Session Review: Government, Military and Veterans Affairs

Changes to state agency reporting, election laws and voting procedures were enacted this session.

Government

Lawmakers approved a bill meant to strengthen state agency reporting requirements.

LB719, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, adds a public comment summary to the required information that a state agency must submit to the secretary of state, attorney general and governor regarding a proposed rule change under the Administrative Procedures Act.

The bill requires agencies to provide the Legislature a report containing a written summary of testimony offered at a public hearing, any specific issues or questions presented at the hearing or in written testimony and written responses from the agency.

The bill includes provisions of LB720, also introduced by Crawford, that expand an existing complaint process regarding proposed agency regulations.

Current law provides a process for senators to file a complaint regarding proposed regulations on the basis that the proposed rule is unconstitutional, in excess of statutory authority or inconsistent with the legislative intent of the authorizing statute.

The bill expands that process to existing rules and regulations or their repeal. It also adds the following criteria for filing a complaint:
• a rule or regulation creates an undue burden;
• circumstances have changed since passage of a law that a rule or regulation implements; or
• a rule or regulation overlaps, duplicates or conflicts with other laws, rules or ordinances.

The bill passed on a 46-0 vote.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, LB371 requires state agencies to provide a report to the Legislature regarding contracts awarded by the state Department of Administrative Services on or after July 1, 2014.

The report will include the total number and value of contracts awarded by the department and differentiate between contracts awarded within the state and to foreign contractors. The report will be submitted to the governor and the Legislature annually, beginning Sept. 1, 2015.

The bill passed on a 42-0 vote.

A planning commission for the 150th anniversary of Nebraska statehood was established this session.

Under LB744, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, the governor will appoint 17 members to the Nebraska Sesquicentennial Commission to develop programs to celebrate the state’s anniversary in 2017.

No more than eight members may be affiliated with the same political party and all regions and major interests in the state will be represented. The commission will be housed within the Nebraska State Historical Society for administrative and budgetary purposes and will terminate June 30, 2018.

The bill passed on a vote of 44-3.

Senators passed a bill that places restrictions on how money from the County Visitors Promotion Fund can be spent. Currently, if county attractions do not require improvement, the county’s governing body may use the money to promote attractions in the county.

Under LB215, introduced by Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz, the governing body will be required to use the funds to promote, encourage and attract visitors to the county.

The bill passed on a 44-0 vote.

Provisions of LB772, introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis were amended into LB390, which passed on a 45-0 vote. The bill allows the adjutant general to spend up to $25,000 per event on aerial fire suppression or hazardous material response without a state of emergency proclamation issued by the governor. The previous spending limit was $10,000.

Under LB935, introduced by Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor, the Legislature would have had the authority to approve or deny a major relocation of a state agency or service from one community to another. A request for relocation would have included a justification for the relocation, a review of the long-term costs, measurable goals for improving the quality of the service and an assessment of the feasibility of alternatives within the state agency to moving the service.

The bill failed to advance from general file on a 13-17 vote.

LB980, introduced by Wahoo Sen. Jerry Johnson, would have established a time frame for a township board termination procedure. Under the bill, a county board could hold a public hearing regarding termination of a township board within 45 days of two or more vacancies occurring on a board.

If no appointments were made within 45 days of the public hearing, the county board could adopt a resolution to terminate the township board. The bill also would have authorized the county board to pay future obligations of the township until the township board was reactivated.

The bill was advanced to general file but was not scheduled for debate.

Elections

LB946, introduced by Gretna Sen. John Murante, makes numerous changes to the Election Act, including:
• delaying from noon to 8 p.m. on election day the deadline for a voter to return the statement declaring the original early ballot was lost;
• allowing the election commissioner or county clerk to mail a notice explaining how to obtain a ballot in place of a ballot to all registered voters who have been sent a notice and failed to respond in a special election by mail;
• allowing for a special election for a Class IV or Class V school district to be held in conjunction with the primary or general election for a city of the primary or metropolitan class which is governed by a home rule charter;
• requiring that workers appointed to the counting board for the purpose of counting ballots for school district bonds receive minimum wage; and
• changing reporting thresholds in the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act.

The bill includes provisions of six other bills:
• LB167, introduced by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, which requires presidential electors to take a pledge and cast a ballot for the presidential and vice presidential candidates who receive the highest number of votes in their district;
• LB219, introduced by Avery, which allows any registered voter—who was not a candidate in the primary election and who was not registered to vote with a party affiliation on or after March 1 and before the general election in the calendar year of the general election—to have his or her name placed on the general election ballot for a partisan office by filing a petition or by political party convention or committee nomination;
• LB726, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer, which changes the number of school board members for Class II and Class III school districts and outlines their election procedures;
• LB743, introduced by Murante, which specifies when the second half of an elected official’s term begins;
• LB833, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, which defines how county surveyors can be elected or appointed; and
• LB1084, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Tommy Garrett, which clarifies how city council vacancies are filled.

The bill passed on a 43-0 vote and will go into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

If the number of county office candidates from each party in a primary election does not exceed the number of candidates that may be nominated by the party, those candidates automatically will advance to the general election under LB56, a bill introduced by O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson.

The bill allows for a person to file as a write-in candidate in a partisan primary election within two days of the March 1 filing deadline.

Senators passed the bill on a 41-2 vote.

Under LB144, introduced by Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch, candidates for all but statewide offices who lose a primary election decision “by lot” are eligible to file as a write-in candidate in the general election for the same office.

Currently, these primary elections that result in a tie are decided by lot, such as a coin toss or the drawing of a card used to determine a question by chance. The loser of the decision by lot is ineligible to run for the same office in the general election, including write-in candidacy, filing by petition or filing a nomination. The only exception is when there is a vacancy on the ballot for that office.

Senators passed the bill on a 43-0 vote.

LB1048, introduced by Murante, requires political parties to file a copy of the party’s plan for selecting national convention delegates with the secretary of state by Dec. 1 of the year prior to a presidential election.

Under the bill, the delegate selection plan requires that at least 80 percent of the delegates commit to choosing a presidential candidate based on the results of the caucus or primary election. It also requires that the delegates be awarded to the winner of the caucus or primary election, or awarded proportionally based on the number of votes received by each candidate receiving at least 15 percent of the votes.

The delegate selection plan will specify whether delegates are committed to a presidential candidate based on the results of a combination of a caucus system and a statewide primary election. The secretary of state will deliver a copy of the official election calendar to the state party headquarters of each party within 10 days of publication of the calendar.

Senators passed the bill on a 49-0 vote.

LB382, introduced by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen, would have reinstated a winner-take-all system awarding all five electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote in presidential elections.

After extended debate, the bill was bracketed on general file.

Voter registration

Senators passed a bill that allows Nebraskans to register to vote online.

Under LB661, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, those with a valid driver’s license or state identification card can complete voter registration through a secure website maintained by the secretary of state’s office.

The bill also requires the development of a paperless registration system, which will allow the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to electronically transmit completed registrations to the proper county election officials. Further, the bill authorizes the DMV to provide applicants’ Social Security numbers to the secretary of state for voter registration purposes.

Senators passed the bill on a 44-0 vote.

LB565, introduced by Omaha Sen. John Nelson, creates new procedures for registering to vote and casting an early ballot on the same day.

Under the bill, an early ballot cast will be placed in an envelope with the voter’s name and address and kept securely for counting. It cannot be counted if an acknowledgement of registration sent to the registrant is returned undeliverable within 10 days of mailing. If the acknowledgement is not returned after 10 days, the ballot will be counted.

The deadline for registering to vote and voting on the same day is the same as the deadline for voter registration.

Senators passed the bill on a 37-3 vote.

Veterans

Veterans can receive preferential treatment when applying for some jobs according to legislation passed this session.

LB588, introduced by Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier, requires that 5 percent be added to all parts of an employment application examination or numerical scoring if a veteran receives a passing score and makes a claim for preference on the application.

If no examination or numerical scoring is used, preference will be given to a qualifying veteran if two or more equally qualified candidates are being considered for a position. Notices of all positions of employment available for veteran preference are required to state that the position is subject to the preference.

The bill also allows the spouse of a veteran who has a 100 percent permanent disability to claim the preference.

The bill passed on a 44-0 vote and takes effect Jan. 1, 2015.

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