LINCOLN — A state lawmaker is attempting to cap the salaries of elected officials on county boards and city councils.
Prompted by raises approved last month by the Douglas County Board, State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha introduced Legislative Bill 831 on Thursday. The bill would prevent elected officials on the local level from having a salary that exceeds $24,000, or twice the annual salary of members of the Legislature.
Last month, the Douglas County Board voted 4-3 to raise its members’ annual salaries by 4 percent a year for four years. Board members’ annual salary will increase to $51,879 in 2019, then by 4 percent annually until reaching $58,356 in 2022.
The raises came after the Douglas County Board raised members’ salaries by a combined 34 percent in 2017 and 2018.
Wayne said there needs to be a discussion about how much officials at the local level are being paid and whether the jobs the elected officials are doing should be considered part-time or full-time jobs.
“If they can justify their pay, they can come to the committee hearing and justify it,” Wayne said. “If they can’t, then we need to look at it from a Legislature standpoint.”
On Thursday, Douglas County Board member Mike Boyle, who voted for the recent raise, said that although he understands Wayne’s frustration, there is a lot of work that is not seen by the public that goes into being a board member.
Previously, the board had salary freezes and it needed to catch up, he said.
“It looks kind of strange, and I understand that, but I think it was justified,” Boyle said.
About the same time as the increases in Douglas County, the Sarpy County Board voted to keep its members’ base salary the same, at $26,095 a year, for 2019 and 2020.
On top of the pay, board members are also offered benefits such as health insurance, which amounts to more than fair compensation for the work, said Don Kelly, chairman of the Sarpy County Board.
“It’s public service,” Kelly said. “It’s not a career.”
Kelly said having boards vote on their own salary is awkward and political. He said he thinks the voters should decide how much board members are paid. Voters, for example, determine how much state senators are paid.
Omaha City Council members have their salary set by ordinance. This year, City Council members will be paid a salary of $37,378, with the council president making $44,854.
Other bills introduced Thursday
» College savings plans: LB 804, introduced by Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch, would implement the recent tax provision adopted by the U.S. Congress that expands the use of so-called 529 plans for K-12 private and parochial school expenses. It would allow a state tax break beginning in 2020.
» Industrial hemp: LB 832, introduced by Wayne and five other senators, would exclude industrial hemp from the legal definition of “marijuana,” thus relaxing restrictions on growing hemp for fiber, clothing and other uses.
» Prison overcrowding: Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks’ LB 841 would require the Corrections Department and the Parole Board to produce a plan, by December, on how they would accelerate the parole of inmates if a prison overcrowding emergency happens in 2020. By law, if prison populations are over 140 percent of capacity by then, the Parole Board must begin releasing parole-ready inmates to reduce crowding.
» Creating a new city: In the name of repopulating rural areas, Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher introduced a proposed constitutional amendment, Legislative Resolution 269CA, to allow the state to cede a 36-square-mile area for the formation of a new city, under the governance of its residents.
» Electioneering: LB 839, from Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would require filing of spending reports by groups such as Americans for Prosperity when they mail or broadcast information during political campaign season clearly aimed at influencing an election. The bill exempts voter guides and communications about pending legislation. Americans for Prosperity, which calls its mailings “educational” rather than campaign-related, has said it opposes the bill.
» Tampon tax: Feminine hygiene products, such as pads and tampons, would be exempted from sales taxes under LB 798, introduced by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha. Similar proposals have been introduced in other states, based on the argument that such products are basic necessities.
» Tanning salons: Most teenagers would be banned from using tanning salons under LB 838, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln. Current law requires users to be 16 years old, unless accompanied by a parent. The bill would raise the age to 18 and eliminate the parental exception.
World-Herald staff writers Martha Stoddard and Paul Hammel contributed to this report.