Nebraska Association of County Officials

Legislative Report
February 28, 2020 Legislative Report Archive
Committee Hearings End, Full Days of Debate Begin
Tuesday, February 25, marked the mid-point of this 60-day legislative session. Committees wrapped up public hearings on Thursday with bills on property taxes, elections, and discrimination against veterans. Full-day floor debate will begin on Tuesday with LB1131, a bill to make technical updates to education statutes, followed by LB931, a bill to allow overweight exceptions for products hauled from farm storage to market or factory.
 
This week, senators debated and advanced a bill to allow the state’s Department of Administrative Services to make purchases from bids solicited by other states and allow political subdivisions to use a design-build method for sewer and water projects ( LB790).
 
Senators adopted a non-binding resolution, LR288, to request the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to priority flood control on the Missouri River.
 
Senators debated but did not vote on a measure to amend the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act ( LB424).
 
The rest of the session will be dominated by debate on priority bills. In addition to the senator and committee bills already designated, Speaker Jim Scheer has selected 25 Speaker priority bills. These include LB781 to require continuing education for county and city treasurers and LB797 to require notice to election commissioners of annexations.
 
To date, 24 bills have been passed by the Legislature and signed into law. Bills that are not passed during this session are considered indefinitely postponed and do not carry over to 2021.
 
This week the Attorney General issued opinions on the constitutionality of LB992, a bill to authorize the use of electric utility easements to furnish commercial broadband services, and LB720, a bill to allow the Executive Board of the Legislative Counsel to exceed the base authority for tax refunds and credits within a proposed tax incentive program. Both bills have been designated as priorities. A separate opinion addressed the responsibility of counties to maintain parts of county roads located on state highway property. 
Snapshots of Final Committee Hearings
Public hearings on bills introduced during the first ten days of the session concluded this week. No action has been reported on the bills listed below.
 
Revenue Committee
On Thursday, the Revenue Committee heard a bill, LB1213, that would eliminate inheritance taxes for direct lineal descendants. The current tax rate is one percent on amounts in excess of $40,000. Counties often use inheritance taxes as reserves or for special projects. After the flooding last spring, many counties used inheritance taxes for their 12.5 percent match to receive FEMA funds. The bill would also reduce the valuation of real property for all political subdivisions, change the sales tax rate and apply the tax to certain foods and services, eliminate sales tax exemptions, and enact a new school aid formula.
 
LB1192 would cap the amount of state reimbursement for homestead exemptions at $100 million. If applications exceeded this amount, counties would receive a pro-rata distribution, leaving a hole in the budgets of each political subdivision.
 
LB1212 would create the Property Tax Request Act. It would require public hearings on property tax requests to be held on or after 6 p.m. and separately from other meetings of the public body. Published notice of the hearing could be no less than one-quarter of a page and no less than 18-point type.
 
LB1125 would expand the pool of applicants for homestead exemptions to persons who have a disability under Title II and Title XVI of the federal Social Security Act. It would also allow applicants to make one late filing. Currently, applications must be filed on or before June 30 unless the county board extends the deadline to on or before July 20.
 
LB1012 would change the deadline for exempt entities to apply for property tax exemptions for property acquired or converted to exempt use during the calendar year. By changing the July 1 deadline to December 31, property acquired after July 1 would qualify for an exemption in the year that it was purchased.
 
NACO testified in opposition to all of these bills.
 
Education Committee
The Nebraska Department of Education would develop a statewide panic button program that would be available to all public elementary and secondary schools by September 30, 2020. The system proposed by LB1156 would be a mobile telephone application that could be integrated with a public safety answering point and send short messages to authorized users onsite at the school, including teachers and key public safety personnel. Testifiers questioned whether the technology as proposed in the bill would be compatible with existing 911 infrastructure and whether teachers and school officials could be liable for not downloading the app on their personal cell phones. The state would spend $2 million on the program.
 
Judiciary Committee
The Judiciary Committee heard a bill to provide that recording or photographing a peace officer performing his or her official duties is not considered obstructing a peace officer if the person taking the photograph or making the recording is in a public place or place where the person has a right to be ( LB1113). The committee also heard bills to prohibit discrimination against active duty and military veterans ( LB750) and prohibit governmental entities from using facial recognition technology ( LB1091).
Government Committee Hears, Advances Bills
The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard seven election bills during their final two days of hearings. None of the measures were prioritized and the committee has not reported any action on them.
 
The committee also sent LB1055, a bill to add requirements for mail elections, to the floor for debate by the full Legislature. The committee amendment contains provisions from LB1086, a bill to set guidelines for poll watchers, and several other election bills. Language from LB1119 and LB1120 would prohibit special elections during the months of March and September in even-numbered years unless held in conjunction with a statewide primary or general election. Language from LB820 would update telephone number requirements on voter registration applications and revise timelines for recall elections.
 
Electing Election Commissioners and County Engineers
On Thursday, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard LB1022, a bill to require the election of county election commissioners in counties with a population over 40,000. Under existing law, the governor appoints the election commissioner in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties. In counties between 20,000 and 100,000, the county board can appoint an election commissioner. Buffalo, Cass, Hall, and Platte counties have appointed election commissioners. In all other counties, the county clerk serves as ex officio election commissioner.
 
The question of appointing election commissioners was raised this fall when Senator Matt Hansen requested an Attorney General’s opinion on whether election commissioners are considered county officers that must be elected under Art. IX, Sec. 4 of the Nebraska Constitution. The opinion concluded that the practice was unconstitutional and a lawsuit was later filed with the Nebraska Supreme Court. When the Attorney General and Secretary of State could not agree on the facts of the case, it was sent to the Lancaster County District Court. In December, a separate lawsuit was filed in Hall County to challenge the appointment of election commissioners in Hall, Buffalo, Cass and Platte counties.
 
A representative of Civic Nebraska testified in support of the bill and Secretary of State Bob Evnen spoke in opposition. NACO testified neutral, due to the pending lawsuit.
 
NACO also testified neutral on LB744 that would allow for the appointment of a county engineer in counties over 150,000. An amendment would allow the question of electing a county engineer to be placed on the ballot by the county board or through a petition process. County officials testified in support and opposition to the bill.
 
Extended Deadline to Open Early Ballots
Election commissioners would be given three extra days to prepare early voting ballots for counting under LB1122. Senator Andrew La Grone introduced the bill to move the first day to open the ballot envelopes from the second Monday prior to the election to the second Friday prior to the election. In a typical county, the early voting ballots are stored in a vault until the envelopes are opened by representatives of two different parties on the second Monday prior to the election. The ballots are removed from the envelopes, flattened, and returned to the vault until they can be counted 24 hours prior to the election. The results are not reported until Election Day. Two election commissioners, NACO, and a representative from the Secretary of State testified in support of the bill. There were no opponents.
 
Clean Up of Appointed Incumbent Filing Deadline
When a vacancy is filled by appointment, the appointee is considered an incumbent for purposes of determining the candidate filing deadline for the office. When the appointment is made after the February 15 filing deadline for incumbents, the newly-appointed incumbent has to run as a write-in candidate. LB1121 would allow such individuals to use the non-incumbent filing deadline of March 1.
 
Nebraska Open Primaries Act
LB1005 would remove party designations in primary elections for statewide offices and U.S. Congressional offices. The two candidates receiving the most votes would advance to the general election. Much of the proponent testimony discussed ranked choice voting that allows voters to mark their ballots in order of preference of the candidates. No one testified in opposition to the bill.
 
Removing Disqualifications from Voting
LR286CA would amend the Nebraska Constitution so that a conviction for treason would be the only reason to be disqualified from voting. Supporters argued that felons whose voting rights are not restored for two years continue to pay property and sales taxes but have no say in how the taxes are spent. No one testified in opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment.
 
Voter ID
The hearing room was full for the hearing on LR292CA. The proposed constitutional amendment would require poll workers to view a photograph or digital image of the voter to verify the identity of the voter in a manner determined by the Legislature. If passed by the Legislature, the question would be presented to voters at the November 2020 general election.
Judiciary Committee Advances "Christmas Tree" Bill
A bill introduced and prioritized by Senator Matt Hansen has formed the basis for a “Christmas tree” of bills heard by the Judiciary Committee. LB881, as introduced, would prohibit courts from automatically deducting fines from bonds posted by offenders. Among the bills that would be amended into LB881 by a Judiciary Committee amendment are LB1041, a bill introduced on behalf of NACO to clarify when transcripts of grand jury proceedings may be open for public review, and LB1180 that would increase the number of alternate jurors a court can impanel. Other bills included in the committee amendment would allow certain convictions to be set aside ( LB213 and LB777), require courts to appoint counsel for indigent defendants when setting bonds ( LB282), and reduce the time between court reviews of competency to 60 days ( LB1007).
 
LB1028, LB1148, and LB912 were also reported to the floor with committee amendments. LB1028, as introduced, would allow the Supreme Court to establish an electronic filing option for small claims court. A committee amendment would allow preservation duplicates of court records to be maintained in a digital format, rather than microfilm ( LB1029), increase the time frame for the court to transmit funds due to counties from fines, costs, and forfeited recognizances ( LB1030), and revise the definition of “judgment” to eliminate a conflict ( LB1032). LB1028 was selected as a Speaker priority.
 
LB1148, as introduced, would change procedures for committing juveniles to Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs). A Judiciary Committee amendment would address maintenance of and access to records of child abuse reports for defendants ( LB969), child advocacy centers ( LB906), and the Department of Health and Human Services ( LB975 and LB458).

LB912, as introduced, would allow witnesses to testify remotely in civil cases. A Judiciary Committee amendment would create a uniform method for clerks of the district court to address deposition and discovery subpoenas for out of state lawsuits ( LB869) and make changes to initial parenting plan screenings ( LB868). Other sections would revise liability in civil settlements ( LB271) and create a new process to expedite civil actions ( LB1027).
Treasurer Continuing Education Sent to Floor
LB781, a bill to require continuing education for county treasurers was selected as a Speaker priority bill and advanced to the floor by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Counties and cities would be responsible for the costs of attending the continuing education programs. The State Auditor would maintain records and inform the Attorney General and county board or city council if the required program is not completed.
 
The committee also sent LB1047, which would allow posting of semiannual statements on a county website, to the floor. Such posting would be considered compliance with publication requirements if a newspaper was not able to publish the statement in a timely manner. A committee amendment would change the term “printing” to “publishing” to more accurately reflect newspapers processes. LB1047 was introduced by Senator Curt Friesen on behalf of NACO. It was not designated as a priority bill.
Reminder: NACO Scholarship Applications are Due March 1
Each year, NACO awards twelve scholarships to the children and stepchildren of county officials and employees. Click here for details.