Reviewing the First Session of the 107th Legislature – Part II


(Unicameral Information Office)
By 
Unicameral Information Office

The first session of Nebraska’s 107th Legislature adjourned sine die May 27.

The Legislature is scheduled to convene in early fall for a special legislative session to complete the redistricting process. The second session of the 107th Legislature is scheduled to convene Jan. 5, 2022.

What follows is a review of the legislation advanced last session broken down by committee. Part I, which ran Monday, covers Agriculture; Appropriations; Banking, Commerce and Insurance; Business and Labor; Education; and Executive Board. Part II, which runs todays, covers Government, Military and Veterans Affairs; Health and Human Services; Judiciary; Natural Resources; Redistricting; and Retirement Systems. Part III, which runs Wednesday, covers Revenue; Transportation and Telecommunications; and Urban Affairs.

 

Government, Military and Veterans Affairs

Concealed carry regulation and open meetings law were among the issues addressed by lawmakers this session.

Firearms

LB 236, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, updated several concealed carry provisions and the state’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act. As introduced, the bill would have allowed certain Nebraska counties to allow residents to carry a concealed weapon without a state-issued permit. Amendments removed those provisions and added provisions of:

• LB 85, introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, which requires the Nebraska State Patrol to notify the holder of a concealed carry permit four months prior to the permit’s expiration;

• LB 173, introduced by Blair Sen. Ben Hansen, which exempts from concealed carry prohibitions the transportation of a firearm in a vehicle for lawful purposes or carrying a concealed weapon directly to or from a vehicle if the firearm is unloaded, stored in a case and kept separate from ammunition;

• LB 244, introduced by Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, which allows a 30-day grace period to renew a concealed carry permit; and

• LB 301, also introduced by Hansen, which removes CBD contained in a product approved by the FDA from the definition of hashish or concentrated cannabis and updates Nebraska drug schedules and penalties to conform to federal law.

Senators passed LB 236 on a 45-0 vote.

LB 188, introduced by Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, would prohibit any state or political subdivision employee from enforcing any federal law regulating a firearm, firearm accessory or ammunition unless the measure also is codified in state law. The proposal remains in committee.

Governance

Local political subdivisions have greater flexibility to meet virtually under LB 83, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Michael Flood. The bill allows authorized political subdivisions to hold meetings virtually during a declared emergency. The bill defines virtual conferencing as a meeting conducted electronically or by phone.

Under LB 83, political subdivisions subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act and currently allowed to conduct one half of their annual meetings by video conferencing and teleconferencing can hold virtual meetings and discuss regular business during a governor-declared emergency.

Current requirements regarding advanced public notice and at least one physical site available for public participation still will apply. An official participating in such a virtual meeting may do so from any location.

The bill also reaffirms the validity of any actions taken by a public body between March 17, 2020, and April 30, 2021, in reliance on an executive order from the governor that waived open meeting requirements during the pandemic.

LB 83 passed 43-0 and took effect immediately.

Government entities that fail to file required reports with the state auditor of public accounts may be fined $20 a day — up to $2,000 total per filing — under LB 368, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Rita Sanders.

Lawmakers passed the bill on a 46-0 vote.

Other Bills

More Nebraska service members are eligible to receive a military grave marker under LB 261, introduced by Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan. A Nebraska National Guard member who served on or after July 1, 1973, or served in active duty federal service is eligible.

The bill, which passed 41-0, also removes a requirement that a member of the armed forces have served during wartime to receive a marker. Markers will be available to all members of the armed forces in active duty or the U.S. reserve forces.

LR 14, introduced by Halloran, would be Nebraska’s application for a convention of the states authorized under the U.S. Constitution. If two-thirds of the states commit to a convention, states could propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would limit the size and authority of the federal government, consider fiscal restraints and consider term limits for members of Congress.

The proposal advanced from committee and remains on general file.

Three other bills also advanced from committee but were not scheduled for debate this session.

• LB 442, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, would create a 14-member Commission on Asian American Affairs. Members would be of Asian ancestry and appointed by the governor. The commission would promote beneficial state and federal legislation, enhance the cause of Asian American rights and develop solutions to problems common to all Asian Americans in Nebraska.

• LB 557, also sponsored by Hansen, would add police body camera recordings that involve the death of an individual being apprehended or in law enforcement custody to the list of records subject to public records requests following conclusion of a grand jury inquiry.

• LB 631, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Eliot Bostar, would prohibit counties from banning property owners from renting their property through Airbnb and other short-term rental companies.

All three bills remain on general file.

 

Health and Human Services

Senators expanded state benefits for low-income Nebraskans, reformed youth rehabilitation and treatment centers and addressed a variety of licensure issues this session.

Public Benefits

Senators overrode two gubernatorial vetoes to expand benefits to Nebraskans struggling with food insecurity and utility bills.

Under Omaha Sen. John McCollister’s LB 108, Nebraska families making up to 165% of the federal poverty level are eligible for the federal supplemental nutrition assistance program until Sept. 30, 2023. At that time, the gross income eligibility limit will return to 130% of FPL.

Lawmakers passed the bill 33-11 and it subsequently was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. In his veto letter, the governor expressed concern that the Legislature would maintain the expanded eligibility after the scheduled expiration date. A motion from McCollister to override the veto succeeded on a 30-19 vote. Thirty votes were required.

LB 306, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, increases the eligibility threshold for the low income home energy assistance program from 130% of FPL to 150%. The bill also requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to allocate at least 10% of program funds to weatherization assistance.

Senators approved LB 306 on a 38-6 vote. It also was vetoed by the governor, who objected to creation of a permanent benefit using temporary federal funding. Brandt offered a motion to override the veto, adopted 32-15, saying the bill will make the program more efficient.

LB 485, introduced by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, increases the income eligibility limit for the determination of initial eligibility for assistance under the Child Care Subsidy program from 130% of FPL to 185%. The bill, passed 31-6, also increases income eligibility for transitional child care assistance from 185% of FPL to 200%.

Expanded eligibility will begin July 1 and end Sept. 30, 2023. The cost of the bill will be paid through existing federal block grant funds.

A bill to expand access to services for developmentally disabled Nebraskans stalled on select file. LB 376, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, would require DHHS to apply for a three-year Medicaid waiver to start a family support program for developmental disability services. The program would:

• Have an annual budget for long-term services and supports capped at $10,000 per person;

• Cap participation at 850 individuals currently on the state’s wait list;

• Offer Medicaid eligibility for children with disabilities by disregarding parental income;

• Be administered by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities of DHHS; and

• Allow families to self-direct services.

After four hours of discussion on select file, Cavanaugh filed a motion to invoke cloture, which ends debate and forces a vote on the bill. The motion failed 30-11. Thirty-three votes were needed. LB 376 was not scheduled for further debate this session.

Youth

LB 428, introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee, requires that youth rehabilitation and treatment center residents receive educational opportunities equivalent to those offered to students at Nebraska public schools.

Under the bill, each YRTC must maintain accreditation by the state Board of Education and provide age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate education programs.

The measure, passed 49-0, includes provisions of four other bills, all introduced by the committee:

• LB 425, which requires DHHS to hire a consultant to perform a needs assessment and cost analysis for an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit at the Lincoln Regional Center;

• LB 427, which prohibits DHHS from delaying inpatient or subacute substance abuse or behavioral health residential treatment for youth under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court when such treatment has been determined necessary after the youth’s commitment to the state Office of Juvenile Services or has been ordered by a juvenile court;

• LB 429, which requires DHHS to notify the Legislature quarterly of substantial changes it intends to make to YRTC facilities and programs; and

• LB 570, which requires the Legislature to complete an evaluation of the state’s privatization of child welfare case management in the eastern service area by Dec. 31 and approves hiring a consultant to assist in the evaluation.

LB 251, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, advanced to general file but was not scheduled for debate this session. The bill would lower from 16 to 14 the minimum age to choose to be an organ donor on a Nebraska state ID or driver license.

Licensure and Regulation

Nebraska is authorized to join an interstate compact for audiologists and speech-language pathologists under LB 14, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood. The bill, passed 47-0, adopts the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact.

Under the compact, individuals licensed in a member state may practice in any other member state without having to obtain a separate license. The compact has been enacted by 13 states, including Nebraska. The Compact Commission will convene to establish rules and bylaws.

Lawmakers voted 40-1 to expand the pool of credentialed health care practitioners in Nebraska.

LB 390, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil at the request of the governor, amends Nebraska’s Uniform Credentialing Act to allow certain health care providers who are credentialed in other states to apply for an expedited credential in Nebraska.

LB 400, introduced by Sen. John Arch of La Vista, allows some established patients to receive audio-only telehealth for individual behavioral health services originating from any location.

The bill, approved on a 43-0 vote, allows a patient to provide verbal consent during an initial telehealth visit. Previously, Nebraskans were required to give written consent to receive telehealth services prior to those services being provided.

LB 211, introduced by Murman, would remove a current requirement that reflexologists be licensed under the Massage Therapy Practice Act. Instead, the bill would create a registry for reflexologists and require certification by a national board. The bill advanced from committee but was not debated this session.

Also remaining on general file is LB 86, introduced by Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard. The bill would mandate that active prescribers and dispensers who are registered under the Uniform Credentialing Act also register with DHHS for the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.

The bill would exempt credential holders who do not prescribe, dispense or treat as well as veterinarians and members of the armed forces who do not practice in Nebraska.

 

Judiciary

Police accountability, criminal justice reform and tenant housing security were among the measures considered by members of the Judiciary Committee this session.

Law Enforcement

Lawmakers passed a comprehensive measure this year to address police certification and training.

Under LB 51, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, the current 20 hours of annual continuing education required of all officers increases to 28 hours in 2022, and 32 hours in 2023 and subsequent years.

The bill also requires a psychological evaluation of any applicant who has not worked previously in law enforcement to determine fitness for duty. Applicants seeking entry-level law enforcement certification will be required to complete de-escalation training related to mental health behaviors, substance abuse, anti-bias, implicit bias and crisis communication.

An applicant seeking certification as a law enforcement officer will be required to testify under oath that their certification has never been revoked or suspended in another jurisdiction and they have not been separated from employment or disciplined for serious misconduct or a violation of their oath of office, code of ethics or statutory duties.

LB 51 authorizes the appointment of noncertified conditional officers, pending acceptance into a formal law enforcement training program. These officers will discharge their duties under the direct supervision of a field training officer and be restricted from carrying a firearm.

A noncertified conditional officer may, only with direct supervision and guidance from a training officer, ride in a marked police cruiser, make arrests, interview suspects, victims or witnesses or carry out other law enforcement functions. The bill places a 16-week restriction on a noncertified conditional officer’s service.

The Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice will prioritize smaller law enforcement agencies when awarding grants to offset the costs of accreditation and training.

LB 51 also prohibits a police officer from intentionally using a chokehold on a person, except when deadly force is authorized. Similarly, an officer is prohibited from using a carotid restraint control hold unless the officer believes the individual would cause death or bodily injury to others or deadly force is authorized and the officer is trained in the restraint technique.

LB 51 contains provisions of LB 601, originally sponsored by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney. These provisions require the commission to post information on its public website regarding law enforcement officers who have voluntarily surrendered their certification or had it revoked, been convicted of or pleaded guilty or no contest to a felony or Class I misdemeanor or been found to have engaged in serious misconduct.

Finally, the bill requires the commission to develop accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies. Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, the commission will publish a list of unaccredited agencies annually. An unaccredited law enforcement agency will be ineligible to receive loans, grant funds or donations from the commission until it achieves accreditation.

LB 51 passed on a 41-1 vote.

Courts

Senators passed a proposal this session intended to prohibit frivolous coronavirus-related lawsuits.

LB 139, sponsored by Albion Sen. Tom Briese and passed 41-1, provides “safe harbor” from potential lawsuits alleging that a protected individual or organization — including health care providers, first responders, schools, restaurants, businesses, churches and senior care facilities — negligently exposed an individual to COVID-19 infection.

The bill prevents civil action as long as the protected individual or organization was acting in compliance with federal public health guidelines in place at the time of an alleged exposure.

LB 139 includes provisions of LB 53, originally sponsored by Lathrop, that implement a health care crisis protocol developed by the Nebraska Medical Emergency Operations Center.

The protocol establishes criteria for the triage and application of medical services and resources under extraordinary circumstances when the level of demand for services exceeds the available resources required to deliver the generally accepted standard of care.

Individuals awaiting trial for driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs may enroll in a county-level 24/7 sobriety programs created by the sheriff or a designated entity under LB 271, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld.

Under the bill, a person awaiting trial for driving under the influence may join a voluntary 24/7 sobriety program as a condition of bail and submit to twice-daily sobriety testing or use of a continuous alcohol monitoring device. Participants must agree not to consume alcohol or any drug not prescribed by a physician while enrolled in the program.

LB 271 also authorizes a special motor vehicle operating permit for individuals enrolled in a 24/7 sobriety program. The permit is subject to court approval, a $45 issuance fee and at least 30 consecutive days in the program without sanction.

An individual will be ineligible for a permit if they are subject to an unrelated suspension, cancellation or revocation of their license or are under a required no-driving period. An individual with a 24/7 sobriety permit found to be driving under the influence or who refuses a chemical test is guilty of a Class III misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months imprisonment, a $500 fine or both.

LB 271 passed on a 36-11 vote.

Lathrop sponsored LB 386, passed 46-1, which increases Nebraska Supreme Court judges’ salaries for fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23. The current salary is $187,035.

District, county, juvenile, appellate and workers’ compensation court judges’ salaries statutorily are based on a percentage of the Supreme Court judges’ salaries, so those judges also will receive a salary increase.

The bill sets the salary increase at 3% each fiscal year, reaching $192,647 in fiscal year 2021-22 and $198,426 in fiscal year 2022-23.

Forensic evidence would be collected upon arrest for felony charges under a bill that remains on select file.

LB 496, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann, would require an adult charged with a felony crime of violence or burglary to provide a DNA sample to law enforcement at the time of booking or to the court during a first appearance.

A DNA sample collected under the provisions of LB 496 would not be tested or placed into the state’s database until a judicial determination of probable cause has been made or a hearing to determine probable cause has been waived.

If the charge against an individual is dismissed, the DNA sample would be destroyed immediately and notice would be sent to the individual. The bill’s provisions would not apply to juveniles.

The bill was amended to include provisions of Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh’s LB 316, which would clarify the date from which the one-year limitation for filing a motion for post-conviction relief would run and require a prisoner to file notice with the district court.

LB 496 advanced from general file but was not scheduled for further debate this session.

Students with excessive school absences could receive additional resources under a bill that also remains on select file.

In 2010, the Legislature passed a bill requiring school districts to report cases to a county attorney when a student has been absent at least 20 days per year, whether the absences are excused or unexcused.

Under LB 568, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, excessive absenteeism would no longer be an independent basis for a juvenile court action. It could, however, still be considered as a factor in other juvenile cases.

Under the bill as amended, juveniles could be referred to pretrial diversion programs and receive services to address their needs or those of their families. The bill would increase an appropriation to the Community-based Juvenile Services Aid Program from $5 million to $8.5 million to fund those expanded diversion services beginning in fiscal year 2023-24.

The bill also would create a new position within the Nebraska Crime Commission charged with developing regulations for diversion programs and assisting in the review of applications for grant funding.

Eligibility for grant funding would be extended to programs that serve families of juveniles who are experiencing excessive absenteeism, and allow aid not distributed to counties to be used for statewide programs to benefit individual counties and the state’s Indian tribes.

The bill advanced from general file but was not scheduled for second-round debate.

Correctional System

Lawmakers gave final approval this session to two proposals intended to ensure the due process rights of system-involved juveniles.

Kearney Sen. John Lowe sponsored LB 273, passed 40-0, which allows the state Department of Health and Human Services to file an immediate change of placement motion to transfer a juvenile to a different facility during an emergency situation. A hearing on the motion must be held within 24 hours and can be conducted by telephone or videoconference.

An immediate change of placement may be filed in cases when a juvenile requires additional specialized care to address substance use or behavioral health needs. A qualifying emergency also can include a public health emergency, natural disaster or damage that renders a juvenile facility uninhabitable.

The court will order a temporary emergency change of placement if it determines that the change is appropriate and in the best interests of the juvenile. The court must notify a juvenile’s parent or guardian of the motion to transfer, including notice that the hearing will be held within 24 hours.

Additionally, the department is required to provide all parties of record with the evidence and witnesses to be presented during an emergency hearing. The juvenile will have an opportunity to consult with legal counsel and review the motion and all evidence before the hearing.

Under LB 307, sponsored by Pansing Brooks, if a juvenile who is charged with a felony waives the right to legal counsel, the court is required to show affirmatively that the juvenile will not be removed from their home or detained outside of the home:

• Between adjudication and disposition of the case;

• During any probationary period; or

• In response to an alleged probation violation.

The Nebraska Supreme Court will develop a process to ensure that a juvenile is provided with an opportunity to consult counsel in making the initial decision to waive counsel. An initial consultation with counsel is not required if the juvenile and their family already have conferred with private counsel before the hearing.

The bill includes provisions of LB 354, originally sponsored by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, which require a judge to consider a motion to transfer a criminal case to juvenile court within 30 days.

LB 307 passed on a 29-6 vote.

Other Measures

Senators passed an omnibus proposal intended to strengthen protections for landlords and tenants this session.

LB 320, sponsored by Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh, allows a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence to seek early release from a rental agreement under certain conditions.

To be released from a rental agreement, the tenant is required to provide their landlord with a copy of an active protective or restraining order or certification confirming domestic abuse from a qualified nonprofit organization that provides services to victims of domestic violence.

Additionally, the tenant must provide written notice, including the date of release — to be no sooner than 14 days and no later than 30 days — and the names of any household members also to be released.

The tenant is required to pay rent for the month in which the agreement was terminated, but is not liable for any rent, damages or fees incurred after the release date. The protections provided under LB 320 are not available to a perpetrator of domestic violence.

The bill also includes provisions of several additional measures, including:

• LB 45, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, which repeals a provision prohibiting judges from granting continuances in eviction proceedings unless extraordinary cause is shown and accrued back rent is paid;

• LB 46, also sponsored by Hansen, which requires that summons in an eviction proceeding be conducted through methods commonly used in civil proceedings, unless otherwise authorized;

• LB 246, sponsored by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, which requires that a civil action for possession against renters of mobile home lots follow the same procedures as those brought against renters of mobile homes, apartments, houses and other residences;

• LB 268, sponsored by Omaha Sen. John McCollister, which requires landlords to provide written notice to each individual unit 24 hours before seeking entry;

• LB 277, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, which updates the Mobile Home Landlord and Tenant act to reflect changes made in 2019 to the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act; and

• LB 402, sponsored by DeBoer, which requires the Nebraska Supreme Court to submit a biannual report to the Legislature with information pertaining to eviction procedures.

LB 320 passed on a 43-3 vote.

DeBoer sponsored LB 497, which allows a health care provider to apply to the Nebraska Crime Victim’s Reparations Program for reimbursement of costs associated with treating or examining an individual’s injuries directly related to sexual assault or domestic abuse.

The reimbursement covers the portion of costs that are not covered by insurance or other sources and typically paid by the patient. Currently, a person receiving such services is billed and required to pay for the services before then applying for reimbursement.

The bill, passed 47-0, requires that a health care provider obtain a patient’s consent before applying for reimbursement. It also adds child abuse as an offense eligible for reimbursement.

Two bills were discussed by lawmakers this session but stalled during floor debate.

LB 474, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, would create a framework for legalizing medical cannabis use in Nebraska.

To qualify for a medical cannabis registration card under the bill, a person must receive written certification that medical cannabis would improve their condition from a health care practitioner with whom they have an established, bonafide relationship.

Registered medical cannabis users could purchase cannabis through regulated in-state dispensaries or home delivery from out-of-state suppliers. Patients would be limited to no more than 2.5 ounces of cannabis — or a greater amount approved by a medical necessity waiver — or cannabis infused products with no more than 2,000 milligrams of THC.

After eight hours of general file debate, Wishart offered a motion to invoke cloture, which failed 31-18. Thirty-three votes were needed. LB 474 was not placed on the agenda again this session.

LB 88, sponsored by Morfeld, would designate student-produced media as part of a public forum and extend the full right to exercise freedom of speech and press that is provided to professional members of the media to public high school and postsecondary student journalists, as well as their media advisers.

The bill would not protect any expression by a student journalist that is libelous or slanderous, constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, violates state or federal law or incites students to engage in unlawful acts.

Student media advisers could face discipline under the bill but with guaranteed due process protections.

After four hours of second-round debate, Morfeld offered a motion to invoke cloture, which failed 30-17. LB 88 remains on select file.

 

Natural Resources

Proposals to ban the use of treated seed in ethanol production and create a legal framework for carbon dioxide sequestration were among the measures advanced by the Natural Resources Committee this session.

LB 507, introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, prohibits the use of treated seed in the production of ethanol if its use results in the generation of a byproduct that is deemed unsafe for livestock consumption or land application.

The bill also contains provisions of LB 190, introduced by Venango Sen. Dan Hughes, which prohibit the Legislature from appropriating or transferring money from the Water Sustainability Fund for purposes other than those outlined in statute after June 30.

The provisions of LB 191, also introduced by Hughes, allow a qualified landowner or leaseholder to be an irrigation district elector if they live in a certain irrigation district in which at least half of the landowners, leaseholders or entrymen of government lands are not Nebraska residents.

Under provisions originally introduced by Creighton Sen. Tim Gragert as LB 395, the secretary of the state Game and Parks Commission may designate special antelope and elk depredation seasons or extend existing hunting seasons when they determine that the animals are causing excessive property damage.

A Nebraska resident will pay no more than $25 for a special depredation season permit, and a nonresident will pay no more than $75.

The bill requires the commission to charge landowners and their immediate family members no more than $10 for a special depredation season permit. Those who own or operate at least 20 acres of farm or ranch land within the geographic area in which hunting is permitted may take deer and antelope, and those who own or operate at least 80 acres may take elk.

Finally, LB 507 requires the commission to issue one free-earned elk permit to certain landowners and lessees when hunters have harvested the qualifying number of antlerless elk on their land.

The commission will use income from the special permits to abate damage caused by deer, antelope and elk.

The bill passed 48-0 and takes effect immediately.

Lawmakers also approved a measure that increases state park entry fees for nonresidents.

LB 336, introduced by Hughes and passed on a vote of 49-0, sets the annual permit fee for a nonresident motor vehicle at twice the fee for a resident motor vehicle or $60, whichever is greater.

It sets the fee for a temporary permit for a nonresident motor vehicle at twice the fee for a resident motor vehicle or $12, whichever is greater.

Another measure, passed on a vote of 46-1, creates a special legislative committee that will study potential flood control projects and related economic development opportunities in three areas of the state.

LB 406, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, creates a special committee, consisting of at least seven members of the Legislature, that will study the need to protect public and private property, enhance economic development and promote private investment along the Platte River and its tributaries from Columbus to Plattsmouth.

The committee will conduct similar studies on the Lake McConaughy region and the region in Knox County that includes Lewis and Clark Lake and Niobrara State Park.

The Platte River study cannot include a study of any dam on the river’s channel but may include infrastructure that maintains the integrity of its main channel.

With the Executive Board’s approval — and after a competitive bidding process — the committee may enter into contracts for consulting, engineering and development studies. The committee will complete each study no later than Dec. 31, 2022, and will terminate on that date.

Senators also approved a measure that creates a legal and regulatory framework for the geologic storage of carbon dioxide in Nebraska.

Under LB 650, introduced by Sen. Michael Flood of Norfolk and passed on a vote of 48-1, the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will regulate facilities that inject carbon dioxide through wells into underground geologic formations for permanent or short-term storage.

The bill allows geologic storage only if a storage operator obtains a permit from both the commission and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Underground Injection Control program. Before the commission issues a permit, it must hold a public hearing and consult with the state Department of Environment and Energy and the federal permitting authority.

The commission must find that the proposed storage facility would not endanger surface waters or underground drinking water sources and that the storage operator will establish a testing and monitoring plan to assess the location and migration of injected carbon dioxide.

LB 650 requires storage operators to pay the commission two fees on each ton of carbon dioxide injected for storage, one to defray administrative expenses and another to defray expenses incurred in the long-term monitoring and management of a closed storage facility.

 

Redistricting

The Redistricting Committee considered criteria this session that will guide the Legislature in the 2021 redistricting process.

The U.S. and state constitutions require the Legislature to redraw various governmental district boundaries every 10 years in response to population changes reflected in the U.S. Census. Senators are expected to complete the redistricting process in a special session in September after census data becomes available.

Lawmakers will create new district boundaries for Nebraska’s three U.S. House of Representatives districts, 49 legislative districts and those of the Nebraska Supreme Court, Public Service Commission, State Board of Education and University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

LR 134, introduced by the Redistricting Committee and adopted by the Legislature on a vote of 31-16, sets criteria intended to ensure that redistricting plans are constitutionally acceptable.

Under the guidelines, senators will use 2020 U.S. Census population data and census geography to establish district boundaries. Boundaries will follow county lines wherever practicable and define districts that are compact and contiguous.

District boundaries cannot be established with the intention of favoring a political party or any other group or person, and lawmakers cannot consider the political affiliations of registered voters, demographic information other than population figures or the results of previous elections.

The criteria also prohibit district boundaries that would result in the unlawful dilution of any minority population’s voting strength.

As far as possible, boundaries also must define districts that are easily identifiable and understandable to voters, preserve communities of interest and allow for the preservation of the core of prior districts.

Under LR 134, lawmakers will draw congressional districts with populations as close to equal as practicable, with an overall range of deviation at or approaching 0%. No plan may be considered that results in an overall range of deviation of more than 1% or a relative deviation of more than 0.5% from the ideal population.

For the remaining districts, the Legislature may not consider a plan that results in an overall range of deviation of more than 10% or a relative deviation of more than 5% from the ideal population.

Retirement Systems

Lawmakers overcame a gubernatorial veto to authorize a state takeover of management duties for the Omaha school retirement plan this session.

LB 147, sponsored by Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman, transfers duties and responsibilities for management of the OPS plan from the Omaha School Employees Retirement System board of trustees to the Public Employees Retirement Board, which manages the rest of the state’s plans through the Nebraska Public Employees Retirement Systems.

The transfer will take effect Sept. 1, 2024. The school district, board of education, board of trustees and the PERB must finalize a transfer of management agreement by Dec. 31, 2021.

The bill specifies that the school district remains liable for the retirement system’s funding obligations and OPS will cover all costs for the management transfer.

The measure includes components of three additional bills related to the transfer, all sponsored by Kolterman.

Provisions of LB 145 require completion of a compliance audit of the Omaha pension plan by Nov. 15 and the first annual audit by the state auditor by July 1, 2022.

Provisions of LB 582 terminate the board of trustees’ authority to administer the plan on July 1 and place plan administration authority with the OPS board of education. On that date, new members of the board of trustees, appointed by the board of education, will begin serving their terms. This board of trustees will facilitate the transfer of management to the PERB on Sept. 1, 2024.

Finally, provisions of LB 146 expand allowable substitute service up to eight days each calendar month during the 180-day period following a member’s retirement from the school or Omaha plan. The IRS requires limitations on service during this period to ensure that a bona fide separation of service has occurred.

OPS allows temporary service after a 30-day waiting period following termination if it is to accomplish a specific purpose or task, not to exceed one year.

LB 147 passed on a 38-3 vote and took effect immediately. The bill subsequently was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, who called it a “slippery slope” toward the state eventually assuming responsibility for the troubled retirement plan’s nearly $1 billion unfunded liability.

Kolterman offered a motion to override the veto, noting that the bill contains an explicit provision that OPS remains “at all times and in all circumstances” solely liable for all the plan’s funding obligations. Senators voted 31-18 to override the governor’s veto. Thirty votes were needed.

Lawmakers also approved LB 17, introduced by Kolterman, which adopts shorter amortization periods to reflect current actuarial standards for the judges’, state patrol and school employee retirement plans.

Beginning July 1, new amortization bases will be based on 25-year periods rather than the current 30-year amortization period.

The bill includes provisions of Kolterman’s LB 24 that increase various dedicated court fees to provide additional revenue to cover a shortfall in the judges’ retirement plan. Several fees will increase from $6 to $8 on July 1 and rise incrementally until reaching $12 on July 1, 2025.

The bill does not increase fees on any criminal cause of action, traffic misdemeanor or infraction, or city or village criminal ordinance violation filed in district court or county court.

LB 17 also includes amended provisions of LB 16, sponsored by Kolterman, that add an annual contribution from the state to the judges’ retirement fund of 5% of total compensation of the members of the judges’ retirement system beginning July 1, 2023. The rate may be adjusted or terminated but cannot rise above 5%.

The bill passed on a 33-13 vote and took effect immediately.

 

This review first appeared in The Unicameral Update, a daily news source produced by the Clerk of the Legislature’s Unicameral Information Office that covers legislative activity, including floor action and committee hearings. For additional coverage, visit update.legislature.ne.gov.

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