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Nebraska lawmakers have last miles in view with marijuana, gun and tax bills to hurdle

Nebraska lawmakers have last miles in view with marijuana, gun and tax bills to hurdle

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There are 16 scheduled days left in this session of the Nebraska Legislature, with the last day in Lincoln currently set for June 10.

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature is — pick your metaphor — deep into the fourth quarter, past the seventh-inning stretch, rounding the turn of the current session.

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers of Lincoln announced Friday that he expects to end the session before the 90th day, the limit for regular sessions in odd-numbered years. But he didn’t say how soon lawmakers could wrap up their work

The state senators have some battles yet to fight and some fiscal juggling yet to accomplish before heading home. There are 16 scheduled days left in the session, with the last day currently set for June 10.

“We have a lot of work to do and we don’t have a lot of time to do it,” Hilgers said.

The to-do list includes a debate about legalizing medical marijuana, which is set for Wednesday. Legislative Bill 474, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, is expected to face a filibuster, as have previous such proposals, and an uncertain outcome.

Supporters have already announced plans to bypass the Legislature with an initiative petition drive. A 2020 medical marijuana petition effort collected the required number of signatures, only to be tossed off the ballot by the Nebraska Supreme Court. The court ruled that it contained more than one subject, in violation of the Nebraska Constitution.

Another long battle is expected over LB 236, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon. Under the bill, counties could allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The bill would not apply to Douglas and Lancaster Counties, home to the state’s two largest cities.

Whether that’s enough of a concession to convince 33 senators to back a filibuster-ending motion is unclear. Such a motion cannot be offered until eight hours of debate have passed, which adds to the pressures at the end of a session.

Controversy also is expected over LB 298, sponsored by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha, and LB 542, introduced by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont. McDonnell’s bill would allow immigrants working in the country legally to get unemployment benefits. That would include people brought to the country illegally as children, sometimes called “Dreamers.”

Walz’s bill would break with the state’s history by allowing the state to issue bonds to pay for expanding Nebraska’s expressway system and other highway construction.

Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has come out against both measures. He also is leading the opposition to medical marijuana. All three are sponsored by Democrats, while the concealed carry measure is sponsored by a Republican.

One proposal on the to-do list will set the stage for an expected special session on redistricting. The Legislature normally redraws political district maps during the regular session in years following the federal census. But delays in the 2020 Census mean the information needed for redistricting will not be available until August.

The Legislature already named the Redistricting Committee members. The next step, Hilgers said, will be adopting a resolution that sets out the process they will follow when they reconvene.

The to-do list in the current session also includes revisiting several potentially pricey bills that have already made it through the first of three rounds of debate.

Over the past two weeks, senators gave first-round approval to a number of tax-cutting measures and bills creating or expanding state programs. If all passed as is, legislative fiscal office estimates show the state would go more than $1.2 million in the red.

But Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman, expressed confidence that everything can be made to fit with some minor tweaking. He said he will be talking with Hilgers and Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, the Revenue Committee chairwoman, about ways to reduce the cost of some proposals.

Tax-cutting bills that have at least a $20 million budget impact over the state’s two-year budget period include a phase-out of taxes on Social Security income (LB 64), elimination of taxes on military retirement income (LB 387), reduction of taxes on corporate income (LB 432) and a package of sales tax exemptions (LB 595).

Measures that would increase state spending by at least $20 million over two years include LB 566, which would provide grants to help some nonprofits complete capital construction projects interrupted by the pandemic, and LB 388, which would help expand high-speed broadband services to rural Nebraskans.

Stinner noted that this marks the first session in several years that lawmakers have been able to consider bills with higher price tags. He said he hopes lawmakers will make “purposeful” spending decisions.

The Legislature already approved a $9.7 billion, two-year state budget package that kept spending growth at an average of 1.7% annually. The budget, which covers the biennium ending June 30, 2023, includes $1.5 billion over two years for direct property tax relief, sets aside $100 million that could be used to build a potential new prison and restocks the state’s cash reserve fund.

Lawmakers blocked more dramatic attempts to address property taxes this year, to the frustration of several rural senators who have made that their top priority.


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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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