The 103nd Legislature, first session, adjourned sine die June 5.
York Sen. Greg Adams, Speaker of the Legislature, thanked senators and staff for their hard work, while acknowledging that the 90-day session had not been an easy one. In fact, he said, if he had to choose one word to characterize the session, the word would be “difficult.”
“It was difficult because we took on difficult issues. We didn’t shy away from them; we debated them.” Adams said. “At times it became very divisive but … that’s what deliberative bodies in a representative democracy do.”
Among the challenges were passing the state’s two-year budget and addressing reform of the tax code.
Adams said the approximately $7.8 billion budget was “relatively conservative” and reflected the right priorities by focusing on early childhood, K-12 and higher education.
The budget includes funding for a new University of Nebraska Medical Center nursing facility in Lincoln and increased funding for the Early Childhood Endowment and special education.
Adams said the Legislature “did the right thing” by approving the Tax Modernization Committee. The committee, created by LR155, is tasked with reviewing and recommending updates to the state’s property, income and sales tax codes.
Additional difficult work lies ahead when the Legislature begins to analyze the committee’s recommendations next year, Adams said.
“Making tax policy is the jurisdiction of this body and that is what we will do,” he said.
Gov. Dave Heineman, in his address to lawmakers, echoed the importance of tax reform, saying the state needs a tax code that is simpler and fairer.
“Nebraskans work hard to provide for their families and we must be good stewards of their tax dollars,” he said.
Heineman thanked senators for their work on the budget and on other key pieces of legislation, including juvenile justice reform. He called passage of LB561, which makes broad changes to the state’s juvenile justice system with a focus on treatment rather than punishment, an “innovative” approach to dealing with youth who break the law.
“This reform will reduce reliance on detention and focus on rehabilitation for youth while keeping families involved,” Heineman said.
Lawmakers passed 214 of the 661 bills introduced this session, but two of the most contentious proposals were not brought to final votes. LB577, which would expand Medicaid coverage, and LB543, which would abolish the death penalty, were subjected to filibusters. Bill sponsors were not able to garner the 33 votes necessary to cease debate on either bill and both were removed from the agenda.
After indefinitely postponing bills amended into other bills this session, the Nebraska Legislature adjourned sine die.