LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers kicked off their 2020 session Wednesday by proposing more than 120 new laws, including a constitutional amendment that would abolish the state income tax and a ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure.
The 60-day session kicked off with many senators saying they expected to focus on the state’s property taxes, but some quickly signaled that it would likely veer into contentious social issues, as well.
The abortion bill would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, which opponents refer to as “dismemberment abortion.”
Federal courts have blocked similar laws in other states, and the proposal’s backers in Nebraska said they hope the U.S. Supreme Court will address the issue if the Nebraska measure passes and is challenged in court.
“I didn’t know this was occurring in Nebraska,” said Sen. Suzanne Geist, of Lincoln, who introduced the bill. “I can’t believe that we as a society think this is OK.”
Abortion rights proponents pledged to fight the bill in the conservative, unicameral Legislature.
Another proposal would give voters the opportunity to eliminate the state income tax in the 2020 general election. The proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Tom Brewer, of Gordon, would phase out the tax over four years.
Still another bill would impose a sales tax on bottled water, candy and soft drinks and funnel the extra revenue into a state cash fund for health care services. Sen. John McCollister, of Omaha, said he introduced it to generate new revenue and help address the growing impact of junk food on public health.
One bill would require school bus drivers to report motorists who illegally pass them while the bus’s stop sign is extended, and law enforcement would have to investigate. And Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer introduced a constitutional amendment that would increase the number of state senators to 55 from the current 49, so that legislators would have fewer constituents in their districts.
Lawmakers are also working on a bill that seeks to lower property taxes for farmers and homeowners by reducing the percentage of land value that school districts can tax. Sen. Curt Friesen, a Henderson farmer, said the bill isn’t perfect but represents “a good start” to help farmers whose tax bills have risen sharply over the last decade.
“I feel pretty confident that we will get something done,” said Friesen, who serves on the tax-focused Revenue Committee.
The first proposals slated for debate include a tax exemption for military retirees and a bill that would allow teachers to physically restrain violent students in classrooms. Gov. Pete Ricketts is expected to deliver his annual State of the State message and present his proposed budget to lawmakers on Jan. 15.
After several recent years of tight budgets, lawmakers will have an estimated $126.3 million in excess revenue at their disposal for the current two-year budget cycle. Lawmakers will also have to make adjustments to the state budget to account for new requests for money.