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Nebraska State Sen. Bob Krist withdraws Keystone XL-related proposal as political sparks fly

January 25, 2018 GMT

Convinced his bill to protect landowners in the path of construction of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline had been purposely channeled to a legislative committee where it was destined to die, Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha on Wednesday won legislative consent to withdraw his proposal.

But before the Legislature consented, Krist sparked a discussion that centered on the political nature of some internal legislative decisions.

Largely unspoken was the fact that a political factor, if it did indeed play a role in the committee assignment, may have been magnified by Krist’s upcoming challenge of Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ re-election.

Krist has changed his voter registration from Republican to nonpartisan and has announced his intention to form a third party to gain access to November’s general election ballot.

His pipeline bill would have required due process for the taking of private property for private oil pipeline construction in Nebraska rather than the use of eminent domain, while also requiring the posting of a $100 million bond that could help protect the state from damage created by a pipeline spill.

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Krist’s motion to erase the bill (LB1017) from the legislative docket was approved 40-7.

Under the Legislature’s guidelines for assignment of a bill, the measure should have been sent to the Judiciary Committee for its consideration, Krist said. Issues involving eminent domain are supposed to be referred to that committee, he said.

The bottom line is “if you don’t want something to go to the floor, you bury it in a committee you want in control,” Krist said.

The bill was sent to the Natural Resources Committee.

But that is where it belonged, Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill argued, because that is where the earlier pipeline siting bill was considered.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said the committee assignment represented a continuation of “the coup” engineered by conservative senators last year when they ran the table in installing a slate of candidates in legislative leadership positions.

The assignment of bills to committees is often deliberate in determining whether bills will reach the floor for action, he said.

Chambers described the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee as “the black hole committee,” a place where “bills are sent to die.”

The current political dynamics that were in play surfaced briefly during the debate.

Larson suggested the bill represented an effort to “grandstand an issue (and) make political points” after Krist argued “the past governor and the current governor have kicked this can down the road.”

“I am not for scrapping the (Keystone XL) project,” Krist said, “but we need to be very careful” and provide for a reasonable construction and performance bond to “provide protection for property holders.”