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CAPITOL VIEW: Legislative session concludes without major political bloodshed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 02 June 2011 18:06

It could have been worse!

In fact, it could have been a lot worse.

The 2011 Legislature came and went. There were no increases in the state sales and income tax rates.

Facing a potential revenue shortfall of up to $1 billion, lawmakers cut funding for most stage agencies.

There were no wars over where the money went. A skirmish or two, but no political bloodshed.

Direct financial aid to local governments was eliminated, and there are more restrictions on local taxes. Senators also denied cities, specifically Omaha, the right even to ask local voters a half-cent increase in the maximum sales tax levy.

Elimination of that direct aid represented state government going back on a longtime promise to the locals. Fair is fair. Reality is not.

Legislators took action on two important, perhaps historic, issues.

Despite Gov. Dave Heineman’s vocal opposition, lawmakers decided to make a first-ever commitment of state sales tax revenues to fund state, county and city roads projects.

Beginning in 2014 there will be some $65 million less available each year for other programs, ranging from state aid to schools to social services. Roads projects have traditionally been funded through user fees – taxes on fuel and motor vehicles.

Enactment of the law was seen as a personal accomplishment for Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine. She is being mentioned as a candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

State and local government got their way in revising the Commission on Industrial relations, the panel that settles wage disputes among unionized public employees and state, county and municipal government.

The changes give government the upper hand in future negotiations. Workers keep their right to collective bargaining.

There were other important, but predictable, decisions.

So-called telemedicine abortions were outlawed. Those involve early-on pregnancies where a woman takes a couple of pills to induce abortion. A doctor supervises the procedure via a private, onscreen computer connection. The procedure is available through Planned Parenthood in Iowa.

Using results from the latest federal census, senators redrew political boundaries, including those for the three congressional districts and the Legislature. Things went as expected. The overwhelming Republican majority had its way.

The Omaha-dominated 2nd District was reconfigured so that Democratic presidential candidates aren’t likely to carry a majority of the vote and, with it, one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes. That happened in 2008 and the GOP succeeded in making a recurrence all but impossible.”


ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.