Bills advance on immigrant licensing, wind power, ag prop taxes

Sen. Ken Haar discusses wind energy (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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April 7, 2016 - 5:39pm

Property tax credits for farmers, professional licenses for people brought to the country illegally as children, and eased regulations for wind power projects all moved a step closer to passage in the Nebraska Legislature Thursday.

Last year, the Legislature made it possible for people brought to the country illegally as children to get drivers licenses. This year’s legislation involves giving those people access to 170 different types of commercial and professional licenses, needed for everyone from teachers to race track workers.

Sen. Bill Kintner opposed the proposal. Kintner said opponents were not saying the people affected were hardened criminals. However, he added, "What we are saying is there’s something called the rule of law and if we want to fix this problem, it needs to be fixed at the federal level, instead of pushing it down to us and saying ‘Well, we’ve given these people some temporary legal status with DACA. And now you have to treat them like they’re regular citizens.’ Well, no we don’t."

Kintner, a Republican, criticized the Obama administration for giving people legal status in what he said was an illegal procedure.

Sen. Health Mello, sponsor of the bill, said other administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan’s had taken similar actions. And Mello, a Democrat, said it wasn’t just members of his party that supported the proposal, LB947. "What Sen. Kintner didn’t tell you is that Republican (Omaha) Mayor Jean Stothert came out in support of LB947 this week. This is a bipartisan issue because it’s a workforce issue," Mello said.

Sen. Mike Groene said the problem of illegal immigration needs to be addressed before the bill should be enacted. "Have you ever had a leak – hot water heater, sink? Have you ever been involved in agriculture and had livestock get out? You know what the first thing you do (is)? You plug the hold, you fix the fence, and then you tend to the problem. You mop up the leak, you round up the livestock," Groene said.

Groene later said he wasn’t comparing illegal immigrants to livestock, but was providing an real-life example of a problem.

Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg said it was unfair to let people go through school only to deny them the chance to use their training. And he said they’re needed. "In rural Nebraska, and actually across our whole state, we have a workforce issue. We especially have a workforce issue in some of the professions. In the communities that I serve we need lawyers, we need CPAs, we need doctors, we need CNAs, we need nurses and that’s what we’re talking about here is workforce development," Williams said.

Senators voted to give the bill second-round approval on a voice vote. It will take one more vote to be sent to Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has expressed his opposition to the idea.

Also Thursday, senators gave second round approval to a bill that would funnel $20 million next year to add to an existing property tax credit. This $20 million would be directed to the owners of agricultural land.

And senators debated a proposal to ease regulatory requirements for wind power projects. Among the requirements to be eased is one that requires private wind developers to have contracts to sell 90 percent of the power out of state before beginning their projects.

Some opponents of the bill suggested making it easier for wind power, which receives tax subsidies, would hurt existing investments by Nebraska’s public power districts in coal plants. Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala argued against that idea. "This is not a battle against coal. This is not some crazy… environmentalist thing that needs to happen. This is called economic development. This is called rural economic development," Schilz said.

Sen. David Schnoor opposed the proposal. "At this point, I will always be opposed to wind energy. Why? From a simple business standpoint, it will not pay for itself," Schnoor said.

Sen. John McCollister, sponsor of the bill, said removing the requirement for purchase contracts to be signed in advance would not repeal the need for projects to be economically feasible. "No wind developer is going to build a project unless they have a place to sell the electricity," McCollister said.

But Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson disputed that, saying developers would have a built-in market because of the tax subsidy. "If I’m Warren Buffett, and I’ve got the billions of dollars in cash that he has, he will build and he doesn’t have to ask the banker for a loan. He wants the tax credits. So yes, this is economic development. It’s economic development for Warren Buffett," Friesen said.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway renewable energy subsidiary was among the supporters of the bill. Senators gave it second-round approval on a voice vote



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