Ricketts

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature on Tuesday sent two priorities of Gov. Pete Ricketts to the governor’s desk.

Lawmakers passed Legislative Bill 959, the first piece of the governor’s property tax relief package, and LB 960, which creates the transportation infrastructure bank.

Passed 47-0, LB 959 is projected to reduce property taxes by increasing state aid to schools more than $8 million. That figure represents a small percentage of total annual property tax collections by local governments — nearly $3.8 billion in 2015.

The transportation measure, meanwhile, would create a $450 million, 17-year program of highway construction, county bridge repair and transportation-related economic development.

The bill, passed 48-0, would establish the infrastructure bank using the new gas tax revenue and money from the state’s cash reserve.

Among the other measures passed Tuesday:

• State Patrol retirement. Passed 47-0, LB 467 seeks to stop what lawmakers describe as state troopers “spiking” their pension benefits by cashing in large amounts of comp time in their last year of service. The bill would increase pension contributions and reduce benefits for new hires to firm up the State Patrol pension plan, and would compute the final salary as the average of a trooper’s final five years instead of the final three.

• Sealed records. Criminal history records would be sealed from the public when a person is acquitted of charges or successfully completes a program in drug court or a similar problem-solving court under LB 505, passed 48-0. People whose records have been sealed would not have to disclose the arrest or charges on job applications.

• Military commission. LB 754, passed 47-0, would create a 10-person commission on military and veterans issues to, among other things, help the state recruit and retain missions. The Military and Veteran Affairs Commission would select a salaried military affairs liaison who would serve as the point person for all military matters in the state.

• Problem-solving courts. Passed 47-0, LB 919 would create the state’s first veterans court in Douglas County as part of a pilot project, and would encourage other problem-solving courts across the state. Such courts are an alternative to prison aimed at reducing the state prison inmate population. A fiscal estimate shows the pilot project would cost the state $461,000 over the next two years.

• Elder abuse. Exploitation of a senior adult to get control of his or her assets would become illegal under LB 934, passed 48-0. The bill would expand the definition of exploitation to include forced isolation, intimidation, threats, and the breach of a guardian or conservator’s fiduciary duty. The bill also defines a senior adult as one age 65 or older.

 Multipurpose transportation. Passed 49-0, LB 977 would create breast cancer awareness license plates a pink ribbon logo and the words “early detection saves lives.” The bill would also reduce the number of applications required to launch a new specialty plate, from 500 to 250, and exempt tractors and other equipment from weight and load limitations when operated on highways.

• Alcohol omnibus. Passed 45-2, LB 1105 would allow 16-year-old employees to ring up tickets at restaurants that include alcohol, as long as the youth didn’t handle the alcohol. The bill would create the Nebraska Craft Brewery Board, whose seven members appointed by the governor would be tasked with promoting small business. It would also allow a Nebraska resident who is legally able to work in the state to be eligible for a liquor license regardless of U.S. citizenship.

• Foster children. Youngsters in foster care would be able to have a more normal childhood under LB 746, passed 48-0. The bill would allow foster parents and service providers to use their best judgment in making day-to-day decisions about youth activities, such as sleepovers, attending prom and going to church. Passage of the bill is part of complying with a 2014 federal law.

 Volunteer responders. People who volunteer as firefighters and rescue squad members would get a $250 refundable income tax credit under LB 886, passed 46-0. The credits would be available to volunteers who accumulate at least 50 points, which are awarded based on their level of activity with the volunteer department. The credits would start in 2017.

• Early childhood workers. Income tax credits would be available to child care and early childhood providers and staff under LB 889, passed 42-5. The credits would be larger for providers whose programs meet state quality standards and for staff members who have more experience and education. The total credits available would be capped at $5 million.

• Game and Parks fees. Passed 45-3, LB 745 would give the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission authority to increase prices for hunting, fishing and state parks permits in Nebraska. The bill would allow the commission to raise the state park entry fee from $25 to $35 for an annual permit and from $5 to $7 for a daily permit, among other permit price increases.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9581, emily.nohr@owh.com; 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

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