By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial, who represents the 44th districts, took some time Friday to reflect back on the accomplishments of this year’s legislative session.
During the 90-day session, Christensen saw two of the bills he introduced become law.
LB 512 addressed issues with gun ownership rights for people who had undergone involuntary mental health checks.
Under present law, even if the person was found to be competent during an involuntary mental health check, that person still lost gun rights forever.
Christensen’s law changed that. In addition, people who were found to be unstable but have recovered can ask for a mental health review to have gun rights restored.
Senators added two amendments to the bill that was passed.
If someone from out of state moved into Nebraska, and already had a concealed carry permit in their previous state, the 180-day waiting period was waived.
The other amendment allows off-duty peace officers and other law enforcement officers to possess a firearm on school property and events, provided they are contracted by the school for security services.
LB 648 insures that foster parents and Health and Human Services receive any notifications for case hearings five days prior to the hearing.
It also leveled the playing field for evidence introduced in HHS hearings dealing with foster children.
Previously, the court gave more weight to evidence offered by a case worker versus a foster parent when considering a foster child’s placement plan.
Christensen’s bill puts the same weight on evidence, regardless of whether it was offered by HHS, the case worker or foster parent.
Christensen said he considers this a real victory for foster parents in dealing with the bureaucracy and bullying of HHS.
It also requires judges to inquire into the well-being of a foster child during court reviews and hearings by visiting with the foster parents, pre-adoptive parents and relatives providing care.
Water Bills Pending
Christensen said he still has several water bills that will carry over to next year’s 60-day session.
LB 653 would allow unappropriated water that would likely occur from flooding to be transferred into other river basins.
Christensen said there was some opposition to the bill this session, which is why he didn’t push to bring it out of committee.
The bill could gain some additional support due to the spring flooding that’s occurring along the Platte and Missouri Rivers.
If agreements could be reached, the bill would allow these excess waters to be transferred across basins.
This would aid compliance efforts, especially in the Republican Basin, while lessening pressure from flooding.
Christensen said he will introduce a bill next year to enable natural resource districts to extend some additional tax levy authority created in LB 962 and extended in LB 701.
He explained the NRDs get an additional three-cent levy under the bills. The authority will expire after next year.
Christensen said he will support the effort but wants the extension in the form of a new bill. He wants to add a review of the need for the levy authority every five years.
Water continues to be a big issue in the state and needs funding. However, he wants the entities to be up-front about the funding need, which is why he wants the review process.
Christensen has asked for three interim studies to be conducted prior to next session.
Two deal with simulcast horse racing in Nebraska. The other looks at whether surface water splits in compact compliance accounting are affected by groundwater use in another district.
CIR, Budget Key Issues
Christensen said the passage of a compromise on the Court of Industrial Relations (CIR) and passage of a solid budget bill represent the biggest accomplishments of the body this past session.
He never dreamed the senators and parties involved could ever work out an agreement on the CIR.
He said the changes apply better guidelines when public workers and public entities reach an impasse on wage bargaining.
The CIR can now take benefits of public workers into account when looking at wage disputes.
The law also establishes a better range of comparable wages, with some latitude to come into compliance over a three-year period.
As for the budget, Christensen credited Sen. Lavon Heidemann, chair of the Appropriations Committee, for his guidance in getting a strong budget passed.
When senators wanted to spend money on new programs, Christensen said Heidemann asked them what programs they wanted to cut.
Christensen said they kept money to the state’s colleges about the same, and slightly increased K-12 funding.
However the loss of stimulus funding for school state aide impacted some schools significantly.
He said Chase County Schools, Perkins County Schools, Medicine Valley Schools, Eustis-Farnam Schools and Dundy County-Stratton Schools receive little or no state aid now, so they didn’t suffer from the loss of stimulus money.
In terms of redistricting, the final bill resulted in what he anticipated for the last two years.
He gave up a portion of Dawson County and picked up all of Gosper and Harlan Counties.
The 49th District in rural Nebraska, held by LeRoy Louden will become an Omaha district in the next election cycle.
Louden was term-limited out and not eligible to run again.