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Bill allowing cities to create broadband networks assigned to wrong committee, senator says

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For the second straight year, Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne accused the Legislature’s Referencing Committee of assigning a bill he introduced to a committee where it doesn’t stand a chance of getting out onto the floor.

On Wednesday, Wayne asked lawmakers to reassign the Rural Municipal Broadband Access Act (LB916) from the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee to the Urban Affairs Committee, which he chairs.

The bill would allow municipalities to provide broadband or internet services on a retail or wholesale basis to unserved or underserved areas inside their jurisdictions after conducting a feasibility study – essentially allowing certain cities and towns to offer broadband as a utility.

Wayne argued the legislation altered the powers granted to municipalities by the Legislature, which are typically heard by the Urban Affairs Committee despite the subject matter.

Bills related to tax increment financing works or the use of a sales tax levied for economic development – both issues dealing with revenue – have historically been referred to Urban Affairs and not the Revenue Committee, Wayne said.

Instead, LB916 was referenced to the committee responsible for hearing other legislation related to broadband expansion in Nebraska.

“I believe they clearly got it wrong,” Wayne told the Legislature on Thursday. “Cities do not have power unless it is statutorily given to them. Every bill that deals with the powers granted by us to a city goes to Urban Affairs.”

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said the bill was better suited to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee he chairs, where lawmakers have become increasingly focused on legislation dealing with the expansion of high-speed internet.

“It’s important we have continuity in how we fund broadband expansion throughout the state,” Friesen said.

And Sen. Dan Hughes, chair of the Executive Board and a member of the Referencing Committee, defended the process, saying senators consider the bill’s subject matter as well as a recommendation from the office responsible for writing the bill before deciding where to assign it.

In this instance, the Referencing Committee decided 9-0 to send Wayne’s bill to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, Hughes said.

“Every single member of the Referencing Committee agreed LB916 should be sent to (Transportation and Telecommunications) because the overarching issue was broadband,” he said.

Wayne said he believed his bill would be “killed” by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Last year, a similar bill (LB656) lifting the state’s ban on municipalities providing broadband service was not sent to the floor.

The Omaha lawmaker later tried to amend a watered-down version of that legislation onto Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act (LB388), which provides $20 million in state funds to the Public Service Commission for grants to expand broadband internet throughout the state.

The amendment failed on a 20-24 vote, with senators from both urban and rural areas supporting it. The Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act later passed on final reading with the support of every state senator.

On Thursday, Omaha Sen. Rich Pahls, who previously served on the Referencing Committee when he was last in the Legislature, said the committee sometimes assigns certain bills to committees where they know the bill doesn’t have a chance of making it onto the floor.

“Sometimes bills get nowhere because it’s where we place them,” he said. “Think about that.”

Wayne’s attempt to move LB916 to the Urban Affairs Committee failed, receiving just 13 votes. No hearing date for the bill has been set.

Other legislation introduced Thursday, the final day of the Legislature’s work week, include:

PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS: A bill (LB1016) from Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz would allow for public and private entities to partner on highway projects.

MASCOTS: Schools that discontinue the use of Native mascots, names and symbols would eligible to receive a grant of up to $200,000 under a proposal (LB1027) from Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt.

RENTAL FEES: Landlords would be prohibited from charging renters a fee for ordinary wear and tear of a rental property resulting from age or deterioration, under a bill (LB1038) from Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen.

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

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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