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Lawmaker moves to shield NPPD from public-records searches after Supreme Court ruling

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Days after the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed a decision allowing the Nebraska Public Power District to withhold proprietary records from the public, a state lawmaker introduced a measure restoring the exemption on that information under state law.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango on Wednesday introduced an amendment to a committee bill allowing NPPD and other public power providers from being required to disclose information that could place them at a competitive disadvantage with private companies.

Last week, the state's high court reversed a ruling by a Platte County district judge with instructions that NPPD turn over documents detailing expenses, revenues, six-year rate outlooks and the “annual generation output and revenue” for its power generation centers.

The 2016 request by Aksamit Resource Management LLC and First Security Power LLC was blocked by Judge Robert Steinke, who said that if released, the documents would give NPPD's business competitors an advantage and serve no public purpose.

In a close read of state statute, Justice William Cassel said the information sought by Gary Aksamit, the head of both companies, would be in the public interest, even if that information was released to a competitor.

“The words chosen by the Legislature dictate that answer must be ‘Yes,’” Cassel wrote, while noting the ruling appeared “absurd” on its face.

Hughes, the chairman of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, which conducts oversight of the state’s public power entities, said Wednesday: “All the power providers in the state have concerns with that ruling.”

His amendment to a shell bill still in committee would provide broad exemption to the state’s public power entities from the Nebraska Public Records Statutes.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the public power industry shall not be required to disclose proprietary or commercial information which, if released, would give advantage to business competitors,” the amendment states.

The Natural Resources Committee will consider the amendment at a March 7 hearing.

If adopted by the committee with the emergency clause intact, the bill would need to muster 33 votes on final reading by the Legislature to pass. Once signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, it would then immediately become law.

The Legislature could remove the emergency clause to approve the new public-records exemption with only a simple majority of 25 votes, however.

Hughes said the expediency was needed by NPPD and other public power providers in the state.

“Nebraska is a public power state, yet it competes in the private sector,” he added. “Having to open up the records, because it is a public body, gives an unfair advantage to the competition.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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