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Floor debate begins

January 21, 2011

By Deb Fischer, Senator, District 43
Bill introduction is complete with 698 bills and 11 constitutional amendments being introduced this legislative session. Committee hearings began on January 18th and floor debate on January 20th.
I have heard from many of you about several bills that have been
introduced to increase taxes. Two bills to increase the tobacco tax, LB
436 and LB 590, have been introduced by Senator Mike Gloor of Grand
Island. LB 436 raises the tax on cigarettes from $.64 to $1.99, which
is over a 200% increase. LB 590 closes a loophole that allows
distributors to avoid paying the tobacco tax.
A bill to increase the gas tax, LB 504, was introduced by Senator Kathy Campbell of Lincoln. This bill proposes to raise the current state fuel tax by over eight cents by October 2012. Senator Campbell introduced this bill to fund the highway funding gap. I would like to clarify that I also introduced a highway funding bill, LB 84. My proposal does not call for any tax or fee increase. LB 84 targets a half cent of existing sales tax dollars to be put into a newly created State Highway Capital Improvement Fund.
My position on tax increases is clear; I oppose all tax increases,
including these proposed increases on tobacco and gasoline. Also, I do
not think the state should try to fix the budget shortfall by increasing
taxes on a specific population of the state. Rather, I think we as a
Legislature need to take this opportunity to closely examine our agencies and the services they provide. Unfortunately, this examination
will lead to difficult choices, but they are decisions that must be
made.
As I discussed in an earlier column, a number of bills have been
introduced dealing with the Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR).
Nine bills dealing with the CIR and the State Employees Collective
Bargaining Act have been introduced, including one constitutional
amendment. The bills deal with everything from eliminating these acts
to significantly reforming them. LB 664, introduced by Senator John
Nelson of Omaha, eliminates the CIR and prohibits public employees from
striking. LB 619 introduced by Senator Tyson Larson of O'Neill would
eliminate school districts, learning communities and educational service
units from the CIR's jurisdiction.
The CIR, as it functions today, has been targeted as causing the
significant increases in government budgets over the last decade, from
local school districts to cities and even the state. Given our current
budget shortfall, the state will likely be cutting aid to counties,
schools and municipalities. These cuts will mean our local governments
will have to decrease their budgets, which could mean public employees
will not receive raises. Our local governments need to be able to deal
with the realities of budget shortages without fear of the CIR forcing
them to increase salaries and other benefits. I will closely monitor
these bills as they make their way through the committee process.
I introduced, LB 158, a bill I think will provide a great service to
people in our Legislative district. The bill expands the online
issuance of driver licenses. Since early last year, the Department of
Motor Vehicles has provided an online renewal and duplicate process.
The program has proven popular with over twenty-five thousand people
utilizing the online service to date. The bill expands the use of
online driver license renewal to permit holders (teen drivers) who have
passed all required examinations, and expands the maximum age for
on-line renewal from 65 to 72. The bill was voted out of the
Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and was advanced from
General File debate on January 21st.
If you have any thoughts or concerns on bills, please feel free to
contact my office at 402-471-2628 or at dfischer@leg.ne.gov.
As always, thank you for sharing in our legislative process, and I'll visit with you again next week.

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