- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers finished their 2016 session on Wednesday with a long list of accomplishments, despite a record-high 24 filibusters that brought the Legislature to a standstill.

Senators adjourned for the year having passed a new state budget, an extra $20 million for property tax credits and a plan to jump-start construction on highway projects.

Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley of Kearney said lawmakers passed 216 bills and another 66 through amendments. Among the new laws is a $20 million boost in property tax credits, prison reforms and a measure to speed up work on long-delayed highway construction projects. Lawmakers also voted to end a controversial common tax levy for 11 school districts in and around Omaha.

They used a record number of filibusters to block bills during the 60-day session, including a new Medicaid expansion proposal and an effort to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system of awarding its Electoral College votes for president.

Hadley urged senators to look carefully at the filibusters that blocked numerous bills, including some that weren’t controversial, and consumed a large chunk of the session. Lawmakers initiated a record-high 24 filibusters this year, compared to 13 the prior year, nine in 2014 and six in 2013.

“We are changing, and this is something you’re going to have to work and decide whether you want to continue it or how you want to continue it,” Hadley told his colleagues.

Gov. Pete Ricketts applauded the Legislature for passing versions of the tax relief and infrastructure proposals he had indicated were his priorities for the session.

“I think the session has been very successful,” Ricketts said. “If you look back to how we controlled spending on the budget, how we delivered property tax relief and how we accelerated work on our infrastructure. These are huge wins.”

Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, chairman of the Revenue Committee, said lawmakers tried to balance many competing interests to pass the property tax package. Committee members weeded through more than 50 tax-related proposals this year before arriving at the final proposal.

But Gloor said the session was unusually contentious because of the filibusters.

“It really got to be a drag,” said Gloor, who leaves office in January because of term limits. “It was frustrating at times, especially knowing there were good bills waiting in the wings.”

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said he appreciated the gridlock because it allowed him and other conservative senators to block bills they did not agree with, including a medical marijuana program and a bill to remove the restriction on food stamps for drug felons.

“Some call it filibusters, I call it debate,” Groene said. “Major changes were going to be made to Nebraska laws and freedoms.”

Lawmakers voted to override Ricketts veto of a bill that would allow immigrants with temporary legal status to work in more than 170 professions, including jobs as teachers, nurses and doctors.

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said the override caps of a number of strides the Legislature has made in human liberties in the last two years, including limiting the number of juvenile offenders placed in detention facilities and abolishing the death penalty last year.

The session was also the last for 11 of the Legislature’s 49 senators, who are leaving office because of term limits. Nebraska senators are limited to two four-year terms. Krist said he and older senators are working to educate younger senators with institutional knowledge they have gathered.

“We’re going to miss some very talented folks, shoes that’ll be tough to fill. But we’ll get it done,” he said. “In a term limited environment we have to rely on that mentorship.”

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