LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — It's a new session for the Nebraska unicameral and they’ll have plenty to debate over.
Over 100 bills and resolutions were introduced on Wednesday morning for the 60-day session, with hundreds more that are likely to come in over the next week.
It could be said that Wednesday was the calm before the storm. Senators caught up and were filled with the possibility of accomplishing something big.
“I’m more optimistic than I ever have been,” said Sen. Brett Lindstrom.
While clearly there are plenty of happy faces now, dozens of polarizing bills were introduced Wednesday that will likely split the body and encourage spirited debate.
Some of the bills introduced include a right to carry a concealed weapon without a background check, making marriage licenses LGBTQIA+ friendly, retention payments to Nebraska teachers and bills seeking property tax relief.
Another bill bans the Nebraska State Board of Education from creating health standards.
And two abortion bills, representing both sides of the issue. One bill proposes to take away a ban on insurance covering abortions, and another bans abortion after a heartbeat is detected.
"Right to Life … that will be an emotional issue,” said Sen. Rich Pahls.
The Unicameral will also discuss how to spend $1 billion of federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Ideas thrown out there include money for rural broadband, cancer research and roads. Sen. John Cavanaugh wants to spend the cash on affordable housing and childcare.
“Investing in housing for childcare for everyone gets more people to work, makes our economy more productive, and generally is better for kids,” said Cavanaugh.
Sen. Pahls is interested in investing in north Omaha revitalization.
“This is an opportunity for us to do something significant for a particular section for the state of Nebraska, that could help turn that area around,” said Pahls.
As for Sen. Lindstrom, he sees a moment for tax cuts as state revenues continue to go up. He mentioned social security taxes and income taxes as possibilities for cuts.
“It’s not going to be just a little bit here and there; it’s going to be significant,” said Lindstrom. “I don’t think we’ve ever had an opportunity to do what we’re about to do.”
Criminal justice is also expected to be a focus, debating whether Nebraska should build a new prison. The Legislature already approved millions of dollars to plan for a prison, but still have yet to approve the entire project.
Until more data concerning current facilities comes out, Sen. Cavanaugh will remain a non-supporter, but he wants sentencing reform, which he says also includes more staff in prisons and enhancing drug and alcohol treatment programs.
“We should take every opportunity to decrease the number of people that are incarcerated that don’t need to be incarcerated: finding those low level offenders, decreasing sentences for non-violent offenses, getting people into treatment programs, getting people out of custody,” said Cavanaugh.
Gov. Pete Ricketts is expected to outline his priorities on tax cuts in a news conference on Thursday.
Floor debate for various bills from the last session will begin next week.