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Bill introductions

Bills would require in-person voting, identification for Nebraskans

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2023 Nebraska legislative session preview

LINCOLN — Nebraskans would no longer be able to cast early ballots and would have only a few options for voter identification under a pair of bills introduced in the Legislature on Tuesday.

Legislative Bill 228 would require in-person voting in primary and general elections, save for military personnel or nursing home residents, who would still be allowed to vote by mail. The bill would also require all votes be counted on Election Day, and would classify primary and general election days as state holidays.

Legislative Bill 230 would implement a voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring valid photo IDs for voting. The bill spells out that only a Nebraska driver’s license, state identification card, photographic voter ID card, U.S. passport or tribal ID would be accepted for voting.

The bill would allow people to cast provisional ballots if they do not have an acceptable ID with them, with a requirement that they present ID within a week of Election Day. It also would require in-person voting and increase restrictions on who may serve as an election official. It would allow people to get a free photo ID for voting and a free copy of their birth certificate to get an ID for voting.

State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard introduced both bills, which were among 73 introduced Tuesday. Although he wouldn’t say whether he believes Nebraska has an issue with voter fraud, he said there is enough suspicion surrounding it to warrant legislation.

“Even if there isn’t a problem, why wait until you have a problem to figure out what the solution may be?” Erdman said.

But Heather Engdahl, director of voting rights at Civic Nebraska, said the measures would severely limit voters and make the state’s elections among the most restrictive in the nation. She noted that early ballots especially have been popular, with more than 1.3 million Nebraskans voting early during the last two election cycles.

“Proposing a bill that would abolish a popular voting method can only be seen as an attempt to limit Nebraskans’ ability and opportunity to vote,” she said.

Rumors of widespread voter fraud have circulated in many states in recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. However, no substantial evidence has come out to prove Nebraska’s elections have been impacted.

Erdman’s district includes Morrill County, which has held elections exclusively through mail-in voting in recent years. The county saw a 67% voter turnout in the 2022 midterm elections, which is significantly higher than the 54% turnout rate for the overall state.

However, Erdman said mail-in voting is problematic, because it is difficult to verify the legitimacy of those votes. He said decades ago, in-person voting was the only option most people had to vote.

Erdman’s bills will likely overlap with legislation from Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar to implement the voter ID ballot initiative that passed in November. Slama, who led the initiative, is expected to introduce a bill or bills on the subject, though she has yet to do so. Erdman said he would be willing to work with Slama to combine their proposals if there is overlap.

Among other measures introduced Tuesday:

Property taxes. Four bills would boost amount of tax credits provided to offset property tax costs. Sen. Tom Briese of Albion introduced three of them.

LB 242 would increase the amount provided through refundable income tax credits in 2024 to $1 billion, up from the $560.7 million available this year. The credits offset a portion of the school property taxes paid. The bill also would remove the 5% cap on future growth of the tax credit program.

LB 243 would raise the minimum amount provided through a separate tax credit program to $700 million, plus a percentage increase equal to the percentage increase in assessed property valuations statewide. The minimum now is set at $275 million, but the program is distributing $313 million in credits this year. The credits are subtracted from a property owner’s tax bill.

LB 244 would create a new program to offset a portion of the property taxes paid to local governments other than schools or community colleges, for which there are existing programs. The program would make $200 million available in 2024 through refundable income tax credits.

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue offered the fourth measure. LB 211 would create a “circuit breaker” program to help property taxpayers with limited incomes. It would provide refundable income tax credits for homeowners or renters with federal adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or less for married couples or $50,000 for individuals. The income limit for farm and ranch land owners would be $350,000 or less.

Roads: LB 212, introduced by Slama, would require the State Department of Transportation to pave all unpaved state highways, and would require the department to expand parts of Highway 75 to four lanes. Slama said there’s about 40 miles of unpaved state highway, including parts of Highway 65 and Highway 67 in her district. The bill did not include a timeline for the projects. Slama said she would work with the executive branch on a schedule.

Child abuse: LB 271 would mandate professionals who are required to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect complete a training course within 90 days from the start of their employment, while eliminating a requirement that other Nebraskans report suspected abuse or neglect. Universal mandated reporting has been cited as a factor in the number of families investigated by state workers. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services would also be required to have a free online training available to the public by the start of 2024. Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha introduced the bill.

Rental property: LB 270, also introduced by McKinney, would increase protections for residents of rental properties by requiring that municipalities planning to condemn a rental property first meet with the residents and have a plan to provide housing, food and other resources to the residents. Landlords would also be required to replace lead service lines with modern pipes.

Railroad crossings: LB 234, introduced by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, would require railroad companies to report on complaints they receive each year about blocked railroad crossings. The reports would be compiled by the Public Service Commission, along the information about the complaints received by the commission about blocked crossings.

Disabled veterans: LB 274, introduced by Sen. Rick Holdcroft of Bellevue, would allow disabled military veterans with disabled veteran license plates on their vehicles to park in spots designated for handicapped or disabled people. Such spots currently are reserved for people with limited mobility.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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