First session of the 103rd Legislature ends

LINCOLN -- The first session of the 103rd Legislature came to a close Wednesday after Gov. Dave Heineman addressed the body, praising senators for their work and calling for “a giant step forward” in tax reform next session.Despite issuing more than 20 line-item vetoes on the two-year budget, about half of which were overturned, Heineman thanked the Appropriations Committee for its efforts, saying he agreed with members on the most important issues, like state aid to schools and rebuilding the cash fund.“Most importantly, we balanced the budget without raising taxes,” he said.Heineman said the Legislature addressed some important issues this year. He cited several bills dealing with taxes, including a bill by Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus to repeal the alternative minimum tax for state income tax filings, and a bill by Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney to increase income tax deductions for families saving for college. Heineman acknowledged that some of the debate this session was contentious and said he appreciated the discussion on tough issues.He specifically mentioned the failed attempt to pass a bill expanding Medicaid.“I want to thank the senators who questioned the affordability and sustainability of expanding Medicaid,” Heineman said.Heineman called for a renewed push for tax relief next session. Earlier this year, he introduced proposals to reduce or eliminate state income tax and make up for the lost revenue by repealing several sales tax exemptions. Those bills did not have enough support to make it out of the Revenue Committee.The Legislature instead formed a committee to study the state’s tax structure over the interim and come back next session with legislative recommendations.Speaker Greg Adams of York said if he could think of one word to describe this session it would be: “difficult.” “We took on difficult issues,” he said, “There are things yet to be resolved.”He asked senators to take some time to recuperate but be ready to work on the more than 250 interim studies the Legislature has commissioned this session.Adams said out of 661 bills introduced this session, 214 became law, placing this session on par with the past several years, despite unusually high numbers of filibusters and gubernatorial vetoes this year.“We did our work,” Adams said.