Legislature adjourns mid-biennium

The first session of the 105th Legislature adjourned sine die May 23, the 86th day of the scheduled 90-day session.

Speaker Jim Scheer said among their many accomplishments this session, senators passed legislation to add a juvenile court judge in Douglas County, authorize new economic development districts on riverfronts and add a definition of dyslexia to the state’s education law.

Most importantly, he said, the Legislature addressed the budget shortfall and passed a balanced budget that does not raise taxes.

“I think it’s fair to say that not a single member of this body was completely happy with the final budget,” Scheer said. “Many wanted more cuts, some wanted fewer cuts, but we did what we were able and what we had to do.”

Despite the session’s slow start, Scheer said, the Legislature was able to debate all the priority bills advanced to general file by the committees.

Scheer admitted that there were times when the session seemed never-ending, while other times it seemed too short. He said the body has changed significantly with the replacement of two-thirds of the senators who were in office when he was elected, but he said the body is now in a better position to address tough issues.

“As a body, there is a greater push to challenge the status quo, to take a step back and ask: ‘Why are we doing this,’ or ‘Why don’t we do things this way?’” Scheer said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, in his address to the Legislature, thanked senators for taking time away from their families to serve their fellow citizens.

He said the executive and legislative branches worked together this session to grow Nebraska’s economy and make government more efficient by creating a grant program to build workforce housing in rural counties, passing occupational licensing reform and combining the state Roads and Aeronautics departments.

Ricketts thanked the Appropriations Committee and its chairperson, Gering Sen. John Stinner, for their work in making cuts to the current fiscal year’s state budget and in passing a balanced budget for the next two fiscal years after facing a $900 million shortfall earlier this year. He especially appreciated the speed with which the committee recommended an initial round of budget cuts made in early February to begin addressing the shortfall.

“Working together, we did something that was unprecedented,” Ricketts said. “No one can ever remember when we have passed two budget bills in one legislative session.”

Ricketts said the biennium budget prioritizes funding for public schools, property tax relief and correctional services reform without raising taxes. He said he would work with senators over the interim to modify a proposal to cut the state’s top personal income and corporate tax rates and change the way agricultural land is valued in an effort to reduce property taxes. The bill failed to advance from general file this session.

“We need to continue to work on how we’re going to provide that tax relief to our Nebraska families,” Ricketts said.

The second session of the 105th Legislature is scheduled to convene Jan. 3, 2018.

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