It’s Legislative Halftime, How Are Nebraska’s Senators Doing?

It’s now halftime in the Nebraska Legislature, with slightly more than 40 legislative session days remaining in 2017.

People are naturally curious which bills have the chance of passing this year, but the process for advancement of bills in the remaining time can be confusing. While all bills will have received a public hearing by next week, and a handful of bills have already been signed into law, most others have barely taken their first steps out of committee.

Last week, senators gave some shape to the legislative calendar when they prioritized legislation prior to the official deadline. Each senator is allowed one priority bill, while committees are permitted two, and the Speaker can select up to 25.

The priority status can advantage bills on the legislative agenda, though some of the bills still have to advance from committee.

So how are things looking for legislation that removes barriers to growth and opportunity?

Here are key bills we’ve been tracking:

Tax Reform

Members of the Revenue Committee are keeping their promise to make tax reform a top priority this session. Legislative Bill 337’s personal income tax reform, introduced by Sen. Jim Smith on behalf of the governor, has been prioritized by Sen. Brett Lindstrom. LB338, which deals with the valuation of ag land, has been prioritized by Sen. Lydia Brasch, who also sits on the Revenue Committee. Several other tax proposals were also heard this session, and the committee is currently meeting to see how the best of these bills could be fashioned into a final, comprehensive package.

Occupational Licensing

About a dozen bills that would reduce the burden of red tape associated with working in a variety of careers were proposed in this legislative session, and some are ready to be debated on the floor of the Legislature.

LB341 would create an opt-out provision for licensing officers who work at state-chartered banks. It and a similar bill dealing with credit union loan officers (LB454) have advanced.

LB345 ends a requirement that title examiners in Nebraska have one year of experience before taking the licensing exam. Nebraska is the only state with this rule, and one of a handful that requires a license for this profession.

LB346 ends a $20 annual licensing requirement for motor vehicle salespeople. Most states don’t require this occupational license, particularly since dealerships are already licensed. Speaker Jim Scheer has helped to expedite the process of getting rid of this tax on work by making LB346 one of his Speaker priority bills.
 

LB347 ends a duplicative requirement that school bus drivers earn a second permit from the DMV after earning their CDL license and completing the necessary checks by the Department of Education. The bill had the support of the DMV and has been advanced.

A number of other bills on reflexologists, farm labor contractors, equine massage therapists, nurses, and behavioral health providers so far remain in committee.

Response to more ambitious occupational licensing reform bills like LB343 and LB299 show the process of paring back red tape regulation is tougher work than the broad philosophical and research consensus on the issue would let on. Established business interests, who are usually the ones who lobbied for the regulations in the first place, are quick to oppose even changes that make Nebraska’s licensing consistent with most other states.
 
Pensions

LB30, Sen. Mark Kolterman’s bill to enroll new city employees in Omaha and Lincoln in cash balance pension plans has been prioritized by the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee.
 

Fiscal Federalism

LB611, Sen. John Stinner’s bill to create an agency-by-agency inventory of federal funds collected by the state, along with what strings are attached to these funds, has been prioritized by the Appropriations Committee.

While challenges to advancing free market policy will always exist in the Legislature, there is a noticeable improvement in receptivity in the 105th Legislature on many of these key issues. Some important policy changes may have to wait for 2018, but there is plenty of time left for many substantive debates in this year’s session.

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