Session Review: Transportation and Telecommunications
Lawmakers approved measures this session to expand broadband access throughout the state, provide for public-private partnerships and change laws regarding the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
The Broadband Bridge Act, enacted in 2021, is a program that facilitates and funds the development of broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas of Nebraska. The Public Service Commission is responsible for administering grants to providers, cooperatives and political subdivisions to fund qualifying broadband development projects.
LB1144, introduced by Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen, updates the act by reducing matching grants for projects located in high-cost areas from 50 percent of project costs to 25 percent.
Under the bill, grant recipients must commit to maintaining a minimum 100 Mbps of download and upload speeds for all locations for which they have received grant funding and agree to offer broadband in the project area for 15 years.
In addition, if good cause is shown, the PSC may give a provider up to 90 days to submit a challenge to an application. If the PSC denies an application based on a challenge and the challenger does not provide service in the proposed project area within 18 months, the commission will impose a civil penalty for each day going forward that service is not provided.
The proposal also includes provisions of four additional bills:
• LB761, introduced by Adams Sen. Myron Dorn, which provides up to $2 million in annual grant funding to provide precision agriculture connectivity of at least 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speed to accelerate rural economic development and provide high-speed internet connectivity to farm sites in unserved areas of the state;
• LB914, introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, which allows the PSC to create and maintain a Nebraska location fabric broadband access map;
• LB1214, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, which requires the PSC’s weighted application scoring system to include the ability to offer rates in a project area comparable to rates offered by the applicant outside the project area; and
• LB1234, introduced by Friesen, which provides for an expedited wire-crossing permit process for telecommunications companies wishing to cross railroad rights of way.
The bill passed on a 46-0 vote and took effect immediately.
A new process to review complaints that allege violations of the state’s One-Call Notification System Act would have been established under LB344, introduced by Friesen. As amended on general file, the bill would have established the state fire marshal as the entity responsible for investigating alleged violations of the one-call system. Currently, the state attorney general handles all such complaints.
The bill advanced to select file but was not scheduled for a second round of debate.
LB1016, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, allows the state Department of Transportation to enter into certain public-private partnerships for construction or financing of capital projects or procurement of services under the Transportation Innovation Act.
Eligible projects may include the accelerated completion of improvements and expansion projects on the Nebraska segments of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, highway resurfacing and the accelerated completion of the state expressway system.
A contractor may utilize the progressive design-build method — a public-private contracting method for purposes of project delivery — in addition to the design-build or construction manager general contractor method.
Under LB1016, progressive design-build contracts must include consideration of a builder’s history of costs and expenses when bidding and completing projects, regardless of the process used.
The bill passed 44-0.
A bill intended to speed work on the Nebraska Expressway System failed to advance from committee.
LB1274, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Michael Flood, stated legislative intent to appropriate funds to the NDOT to plan, design and purchase rights of way for portions of U.S. Highway 81, including stretches from York to Columbus and Norfolk to the South Dakota border, as well as Nebraska Highway 20 from U.S. Highway 81 to the Iowa border.
Licensing and administration
Senators passed a bill this session that makes a number of changes to laws regarding the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Among other provisions, LB750, introduced by Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen, makes the following changes:
• authorizes former military vehicles to tow designated trailers;
• allows motorboats and UTV/ATVs to have a transfer-on-death designation on the certificate of title;
• removes a notary requirement for vehicle major component part bills of sale;
• allows previously salvaged titles to be issued initially if a vehicle has been properly inspected; and
• reduces from eight to four hours the driver improvement course requirement for individuals younger than 21.
The bill also includes provisions of six additional measures:
• LB714, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, which requires that $3 from each Class O operator’s license and state identification card issued and valid for five years be deposited in the DMV Cash Fund and used to open and operate an additional operator’s license center in Lancaster County;
• LB913, sponsored by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, which changes provisions regarding highway and road construction related to extreme weather events;
• LB1022, sponsored by Friesen, which modifies the distribution of fees for the 24/7 sobriety program permit established in 2021 so that the portion of the fee distributed to the county is distributed to the county that issued the permit, not the county of residence of the individual receiving the permit;
• LB1145, also sponsored by Friesen, which stipulates that a law enforcement agency is not prohibited from disclosing the age of an operator included in any motor vehicle accident report;
• LB1259, sponsored by Geist, which increases the issuance fee for new license plates and renewal tabs from not more than $3.50 to not more than $4.25 per plate, starting Jan. 1, 2023; and
• LB1266, sponsored by Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran, which stipulates that individuals 65 or older may receive free or reduced rates from regulated common carriers.
LB750 passed on a 46-0 vote and took effect immediately.