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Senators are allowed to introduce bills for the first 10 days of the legislative session. At the end of the 10th day, 655 bills, 6 constitutional amendments and 7 resolutions that require a public hearing were introduced by the Legislature. During the last several days of bill introduction, legislation was introduced to expand Medicaid coverage as envisioned under the federal health care reform law, to divert one-quarter of one percent of the sales tax for water sustainability projects, to repeal the law passed last year diverting one-quarter of one percent of the sales tax for road projects, to repeal the law passed last year providing Medicaid coverage of prenatal care for unborn children of illegal immigrants, to abolish the death penalty and to overhaul the juvenile justice system.
I introduced six bills and signed on as a co-sponsor to several others. Three of the bills that I introduced had their public hearing during the first week of hearings, of which two have already been advanced to the floor of the Legislature.
The first bill that I introduced was Legislative Bill 100. It proposes to bring state law into conformity with the current provisions of federal law relating to automatic teller machine (ATM) fee disclosure requirements. Currently, state law requires financial institutions operating ATMs to display notices in two separate places to notify customers that they might be charged fees for withdrawing cash from the ATM. One notice is a placard posted in a prominent location on the ATM and a second notice is required to appear on the screen of the ATM or on a paper notice issued from the machine prior to the completion of the transaction. Congress recently passed legislation eliminating the posting requirement, which is no longer needed as most every ATM now has on-screen capabilities to notify customers. Furthermore, the posting requirement has led to lawsuits across the country when the placard is missing or has been deliberately removed. LB 100 would remove the posting requirement from state law, once again conforming state law with federal law.
I introduced LB 102 at the request of the Department of Natural Resources. In 1997, the Legislature passed the License Suspension Act, finding that the potential suspension of a professional, occupational, or recreational license or driver’s license for failure to pay child support was an effective tool in the enforcement of child-support orders. To implement the law, social security numbers were required on the applications for certain licenses and permits. Consequently, applicants for certain water permits were required to list their social security numbers. Since these permits are public records, department personnel must redact this information before making them available to the public, but must keep the originals intact. Since the Department of Health and Human Services has never requested information on these permits, the legislation strikes the requirement for the inclusion of the applicant’s social security number. Not only will this save staff time, it will also protect the identity of the public.
The third bill that I introduced at a public hearing this past week was LB 156. Counties are required to establish general assistance programs and may develop community service programs for employable recipients. Counties utilizing a community service program are required to file an annual report to the Department of Health and Human Services. Previously, the department was to summarize the county findings in a report to the Legislature. However, this requirement was eliminated in 2005. Since only two counties have submitted reports and the reports are not being utilized, LB 156 strikes this requirement of the counties.
The other three bills that I introduced have not been assigned a hearing date at this time. LB 101 proposes to reduce the valuation of agricultural land from 75% to 65% of actual value for school district taxation purposes. LB 588 creates the Veterans Preference Act, to assist veterans when applying for jobs with the state and its governmental subdivisions. Finally, LB 589 deals with the responsibilities of natural gas companies in regards to the One-Call Notification requirement during emergency conditions.
As the Legislature begins debate on bills that have advanced to the floor, 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 e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
The Governor presented his State of the State address to the Legislature this past week, in which he outlined what he thought should be the state’s priorities during his final two years in office. Governor Heineman noted how he and the Legislature had worked together to make a positive difference for Nebraskans.
Governor Heineman spoke of the importance of education and noted that his budget proposal contains a 5% increase in each of the next two years for state aid to K-12 school districts, as well as a 5% increase in special education funding. In respect to postsecondary education, the Governor has been working on an agreement with the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska State College System to help ensure continued affordable access to higher education. The Governor’s proposed budget includes an approximate 4% increase for these institutions. In exchange, the university and state colleges have agreed that they will freeze tuition for the next two years at UNL, UNK, UNO, UNMC, Chadron State, Wayne State and Peru State College. The Governor’s budget also includes a similar increase in funding for community colleges.
The majority of the Governor’s address focused on taxes. He believes taxes are too high and that they impede economic growth. He quoted that a high personal income tax rate raises the costs of working, saving, investing and risk-taking. The Governor also noted that 23 states exempt a portion of or all retired military pay and 43 states exempt a portion of or all social security income from taxation. Furthermore, 42 states don’t have an inheritance tax.
The Nebraska income tax generates approximately $2.4 billion annually. The sales tax brings in an additional $1.5 billion. However, the Governor disclosed that the state allows approximately $5 billion in sales tax exemptions. He envisioned that if half of the current exemptions were eliminated, Nebraska wouldn’t need an individual or corporate income tax, meaning that there would be no individual income tax on working Nebraskans; no taxing of small business income; and no taxation of social security or military retirement income. There would be no taxation of any retirement income. The Governor’s address did not give specifics on his tax proposal, but he hinted that he may support lowering the rates for individual and corporate income taxes as an alternative.
Later in the week, the Governor offered two proposals as his recommendations for changes in our tax structure. Omaha Senators Brad Ashford and Beau McCoy will introduce the legislation on behalf of the Governor. The first proposal would repeal $2.34 billion in sales tax exemptions, which would allow for the total elimination of both the individual income tax and the corporate income tax. The second proposal would do away with 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. Both bills retain the sales tax exemption for food.
Every tax exemption that exists was fought for and is supported by different sectors of our society. Under the Governor’s broad proposal, sales tax would be collected on 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 governor has proposed a substantial change for our tax system. In offering two alternatives, he is giving the citizens of Nebraska the chance to offer their input. I think it is important to have the discussion, as our tax system hasn’t faced a major overhaul in almost five decades. It will be interesting to hear from the public as to whether they agree that the income tax is too high, whether they support the elimination of sales tax exemptions or if they are more concerned with other taxes.
I would be interested in your thoughts and opinions on the Governor’s proposals, as well as other 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 email@example.com and my office telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
First of all, I’d like to introduce myself. I am Senator Dan Watermeier, newly elected to fill the Legislative District #1 seat in the Nebraska Legislature, representing the counties of Johnson, Nemaha, Pawnee, Richardson and all of Otoe County, except the northeastern half of Nebraska City. I live west of Syracuse, where I am a farmer. I am honored to serve the people of southeast Nebraska in the Unicameral.
The One Hundred Third Legislature, First Session, began on Wednesday, January 9. One of the first items of business was the swearing in of newly elected members of the Legislature by the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Michael Heavican. Twenty-six senators took the oath of office following the November elections, of which ten senators were sworn in for the first time.
Following the ceremonial activities, senators got right to work with the election of the Speaker and the chairs of the committees. Senator Greg Adams of York was elected as Speaker of the Legislature. In a very close race, Senator Heath Mello of Omaha was elected to chair the Appropriations Committee. In other contested races, Senator Annette Dubas of Fullerton took over the reins of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and Senator Tom Carlson of Holdrege was elected as chair of the Natural Resources Committee.
Every senator is assigned committees to serve on. I was selected to serve on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee. Until mid-March, senators will meet as a body in the mornings and in their designated committees in the afternoons. Every bill that is introduced is referenced to a committee based on the subject matter of the legislation and is then guaranteed a public hearing.
Bill introduction is allowed for the first ten days of the legislative session. Typically, approximately 700 bills are introduced in a 90-day legislative session. The Legislature is predicted to discuss a wide range of issues including Medicaid expansion, incarcerated juveniles, our income tax structure and water issues.
My first week has been very interesting. I spent the first day in the office of former Senator Lavon Heidemann. Newly elected senators were then moved to a hearing room until offices were assigned. The office assignment process is based on seniority. By the end of the second day, I was assigned Room #1404, which is located in the north center hallway of the first floor of the State Capitol.
This year the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 5. While the Legislature is in session, I will drive back and forth from Syracuse to Lincoln every day. I encourage you to contact me about issues that are important to you. Only with your input can I truly represent District #1. My telephone number in the State Capitol is (402) 471-2733 and my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. My mailing address is: Senator Dan Watermeier, District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.
If I am in a meeting or on the legislative floor, my staff will be able to assist you. I have hired Tim Freburg as my Administrative Assistant. He will answer your phone calls and set up my appointments. Kim Davis was hired as my legislative aide. She will work on constituent issues and legislation.
I also would like to inform you of the Legislature’s website at NebraskaLegislature.gov. Viewers can read the text of bills introduced, search state statutes, e-mail state senators, view the agenda for the day, read the Unicameral Update online and even watch the Unicameral live.
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