A special task force will study how best to use the water resources of Nebraska under a bill receiving preliminary approval in the legislature.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege sponsors LB 517, which would create the Water Sustainability Project Task Force.
The bill passed on a unanimous 36-0 vote, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t run into opposition during floor debate.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha cautioned lawmakers not to spend $3 million to fund the task force if they were not willing to fund its recommendations.
Lathrop claimed the legislature had been caviler in the past, approving legislation without thoroughly considering its fiscal consequences. Lathrop said the legislature made a mistake two years ago when it dedicated a quarter cent of the sales tax to roads.
“And now, we’re in a crunch, right? We don’t have enough money to take care of the things that we wanted to take care of with our bills and that’s because a bunch of the money that we would otherwise be spending has been dedicated to roads in a process that didn’t require that we talk about what we’re going to sacrifice to pay for the roads,” Lathrop told colleagues during debate.
That brought a counter from Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, who worked to pass the roads bill.
“And I will defy any of you to go look at the preliminary budget and find where these draconian cuts are taking place to fund what we did,” Lautenbaugh stated.
Lathrop and others objected to the make-up of the task force, in particular that the governor would appoint three of its 15 members. The Natural Resources Committee would appoint 12 under the bill.
Lathrop said that Gov. Dave Heineman had shown no leadership on the issue and he should not be allowed to appoint members to the task force.
Carlson promised to work with senators who raised objections prior to the bill returning to the Unicameral for a second round of debate.
Carlson closed debate by emphasizing the importance of studying the state’s most precious resource.
“This, I believe, is an attempt for the first time for a body of people who make policy for this state to be willing to think about and come up with a 20-year strategic plan for the most important resource that we have in this state.”