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Neb. Legislature has a lot of ground to cover

Neb. Legislature has a lot of ground to cover

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LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska Legislature has made it through two-thirds of this year's session and still has a lot of ground to cover.

With looming budget talks and a contentious debate over a proposed Medicaid expansion in Nebraska, Legislature Speaker Greg Adams of York said lawmakers need to start buckling down and deciding what should take priority.

Adams' goal is to get through all bills senators designated as their top priority bills this session, but he said he isn't confident the Legislature will be able to pull it off.

"Hearing all priority bills certainly is the goal, but I am not optimistic that will happen," Adams said. "I am working with committee chairs to see which bills do we have to get done this session and which ones can wait."

Adams added that senators must not only look at the substance of the bill, but the fiscal note.

The Legislature's Appropriations Committee Chairman Heath Mello of Omaha said he has been helping lawmakers find ways to cut down the cost of their proposed bills.

The Appropriations Committee will release its proposed budget on May 1. As of now, the committee has set aside $16 million to $18 million to spend on new legislation. But Mello points out all of the spending and tax-cuts proposals on the table would cost more than $185 million to implement. He said it is essential for bills with large fiscal notes to be scaled down to have a realistic chance of passing.

"There just won't be that amount of money for all of the spending items," Mello said. "Everyone is not going to be able to get what they want."

Adams said lawmakers have been dragging their feet on hot button issues this year, and having Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha back in the Legislature has slowed debate down, too. Term limits forced Chambers out of the Legislature in 2008 after serving in office since 1971. Chambers is known to read bills carefully and often asks tough questions during debate.

"Some of the delay on bills is frustrating, and some of it is necessary," Adams said.

To keep lawmakers on track, Adams has been switching up the daily debate agenda and has been limiting the time lawmakers can debate a bill. The Legislature has been debating a bill in the morning, and then moving to another bill in the afternoon, even if they haven't reached a vote.

"I have been doing that so more bills will get heard," he said. "Putting a dividing time in there gives us a break. If emotions happen to be running high, we can cool down and move onto something else.

Senators will continue to debate into the evening to get to as much legislation as possible by the time the session concludes on June 5. Adams said lawmakers will start debating even later into the night on Monday and Wednesday nights, starting April 22. Debate could run until 8:30 p.m. or later on the designated late nights, he said.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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