Roads bill and budget passed

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May 10, 2011 - 7:00pm

The Legislature gave final approval to a roads construction bill that Gov. Dave Heineman has criticized, which gives him five days to decide whether or not to veto it.
It was a day of final action on a number of legislative bills. In the morning, senators gave final approval to the budget for the next two years.
The budget cuts aid to schools, local governments and Medicaid providers, among others, and dips deeply into the state's cash reserve to close what had been projected to be a nearly one billion dollar gap.
In the afternoon, lawmakers took final action on one of the most significant bills this session, to set aside more money for road construction in the future. Discussion of the bill, which drew much debate earlier, was limited to the ritualistic, fast-paced final reading by Clerk of the Legislature Patrick O'Donnell.
The bill sets aside a quarter cent of the existing state sales tax for road construction, -- between 60 and 65 million dollars a year -- starting in two years.
Critics, including Gov. Dave Heineman, have said that could take money away from other future needs, including schools and health spending.
The bill passed with 33 votes, three more than would be required to override a veto.
Following the vote, Sen. Deb Fischer, chief sponsor of the bill, said she has no idea what the governor intends. Gubernatorial spokeswoman Jen Rae Hein said the governor has until Tuesday to decide what to do with the bill.

The governor did sign another piece of legislation dealing with truancy. Sponsored by Omaha Senator Brad Ashford, it requires superintendents in the Omaha-area learning community school districts to develop plans to reduce excessive absenteeism. That's defined as more than 5 unexcused days per quarter, or 20 days a year.
Heineman said he thinks the bill strikes a proper balance between avoiding heavy-handed government and promoting school attendance.
"When a person misses for excused absences, hopefully that will be taken into account by the superintendent and the school board, working with the county attorney and how they move forward," Heineman said. But also when you miss more than 20 days, there does need to be a review - why is that occurring? I was commenting to Sen. Ashford and it's probably true of him - I don't remember missing 20 days in four years of high school."
On another subject, an attempt to override the governor's veto of a bill to promote energy improvements in schools fell short.
The bill by Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm would have added energy improvements to the list of activities that school boards could use bond issues for without a vote of the people. Heineman objected to that, while Haar maintained it would save money in the long run.
Haar's motion to override attracted 24 votes, six short of the number needed.
And late Wednesday, the governor vetoed an increase in state park admission fees. The increase would raise the annual fee for state residents from $20 to $25, and daily fees from $4 to $5. In his veto message, Heineman said that with higher fuel prices, Nebraskans are staying closer to home, and higher fees would discourage them from visiting parks. Sen. Dave Pankonin of Louisville said that was a reason to raise extra revenue to keep parks well-maintained. Pankonin said he would attempt to override the governor's veto.

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