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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.
Sen. Dan Watermeier
The Nebraska State Capitol is in the process of a major Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Replacement Project. When the Capitol was built (1922-32), the architect, Bertram Goodhue, used steam radiator technology to heat the over 100,000 square feet of the stone structure. The steam was generated at the University of Nebraska’s power plant and brought to the Capitol via a mile long tunnel. In the 1960s the original system was modified to also accept chilled water from the University so that offices could be cooled in an attempt to make summers more comfortable. Over the years, the radiator technology began to have multiple operational problems. The Legislature addressed the problem by appropriating funds to replace the system, and in 2016, the Office of the Capitol Commission began the ten-year HVAC project. The project is intended to incorporate the best of the old system with the latest technology.
First, there was a two-year planning phase, which is nearly complete, and we will soon move to the eight-year construction phase. There will need to be extensive work done inside the Capitol building that will begin this summer. This will require contractors to remove outdated ducts and pipes, resulting in major demolition and reconstruction work. All areas of the Capitol will have to be vacated at some point.
As chairperson of the Legislature’s Executive Board, I have worked with the Executive and Judicial branches of government to plan for the impact of the construction on government offices within the Capitol and their relocation. We determined that the most efficient way to proceed is to vacate a quarter of the building at a time, resulting in a five-phase project. This approach will allow the Capitol to continue to function on a daily basis as the seat of State Government.
For Legislative offices, the plan provides that all senators and his or her staff will have office space in the Capitol throughout the project. However, their offices will be temporarily relocated at some point, with some being relocated for more than one phase. Legislative support functions, including the Clerk’s Office, the Fiscal Office, the Bill Drafting Office, the Legislative Research Office, and the Accounting Office will also be relocated to different areas within the Capitol. The support offices that will be located outside the Capitol for the duration of the project are the Ombudsman, Transcribers, and Performance Audit. Following adjournment of the Legislature on April 18, 2018, senators’ offices in the southwest quadrant of the Capitol will be the first to be vacated and moved.
The plan also ensures that the Legislature can continue to meet in the George Norris Legislative Chamber during session and that all public hearings on legislation will be held in hearing rooms within the Capitol.
The next visible phase of the HVAC project will be construction of the well field for the ground-source heating and cooling system. A state surface parking lot near the Capitol will become a geothermal well drilling site on June 1, 2018. The construction of the well field is expected to take 15 months. The work on the Capitol grounds will become visible through a combination of open trenching and directional boring.
The HVAC project is complicated, especially in a building of the age and size of the Capitol. However, everyone involved in the project is committed to preserving the integrity of our beautiful State Capitol. As noted by the Nebraska Capitol Commission in 1935: “It is difficult for Nebraska to realize what it has done, but the people of your nation know, and they look to you for careful preservation of what has become a jewel among Historic Monuments.”
As we begin the final weeks of this legislative session, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
The Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, voted unanimously to send the main budget bill to the full Legislature. The two other bills that are part of the budget package, dealing with the cash reserve and funding transfers, were advanced on an 8-1 vote. Debate on the budget will begin Tuesday, March 13. The $8.8 billion budget for the biennium represents an average spending growth of just 0.5% over the two year period.
At the end of the 2017 session last May, the Legislature passed a balanced budget for the upcoming two fiscal years. Since that time, increases in child welfare costs, a lower than expected federal Medicaid match rate, and a significant reduction in revenue forecasts last October resulted in a budget shortfall of approximately $200 million. In his budget recommendations in January, the Governor proposed across-the-board reductions of 2% for the current fiscal year and 4% for next fiscal year. Primarily due to increased revenue projections from the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board last month and use of the cash reserve fund, the Appropriations Committee was able to reduce the proposed cuts for next year from 4% to 2% for most state agencies and to 1% for higher education.
The budget figures are based on the passage of LB 1090, which received first-round approval this past week from the Legislature. Nebraska’s income tax system is linked to the federal income tax system. Consequently, the passage of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would have resulted in an increase of revenue for our state. LB 1090 changes Nebraska’s tax codes by restoring the state’s personal exemption tax credit to offset income gained from the federal tax changes and thereby eliminate any resulting tax increase to Nebraska taxpayers.
Although the cash reserve is left with a nearly $300 million balance, this is notably lower than several years ago. Even though the purpose of the cash reserve or “rainy day” fund is to help in years of budget difficulties, senators will need to work in future years to replenish this fund.
My priority bill, LB 44, received second-round approval this past week. This legislation would put Nebraska in a position to start collecting sales tax from remote on-line sellers, should the Supreme Court overturn a dated ruling stating that companies must have a physical presence in the state to be required to collect the sales tax. States are losing out on millions of dollars of revenue that is owed by the purchaser (if not collected by the seller), but is seldom paid.
LB 861, an Appropriations Committee priority bill, received first-round approval from the Legislature this past week on a 27-0 vote. It would require the state to pay for costs of prosecution in counties with state correctional institutions if such costs exceed a certain threshold. I introduced this bill in an effort to provide a safety net for Johnson County residents, to ensure that if costs associated with incidents occurring at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution get too high, the state will pitch in and help with the costs.
Legislation received first-round approval this past week that would strengthen the car safety seat requirements for the first time since 2002. Current law requires any child up to 6 years of age to be secured in an approved child safety restraint device. LB 42 would increase the age limit from “up to 6 years” to “up to 8 years”, would require children up to 2 years of age to use a rear-facing device, and specifies that the car seat should be placed in the rear seat of a vehicle, when possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that all infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing seat until they are at least 2 years of age, as they are significantly less likely to be seriously injured in a crash than if forward-facing.
As the Legislature begins debate on the budget and other bills, I again encourage your input on issues before us. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number at the Capitol is (402) 471-2733.
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met this past week and raised revenue projections by approximately $55 million over the previous tax revenue forecast last October. Of that amount, the $25 million increase forecasted for this fiscal year, will be directed into the cash reserve fund. For next fiscal year, the Legislature will have $30 million more to work with in balancing the budget. Considering that the biennial budget is $9 billion, this isn’t a huge change, however it did give the Appropriations Committee some leeway when considering the 2% and 4% across-the-board cuts proposed by the Governor for most state agencies and programs. Rather than 4% cuts for fiscal year 2018-19, the committee has tentatively approved reductions of 1% for higher education and 2% for most state agencies.
The forecasting board also raised projections by $335 million due to the impact of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) on Nebraska taxpayers. The TCJA eliminated the personal exemption and raised the standard deduction. The personal exemption is a tax credit each taxpayer can claim on their taxes for themselves and each of their dependents. Since the state level personal exemption credit is tied to the federal personal exemption, the state credit would be eliminated resulting in taxpayers owing more in state taxes. LB 1090 would restore the state level personal exemption credit and thus eliminate any increase in state revenue. LB 1090 has been designated as a Revenue Committee priority bill and will be discussed in the near future by the Legislature.
LB 841, a committee priority bill, was advanced from the Judiciary Committee this past week. The committee amendments incorporate a number of bills that are meant to improve policies and procedures related to Nebraska’s criminal justice system.
According to current law, the Governor “may” declare a correctional system overcrowding emergency whenever the inmate population is over 140% of design capacity. However, beginning July 1, 2020, if the inmate population is over 140% of design capacity, a correctional system overcrowding emergency exists. This will require the Board of Parole to immediately consider committed offenders who are eligible for parole and order the release of such offenders, unless the Board determines that the offender will not conform to the conditions of parole, will have a very significant effect on institutional discipline, or has a very substantial risk of committing a violent act. Currently, the state’s prisons are at approximately 156% of design capacity.
LB 841, introduced by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, seeks to prepare for this mandate by requiring the Department of Correctional Services and the Nebraska Board of Parole to develop a plan describing the process to implement the accelerated parole review while ensuring public safety. This plan, to be submitted to the Legislature by December 1, will also determine if additional legislation or funding is necessary.
Legislation amended into LB 841 would ask the Department of Correctional Services to complete a comprehensive analysis of its system-wide staffing needs. Having a complete picture of the staffing situation is essential to the department’s long-term planning efforts and will assist the Legislature in making funding decisions. The committee amendments transfer the authority to conduct criminal investigations relating to conduct occurring within correctional facilities from the department to the Nebraska State Patrol. Another provision would allow an inmate to leave a facility, under certain conditions, to participate in community-based substance abuse or rehabilitative programming or treatment. It would also allow an inmate diagnosed with a terminal illness to be granted medical parole. The committee amendments allow for the continuation of the current practice of the state contracting with counties to house inmates in county jails. The amendments also require the Board of Parole to provide the department and the inmate with notice when parole has been deferred, listing the reasons and any recommended programming or treatment that the inmate should complete to enhance his/her likelihood of being granted parole. Furthermore, the committee amendments create the Coordinated Reentry Council, tasked with furthering the state’s efforts to establish a comprehensive and successful system of correction reentry programs throughout the state.
The Appropriations Committee will advance the budget to the full Legislature next week and the body will begin discussing it on March 13. Balancing the budget is the Legislature’s primary responsibility. As we discuss the budget and other legislation, 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 telephone number is (402) 471-2733 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Priority bill designation for the 2018 legislative session has taken place. After this point, generally only bills and resolutions that have been prioritized are placed on the agenda. Every senator is allowed to designate one priority bill, committees are allowed to designate two, and the speaker can designate 25 speaker priority bills.
I designated LB 44 as my priority bill. Under proposed amendments, LB 44 would adopt the Noncollecting Retailer Notice and Reporting Act. The Supreme Court ruled years ago that retailers who didn’t have a physical presence in the state were not required to collect the state’s sales tax. South Dakota passed legislation meant to challenge this ruling and the U.S. Supreme Court should issue its opinion by June.
LB 44 would require out-of-state retailers that don’t collect sales tax to meet reporting requirements if their total sales to Nebraska purchasers exceed $100,000 or amount to 200 or more transactions. The reporting requirements are meant to be onerous, thereby encouraging retailers to voluntarily submit the sales tax. Furthermore, LB 44 would require such retailers to collect sales tax upon the overturning of the previous Supreme Court case or July 1, whichever is later. Therefore, if the Supreme Court ruling is overturned in June, this legislation would allow Nebraska to begin collecting sales tax on online purchases beginning July 1. It has been estimated that our state is losing out on tens of millions of tax dollars, which are currently owed by purchasers, but few pay.
The Appropriations Committee chose LB 861 as one of their two priority bills. LB 861 would require the state to pay a county’s prosecution costs arising from a single correctional institution incident that exceed 2 ½ cents of the county’s levy. I introduced this bill to offer assistance to Johnson County residents, whom must foot the bill for the cost of prosecuting the crimes associated with several incidents at TSCI. I do not think it is fair that the county is responsible for the costs to defend inmates from across the state, just because the correctional institution is located within the county. This bill could be seen as a catastrophic insurance policy, requiring the state to help the county with prosecution costs when they become an extreme hardship for county residents.
The speaker revealed that he received 72 requests for the 25 speaker priority bill designations. He did indicate that his personal priority bill was among those requested for speaker priority designation. My request for LB 745 was granted. LB 745 deals with the refund of local option sales tax in situations when sales or use tax has been overpaid and must be refunded due to an error in collection or computation. I introduced it at the request of Nebraska City officials, as it will help municipalities plan for such occurrence.
Several bills pertaining to tax relief were designated as priority bills. LB 829, prioritized by Senator Steve Erdman, would provide for a refundable income tax credit equal to 50% of the portion of taxes directed towards K-12 education, resulting in an approximate 30% reduction in property taxes. The Revenue Committee has not advanced LB 829 and Senator Erdman has indicated that he may try to pull it from committee, which would require an affirmative vote by the majority of the Legislature.
LB 947, the governor’s proposal for income and property tax relief, was selected by Senator Jim Smith, the chair of the Revenue Committee, as his personal priority bill. However, this bill still remains in the Revenue Committee as well. As introduced, it proposes a 10% refundable income tax credit of property taxes paid, which would increase if actual general fund receipts were above estimated receipts. The top rate for individual income taxes and corporate income taxes would be reduced to 6.69%. Furthermore, $10 million would be appropriated for job training.
LB 1084, prioritized by Senator Tom Briese, would significantly increase the amount of funding for the Property Tax Credit program, as well as increase funding for K-12 education. To fund the proposal, the legislation proposes to increase the sales tax by ½ cent, increase the cigarette tax by $1.00, eliminate various sales tax exemptions, and impose sales tax on more services. LB 1103, selected by Senator Curt Friesen, seeks to provide a minimum amount of state aid to every school district. LB 640, designated as a priority by Senator Mike Groene, reduces the maximum levy for school districts from $1.05 to $1.00 and limits the amount of property taxes that fund local schools. LB 1084 and LB 1103 remain in committee, while LB 640 is on General File.
The public hearing process will conclude on February 27 and the Legislature will begin full day sessions on February 28. I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on legislation before us. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
Tax reform was recently enacted on the federal level. Because Nebraska’s state income tax is tied to the federal tax code, the Nebraska Department of Revenue estimated that the state would experience an increase in state revenue of more than $200 million. In order to compensate for the effects of the federal tax changes so that taxpayers are not faced with a state tax increase, two bills were introduced to adjust Nebraska’s tax code.
LB 1090, introduced by Papillion Senator Jim Smith, the chair of the Revenue Committee, would restore the $134 personal exemption credit that was effectively eliminated by the federal Tax and Jobs Act and would establish a Nebraska standard deduction, ranging from $6,750 for single filers to $13,500 for married couples filing jointly. The legislation also retains the current method used to index for inflation, rather than using the federal method which grows somewhat more slowly.
LB 1048, introduced by Omaha Senator Burke Harr, also preserves the personal exemption on the state level. However, only individuals with income of no more than $100,000 and married couples filing jointly with income of no more than $200,000 would qualify. A public hearing before the Revenue Committee was held last week on both bills. At this time, the committee has not taken action on either bill.
This past week, I introduced LB 861 before the Appropriations Committee. It would require the state to pick up the costs of prosecution for a single incident occurring in a state correctional institution, such as the Mother’s Day riot, once costs exceed the threshold amount for a county. The legislation sets the threshold amount at 2 ½ cents per $100 dollars of taxable valuation, meaning that for Johnson County, the state would pick up costs in excess of approximately $225,000. It does not seem fair for counties, particularly smaller counties such as Johnson County, to have to bear the exorbitant defense costs that could arise for an incident at a state correctional facility, when the inmates charged with crimes are from throughout the state and none are originally residents of the county. A Johnson County Commissioner testified in support of LB 861 and another commissioner, as well as the county attorney, submitted letters in support.
The Appropriations Committee held a public hearing on the budget for the University of Nebraska this past week. The room was packed with University supporters who testified for more than 4 hours against the 2% and 4% across-the-board cuts, as proposed by the Governor. The cuts would amount to an additional $11.5 million reduction in funding for the current fiscal year and $23 million next fiscal year, on top of previous cuts already imposed on the University. The University has argued that they receive 13% of the state’s general fund, but their cuts amount to 34% of the total cuts proposed by the governor on state government. This is because some agencies, such as Corrections, were held harmless from cuts this biennium. Therefore, the agencies receiving cuts were treated equally.
Earlier this week, the University announced $9.2 million in potential cuts that could become reality if the governor’s proposal is adopted by the Legislature. The cuts include reducing the Rural Futures Institute, closing the Haskell Ag Lab in Concord, eliminating electronics engineering, art history, and geography majors at UNL; eliminating Monroe-Meyer Institute developmental neuroscience division programs and the master of forensic science program at UNMC; eliminating the Career Development Office in the College of Business at UNO; and eliminating men’s tennis, golf and baseball at UNK. Testifiers at the hearing feared that if the University increased tuition further than already recommended, it could make college unaffordable for some students.
High school students interested in government are encouraged to register for the 2018 Unicameral Youth Legislature, which will be held June 10-13. The 4-day legislative simulation is conducted at the State Capitol. Student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and learn about our unique unicameral. Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Speaker Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers tuition. More information can be found at www.Nebraskalegislature.gov/uyl.
Again, I’d like to encourage your input on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733. My mailing address is District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.
The Appropriations Committee presented their Preliminary Budget Report to the Legislature this past week. Basically, it contains the Governor’s proposed changes for the current biennium, primarily composed of a 2% and 4% across the board reduction to the current biennial budget in order to address the $173 million budget shortfall. The committee is in the process of hearing testimony on the impacts and ramifications of these reductions, prior to making any final decisions.
The Nebraska Economic Advisory Board will meet on February 28 to review the existing forecast, based on the impacts of the federal tax changes, as well as any changes due to economic conditions and revenue performance. By the 1st of March, the Appropriations Committee will finalize their budget proposal, using the input obtained from the budget hearings and any updated revenue forecasts from the Advisory Board.
The public hearing was held this past week before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on LB 1009, which proposes to increase the maximum speed limit on various highways.
The bill was introduced by Senator John Murante and was brought to him by the director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation. At the public hearing, the director of the NDOT explained that in 2015, the State Highway Commission asked the department to begin an examination of the speed limits on 2-lane state highways that were posted at 60 miles per hour. The department gathered information on approximately 4,000 miles and found that 75% of the study locations recommended an increase from 60-65 mph based on driver expectations and actual usage. Furthermore, the department annually conducts speed studies on segments of expressways, freeways, and the Interstate.
The director explained that doing these studies on a segment-by-segment basis is rather inefficient when many of the roads being examined are fundamentally the same when it comes to an engineering and design perspective, yet some are posted at 60 mph and others at 65 mph. Therefore, LB 1009 was introduced to bring consistency and uniformity to the system.
The proposal is supported by the 85th Percentile Principle. Under this method, engineers monitor the speed of traffic and consider the speed at or below what 85 percent of vehicles travel as a proper speed, while also taking into consideration traffic volumes, roadway geometry, existing traffic control devices and crash data.
Although LB 1009 allows the department to raise the speed limit from 75 to 80 mph on the Interstate, this change would only be made if the results of an engineering study deem it appropriate. Such study has not been completed at this time.
Opponents stressed that speed is a factor in an increased number of accidents and the severity of accidents. Safety advocates testified that research has shown that fatalities increase by 4% on highways and 8% on Interstates and freeways for each 5 mph increase in the speed limit. Representatives of the trucking industry noted that it takes a loaded semi two football fields to stop at 65 mph. It was estimated that if the speed limit were to increase by 5 mph on the Interstate, a commuter from Lincoln to Omaha would save approximately 2 minutes.
In his budget recommendations contained in LB 944, Governor Ricketts revised the distribution of federal Title X healthcare funding to prevent the use of taxpayer dollars for abortions and abortion-related services. Although the restriction on taxpayers’ dollars being used to fund abortions is already in law, the governor’s proposal would also prevent a provider from receiving Title X funding if they refer or provide directive counsel for abortions.
The public hearing lasted almost 7 hours, with testimony heard from those in support and in opposition to the revision. Title X funds are used to pay for contraceptives, cervical cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and related services for lower income men and women. Although some said that clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, could still be eligible for Title X funds, others questioned this, as Title X clinics are required to provide abortion information when requested, which could jeopardize their funding. More than 55,000 people visited Title X clinics in 2016 and opponents worried that if such clinics closed, other providers may not be available to offer such services.
As the Legislature proceeds with floor debate in the mornings and public hearings in the afternoons, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the legislation before us. 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 email@example.com.
The bill that contains the Governor’s proposal for tax relief was heard before the Revenue Committee this past week. LB 947, introduced by Papillion Senator Jim Smith, at the request of the Governor, drew a room full of interested persons offering testimony for four hours. In his opening, Senator Smith acknowledged that the legislation was short of perfection and stressed that it was a work in progress.
As introduced, LB 947 would offer property taxpayers a refundable income tax credit equal to 10% of property taxes paid. For taxable year 2019 and thereafter, if actual net General Fund receipts are at least 1% above certified estimated receipts, the percentage of property tax relief would increase by 2%, not to exceed 30% of property taxes paid. Residential homeowners’ income tax credit would be capped at $230 the first year, increasing by up to $50 each time the percentage is increased, up to a maximum of $730. For agricultural land owners, there is no cap on the refundable income tax credit.
LB 947 would also reduce the top rate of the individual and corporate income tax from 6.84% and 7.81%, respectively, to 6.69% over a two-year period. Furthermore, workforce development would be bolstered by a $10 million appropriation.
To pay for the tax relief proposed under LB 947, the legislation would eliminate the Property Tax Credit Program currently offered to property taxpayers, reflected on their tax statement, and the Personal Property Tax Relief Act, recently passed by the Legislature.
Governor Ricketts was the first proponent to testify on LB 947. He offered an amendment to strengthen the property tax relief provisions in the bill. His amendment would eliminate the trigger mechanism for increased property tax relief, instead placing the increases in statute. Under the amendment, the property tax relief would begin at 12% of property taxes paid, increasing by 2% every two out of three years, until reaching 30%. The Governor suggested using the cash reserve fund to pay for the additional property tax relief in the upcoming budget cycle. The question of how to pay for future years of escalating property tax relief is not addressed.
As amended, the Nebraska Farm Bureau and some other farm organizations, offered their support – contingent on the property tax relief increasing to 30% of property taxes paid. This is the approximate level of property tax relief proposed in LB 829, offered by Senator Steve Erdman, and in the initiative petition drive getting underway.
Public hearings were held on two of the bills that I introduced. On Tuesday, the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard LB 980, which would allow for overwidth permits (not to exceed 12 feet) to transport hay bales on the Interstate. The Nebraska Department of Transportation offered a letter in support of the bill and a representative of the Nebraska Farm Bureau testified in support. The Federal Highway Administration is not opposed to this legislation. Surrounding states allow for such permits and I believe Nebraska should follow suit.
On Thursday, the Revenue Committee heard testimony on LB 745, which deals with the refund of local option sales tax in situations when sales or use tax has been overpaid and must be refunded due to an error in collection or computation. The bill would require the Department of Revenue to give advance notice to the municipality and would allow for repayment in 12 monthly installments. The City Administrator for Nebraska City testified in support, as did the Executive Director for the League of Nebraska Municipalities. Nebraska City recently got hit with a large refund and this bill would give cities more opportunity to plan for the necessary budget adjustments. Committee members noted that this has been an issue statewide for a number of years.
We are one-third through this legislative session. I urge 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
The Revenue Committee held a public hearing on LB 829 this past week. LB 829 proposes a refundable income tax credit equal to 50% of property taxes paid to support K-12 education. It has been projected that the legislation would result in an approximate 30% reduction in property taxes. The hearing lasted for more than 4 hours, with more proponents testifying than opponents. Supporters included property owners and agricultural organizations. Business organizations and education groups were among the opponents. The same groups that are backing LB 829 are also working on an initiative petition drive to put a similar proposal before voters should the Legislature fail to act on LB 829.
The desperate need for property tax relief was reiterated by many proponents of the bill. Not only are rural landowners seeking assistance, homeowners also are in need of relief. The Tax Foundation has ranked Nebraska #12 in property tax collections per capita.
Much debate at the public hearing focused on how the property tax relief would be paid for. Senator Steve Erdman, of Bayard, the sponsor of LB 829, was adamant that it was not his responsibility to find the revenue. He stressed that it was his duty to focus on the problem and the Legislature would need to determine how it would be carried out.
The Governor is actively opposing LB 829, as it is projected to cost over $1 billion annually, which represents approximately one-fourth of the state budget. His message warns that the state would have to raise taxes in order to lower the property tax, stating that such steep cuts in revenue as proposed by this plan would leave legislators no option but to raise sales and income taxes. The governor stressed that his goal has always been lower taxes overall, not raising one tax to lower another.
Some senators support the broadening of the tax base, by eliminating various sales tax or income tax exemptions, and other support a cigarette tax increase or a sales tax increase to fund property tax relief. The public hearing on the Governor’s proposal to lower income taxes, as well as property taxes, will be held on January 31, also before the Revenue Committee. Due to such different ideas proposed, my concern is that senators won’t agree on one method of offering much needed property tax relief.
LB 780, introduced by Lincoln Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, proposed to ban multiburst trigger activators (bump stocks) and firearm silencers (suppressors). At the public hearing this past week before the Judiciary Committee, she offered an amendment to remove the ban on silencers from the bill.
Senator Pansing Brooks informed the committee that she introduced the bill because citizens need greater protections from mass shootings. She stressed that she is not limiting the ability of citizens to own a gun, but that this bill deals with gun accessories. Bump stocks were linked to the gunman in Las Vegas who shot and wounded many victims at an outdoor concert last year. This device allows semi-automatic rifles to be fired almost as rapidly as automatic guns.
Even though the NRA issued a statement after the Las Vegas shooting stating that they believe the devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations, the NRA still opposed LB 780. The representative from the NRA explained that the statement called for a review by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on whether the devices complied with federal law. They are supportive of the ATF doing their job, not a ban on bump stocks. Others were opposed as well, as more opponents than proponents testified on LB 780, arguing that the legislation was too broad or it may lead to the banning of additional accessories. Opponents testified that the normal use of trigger activator devices is to modify a gun for competition shooting or used by people with disabilities to assist with sporting activities. The proposed legislation would restrict this.
Again, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions of legislation before us. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number at the Capitol is (402) 471-2733.
Just under five hundred bills and legislative resolutions were introduced during this legislative session. Bill introduction is limited to the first ten days of a legislative session. The Legislature is currently in the process of conducting public hearings on every piece of legislation that was introduced.
Chief Justice Michael Heavican presented his 11th State of the Judiciary to the Legislature this past week. He spoke of problem-solving courts, noting that Nebraska has two new Veterans Treatment Courts. Veterans courts are designed to give persons who have served in the armed forces, and may have substance abuse or mental health issues that contributed to their criminal behavior, a second chance, by utilizing intensive judicial and probation supervision and trained veteran mentors. The other problem-solving courts are primarily drug courts. The participants must overcome addictions and commit to rehabilitate themselves. Every problem-solving court participant is one less person incarcerated.
Chief Justice Heavican mentioned that they were beginning implementation of reentry courts, to provide additional supervision to individuals returning to society from incarceration or post-release supervision. He also noted that there has been an increase of approximately 1,400 individuals in the adult probation program over the last two years, indicating that both judges and probation officers are doing their part to implement the directives from the Legislature regarding Justice Reinvestment. He was pleased to announce that the recidivism rate for all adult probationers was approximately 15%, which is a very good number based on adult probation national standards. The Chief Justice emphasized that there is a large demand for increased probation services and specialty courts, particularly to address mental health issues, which saves money in the long run. However, he noted that with the budget shortfall facing the Legislature, it will be difficult to attain additional funding.
I introduced four bills this year. LB 745 deals with sales tax refunds in situations where sales taxes have been overpaid or should not have been paid. The legislation focuses on local option sales tax refunds of at least $5,000. It requires the Department of Revenue to notify the affected city or county within 20 days of receiving the claim and to give them the option of having such refund deducted from their tax proceeds in either a lump sum or in 12 monthly installments. This will allow cities and counties to better plan for such occurrence. I have worked with Nebraska City and the League of Nebraska Municipalities on this legislation.
Currently there is no formal process for naming sites or structures in the capitol, on the capitol grounds, or within the capitol environs. LB 746 authorizes the Nebraska Capitol Commission to take on this responsibility. The members of the Nebraska Capitol Commission include the Governor, the Speaker of the Legislature, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the dean of the College of Architecture, the director of the State Historical Society, and three other members appointed from each congressional district.
I introduced LB 861 in an effort to help Johnson County taxpayers with expenses arising from incidents occurring at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. Under the legislation, if a county’s costs for prosecution stemming from a single incident at a correctional institution exceed 2 ½ cents per $100 dollars of taxable valuation of property subject to the levy, such costs in excess would be paid by the State of Nebraska.
Finally, LB 980 would allow for over width permits, not to exceed 12 feet, on the Interstate in order to haul hay bales. Surrounding states allow for such permits and in working with the Nebraska Department of Transportation, I have found that they are not opposed to this. A public hearing date has been set for January 30, before the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
The Executive Board, of which I serve as chair, introduced LB 744 and has scheduled a public hearing for January 22. The purpose of this legislation is to clarify existing procedure for election contests and qualification challenges to a seat of a member of the Legislature. The legislation codifies what is in rule regarding election contests and qualification challenges.
As public hearings get into full swing, I encourage you to inform me of your opinions on the legislation. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
Governor Pete Ricketts gave his annual State of the State address this past week. His recommendations, along with the agency requests, will become the starting point as the Appropriations Committee, and then the entire Legislature, determines what mid-biennium budget adjustments need to be made.
To address the lowered revenue forecast projected by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board this past October, the Governor is proposing across-the-board cuts of 2% this fiscal year and 4% next year, as well as specific reductions. He has also recommended transfers of excess fund balances to the General Fund and a $108 million transfer from the cash reserve fund. These budget reductions come on top of significant cuts made last year when the state experienced a budget shortfall in excess of $1 billion. The Governor stressed that the budget was balanced last year without any tax increases, and his recommendations propose to do the same this year.
The Governor stated that the priorities in his budget include funding for K-12 education, Corrections, and services for those with developmental disabilities. He proposed to maintain funding for state school aid and included an additional $35 million to Child Welfare and Public Assistance for this year and next, after noting the 9% increase in the number of children in our child welfare system. He also mentioned the formation of a new child welfare task force to determine the root causes for this increase, such as the high number of parents using methamphetamine. The Governor recommended expanding the number of corrections officers and reinvesting $6 million to expand bed capacity in our prisons.
Growing Nebraska has always been one of the Governor’s top goals, and he emphasized that cutting and reforming taxes is a key factor in meeting this goal. Although the state has provided $840 million in property tax relief over the past four years, the Tax Foundation ranks Nebraska’s property taxes as 11th highest in the nation. Therefore, the Governor stressed that property tax relief was a top priority. To that end, he announced that Revenue Committee chair, Senator Jim Smith, will introduce the Nebraska Property Tax Cuts and Opportunity Act.
LB 947 contains three major components. First, it would eliminate the current Property Tax Credit Program which provides property owners a tax credit based on the valuation of their property and is shown on tax statements as a credit after full taxes are levied. It also proposes to eliminate the recently passed Personal Property Exemption Program. The legislation would use the funding from these two programs for a refundable credit on state income taxes for property taxes paid, which would ensure that Nebraskans, not absentee landowners, receive the credit. It also includes a trigger mechanism to provide for additional property tax relief in future years when actual tax receipts are higher than forecast projections. Next, the legislation permanently reduces the top individual and corporate income tax rate from 6.84% and 7.81%, respectively, to 6.69%. As I understand, the funding from the elimination of the Property Tax Credit Program and the Personal Property Exemption Program would also be used to fund the income tax rate decreases. Finally, the legislation provides an additional $10 million for workforce development.
Senators have been meeting in full day debate this past week, but will begin meeting only in the mornings starting January 16, as public hearings on every bill introduced will be held in the afternoons. January 18, the 10th day of the legislative session, is the last day that bills can be introduced.
I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on the legislation that has been introduced. I can be reached at email@example.com. My mailing address is District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my telephone number is (402)471-2733.