Drivers licenses for "Dreamers" advanced; senators override Ricketts' veto of gas tax hike; LGBT job discrimination bill put off 'til next year

May 14, 2015, 5:46 a.m. ·


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Nebraska lawmakers took a step Thursday toward authorizing drivers licenses for so-called "Dreamers." They overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts veto of a 6-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase. And they put off until next year further debate on banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist is lead sponsor of the bill to authorize drivers licenses for "Dreamers" – young people brought to this country illegally when they were children. Nordquist quoted a Chinese American talking about why he thinks the United States will continue to succeed. "We accept generations of immigrants. It builds our innovation, it builds our entrepreneurship, it strengthens our diversity, it brings new ideas to our country. And because of that, if we continue to be a true melting pot, and accepting of people with diversity and different views, different nationalities -- that’s the strength of America," Nordquist related.

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion said he agrees with that, but opposes the bill. "My colleague Sen. Nordquist just eloquently said that people coming to our country and wanting to immigrate make us stronger and make us better. And we’re in agreement on that. I think we truly are a better nation for the immigrants who come here. However I don’t think people sneaking across the border and breaking our laws makes us a better and stronger country," Kintner said.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins also opposed the bill. Bloomfield objected to supporters saying Dreamers were being denied the "right" to drive, when legally, driving is a privilege. "I just ask that we keep the language straight and that we debate this fairly, without bringing out the hand towels, drying our eyes, and crying that we are depriving these people of their rights," Bloomfield said.

Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete supported the proposal, arguing that young people should not be penalized for the actions of their parents. "None of us would like to be held accountable for the sins of our ancestors. Most of us, if we do enough digging, will find that somewhere in the family tree we have slaveholders, thieves, adulterers or some other manner of riffraff. To me, holding kids accountable for what their parents did while they were still in diapers makes little sense, and is of questionable merit when one considers the American way," Ebke said.

And Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha, also a supporter, alluded to the fact that the other 49 states already make drivers licenses available to "Dreamers." Nebraska is "the last state in the Union to do it, by the way. We uphold that tradition really well. Dragging our heels, kicking and screaming," Cook said.

After a cumulative eight hours of debate, supporters succeeded in invoking cloture to cut off a filibuster by opponents. They then gave first round approval to the bill on a vote of 37-8.

Thursday afternoon, senators took up the override of Gov. Pete Ricketts veto of a 6 cent a gallon gas tax increase. Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson was among those supporting the override. He referred to the fact that two-thirds of the estimated $75 million a year raised by the tax increase would go to counties and cities, who would otherwise use property taxes to fund roads needs:

In: The way this money is distributed down to the cities and counties – and those things can always be adjusted if we have too much money in our state roads department we can always transfer it down to the county level – but I do look at it as property tax relief. We have some counties who are relatively caught up in their programs. Some couties are not. Either way, it’s going to help reduce property taxes, or at least hold them steady. Roads should be funded with gas tax," Friesen said.

Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill opposed the override. "We do have to look at ways to lower property taxes. But raising taxes to lower them isn’t the the way to go about that," Larson said.

Senators then voted 30-16 to override the governor’s veto. Ricketts later issued a statement saying "This tax increase will not only hurt Nebraska’s hardworking families, but it will only make it more difficult to grow Nebraska because of our state’s burdensome tax climate."

Senators also debated legislation to outlaw employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld said too many talented people are leaving Nebraska because the state lacks such protections. "Nobody should be fired for how their creator made them, or who they love. These are critical protections that exist in 21 states including the District of Columbia; neighboring states Iowa and Colorado; 225 cities and counties, and over 600 private businesses, including 66 percent of Fortune 500 companies," Morfeld said.

Omaha Sen. Joni Craighead said those protections are not needed. "We are creating a bill for a problem that isn’t there. In four years the city of Omaha has had 11 lawsuits relating to this issue with no convictions. People who chose to live and work in our state live there because they believe that we are inclusive and accepting," Craighead said.

After several hours of debate, Morfeld announced supporters were requesting the bill be pulled from the agenda for the rest of the year. He said later that would allow time to work on the language, adding the bill is still alive and could be debated early next year.

Also late Thursday afternoon, Ricketts announced Nebraska has purchased the drugs necessary to carry out executions. The state has been unable to do so because of the lack of certain drugs. The announcement comes as the Legislature is set for second-round debate on abolishing the death penalty Friday. That debate is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Central.

And senators began debate on legislation to outlaw employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. Lawmakers were scheduled to move on to another subject Thursday evening before reaching a vote on the bill For NET News at the Capitol, I’m Fred Knapp.