Nebraska lawmakers end session early with challenges ahead
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers ended their 2019 session ahead of schedule Friday with more than 250 laws passed, a new state budget and a few major issues that remain unresolved.
At the same time, lawmakers found enough agreement to legalize industrial hemp , protect elderly homeowners , crack down on scam calls and update standards for civics lessons in classrooms . They also funded a request for new election equipment and created criminal penalties for people caught smuggling cellphones into a state prison.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer praised lawmakers for their accomplishments but said the session “certainly was not all blue skies” and urged his colleagues to build relationships. The session was marked by several high-profile meltdowns, with numerous senators yelling on the legislative floor and others bringing debate to a standstill for hours because they felt betrayed and disrespected. At least one senator described the session as exhausting.
“What’s not healthy and should not take place (in the Legislature) is personal attacks and vilification,” Scheer said. “That is what creates distrust.”
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, a progressive Lincoln lawmaker who often works with conservatives on issues such as human trafficking and Native American advocacy, said the Legislature could have been more productive.
“There are all sorts of things we don’t agree with each other on, but can’t we find the common good for Nebraska?” she said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts thanked lawmakers for their work this year and highlighted several new laws in his end-of-session speech.
He pointed to the state’s new $9.3 billion budget, which includes a 23% increase in Nebraska’s property tax credit fund, for a total of $275 million annually to reduce property taxes. Ricketts billed it as an important step toward lowering taxes, although some rural senators have grumbled that it isn’t nearly enough to offset soaring tax bills for farmland.
Ricketts acknowledged that more was needed but said this year’s work shouldn’t be minimized.
“We have continued to make good progress,” he said.
Lawmakers also rejected an effort to update Nebraska’s largest business tax incentive program, a major priority because the program is set to expire next year. If the current program dies with no replacement, Nebraska’s chambers of commerce contend the state will face a huge disadvantage in attracting companies.
Members of the tax-focused Revenue Committee will resume their work on property tax and business incentive packages in early June, said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, the committee’s chairwoman. Linehan said she and other lawmakers need time to clear their heads and start fresh on a plan that can win enough support next year.
Linehan said she was disappointed at this year’s failure to pass a major tax package, but expressed hope that a compromise will come early in next year’s session that begins in January 2020.
“I think we were very close to the solution,” she said.
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