LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers closed out the 2015 session after passing 247 bills into law.

The newly approved measures range from repealing the death penalty to letting cigar bars continue operating as an exemption to the statewide smoking ban.

Equally as important, depending on your point of view, lawmakers left almost twice as many bills sitting in committee, stranded in the debate process or killed outright.

Taxes and spending

» State spending will increase an average of 3.5 percent annually in the two fiscal years beginning July 1 — about half the rate of increase in the previous two years.

» Gas taxes will increase 6 cents a gallon over the next four years to pay for state and local road maintenance and repairs.

» Woodmen of the World, as a fraternal benefit organization, will get a property tax exemption on its downtown Omaha headquarters.

» Businesses and farmers will get a partial property tax break on machinery, computers and other personal property.

» Property owners will get bigger property tax credits — some $48 more on a $150,000 home — because of a $64 million annual boost to the program.

» Admission to zoos and aquariums, including Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, will be free from sales tax.

» Valuations of farm and ranch land will not be lowered to provide property tax relief.

» There will be no additional tax relief for retirees, no tax credits for renewable energy projects and no new limits on cities using tax-increment financing for development. 



Crime and punishment

» The death penalty will be repealed and replaced with life in prison.

» Nebraska will use alternatives to prison, such as drug courts and probation, to punish nonviolent offenders.

» Sentences will be adjusted for some crimes, and the use of solitary confinement will be curtailed as part of a prison reform package.

» Mandatory minimum sentences and the three-strikes law used for habitual criminals will remain as is.

» The newest versions of synthetic marijuana, often called K2, will become illegal.

» An inmate will have more chances to seek DNA testing of evidence or request a new trial when new evidence is discovered.

» Sex traffickers and customers will face tougher punishment, while help will be provided for trafficking victims.

Fun and games

» Cigar bars can operate under a renewed exemption to the state smoking ban.

» Powdered alcohol will be banned in the state, while bars will have to continue closing by at least 2 a.m.

» There will be no expanded gambling or legalized poker tournaments.

Transportation

» Young immigrants brought to this country illegally as children will be able to get driver’s licenses.

» Internet-based ride-booking services such as Uber and Lyft will be legalized and regulated.

» Motorcycle riders will have to continue wearing helmets.

» Applicants for driver’s licenses will continue having the choice of answering whether they want to be organ donors.

Government and elections

» Petition drive organizers can return to paying circulators by the signature instead of by the hour.

» Nebraska will continue to allow the splitting of Electoral College votes, with three of the five votes based on presidential election results in the state’s three congressional districts.

» A voter will not have to provide a government-issued photo identification card to cast a ballot.

» Term limits for lawmakers will remain in place, as will secret ballots for legislative leadership.

» Campaigns will not have to provide bank statements or other documents to verify reported balances.

Education

» The University of Nebraska Medical Center will get $25 million toward construction of a high-tech experiential training center.

» Creighton University and UNMC will be able to split $8 million to expand dental services for low-income people.

» No changes will be made in the Omaha-area Learning Community or its controversial common property tax levy.

» The state school aid formula will remain as is for the upcoming school year, while lawmakers study the formula.

» Charter schools will not be authorized in Omaha or elsewhere.

Work and family

» Job discrimination against pregnant women will be banned, and employers will have to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.

» Minimum wage laws will continue to apply equally to high school students and other workers, while workers earning tips will see no increase in their minimum wage.

» There will be no ban on job discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

» Judges will not be required to give noncustodial parents more time with their children.

Health and welfare

» Children and adults with uncontrollable seizures will get access to hemp oil under a pilot study, but other forms of medical marijuana will remain illegal.

» Families in poverty will get their first boost in monthly Aid to Dependent Children payments in nearly 30 years.

» Nurse practitioners will be allowed to treat patients independent from doctors.

» Nebraska will remain one of 21 states that have not expanded Medicaid to cover more low-income people.

» There will be no new abortion regulations, Medicaid will not cover family planning services for more women and meningitis vaccines will not be required for teenagers.

Animals

» Dog and cat breeders will have to meet stricter regulations designed to crack down on puppy mills.

» Corporations will continue to be banned from owning hogs.

» Mountain lion hunting will not be banned, although the Game and Parks Commission has not set a new season this year.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

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