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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.