Sen. Tom Carlson (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
Mountain lion hunting remains legal in Nebraska -- for now – and lawmakers took another step Wednesday toward spending $31 million on water projects.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha is trying to outlaw mountain lion hunting in Nebraska. Wednesday, he tried to override Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto of the ban Chambers got the Legislature to pass last week.
Heineman said it should be left up to the Game and Parks Commission to decide whether there should be a hunting season. Chambers disagreed. "These mountain lions don’t belong to Game and Parks. They do not belong to the hunters. They belong to the people of this state and beyond the people of this state, they belong to ecology, they belong to nature," he said.
Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue said the Legislature should leave the decision on hunting up to Game and Parks, arguing that it would set a bad precedent for lawmakers to micromanage the decision. "Would you start telling them when the season should be for deer? What the bag limits are for duck? For geese? What the size limits are for fish? Where do you draw the line?" he asked.
Before the veto, the bill passed with 28 votes. It would take 30 to override, but Chambers received only 25. He immediately switched to not voting, and took the unusual step of asking senators to reconsider the override. And he recited a rhyme threatening to hold up their bills in the remaining six days of the session if they don’t reconsider:
Our remaining days here fewer grow in number.
Shall the beast called getting even sleep, or shall it slumber?
All in here have interests. Each quite loudly roars.
If I’m deprived of mine, you shall not have yours.
Lawmakers are expected to vote at least one more time on whether or not to override the veto.
Meanwhile, they moved on to consider a proposal on restructuring the Natural Resources Commission to allow it to decide how to spend $31 million set aside in the budget for water projects. Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege said the projects are needed to conserve water for agriculture and other uses.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha wants to amend the bill to require plans to end the depletion of groundwater in the Republican River basin.
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial represents a portion of that basin where groundwater levels are declining. Christensen said restrictions on the use of surface water so that Nebraska can send enough water to Kansas are having a devastating effect on the availability of irrigation water to farmers. "On my personal farm, I went from 10 inches to three inches. Land values declined by 43 percent in one year," he said.
But Christensen said decreasing the use of groundwater to keep enough surface water in the river for irrigation would also have negative effects. "We’re going to see groundwater allocations like in the Imperial area where I live —the Upper Republican -- drop from 13 inches to at least 7," he said. "I know there’s been discussions that it could be as low as two or three inches. I do not believe that is probably accurate, but I can’t prove it. So you see my dilemma."
Lathrop decided temporarily to withdraw his proposal to require sustainability plans, to allow the bill to advance. Senators then voted 34-0 first round approval for the bill.
Also Wednesday, the governor signed a series of tax reform bills. They include a measure indexing income tax brackets so people’s taxes don’t increase with inflation. There are also changes to ease taxes on veterans, retirees, farmers, property owners and disabled people.
Heineman declared tax relief a priority this year, but did not have his own proposals introduced. Nevertheless, he praised the results. "Now that the bills are on my desk, I am pleased to announce that Nebraska taxpayers will be receiving over $412 million in tax relief over the next five years, which is responsible, meaningful and significant tax relief," he said.