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Senator gives new life to Sandhills eminent domain bill

A Sandhills-related eminent domain bill that didn’t get quite enough of the needed votes in February to move on in legislative debate has gotten an unexpected second wind.

The bill (LB155), introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, would take away the ability for a private enterprise to piggyback on a government right to eminent domain.

Tuesday was the deadline for naming priority bills, and Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood was still searching for one after he found out the two he had in mind would probably not be coming out of committee.

He had strongly supported LB155 and knew it had been just two votes shy of advancing, he said, and that Brewer was disappointed when the bill failed. He believes two more senators can be convinced to vote for it.

“Eminent domain for a private purpose was something I did not believe should be in law, especially if it’s going to be a particular industry benefiting from it,” he said. “I think it’s worth discussing again.”

While it would apply throughout Nebraska, the bill especially had been sought by residents of the Sandhills, some of whom said a neighbor should not be forced to allow a feeder power line to pass through their land to reach a bigger transmission line, such as the Nebraska Public Power District’s R Project.

Brewer’s priority bill went down on first-round debate on a 23-8 vote, needing 25 votes to advance, with 14 senators present, not voting. Brewer thought he had more votes than needed, so he was especially unhappy, he said, with the 14 senators who didn’t vote.

Speaker Jim Scheer confirmed that if a bill is voted down in the first round of debate, it can come back, with three chances to be advanced to second round. If not designated a priority bill, it would have gone to the bottom of the agenda. Now it will get higher placement.

Of the eight senators who voted against the bill’s advancement, Omaha Sen. John McCollister was the most vocal. He said Tuesday he would oppose it again.

The first time around, opponents didn’t attempt to filibuster it, he said. It failed on its own. He will wait to see how the bill comes back to the floor before developing a plan on this second attempt, he said.

Brewer said that next to property taxes, there’s nothing more important to the people in his district than the ongoing adverse effects they say industrial wind energy is having in their area. At least 40 of his constituents came to the Capitol for that first debate.

Twyla Witt of Thedford, who was at the Capitol in February to watch and lobby, said she was thrilled the bill was coming back.

“I think there’s good hope for the whole thing,” she said. “I frankly believe this is a bill that’s not just good for the Sandhills people. I believe this is an incredibly good bill for all of Nebraska.”