I would like to begin this week's column by throwing a few numbers at you. Here in the Legislature we always worry about the number of bills that will be introduced, especially in the short session. This year we had 446 bills introduced. Sounds like quite a few, and it is when we combine them with what we had left over from last year's session. Looking back (remember we operate on two-year cycles) in 2014 we had 460 bills introduced during the short session and 468 bills brought forward in 2012. Surprisingly, the number, though minimal, is creeping downward. Why do I care? I care because in our system of government here at the state, we agree to hear all bills in public hearings that are offered. Other states do not offer their citizens and constituents this courtesy. Obviously, the more bills brought forward, the less time we have for each one.
The speaker of the Legislature, aware of the number of bills waiting to be heard from last year, initiated new procedures this year that probably are long overdue. The first full week of this session, we began all-day debate before we finished new bill introduction and began public hearings. In years past, we would lose valuable time by standing at ease for several days as the process began. This year, we began to hear priority bills not heard at least for the first time last year. These four bills took most of the week, but at least we honored the status of these bills from last year. The process continued this past week on previous priority bills that had advanced to the second, or select file, round of debate. These bills also had priority status from last year. You can begin to see the value the speaker was placing on priority bills and he told us this. He pledged to hear all priority bills so designated this year. Anything else was tentative at best.
Taking the hint, I prioritized LB136 for this year. This is a bill I introduced last year that would ban the sale, possession and use of flying lanterns. You have seen these devices around the Fourth of July and possibly at other celebrations. These small balloons are lit and the fire created inflates an attached paper bag with hot air. The user then releases this "flaming bag of fire" to drift wherever the wind takes it, often up to a mile away or farther. This bill has been introduced before but for various reasons it hasn't passed. Since I introduced it last year several communities have banned the use. Omaha, Lincoln, Ashland, Bellevue, North Platte and others are just a few of the towns and cities now enforcing the ban. Over 25 states have also banned this product and others are considering it. We have records of incidents that have resulted in major damage to homes, businesses, outbuildings and other property damage around the state just in the last couple of years. I have also heard from a major ethanol producer that told me he watched as one of these lanterns flew directly over one of his open storage tanks. He told us the result could have been catastrophic if this burning lantern would have landed in the tank.
I'll admit, these devices are pretty and cause you to stare as they float by. I also have been told passage of this bill is a no-brainer. It received unanimous approval on general file and I intend to attach the emergency clause to the measure. I have received great support from many people and organizations, most notably the Nebraska Volunteer Firefighters Association and several full-time municipal departments.
This bill is all about safety. This bill is about common sense. I anticipate this bill's passage.