Higher speed limits, tighter gun regs among measures passed

April 11, 2018, 4:48 a.m. ·

Senator applaud fourth graders visiting Capitol Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Proposals on everything from speed limits to gun regulations received final approval in the Legislature Wednesday.

Wednesday was the next-to-last day of the Legislature’s 2018 session, and most of it was devoted to final votes to pass dozens of bills. Among those receiving final approval was one authorizing higher speed limits, increasing the limit from 60 to 65 miles an hour on state highways, and 65 to 70 on expressways and so-called “super-twos“ – two-lane highways with intermittent passing lanes. The speeds will be increased only in areas the Department of Transportation approves, and the limit on Interstate 80 will remain at 75 miles an hour.

Lawmakers also gave final approval to a bill aimed at heading off an estimated $220 million income tax increase that would otherwise have occurred because federal tax reform ended personal exemptions. The bill, which creates a state personal exemption, is supported by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Sen. Bob Krist, running for the Democratic nomination for governor, suggested personal exemptions should not be given back to upper-income people. “We should be giving them back to the low and middle income families that need them, and using the remaining income if there is any to replenish our cash reserve – our rainy day fund,” Krist said. “If we don’t do this and revenues continue to be a problem in the next biennium, who will be hurt? The answer as usual is low and middle income families who rely on tax (funded) services like health care, education and public safety.”

The bill passed 44-0, with Krist and four other senators not voting.

Another proposal passed would delay when certain people could own guns. The bill says if someone is convicted as a juvenile for domestic violence or an offense that would have been a felony if he were an adult, he would have to wait until age 25 to get a gun, unless he got earlier permission from a judge.

Another bill passed would allow people convicted of prostitution-related offenses to have their convictions set aside if they were victims of human trafficking.

Also passed was a package of prison reform measures. They include letting some parolees complete required programs after being released. They also require the Department of Correctional Services and the Board of Parole to submit a plan for accelerating parole reviews if prisons remain over 140 percent of capacity by the current deadline of two years from now.

And lawmakers debated a resolution by Sen. Lynne Walz to establish a new committee to oversee state licensed assisted living facilities for people with mental illness. Walz pointed to the death last year of a veteran after three days of acute illness at a home in Palmer, Nebraska, and other senators spoke of filthy conditions in some homes.

Among those supporting the resolution was Sen. Sara Howard. “Individuals who are vulnerable are not being taken care of in the manner which a proud Nebraskan should be. We should be ashamed of the way people are treated in these facilities, and we are the ones who are tasked with fixing it,” Howard said.

Opponents of the resolution said oversight should remain with the Health and Human Services Committee. Sen. Mike Groene called the resolution unnecessary. “This is a witch hunt,” Groene said. “This is not necessary. This is overreach.”

Senators approved creating the new committee on a vote of 26-13.

And, reaction continued to Sen. Tom Brewer’s attempt to get senators to agree to a special session to reduce property taxes. Brewer turned in signatures of 13 senators supporting the idea, and needs 20 more. If he gets them, Speaker Jim Scheer said, the way he interprets the law, the session would have to begin April 28 or 29.

Scheer said he opposes the idea. “This is well-intentioned, from my perspective. But I don’t believe it allows us anywhere near the time and the preparation in order to facilitate any type of solution that may be available to us,” he said.

Twenty more senators would have to sign a letter of support by April 20 in order for a special session to be called.

The bills passed Wednesday now go to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature or veto. Lawmakers will reconvene next Wednesday for the final day of the 2018 session.