Morfeld

State senator Adam Morfeld (left) introduced a bill Tuesday to explore a commuter rail that would link Lincoln and Omaha.

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Thousands of motorists travel on Interstate 80 every day, driving east from their homes in Lincoln to a job in Omaha or west from Omaha to school in Lincoln.

A bill (LB979) introduced in the Legislature on Tuesday would explore adding a new option for commuters: high-speed rail.

Sen. Adam Morfeld’s proposal would pay for the Nebraska Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study of adding a commuter rail between the state’s two largest cities, including economic impact and a projected cost.

Adam Morfeld

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln 

“I just think this is going to have a huge economic impact on both communities,” Morfeld said, “and it’s also going to increase the competitive nature of Lincoln and Omaha, particularly when employers are looking at moving jobs here.”

The Lincoln senator said his own experience as executive director of Civic Nebraska has demonstrated the need is there. Many in his staff of 128 make the daily hourlong drive between Lincoln and Omaha and the distance can serve as a barrier to recruiting.

The dream of a commuter rail zipping between the metropolitan areas is nothing new.

In 1999, the Legislature created the Nebraska Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, and then-Gov. Mike Johanns appointed 11 members to study the possibilities.

Four years later, and with the help of two consultants and $200,000 in federal grant funding, the NTRAC pegged the cost to complete a commuter rail system at nearly $84 million, and estimated the system could serve as many as 345,000 annual riders by 2030.

The plan, which also explored the possibility for railways connecting Omaha to Fremont and Blair, is still available on the NDOT website, never came to fruition, however. As the state’s population has shifted eastward, I-80 has also been expanded to accommodate more cars making the daily trip.

Morfeld said his bill would authorize the department to complete a feasibility study by Dec. 1.

Among other bills introduced Tuesday:

Reimbursement for inmates: Counties would be reimbursed by the state if they hold inmates who, while in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services, commit a crime or escape and are later apprehended, under a bill (LB978) from Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil.

Change in procurement: Constitutional officers or their designees would be required to follow Nebraska’s competitive-bidding laws, under a bill (LB981) by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt.

Ban on name-dropping: Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen wants to ban (LB982) the names of Nebraska’s governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general or state auditor from being featured in print, radio or television ads paid for by state funds.

Criminal records off-limits: Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks sponsored a measure (LB986) banning the state’s colleges and universities from asking applicants about their criminal history or juvenile court record, unless in line with specific federal or state laws.

Tax on escort services: Pansing Brooks also introduced a bill (LB987) to impose a sales tax on dating and escort services, with the funds raised being directed into the Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Fund.

Sales tax on digital ads: Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne introduced a bill (LB989) to raise a sales tax on digital advertisements, including those promoting a particular good, service, political candidate or message.

Games of skill: Wayne also sponsored a bill (LB990) classifying sports betting and fantasy sports leagues as games of skill rather than games of chance, and would require players to register with the state and pay a tax.

Sexual assault of a student: Teachers, coaches or other school personnel or volunteers who engage in sexual relations with a student could be charged with a felony, under a bill (LB991) by Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings. Consensual relationships would not qualify as a defense, according to the proposed legislation.

Organ transplant fairness: Individuals with mental or physical disabilities would not be disqualified from obtaining an organ transplant, under a bill (LB994) from Murman.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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