The Legislature's Executive Board on Tuesday advanced a bill calling on the University of Nebraska to develop a plan to mitigate the effects of climate change in the state.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks' proposal (LB283) lay dormant for more than a year — it was the focus of a Feb. 11, 2019, hearing — before the Executive Board advanced an amended version for debate by the full body.
Under the amended version, the university would be given $250,000 in cash funds paid by petroleum companies to "develop an evidence-based, data-driven, strategic action plan" establishing a baseline measurement of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
The report would also assess the vulnerabilities climate change presents to Nebraska's agriculture, water resources, health care, energy generation, transportation and industry and provide recommendations for new policies to address the issue at the state level.
In the year since the bill's hearing, Nebraska experienced its costliest and most widespread natural disaster when an intense storm system dumped snow and rain on frozen ground and existing snowpack.
The flooding ravaged a large swath of the eastern portion of the state, and a majority of Nebraska's counties received a federal disaster declaration.
During an executive session Tuesday, Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward said he was initially opposed to Pansing Brooks' bill, but after spending time with supporters and studying what other states had done to create plans for mitigating climate change, he "became an advocate."
He joined six senators on the nine-member board who supported the amended version, which would pull from the Petroleum Release Remedial Action Collection Fund to pay for the report instead of the Waste Reduction and Recycling Incentive fund.
The petroleum release fund holds about $5 million and is maintained by fees paid by gas companies who have leaking tanks, Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas said.
Voting to advance LB283 were Vargas, Kolterman, Lincoln Sens. Mike Hilgers and Kate Bolz and Omaha Sens. Ernie Chambers and John McCollister.
Sens. Dan Hughes of Venango and John Lowe of Kearney opposed both the amendment and advancing the bill to the floor. Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk was absent when the vote was taken.
No debate has been scheduled, but its movement marks progress for Pansing Brooks. The Executive Board failed to advance a similar bill in 2017 on a 4-4 vote.
Extending term limits
The Executive Board later heard a proposal (LR280CA) from Sen. Justin Wayne to change the state constitution and allow senators to serve a third term.
Wayne said the proposed change would strengthen the institutional knowledge in the Capitol and result in better conversations around big issues such as education, tax policy and tax incentives that can be overwhelming for new senators.
The Omaha senator, now in the final year of his first term, said he was also open to changing the resolution to ask voters to approve three 4-year terms or two 6-year terms, saying he believed 12 years was an appropriate length of time for senators to serve.
Kristin Gottschalk, appearing on behalf of the Nebraska Rural Electric Association, testified in support of the bill, saying the association found the proposal "reasonable and appropriate" in how it would improve institutional knowledge.
50 senators proposed
Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson also asked the Legislature to consider his bill (LB1035) adding another senator and bringing the body to the maximum 50 allowed under state law.
The new senator and legislative district would be added in 2023, under Friesen's proposal, at which point it would cost the state an additional $166,740 annually.
Friesen said with rural areas expected to lose one or two seats to urban areas when the state redraws political boundaries next year, adding an additional senator could maintain one of those representatives in rural Nebraska.
The Legislature has had 49 members for more than a half-century.
A proposal (LR279CA) from Scheer earlier this year to ask voters to give the Legislature authority to expand to 55 senators stalled during first-round consideration on the floor.
Update Feb. 19, 2020: There is $5 million in the state's petroleum cash fund, not $15 million.