Welcome

January 7th, 2015

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 1st legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Dan Watermeier

Legislative Update

February 27th, 2015

The Legislative Performance Audit Act was established in statute by LB 607 in 2003. It replaced the Legislative Program Evaluation Act. A performance audit is an objective and systematic examination of evidence for the purpose of providing an independent assessment of the performance of a government program. These audits assess how well a state program is functioning and provide answers to the following questions. Is the program doing what the Legislature intended it to do? Is the agency administering the program meeting statutory and regulatory requirements? Is the agency running the program effectively and efficiently?

The purpose of the Act is to provide for a system of performance audits to be conducted by the Legislative Audit Office, under the direction of the Legislative Auditor. The Legislative Performance Audit Committee is responsible for overseeing the state’s performance audit process. The committee is made up of seven senators. In January, I was selected to serve as chair of the committee.

This year, the committee adopted three new areas to work on. The first concerns issues relating to the current functioning of the behavioral health system in Nebraska. Committee members are interested in where there may be gaps in behavioral health services across the state. The second is an audit of agency regulations that may be adopted outside of the Administrative Procedure Act, which means the public and other stakeholders do not have the opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations. The final area is the utilization of the long-term care insurance and tax credit to find out if these tools are increasing the number of people who set money aside for long-term care.

The Performance Audit Committee is authorized to introduce legislation. By rule, the committee is granted the authority to designate two priority bills, resulting from a performance audit or involving the performance audit process.

LB 538 was introduced by the Performance Audit Committee this year. The public hearing was held earlier this week before the Revenue Committee.

LB 538 seeks to implement the recommendations of the Tax Incentive Evaluation Committee adopted during the 2014 LR 444 interim study. The interim study was introduced in response to a 2013 performance audit that found the goals of Nebraska’s tax incentive programs were too broad to permit meaningful program evaluation. The Tax Incentive Evaluation Committee was made up of the Performance Audit Committee, as well as the chairman and vice-chairman of the Revenue Committee, and one senator appointed by the Executive Board. Evaluation experts from the Pew Charitable Trusts worked with the committee to help craft recommendations for a tax incentive performance audit process tailored to Nebraska’s needs.

LB 538 creates a process for ongoing evaluation of Nebraska’s existing and future tax incentive programs enacted for the purpose of recruitment or retention of businesses in Nebraska. The bill creates an evaluation structure that will produce information needed for lawmakers to draw clear conclusions about whether tax incentives are benefitting Nebraska’s economy and meeting program goals. LB 538 requires the Legislative Audit Office to conduct a performance audit of each tax incentive program at least every three years, to evaluate whether the goals established by the Legislature are being met.

Additionally, legislative performance auditors will analyze the economic and fiscal impacts of the tax incentive programs taking into account effects on businesses and state and local governments, economic development strategies, and the specific emphasis of individual programs.

Over the years, there has been much discussion as to whether our tax incentives serve as a good investment for our state. One of the missing factors in the discussion is a means to evaluate our tax incentives. LB 538 seeks to provide the necessary information.

If you have any questions on LB 538, the Performance Audit Committee, or on any other issues before the Legislature, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

February 20th, 2015

The issues surrounding the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services is a top priority for the Legislature this year. Nebraska’s prison system is at 159% of capacity. State law allows the governor to declare an overcrowding emergency when a prison’s population goes over 140% of capacity. This level can also be a benchmark federal judges use to order new construction. The first-phase of a Nebraska Department of Correctional Services 2014 Master Plan report called for $261 million in construction costs to renovate and expand correctional facilities.

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center came to Nebraska and worked over the interim with a group including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Their efforts focused on the development of justice reinvestment programs in an effort to avoid the need for new construction. They presented recommendations to reduce prison overcrowding and recidivism, by increasing the use of probation and drug courts for nonviolent offenders, as well as increased supervision of inmates after their release. It is estimated that their plan would cost approximately $33 million over the next several years but could avoid new construction costs.

An interim study (LR 424) was introduced during the 2014 legislative session in response to the 2013 murders committed by former inmate Nikko Jenkins. The committee was to examine the circumstances surrounding Jenkins’ incarceration and release, looking specifically at the use of segregation and the availability of mental health treatment.

The LR 424 committee’s work was broadened as it was revealed that the department had miscalculated sentences regarding mandatory minimums for hundreds of inmates and disregarded state Supreme Court rulings. Further scandals were revealed relating to a Re-entry Furlough Program, the release of prisoners before they were eligible for parole, a questionable Temporary Alternative Placement program, and the misuse of good time credits.

Multiple bills have been introduced in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding and in response to the problems that surfaced at the Department of Correctional Services. Four of them were heard before the Judiciary Committee on Friday of this past week.

LB 605 contains most of the recommendations from the CSG Justice Center. This legislation is designed to slow Nebraska’s prison population growth, ease prison overcrowding, contain corrections spending and reinvest a portion of savings into strategies that can reduce recidivism and increase public safety. The bill would ensure post-release supervision and update felony theft thresholds to reflect inflation for property crimes. LB 605 proposes to divert low-level offenders to probation rather than prison and expands access to probation’s Specialized Substance Abuse Supervision program.

LB 606 creates the position of Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System to oversee corrections. It also would require, not simply authorize, that a Governor declare a correctional system overcrowding emergency whenever the director certifies that the population is over 140% of design capacity. LB 592 seeks to improve access to mental health treatment for prisoners. LB 598 carries out a recommendation from the LR 424 committee, by requiring the department to institute a plan for the proper use of segregation.

Two bills were recently advanced from the Judiciary Committee. LB 172 would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for a list of midlevel felonies. LB 173 would restrict habitual criminal status to those who committed two prior violent felonies. Currently habitual criminal status applies to both violent and nonviolent felonies.

The focus of other bills range from requiring electronic monitoring when violent offenders are released, to increasing access for participation in rehabilitation programs, to adjusting the good time policy. Legislation has also been introduced to appropriate $261 million to build a 1,100 bed prison.

This past week, the Appropriations Committee, of which I am a member, met with the newly appointed director of the Corrections Department. Director Frakes expressed a willingness to work with the legislative branch to fix the problems in his agency. Committee members stressed the need to be upfront with the Legislature on funding needs, in order to avoid situations like what we are currently experiencing.

Along with tax relief, issues stemming from prison overcrowding are sure to occupy much of the Legislature’s time this session. If you have any comments on legislation pertaining to correctional issues or on other topics before the Legislature, I encourage you to contact me. I can be reached at dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov. My telephone number is (402) 471-2733 and my mailing address is District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509.

Legislative Update

February 13th, 2015

I introduced two bills before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee this past week. The first bill deals with unfunded mandates placed on several counties across the state. An interim study was conducted last year looking at the impact of unfunded and underfunded mandates on counties. As a result, a list of possible state action items was identified. One of the items was the basis for LB 105.

Currently, counties are financially responsible for the costs of an autopsy, grand jury payments and witness compensation when there is a death of an incarcerated person. LB 105 seeks to transfer these costs from the county to the state, if the inmate died while serving a sentence in a state correctional institution. I agreed to offer this legislation because I represent Johnson County, where Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI) is located. Since TSCI opened at the end of 2001, Johnson County has incurred more than $150,000 in expenses, consisting of grand jury fees, witness fees, coroner tests, as well as district and county court filing fees. LB 105 would help with approximately half of these expenses, which are difficult for a smaller county to handle.

The Johnson County attorney researched the deaths that have occurred since TSCI opened and none of the inmates who have died at TSCI were sentenced in Johnson County. It seems logical to require a county to pay the expenses if an inmate dies while in a sheriff’s custody, but it does not seem fair to require the county to pay for autopsies and grand jury hearings on state prisoners that die in a state facility that happens to be in a certain county.

Recent research has shown that unfunded mandates from the state account for at least 8% of local government’s budgets. LB 105 is one small step towards resolving the broader property tax problem in Nebraska.

The other bill I introduced, LB 106, creates the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act. The legislation directs the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to develop an assessment matrix, for use by county officials when determining whether to approve an application for a livestock operation siting permit. Such matrices are already being used in two counties in northeast Nebraska. The matrix would be used to evaluate operations on factors such as odor control practices, manure storage and application practices, proximity to neighboring residences, community support, and economic impact to the community. The matrix would be based on scientific information and the department would set a minimum threshold for approval.

A county may enact a requirement that in areas zoned for agricultural use, a person must obtain a permit from the county planning commission or county board for a new livestock operation or for the expansion of an existing livestock operation if over specified size thresholds contained in the legislation. The county may deny a permit if the site is not zoned for agricultural use only, if the operation will exceed the size thresholds but does not meet the minimum score required under the matrix, or if necessary to protect health, safety and welfare. If a permit is denied, the applicant may appeal the decision by requesting a review by the Livestock Operation Siting Review Board, which is created under the legislation. Such board would uphold a county decision unless the board determines the decision by the county was unreasonable, arbitrary or an abuse of discretion.

A recent report from UNL highlighted the important role that the livestock industry plays in our state’s economy. However, the industry has not grown at rates comparable to our neighboring states. The report cited numerous policies and issues that have constrained potential development, such as local permitting processes, nuisance rules and lawsuits, and concerns from interest groups.

LB 106 attempts to address the constraints and to promote the development of the livestock industry in Nebraska by providing for consistent standards, based on factual objective criteria, to be used by local governing bodies when granting permits.

If you have comments on either of these bills or other legislation before the Legislature, I encourage you to contact me. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My telephone number is (402) 471-2733 and my email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

Legislative Update

February 6th, 2015

The Platte Institute, initiated in 2008, was Nebraska’s first free market think tank. It is a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational institute. It was founded on the belief that protection of the freedoms and quality of life that Nebraskans enjoy is best served by encouraging free enterprise initiatives and promoting individual responsibility and dialogue. The institute’s staff and scholars study public policy issues and develop proposals to increase economic opportunity, while protecting the individual rights of Nebraskans.

The OpenSky Policy Institute is also deemed a non-partisan think tank, focusing on tax and budget issues. OpenSky began its work in 2011, after three years of organizational planning. OpenSky’s mission is to improve opportunities for every Nebraskan by providing impartial and precise research, analysis, education and leadership.

Both the Platte Institute and the OpenSky Policy Institute have worked on proposals for tax relief. Senator Jim Smith of Papillion introduced LB 357, on behalf of the Platte Institute. Senator Al Davis of Hyannis introduced LB 280 for OpenSky.

LB 357 proposes to invest $40 million a year over the next two years from the Cash Reserve Fund to provide immediate income tax relief to families and businesses. The proposal would gradually reform Nebraska’s income tax system with a goal of reducing the top rate to 5%, down from the current rate of 6.84%, and replacing the bottom rate of 2.46% with a 0% tax bracket. It also lowers the top corporate income tax rate from 7.81% to 5%. The proposal would freeze property tax rates while relieving local governments of unfunded state mandates. It is envisioned that income tax relief would be achieved entirely with state spending restraint, primarily by reducing the rate of growth in state spending. Since the cash reserve will be used for the first two years of the proposal, spending reductions are delayed until 2017.

The Platte Institute developed their long-term tax plan to provide more opportunities for Nebraska families and to create a business environment that is more competitive with other states. They believe that more savings for families and businesses will ultimately result in accelerated business creation, greater job growth and a vibrant, expanding state economy.

LB 280 aims to better balance the three major sources of taxes in our state – property, sales and income taxes. OpenSky recognized that the agriculture community is picking up a larger portion of funding for schools, without a corresponding growth in population or income, as agricultural income hasn’t risen as fast as land values. Their proposal would allow for the reduction of property taxes statewide, placing an emphasis on agricultural land owners.

As proposed in LB 280, agricultural land valuation would be reduced for purposes of calculating the school state aid formula from 75% to 65% of actual value. Furthermore, the bill would reduce the property tax levy cap on local school districts from $1.05 to 80.5 cents. To compensate for the lower property tax revenue, the proposal would impose a local income tax of at least 19.4% of a person’s state income tax liability. This revenue would be included as part of the resources calculation in the state aid formula, thereby assessing a community’s ability to pay. Finally, the bill establishes a foundation aid component for the state aid formula, which is a per-pupil amount that would go to every district, to guarantee a minimum level of support.

The public hearing on LB 280 and LB 357 has been scheduled for February 18 before the Revenue Committee. These are just two of the many bills that have been introduced by senators regarding tax relief. During the next several weeks, the Revenue Committee, the Education Committee, and the Appropriations Committee will be working on which proposals to advance to the floor of the Legislature. If you would like to voice your opinion on either of these two proposals or other legislation, I encourage you to contact me. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My telephone number is (402) 471-2733 and my email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

Legislative Update

January 30th, 2015

This past week, the Legislature debated whether the fees for issuing a marriage license and providing certified copies of marriage records should be increased. The marriage license fee hasn’t been increased since 1995. The proposed increase, from $15 to $50, would cover the counties’ administrative costs for issuance. Currently taxpayers are subsidizing a good portion of the cost. Amendments are pending to lower the proposed increase to $30 or $35. Under LB 88, the cost of providing a certified copy of a marriage record would increase from $5 to $16, which would align the fee charged by counties with what is charged by the Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Chief Justice Michael Heavican delivered his State of the Judiciary this past week. In his speech, he mentioned that the Judicial Branch participated in the Council of State Government’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group, along with the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch. The analysis from the CSG group found that people sentenced to probation have lower recidivism rates than people sentenced to prison and emphasized the value of increasing the use of sentencing alternatives.

Chief Justice Heavican reported on two effective sentencing alternatives available for our courts, instead of more costly incarceration sentences. Nebraska’s 16 problem-solving courts served more than 1,000 people last year, resulting in an estimated $15 million cost savings. Drug courts emphasize education and employment and results have shown that 95% of active participants are gainfully employed or attending school full-time. Furthermore, an evaluation of the drug courts portrayed that 95% of those who successfully complete the program remain crime-free one year afterwards. The second alternative is the Specialized Substance Abuse Supervision (SSAS) program, which provides an opportunity for otherwise prison-bound substance abusers to be intensively supervised by probation while receiving treatment. This program has seen 91% of participants remaining crime-free one year after being successfully discharged from the program. Additionally, an average of 94% of graduates were gainfully employed.

Several bills were heard before the Revenue Committee this past week that attempt to deal with the issue of high property taxes. Senator Kate Bolz of Lincoln introduced LB 186, which would establish a refundable income tax credit program. At a projected cost of over $200 million annually, this “circuit breaker” legislation aims to provide income tax credits to people whose property taxes or monthly rents are high compared with their incomes.

I introduced LB 178, which would lower the valuation on agricultural land from 75% to 55% for school district taxation purposes. Nebraska farmers and ranchers today represent less than 3% of the state’s population but pay more than 30% of the total property taxes collected statewide. Furthermore, in the last decade, property taxes on agricultural land has increased 162%, compared with the 40% increase in residential property over the same time period. Although I realize this legislation isn’t the end solution to the property tax problem, I feel that it is a first step, in that it helps address the disproportionate burden placed on rural land owners in the support of their school districts. The increased state aid which would be generated by this bill would be approximately $55 million, after the reduction in valuation is phased in over a four-year period.

Grand Island Senator Mike Gloor introduced LB 259, which proposes to exempt the first $25,000 in value of personal property. The fiscal impact on this bill is approximately $40 million per year.

More bills have been introduced with the goal of lowering property taxes in our state, which I will report on in coming weeks. If you have any questions or comments on legislation proposing property tax relief or on other issues before the Legislature, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

 

Legislative Update

January 23rd, 2015

The 10-day bill introductory period is complete, resulting in the introduction of 663 bills and 4 constitutional amendments. Last week, I summarized most of the bills that I had introduced to date.

This past week, I introduced several more, including LB 490, which would adopt the Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Act. A POLST is a medical order, completed and signed by a medical provider, resulting from a detailed conversation between the patient and physician or other health care provider. A POLST is intended towards individuals with advanced illness or frailty. The purpose of a POLST is to improve end-of-life care by converting a patient’s treatment preferences into medical orders that are transferable amongst home and health care settings. The use of a POLST form is not mandatory. It is voluntary, meaning that it is used only if a patient chooses to complete one. It can be reviewed and revised as needed. It is limited to one page, is printed on bright colored paper, and is commonly kept on the refrigerator for easy recognition by paramedics.

POLST legislation has been approved in 19 states. Additional states are in the process of developing programs. Several communities in Nebraska are already using a POLST form. A primary goal of LB 490 is to have a standard form, for use throughout the state, in order to avoid confusion among health care providers in emergency situations.

Newly elected Governor Pete Ricketts delivered his first State of the State Address this past week. The Governor outlined the following objectives: controlling spending to keep it under the growth in revenue; property tax relief; cultural change and operational excellence in state agencies (through the creation of two new positions in the Governor’s cabinet – a chief operating officer and a human resources director); comprehensive reform in the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health and Human Services; regulatory process review; building on a military friendly culture; and improving educational outcomes, by creating a public-private partnership to create a career and vocational training program.

The Governor’s budget proposal would limit the two-year average growth in general fund spending to 3.1%, which is significantly less than the approximate 6.5% per year budget growth during the last biennium. He also stressed that he would not support any tax increases. To deal with what he termed as the #1 priority, he would add an additional $60 million per year to the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund. This is the concept that is contained in LB 364, a bill that I introduced last week. The Governor also indicated his support for reducing the value of agricultural land from 75% to 65% of actual value, along with an additional $9.5 million to the state aid formula, to make up for the loss in property tax revenue for school districts. I have introduced legislation similar to this concept, in 2013 and again this year, with LB 178.

The cash reserve fund was not touched by the Governor’s plan. However, he hinted that he believes the balance is too high and a portion should be returned to taxpayers. Although the Governor has indicated that he is supportive of income tax reductions, his proposal focused on property tax relief and only contained income tax relief for retired military veterans.

The public hearing process has started with committees meeting every afternoon. In the mornings, senators have begun debating legislation that has been advanced from the various committees.

If you would like to voice your opinion on legislation that has been introduced, I encourage you to contact me. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

January 16th, 2015

Bills can be introduced during the first 10 days of the legislative session. The last day for bill introductions is Wednesday, January 21. The following is a brief description of the bills that I have been working on throughout the interim and have introduced so far.

LB 46, introduced on behalf of the statewide Trauma Advisory Board, revises language regarding the accreditation of rehabilitation centers in the state, specifically as it relates to the rehabilitation of trauma patients. The bill redefines the levels of rehabilitation services to reflect current practice and to bring the levels and definitions up-to-date.

LB 47 makes the question mandatory on an application for a driver’s license or identification card regarding whether to be on the Donor Registry. Currently, it is optional for applicants to answer this question. Nearby states that require responses have higher percentages of applicants indicating their wish to become donors.

Under LB 105, the state rather than the county, would have to pay for the costs associated with an autopsy and grand jury when an inmate dies in state custody. This is one of several unfunded mandates that the Legislature will address as we work towards property tax relief. This legislation would help Johnson County, where Tecumseh State Correctional Institution is located.

LB 106, the Livestock Operation Siting & Expansion Act, was introduced to encourage livestock development and expansion, which is extremely important to the economy of our state. The industry in Nebraska hasn’t grown in the past two decades at rates comparable to neighboring states. The legislation would allow counties to use a scoring matrix system for the approval of new or expanding livestock facilities, which would make the process more predictable and consistent throughout the state.

LB 130 would allow projects allocated funding through the Nebraska Resources Development Fund to be eligible for funding from the new Water Sustainability Fund. I will also introduce a bill to appropriate enough funding within the next two years to allow for the completion of these projects. These projects were existing when the new funding system was passed last year. They are important projects that are beneficial for the state and have already been approved through an extensive application process.

LB 145 would eliminate the executive officer licensing requirement, while retaining the ability of the Department of Banking and Finance to suspend the authority of the executive officer or impose fines upon the executive officer for violations of law. Nebraska may be the only state that requires a formal license process.

LB 178 would reduce the valuation of agricultural land by 5% per year for four years, thereby reducing it from 75% to 55% for school district taxation purposes. This is another option that is being presented to look at property tax relief and the high burden placed on agricultural land owners in the support of local schools.

LB 188, which I am introducing again this year, amends our current pursuit law, which was enacted to protect an innocent bystander who gets hurt as a result of a police pursuit. Nebraska is the only state that imposes liability on the law enforcement agency regardless of whether the law enforcement agency was negligent in its pursuit and even when the driver being pursued causes the injury to the “innocent third party”. Under this legislation, a passenger in a fleeing vehicle would not be considered an “innocent third party” if they entered the vehicle knowing that the driver was under the influence, if they are sought to be apprehended by law enforcement or if they are engaged in any illegal activity which would itself result in arrest.

LB 228 would reduce the corporate income tax rate to the level of the top two brackets of the individual income tax. Other types of companies, such as limited liability companies and Subchapter S corporations are considered “pass-through” organizations under state and federal income tax laws. This is a special business structure that is used to reduce the effects of double taxation, meaning that pass-through entities don’t pay income taxes at the corporate level, only at the individual owners’ level. LB 228 is attempting to level the playing field for the different types of business structures.

LB 229 appropriates funding for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) program. There are currently 22 CASA programs serving 38 Nebraska counties, with more than 600 volunteers advocating for more than 1,500 Nebraska children. Statistics have shown that a child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to be adopted and less likely to re-enter foster care. The funding would allow the program to continue and grow to serve more counties.

LB 364 would increase the funding appropriated to the Property Tax Credit program, funding the program at $200 million per year. This would translate into an approximate $100 credit for each $100,000 of valuation.

LB 386 would exempt header trailers and seed tenders from sales tax. Agricultural machinery and equipment was permanently exempted from state sales tax beginning in 1992. In 2012, the Department of Revenue issued a revised “Information Guide” ruling that these implements did not qualify for the sales tax exemption. This legislation would clarify that such trailers are exempt, as was the practice before the ruling.

As the bills are introduced, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, Nebraska  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

January 9th, 2015

The One Hundred Fourth Legislature, First Session, is up and running and at a whirlwind pace. Although this past week has been a lot of pomp and circumstance with the swearing in of the newly elected senators, the inauguration ceremonies for the constitutional officers and the Governor’s inaugural address, senators have also been busy moving into their new offices and selecting what committees they will serve on for the next two years.

In his first speech to the Legislature, Governor Pete Ricketts revealed his top goals for the state. As part of his pro-growth agenda, he emphasized bolstering the economy by creating more and better paying jobs, cutting property taxes, reducing unnecessary state and federal regulations, and strengthening the state’s education system.

On the first day of session, senators elected committee chairpersons. I ran for and was elected as the vice chair of the Executive Board. Senator Bob Krist of Omaha was elected as chair. The Executive Board manages the Legislative Council, which consists of the offices of the Clerk of the Legislature, Accounting and Budgeting, Fiscal Analyst, Research, Ombudsman, Performance Audit, and Revisor of Statutes. The Executive Board makes the final decision as to what committee every bill is referenced to, makes appointments to various task forces and commissions, and holds hearings on bills referenced to the committee.

I was also selected to serve on the Appropriations Committee. This committee is responsible for reviewing budget requests and presenting a budget recommendation to be considered by the full Legislature. The primary constitutional duty of the Legislature is to pass the state budget. Due to the workload of the committee, it meets every afternoon of the week. I hope that my experience and talent gained from the business world will prove useful as we begin our work on the budget process.

Senators will continue with bill introduction for the first ten days of the legislative session. Public hearings, held on every bill introduced, will be held during the afternoons, beginning later this month. Senators will meet in session during the mornings. After every bill has a public hearing, then the Legislature will begin meeting in full-day session.

I want to make you aware of the Legislature’s website, which contains a wealth of information for viewers. You can read biographies on the new senators, review the bills that have been introduced and even watch the Legislature live. The website is nebraskalegislature.gov.

Although I will be in Lincoln for long hours during this 90-day legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn on June 5, I will still try to attend as many events in the district as I can. If you are ever in the Capitol, make sure to stop by my office. I have moved to Room 2000, which is located on the second floor, north side.

If you have any questions about state government or would like to voice your opinion on a legislative bill, I urge you to contact me. Only with your input, can I truly represent the constituents of District #1. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733. If I am unavailable, my staff will be able to assist you. Tim Freburg is my administrative assistant, who answers the telephone and handles my calendar. Kim Davis is my legislative aide who works on constituent issues and legislation.

LR 444 Committee Update

June 20th, 2014

Legislative Resolution 444 was introduced by the Legislative Performance Audit Committee during the 2014 legislative session. I serve as the vice-chair of this committee.

LR 444 created the Tax Incentive Evaluation Committee, which was tasked with developing recommendations on specific and measurable goals for our tax incentive programs. Furthermore, the committee is to recommend a process for regular evaluation of tax incentives and determine who should conduct the evaluations, what type of metrics should be used, and how often the evaluations should be conducted. The committee is to issue a report to the Executive Board of the Legislature by December 15.

A report issued by the Audit Office in 2013 on Nebraska Tax Incentive Programs found that the program goals expressed by the Legislature were too general to permit a meaningful evaluation of whether the programs were accomplishing what the Legislature intended them to accomplish. The audit focused on the Nebraska Advantage Act, the Nebraska Advantage Rural Development Act, the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Act, and the Nebraska Advantage Research and Development Act. Furthermore, for two of the programs, the Legislature set no limit on the program’s costs. In response to the Audit’s findings, the Performance Audit Committee committed to work with the Revenue Committee to initiate a comprehensive review of Nebraska’s tax incentive programs to assess whether the programs are producing the results the Legislature intended and, if so, whether they are doing so at a cost the Legislature can support. As a result, LR 444 was introduced.

The LR 444 Tax Incentive Evaluation Committee met this past week. I was elected vice-chair of the committee, which is chaired by Senator John Harms of Scottsbluff. Robert Zahradnik, from the Pew Center of the States, developed a presentation, which was delivered by Martha Carter, the Legislative Auditor. Mr. Zahradnik will attend the next committee meeting in July.

The six tax incentive programs that LR 444 specifically addresses are:

+Angel Investment Act – provides refundable state income tax credits to qualified

investors that invest in qualified early-stage companies.

+Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act – rewards agricultural asset owners for their contributions that assist starting farmers and ranchers.

+Nebraska Advantage Act – provides comprehensive economic development incentives for expanding or relocating businesses.

+Nebraska Advantage Rural Development Act – similar to the Advantage Act but aimed at businesses in less populated counties.

+Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Act – provides persons actively involved in microbusinesses a refundable individual income tax credit based on demonstrated growth of their business over two tax years.

+Nebraska Advantage Research and Development Act – provides tax credits to business firms that incur research and experimental expenditures.

Although this past week’s hearing was limited to invited testimony, the LR 444 Tax Incentive Evaluation Committee plans to hold additional hearings where the public will be allowed to testify. The public hearings will be held in Kearney on August 27 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. and in Lincoln from 9:00 a.m. to noon on August 28. I encourage those interested in our state’s tax incentive programs to attend.