By Jan Rahn
With some bills finished, some advanced, and some sitting and spinning, the 102nd Legislature continues to wind its way toward the end of the 90-day session which is scheduled for June 8.
During Tuesday’s teleconference, Senator Mark Christensen said, “To me it seems like it has been pretty boring down here—it has been the most frustrating, stressful, probably double that, session I’ve every been through.”
Christensen wondered out loud if it’s because of the controversial bills or because of attitudes. He said people are always up in arms about something and try to kill a bill or do procedural moves and not allow for discussion.
He cited LB84, the roads funding bill. It went through eight hours of Select File debate last week.
Prior to a cloture vote of 39-9, many amendments to the bill were debated and the bill advanced to Final Reading.
“As you know, there are no easy decisions when the budget is tight, costs are up, and user fees and taxes are stagnant,” Christensen said in his Letter Back Home this week. “That is the place Nebraska has found itself regarding the maintenance and construction of roads. In the end, with my support, we decided not to increase any taxes or fees, but live within our current tax levies and direct a portion of sales tax to roads.”
The bill would earmark a quarter of one cent of the five-and-a-half cent state sales tax over a 20-year period beginning in 2013. The tax could bring in as much as $65 million annually and an estimated $1.3 billion over that 20 year period.
Although Christensen is a supporter of the pipeline, he says he can’t support the bill as written to get it out of committee.
The original bill has been amended twice as a priority bill but is stuck in committee.
“One thing about things down here, you can never take them for granted,” said Christensen.
He referred to the similarity he dealt with on his Castle Doctrine bill. There was opposition, no testimony against it, many supporters, and still cannot get it out of committee.
“We’re definitely getting into the meat of the program here before long,” said Christensen, with redistricting being one of the top issues catching interest of the senators.
He believes the redistricting map they’ll choose is the one where his whole district stays intact and he would gain Gosper and Harlan, but lose his part of Dawson County.
He’s expecting the various maps designed by the senators to be brought to the floor this week.
“My favorite map is where (District) 44 stays intact,” said Christensen. “However, in 10 years 44 could be on the chopping blocks.”
Christensen said he tries very hard to go to every community every year and hit their main events—continuing to enlarge a district would make it difficult for a senator to cover his territory of constituents.
• Christensen’s gun bill (LB512) was among several Final Readings done last Wednesday.
His gun bill is finished and it was sent to Governor Heineman for signature. Christensen assumes it will be accepted.
LB512 removes a maximum five-year retention requirement for mental health records at the state Department of Health and Human Services. and makes mental health records accessible when conducting background checks to determine a person’s eligibility to own a firearm.
The bill enables a person who has been barred from buying or possessing a gun for mental health reasons to resubmit an application if they no longer suffer from the disqualifying condition.
• Although he didn’t get all of the amendments he wanted, Christensen’s child care bill was advanced following debate last week.
LB646 would establish certain notification requirements for court reviews and hearing pertaining to a child in a foster care placement.
Christensen said he was prepared to keep fighting it on the floor unless an interim study was agreed to.
Campaign Finance Bill
LB606 on campaign finance was heard last week, passing on General File.
“Then on Select File, I think the churches woke up to how this could affect them,” said Christensen.
He said a number of churches hand out information on how their senator voted on issues such as pro life, and they wouldn’t be allowed to hand it out at church or put them in the bulletin anymore.
LB606 requires any person who makes an electioneering communication in the amount of more than $250 to file a report. This includes costs of printing and inserting into a bulletin, which got a number of people concerned. They backed away, and the bill failed, said Christensen.
In an interesting twist of events, Christensen was in the lobby, didn’t hear the announcement, and missed a vote—which would have put an amendment on the bill.
Christensen said he filed a motion to reconsider but since he is the only one, he’s pondering whether to withdraw it and just let the bill die.
Several senators were missing that day, he said, and another seven or eight of the senators switched their vote.
“I know it had to do with the church issue,” said Christensen. “It was just an interesting play of events.”
Constituents with questions, comments or concerns may contact Christensen at 402-471-2805.
Other information is also available at his legislative website: http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist44/
SEN. MARK CHRISTENSEN holds a weekly teleconference at 7 a.m. MT each Tuesday with sites at the Imperial Republican, Midwest Electric in Grant and Southwest Public Power in Palisade. The teleconferences are open to the public and Christensen encourages constituent participation.