Session Review: Government, Military and Veterans Affairs

Election law was the dominant government issue addressed by lawmakers this session. Senators passed measures addressing nominations, petition drives, campaign finance and recounts.

Elections

Among measures passed this session were two omnibus election law bills.

LB449, introduced by Sen. John Nelson of Omaha, prevents a person who is registered to vote with a party affiliation on or before March 1 in a general election year from pursuing a petition campaign or accepting a party’s nomination by political party convention or committee.

Among other provisions, the bill also:

  • increases the maximum precinct size from 1,000 registered voters to 1,750;
  • allows an election commissioner to be appointed to an elective office during his or her term as election commissioner, the acceptance of which will be deemed his or her resignation;
  • adds e-mail addresses to the voter registration form;
  • sets Dec. 1 as the earliest date for submission of candidate filing forms;
  • opens early voting records to public inspection prior to an election;
  • requires the principal circulator of a recall petition to collect the petition forms from the election commissioner or county clerk within 20 days after receipt of the targeted official’s defense statement;
  • extends the maximum time to hold a recall election from 45 days after the notification of the targeted official to 75 days;
  • eliminates a requirement that voters print their names and addresses on early voting oaths.

LB449 passed on a 47-0 vote.

Introduced by Bellevue Sen. Scott Price, LB499, makes the following changes:

  • harmonizes voter registration deadlines;
  • requires that military voters include absent voters in addition to overseas voters;
  • requires a candidate petitioning to be placed on the ballot to file a sample copy of the petition with the filing officer prior to circulation;
  • requires that affidavits to remove a person’s name from a petition be submitted by the time the petition is submitted for verification; and
  • requires a voter who is present in his or her county on Election Day to vote at an assigned polling site, unless he or she is returning a ballot for early voting.

LB499 passed on a 45-0 vote.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that changes nomination petition signature requirements for certain offices.

Previously, an individual who wished to place his or her name on a general election ballot as a candidate for nonpartisan office was required to obtain at least 25 signatures from each county that contains at least 100 registered voters in the district.

LB399, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, eliminates the distribution requirement and the standard becomes at least 10 percent of the registered voters who cast ballots for governor or president in the last election, not to exceed 2,000 signatures. The distribution requirement for the Board of Regents also is eliminated under the bill.

Similarly, an individual who wished to place his or her name on a general election ballot for statewide partisan office previously was required to obtain 50 signatures from one third of the counties in the state. Under LB399, the standard for partisan statewide offices is at least 4,000 signatures, with at least 750 signatures obtained in each congressional district.

The bill passed on a 48-0 vote and takes effect immediately.

Senators gave final approval to a bill that clarifies when a political party can nominate a candidate.

Under LB368, sponsored by Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch, political parties are prohibited from nominating a candidate for an office at a state post-primary convention if the party did not nominate a candidate for the office at the primary election.

An exception is provided for new political parties and parties may nominate candidates at a convention in cases of a special election or a vacancy on the ballot.

LB368 passed on a 48-0 vote.

Senators also addressed campaign finance laws this session.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, LB142 increases the cap on nonindividual contributions that candidates choosing to abide by voluntary campaign spending limitations may accept.

The bill increases the cap from 50 percent to 75 percent of the overall spending limitation for a given office.

LB142 passed on a 44-0 vote.

LB176, introduced by Avery, allows the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to issue an order requiring a person who has violated the Political Accountability and Disclosure Act, and who does not appear personally or is not represented by counsel, to pay hearing costs in a contested case. Funds received will be deposited in the commission’s cash fund.

The bill passed on a 43-0 vote.

Two bills dealing with election laws advanced from committee but failed to reach the final stage of debate.

LB606, introduced by Avery, would require a person who makes an electioneering communication in the amount of more than $250 to file a report with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

The bill failed to advance to final reading on a vote of 20-7 and remains on select file.

LB161, introduced by Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek, would have permitted a candidate to request a manual recount at his or her expense. Current law triggers automatic machine recounts paid by political subdivisions if the margin of victory is 1 percent or less for an election in which more than 500 votes were cast, or 2 percent or less for elections in which 500 or fewer votes were cast.

The bill was bracketed on general file.

LB566, introduced by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, would establish a process for petition sponsors to collect signatures online through a secure website administered by the secretary of state’s office.

The bill remains in committee.

Other bills

Senators also approved bills dealing with county lines, charitable donations, public utilities and state audits.

Hamilton and Merrick counties will cease using the Platte River as a dividing county line due to a bill introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas. LB556 instead uses GPS coordinates to draw the boundary line so it remains consistent.

Lawmakers voted 48-0 to approve the bill.

LB628, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, allows a political subdivision to donate to a charitable or veteran’s organization any motor vehicle that has reached the end of its useful life. A donation is prohibited if an employee of the charitable organization or the vehicle recipient is an immediate family member of the political subdivision’s governing body.

The bill passed on a 42-1 vote.

Senators also approved a bill intended to protect sensitive public utility information.

Under LB230, introduced by Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, public utility infrastructure specifications or design drawings may be withheld from the public unless otherwise provided by state or federal law if such disclosure will create a substantial likelihood of endangering public safety or property.

The bill also allows a public utility to withhold personally identified private citizen account and customer use information.

LB230 passed on a 43-0 vote.

Finally, certain audits currently required to be performed annually or biennially will be performed when the state auditor deems them necessary under a bill passed this session.

Under LB337, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, the following audits will be conducted when the auditor of public accounts deems them necessary:

  • State Highway Commission;
  • Nebraska Motor Vehicle Industry Licensing Fund;
  • aid given to Indians for law enforcement and jail operations;
  • funds expended by the Motor Fuel Tax Enforcement and Collection Division;
  • post audits of investment transactions for the Nebraska State Funds Investment Act; and
  • money received from the sale of cigarette stamps and tax meter impressions.

LB337 passed 46-0.

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