 2019 session, senators overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of bill that would allow the formation of a regional transit authority in metropolitan Omaha.

Ricketts had vetoed the transit authority measure, Legislative Bill 492, calling it a potentially “incredible” property tax increase of up to $17 million for residents of the metropolitan area.

The bill, introduced by State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would allow the Metropolitan Area Transit (MAT) board to vote to form a regional transit authority, which would have its own elected board and be allowed to levy property taxes of up to 10 cents per $100 of property valuation.

Right now, MAT has an appointed board and can levy only as much taxes as approved by the City of Omaha and Douglas County — currently a levy of 5.6 cents. And that tax levy must fall within the levy limits imposed on cities and counties.

Wayne said such a regional authority was sorely needed to improve bus service in the region and help resolve workforce shortages in areas like Sarpy County and Fremont by getting workers to unfilled jobs.

“Public transit is the lifeline of every community,” he said. “In order for Omaha to move forward, we need this.”

The senator pushed back on Ricketts’ comments about a tax increase, saying that it was just as likely that the City of Omaha and Douglas County would lower their levies since MAT would no longer be part of their property tax requests.

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Under the bill, communities would have to vote to join the regional authority. Currently, suburban cities can contract for bus service, which is done by Bellevue, La Vista and Papillion. Wayne said those contracts could continue under his bill.

Senators voted 33-16 to override the governor’s veto, which is three more than the 30 votes required.

Husband and wife, or spouse? The governor also vetoed LB 533, a measure aimed at changing the wording on state marriage documents from “husband and wife” to more a neutral term, “spouse,” to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Ricketts said that while the state needed to accommodate same-sex couples, “it is vital that our state also support the vast majority of Nebraskans who support traditional marriage.”

He said he would administratively change the wording on state marriage licenses and certificates to read “groom/party A” and “bride/party B” to harmonize the forms with federal law.

Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who sponsored LB 533, expressed surprised Friday that her “paperwork” bill would inspire a veto, since the bill advanced unanimously from committee and she received no expressions of concern from the governor’s office.

She told her colleagues that she would not push for a veto override vote this year, but would watch closely to see if the governor’s changes adequately address the issue.

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.

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