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Nebraska Legislature convenes with main focus on budget PDF Print E-mail

LINCOLN (AP) — Nebraska state senators convened Wednesday, Jan. 5 at the state Capitol to begin a 90-day lawmaking session that’s under a cloud of economic uncertainty as lawmakers face a possible $1 billion-plus budget gap.

Balancing the state’s two-year budget—required by state law—is at the top of the Legislature’s to-do list this session.

A state economic forecasting board projected in late October that the state would face a $1.4 billion budget gap through mid-2013.

More recently, a group of state lawmakers estimated the deficit at just under $1 billion.

Lawmakers will know more about how much money they have to spend in February, when the economic forecasting board meets to revise official revenue projections that form the baseline of the state budget.

Gov. Dave Heineman is expected to unveil his proposed budget later this month.

Although the state budget is expected to draw the lion’s share of attention during the session, lawmakers in the nonpartisan, single-house legislature still face some other complex issues.

Among them: Redrawing legislative and congressional boundaries based on shifting population reflected in the 2010 Census.

Nebraska’s population grew 6.7 percent to 1.83 million people in 2010, so the state will keep all three of its U.S. House seats, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

But what researchers say is a shift in population from the rural west to the urban areas in the east may require lawmakers to redraw the lines for the state’s Congressional districts and 49 state legislative districts.

Lawmakers may also be asked to consider an Arizona-style immigration measure. State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, where residents approved a city immigration measure last year, has said he plans to introduce such a bill in the early weeks of session.

Arizona’s law requires police officers, when enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally.

Critics say the Arizona law encourages racial profiling. A federal judge blocked sections of the law in July, including provisions calling for police to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and requiring immigrants to prove they are in the United States legally.

The opening of the session last week began with the swearing in of lawmakers, including