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Wednesday, January 3rd marked the first day of the One Hundred Fifth Legislature, Second Session. It was the earliest date that the Legislature could convene, as the constitution specifies the beginning date to be the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January. Legislative sessions in even-numbered years last for 60 days. During this session, senators will make any necessary adjustments to the 2-year budget that was set during the 90-day session in 2017.
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met at the end of October and lowered projected revenue by approximately $224 million, which resulted in an estimated shortfall of approximately $173 million. This has since increased, with the deficit budget request from the Department of Health and Human Services seeking an additional $50 million for higher than anticipated child welfare costs and lower than expected federal funding for Medicaid. Since the Legislature last year faced more than $1 billion in revenue shortfalls, making additional cuts will be difficult.
Due to the resignation of Senator Joni Craighead over the interim, senators welcomed Senator Theresa Thibodeau. She was appointed by Governor Ricketts to fill Senator Craighead’s seat, representing District #6 in Omaha. Since Senator Craighead served as the chair of the Committee on Committees, Omaha Senator Robert Hilkemann was elected by his colleagues to take her place.
Legislative bills that were not indefinitely postponed or passed by the Legislature last year were automatically carried over to this year’s session. More than 450 bills were awaiting senators when they began their work, most of which are still being held in committee.
Even with the projected budget shortfall, many senators are still pushing for tax relief. The Governor is working on alterations to LB 461, which was introduced last year to provide income and property tax relief. It stalled when senators couldn’t reach a consensus on whether property tax relief or income tax relief should be prioritized, while others felt that it was not the right time to discuss tax relief due to the budget situation. I pushed for $10 of property tax relief for every $1 of income tax relief. The Governor’s proposal will be outlined in his State of the State Address on January 10.
This past week, Senator Steve Erdman of Bayard introduced LB 829, which proposes a refundable state income tax credit equal to 50% of property taxes paid to support local schools. It is estimated that this proposal will provide $1.1 billion in property tax relief, however the legislation does not address how the state is to fund it. Likewise, Trent Fellers, with Reform for Nebraska’s Future, has submitted similar language to the Nebraska Secretary of State for an Initiative Petition. If sufficient signatures are gathered, it would be placed on the general election ballot in November for Nebraskans to vote on.
A variety of information on the legislative process can be found on the Legislature’s website, nebraskalegislature.gov. Viewers can read the text of bills introduced, search state laws, find their senator, follow the progress of specific legislation, read the Unicameral Update, and watch the Legislature through live video streaming. I encourage readers to check out this site.
Last year I was elected as the chair of the Executive Board and will continue to serve as chair this year. The Executive Board supervises all legislative services and employees. It is also responsible for legislation involving issues under its jurisdiction.
With the start of session, I will be at the State Capitol on a daily basis. My office is located on the second floor, southwest corner of the State Capitol, Room 2108. I welcome your visit if you are in town. My staff will also be available to assist you, if I am in a meeting. Laura Olson is my administrative assistant/committee clerk. She answers the phone, greets visitors, handles my schedule, and serves as clerk to the Executive Board. Kim Davis is my legislative aide. She works on constituent issues and legislation. Janice Satra is the legal counsel for the Executive Board.
In order to effectively represent District #1, I encourage your input. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number at the capitol is (402) 471-2733. My mailing address is Senator Dan Watermeier, District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.