Nebraska senators hope to revive stalled bills in 2018
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Expect some new debates on old measures when Nebraska lawmakers return to the Capitol next month for the 2018 session.
Senators have spent the last few months tinkering with proposals that stalled last year in hopes of reviving them during the short, 60-day session that begins Jan. 3.
Lawmakers can carry over bills from this year into the upcoming session, but only measures designated by a senator or committee as a "priority" have a realistic chance of getting debated.
Here are some high-profile bills that didn't pass this year but are expected to return in 2018:
A sweeping bill aimed at Nebraska's job-licensing requirements is stuck in committee but has a good chance of emerging for debate in the full Legislature. Its sponsor, Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, said she will designate the measure as her legislative priority for the year if she can get it voted out of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
"I think we're pretty close," she said "Once they hear about it, I think most people can see the sense in reducing the number of occupational licenses we've got."
The bill would require regular reviews of all state job-licensing requirements to determine if they are still necessary. It also would give residents with a criminal history the chance to get professional licenses, if they're otherwise qualified.
Nebraska has roughly 200 professions with mandatory state licenses, ranging from massage therapists to doctors and school bus drivers. Ebke said the state could relax regulations and still protect public safety in some cases by allowing businesses to register with the state, rather than having to pay a fee and take a test to get a license.
ONLINE SALES TAX COLLECTIONS
A bill designed to help the state collect more online sales tax revenue is likely to come back after its sponsor pulled it just before a key vote earlier this year. The measure advanced through a first-round vote in April, but Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse said he asked to hold off because several supportive senators were absent the day of a scheduled second-round vote.
Watermeier said he has made some changes to the bill to address concerns raised by lawmakers.
The original bill would have required online retailers with at least 200 transactions or $100,000 in revenue in Nebraska to collect sales tax or send detailed transactions records to customers and the state to ensure the tax gets paid. The new version would require businesses to send only aggregate sales tax numbers to the state, thus protecting consumers' identities while notifying the government of the total amount owed.
Nebraska already requires residents to report and pay online sales taxes on their income tax returns, but few people comply. Gov. Pete Ricketts has argued the bill is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that states can only tax businesses with a physical presence within their borders, but the court could revisit the issue with a case involving a South Dakota internet sales tax law.
Lawmakers will once again consider legislation that could require voters to show a government-issued identification card at the polls. Sen. John Murante of Gretna said he plans to introduce legislation to complement a pending measure that would put the issue before voters in the November general election.
Murante said the new measures would give lawmakers several options of how the voter ID proposal would work, if voters approve it. Critics say voter ID measures are a solution in search of a non-existent problem in Nebraska and could disenfranchise voters who typically side with Democrats.
Conservative lawmakers also will renew their push to have Nebraska join other states in calling for a constitutional convention. Ebke said she won't spearhead the effort in the upcoming session but has handed it off to another senator who will try to pass it. Ebke previously has said the measure is only a few votes shy of being able to overcome a legislative filibuster.
The resolution would request a convention to propose constitutional amendments on fiscal restraint, the size and scope of the federal government and congressional term limits. Critics argue it could lead to a runaway convention.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer said he expects some debate on issues lawmakers have previously discussed. But given the session's time constraints, Scheer said he won't allow any bill that has previously been debated for three hours back onto the daily agenda unless the measure's sponsor can show enough support to give it a realistic chance of passing.
Scheer imposed the three-hour rule to allow for debate without wasting time on repetitious arguments and filibusters, which have increased to record highs over the last few years.
"It's got to be close enough that the bill has a legitimate shot," he said. "I'm not going to dedicate a lot of time to discussion on something just for the sake of having discussion."