Session Review 2023Transportation and Telecommunications

Session Review: Transportation and Telecommunications

Lawmakers approved two omnibus transportation and telecommunications packages this session that, among other provisions, create a broadband office in Nebraska and repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet requirement for riders age 21 and older.

Broadband package

LB683, as introduced by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, creates the Nebraska Broadband Office to administer and maintain broadband services in Nebraska. A director will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature to lead the office, which will operate administratively under the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Among other provisions, the bill requires the new office to collaborate with stakeholders and state and local officials to develop a strategic broadband plan to maximize use of public and private resources and coordinate state broadband infrastructure deployment, operation and maintenance.

The measure also transfers creation and maintenance of the state broadband map from the Nebraska Public Service Commission to the Nebraska Broadband Office.

LB683 was amended to add provisions of several other bills, including Lincoln Sen. Eliot Bostar’s LB63, which prohibits a telecommunications company from using Nebraska universal service funds if the company is using or providing communications equipment or service that pose a threat to national security.

LB122, introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, authorizes the state fire marshal to investigate alleged violations of Nebraska’s One-Call Notification System, beginning Sept. 1, 2024. The provisions also create the Underground Excavation Safety Committee to review complaints filed with the fire marshal to determine if a violation has occurred and provide for civil penalties of up to $10,000.

LB124, introduced by Columbus Sen. Mike Moser, extends the termination date of a program that provides state matching funds to repair and replace county bridges from June 30, 2023, to June 30, 2029.

The provisions of LB359, introduced by Seward Sen. Jana Hughes, remove an annual grant application deadline under the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act and allow the PSC to establish new deadlines.

The bill also contains provisions of Bostelman’s LB722, which clarify that the PSC cannot:
• require a competitive provider to accept or receive support from the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund;
• impose eligible telecommunications carrier responsibilities or carrier of last resort obligations relating to the fund on a competitive provider in any deployment project area where the incumbent carrier or competitive provider is not actually receiving support from the fund; or
• impose eligible telecommunications carrier responsibilities or carrier of last resort obligations on an incumbent carrier that do not exist as of the date of final payment made.

LB683 passed 39-0 and took effect immediately.

Transportation package

LB138, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Carolyn Bosn, is an annual clean-up measure to align state transportation law with federal requirements. The bill was amended to include provisions of several other transportation measures introduced this session.

Blair Sen. Ben Hansen’s LB91 repeals Nebraska’s motorcycle and moped helmet requirement, beginning Jan. 1, 2024. Under the bill’s provisions, an individual age 21 and older who has completed a certified motorcycle safety course may ride without a helmet, provided they use an approved form of eye protection.

The omnibus bill also includes provisions of Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer’s LB199, which create a new driving privilege card to serve as a license to operate a motor vehicle for individuals who are assigned parolee immigration status by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Provisions of LB453, introduced by Niobrara Sen. Barry DeKay, allow NDOT to pay the Division of Aeronautics’ administrative expenses, such as salaries and benefits, from the Highway Cash Fund.

The bill also lowers from 50 percent to 20 percent the required contribution from counties to be eligible for matching funds from the State Aid Bridge Fund. It increases from $150,000 to $250,000 the estimated cost threshold at which a contract for road purposes must go through a sealed-bid process and allows NDOT to adjust the amount annually.

Moser’s LB465 reallocates certain fees collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Previously, fees for the issuance of state ID cards, operators’ licenses, replacement ignition interlock permits and 24/7 sobriety program permits were allocated between the county general fund, the Department of Motor Vehicles Cash Fund and the state General Fund.

Under the measure, the portion of the fee previously allocated to the state General Fund instead is redirected to the Department of Motor Vehicles Cash Fund.

LB738, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Jane Raybould, adopts the national, three-tiered classification for electric bicycles and updates the definition of traditional bicycles.

Provisions of LB796, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, require NDOT to develop and administer a safety oversight program for rail transit systems operated by the state, an interstate agency or a political subdivision.

LB138 passed 41-0 and took effect immediately.

Other measures

LB140, introduced by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, would authorize the state Department of Motor Vehicles, in consultation with the Czech Honorary Consul of Nebraska, to design and issue Czech heritage motor vehicle license plates.

The fee for alphanumeric plates would be $5 and a personalized license plate would cost $40. All funds would be credited to the Department of Motor Vehicles Cash Fund.

The bill advanced to select file but was not scheduled for second-round debate.

Under LB234, sponsored by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, railroad companies would be required to report annually to the Nebraska Public Service Commission and the Nebraska State Patrol regarding blocked railroad crossings, beginning Nov. 1, 2024.

Data would include the number of complaints received, the dates and locations of blocked crossings and any action taken by the companies to resolve those complaints. The PSC then would provide a report to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, including any recommendations, each Dec. 1.

The bill was placed on general file but was not scheduled for debate.

Another bill aimed at improving train safety in Nebraska did not advance from committee.

Under LB31, introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Jacobson, a train or light engine used in freight transportation would be required to operate with a crew of at least two individuals. The PSC would be responsible for enforcing the bill’s provisions.

The Economic Opportunity Program, administered by NDOT in coordination with the state Department of Economic Development, finances transportation improvements to attract new business in the state through the Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund.

LB600, introduced by Central City Sen. Loren Lippincott, would expand the program to include infrastructure improvements for first and second class cities and villages for redevelopment plans approved under the state’s Community Development Law.

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

Finally, LB454, introduced by DeKay, would appropriate funds to NDOT to plan, design and purchase rights-of-way along Highway 81 between Norfolk and the South Dakota border and between Columbus and York for conversion to a four-lane divided highway.

The bill also would provide funds for signage and development of a gateway entrance at Highway 81 and Neb. Highway 12 to alert travelers to the locations of Niobrara State Park and Lewis and Clark Lake.

LB454 remains in committee.

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