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Gov. Ricketts vetoes OPS pension bill and expanded food, heating aid for Nebraskans

Gov. Ricketts vetoes OPS pension bill and expanded food, heating aid for Nebraskans

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Governor's press conference

Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks during the last COVID-19 update at the Capitol.

Gov. Pete Ricketts took his veto pen Monday to a bill that would transfer management of the troubled Omaha Public Schools retirement plan to the state.

He also vetoed a pair of bills that would help more Nebraskans qualify for food aid and heating assistance.

Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, who chairs the Legislature's Retirement Systems Committee, said the Governor's Office notified him about the veto of LB147, the OPS bill. He called the governor's action "kind of disappointing" and vowed to attempt a veto override when lawmakers reconvene Wednesday.

"Oh, heavens, yes," he said, noting that 38 senators voted for the bill on final passage. "I'm optimistic. It's the right thing to do for Omaha Public Schools." 

It takes 30 votes to override a gubernatorial veto. 

Ricketts' office is expected to issue a veto statement on the bill Tuesday. In one of his weekly columns this year, he called it the “Bailouts for Omaha Public School Pensions” bill. He later said he believes that the bill creates a "slippery slope" under which the state would end up taking on the fund's almost $1 billion shortfall.

“We should not be exposing the state’s taxpayers for the mistakes that were made by the folks that were managing that fund for the OPS teachers," he said.

In 2016, Ricketts signed a bill shifting investment responsibility for the plan to the state. Kolterman’s bill would shift the remaining responsibilities, such as sending out monthly retirement checks.

OPS is the only school district in Nebraska, and one of only a handful nationally, that operates its own employee pension fund. An Omaha World-Herald investigation two years ago traced the shortfall largely to mismanagement and investment blunders by the fund’s district-appointed trustees.

Sponsors of two other measures also got word Monday that their priority bills were being vetoed.

The other was LB306, passed on a 38-6 vote, which would provide federally funded heating assistance to more Nebraskans. The bill would increase the income limit from 130% of the federal poverty level to 150%. It would also require that a larger share of the federal grant be used to help weatherize homes of low-income Nebraskans.

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, who introduced LB108, and Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, who introduced LB306, said they plan to pursue veto overrides.

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