Sen. Paul Schumacher's imaginative proposal to encourage and enable formation of a "New City" in western Nebraska empowered by a legislative grant of sovereignty ran aground Wednesday in the Legislature.
Schumacher's motion to advance his proposal (LR269CA), and see if that act alone might attract some attention and instructive or encouraging feedback, came up six votes short and failed on a 19-19 vote.
The idea to seek a vote by Nebraskans on a proposed constitutional amendment to grant sovereignty to developers within a 36-square-mile area for a period not exceeding 99 years was in the end a bridge too far for a majority of senators to cross.
Schumacher had in mind an ideal site situated near Lake McConaughy and Ogallala.
It's an opportunity to "attract something that otherwise would never be," Schumacher said, a chance for "economic development on steroids" in a state where most of the growth is now centered in Omaha and Lincoln.
"I envision an area with tremendous potential," the Columbus senator said, a site located near highway and rail transportation facilities and electric power transmission lines already in place.
The grant of sovereignty could attract a huge global or national enterprise that could develop and grow without an overlap of government restrictions, Schumacher said.
However, if voters approved the proposed constitutional amendment, a future Legislature could establish parameters for the sovereign grant, including the required investment measured in billions of dollars.
Although most of the ensuing debate revolved around the need for Nebraska to "think big" and be willing to "think outside the box," questions were raised about school requirements, law enforcement and other concerns if the state granted sovereignty to developers.
"The Legislature can impose rules as part of the grant," Schumacher said.
When he first looked at the proposal, Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said, "I thought it was the craziest thing I'd ever seen," but then he began to become more comfortable with the idea of seeing "what free enterprise can do when it's unshackled."
"It's an idea that inspires the imagination," Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete said. "The idea of starting with a blank slate is exciting."
After considering the proposal, Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said, he decided "why not?"
Schumacher, who is completing his eighth and final year in the Legislature, said the idea was "compelled by the uninspiring prospects of a sparsely populated, culturally restricted, inland state largely dependent on a very rudimentary economy" in his statement of intent accompanying the bill.
"It's the freedom that has the great value," he said. "Imagination has great value."
"Let this grow a bit more," he urged before the vote.
In the end, senators scattered into unusually diverse and independent camps not defined by the usual rural or urban, conservative or moderate divisions.