NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Dan Watermeier

Sen. Dan Watermeier

District 1

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov

Legislative Update

March 28th, 2013

It’s almost crunch time. Senators have begun meeting in full-day session. We’ve passed the 50-day mark of the 90-day legislative session. We’ve discussed only a handful of priority bills and we still have the budget to deal with in May. Furthermore, the Appropriations Committee has estimated that the budget will only allow for $16 million to $19 million in new spending. This figure sounded sufficient, until the sum was calculated for the fiscal impact of the priority bills and came to more than $150 million for the two-year budget period. Consequently, some senator’s priority bills will not pass or they will have to be amended to reduce the fiscal impact. Senators will have to decide which priority bills are the most important for the state, as the Nebraska Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget.

Senators learned of the fiscal imbalance while debating a bill that would adopt the Wildfire Control Act of 2013. The legislation would direct the Nebraska Forest Service to contract for two air tankers for fighting fires, to thin forests to reduce risk, to provide expanded training, to expand the federal excess property programs and to oversee forest rehabilitation. Based on predictions that the drought will be even worse this summer, it was easy to argue the need for the bill. However, the legislation has an annual $1.7 million fiscal impact. Despite the warning, senators gave LB 634 first-round approval.

The following are two more examples of bills with significant fiscal impacts. Both have been designated as priority bills but neither have advanced from committee at this time.

LB 553 amends the School Employee Retirement Plan to address both short-term and long-term funding obligations. The bill creates a new tier of reduced benefits for new employees, reducing the cost-of-living adjustment from 2.5% to 1% and increasing from 3 to 5 the number of years used to determine final average salary for purposes of calculating a member’s retirement benefit. Preliminary discussions by Retirement Committee members would keep the contribution rates required of teachers at the increased level rather than allowing them to sunset. Additionally, the bill proposes to increase the state’s contribution rate from 1% to 2% of compensation, creating a fiscal impact of approximately $17 million per year. In an effort to retain costs, committee members have proposed to delay the increase in the state’s contribution rate to the second year of the biennium. Due to the recession, the pension fund is currently facing a $108 million actuarial shortfall and LB 553 helps to ensure the sustainability of the School Employees Retirement System.

LB 625 would increase the maximum income level for families qualifying for the Child Care Subsidy Program from 120% to 185% of the federal poverty level. In 2011, 13 states set eligibility for child care assistance above 200% and an additional 22 states set eligibility above 150% of federal poverty level. Prior to 2002, the income limit for the child care subsidy was 185% of federal poverty guidelines, but this income level was never authorized in statute. Supporters testified that child care subsidies are critical to ensuring that children are safe and parents can work. Studies have shown that child care represents the largest portion of a family’s income. The fiscal note estimates that the cost to the state would be approximately $11 million per year. As I understand, negotiations are taking place on the percentage of increase in the income level.

The Legislature will have a tough job ahead. All of the bills that have been designated as priority bills have merit and are important to certain groups of Nebraskans. If you have any comments on the bills that have been prioritized, I value your input and 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 e-mail address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

 

Legislative Update

March 21st, 2013

The Legislature spent the better part of the mornings this past week debating a bill calling for a comprehensive study of our tax system. As amended, LB 613 creates the Tax Modernization Committee, whose purpose is to review and study the state’s tax laws, including, but not limited to, sales taxes, income taxes, property taxes, and other miscellaneous taxes and credits.

The Tax Modernization Committee would be comprised of the Revenue Committee members and the chairs of the Appropriations, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, and Planning Committees. The committee is to consider fairness, competitiveness, simplicity and compliance, stability, adequacy and the interrelationships of the tax systems within the state revenue system as a whole. The importance of public input is recognized in the legislation and the committee is authorized to hold public hearings.

A report is to be issued by December 15, containing recommendations to update state, county, and local tax policies and to identify areas of concern that require further in-depth analysis and study.

LB 613 gained steam after LB 405 and LB 406 were introduced at the request of the Governor. The legislation called for the elimination or the reduction of income taxes, as well as the repeal of certain sales tax exemptions granted to business, agriculture, hospitals and other nonprofit groups. Due to an outcry from the public, both bills were killed by the Revenue Committee and LB 613 was advanced to the floor of the Legislature by the Executive Board.

Senator Ernie Chambers filibustered LB 613 because he was upset that several bills were being advanced to alter current taxes in light of the pending study, but the Revenue Committee did not advance a bill that he introduced to repeal LB 357, which was passed last year allowing for a local option sales tax rate of up to 2 percent. He offered numerous amendments to LB 613, slightly changing the wording of the legislation. After eight hours of debate and a successful cloture motion, LB 613 was given first-round approval on a 47-1 vote.

I support LB 613 because I feel that it is time to review the tax system. Over the years, new taxes and fees have been put in place, other taxes have been repealed, rates have been adjusted, and exemptions have been granted, but no one has looked at the whole picture to determine how the different parts work together. Times have changed over the past decades and our tax system needs to reflect those changes, while remaining competitive with other states.

An amendment is pending for the second stage of debate that would place a moratorium until July 15, 2014 on the imposition of a local option sales tax in excess of 1 ½ percent, which was the maximum amount allowed prior to the passage of LB 357 last year. Any tax rate above 1 ½ percent that was approved by electors prior to the effective date of the legislation would be allowed to remain in effect. I assume the intent of the proposed moratorium is to prohibit additional towns from utilizing the increased rate while the comprehensive tax study takes place. The amendment also places a moratorium on any new occupation tax or any increase in the rate of an existing occupation tax.

The public hearing process has been completed for this year. Full day debate will begin on March 27th and continue through the last day of the legislative session, which is set for June 5th. During this time, senators will try to discuss as many priority bills as possible and must pass a biennial budget. If you have any comments on bills that have been given priority status, I encourage you to contact me. My address is District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My e-mail address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

 

Legislative Update

March 13th, 2013

This past week marked the deadline for the designation of priority bills. Every senator may designate one bill as his/her individual priority bill. Every committee can designate two priority bills and the Speaker of the Legislature has the authority to designate twenty-five bills as speaker priority bills. After this point in the session, bills without priority status do not stand a good chance of being debated unless they are noncontroversial and meet the criteria for consent calendar. Consent calendar is a tightly structured process whereby noncontroversial bills without opposition have a chance at passage.

I selected LB 308 as my personal priority bill because it will provide tax relief. LB 308 proposes to repeal Nebraska’s alternative minimum tax (AMT). Nebraska is one of only nine states with its own AMT. This tax was originally designed to capture revenue from high-income earners, but over the last decade, it has been a threat to more middle class taxpayers. The AMT adds complexity to our tax code, due to its own set of rates and rules for deductions.

LB 308 was recently advanced from the Revenue Committee, with committee amendments that contain the provisions of LB 457. LB 457 addresses the Net Operating Loss (NOL) carry forward tax policy, which allows losses to be deducted against past and future profits to measure profitability over a period that more closely corresponds to a business’s investment horizon. The amendment would extend the carry forward deduction period for ordinary operating losses, lengthening the provision from 5 years to 20 years. All but 5 states have a NOL carry forward time-frame greater than 5 years. The committee amendments to LB 308 would bring Nebraska in line with the federal corporate income tax policy and the majority of states on loss carry forwards. This will help improve Nebraska’s business tax climate, allowing small businesses, new ventures, high-tech businesses and manufacturers additional time for investment and employment growth.

Other bills that have been given priority designation include: LB 96 exempts repair or replacement parts for agricultural machinery and equipment from the sales tax; LB 362 changes the fee for state park permits to a registration fee on motor vehicles; LB 393 repeals the helmet law for motorcyclists 21 years of age and older; LB 439 increases the cigarette tax; LB 543 repeals the death penalty; LB 561 restructures the juvenile justice system; LB 517 creates the Water Sustainability Project Task Force; LB 577 expands Medicaid as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act; and LB 613 creates a committee to conduct a comprehensive study of our tax system, including sales, income and property taxes.

In February, I held open houses in several locations in the eastern portion of Legislative District #1. On Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24, I plan to hold open houses in the western part of the district. At 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, I will be at the Little Brown Jug Coffee Shop in Pawnee City; at 10:00 a.m. at Frazier’s Cafe in Tecumseh; and at 1:00 p.m. at Scott’s Cafe in Sterling. On Sunday, I will be at the Palmyra Activities Center at 1:00 p.m. I encourage you to stop by on March 23 or 24 so that I can get the chance to meet you and to hear your thoughts on issues that are before the Legislature.

My contact information is District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln NE 68509. My e-mail address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my office telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

March 8th, 2013

The Legislature began debate on a proposed constitutional amendment that would authorize wagering on prerecorded or “historic” horse races that are replayed at licensed racetracks on video terminals. If Legislative Resolution 41 is approved by the Legislature, it would be placed on the November 2014 general election ballot, allowing voters to make the final decision.

Senators passed a bill last year dealing with the same horse racing issue, however, the Governor vetoed the bill and the motion to override the veto fell just short of the votes required. In his veto message, Governor Heineman inferred that the bill might be constitutionally suspect. Therefore, Senator Scott Lautenbaugh introduced a constitutional amendment this year to remove all doubt that wagering on such races is constitutional.

Proponents pointed out that this proposal would help the horse racing industry that has been struggling for a number of years and would preserve thousands of jobs. They also stressed the relationship between horse racing and agriculture. Opponents countered that this proposal represents expanded gambling and that the terminals are very similar to slot machines. They state that the horse racing industry is dying and efforts should not be made to extend its life. Opponents vowed to filibuster LR 41CA at every stage of debate, if necessary.

In 2008, the Legislature passed a law requiring all indoor places of employment and public places to be smoke-free. The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on LB 630, which would require licensed in-home day care facilities to be smoke-free at all times, not just while the day care facility is open. Additionally, LB 630 would prohibit smoking in a motor vehicle that is used to transport children for a licensed child care provider. Proponents of the bill emphasized the harmful effects of residual smoke.

This past week, I introduced LB 588 before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. This legislation would create awareness of and update a process in current statute that gives preference to eligible veterans when seeking employment with the state or its governmental subdivisions. The law currently provides that veterans who obtain passing scores on all parts of an examination shall have 5% added to their score if a claim for such preference is made on the application. An additional 5% is added to the passing score of any disabled veteran. The current program was put in place more than 40 years ago. When enacted, civil service exams were common, making the additional point system applicable.

Language taken from state personnel rules would be added to the current statutes, under an amendment that I offered at the public hearing on LB 588. This language states that if an examination or numerical scoring is not used, preference would be granted to the qualifying veteran if there are two or more equally qualified candidates for a position. LB 588 also proposes to allow spouses of veterans with a 100% service-connected disability to receive veterans preference and requires that necessary documentation to prove veteran status and disability status be submitted. Furthermore, the bill requires that all notices and applications must state that the position is subject to a veterans preference and requires that veterans be notified if not hired within 30 days of the position being filled.

When a veteran serves our country, not only are they placed in potential danger, they also must be away from home for extended periods of time, creating many hardships. When they return, they should not be penalized for their lack of job experience or education during the time they served. The intent behind LB 588 is to help resolve the relatively high unemployment rate, especially among our younger veterans. I feel that our state needs to do what we can to assist our veterans, who have given unselfishly of themselves for our country. Updating the veterans preference statutes, to make them more relevant, functional and accessible is one simple step we can take.

Again, I welcome your thoughts and opinions on these and other issues that are before the Legislature. 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

March 1st, 2013

In 1965, legislation was passed authorizing a Medicaid program in Nebraska. Medicaid offers health insurance for children in low-income families, pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled, as well as a small number of parents with income levels below 54% of federal poverty level. Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal government and the state, with the federal government currently paying 55% and the state 45%.

In 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, creating an individual mandate for health insurance and establishing health insurance exchanges. As a result, it is expected that the number of participants in Medicaid will grow among those currently qualified, due to increased awareness of the program.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the requirement to expand Medicaid was to be voluntary for individual states. The expansion would cover low-income adults from ages 19-65. LB 577 was introduced to require the state to expand Medicaid. This reflects a major expansion of the program, as adults without dependent children were not previously eligible for the program, unless they were disabled. As an incentive for states, the federal government has agreed to pay 100% of the costs of the expansion for the first three years. This reimbursement would decrease to 90% by 2020.

Whether the state should approve this expansion was the topic of five hours of testimony at the public hearing on LB 577, held this past week before the Health and Human Services Committee. The director of the Medicaid division, within the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, testified against the bill. The Governor has made his opposition well-known, in that he thinks it will cost too much money and take dollars away from other state priorities.

Although it is hard to predict accurately, the Legislative Fiscal Office projects that the cost to implement the expansion from 2014 through 2020 would be $2.5 billion, of which $75 million would come from state funds. This does not include the additional $60 million that will be required from state funding and $140 million from federal funds for mandatory costs associated with the federal health care reform law over just the next two-year period. This will be one of the major issues that the Legislature deals with during this session.

I introduced LB 101 before the Revenue Committee this past week. LB 101 would reduce the valuation of agricultural land for school district taxation purposes from 75% to 65% of actual value over a five-year period. School districts are the largest recipient of local property taxes. Such a decrease in valuation would trigger an increase in equalization aid for school districts that contain agricultural land and receive equalization aid. The number of non-equalized school districts is increasing and this legislation could help reverse that trend.

Rural landowners represent a small percentage of the state’s population but shoulder a significant portion of the property tax burden. Agricultural land values have increased by double digit numbers the last several years, thereby enhancing the problem.

During the discussion of the Governor’s proposal to repeal the income tax and eliminate specific sales tax exemptions, we heard repeatedly that property taxes need to be included in any discussion of our tax code. Legislation calling for a comprehensive study of our tax system has been introduced and prioritized.

At the public hearing, I asked the Revenue Committee to advance LB 101. However, if the decision was made to hold all bills dealing with tax revisions pending the outcome of the comprehensive study, I requested that LB 101 be included in these discussions.

If you have comments on the Medicaid expansion or other issues before the Legislature, I welcome your input. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My e-mail address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Top Issues By Committee

February 25th, 2013

Top issues by committee: (introducer, hearing date, status) (402)471-2733

Agriculture

LB 354 (Larson, 2/5, in committee) – Corn Check off

Privatizes board, retains state oversight, retains current 5/10 cent check-off. Farm Bureau total support if amended to prohibit lobbying on federal legislation.

LB 423 (Ag Comm., 2/12, in committee) – abuse and neglect of animals

Provides for improved protocols and availability of professional assistance to law enforcement in responding to incidents of livestock cruelty/neglect.

LB 60 (Larson, 1/22, in committee), LB 654 (Davis, 2/19, Larson has IPP motion) – Brand law

LB 60 removes Knox County from the brand inspection area and LB 654 expands it statewide.

Appropriations

Projected $194,984,422 short of minimum reserve at end of upcoming biennium FY 2013-15.

Governor’s proposal includes additional $62.1 million to University, $6.2 million to State Colleges and $10.7 million to community colleges, in return for tuition rate freeze; increases Medicaid funding by $214 million over the 2-year period for increased utilization and implementation of federal health care reform, provider rate increases, and due to reductions in the federal match rate (FMAP).

Banking, Commerce & Insurance

LB 384 (Nordquist, 2/19, in committee), LB 568 (Harr, 2/19, in committee) – Health Insurance Exchanges (federal health care reform)

LB 384, the Nebraska Exchange Transparency Act, establishes a stakeholder commission to provide oversight, recommendations and transparency regarding the implementation and operation of the insurance exchange. LB 568 requires the licensure of insurance navigators by the Dept. of Insurance.

LB 80 (Schumacher, 2/11, in committee) – liability limits

Doubles the minimum coverage limits for liability policies regarding proof of financial responsibility now set at $25,000 per person, $50,000 per occurrence and $25,000 for property damage. Hasn’t been increased in 25 years.

Business & Labor

LB 21 (Lathrop, 1/28, on Final Reading) – worker’s compensation

Repeals sunset for workers’ compensation benefits for mental injuries without corresponding physical injury for first responders.

Education

LB 407 (Sullivan, 2/11, in committee), LB 640 (Hadley, 2/11, in committee) – TEEOSA

LB 407 contains permanent changes (eliminate teacher education allowance, instructional time allowance, averaging adjustment and local choice adjustment, etc) and phases in the scheduled return to permanent provisions that were modified due to the recession. LB 640 contains a temporary aid adjustment factor and reinstates the averaging adjustment in a different form.

Formula increase – 10%; Governor proposal – 5%; LB 407 – 7%; LB 640 – can’t be determined.

LB 179 (Kintner, 2/26) – Learning Communities

Abolishes the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

LB 190 (Harms, before Appropriations Committee on 3/4), LB 495 (Sullivan, not set) – Early Childhood

LB 190 Increases state spending on early childhood education programs by $10 million per year (endowment – birth to age 3 – Sixpence) and LB 495 returns to General Fund four activities that were shifted to lottery funding during recession and half of the early childhood grant program (age 3-5). With freed up lottery proceeds, funding is available for the early childhood grant and endowment programs.

General Affairs

LB 590 (Lautenbaugh, 2/11, General File), LR 41 CA (Lautenbaugh, 2/11, General File) – Horseracing

Authorizes the State Racing Commission to license and regulate pari-mutuel wagering on historic horseraces. When similar bill vetoed last year, governor mentioned constitutionally suspect, hence introduction of constitutional amendment.

LR 34 CA (Schumacher, 2/25) – Expanded gambling

Allows the Legislature, rather than a vote of the people, to authorize and regulate forms of gambling (including casinos).

Government, Military & Veterans Affairs

LB 125 (Lautenbaugh, 1/24, passed) – OPS School Board

Decreased Omaha Public School Board from 12 to 9 members and requires new elections for all 9 members in May. Resolves late swearing-in issue. Elections would return to same schedule in primary and general election after this year.

LB 363 (Avery, 2/6, General File) – Public records

Attempt to keep the cost down for public records, LB 363 provides that public agencies could only charge for the cost of paper, equipment and toner related to copying documents. They could not charge for the labor of copier until after 6 hours.

LB 79 (Avery, 1/25, in committee) – CFLA

Repeals the Campaign Finance Limitation Act which was declared unconstitutional by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Lowers the dollar thresholds that trigger disclosure from $250 to $100 and requires all filings with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to be electronic as of January 1, 2016.

Health and Human Services

LB 577 (Campbell, 2/28) – Medicaid expansion (federal health care reform)

Extends Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level. Is now optional for states due to U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Federal Government would pay 100% from 2014-2016, decreasing to 90% by 2020.

LB 530 (Dubas, 2/13, in committee) – foster care payments

Requires the reimbursement rate recommendations of the Foster Care Rate Commission to be implemented by July 1.

LB 216 (McGill, 1/31, in committee) – former state wards

Creates a program for young adults in foster care when they reach the age of 19 to provide for extended support services, such as medical care, housing support and case management services, until they reach 21 years of age.

Judiciary

LB 44 (Ashford, 2/8, General File) – mandatory life sentences for juveniles

Introduced in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life without parole for those younger than 18 constituted cruel and unusual punishment, if only sentencing option. The bill does not specify a minimum number of years of imprisonment, but committee amendments offer a 30-year minimum (considered for parole after 15 years).

LB 561 (Ashford, not set) – Juvenile Justice system

Creates an Office of Juvenile Assistance to be overseen by the judicial branch. Expands the Nebr. Juvenile Service Delivery Project (pilot in Omaha, North Platte and Scottsbluff). Appropriates $10 million to create community-based services for juveniles currently made wards of the state. Proposes to close the juvenile detention centers in Kearney and Geneva.

Natural Resources

LB 517 (Carlson, 2/13, in committee) – Comprehensive state-wide plan for water issues

Establishes a Water Sustainability Project Task Force charged with identifying water resources programs, projects and activities in need of funding in order to meet the long-term statewide goals of water sustainability, increased water use productivity and maximizing the beneficial use of water resources. Experts would be hired to accomplish objectives, using data from past studies. Funding from oil and gas severance taxes (currently transferred to the permanent school fund). A report is due to the Legislature by January 31, 2014.

LB 516 (Carlson, before Revenue Committee on 3/15) – Comprehensive state-wide plan for water issues

Establishes the Nebraska Water Legacy Commission. Proposes to earmark ¼ of 1% of sales tax revenue as a dedicated source of funding for new water projects, management and research, as identified by the recommendations developed as a result of the LB 517 study. Bill will be held over until next year.

Retirement

LB 553 (Nordquist, 2/6, in committee), LB 554 (Nordquist, 2/6, in committee), LB 305 (Nordquist, 2/12, in committee) – Creates new tier and changes amortization for School Employees plan, Class V (Omaha) School plan and State Patrol plan

LB 229 (Nordquist, 2/12, in committee) – Strikes sunset on the additional $1 in court fees earmarked for judges plan

LB 306 (Nordquist, 2/12, in committee) – Changes amortization for judges plan and strikes sunset on increased judges’ contribution rate

Introduced to address defined benefit plan short-term and long-term funding obligations. To address long-term funding obligations – new tier of reduced benefits created for patrol and school employees hired after July 1, 2013. New tier would lower COLA from 2.5% to 1% and increase number of years from 3 to 5 for calculating final average salary. To address short-term funding obligations, amortization method would change from level dollar to level percent of pay. This change in amortization method would lower additional contribution amounts in short-term. As contribution amounts increase, would be offset by the lower cost of benefits for new tier members.

Revenue

LB 405 (McCoy, Ashford, at request of Governor, 2/6, IPP – Eliminate the income tax

Eliminate the individual and corporate income tax and repeal $2.34 billion in sales tax exemptions, including medical equipment and medicine; hospital and college rooms; agricultural machinery, fertilizer and chemicals, energy used in agriculture, and seeds for commercial use; business repair parts and services; manufacturing machinery and energy used in industry; and from exempt organizations. The sales tax exemption on food would remain.

LB 406 (McCoy, Ashford, at request of Governor, 2/7, IPP) – Eliminate corporate income tax

Eliminate approximately $395 million in sales tax exemptions, allowing for the elimination of the corporate income tax and the exemption of the first $12,000 of retirement income for married couples and $6,000 for single individuals.

**Due to overwhelming opposition to both bills, the governor asked that they be killed, but that a comprehensive study be conducted on income, sales and property taxes over the interim.

LB 5, LB 17, LB 74, LB 75, LB 176, LB 227, LB 238 (Krist, Nordquist, Janssen, Smith, Kintner, Crawford, 1/30 & 1/31, in committee) – Exempt some or all retirement income from taxation (social security benefits, military retirement benefits)

To exempt all retirement income from taxation would reduce state revenue by more than $200 million annually.

LB 104 (Lathrop, 2/14, in committee), LB 501 (Hadley, 2/14, in committee), LB 572 (Harr, 2/14, in committee), LB 627 (Conrad, 2/14, in committee) – Nebraska Advantage Act

LB 104 adds a Tier 7 which would apply to investments in renewable energy. LB 501 encourages the development of renewable energy by adding a definition of qualifying renewable energy projects. LB 572 attempts to make it easier for a project to meet eligibility requirements for credits and changes the special capital gains exclusion to include Limited Liability Corporations which greatly expands the potential for use. LB 627 terminates the Nebraska Advantage Act and the Nebraska Advantage Rural development Act every 5 years unless extended by the Legislature.

Transportation & Telecommunications

LB 351 (Harms, 2/5, in committee) – drivers licenses for older citizens

Requires applicants for a drivers license that are 80 years and older to pass a cognitive test. If such applicant fails the cognitive test, required to pass the written test to be issued a license.

LB 189 (Harms, 2/11, in committee), LB 10 (Krist, 2/11, in committee) – seat belts

Would make a seat belt violation a primary offense and requires all passengers to use seat belts. LB 189 increases fine from $25 to $100 and assesses 1 point on driving record.

LB 118 (Harms, 2/11, in committee) – texting

Would make texting a primary offense.

Urban Affairs

LB 404 (McGill, 2/12, in committee) – Natural Gas

Amends the State Natural Gas Act by removing the statutory language which currently prevents the utility company from increasing the monthly charge more than 50 cents per month over the base rates for residential customers for infrastructure system replacement cost recovery charges.

LB 529 (Dubas, 2/12, in committee), LR 29 CA (Adams, 2/12, General File) – Tax Increment Funding

LB 529 amends the Community Development Law regarding approval of a redevelopment plan and use of TIF. Limits the redevelopment project valuation to 1.5% and the excess valuation to 5% of a city’s total taxable valuation. LR 29 is a constitutional amendment to replace the requirement that property be designated “substandard and blighted” with language stating that the property must be “in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment”. Committee amendments strike extension of maximum length of time to repay TIF bonds from 15 to 20 years.

Other Issues

LB 266 (Chambers, Revenue, 2/27) – repeal additional ½ cent local option sales tax authority

LB 381 (Janssen, Govt., not set) – Voter ID

LB 382 (Janssen, Govt., not set) – Winner takes all, electoral college

LB 518 (Janssen, HHS, 3/21) – Repeal prenatal care for illegal immigrants

LB 531 (Conrad, Revenue, 2/27) – Repeal Build Nebraska Act (¼ of 1% of sales tax dedicated to roads projects)

LB 613 (Schumacher, Executive Board, 2/19) – Create the Tax Modernization Commission – Senator Hadley offered an amendment at the hearing to allow the Revenue Committee to lead the comprehensive study of the tax code.

Legislative Update

February 22nd, 2013

Earlier this month, the Appropriations Committee heard testimony on a bill that would transfer $40 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to Natural Resource Districts with integrated management plans that have entered into contracts to construct or implement streamflow enhancement projects. Under LB 185, the loan would be repaid by June 30, 2018 with proceeds of the occupation tax. The authority to levy an occupation tax was granted by the Legislature to NRDs several years ago.

Four NRDs (the Upper Republican in Imperial, the Middle Republican in Curtis, the Lower Republican in Alma, and the Twin Platte in North Platte) worked together and purchased 19,500 acres of land. The plan was to take some farmland out of irrigation and to pump water into the Platte and Republican Rivers, in order to remain in compliance with the Republican River Compact (a 1943 three-state compact with Colorado and Kansas) and the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. The initial financing of the project was planned to be through the issuance of bonds with repayment being the proceeds of the occupation tax on irrigated lands collected by the four NRDs. However, a lawsuit was filed late last year by individual irrigators and two irrigation districts. Since the NRDs are unable to proceed with bonding authority while a lawsuit is pending, legislation was introduced to request a loan from the state.

After overwhelming opposition to the Governor’s proposal to fund the elimination of the individual income tax and the corporate income tax by repealing certain sales tax exemptions, Governor Heineman has asked the Revenue Committee to kill his proposal. This is a good example of the importance of input from the citizens of our state, showing that your opinions do have an impact on state government.

Amid all the opposition, the Governor did bring to light a topic that needs to be addressed. Since our tax code has not changed significantly in approximately 45 years, now is the time to have that discussion. LB 613, introduced by Senator Paul Schumacher of Columbus, was heard before the Executive Board this past week. It proposes to create a Tax Modernization Commission. The intent is to not only look at the income tax, but also study the sales tax, the property tax and other issues affecting state revenue, such as tax incentives. Under the proposal, a preliminary report is to be issued to the Legislature by December 15 of this year, in time for the introduction of legislation in the 2014 session. The legislation envisions an open process for the study, requiring the Commission to hold a tax summit, develop online questionnaires, and conduct public hearings across the state.

One of the bills that the Health and Human Services Committee heard this past week was LB 507, introduced by Senator Kathy Campbell, the chair of the committee. Under LB 507, the Step Up to Quality Child Care Act, the Nebraska Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to develop a quality rating and improvement system for child care and early childhood education programs. The purpose of the legislation is to bring accountability for the public funds invested in such programs. Under the proposal, the system would be available to all child care and early childhood education programs, but participation would be required for programs that receive significant amounts of public funds. In 2012, 43,000 children qualified for publicly-subsidized child care and licensed providers were paid more than $94 million in child care subsidy payments. It is imperative to ensure that the care the state supports is of high quality.

I encourage you to contact me with your opinions on legislation of interest. 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 e-mail address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

Legislative Update

February 14th, 2013

Should police be able to stop a motorist for not wearing a seat belt or for texting? As a member of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, one afternoon this past week was spent discussing these issues. The current law requires all front seat motorists to wear seat belts. However, police can only ticket violators if they are stopped for some other reason. Both LB 10 and LB 189 would make a seat belt violation a primary offense and would require all passengers to be buckled up, not just front seat passengers. LB 189, introduced by Senator John Harms of Scottsbluff, also proposes to increase the fine for a seat belt violation from $25 to $100 and to assess 1 point to the driving record. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt laws. New Hampshire is the only state with no seat belt law for adults. Seat belt laws in the remainder of the states (including Nebraska) are secondarily enforced.

Currently, seat belt usage is approximately 79%. Based on experience in other states, testifiers projected that this statistic would increase to 90% if either LB 10 or LB 189 were passed into law. Proponents testified that primary seat belt laws save lives, reduce injuries, and lower crash costs to society.

Opponents feared that making a seat belt violation a primary offense could lead to racial profiling by police. Others questioned how far the government should intrude into personal decision-making.

Senator Harms also introduced LB 118, which would make texting a primary offense. Currently, reading, typing or sending a text message is against the law while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion, but a driver can only be charged if pulled over for a different traffic violation.

For years, Nebraskans have discussed the need for a comprehensive statewide plan to deal with water challenges facing the state, from severe drought to flooding, interstate compacts, and management of our underground water supplies. There have been studies and discussions, but no widespread solutions or agreement on funding sources.

This past week, the Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing on LB 517, which proposes to establish a Water Sustainability Project Task Force to work with the Department of Natural Resources. The task force would be charged with identifying water resources programs, projects and activities in need of funding in order to meet the long-term statewide goals of water sustainability, increased water use productivity, and maximizing the beneficial use of water resources. Experts would be hired to accomplish the objectives in LB 517, analyzing data gathered from past studies. The funding for the study would be sought from the oil and gas severance taxes the state collects, which currently are transferred to the permanent school fund. A report is to be submitted to the Legislature by January 31, 2014. LB 517 was introduced by Senator Tom Carlson, the chair of the Natural Resources Committee.

Senator Carlson also introduced another bill which will have a public hearing before the Revenue Committee on March 15. LB 516 would establish the Nebraska Water Legacy Commission and proposes to earmark one-fourth of one percent of sales tax revenue as a dedicated source of funding for new water projects, management and research, as identified by the recommendations for a comprehensive, multi-year plan developed as a result of the LB 517 study. With the passage of LB 84 last year to divert one-fourth of one percent of sales tax revenue for road projects, supporters claim that water is just as important as roads to our state. This bill will be held over until next year, giving senators and the public time to discuss whether this is an appropriate source of funds.

Again, I encourage your comments on the issues that are before the Legislature. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My e-mail address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my office telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

February 8th, 2013

Over 12 hours of testimony was presented at the public hearings this past week before the Revenue Committee on the two bills introduced at the request of the Governor to eliminate or reduce the individual and corporate income taxes. Governor Heineman proposed the bills as a way to create higher-paying jobs and keep our young people, retirees and veterans in the state. The loss in income tax revenue would be replaced with increased revenue from the sales tax, through the elimination of certain sales tax exemptions.

There were only a few testifiers in support of LB 405 and LB 406, in addition to the sponsors of the bills, Senators Beau McCoy and Brad Ashford of Omaha, the Governor himself, and the Tax Commissioner, Doug Ewald. However, there was no short supply of opponents. They filled the committee hearing room and spilled into an overflow room nearby. Opponents included the state chamber of commerce, agricultural organizations, health care providers, nonprofit groups, college students, as well as low-income Nebraskans. Furthermore, several businesses have threatened to leave the state if certain sales tax exemptions are repealed.

The hearing on LB 405 lasted until after 11 p.m. on Wednesday evening. Although I am not a member of the Revenue Committee, I did sit in on the hearing for several hours, after finishing up with my committee work. The hearing on LB 406 was held the following afternoon.

Information provided on the projected fiscal impact of LB 405, which eliminates both the income tax on individuals and the corporate income tax, showed a loss in revenue ranging from $171 million to $340 million by fiscal year 2016-17. The intent of LB 405 was to be revenue neutral. The fiscal uncertainty caused testifiers to stress the need for caution when discussing major tax reform.

I have heard from many constituents on the Governor’s proposals and the response has overwhelmingly been in opposition to LB 405 and LB 406. The Revenue Committee has not taken any action on LB 405 or LB 406, but it is doubtful that either bill will advance from committee, as introduced.

As a state senator, I receive information on programs and services offered by various organizations and agencies. From time to time, I will share some of this information with you. One service that I recently became aware of is the Nebraska Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), which is a division of the Nebraska Department of Insurance. This program offers free, unbiased counseling and education to older Nebraskans and persons with disabilities regarding Medicare and health insurance. The role of SHIIP is to help people understand their options so they can make informed choices. If you have Medicare questions or would like to arrange a meeting with a SHIIP counselor, I encourage you to call the toll-free hotline at 1-800-234-7119.

I appreciate the input I have received from the constituents of the 1st legislative district. In order to have the opportunity to hear from more of you, I have set up several open houses on Saturday, February 23. At 8:00 a.m., I will hold an open house at Janie’s Confections, 618 Central Avenue in Nebraska City; at 10:00 a.m. at Family Connections, 901 Central Avenue in Auburn; at noon at Schulenberg Bakery, 1713 Stone Street in Falls City; and at 2:30 p.m. at The Gathering Place, 718 3rd Street in Humboldt. I encourage you to stop by on February 23 so that I can get the chance to meet you and to hear your thoughts on issues that are before the Legislature.

My contact information is District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln NE 68509. My e-mail address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my office telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

February 1st, 2013

Two weeks of public hearings have been completed. All 655 bills that were introduced will be scheduled for a public hearing by March 21. This past week, senators began meeting as a body in the mornings to discuss the legislation that has already advanced from the various committees. The first few days were spent giving first round approval to primarily noncontroversial bills, including two bills that I introduced. The first bill that encountered some extended debate was LB 125, which proposes to reduce the Omaha School Board from 12 to 9 members.

Every senator spends their afternoons in the various committees to which they are assigned. On Monday and Tuesday, I sit on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, on the Health and Human Services Committee.

Last week, HHS Committee members listened to lengthy testimony on both sides of LB 132, the Skin Cancer Prevention Act. This legislation proposes to ban those under 18 years of age from using tanning equipment at a tanning facility. Any operator of a tanning facility who allows a person under the age of 18 to use tanning equipment would be guilty of a Class V misdemeanor. For several days this past week, I received at least 50 e-mails a day in support of this bill.

Proponents of LB 132 quoted from a National Cancer Institute report that showed the number of melanoma cases for young women between the ages of 15 and 39 increased as much as 50% from 1980 to 2004. It is believed that the spike in malignant melanoma in young women is due in part to their rising use as adolescents of commercial indoor tanning facilities. Ultraviolet radiation is categorized by the World Health Organization, FDA, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the highest risk category, calling the practice “carcinogenic to humans”, a distinction shared with asbestos and arsenic. The American Medical Association recommends that no one under the age of 18 expose their skin to artificially generated ultraviolet radiation. Supporters reminded committee members that tobacco use, which is also associated with cancer, is illegal for persons under 18 years of age.

If LB 132 were to pass, opponents pointed out that the law would be the most extreme law in the country regulating indoor tanning. Currently only two states ban indoor tanning for persons under 18 and the penalties are less severe in those two states than under LB 132. Opponents countered that no experimental data exists to show a causative connection between indoor tanning and melanoma. They feel that it is more of a competitive issue with dermatologists than a public health issue. Opponents responded that young people would instead tan more aggressively outdoors or use home tanning devices with no supervision if the ban were in place. They also questioned whether the government should get involved in such issues.

This past week, a public hearing was held on LB 216 by the HHS Committee. The purpose of this legislation is to support former state wards in transitioning to adulthood. Testifiers related their personal experiences of trying to make it on their own without adult support or guidance. Under the bill, a program would be created for young adults in foster care when they reach the age of 19 to provide for extended support services, such as medical care, housing support and case management services, until they reach 21 years of age. To qualify for the program, young adults would have to be attending school or be employed. It is estimated that the program could cost more than $3 million per year, although beginning in 2014, Medicaid expenses of former foster care children up to 26 years of age will be covered under the federal health care reform law.

Although the public hearing has been held on both of these bills, the HHS Committee has taken no action on either of them at this time. I predict that there will be more work done on both issues, prior to committee members discussing their advancement.

Again, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on the issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My e-mail address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

 

Sen. Dan Watermeier

District 1
Room #2108
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2733
Email: dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov
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