Twenty days is all the time the Nebraska Legislature has left to decide, yea or nay, on key issues facing the state — taxes, school funding, the state budget and much more. There will be sharp debate over honest differences, but lawmakers need to put the priority on making the best use of their limited time. They need to look, where possible, for practical agreement.
Speaker Jim Scheer is working to focus fellow state senators on those goals. He chided a group of senators Thursday, for example, for mounting a mini-filibuster on the final reading of energy-code legislation that, once the delaying action ceased, passed by a vote of 30-8. His bottom-line message: The Legislature doesn’t have time to waste in these final days. Senators need to pick their battles responsibly.
That message needs to be the central guiding principle as the Legislature heads toward the end of its session on June 6.
Here are some of the issues that lie ahead for lawmakers:
» Taxes. Can the Legislature find consensus on tax changes that would either win support from Gov. Pete Ricketts or else override a veto by him? The task has proven immensely difficult, given the great differences in perspectives and interests on the issue. Perhaps some individual tax-policy concepts can be approved through separate bills. On the central issue of property tax relief, lawmakers need to have a practical fallback position if their attempt during first-round debate falters. Lawmakers are well aware of the public expectation for action on the issue this session.
» Business incentives. This legislation is also among the most important this session. The state’s central business incentives law, the Nebraska Advantage Act, sunsets next year. State Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward has worked hard to assemble a worthy revamp that better positions the state to compete in the modern economy.
» School aid. Lawmakers are aiming for the biggest overhaul of state funding for public education since the 1990s. That effort won’t win majority approval in the Legislature, however, if the approach is so complicated that it creates major uncertainties down the road for the state’s largest school districts. At present, those complications and uncertainties are creating a serious roadblock to passage.
» State budget. Just as in the past, spirited floor debate is anticipated over the budget. Disagreement over spending allocations is to be expected in any session. State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has shown himself a capable budget analyst and will again be called on to explain the state’s key funding questions and how the Appropriations Committee approached them.
» Other issues. Debate lies ahead on the proposal to permit medical marijuana, an issue that generates tremendous passions and disagreement. Spirited floor debate is expected over parts of the legislative package from the Judiciary Committee.
Twenty days isn’t much time to tackle a set of statewide issues this complex and, in some cases, divisive. Scheer is sending the right message to his fellow senators: Don’t waste time. Pick battles wisely. Seek out agreement. Bring this session to a successful conclusion.