This week, the Nebraska Legislature advanced several bills to another round of debate and the appropriations committee approved increased funding for state colleges. Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams of York said future sessions will adjourn later than the usual 5 p.m., extending to 6:30 p.m.
Here are some highlights of what happened at the Capitol, from April 1-5.
Nebraska’s state colleges might be able to freeze tuition for the next two academic years if increased state funding meets legislative approval.
The Appropriations Committee approved a 4.5 percent increase for the 2013-2014 school year for state colleges and a 4 percent increase the following year. For the University of Nebraska system, the committee approved a 4 percent increase for both years.
The budget plan is due to the legislature by May 1, and lawmakers will make a decision by May 20. The increases would apply to the University of Nebraska campuses in Lincoln, Omaha, Kearney, the NU Medical Center and Chadron, Wayne and Peru state colleges.
The increased funding would be made possible by an extra $64.8 million in tax revenue projected by the state’s official forecasting board.
LB 57: Environmental trust
Senators voted 27-17 Wednesday to advance an environmental trust bill after a day and a half of contentious debate.
The bill would require the board of the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund to approve the sale or transfer of land that was initially purchased with grant money from the fund.
Supporters of the bill are concerned that land purchased with money from the environmental trust would be transferred to federal agencies for the purpose of conservation.
They argue that rural counties lose out on much-needed property tax revenue when such transfers take place.
Opponents worry the bill’s language is unclear and that putting the current board practices into statute is legislative micromanagement.
LB79: Campaign finance
Senators voted 27-0 Thursday to advance a campaign finance bill. The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in August that the existing law that provides matching funds to candidates who agreed to voluntary spending limits is unconstitutional.
This bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, would take the money that is now in the dormant "Campaign Finance Limitation" cash fund and give it to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to pay for a new electronic filing system for campaign statements.
LB271: Less time for early voting
Senators voted 31-0 Thursday to advance a bill that would decrease the time for in-person early voting from 35 days before the general election to 30 days.
Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha introduced the bill because election officials said they need 10 days for a company called Election System & Software to program AutoMARK voting machines in Nebraska’s 93 counties.
The machines allow visually impaired people to vote without having their ballots read to them, which defeats the purpose of casting secret ballots, Lautenbaugh said.
Senators disagreed, saying reducing the time for early voting decreases the voter turnout.
The senators compromised with Lautenbaugh, passing an amendment that reduces the early voting period by five days.
LB 423: Livestock welfare
Senators voted 34-1 Thursday to advance this animal livestock welfare bill introduced by the Agriculture Committee. The bill would allow law enforcement to intervene with suspected livestock animal neglect and abuse.
If the neglected livestock were seized, they would remain on the property of the livestock owner during court processes. The owner would pay the costs of caring for the animal and would be refunded if found not guilty of abuse. The bill also would authorize the courts to euthanize livestock in extreme cases if the owner is found guilty of neglect.
LB 629: Looking at business tax incentives
Senators voted 39-0 Thursday to advance a bill that would increase transparency and accountability by having Nebraska’s governor provide the Legislature with information on tax incentives, said Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, who introduced the bill.
Nebraska’s agriculture and manufacturing industries are among incentive beneficiaries, and Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala credited the agriculture industry with getting Nebraska out of the recent recession.
Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill criticized Conrad for introducing the bill because he said the information is available if senators ask for it.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said the information isn’t sent out in a timely manner.