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Property tax, abortion bills set for final votes in Nebraska

August 11, 2020 GMT
Nebraska state senators vote on a property tax bill in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Nebraska lawmakers pushed a property tax package through another procedural vote and were expected to do the same for new abortion restrictions in the session's final days. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nebraska state senators vote on a property tax bill in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Nebraska lawmakers pushed a property tax package through another procedural vote and were expected to do the same for new abortion restrictions in the session's final days. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nebraska state senators vote on a property tax bill in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Nebraska lawmakers pushed a property tax package through another procedural vote and were expected to do the same for new abortion restrictions in the session's final days. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Nebraska state senators vote on a property tax bill in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Nebraska lawmakers pushed a property tax package through another procedural vote and were expected to do the same for new abortion restrictions in the session's final days. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Nebraska state senators vote on a property tax bill in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Nebraska lawmakers pushed a property tax package through another procedural vote and were expected to do the same for new abortion restrictions in the session's final days. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers advanced a property tax and business incentives package and new abortion restrictions through a key procedural vote on Tuesday, despite fervent opposition from some senators in the final days of this year’s session.

Each measure won second-round approval in the Legislature, just ahead of the end-of-Tuesday deadline for bills to survive this year. They now head to a final, third vote on Thursday, the session’s final day, and will then go to Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is expected to sign them.

The property tax and business incentives package was merged into one bill because neither measure had enough support to pass by itself. Rural lawmakers who want lower local property taxes initially threatened to block the business incentives bill, but politically powerful business groups argued that Nebraska can’t be the only state without major tax incentives. The state’s current business incentive program, the Nebraska Advantage Act, expires this year.

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“We need to make a positive statement to the people of Nebraska, and I think the biggest risk is not to act,” said Sen. John Stinner, of Gering, who helped negotiate the compromise package.

Still, the package drew criticism from some rural, conservative lawmakers, who said it didn’t do enough for property owners. The property tax portion would offer a state tax credit to reimburse property owners for a part of what they pay to local schools. But in most cases, homeowners and farmers would still see an increase over the previous year because of rising property values.

“This is a decrease in the increase, call it what it is,” said Sen. Steve Erdman, of Bayard.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, of Lincoln, said lawmakers focused too much on the needs of higher-income homeowners, farmers and businesses, and not enough on people who are struggling financially because of the coronavirus. She lamented that lawmakers didn’t help renters facing evictions, meatpacking workers who are at higher risk of catching the virus, or workers who are still unemployed.

“When we are tone deaf to the needs of individual Nebraskans, we are not doing our jobs,” Pansing Brooks said. “I am not proud of this session.”

The business incentives package would offer tax credits to businesses that set up shop in Nebraska and create a certain number of high-paying jobs. The credits would vary based on how much money a company invests, the number of employees hired and the average salary paid.

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Lawmakers also advanced a bill that would restrict a second-trimester abortion procedure known as a dilation and evacuation abortion. The bill would outlaw the use of clamps, forceps, tongs or scissors to perform the abortion. Opponents refer to it as a dismemberment abortion because it often requires doctors to remove a fetus in pieces.

“We are simply discontinuing a procedure which is inhumane,” said Sen. Suzanne Geist, of Lincoln, the bill’s sponsor.

Abortion-rights supporters said the bill is certain to face a court challenge and will likely get struck down as unconstitutional. Sen. Megan Hunt, of Omaha, said the abortion and property tax bills are “beneath the dignity of the work we are called here to do,” given the economic damage wrought by the pandemic.

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