Budget, mountain lion hunting ban passed; governor's action awaited

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March 24, 2014 - 5:25pm

Nebraska lawmakers approved state budget increases, setting up possible confrontation with Gov. Dave Heineman. They also passed a ban on mountain lion hunting in the state.

Most of the $8 billion, two year budget was passed last year, so the budget bills passed Monday were additions to that. Sen. Heath Mello, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers have the right priorities, "ranging from water policy, to deferred maintenance of our state park system, to job training, to trying to help and provide services for the 1,700 on the developmental disabilities waiting list."

The budget contains increases of $31 million for water projects, $15 million for parks, $10 million for job training and $5 million for developmental disabilities. Senators voted 40-8 in favor of the main budget bill.

Among those opposing the bill was Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion. Kintner said the budget has "a lot of good things in it." However, he added "when you look at the overall spending, we’re going to be around 7 percent (increase) or so when all is said and done. I think that’s an unacceptable and an unsustainable rate of spending."

Mello disputed that, saying the increase is closer to 5.5 percent. The governor now has five days to issue any line item vetoes, after which lawmakers will have the opportunity to override those vetoes. A dispute over water sustainability could still provoke a fight over another bill that would govern spending on water projects, but a compromise is still being negotiated.

On another subject, senators passed a ban proposed by Sen. Ernie Chambers on hunting mountain lions in Nebraska. Once again, Heineman has five days if he wants to issue a veto. Last week, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh had blocked a final vote, after Chambers threatened to block Lautenbaugh’s proposal to expand betting on horseracing.

Monday, Lautenbaugh stopped trying to block the mountain lion bill and said Chambers had agreed to withdraw his amendments blocking the horseracing proposal. Chambers confirmed that, but predicted it would make no difference because Lautenbaugh didn’t have enough votes on horseracing. Lautenbaugh said he remains confident. Sen. Beau McCoy, another opponent of the horseracing proposal, said he has not agreed to any deal. "I have no intention of a compromise – none," McCoy declared.

Debate on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it is not subject to veto by the governor. But it would still require 30 votes from the 49-member Legislature to be placed on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act held a news conference to call attention to the March 31 deadline to sign up for coverage. Nordquist said more than 25 thousand Nebraskans have signed up so far out of the goal of 32 thousand. He said those who don’t get insurance and don’t qualify for an exemption face fines of between $95 and 1 percent of their income, up to $285, on their taxes next year.

Nordquist had this advice for those who haven’t signed up because of controversy over the law. "It’s the responsible thing to do for yourself, for your family, and for the general public at large, to get coverage," he said. "For too long we’ve had too many uninsured people who have ended up as a cost in our emergency rooms and those costs being shifted across our health care system. So it’s the responsible thing to do for society at large but also it’s the right thing to do for yourself and your family."

Nordquist said states where the governor or congressional members have supported the law have seen better rates of sign ups. A spokeswoman for Heineman, a critic of the law, had no immediate comment when asked what advice the governor would give to people facing the signup deadline.

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