Telephone conference report on Tuesday, March 29.
By Josh Sumner
The Wauneta BreezeSen. Mark Christensen is among the many other Nebraska state senators hustling to get bills out of committee this week ahead of Friday’s consent calendar deadline, as set by Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood.
Bills that advance through legislative committees without dissenting votes are eligible for placement on the consent calendar. Those bills that make it to consent are debated for 15 minutes, then voted on.
Christensen has targeted LB655 and LB87 as two bills he hopes to find on the consent calendar. LB655 is Christensen’s bill that changes provisions relating to occupation taxes imposed by natural resources districts, while LB87 changes provisions to the way county ditches are mowed.
Under LB655, landowners could choose to have their property taxes calculated one of two ways: either by acreage or by acreage plus the amount of water pumped. The latter would use a formula that takes into consideration previous years’ surface and ground usage. Christensen said he feels the bill would reward those who use less water or manage it better.
“It would be a way of rewarding no-till practice farming because you save moisture,” said Christensen.
There is support for the bill from the LRNRD, according to Christensen, despite its members’ reluctancy to testify during the bill’s committee hearing. Christensen said no opponents or proponents voiced opinion during the hearing.
Christensen admits the risk involved with trying to push a bill like LB655 through via the consent calendar. He said 15 minutes is a short amount of time to present all the information.
“It’s a little risky to put 655 there,” said Christensen. “Anytime you deal with a tax and water bill, it can easily be talked to death.”
Christensen said he was more confident about LB655’s chances of hitting the consent calendar than LB87. Under LB87, citizens would have the opportunity to petition county enforcement of farmers to mow their own ditches.
Confusion about LB87 has led Christensen’s colleagues to believe he is setting forth a bill that would require farmers to mow ditches, he said. In actuality, the law has been in place since the 1950s. Christensen’s bill would allow citizens to petition county officials for the chance to vote on the issue.
Ethanol Bill Headlines
Set of Priority Bills
LB698 is among a trio of bills introduced by Sen. Christensen that is being given priority status. LB698, made priority by Sen Tom Carlson of Holdrege, would eliminate labeling requirements for alcohol-blended fuel.
According to Christensen, removal of labels would increase the use of ethanol and alcohol-blended fuels. He added that the state is being asked to meet a new federal mandate next year that requires 15 billion gallons of ethanol-blended fuels are used. Approximately 13 billion gallons of ethanol-blended fuel was used in Nebraska last year.
“This is a vote between pro-agriculture or big oil,” said Christensen, who briefly spoke about the lobby against his bill. Opponents have framed LB698 as deceptive practice, said Christensen, who insists that the opposite is true.
Christensen said 75 percent of the gas sold in the state of Nebraska is blended with alcohol. Even those who buy gas under the pretense that it’s alcohol-free are often duped, said Christensen.
“It’s the distributors who are being deceptive,” said Christensen. “The kettle is calling the pot black.”
LB512, which has been given speaker priority, was the third bill to be heard on Tuesday’s agenda. It deals with changing the provisions relating to mental health determinations for purchasing and possessing handguns.
The bill would prevent those with mental health problems from purchasing firearms when they are processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System at the point-of-sale.
“If you’ve been determined unstable, you couldn’t purchase a gun,” said Christensen.
On the other side of the coin, the bill would also restore Second Amendment rights to those who had had lost them due to an involuntary mental health evaluation.
Christensen’s own priority bill, LB648, which would make changes to the state foster care system, rounds out the senator’s three bills slotted for priority. It was placed on general file on March 17.
Fight Over Environmental Fund Transfer Continues
LB229, Sen. Deb Fischer’s bill that would transfer $7 million annually from the Environmental Trust Fund to a new Water Resources Cash Fund, was scheduled to be heard on Wednesday.
Opposition from the Environmental Trust has waned, however certain groups like Ducks Unlimited continue to lobby against LB229, said Christensen.
“I’m very hopeful we can get an agreement worked out,” said Christensen.
Senator MARK CHRISTENSEN holds weekly teleconferences at 7 a.m. MT/8 a.m. CT each Tuesday morning. The public is invited to attend the conference calls. Hosts of the conference calls are Southwest Public Power District in Palisade and Midwest Electric in Grant. Christensen can be reached at 402-471-2805, or by mail at P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or via e-mail at