Session Review: Government, Military and Veterans Affairs

A range of topics involving government, military and veterans affairs came before the Legislature this session. Issues included elections, state contracts and the impeachment of civil officers.

Elections

Among the measures passed concerning election procedures was a bill requiring that petition circulators be 18 years of age or older.

LB759, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, also removes a requirement that a circulator be an elector of the state.

The bill passed 41-2.

Provisions for filling a general election ballot vacancy are harmonized under a bill passed this session.

Under current law, the political party of a candidate who declines a nomination has three days to fill the ballot vacancy but there are different provisions when a candidate exits a race for other reasons.

LB503, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch, provides consistency in filling ballot vacancies by removing the time constraint in cases of declination and allowing a vacancy to be filled by the executive committee of the vacating candidate. If such a committee does not exist or chooses not to replace the candidate, the vacancy may be filled by a mass convention of the political party.

The bill passed on a 34-0 vote.

A bill that would require presentation of identification prior to voting in a Nebraska election stalled on general file.

Under LB239, introduced by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen last session, a voter who does not present identification at the polls but casts a provisional ballot would have had 10 days to submit government-issued photographic identification to the election commissioner in order for the ballot to be counted.

After eight hours of debate spanning three days, Janssen offered a motion to invoke cloture, an attempt to cease debate and force a vote on the bill. The motion failed 30-16, three votes short of the number needed. The bill was not rescheduled for debate.

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony on two additional bills introduced by Avery.

LB754, would have defined electioneering communication and require reporting of communications over $250 to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Under LB1025, a Public Service Commission candidate or member could not accept a gift or contribution from a person engaged in a business that applies to and receives its authority to conduct business in Nebraska and is subject to oversight by the commission.

An officer, director, partner or member of such a business also would have been prohibited from giving a gift or contribution.

Both bills were held in committee.

Office holders

Several bills were considered that impact public officeholders in Nebraska.

Senators approved a proposed change to the Nebraska Constitution regarding impeachment of
civil officers.

LR19CA, introduced by Avery, places a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2012 general election ballot. If approved by voters, the proposal will add a misdemeanor related to the election by which a civil officer was elected to office as an impeachable offense.

Currently, the constitution states that a civil officer may be impeached for any misdemeanor committed while in office.

LR19CA passed on a 45-0 vote.

Lawmakers also approved a bill that allows additional public entities to hold public meetings by video and telephone conferencing.

LB735, introduced by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, extends the authorization to community college boards and public power and public power irrigation districts.

The bill passed 47-0.

LB755, introduced by Avery, would have required the formal review of conflict of interest statements filed by state senators.

Under the bill, statements would have been reviewed by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission and a determination would have been filed with the Clerk of the Legislature within a reasonable amount of time.

The bill was held in committee.

State agencies

Lawmakers passed a bill this session seeking to improve the procedure by which state agencies contract for services.

Introduced by Avery, LB858 applies to contracts valued at more than $15 million and requires the involvement of the state Department of Administrative Services (DAS).

The bill requires a state agency to submit a copy of a proposed contract and a proof-of-need analysis to DAS, which must certify a submitted analysis as complete before an agency may proceed with contracting services.

The bill also changes the exemption for service contracts with direct providers of medical, behavioral or developmental health services, child care or child welfare services. These child welfare contracts will be exempted from certain service contract provisions if the the contract is $15 million or less.

The bill includes provisions from LB1006, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, that gives priority for vending contracts in state- or federally-owned buildings to blind or visually impaired bidders.

LB858 passed 46-0.

A commission dedicated solely to promoting tourism in Nebraska was created this session.

LB1053, introduced by Ellsworth Sen. LeRoy Louden, creates the Nebraska Tourism Commission. All powers and duties currently held by the travel and tourism division of the state Department of Economic Development are transferred to the newly formed commission.

Members will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. All current employees of the travel and tourism division will become employees of the commission.

Senators passed the bill on a 47-0 vote.

A bill that would have merged the state Department of Labor (DOL) with the state Department of Economic Development (DED) was heard by the committee.

Under LB971, introduced by Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms, all existing DOL programs, employees and contracts would haven been moved to the DED with no cuts in personnel or services.

The bill was advanced to general file but was not debated.

Other bills

The fees required for recording documents – such as deeds, mortgages and wills – with the register of deeds were increased.

LB14, introduced last session by Lexington Sen. John Wightman, increases the fee for recording documents with the register of deeds from $5 per page to $10 for the first page and $6 for each additional page.

Part of the  funds generated by the increase are designated to fund the preservation, maintenance and modernization of public records in the register of deed’s office.

The bill also increases the uniform fee associated with recording documents pursuant to the Uniform Federal Lien Registration Act, payable to the Nebraska Secretary of State, from $6 to two times the fee required for recording instruments with the register of deeds.

LB14 passed on a 39-9 vote and becomes operative Jan. 1, 2013. All fee increases included in the bill will sunset Jan.1, 2018.

LB782, introduced by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, requires all reports be submitted to the Legislature electronically. The bill also authorizes the clerk of the Legislature to establish requirements for the electronic format, submission and distribution of required reports. The clerk may accept a report in written form only upon a showing of good cause.

Provisions of the bill relating to reports filed by lobbyists and principals has an operative date of Jan. 1, 2015.

The bill passed on a 42-0 vote.

Senators also passed a bill meant to address the handling of unclaimed military medals.

Under LB819, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Scott Price, any unclaimed military medal, decoration or award removed from a safe deposit or collateral deposit box in Nebraska will be delivered to the state treasurer’s office.

Unclaimed medals will be reported on the same schedule as other unclaimed property and the treasurer’s office may designate a veterans’ organization or other entity as custodian of any unclaimed medals after 10 years.

The bill passed on a 47-0 vote.

A bill that would have restructured the Omaha Public Schools (OPS) board of education stalled on general file.

LB720, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would have reduced the size of the board from 12 members to five. The bill also called for term limits of two consecutive four-year terms and a $20,000 annual salary for all board members.

After prolonged debate, Lautenbaugh moved to refer LB720 back to the committee and senators obliged.

A similar bill – LB717 offered by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council – would have required that any changes made to the Omaha board be applied to every board of education but was not advanced from committee.

Two bills that were given first-round approval by lawmakers remained on select file.

LB344, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, would have required creation of an interjurisdictional planning commission to review and plan for the possible merger of governmental services in Douglas County and the city of Omaha and report its findings to the Legislature.

LB352, sponsored by Lautenbaugh, would have extended the instrument runway approach zone in Nebraska from three to 10 miles.

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