Nebraskans rally in support of constitutional convention to rein in federal government

January 17, 2019 GMT

Convention of States. Nebraskans rallied Wednesday at the Capitol in support of Legislative Resolution 7, which would put the state on record calling for a constitutional convention to rein in the power of the federal government. The resolution, introduced by State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, says the convention would be limited to proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for federal officials.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides for such a convention if 34 states call for one. So far, 12 have done so. Halloran said he believes he can get the measure passed in Nebraska, although a similar measure fell short last year. He also expressed confidence that the convention could be limited in scope and would not undermine existing provisions of the Constitution.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha has offered a separate measure, LR 9, calling for a constitutional convention to undo recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have overturned campaign finance laws. Meanwhile, Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue introduced LR 2, which would nullify the nine previously passed legislative resolutions calling for a constitutional convention under Article V.

Tax overhaul. Last year, Albion Sen. Tom Briese says he mustered 30 votes for his multifaceted plan to provide property tax relief (by shifting the load onto sales and income taxes), but not enough to end a filibuster. On Wednesday, he introduced a similar plan, Legislative Bill 314, which is backed by a coalition of groups, including the powerful Nebraska State Education Association and the Nebraska Farm Bureau. The plan includes a 1⁄2-cent hike in state sales taxes and a surcharge on high-income earners ($250,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a couple). New this year is the elimination of itemized income tax deductions and steep increases in taxes on beer, wine and spirits.

Briese said newly elected senators, as well as greater urgency to help “reeling” farmers, make him confident that he can get the bill passed this year. Gov. Pete Ricketts has said he’ll oppose any tax hikes, or tax shifts, to ease property taxes. But Briese argues that his plan is revenue-neutral — not a tax hike. He estimates that it will generate nearly $800 million for property tax relief and increased state aid to schools.

Mandatory overtime. Overworked state corrections officers and regional center employees would get some relief from a bill proposed by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart. LB 345 would prohibit workers at 24-hour care institutions from working more than 12 hours a day or working seven days straight without a day off. Prison staff complain that at some facilities, they are required to work 16 hours a day, more than once a week, to cover unfilled posts.

Legal footsie. Practitioners of reflexology would not have to be licensed as massage therapists under LB 347, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil. The bill continues recent efforts to reduce unnecessary occupational licensing regulation. It defines reflexology as using the practitioner’s hands to apply pressure to the feet, hands and outer ears of the customer.

» Corrections 101. Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who is returning to the Legislature after sitting out four years due to term limits, is wasting no time getting himself, and his colleagues, up to speed on issues surrounding Nebraska’s overcrowded prisons. He led a tour Tuesday of two Lincoln prisons for fellow lawmakers, and held a briefing Wednesday to acquaint legislators with the parole and probation offices, and the role of the inspector general for corrections.

— Martha Stoddard and Paul Hammel