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Sen. Harms discusses upcoming session
October 19, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

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State Sen. John Harms made stops around the 48th Legislative District last week to hear what was on the minds of the people. He also updated residents on some of the issues that will come before the Legislature in January.

One idea that has been thrown out by Gov. David Heineman is eliminating Nebraska’s state income tax. To pay for the loss, the governor suggested eliminating a number of exemptions from the tax code.

“We need to be particularly careful because a lot of the exemptions are in agriculture for things like machinery and fertilizer,” Harms said during a stop in Gering. “Right now, agriculture is in pretty good shape, but that won’t always be the case. Farmers usually carry a lot of debt and if commodity prices go back down again, they’ll begin to struggle. Without those exemptions, they’ll have to pay even more.”

Harms said the last legislative session was loaded with controversy that should continue into next year. One of them is the unintended consequences of term limits.

“We’ll start to see the impact of term limits because this year we lose some outstanding people who have done great work for the state,” he said. “Seven years will be all the seniority anyone will have going forward.”

On the ballot this November is the question of whether to increase the two-term limit on state senators to three terms.
The Legislature also passed a controversial bill last session that would provide for prenatal care for undocumented aliens. The bill was vetoed by the governor, but a legislative override put it into law.

“When a mother is carrying a child, regardless of who she is, if she doesn’t have prenatal care, the child could end up costing the state even more in the future,” Harms said. “The governor said he might repeal the bill, but I won’t support that.”

Harms also discussed another unsuccessful bill – one that would require identification to vote. “I didn’t support that bill because it was poorly written,” Harms said. “It would have required people to pay for their ID. Paying to vote just isn’t right.”

The only problem the voter ID bill address was voter impersonation. But Secretary of State John Gale said that’s a non-issue. Fraud is usually committed through voting by mail, electronic voting or by intimidation.

“The voter ID bill will probably be reintroduced,” Harms said. “I think that legislation might be needed in the future. We might have problems with voter fraud in the future and we need to have the tools to fight it. But the bill has to be written in the right manner.”

Harms also admitted the Nebraska Health and Human Services privatizing child welfare services was one of the biggest mistakes the state has made.

“We spend millions and millions of your tax dollars for a program that did not work or function,” he said. “Last year, the Legislature introduced legislation to remedy that. We’re now moving forward in a much better environment for our children and our communities. Because rural Nebraska is so spread out, we learned that privatization just doesn’t work here.”
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