Session Review: Government, Military and Veterans Affairs

Senators made changes this session to election laws, state and legislative auditing procedures and veterans’ funeral expenses.

Government

Lawmakers passed a bill intended to strengthen the audit authority of the Legislative Audit Office (LAO) and the state Auditor of Public Accounts (APA).

LB539, sponsored by Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier, requires state agencies to respond to a request for information from the LAO or APA within three business days of the request. For particularly difficult or extensive requests, the agency will have up to three weeks to provide the requested information. Failure to comply with the bill’s deadlines or other willful obstruction of an audit is a Class II misdemeanor.

The bill also adds community redevelopment authorities and limited community redevelopment authorities to the list of entities that the APA is empowered to audit. The change gives the APA the ability to audit tax increment financing projects.

LB539 was amended to include provisions from three additional bills related to the APA:
LB503, originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, authorizes the APA to issue subpoenas;
LB552, originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, clarifies that it is optional for the auditor to prepare a written review of the public retirement system plan reports that must be submitted if a political subdivision’s defined benefit plan is underfunded; and
LB487, originally introduced by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz, allows the APA to examine the books, accounts, vouchers, records and expenditures of any service contractor or subrecipient of state or federal funds.

LB539 passed on a 46-0 vote and takes effect immediately.

LB577, introduced by Gretna Sen. John Murante, authorizes counties to regulate the operation and conduct of peddlers, hawkers and solicitors on public and private commercial property through the imposition of fees, issuance of a permit or both.

The bill passed on a 45-1 vote.

Currently when there is a disaster, emergency or civil defense situation, local governments may make expenditures for emergency management purposes. LB283, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Roy Baker, extends that authority to school districts and educational service units (ESUs).

Prior to making expenditures, a school district or ESU will be required to secure an emergency proclamation from the emergency management director serving the local jurisdiction in which the school or ESU is located. The public hearing requirement for altering a budget will not apply to emergency expenditures.

LB283 passed with an emergency clause 48-0.

LB365, also introduced by Baker and passed 47-0, allows a school district or ESU to retain all books, papers, documents, reports, records and minutes of board meetings as electronic records.

Introduced by Scribner Sen. David Schnoor, LB305 adds transportation costs to the list of veterans’ funeral expenses furnished by the director of veterans’ affairs. Currently, food, shelter, fuel, apparel and medical or surgical aid are provided to veterans, their families and recognized veteran representatives to cover funeral expenses.

The bill passed with an emergency clause on a 47-0 vote.

Introduced by Crete Sen. Laura Ebke, LB132 requires a joint public agency (JPA) to follow the bond issuance procedures required by law for the participating public agency from which the JPA derived taxation powers.

Under the bill, passed 47-1, a JPA may issue refunding bonds that are payable from the same security and tax levy authority as bonds being refunded without holding an election if the issuance of the refunding bonds does not allow additional principal and does not allow extension of the final maturity date of the indebtedness.

LB132 also specifies election procedures that will be required prior to a JPA issuing a general obligation bond paid by a property tax and clarifies the electorate that will vote on a bond issue if the participating public agencies have overlapping jurisdiction of a geographic area.

Senators approved a bill regarding membership of public power district boards.

Under LB177, introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, a high-level manager employed by a public power district is prohibited from serving as a member of the board of directors of any public power district. A high-level manager includes a chief executive officer, president, vice president, chief financial officer, chief operations officer, general manager or assistant general manager.

The bill passed on a 47-0 vote.

County officials in Nebraska will have a set of guidelines to use when considering livestock operation proposals under a bill approved this session.

Introduced by Watermeier, LB106 requires the state Department of Agriculture and a committee of experts appointed by the department director to create an assessment formula that county officials may use when considering livestock operation siting permits, conditional use permits and special exception applications.

Senators passed the bill on a 44-2 vote.

LB571, introduced by Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch, authorized the Nebraska Tourism Commission to install highway tourism markers for attractions the commission considers important to the state.

Provisions of the bill were amended into LB449, an Appropriations bill that passed 48-0.

Two bills related to state funding were considered by the committee this session.

Currently, counties are financially responsible for the costs of an autopsy, grand jury payments and witness compensation when an incarcerated person dies. LB105, introduced by Watermeier, would transfer these costs from the county to the state if the inmate dies while serving a sentence in a state correctional institution.

The bill remains on general file.

A bill requiring that facility and administration costs of state probation offices be paid with state funds remains in committee. Under LB427, introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, counties would no longer be required to provide office space and necessary facilities for probation services as of June 30, 2015.

Elections

The Legislature considered changes to the Electoral College process, petition circulator payment and voting procedures.

LB575, sponsored by Murante, makes a number of technical changes to the state’s election laws. Among other changes, the measure:
• clarifies that vacancies for all offices must be filled within 45 days;
• allows early voting requests to be submitted via e-mail;
• allows poll workers to allocate their pay to a nonprofit entity;
• requires election commissioners in counties with a population more than 100,000 to wait 30 days after leaving office before running for or holding elective office; and
• allows the state Department of Motor Vehicles to furnish commercial driver’s license information to the secretary of state’s office for election law purposes.

The bill contains provisions of Murante’s LB578, which:
• allows poll workers to choose not to be paid or to allocate their pay to an organization contracted to recruit poll works;
• allows election officials and members of law enforcement to make copies of a voter’s registration form for list maintenance and law enforcement purposes; and
• raises the minimum rate that a political subdivision can be charged for an election from $50 to $100.

The bill also contains provisions of two additional bills:
• LB514, originally introduced by Omaha Sen. Joni Craighead, which adds an option for voters who wish to register to vote and vote early on the same day; and
• LB319, introduced by Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, which permits election by mail for special elections involving candidates.

LB575 passed 43-2.

A bill that would have reinstated a winner-take-all system for allocating Nebraska’s presidential electoral votes stalled on select file after three days of debate. Currently, the winner of Nebraska’s statewide popular vote receives two Electoral College votes. The state’s three congressional districts also award one electoral vote each based on the popular vote winner in each district. Maine is the only other state to use this system.

LB10, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, would award all five electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote. After extended debate, McCoy offered a motion to invoke cloture, or cease debate and force a vote on the bill, which failed 31-18. Thirty-three votes were needed.

Senators voted 31-15 to bracket a bill that would require all votes taken by public officials in the course of their public duties be considered public record. LB649, introduced by Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner, would include any voting procedures for internal leadership positions that currently are private.

LB367, introduced by Groene and passed 42-0, removes a prohibition on petition circulators being paid by the number of signatures collected.

LB561, sponsored by Gering Sen. John Stinner, allows an irrigation district of less than 15,000 acres to eliminate subdistricts and hold at-large elections.

In the case of land owned or leased by a corporation, trust or other legal entity, the entity will identify an elector-designee in writing not less than 30 days prior to an irrigation district election.

Passed 48-0, the bill provides a process for determining who is entitled to vote if two or more persons claim conflicting rights to vote on the same acreage. The bill also allows irrigation districts, at their discretion, to conduct elections by mail.

A bill that would require voters to provide a government-issued photographic identification before voting stalled on general file. Under LB111, introduced by O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson, either a driver’s license or state ID card issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles would be required.

Lawmakers approved a motion on a 25-15 vote to bracket the bill.

LB112, also introduced by Larson, proposed that Nebraska enter into an interstate compact to elect the country’s president by national vote.

Under the bill, the presidential candidate with the largest national popular vote total would be certified by each state’s chief election officer and awarded all of the state’s electoral votes. The compact would become effective if and when states possessing a majority of electoral votes enact similar legislation.

The bill was indefinitely postponed.

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