Addiction, drones, recalls -- 2016 Legislature underway

Sen. Mark Kolterman, center, elected chair of Retirement Systems Committee. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
January 6, 2016 - 5:06pm

The Nebraska Legislature began its 2016 session Wednesday, with lawmakers proposing more than 100 new bills and constitutional amendments, on subjects ranging from opioid addiction to recalling elected officials.

It’s a so-called short session – the 49 senators in Nebraska’s unique unicameral legislature will meet for only 60 business days, stretching from now to mid-April. So they got right down to work.

One of the first orders of business was to elect a new chairman for the Retirement Systems Committee, which oversees legislation affecting public employees pension funds. Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward defeated Sen. Al Davis for the post, on a vote of 30-18.

Then it was on to the introduction of new bills, as senators dropped off paper copies of legislation they’re proposing on the clerk’s desk. (For a link to the Legislature's website where you can search bills by number or date of introduction, click here,)

Among measures proposed was Omaha Sen. Sara Howard's LB696 to expand Medicaid coverage for opioid abuse. Howard, whose sister Carrie died of prescription drug overdose seven years ago, said the current system for helping people is fragmented.

“Our family faced a real struggle in that there really weren’t really that many opportunities for us to find rehabilitative and substance abuse services for her in the state of Nebraska -- especially ones that we could afford. And this bill that I put in today will really look to address how we help families afford the treatment that individuals need,” Howard said.

Howard said it’s difficult to know how widespread the problem is in Nebraska. And while she acknowledged it would be unlikely her bill would pass in a short session, she said it was important to discuss the topic.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins introduced a constitutional amendment, along with implementing legislation, to authorize the recall of state officials, including state senators. Currently, such officials can be removed from office via impeachment for misdemeanors in office. But Bloomfield says he’s got a different target: officials who get elected by taking certain positions in the campaign, but then turn around soon afterward and vote a different way. He gave several examples from legislation passed last year.

"The death penalty would have been covered by that. The gas tax would have been another one. People came in saying, ‘We’re not going to raise any taxes’ and they turned around and voted to raise taxes," Bloomfield said.

Bloomfield introduced both LR379CA to authorize recalls and LB687 detailing how the process would work. That legislation says a recall election would be held only if recall petitions were signed by 35 percent of the number of voters who voted for the officeholder in the last election.

Bloomfield acknowledged that was a high threshold, but said that was intentional.

“If a Democrat gets elected and a Republican wants to create some issues, it’s not designed for that. It’s designed for somebody that comes in and says, ‘I will support this issue,’ then turns around shortly thereafter and does something entirely different,” he said.

Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue introduced LB767 Wednesday to prohibit an abortion procedure that is the one used most commonly after 12-16 weeks of pregnancy.

And LB720 introduced Wednesday would limit how low a drone could fly and take pictures without that action being considered an invasion of privacy. The proposal by Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell would limit such picture-taking to above 200 feet. Kuehn’s office stressed the proposal does not address how low a drone can fly. The law on that is unclear.

Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley announced that afternoon public hearings on newly introduced proposals will begin January 19. 

Hadley, who will be forced out by term limits at the end of this year, noted the speaker himself is not a member of the committees, so does not have to participate in the hearings.

“Anybody that ever wants to be speaker, that’s the only perk you get is, you can take a nap while the rest of the body is working,” he said.

Hadley was asked how often he takes advantage of that “perk.” He said when the Legislature’s not meeting, 100 percent of the time. But during the session, he said, not so much.

Senators will have plenty to keep themselves -- and the rest of Nebraskans – awake during the next four and a half months.

Editor’s note: You can find a video on how to follow bills, and a survey about what you’d  like to see covered, on the NET News Facebook page.



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