Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sine Die--Part 1

It is the 60th day of the 103rd Legislature. The final day...You can't see it, but I am doing my happy dance right now!

The agenda for today is light.  A short list of Final Reading bills, the last opportunity to override a gubernatorial veto and a few ceremonial resolutions. If this were a "normal" year they would have completed the agenda by noon, attended to the pomp and circumstance of the end of session and said their final goodbyes. 

It is not a "normal" year... For each bill on Final Reading there is a corresponding motion to return the bill to Select File for a specific amendment all filed by Senator Chambers. They are all the same amendment, to replace the language of the bill with language from the Mountain Lion bill.  On each motion, Senator chambers rises to speak for his allotted time and then withdraws his motion. While he is taking time, he does not intend to prevent the passage of legislation that is waiting in the wings. Senator Chambers just wants his time. My happy dance will wait just a little bit longer.

You may think I am Crazy, but when they do finally adjourn for the year, I will miss listening to Senator Chambers.  His discussions on the floor may appear random, but the words are carefully chosen and have significant meaning.  While there may be a more constructive forum for him to speak, he is speaking with dedication to his true convictions. That isn't something that can be said for all of his colleagues. Agree with him or disagree with him, it is always a learning experience when you listen.

Seventeen members of the body will not be returning next year. Term limits takes it toll once again.  Remember above, when I said "if this was  "normal" year..."?  Well I'm not sure what "normal" means anymore. Term limits keeps the leadership in flux-- each year will be a new kind of unique...there is no "normal" any more.

While there are a few members I will not miss, there are others I wish we could keep much longer. Senator Adams has been a strong leader with a difficult job as Speaker.  His fairness, integrity and tenacity will be missed.  Senator Tom Carlson has been a good friend. No one could ever question his honesty and integrity. I will not only miss him, but I will miss his wife Margo as well. I am grateful for the opportunity to know them. Senator Tom Hansen, our resident cowboy, I appreciate his ability to interject down home common sense and a sense of humor into the complex debate on important issues.

It is interesting, as I have been writing my  blog, there has been an abrupt change in the tenor of the floor. One by one members are rising to recognize those members who, after eight years of service, will be leaving the body. And then we switch back to the motions at hand...Ahhh...still waiting to resume the happy dance.

More later.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Five Days to Go!

Closing in on the End of the 2014 Legislative Session

 Session is winding down, but the controversial debates don't seem to be letting up at all. There are officially five days left in the 103rd Legislature.  That could be five days of mischief.

When I last wrote LB 671,the repeal of the authority to hold a Mountain Lion Hunting Season, survived an attempt to kill the bill on Final Reading and the bill passed and was forwarded on to the Governor. Well... the Governor vetoed the bill. Senator Chambers filed a motion to override the Governors Veto. The override attempt was filibustered and challenged and when it came to a vote the motion to override failed.  Not one to concede defeat, Senator Chambers filed a reconsideration Motion that was taken up on Thursday. He did that only after he felt he had votes to override the veto.  Well once again the motion to override failed. Not everyone voted the way they had promised... So, while the Mountain Lion hunting season debate has ended for the year, the impacts of that failed override will likely impact the remaining days of the session.

The End of the Externalities Debate for 2014

LB 965, first appeared on the Agenda Last Week on Thursday, April 28. They finally reached the bill on April 1.  The day started out with an announcement by Senator Chambers that he was ready to leave the legislature on his own terms and was submitting his resignation to the Governor. After a moment of stunned silence by the Legislature, Senator Chambers declared "April Fools" and we moved on to the business of the day.

By mid afternoon LB 965 was opened for debate on General File. Senator Jim Smith led the opposition to the legislation, supported by a number of strong public power supporters.  NREA issued an Action Alert through our Grassroots Database and the response was excellent. Many members of the legislature referenced the communication from their constituents as they spoke to their opposition to the bill.

After a few hours of educational debate, Senator Haar came to the conclusion that his bill could not advance in any form and he filed a motion to bracket his bill to April 17, 2014. The motion passed by unanimous consent. This means the bill is done for the year. We had a well organized, well informed group to work against the bill and the emails and phone calls by our grassroots were highly effective! 

While the debate on "externalities" has ended for the year, we can expect similar legislation next year. We have expressed our willingness to use the interim to discuss this issue with Senator Haar.  I will keep you informed as to the progress of those discussions.

We are grateful to Senator Jim Smith for his leadership and vast knowledge on electric industry issues.  We have a complicated industry and we appreciate his willingness to share his expertise with other members of the Legislature.

Preparing for Next Year

Interim Studies are ways that senators can review and study issues between legislative sessions and prepare legislation for introduction in the upcoming session. Two studies, introduced by Senator Haar will be of particular interest to the electric industry. The study language is below.

The purpose of this resolution is to study and evaluate the local and statewide health impacts of burning coal. This study should include an examination of publicly available scientific resources, databases, and recently published research pertinent to Nebraska and include a cost- benefit analysis of moving away from coal-based electricity generation to other forms of electricity generation. The study should also examine how to promote health and prevent health risks related to coal, reduce dependence on coal, and protect public health and the environment.

LR 590

The purpose of this resolution is to study the current organizational structure of public power and how it could be made more efficient and work more harmoniously together. This includes a potential reorganization and consolidation of Nebraska's numerous public power districts, rural electric associations, and municipal power suppliers. The study shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

(1) Development of a strategic plan for reorganization of public power entities which prioritizes benefits for Nebraska including maximizing economic development and the use of Nebraska resources, and maximizing the benefits and minimizing the costs to Nebraska citizens;
(2) Recommendations on a regulatory system that achieves the goals determined by the study; and
(3) Any other recommendations as determined by the study committee.

I will talk about these studies more in depth as we move into the interim.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rough Week in the Capital City

The End is Approaching... or There is Light at the End of the Tunnel

Well we are now down to just 13 days left in the session.  The speaker has had some surprises that once again slowed the agenda down.

The body took up Final Reading yesterday. Final Reading is the last stage of debate for legislation. Usually it means the bill is formally read into the record and the final vote is taken.  On occasion a bill may have a motion to return the bill to Select File for a specific amendment.  If the motion is agreed to , the amendment is discussed, voted on and the bill will "lay over" and return to Final Reading at a later time.  Sometimes the motion to return a bill to select file is done for not so productive purposes.  As was the case with LB 671, legislation to recall the authority for the Game and Parks Commission to establish a hunting season for Mountain Lions.  What should have been a final step to passage turned into a Final Reading filibuster that took several hours on the agenda.  Senator Lautenbaugh filed a motion to return the bill to Select File to kill the bill. After several hours of unexpected debate, the Speaker moved from Final Reading to the General File portion of the agenda just so he could regain control.  Technically, if the bill returns to the agenda, the bill sponsor (Sen. Chambers) will need to garner 33 votes to end the debate and return his bill to Final Reading. The unexpected filibuster took a big bite of time that will likely reduced the number of bills yet to be addressed this session.

Unfortunately all the other Final Reading bills behind LB 671 have also been delayed for passage until Final Reading is scheduled again.

Yesterday evening LB 1115 advanced from General File to Select File. This bill will authorize $200,000 for a transmission and marketing study that will look at "existing and future state, regional and national transmission infrastructure and policy to serve Nebraska electric consumers, utilities and private generation facilities in Nebraska seeking to export electricity out of the State.  With the exception of the marketing portion of the study, much of what the bill proposes to study has already been done by the Southwest Power Pool and the bill seems unnecessary, but we maintain a neutral position.

Frustrations for NREA

Today's agenda carried a bit of bad news for NREA.  The bills approved for  Monday's Consent Calendar were listed and LB 954, NREA's bill to authorize the use of blue and amber flashing lights was not included.  95 bills were proposed and 46 bills made the cut. We are told our bill is collateral damage.  That is to say, an earlier bill (LB 399) this session that sought to authorize the use of amber lights by citizens patrols, met with strong opposition and was filibustered and failed a cloture motion. While LB 954 is not controversial, an attempt could be made to amend LB 954 with the provisions of LB 399. At any rate we lost our opportunity for the fast track approval of our highly supported and non-controversial safety bill.  We will continue to look at options for passing our bill yet this year, but it doesn't look good right now.

Not so Frustrating News

LB965, Senator Haar's "externalities" bill has yet to appear on the agenda.  We have rallied significant opposition to his ambiguous and poorly drafted proposal and senators are prepared to filibuster the bill. Senator Jim Smith fully understands the problems with LB 965 and has taken the lead to prevent this bill from passing. Many senators have expressed surprise that the bill was even advanced from Committee.  Frankly, we were surprised as well. We understand that Senator Haar may be working on yet another amendment to his proposal, but we have not seen anything yet.  To garner support, this bill would need to be almost completely gutted. Our message to senators is that this bill cannot be fixed. We don't expect the bill to come up next week.

Disappointment in the Capital

The Legislature adjourned early today to give the members the chance to watch Nebraska play Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  Unfortunately Nebraska did not win, but we can take pride in a great season that got those young men this far.

Friday, March 7, 2014

20 Days To Go and So Much To Do!

Hearings ended on February 28 and now the Legislature has moved on to full day debate.  Generally, they begin at 9am and work debating legislation until noon, recess for lunch and return at 1:30 to continue until 5 pm or later. On the first day of the legislative week they start at 10 am and on the last day of the legislative week they work through lunch and adjourn early so senators may head home at a reasonable time. They have a significant amount of work to do an d a limited amount of time to get it done. 

We are on day 39 of a 60 day session and the body still needs to have full debate on the State Budget, Medicaid expansion and prison reform and a number of other highly controversial issues.

We were very disappointed when earlier this week the Natural Resources Committee advanced LB 965, Senator Haar's externalities bill. The bill was advanced from Committee with an amendment on a 5-3 vote. Senators Carlson, Smith and Johnson voted against advancing the bill and Haar,Dubas, Schilz, Brasch, and Kolowski supported advancing the bill.Senator Schilz has indicated to us that he does feel advancing the bill was a mistake and he will address that on the floor and will work to oppose the legislation.

The bill was advanced with AM2045 which removes some of the onerous language. In reality this bill cannot be fixed with amendments. The bill in its current and amended form will widely open the door for lawsuits if any "consumer-owner" disagrees that the laundry list of  costs and benefits have not been appropriately considered to their liking. Litigation will add costs and delay all projects. The bill also begins to weaken local control, by removing the decision making criteria from the hands locally elected boards acting on behalf of their customers.  Senator Smith will lead the opposition on the floor. We are grateful for his complete understanding of the issue and his willingness to advocate for electric consumers by opposing the bill.  He will have significant support in his opposition. It will be a while before the bill comes to the floor and we will keep you updated on the progress. For more information read the LB 965 Talking Points 

Today the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee advanced LB 954, Senator Dubas' bill, introduced on behalf of NREA to authorize the use of blue and amber flashing lights on utility vehicles. The bill advanced with unanimous support and a small amendment.  The amendment will clarify that the authorization for the blue and amber lights is limited to vehicles owned and operated by utilities. We support the amendment.  Senator Dubas has recommended to the Speaker that LB 954  be included on the Consent Calendar. Consent Calendar is a special listing of bills that have advanced from their respective committees with no opposition in testimony or advancement. We are hopeful that inclusion on the Consent Calendar will allow this important safety measure to pass this year. For more information read the LB 954 Talking Points.

The State Budget was released today and next week the Legislature will focus on the first round (General File) budget debate. First round debate on Medicaid expansion will follow.

Next week I will be traveling to Washington DC for meetings with our Congressional Delegation. I will also be participating in the American Public Power Association's (APPA) Legislative Rally.

I received a note from leadership at APPA, that they have selected to honor Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry with their Public Service Award. Congressman Terry has been a champion on public power issues in Congress and we are grateful for his strong support of NREA and NRECA. I'm looking forward to sitting with him as he is honored.

I am glad that Unicameral Website provides live streaming of the floor debate and up-to-the-minute accounting of floor activity so I can keep track of the action in real time while I am away.

Friday, February 21, 2014


This week Senator Ken Haar prioritized LB 965, His bill dealing with the approval of generation and transmission projects. The bill requires The consideration of a long laundry list of variables related to costs. You can see the full list in the test of the bill LB 965.  How those costs are to be considered is not explained in the bill and the current language leaves the process open to challenges and law suits.

We are told there is an amendment to the bill that will make it more appealing to the Natural Resources Committee members, but we have not seen the amendment.  The best solution to LB 965 is for the Committee to kill the bill. We have been told that the Committee will not vote on the amendment until the industry has a chance to review the legislation


NREA Talking Points on LB 965
NPA White Paper on applying externalities to the approval for generation and transmission.

On Monday, February 24, LB 954 will be heard by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. The bill was introduced on behalf of NREA's members by Senator Annette Dubas. LB 954 will authorize the use of Blue and Amber Flashing lights on utility vehicles when used in the operation, maintenance or repair of utility infrastructure adjacent to roadways. Research has shown that adding blue lights to the amber lights greatly increases visibility and increases the likelihood that vehicles will slow down and pull over.  This is very important to our utility workers especially when they are working in inclement weather to restore power.

NREA will provide testimony in support of LB 954.

The hearing will be at 1:30 , Monday February 24 in room 1113 at the Nebraska State Capitol.

We are grateful to Senator Dubas for introducing LB 954 .

NREA Talking points on LB 954

Bills of Interest to NREA
Hearing Schedule for February 24- 27

Monday February 24, 2014

Business and Labor
Room 2102 - 1:30 PM
Adopt the Paid Family Medical Leave Act
Adopt the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act
Require employers to e-verify immigration status of new employees
Transportation and Telecommunications
Room 1113 - 1:30 PM
Change rotating or flashing light provisions for certain vehicles

Tuesday February 25, 2014

Room 1113 - 1:30 PM
Change provisions for actions for recovery of title or possession of real estate or foreclosure of mortgages or deeds of trust as mortgages
Change provisions and penalties relating to the Uniform Controlled Substances Act
Change provisions relating to restoration of seized firearms as prescribed
Require reports regarding records of persons unable to purchase or possess handguns because of disqualification or disability
Change concealed handgun permit renewal provisions for members of the armed forces and their spouses
Natural Resources
Room 1525 - 1:30 PM
Create the Surface Water and Ground Water Review Board and provide powers and duties
Change membership and powers and duties of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission
Room 1524 - 1:30 PM
Authorize funding for on-bill payment programs under the Low-Income Home Energy Conservation Act
Extend the sunset dates under certain tax incentive laws

Thursday February 27, 2014

Natural Resources
Room 1525 - 1:30 PM
Change provisions relating to an occupation tax on irrigated land
Provide powers and duties relating to surface water appropriations
Room 1524 - 1:30 PM
Exempt social security benefits from state income taxation
Exempt military retirement benefits from state income taxation
Legislative Performance Audit Committee
Provide and change provisions relating to legislative findings for tax incentive programs