Session Review: Government, Military and Veterans Affairs

Election law and state contracts dominated government issues addressed by lawmakers this session.

Elections

Among the election provisions passed was a bill that repeals the Campaign Finance Limitation Act, which recently was declared unconstitutional by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

LB79, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, also requires the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to develop, implement and maintain an electronic filing system for campaign statements and other required reports as soon as practicable. Further, it adds limited liability company or partnership to the list of entities that must establish a separate, segregated political fund in order to receive contributions. The bill passed on a 45-0 vote.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that shortens the in-person early voting period in Nebraska. Under LB271, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, any registered voter could appear in person before the election commissioner or county clerk to obtain his or her ballot not more than 30 days prior to an election.

Current law provides that ballots for in-person early voting will be available at least 35 days prior to an election. LB271 passed on a vote of 33–8.

Among the proposed changes to Nebraska election law considered this session was a measure that would change presidential election procedures.

Currently, the winner of Nebraska’s popular vote receives two electoral votes. The three congressional districts also award one electoral vote each based on its popular vote winner. Maine is the only other state to use this system.

LB382, introduced by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, would reinstate a winner-take-all system that would award all five electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote. The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee advanced the bill to general file on a 5-3 vote, but it was not scheduled for debate.

LB381, also introduced by Janssen, would require voters to provide photographic identification before casting their ballot. The bill remains in committee, along with LB127, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill, which would provide a process for 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote in Nebraska.

The committee held hearings on four bills regarding election commissioners.

LB188, introduced by Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek, would require legislative approval of election commissioner appointments made by the governor. The bill was advanced to general file on a 6-1 vote but was not scheduled for debate.

Also introduced by Karpisek was LB183, which would require that election commissioners be appointed by the county board in counties with populations of more than 100,000. The bill remains in committee.

Under LB41, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, county election commissioners and clerks would be required to maintain a permanent early voting request list, outline procedures for the permanent early voting request list and establish that a ballot received for early voting by mail may be returned by hand to the registered voter’s designated polling place on the day of the election. The bill remains in committee.

Also in committee is LB160, introduced by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, which would allow the electronic collection of signatures for initiative petitions and referendums.

Contracts

Among measures considered regarding public contracts was a bill intended to increase transparency in the expenditure of state funds.

LB429, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, requires the state to provide access to contract information via the Internet.

The bill requires that the state treasurer’s website include a link to the state Department of Administrative Services website, beginning July 1, 2014, which will contain a searchable database of all active contracts that are the basis for an expenditure of state funds.

All agencies and departments of the state will be required to provide DAS an electronic copy of contracts that are active on or after Jan. 1, 2014.

Exempted from the bill are references to all subcontracts and contracts entered into by the following agencies as letters of agreement for services to a specifically named individual:
• the state Department of Health and Human Services;
• the University of Nebraska or any state college; and
• the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Also exempt are contracts entered into by the state Energy Office to provide financing from the Dollar and Energy Saving Loan program and for employment contracts with any agency, board, commission or department of the state. The bill passed on a 43-0 vote.

LB224, introduced by Janssen and passed 49-0, provides a preference for a resident disabled veteran or a business located in a designated enterprise zone when awarding a state contract if all other factors are equal.

The bill defines a resident disabled veteran as an individual who:
• resides in Nebraska;
• was honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, including reserve or National Guard;
• possesses a disability letter establishing a service-connected disability;
• owns a business or, in the case of a publicly owned business, owns more than 50 percent of the stock; and
• controls the management and daily operation of a qualifying business.

Senators also changed a law passed last year that requires state agencies to submit a copy of the contract and a proof-of-need analysis on all contracts in excess of $15 million.

LB563, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, applies the approval requirement only to new state contracts. The bill passed on a 42-0 vote.

Governing structure

Senators considered several bills this session that impact the governing structure and authority of various political subdivisions. Among them was a measure that changes the size and structure of the Omaha Public School (OPS) board.

LB125, introduced by Lautenbaugh, reduces board membership from 12 to nine members. A special election — coinciding with the Omaha citywide election this spring —will fill all nine board member positions.

Going forward, the elections will be staggered. Board members from even-numbered districts will be up for election in Fall 2014; members from odd-numbered districts will be up for election in Fall 2016. Senators passed the bill on a 44-4 vote.

LB299, sponsored by Hastings Sen. Les Seiler, increases from three to four the number of council members who can be elected at large in a first class city when at least four council members are elected by ward. The change does not apply to a city with a commissioner or city manager form of government.

State law classifies a city of the first class as having a population between 5,001 and 100,000.

The bill also clarifies procedures for how certain cities, villages, counties or school districts may place the question of nominating and electing members to their governing boards on a general election ballot. The question of nominating and electing members by ward or at large could be placed on a general election ballot either by majority vote of the governing body or by petition of registered voters.

Additionally, the bill requires the secretary of state to develop and publish instructional guidelines for appointed election workers. The bill passed on a 47-0 vote.

LB646, introduced by Gretna Sen. John Murante, allows the board of directors of a public power district with a service area containing a city of the metropolitan class to be divided into election subdivisions. Omaha currently is the only metropolitan class city in Nebraska. The bill requires the subdivisions to be composed of substantially equal population, compact and contiguous territory and numbered consecutively.

LB646 takes effect Jan. 1, 2014 and was approved 40-0.

Senators also passed a bill that changes provisions of the Airport Zoning Act.

Political subdivisions that have established development plans and zoning regulations currently are required to adopt airport zoning regulations if they have an airport hazard in their zoning jurisdiction.

Under LB140, introduced by Krist, the authority of a political subdivision to adopt airport zoning regulations will not be conditional upon a prior comprehensive development plan or a zoning ordinance.

Among other zoning regulations, the bill establishes Airport Zoning Board of Adjustment appeal procedures and requires the board to allow a reasonable time for the appeals hearing, give due notice to the interested parties and determine the appeal within 60 days after it is filed.

Additionally, the bill redefines airport hazard to include “any structure, tree or use of land that penetrates any approach, operation, transition or turning zone.” The bill passed on a 39-1 vote.

Other bills

Senators approved a bill this session intended to facilitate assistance to people with functional needs in emergency situations.

LB434, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Scott Price, allows emergency management and other public agencies to create registries for the purpose of planning assistance for people with functional needs before, during and after a disaster or emergency.

Information obtained for such purposes will not be considered a public record and participation is voluntary. Improper release of registry information will be a Class III misdemeanor. The bill passed on a 43-0 vote.

Provisions of LB504, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, were amended into LB199, which was passed as part of the state budget package. The amendment expands the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs’ ability to utilize the agency’s Designated Collection Fund.

The amendment redefines a political subdivision as a city, village or county within a 60-mile radius of an Indian reservation or a tribal government that owns land within the 60-mile radius. Current law defines a political subdivision as a city, village or county within 30 miles of a census designated place.

The amendment also:
• expanded grant eligibility to include nonprofit corporations;
• removed the requirement that a political subdivision’s application receive a public hearing;
• added education to the list of items for which a political subdivision may use the funds; and
• allowed the commission to use funds directly for economic development, education, health care and law enforcement if no applicants are approved.

Lawmakers also voted 44-3 to eliminate several boards and commissions.

LB78, introduced by Avery, eliminated the:
• Affirmative Action Committee;
• State Airline Authority;
• Athletic Advisory Committee;
• Livestock Advisory Committee;
• Economic Development Commission; and
• Rural Development Commission.

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