Nebraska lawmakers pass more bills as session nears its end

By Haley Dover, Nebraska News Service

LINCOLN — April 10 was a busy day at the State Capitol as lawmakers passed bills that would create a water sustainability fund, allow same-day voting and reduce the recidivism rate of offenders released from prison, among other things.
Legislative Bill 1098, introduced by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege was passed Thursday. The bill would require that the Water Sustainability Fund would contribute to multiple water supply management goals, fund municipal water and sewer infrastructure projects, increase water productivity, enhance water quality and comply with interstate compacts or other agreements.
The passing of the bill will require the funds to be distributed equally throughout the state, with no more than 10 percent dedicated annually to sewer infrastructure projects, a provision particularly affecting Omaha.
The bill will also add 14 members to the Natural Resources Commission who are appointed by the governor. Currently, only three members are appointed by the governor and 13 are elected to represent river basins across the state. Members represent the following interests:
– agribusiness;
– agriculture;
– groundwater irrigators;
– irrigation districts;
– manufacturing;
– metropolitan utilities districts;
– municipal water users;
– outdoor recreation users;
– public power districts;
– range livestock owners;
– surface water irrigators and
– wildlife conservation.
The bill also requires basins including three or more natural resources districts operating under an integrated management plan to develop a basin-wide plan for any areas with hydrologically connected water supplies.
A bill introduced by Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton will give farm equipment dealers more shipping options.
Passed by a 48-0 vote, LB1039 allows farm equipment dealers to designate commercial haulers as their agents when moving equipment. Haulers are required to carry documentation signed by the dealers identifying them as dealer representatives.
Under the bill commercial haulers are also permitted to follow the same width, height and length restrictions reserved specifically for farm equipment dealers.
LB565, introduced by Sen. John Nelson of Omaha was also passed this week. The bill will create new procedures for registering to vote and casting an early ballot on the same day.
Early ballots will be placed in an envelope with the voter’s name and address and kept securely for counting. It cannot be counted if an acknowledgement of registration sent to the registrant is returned undeliverable within 10 days of mailing. If it is not returned after 10 days, the ballot will be counted.
The deadline for registering to vote and voting on the same day is the same as the deadline for voter registration.
Lawmakers amended and advanced a bill from select file after a cloture vote April 9.
LB811, introduced by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz, would update the list of banned synthetic drug compounds in Nebraska and would add another class of synthetic cannabinoids to the list of banned substances.
The bill would revise the act to apply to substantially similar imitations of prohibited controlled substances that may be developed in the future.
An amendment brought by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop was adopted 36-6 and incorporated provisions of his LB752. The amendment would expand the list of professions protected by enhanced assault penalties and increase the penalty to the next higher classification for assaults on firefighters, paramedics, state correctional employees, state Department of Health and Human Services employees and health care professionals.
Lathrop said he introduced the amendment because attacks on first responders are happening more often and–unlike law enforcement personnel–firefighters and paramedics do not expect confrontation from the people they serve.
“I think there is good reason to take care of our first responders,” Lathrop said. “They run toward circumstances where they are vulnerable and providing them with additional protections is altogether appropriate.”
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha spoke in opposition to the amendment, saying that laws should not favor one group of people over another. Chambers offered two amendments that would extend protections to pizza delivery drivers and utility workers.
Both amendments failed.
Following adoption of a technical amendment offered by Chambers, Schilz filed a motion to invoke cloture–or cease debate and force a vote on the bill–which was approved on a 38-3 vote.
Senators then advanced LB811 as amended on a 44-4 vote.
Final approval was given this wee, to LB907, introduced by Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha. The bill is intended to reduce the recidivism rate of offenders released from prison.
The measure appropriates $5 million to the state Office of Probation Administration that will be used to expand mental health services and $3.8 million to expand new reporting centers. The state Department of Correctional Services will also be appropriated $5 million to create the vocational and life skills program and $200,000 to establish the Nebraska Center for Justice Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
The bill also directs the department to develop a reentry program to transition inmates into communities and ensure an inmate’s rehabilitation/reentry program is complete or near completion after serving 80 percent of his or her sentence.
The bill also:
– requires parole officers to assist parolees and inmates prior to release in accessing housing and mental and physical health care;
– permits supervision of parolees via global positioning systems and other monitoring technology;
– directs the Commission on Public Advocacy to identify areas in Nebraska that need legal professionals; and
– creates the Nebraska Justice Reinvestment Working Group, comprising members selected by the governor, chief justice of the Supreme Court and speaker of the Legislature. The group will assist the Council of State Governments Justice Center in producing a report by Sept. 1, 2015, that prescribes how to reduce prison overcrowding.
Contact Haley Dover at nns.hdover@gmail.com.

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