Lawmakers approved several measures this session that embrace emerging technology, increase driver safety and expand broadband access throughout the state.
LB989, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, authorizes the operation of an autonomous vehicle on all state roads and highways, as long as the vehicle is capable of operating in compliance with traffic and motor vehicle safety laws.
An autonomous vehicle may or may not contain a human driver. If a human driver is present in the vehicle, he or she must be a licensed driver and covered by insurance.
The bill also authorizes the operation of an on-demand autonomous vehicle network, which could provide transportation of persons or goods, including for-hire transportation or public transportation.
Political subdivisions are prohibited from imposing any additional performance requirements or taxes that relate specifically to the operation of an autonomous vehicle. The state Department of Motor Vehicles is required to consult with railroad companies before providing an exemption to allow fully autonomous vehicles to cross railroads.
The bill passed on a 34-8 vote.
Rules of the road
Gretna Sen. John Murante introduced LB1009, passed 44-1, which authorizes the state Department of Transportation to increase the maximum speed limit from 60 mph to 65 mph on any four-lane divided highway that is not a part of the state highway system and any part of the state highway system other than an expressway or freeway.
Speeds will increase from 65 mph to 70 mph on expressways that are part of the state highway system and freeways that are a part of the state highway system but not part of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
Finally, the maximum speed limit will increase from 60 mph to 65 mph on any portion of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways located in Douglas, Lancaster and Dakota counties.
LB42, introduced by Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann, extends by two years the age requirement that children be secured in an approved child safety restraint device that is correctly installed in the vehicle. Children up to age 8 must now be properly restrained by such safety devices in moving vehicles.
The device has to be located in a vehicle’s rear seat, if available. Additionally, the bill requires that all children up to age 2 use a rear-facing device until the child outgrows the device manufacturer’s height or weight requirements.
The bill passed on a 40-2 vote.
Introduced by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, LB347 eliminates the requirement for a special $5 school bus driver permit that must be renewed annually with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
The department retains authority to regulate school buses and school bus drivers except for the issuance of the federally required CDL and endorsements, which the DMV handles.
School bus drivers still are required to undergo a physician’s examination to determine whether they meet physical and mental standards set by the department. Additionally, school bus drivers still are required to take special training classes, and schools will continue to check drivers’ driving records and criminal histories.
The bill passed on a 48-0 vote.
Lawmakers rejected a cloture motion during first-round debate on LB368, introduced by Kearney Sen. John Lowe. The bill would have given motorcycle riders 21 and older the option to wear no helmet but would require that eye protection be used. The bill also would have prohibited children younger than age 6 from riding a motorcycle or moped.
After extended debate, Lowe offered a motion to invoke cloture and vote on the measure. The motion failed on a vote of 30-15. Thirty-three votes were needed. A failed cloture motion ceases debate.
LB671, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, would have changed the offense of operating a handheld wireless device from a secondary to a primary offense, meaning a driver could have been stopped by law enforcement for using a phone while driving.
Among other provisions, the bill would have exempted from the prohibition on wireless devices law enforcement officers, firefighters, ambulance drivers and emergency medical technicians performing in their official capacity, or a person operating a motor vehicle in an emergency.
The bill failed to advance from committee.
Measures to improve access to high-speed internet and modernize the state’s 911 system were supported overwhelmingly by the Legislature.
Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen introduced LB994, passed 48-0, which creates the Rural Broadband Task Force to assist in developing enhanced broadband telecommunications service to unserved and underserved areas in rural Nebraska.
Membership on the task force will include a member of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, the director of the state Department of Economic Development and the director of the state Department of Agriculture. Additional members will be appointed by the governor, including representatives from the state’s agribusiness, business, telecommunications, public power and educational communities.
The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee chairperson and another member of the Legislature appointed by the Executive Board will serve as nonvoting, ex officio members. The chairperson of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission will chair the task force, which will study issues relating to the availability, adoption and affordability of broadband services in rural areas of the state.
The Nebraska Information Technology Commission will host a Rural Broadband Task Force Fund to pay for the study, which initially will be funded by a $50,000 transfer from the Nebraska Internet Enhancement Fund.
A final report of the task force’s findings will be delivered to the Legislature’s Executive Board no later than Dec. 1, 2019.
LB994 also authorizes the Nebraska Public Service Commission to withhold funding from companies that have not provided adequate broadband internet to unserved or underserved areas.
The bill includes provisions of LB966, also introduced by Friesen, that exempt the sale, lease or rental of and the storage, use or consumption of dark fiber from state sales and use taxes.
A bill passed by the Legislature in 2016 authorized the Nebraska Public Service Commission to organize funding for a statewide system capable of next-generation service. This will enable public safety answering points to receive 911 calls via voice, text or video using internet protocol.
LB993, introduced this year by Friesen, creates the 911 Service System Advisory Committee to assist the commission in its mission to fully implement the 911 service system.
Membership of the advisory committee includes the 911 director and the state chief information officer, as well as various representatives of public safety agencies and city and county officials. Of the 14 members appointed to the committee, at least four members must be appointed from each of the state’s three congressional districts. Each will serve a term of three years.
The commission is tasked with creating a mechanism for determining the level of funding available to local governing bodies, public safety answering points and third-party service or infrastructure providers from the 911 Service System Fund.
Costs incurred for providing 911 service, acquiring new equipment, training personnel and maintaining, upgrading or modifying services all are eligible for funding under LB993.
Additionally, the commission can apply for federal funds available for next-generation 911 service and can distribute the funds accordingly.
The bill provides legal immunity to people installing, maintaining or providing service, except in cases of failure to use reasonable care or for intentional acts. The Enhanced Wireless 911 Fund will be integrated into the 911 Service System Fund.
The bill passed on a 49-0 vote.
A bill that moves the responsibility to collect and remit a surcharge on prepaid wireless phones from service providers to retailers received final approval from lawmakers.
Nebraska wireless customers pay three surcharges administered by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, including one that funds wireless E911 service and another that pays for telecommunications services and equipment for those with hearing or speech impairments.
LB157, introduced by Friesen, changes how the third surcharge—for the state’s Universal Service Fund—is collected and remitted. The fund pays for programs that ensure urban and rural Nebraskans have comparable accessibility to telecommunications services.
Retailers collect and remit the first two surcharges to the state Department of Revenue, which then transfers the funds to the PSC and the state treasurer. Wireless providers had been required to remit the USF surcharge directly to the PSC, but LB157 requires sellers of prepaid wireless products to collect and remit the USF surcharge to the department like the other two surcharges.
Retailers may retain 3 percent of the wireless surcharges they collect from consumers. Under LB157, the department may retain 0.5 percent of prepaid wireless surcharges to reimburse its administration costs.
Retailers now are required to remit prepaid wireless surcharges on a monthly basis unless they collect less than $1,000 in surcharges in the previous year. In that case, they may remit annually.
Senators voted 46-0 to pass the bill.
A bill intended to create uniform, statewide standards for the regulation and deployment of small wireless facilities, or small cells, failed to advance from general file debate this session.
LB389, introduced by Friesen, would have allowed a wireless provider to collocate, or attach, small wireless facilities to wireless structures and utility poles and install, maintain, modify, operate and replace utility poles in the public right of way.
A political subdivision, or authority, could have required an applicant to obtain one or more permits to collocate a small wireless facility or install a new, modified or replacement utility pole associated with a small wireless facility.
After three hours of debate, the Legislature moved to another item on the agenda. Per a practice implemented last year by Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk, the sponsor of a bill facing a potential filibuster was required to demonstrate sufficient support for a cloture motion for the measure to be scheduled for additional debate.
LB389 did not return to the agenda this session.
Licensing and administration
The Legislature approved the committee’s technical omnibus bill 46-0.
LB909, introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, requires that certificates of title for assembled and kit vehicles include the year, make and model that the vehicle resembles. The title also must indicate whether the vehicle is reconstructed or replica.
The bill includes provisions of 10 additional bills, including:
• LB740, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brett Lindstrom, which allows the Metropolitan Utilities District to register vehicles in the same manner as public power districts beginning Jan. 1, 2023;
• LB860, introduced by Friesen, which provides compensation for motor vehicle dealers affected by recalls and stop-sale orders;
• LB895, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, which makes a series of technical updates to current DMV statutes;
• LB896, also introduced by Geist, which clarifies that the operative date for certain sections relating to electronic certificates of title will be no later than Jan. 1, 2021;
• LB900, introduced by Bostelman, which updates references to federal transportation laws and increases fines for certain motor carrier statute violations;
• LB980, introduced by Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier, which allows for the transportation of divisible loads of livestock forage on the interstate;
• LB1011, introduced by Omaha Sen. Burke Harr, which requires a driver approaching an emergency vehicle, a Nebraska State Patrol motorist assistance vehicle, tow truck, maintenance vehicle or garbage or recycling service vehicle to proceed with caution and move over if possible;
• LB1049, introduced by Harr, which amends the definition of low-speed vehicles to include certain three-wheeled motor vehicles;
• LB1092, introduced by Papillion Sen. Jim Smith, which creates separate procedures for operators of autocycles that are not completely enclosed; and
• LB1136, introduced by Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, which provides a mechanism for online auto auctions to obtain titles for vehicles purchased as salvage vehicles.
Under LB733, introduced by Omaha Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, the duration of a Class B county highway or city street superintendent license changes from one to three years. The renewal fee increases from $10 annually to $30 every three years.
The bill, passed on a 45-0 vote, also allows those holding Class A and Class B licenses to renew both at once.
Venango Sen. Dan Hughes introduced LB275, passed 45-0, which allows a private property owner to have an abandoned vehicle removed from his or her property if the vehicle has been left for at least seven days.
The property owner can contact law enforcement, who then will contact a towing company to have the vehicle removed. The private towing company will be responsible for notifying local law enforcement of a removal within 24 hours, if initiated by a private property owner.
Under LB310, introduced by Friesen and passed 45-0, a sign indicating the carrying capacity of a county-maintained bridge will be required only if its carrying capacity is less than the limit prescribed in state statute.
A person who drives an overweight vehicle over a bridge or a culvert wider than 60 inches cannot recover damages from the county for any resulting injury or accident.