New session brings budget issues, tough decisions

The 102nd Nebraska Legislature convened at 10:00 a.m. Jan. 5 for its 90-day session. Senators elected members of the body to serve as chairpersons for the Legislature’s standing committees.

With a projected budget shortfall of $986 million, many senators anticipate this to be one of the toughest sessions Nebraska has faced in years.

Slideshow: Opening Day 2011

Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood said there are weighty issues lawmakers need to address this session, but he assured his colleagues that there are solutions and the state should continue to move forward.

Flood was uncontested for his third bid as speaker of the Legislature, saying that Nebraska, and specifically the Legislature, has been acting responsibly toward finding solutions to budget issues.

Sen. Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek was re-elected chairperson of the Appropriations Committee.

Although the Legislature has lost some historical knowledge with experienced senators leaving due to term limits, Heidemann said, with good leadership the Legislature will be able to see through the challenging times ahead.

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery and Omaha Sen. Bob Krist both ran to lead the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Avery, who served as chairperson the last two years, said he has been fair-minded, hardworking and pragmatic.

The body re-elected him to chair the committee.

The other contest was between Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist and Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor for chairperson of the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee.

Nordquist said that as a member of the committee and former research analyst for the committee, he gained years of experience working with the parties involved to solve state retirement issues.

He said he understands the need to balance government obligations in dealing with the state’s $127 million pension shortfall.

Nordquist was selected as chairperson.

New to the role of chairing a committee is Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, who was uncontested in her bid for Health and Human Services Committee chairperson.

Campbell said she has built relationships and experiences over a broad spectrum of issues and knows the problems affecting Nebraska’s most vulnerable citizens.

The body re-elected Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson as chairperson of the Agriculture Committee.

Calling agriculture the number one industry in the state, Carlson stressed that the Legislature needs to promote, enhance and improve the state’s ag programs.

“When grain and livestock producers make money, everyone in Nebraska benefits,” he said. “When grain and livestock producers are hurting, everyone in Nebraska hurts.”

Lexington Sen. John Wightman was re-elected chairperson of the Executive Board, the committee charged with managing the Legislature’s budget and personnel, and Omaha Sen. John Nelson was re-elected vice-chair.

Other senators unopposed in their bids to remain committee chairpersons were Boys Town Sen. Rich Pahls as chairperson of the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee; Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop as chairperson of the Business and Labor Committee; York Sen. Greg Adams as chairperson of the Education Committee; Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek as chairperson of the General Affairs Committee; Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford as chairperson of the Judiciary Committee; Schuyler Sen. Chris Langemeier as chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee; Bellevue Sen. Abbie Cornett as chairperson of the Revenue Committee; Valentine Sen. Deb Fischer as chairperson of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee; and Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill as chairperson of the Urban Affairs Committee.

New senators sworn in were Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft; Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha; Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill; Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus; and Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins was appointed by Gov. Dave Heineman in December to replace Sen. Bob Giese, who resigned from the Legislature upon being elected Dakota County treasurer.

Lawmakers will be introducing bills through Jan. 19.

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