The Nebraska Legislature's 2013 session begins Wednesday Here are some storylines we'll be following during the 90-day session.
Welcome back, Ernie
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers sat out a four-year term because of term limits, but the former senator from District 11 is back in the saddle after a big win over incumbent Brenda Council. Chambers has 38 years of experience in the Legislature and knows how to use it; he's well-known for his skills at blocking or altering legislation. What will his impact be in 2013? Stay tuned. Read more.
Who takes the reins?
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, Appropriations Committee Chairman Lavon Heidemann and U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer are out because of term limits. Sen. Greg Adams of York has experience on the Education Committee and is viewed at the favorite to replace Flood. But 11 new senators are headed to Lincoln and only Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford has more than six years of experience. Seven of the 14 standing committees will see new chairmen. Like it or not, change is here. Read more.
Governor wants 'better tax climate'
Gov. Dave Heineman, who has two years left in his term, plans to unveil details of his tax plan during his State of the State address on Jan. 15. Solid details before then aren't likely, but Heineman seems to be backing off the idea of axing the state income tax. Regardless, he's pushing for change for individuals and businesses. He has suggested eliminating the state corporate income tax and lowering the state income tax to a flat rate of 2.9 percent, and eliminating some sales tax exemptions and introducing some new fees. His goal: Bring business to Nebraska. “We're 31st out of 50 states in business tax climate. We're not in the top half. I know we can do better,” he said. Read more.
Action on higher education costs
Earlier this week, Heineman and and higher education leaders laid out a plan to freeze tuition for two years for in-state students at the University of Nebraska and state colleges. A state funding increase of $68.3 million over two years would be necessary to make that possible. Could the Legislature make it happen? Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have seen tuition increase every year since 1987. “It's a very creative idea, but it has to be considered in the larger context of the budget,” said State Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and Education Committee member. Read more.
Punishment for juveniles who commit first-degree murder
Senators are poised to take on sentencing options for juveniles who take lives. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. How senators alter the punishment options and whether they apply to 26 inmates currently serving life for crimes committed as juveniles are among the questions to be answered. Read more.
More to watch
- Whether Heineman, with two years left in his term, can get more traction for his ideas after losing some battles with lawmakers last year.
- Whether Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha can balance an ambitious legislative agenda and lead the Judiciary Committee while making a run for Omaha mayor.
- How cautious senators will be with new spending proposals, given the current economic climate.
Dan Watermeier, Syracuse, District 1.
Watermeier is a farmer who was previously elected to the Nemaha Natural Resources District. He is a Republican and will represent the five most southeastern counties in Nebraska.
Bill Kintner, Papillion, District 2.
Kintner is a self-employed sales and market researcher married to Lauren Kintner, the director of Gov. Dave Heineman's Policy Research Office. A Republican, he represents Cass County, southwestern Sarpy County and the northern parts of Nebraska City.
Sara Howard, Omaha, District 9.
Howard is a development specialist with OneWorld Community Health Center. She will succeed her mother, Sen. Gwen Howard, in representing the east-central Omaha district. Both Howards are Democrats.
Ernie Chambers, Omaha, District 11.
Chambers is a 38-year veteran of the Legislature. He was forced out of office by term limits but was elected again to represent northeast Omaha after sitting out a term. He will be one of two independents in the Legislature.
Jim Scheer, Norfolk, District 19.
Scheer owns an insurance agency and has held several public offices, including Norfolk mayor, Norfolk school board and State Board of Education. A Republican, he represents all of Madison County and a corner of Stanton County.
Jerry Johnson, Wahoo, District 23.
Johnson is a retired farm co-op manager who has been the mayor of Wahoo. A Republican, he represents all of Saunders and Butler Counties, as well as portions of eastern Colfax County, including Schuyler.
Kate Bolz, Lincoln, District 29.
Bolz has been a policy analyst for the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest. She is the first Democrat — but the fourth woman — elected from her south-central Lincoln district in more than 50 years.
Rick Kolowski, Omaha, District 31.
Kolowski is a retired Millard West High School principal representing southwest Omaha. A Democrat, he was on the boards of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District and the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
Al Davis, Hyannis, District 43.
Davis is a rancher with 25 years of school board experience. He is a Republican and won a seven-way race to represent one-fifth of the state. His district stretches across the Sand Hills into the northern Panhandle.
Sue Crawford, Bellevue, District 45.
Crawford is a Creighton University professor of political science and health administration and policy. The Democrat will be the second political scientist in the current Legislature. She represents the easternmost portion of Sarpy County.
John Murante, Gretna, District 49.
Murante is the Nebraska state director for Victory Enterprises, a corporate communication and polling firm. A Republican, he worked as a legislative aide before seeking office. He represents the northwestern corner of Sarpy County.