Status: Nebraska wind energy legislation

Source: By DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star • Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday vetoed redistricting reform legislation designed to distance state senators from the politically volatile process of drawing new congressional and legislative districts following each U.S. census.

His veto sets the stage for a day of confrontation in the Legislature on Wednesday, its 60th and final day in session this year.

Already on the agenda is a motion to override the governor’s veto of a bill (LB947) to allow young undocumented immigrants who have been granted lawful presence in the United States to acquire professional and commercial licenses to work in Nebraska.

In advance of that battle, the Lincoln, Greater Omaha and Nebraska chambers of commerce urged state senators to override Ricketts’ veto, arguing that the bill “makes economic sense … at a time when Nebraska is working hard to attract more skilled, educated workers.”

“Giving people who have been educated in our state and who have earned advanced degrees and certificates the ability to work is in the long-term interest of Nebraska’s economy and communities,” the chambers said in a joint statement.

The 28,000-member Nebraska State Education Association also encouraged senators to override the veto, suggesting that “our state’s future is brighter when we allow hard-working young people to follow their career dreams and practice their chosen professions right here in our state.”

In announcing Monday’s veto of the redistricting reform bill (LB580), the governor said a proposed new citizens commission would be “highly likely to be (composed of) party insiders who know how to draw districts to favor their friends and political allies,” opening the process to “political cronyism.”

The commission would be composed of five members of the party that won the most recent gubernatorial election and four members of the other party.

Redistricting plans recommended by the commission would be aired at public hearings throughout the state before being submitted to the Legislature for its approval or disapproval.

In his veto message to the Legislature, Ricketts argued that the bill “violates several provisions of Nebraska’s Constitution.”

Supporters of the measure — a product of several years of cooperative negotiation by Sen. John Murante of Gretna, a Republican, and Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, a Democrat — have said the proposal actually would distance redistricting from elected officeholders, political parties and partisan influence.

In 2011, following the most recent U.S. census, Republican Gov. Dave Heineman was actively engaged in the process of drawing new congressional districts to benefit his party, several senators said during debate on the bill.

And senators themselves were often seeking political advantage in drawing maps defining their own legislative districts five years ago, supporters of the bill said.

The bill cleared its final test on a 29-15 vote; 30 votes would be required to override the governor’s veto.

Murante said he is “evaluating the governor’s veto message and will determine the proper course of action shortly.”

Meanwhile, the governor asked Nebraskans to urge their state senators to uphold his veto of the immigrant workers bill during his monthly radio call-in show.

Ricketts told one caller he has been “talking to a lot of senators (about) Sen. Mello’s amnesty bill.”

Mello is the sponsor of LB947, which applies to so-called DACA youth who were granted lawful presence by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action taken by President Barack Obama.

Most of the DACA youth were brought to the United States by their parents illegally when they were young children and most of those affected by the bill grew up in Nebraska and went to school here.

Ricketts also vetoed some funding Monday for a pair of bills addressing state Department of Correctional Services rulemaking (LB867A) and the proposed new statewide 911 system (LB938A), arguing there were some incorrect figures.

And the governor raised the prospect of another potential veto during his radio show.

Ricketts said he is taking “a good strong look” at a bill (LB824) that would remove some regulatory barriers to development of wind energy in Nebraska.

“I’ve not decided on that bill,” the governor said.