Session Review 2024Transportation and Telecommunications

Session Review: Transportation and Telecommunications

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee advanced measures this session to harmonize broadband internet standards, create new requirements related to Nebraska’s 911 service system and help recruit and retain emergency care providers.

Broadband, 911 service system

LB1031, sponsored by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, updates several areas of state law to define qualifying broadband service as being capable of providing internet access at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second for downloading and 20 Mbps for uploading.

Under the bill, the Nebraska Public Service Commission may not provide ongoing high-cost support from the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund for any broadband serviceable location not capable of internet access at those speeds unless it is subject to a federally enforceable commitment for deployment of infrastructure capable of those speeds.

The requirement takes effect 18 months after the bill’s operative date.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2029, the commission may not provide ongoing high-cost support for those locations regardless of any federally enforceable commitment.

The provisions of five other bills heard by the committee this session also are included in LB1031.

The provisions of LB865, also sponsored by Bostelman, require broadband internet service providers operating in Nebraska to submit an annual report to the Nebraska Broadband Office with information on each standard internet service plan advertised by the provider and associated rates.

Under the provisions of LB1038, introduced by Sen. Barry DeKay of Niobrara, at least one of the five members representing the general public on the Nebraska Information Technology Commission must have agriculture as their principal business or occupation.

The provisions of LB1180, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, revise standards and criteria that determine eligibility of deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired Nebraskans who apply to the PSC for specialized telecommunications equipment.

Under the bill, two residents at the same address can receive equipment, and a recipient can reapply for assistance every three years instead of every five.

The amended provisions of LB1255, introduced by Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha, require originating service providers, providers of telecommunications relay services and the state’s next-generation 911 service contractor to ensure that 911 calls are transmitted to the next-generation 911 network no later than Jan. 1, 2026.

Providers and the contractor also are required to cause all translation and routing to be completed to deliver all 911 calls to the network.

Providers may enter into an agreement with the commission to establish an alternative deadline for meeting the requirements.

Additionally, providers and the contractor must enter into an agreement to meet the transmission, translation and routing requirements no later than 10 months before the 2026 deadline. If no agreement is reached by then, they are required to notify the PSC to seek resolution.

The bill also requires the contractor to submit an annual report to the committee and the PSC on the capabilities and redundancies of the next-generation 911 network.

Under the amended provisions of LB1256, sponsored by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, a communications service provider required to file reports regarding 911 service system outages with the Federal Communications Commission also is required to file copies of those reports with the PSC.

The bill requires the PSC to hold a public hearing within 90 days of receiving a report. The requirement does not apply if a provider withdraws the report filed with the FCC or if the PSC waives it by a majority vote.

Lawmakers voted 47-0 to pass LB1031, which took effect immediately.

The committee also advanced a bill intended to speed deployment of broadband internet service to Nebraska’s rural areas.

Under LB61, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth and passed 47-0, any agency or political subdivision of the state may lease or license the unused or “dark” portions of its fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure.

Dark fiber licenses are allowed only if they are used to provide service to unserved locations, defined as locations where broadband is not available by certain technologies at speeds of at least 100 Mbps for downloading and at least 20 Mbps for uploading and no internet service provider has a legal agreement with the federal government or the state to make broadband service available at those speeds.

The license rate must be within or above the safe harbor range of market rates established by the PSC.

The bill requires that revenue from a dark fiber license be used only for costs associated with the license or existing dark fiber infrastructure. Revenue from the sale or delivery of electricity may not be used for costs associated with the licensing of dark fiber.

LB61 also creates a process by which an internet service provider may file a challenge with the commission alleging that a dark fiber license does not serve an unserved location.

A proposal that would cap fees and set deadlines for permitting the installation of broadband internet infrastructure on certain utility poles and towers remained in committee.

Under LB1112, introduced by Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, counties, cities and other local governing entities that require a permit for the placement of communications infrastructure on public or private utility poles and towers located in their jurisdiction could have charged an application fee of no more than $100 and a permit fee of no more than $250.

Local governments could not have allowed a third-party reviewer to assess any charges to an applicant. Cities and counties that contract with a third-party reviewer would have been required to pay for those services.

Omnibus bill

LB1200, sponsored by Columbus Sen. Mike Moser, updates state law to conform with federal regulations and makes technical changes requested by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The bill also contains provisions of five other measures considered by the committee this session.

The provisions of LB226, introduced by Brandt, allow a contracting agency, when entering into a construction manager-general contractor contract, to combine the separate qualification and proposal steps into a single-step process if the agency determines that a single-step process is in its best interest.

The provisions of LB891, sponsored by Sen. Carolyn Bosn of Lincoln, update the Motor Vehicle Industry Licensing Act to clarify that a manufacturer is any person who manufactures, assembles or distributes motor vehicles.

Under the bill, a manufacturer or distributor may not own a service facility or perform warranty or nonwarranty work on its vehicles unless it manufactures or distributes electric vehicles and is not a franchisor.

The provisions of LB900, also introduced by Brandt, increase maximum truck length from 40 to 45 feet.

The provisions of LB929, sponsored by Fredrickson, require the state Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate with the PSC to ensure that the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can connect callers to, and receive communications from, the 911 service system.

The commission is required to adopt statewide standards providing for dual capability so that it will be operational by Jan. 1, 2025.

Finally, the provisions of LB966, introduced by DeKay, govern the movement of vehicular traffic facing flashing yellow arrow and steady red arrow indications. They also increase the precision with which the state Department of Transportation calculates Nebraska’s fuel tax rate.

LB1200 passed on a vote of 47-0 and took effect immediately.

Rail safety

A bill intended to improve train safety in Nebraska stalled on general file after a failed cloture motion.

Under LB31, introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Jacobson, a train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight would have been required to operate with a crew of at least two individuals.

As introduced, the crew requirement would not have applied to trains or light engines operated by utility employees, during hostler or helper service or for the purpose of loading or unloading freight or grain so long as the train was not moving faster than 10 miles per hour.

As amended, the bill would have eliminated the speed restriction and exempted Class III rail carriers from the two-person crew requirement.

After eight hours of first-round debate, Jacobson filed a motion to invoke cloture, which ceases debate and forces a vote on the bill and any pending amendments.

The motion failed on a vote of 24-19. Thirty-three votes were needed.

Another bill aimed at improving rail safety remained in committee.

LB1212, sponsored by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, would have limited the length of trains carrying hazardous substances on a main line in Nebraska to 8,500 feet.

Additionally, a railroad operating a train on a main line would have been required to have a wayside detector system installed at least every 20 miles and to stop and inspect a train from the ground after receiving a defect message from the system.

Railroads also would have been prohibited from blocking public crossings for longer than 10 minutes and been required to offer hazardous materials training to fire departments and maintain insurance coverage adequate to pay for costs, damages and liabilities related to accidents.

Infrastructure funding

LB600, introduced by Sen. Loren Lippincott of Central City, creates the Municipality Infrastructure Aid Act, which is intended to help certain Nebraska cities pay for infrastructure improvements needed to attract manufacturers and other companies.

Under the act, first or second class cities or villages with a redevelopment plan approved under the Community Development Law may apply to the state Department of Economic Development for a grant to finance water and sewer systems, roads, bridges and activities related to site development.

Applications must include a cost-benefit analysis of the redevelopment plan. Only applications with a positive analysis may receive a grant.

Grants are limited to no more than $5 million per application, and grantees must provide matching funds equal to at least 25% of the amount of the grant.

The bill requires the state treasurer to transfer $5 million from the state Cash Reserve Fund to the new program’s fund before July 15, 2024.

LB600 passed on a vote of 47-0 and took effect immediately.

A new working group will award state matching funds to repair and replace county bridges under another bill advanced by the committee.

The County Bridge Match Program, created by the Legislature in 2016 and administered by the state Department of Transportation, provides state funding to accelerate the repair and replacement of deficient bridges on the county road system.

LB1030, introduced by Bostelman, creates the County Bridge Match Working Group, which will develop criteria for program participation, as well as for county matching fund requirements. The group also will score applications and award funds.

The governor will appoint two of the group’s members from a list of county highway superintendents, county surveyors or county engineers submitted by a statewide association representing county officials. The department director will select three department members to serve on the group.

LB1030 requires the state treasurer to make two $4 million transfers, one this year and another in 2025, from the Road Operations Cash Fund to the Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund to be used for the County Bridge Match Program.

The bill passed on a vote of 47-0 and took effect immediately.

LB1108, sponsored by Adams Sen. Myron Dorn, requires the state treasurer to transfer $1.27 million from the state Game and Parks Commission Capital Maintenance Fund to the Nebraska Emergency Medical System Operations Fund each fiscal year beginning in June 2025.

The latter fund is used to carry out activities related to the design, maintenance or enhancement of the statewide trauma system and to support emergency medical services programs.

Under the bill, the fund also will be used to provide financial support for the statewide patient care reporting system and trauma registry and for the recruitment, retention and training of emergency care providers.

LB1108 also requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to submit an annual report to the Legislature that explains how the money appropriated to the department from the fund was spent or why it was not spent.

Senators voted 46-0 to pass the bill, which took effect immediately.

Other measures

LB140, introduced by Brandt and passed 45-0, authorizes 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 will be $5, and a personalized plate will cost $40. All funds will be credited to the Department of Motor Vehicles Cash Fund.

Under LB1004, sponsored by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, a Nebraska resident who is 21 or older and received a Class M license prior to May 1, 2024, may operate a motorcycle or moped on Nebraska highways without a helmet if they complete a three-hour online motorcycle safety course and submit proof of completion to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Riders who are 21 or older and receive a license after May 1, 2024, are not required to wear a helmet if they complete the full basic motorcycle safety course and submit proof of completion to the department.

Under the bill, nonresidents who are 21 or older and ride without a helmet no longer are required to show proof of motorcycle rider course completion to a law enforcement officer upon request. They are required to have a motorcycle license issued by another state.

LB1004 also eliminates the requirement that motorcycle or moped passengers complete a safety course before riding without a helmet. A passenger who is 21 or older may ride without a helmet if the person operating the motorcycle is not required to wear a helmet.

Lawmakers voted 39-4 to pass the bill, which took effect immediately.

The state would have provided grants to nonprofit organizations that operate bike-sharing programs under a bill that remained in committee.

Under LB1250, introduced by Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh, the state Department of Economic Development would have established the grant program and awarded grants to nonprofits it deemed eligible.

A bill intended to deter distracted driving and speeding also remained in committee.

LB1340, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, would have increased fines for speeding on highways or freeways. Under the bill, a driver would have been guilty of a Class I misdemeanor if the violation involved traveling more than 35 miles per hour over the limit.

Under current law, a person who unintentionally kills another while operating a motor vehicle in violation of state law or city or village ordinance commits motor vehicle homicide. LB1340 would have made motor vehicle homicide a Class III felony if the proximate cause of the death was texting while driving.

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