As the Nebraska Legislature inches toward the end of the legislative session, some of the most significant bills are sparking contentious floor debates and others are getting closer to final readings.
Here’s a summary of last week’s developments in the unicameral.
Property tax relief bills, resolutions
One of the Legislature’s top priorities this session has been lowering property tax burdens in Nebraska, which has the sixth highest property tax rates in the U.S., according to Wallet Hub. On May 7, Sens. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn and Mike Groene of North Platte brought before the unicameral their property tax relief package, LB 289.
If passed, the bill would substantially increase state aid to public schools, thus lessening the role property taxes play in supporting public schools. To do so, the state sales tax would be raised by a half-percent, and taxes would be added on items such as candies, sodas, bottled water and car repairs. The cigarette tax would be raised by 36 cents per pack.
LB 289 stalled in debate, but Linehan and Groene vowed to secure the 33 votes needed to return the bill to the unicameral floor and they are considering amendments to do so.
Gov. Pete Ricketts said he sees property tax relief as a pressing issue, too, but he has been dissatisfied with the solutions brought forth in the Legislature, including LB 289. In a column, Ricketts called the bill “Property Tax Déjà Vu,” writing that the method of shifting revenue from property taxes to other sources “has been tried and failed.”
Budget plan advanced
Ricketts, however, said he was pleased when the Legislature voted 28-8 to amend a $9.3 billion, two-year budget plan to add $51 million each year to the Property Tax Credit Fund, bringing the fund’s total to $275 million per year. The $51 million boost comes from the state’s rainy day fund.
The budget plan advanced that day also included allocations of approximately $1.2 billion to the University of Nebraska over the next two years. University spending drew the ire of a handful of senators (particularly Sens. Mike Groene, Bruce Bostelman, Steve Erdman and Steve Halloran), who said they think the state is providing too much funding to higher education in Nebraska.
Groene suggested Nebraska should fund its universities similarly to other states with more comparable populations, like South Dakota, rather than Big Ten Conference states like Michigan and Ohio.
Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln disagreed, saying the University system’s spending and the state’s funding of it are reasonable, especially when considering inflation. The Legislature voted 42-4 to approve the budget.
Abortion reversal bill beats filibuster
A bill that would require notifying a woman of her options to change her mind halfway through a medical abortion advanced May 7, overcoming a filibuster by pro-choice senators.
Under the measure, introduced by Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, abortion providers would need to inform their patients of the potential to reverse the abortion after taking mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in the procedure. If the patient takes a high dose of progesterone before taking the second abortion drug, misoprostol, then the abortion could be stopped, according to new research.
Opponents said the science is based on research from an unreliable journal and not on proven tests. The bill advanced after a 37-5 vote.
Medicinal marijuana bill advances to floor debate
When the Judiciary Committee heard Wishart’s LB 110 — which would legalize medicinal marijuana in Nebraska — in January, dozens of opponents and proponents came to the Capitol to testify on the bill. Emotions ran high on both sides, and heated debate is to be expected too, as the bill is debated in the Legislature.
Wishart said many changes have been made to the bill since January. Under the revised proposal, smoking the drug and growing the plant independently would still be illegal, and patients would be required to prove a bona fide relationship with a physician to be certified to use medicinal cannabis. While Wishart and the Judiciary Committee are not confident the bill will pass in the Legislature, Wishart and Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln are in the process of gathering signatures for a petition to include the measure on the 2020 general election ballot.