May 30, 2015

Gov. Ricketts praises Unicameral while giving nod to differences (AUDIO)

Gov. Pete Ricketts shares a laugh with lawmakers before addressing the Unicameral on the last day of the legislative session.

Gov. Pete Ricketts shares a laugh with lawmakers before addressing the Unicameral on the last day of the session.

Gov. Pete Ricketts praises lawmakers for working with him on keeping state spending down while acknowledging he doesn’t always agree with them on the direction to take Nebraska.

In his farewell to legislators on the last day of the session, Ricketts focused on where the two branches of government agreed.

“My priorities for the session were cutting the growth of government and providing property tax relief,” Ricketts told the Unicameral as it wrapped up business for the 2015 legislative session.

The legislature approved an $8.6 billion state budget for the next two years during the 90-day session. Lawmakers held state revenue growth in the budget bills to 3.1% growth, an extra $400 million. That increased to around 3.5% after other bills with price tags passed.

The budget increases funding to the property tax relief fund by $120 million over the two-year period.

Ricketts said that was a start.

“We can and must do more. You know, I’ve always said we didn’t get to be a high tax state overnight and we’re not going to solve those problems overnight, either,” Ricketts stated. “Bunts and singles are a good start, but we must make meaningful tax relief a priority for the next session.”

The legislature did not approve the governor’s proposal to reduce the percentage at which farmland is taxed from the current 75% of market value to 65%.

Ricketts praised the Unicameral for giving nurse practitioners more flexibility, enacting a pilot program for career and vocational training for the young, and eliminating the “cliff effect” that cut public assistance for those getting a raise or a new job.

Ricketts didn’t mention specifics in acknowledging differences with the legislature.

“Now, we didn’t always agree in the past several months on the direction to take the state and in the future we may not agree as well. But, we can never lose sight of the people who sent us here.”

State lawmakers overrode three high-profile vetoes by Ricketts and, in doing so, repealed the death penalty, raised the gas tax, and authorized the children of illegal immigrants to apply for state driver’s licenses.

AUDIO:  Gov. Pete Ricketts gives his farewell address to the Unicameral. [8 min.]

Senator will work with, not challenge governor on suspect video machines (AUDIO)

Sen. Paul Schumacher

Sen. Paul Schumacher

A state senator has decided not to challenge the governor’s veto of his bill to tax suspected illegal video machines, but to work with the governor on the legislation.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus says he drafted LB 70 after the suspect touch-screen computer games began to appear in bars, convenience stores, and clubs in Nebraska.

“Several bar owners, groups like that, contacted me and asked are they legal or illegal?” Schumacher told colleagues during legislative floor debate. “The truthful answer is you don’t know unless you look through the software and figure out how it works.”

Schumacher says he believes going through the tax code is the best way to rid the state of the machines that might be used for illegal gambling.

Gov. Pete Ricketts didn’t agree and vetoed LB 70.

Instead of moving to override the veto, Schumacher said he will work with the governor to resolve the problem.

“Rather than work adverse to each other, we are going to work together over the summer to develop with the state patrol and other interested parties a piece of legislation that will be effective and that we can adopt with, hopefully, no opposition at the beginning of next year.”

AUDIO:  Sen. Paul Schumacher informs colleagues will not challenge veto of LB 70. [3:30]

Political warning fails to stop second override of governor (AUDIO)

Sen. Bill Kintner

Sen. Bill Kintner

A warning issued prior to the vote on the second override of the governor in as many days failed to sway votes in the Unicameral.

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion fought to sustain Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of LB 623, the bill allowing youth brought to the country illegally when young to apply for a Nebraska driver’s license.

At one point, Kintner warned conservatives in the legislature about the political consequences of their votes, both on the driver’s license bill and the death penalty repeal bill the day before.

“You can’t run from your record. This is the information age. Your record’s going to follow you everywhere,” Kintner warned. “These votes that you take will be thrown in your face.”

Kintner tied both override votes together.

Yet, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, in his closing on the override debate over LB 623, urged senators to look beyond politics.

“I hope you don’t vote to sustain a veto out of those type of threats,” Nordquist said. “I hope you think about the policy and the positive impacts here.”

Despite the warning, lawmakers overrode the governor on LB 623 the day after overriding the governor on LB 268.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Courts may well decide fate of Nebraska’s death row inmates

Attorney General Doug Peterson

Attorney General Doug Peterson

Attorney General Doug Peterson is raising questions about the legality of a section of the death penalty repeal law passed by the legislature.

One section of Legislative Bill 268 states the intent of the legislature is that those on death row have their sentences commuted to life in prison.

Peterson believes that section is unconstitutional and says he will seek a court injunction to determine the fate of the 10 inmates now condemned to death.

“We think it needs to be clarified by the courts,” Peterson tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “So, we are looking at the process to move forward and seek a declaratory judgment as to what their status truly is.”

Peterson argues only the Board of Pardons is given the power to change final sentences imposed by the courts in the Nebraska Constitution.

Peterson says the courts need to decide the constitutionality of that section.

“Most likely, identifying the 10 individuals on death row and asking the court to give a declaratory judgment as to whether or not the legislature can pass this type of bill and, in effect, usurp the previous order entered by the judicial branch,” Peterson says. “So that’s our constitutional argument that we would make.”

The Unicameral enacted the repeal of the death penalty after overriding a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Peterson says his constitutional challenge is limited to that section, not the entire bill.

Missouri officials fear 2-year-old might be in Nebraska and in danger

Colton Lee Dominguez/Photo courtesy of Jefferson City, MO Police Dept.

Colton Lee Dominguez/Photo courtesy of Jefferson City, MO Police Dept.

Missouri authorities have issued a missing person advisory for a two-year-old boy believed to be in danger and believed to be in Nebraska.

The Jefferson City, Missouri Police Department issued a formal endangered person advisory for 2-year-old Colton Lee Dominquez after his mother, 31-year-old Billie Jo Linhart, failed to return Colton to the Court Appointed Guardian in Jefferson City May 17th. Linhart does not have custody of Colton.

According to Jefferson City police, the investigation indicates Linhart abducted Colton and might have taken him to Nebraska. Recent information leads police to believe Colton is in danger.

The Jefferson City Police Department released the following information:

Missing Is:

Colton Lee Dominguez, is a white, male, age 2, hgt 2’0″, 24 lbs, brown

hair, brown eyes, fair complexion, wearing unknown.

Possible suspects or associates are believed to be:

Billie Jo Linhart, a white, female, age 31, hgt 5’03”, 145 lbs, brown hair,

green eyes, fair complexion, with a skull tattoo on her left forearm and a

panther tattoo on her right shoulder.

Vehicle Information:

White 2005 Nissan Optima bearing Nebraska registration of SZD940.

Colton Lee Dominguez/Photo courtesy of Jefferson City PD

Colton Lee Dominguez/Photo courtesy of Jefferson City PD

Anyone seeing the missing person, suspect, associate, or vehicle, or anyone

having any information related to the endangered missing person should

immediately dial 911 to contact the nearest law enforcement agency or call

the Jefferson City Police Department at 573-634-6400.