LINCOLN — An expected fight failed to materialize Monday in the Nebraska Legislature over a bill that would make it harder for wildlife groups to give land to the federal government.
Instead, the bill's sponsor called off the showdown by allowing the measure to be carried over until next year.
Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill said he was biding his time rather than backing down from an effort to restrict how the Nebraska Environmental Trust distributes state lottery profits for wildlife habitat conservation.
“I think it's going to take a long time to get people to realize there's gross mismanagement in the Environmental Trust,” said Larson, who prioritized Legislative Bill 57.
His parting shot got the attention of Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, one of the trust's most loyal defenders in the State Capitol. Haar said Larson resorted to “hearsay and half-truths” to plant doubt in the minds of some senators.
“It's a bad bill,” Haar said, “and I'm glad that bad bill's been withdrawn.”
The measure advanced from the first round of debate on a 27-17 vote. It also received enough votes in early April to cut off a filibuster.
The situation changed by the second round of debate on Monday, the third-to-last day of this year's legislative session. Opponents had pledged to mount another filibuster, but this time Larson didn't think he had the 33 votes needed to cut off debate.
Larson filed a motion to delay further discussion of the bill until early in next year's session.
The senator and his supporters object to the practice of using Environmental Trust grants to buy land that is then given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or other federal agencies. The agencies make in-lieu-of-tax payments on the land, which typically amount to less than a parcel's property tax would be.
Some elected officials in rural counties have complained, saying that such land transfers reduce tax revenues and thus make it harder to fund services.
Larson's bill would require grant recipients to get the trust's approval before transferring land to a federal agency. It also would require grant recipients to make up any lost tax revenue if a transfer were approved.
Haar said the bill tries to micromanage the work of the 14-member Environmental Trust board of directors, which already has the authority to decide if such transfers are suitable.
In 2012, Larson brought his concerns about trust land transfers to State Auditor Mike Foley. After reviewing the matter, Foley said the trust appeared to be “operating pursuant to statutory authority.”
Contact the writer:
More Legislature coverage, resources
• Map: Find your senator