Gov. Dave Heineman said Monday he’s likely to appoint someone as Nebraska’s lieutenant governor who will not run for governor next year. Meanwhile, an influential business group said it will oppose the governor’s proposal to abolish income taxes.
The governor’s comments came two days after Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy resigned amid controversy over his relations with several women.
Heineman had said he would begin the process of selecting a replacement on Monday. He said the state constitution prohibits appointing a state senator while the Legislature is in session. The session continues until June, and Heineman said he expects to appoint a replacement in the next several weeks.
Heineman also indicate he’s inclined to appoint someone without immediate political plans for the position. "Given the circumstances and where we’re at in the election cycle, I’m looking for someone who’ll make a commitment not to run for governor in 2014," he said. "I’m not trying to give anyone an advantage over another. I think the primary on both sides will be very competitive, and that will be good news for the people of Nebraska, and let them make the choice."
Heineman, who can’t run again for governor due to term limits, had endorsed Sheehy as his successor before he resigned. But he said endorsing a sitting lieutenant governor was different from appointing someone who would run. He also repeated he thinks public officials are held to what he called "a higher standard." Asked what that higher standard is, the governor said "People expect, when we’re serving in these positions, we shouldn’t misuse public resources – whether that’s a cellphone or a computer or anything else in the office."
"If this had occurred in the private sector, it probably wouldn’t have been the front story in all of your media outlets. (But) that’s the way it is," Heineman said.
Sheehy reportedly made thousands of calls to the women on his state-issued cell phone. Officials have said there were no per-minute charges, so the calls did not cost the state any extra money.
State law allows employees to use cell phones for calls to teachers, doctors, day care centers, family members, and other "essential personal business," although it says such calls should be kept to a minimum and not interfere with the conduct of state business.
Heineman has said it’s highly unlikely charges would be filed against Sheehy, but that such a decision would be up to Attorney General Jon Bruning. Bruning could not immediately be reached for comment. Accountability and Disclosure Commission Executive Director Frank Daley said another law also provides for a civil penalty of up to $2,000 if someone is found to have violated state law or policy on phone use. Daley declined to comment on Sheehy’s circumstances.
On another matter, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Monday it will oppose the governor’s proposal to abolish individual and corporate income taxes by doing away with many sales tax exemptions. State Chamber President Barry Kennedy said the group has a wide range of concerns, including the loss of tax exemptions for manufacturing.
Manufacturers across the state are very concerned about additional taxes on components and ingredients into their processes as well as a tax on energy that they use, which is rather significant in manufacturing, and also (on) machinery and equipment.
Asked about opposition from manufacturers over the weekend, Heineman responded with a question. "I understand manufacturers don’t want to lose their exemptions. That’s what the conversation is all about. But on the other hand, I think legitimately we have to ask the question, ‘Why is it a manufacturer gets that exemption, and if you’re in construction, homebuilding, real estate, technology, transportation and financial services and a host of other industries, you don’t?’ he said.
In the Legislature Monday, senators gave first round approval to a bill that would give Nebraskans denied coverage of medical procedures by insurance companies a right to an independent review. Such reviews are required under the federal Affordable Care Act, and if the state does not provide for them, the federal government could.
Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor said the reviews are important. "Under current Nebraska law, consumers with serious medical conditions are sometimes denied access to promising treatment regimens when the insurer deems treatment experimental and investigative. Treatment may also be denied because the insurer determines it is not medically necessary, or not provided in the proper setting," Gloor said. His bill, LB147, would allow people with insurances to have these denials reviewed by an independent third-party reviewer.
Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop applauded the idea of an independent review. But he said it was important how the requirement is worded. "If that independent reviewing agency gives deference to the insurance company, it’s probably not that strong. It might even be worthless," Lathrop said.
Lathrop promised to go over the wording with Gloor before the proposal comes up for a second round of debate. In the meantime, senators gave the bill first round approval on a vote of 37-0.
Editor’s note: The Legislature’s Revenue Committee will hold a hearing on the governor’s proposal Wednesday at 1:30 that will be televised live on NET2 and streamed on our website, netnebraska.org/capitol.