Monday, May 25, 2015
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Nebraska gas tax increase bill headed to final vote

A proposed gas tax increase has advanced to a final vote in the Nebraska Legislature, despite vocal opposition.

Lawmakers gave the bill second-round approval Monday with a 27-14 vote. The measure would raise Nebraska's fuel excise tax by 6 cents per gallon over four years, for a total state tax of 31.6 cents per gallon.

One final vote is required before it advances to Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who strongly opposes the measure. Overriding a veto would require at least 30 senators.

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, the bill's sponsor, says the tax increase would help chip away at a state backlog of deficient roads and bridges. Opponents say it would have a disproportionate impact on the poor, who often drive less fuel-efficient cars.




Ricketts signs law to boost protections for pregnant workers

Pregnant workers will have the right to easier workloads and modified schedules under a new Nebraska law.

Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a bill Monday to create better employment protections for expectant mothers.

The law requires employers to acknowledge physical limitations of pregnancy and make accommodations for employees. It also bars discrimination against pregnant women in employment practices such as hiring or firing.

Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha has said the bill he sponsored complies with a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a pregnant woman who asked for job accommodations similar to those available to workers with physical disabilities.


NE Senators: More scrutiny needed for proposed wastewater site

State lawmakers are calling for greater scrutiny of a proposed disposal well for fracking water in western Nebraska.

Some senators on Tuesday urged the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to postpone a decision on the site in southern Sioux County until lawmakers complete an interim study.

Terex Energy Corp. wants to truck salty groundwater and fracking wastewater from oil searches and production in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska to a ranch north of Mitchell, Nebraska.

Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm says the state needs more regulations to protect groundwater, which he described as "Nebraska's gold."

Sen. John Stinner of Scottsbluff introduced a study to address concerns about long-term monitoring and potential cleanup costs, the possibility of water contamination, potential heavy truck damage to roadways and the risk of earthquakes.


Tax break dispute raises old question for Nebraska lawmakers

A dispute over taxes is drawing new attention to an old question Nebraska lawmakers have to answer every year: Who gets a break, and who has to pay?

The issue surfaced last week as lawmakers debated sales tax exemptions for zoos and an $800,000 property tax break for the Woodmen of the World Insurance Society, a prominent insurance firm in downtown Omaha.

Critics say the exemptions deprive state and local governments of revenue and force other Nebraska taxpayers to make up the difference.

Sen. Mike Gloor, chairman of the Revenue Committee, says more than half of the 92 bills the committee heard this session involved some form of tax break, but few were sent to the floor. Gloor says the public doesn't realize how many requests senators get every year.


Service members want to refer veterans bill to the voters

Some members of the military are still fuming over a bill passed this year by the SD state Legislature that allows more service members to be considered a veteran and eligible for certain benefits under state law.

About two dozen military members gathered at Northern State University on Friday to protest during Gov. Dennis Daugaard's visit.

The measure in question changes the definition of "veteran" to include military reserve members and members of the National Guard, which means they can qualify for additional benefits. The law previously only included members of the military who served on active duty for at least 90 straight days.

The group of combat veterans argues the measure diminishes the resources available to war veterans and lessens the meaning of the title.


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