Legislature takes parting shots and receives laurels

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May 25, 2011 - 7:00pm

The Nebraska Legislature ended its 2011 session with one last bit of contention, followed by congratulations from the governor.
The controversy involved one of the bills passed on the last day, to redraw the state's congressional district lines. It had been one of the most bitterly contested bills of the session, splitting members of the officially and generally nonpartisan Legislature largely along party lines.
There wasn't any doubt about the outcome in the Republican-dominated body, and in the morning, the bill got final approval on a vote of 32-15. But that was one vote short of the 33 needed to have the bill go into effect immediately.
That wouldn't affect any congressional elections - the bill would still go into effect in three months. But it could delay gubernatorial appointments to things like the Tax Equalization and Review Commission, which requires one member from each congressional district.
So Senator Chris Langemeier of Schuyler asked for a revote. The request drew support from senators including Bob Krist of Omaha. Krist voted against the bill in the morning, but decided to support it in the afternoon. The retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, veteran of the first Gulf War, used military-speak to explain why he supported passing the bill with an emergency, or "e" clause:
"The battle is over, the war is won," Krist declared. "Now it's a matter of all the periphery that needs to be collateraled, and it will be cleaned up, with an e-clause put on board."

Omaha Senator Heath Mello, one of the staunchest opponents of the bill, picked up on the analogy to argue against giving the bill another vote:

"Yes it is the battle is over," Mello conceded, "but I generally don't believe in the philosophy that you go over the hill and kill the
wounded."

That provoked a response from Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, who also voted against the bill in the morning but then switched. Bloomfield, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army, said "I fear it becomes obvious that Sen. Mello has not seen as many wounded as I have. Sometimes it's prudent to go back over the hill and take care of a few of them."
Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, speaker of the Legislature, called for an end to the war of words. "This is not a war," Flood said. "We are not going over the hill to kill the wounded. The war is in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I think the people and the men and women that are in uniform, they know what war is.
"We may elevate this issue to be something more than it is," he continued. "But let's remember who's really at war here. It's not us. It's the end of the session. And we have a choice to make. Do you want to put the emergency clause on or not?"

Senators then re-voted, approving the bill 35-11 so it would go into effect immediately.
Later in the afternoon, Governor Dave Heineman thanked the senators for what he called a great session. "While other states are struggling, and focused on the status quo, we were bold," Heineman said. "We focused on the future."
Heineman praised senators for balancing the budget while at the same time approving several new economic development initiatives. Lawmakers then adjourned, not scheduled to meet again until January.

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