NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Julie Slama

Sen. Julie Slama

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 jslama@leg.ne.gov

Week of December 2nd
December 13th, 2019

As 2019 comes to a close and we head into a new decade, I would like to share some statistics from my office for this year. Before we dive into the numbers, I’d first like to thank District 1 for the privilege of fighting for our region in the Nebraska Legislature. From attending area events to talking with constituents at the Capitol, it has been a productive year.

This year, a record 739 bills were introduced, all which had a public hearing. The busiest committee was Judiciary, which had 143 bills referenced to it in a single year. My bill passage rate was 80%, which breaks down to four of my five introduced or prioritized bills being passed. The longest filibuster of the session was 10.5 hours, which occurred during debate on Senator Albrecht’s LB 209. My bill (LB 399) to update Nebraska’s civics education statutes had the second-longest filibuster of session at 10.2 hours. Both LB 209 and LB 399 passed. The latest night of the 2019 session occurred on May 22, when the Legislature adjourned at 11:36 p.m. 257 of the 739 bills introduced this year were passed into law, for a passage rate of 35%. Three bills related to property tax relief passed, though the debate on more substantial relief will carry into 2020 as my top priority.

Throughout the interim, my focus was to cover the 2,400 square feet of District 1 and meet with as many of our 36,642 residents as possible. Between official events and informal visits, every single city, village, and unincorporated community has been visited at least once during 2019. I have visited each county in the District 1 at least 20 times and attended a total of 131 in-district events since the start of the year. Outside of in-person conversations, the most common form of outreach to my office is through email, which totaled 8,715 received as of December 8. My office has resolved an estimated 240 constituent service requests.  My average hours worked per week while the Legislature was in session was 75, and in the interim, the average workload was 41 hours per week. 

My office strives for effective service, both while considering bills and in constituent services. By incorporating a data-driven approach in the District 1 office, my staff and I are able to better serve you. Of course, the most impactful moments of this year can’t be found in the numbers. Listening to your experiences on subjects as wide-ranging as the impacts of year’s floods on small business owners to healthcare access in rural areas stoke my passion to continue fighting for southeast Nebraska in the Legislature. My next column will preview the fast-approaching 2020 session.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Week of November 25th
December 13th, 2019

This week’s column will be dedicated to the top issue in southeast Nebraska: property taxes. Last week, 44 of Nebraska’s 49 senators attended our annual “Legislative Council,” which was hosted this year in Nebraska City. At Legislative Council, senators give presentations on the major legislative issues we plan to tackle in the next session. Senator Linehan and the Revenue Committee presented their proposal of a multi-year plan for property tax relief. This plan would drop the valuation of ag land in the current school funding formula from 75% to 55% of assessed value and introduce a per-student funding mechanism for schools which do not receive state equalization aid. The state would cover the 20% drop in property tax revenue on ag land to prevent losses to school districts. Other measures for property tax relief on residential and commercial properties would be included in following years if the bill were to pass.

This bill would be solid progress in the right direction for our state. We have approximately $166 million in excess revenue, and instead of spending that extra money, I’d like to see it returned to the taxpayers through property tax relief. There were some urban senators who expressed their distaste for the proposed bill since the first round of relief does not directly impact their districts. Their concerns illustrate to me that we still have some senators who fail to grasp the crisis we’re facing in rural Nebraska. 

Our farmers are feeling the pinch of sky-high property taxes, low commodity prices, extensive flooding and, up until recently, poor weather in the areas that were not flooded. Moreover, District 1 is the only legislative district in the state which borders on three other states: Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas. All three of these states have far better property tax climates and are in direct competition with our farmers. Our property owners that live in town face an uphill battle, as well. Young people are renting homes are far higher rates than in years past, making it easier to leave town without having established the roots grown in buying one’s first home. School boards in southeast Nebraska work to balance the interests of the taxpayers and the needs of their schools, further pressured by the state’s failure to provide consistent funding for rural education. The property tax crisis is the most serious obstacle to rural economic development, without question.

The Revenue Committee’s proposal falls short of completely overhauling the state’s tax code, which I believe is necessary. However, it does make solid steps in the right direction. Back in 1979, farmers drove their tractors to Washington D.C. to protest the Carter administration’s farm foreclosures. The idea was to draw the urban officials’ attention to rural issues. My urban colleagues would be well-served to seriously consider property tax proposals before such a display happens here in Nebraska.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Week of November 3rd
December 13th, 2019

This year, as another Veterans Day approaches, we take time out of our busy schedules to pause and recognize the sacrifices made by those who answered the call of duty to serve our country. Serving and sacrificing to protect our freedoms is the utmost act of patriotism and deserves to be recognized every day of the year, not just on November 11. To the veterans reading this week’s column- thank you for your service. Your dedication to our country will never be forgotten.

Of course, a mere “thank you” from a policymaker is not enough. Words are appreciated, but actions are far more meaningful. Nebraska is one of the few states in the country that fully tax military retirement pay. This is unacceptable. Each year, we lose hundreds of our bravest men and women to neighboring states with far more favorable tax policies. Senator Tom Brewer, himself a decorated veteran, has brought a bill to exempt 50% of military retirement pay from income taxes. This bill, LB 153, is a solid step in the right direction of making Nebraska more veteran-friendly. It’s been a privilege to work with Senator Brewer on this bill, which will be up on the floor for debate early in the next session.

Our income tax discourages military retirees from settling in Nebraska. We are surrounded by states that offer more income tax relief to military retirees, and it shows in our declining numbers of veterans moving out of Nebraska upon retirement. According to the Platte Institute, 3,500 Nebraskans moved to Iowa in 2014. This was the year Iowa fully exempted Social Security and military retirement pay from the Iowa income tax rolls. 

District 1 is home to thousands of veterans. In Johnson County there are 328 veterans, 540 in Nemaha, 1,219 in Otoe, 213 in Pawnee, and 700 in Richardson. When you include spouses and families of veterans in that figure, you’ll find that the majority of people in District 1 have close ties to servicemembers. I take pride in knowing that we have a strong population of veterans in southeast Nebraska. LB 153 is a small step in the right direction for repaying those who served our country, and I look forward to supporting and introducing more veteran-friendly legislation in sessions to come.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Week of October 28th
December 13th, 2019

This interim, I’ve met with thousands of people across District 1. Whether it’s conversations held in Nebraska City or Du Bois, or even across the spectrum of liberals to conservatives, the major concerns are the same: property taxes are too high and flooding seems like it will never end. There’s a common theme in each conversation, as well: we all want a brighter future for southeast Nebraska.

There have been several weekly columns dedicated to provide answers for our property tax crisis and share my battles with the Corps of Engineers and federal government to ensure adequate resources for flood recovery. These are my top legislative priorities for the 2020 session and beyond. As we approach session, however, it’s encouraging to see a common goal that crosses party lines and any other divides that we may impose upon ourselves. This shared goal influences every decision made during my time in office.

This week’s column will focus on the factors necessary to create growth in rural areas, based around a simple fact: communities need to attract young people in order to thrive. We need to ensure that our young people have strong communities to encourage them to return home. In my research on the issue, rooted in my personal experience as someone who left the area for college, but chose to come back to southeast Nebraska, there are four keys to drawing our young people back home: economic opportunity, reasonable taxes, strong schools, and modern infrastructure. 

“Economic opportunities” boil down to jobs. Can a young person find a job that they’re qualified for nearby that provides competitive pay? For many, this interacts with the second key: reasonable taxes. When that job is found, can the young person afford to live in the area? This aspect goes beyond property taxes, which play a major role in their own right, and extends to sales, income, and other taxes, too. Young people looking to plant their family’s roots also consider the school district where their children will receive their education. What opportunities and community support are found in this district? Will my child receive a quality education? Last, but certainly not least, infrastructure includes access to roads, community facilities, and wi-fi. Access to the internet plays a large role in a young family’s decision to live in an area. Most millennials need access to the internet to complete basic functions of their job, like email. 

If Nebraskans are serious about their desire to grow our rural communities, we must create policies to address these four keys. I wholeheartedly support economic incentives to grow our rural businesses, an overhaul of our tax code and cuts of wasteful spending within our government to lower taxes, state aid funding reform for K-12 education to ensure that all school districts receive some form of financial support from the state, and initiatives to improve our roads and connect rural Nebraska to the internet. The unity I’ve seen across southeast Nebraska in support of a brighter future for our area is encouraging. Make no mistake about it, District 1- we’re all in this together.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Week of October 7th
December 13th, 2019

My top priority while serving District 1 in the Legislature is achieving meaningful and sustainable property tax relief. This week, I’ll be dedicating my column to an issue at the core of the property tax debate: K-12 school funding.

60-80% of local property taxes (depending on your district) collected in Nebraska are spent on funding K-12 education. The two main sources of funding for K-12 districts are local property taxes and state aid. The majority of state aid is provided through “equalization aid”. TEEOSA is the formula which determines the amount of equalization state aid a school district will receive in a given year. The Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) was introduced on January 9, 1990 as LB 1059. The mission of this bill was to provide tax equity for both taxpayers and schools, and to provide equity of educational opportunity for students. The basic formula that LB 1059 created was: needs – resources = equalization aid

Needs are the costs the school district to educate its students, resources are the revenue sources, and equalization aid is distributed by the state to help make up the difference between those two numbers. The basic concept of LB 1059 has not changed since 1990 but statutes governing state aid have been tweaked several times. The result of these “tweaks” is a formula with a few dozen variables that requires high-level math to decipher. Variables to determine need include a “Focus School Allowance” and “Community Achievement Allowance,” both of which solely benefitted Omaha-area schools in Sarpy and Douglas counties, and the “System Averaging Adjustment,” which was a variable thrown in to benefit the largest school districts in the state. There are very few members of the Legislature with a working knowledge of TEEOSA, for two reasons: term limits have led to a loss in institutional knowledge built up amongst senators, and the formula is incredibly complex. Members of the body have hesitated to overhaul TEEOSA in years past, which has led to the formula becoming dated and structured to benefit the largest school districts in Nebraska.

I am wholeheartedly in favor of ensuring that every child in the state of Nebraska has access to educational opportunities within our public school system. A strong K-12 system is critical to our state’s growth. Providing those opportunities requires revenue, which again, is a pretty non-controversial fact. However, it is unacceptable for me to see the 15 largest school districts in Nebraska receive the lion’s share of equalization aid from the state (around 70-75%, depending on the year), leaving the remaining 229 school districts to fight over the 25-30% which remains. When our rural school districts depend almost solely on local property tax revenues to keep their doors open and lights on, our kids miss out on opportunities and our property taxpayers shoulder a much heavier burden to support their K-12 education. In District 1, the majority of our school districts do not receive equalization aid from the state. District 1 school districts that do receive equalization aid may receive $1 million one year and nothing the next, creating a very unreliable funding source.

At the core of Nebraska’s property tax crisis and one of the biggest hurdles to rural development, is our state’s strategy to fund schools through a system that relies far too heavily on local property tax revenue. Meaningful and sustainable property tax relief will be tough to achieve without an effort to reform this system.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at: Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Week of September 23rd
December 13th, 2019

This week’s column will be dedicated to our ongoing flooding issues along the Missouri River. While the Missouri River floodplain occupies only a small amount of District 1, its flooding has far-reaching impacts throughout our part of the state.

There are three bridges in District 1 which cross the Missouri River. Highway 2 in Nebraska City has been reopened and is currently being raised on the Missouri side of the river. This project was initiated to help prevent repeats of summer flooding in 2011 and 2019, in which all bridges across the Missouri between Omaha and St. Joseph were closed. The Missouri River bridge at Highway 136 at Brownville is projected to have an October 31 opening, but that date is tentative based on weather conditions. Highway 159 at Rulo was reopened in early September after a 177-day closure, but was closed again after the most recent river rises. Damage to Highway 159 on the Missouri side of the bridge will need to be assessed after the river recedes. Closure of these bridges have a crippling effect on our area’s economy, from severely limiting commuter traffic in towns with bridges to limiting employee access to their jobs across the river. Additional infrastructure impacted includes the Steamboat Trace Trail, with five to six miles of its 22-mile route either washed away or still underwater.

A community facing some of the most costly and longest-term damage in Nebraska is also located in District 1. Peru’s levee failed for the first time since 1952 during the initial March flooding event. Six months later, 8,000 acres of land remain underwater. Several pieces critical to the town’s infrastructure also remain surrounded by water, including the town’s water treatment facility and sewer lagoons. A temporary water treatment facility is operating, but is only designed to last for three years. Before those three years elapse, Peru community leaders will need to find a long-term solution for the town’s water supply. Another uncertainty is whether or not the Corps of Engineers will repair Peru’s levee, which it claims had fallen to the Corps’ “inactive” list and is therefore ineligible for repair. However, the only reason the Peru levee remained on the “inactive” list was a failure to fill out a single set of paperwork. Thus, a $2,000 bureaucratic hoop is the only reason the levee is ineligible for a repair estimated to cost between $50-$60 million. The Corps have repaired other “inactive” levees with far greater deficiencies along I-29. If the levee is not repaired, the Peru river bottoms will become a seasonal wetland, compromising critical infrastructure and some of the best farmland in the area. I have joined forces with state and local leaders to prepare a plan for Peru’s future, and am also working closely with our federal delegation to exhaust all options to repair the levee.

I am fighting for all Southeast Nebraska communities impacted by this year’s flooding. Our communities face an uphill climb to recovery, but I will be working with our towns every step of the way. 

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at: Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Week of September 9th
December 13th, 2019

Though the Legislature is not back in session until January, senators are still hard at work to craft bills for 2020. A helpful tool to gather the necessary information on a subject is through interim studies. Interim studies are a lesser-known tool outside of the Capitol, so this column is intended to provide an introduction to this concept.

An interim study is a resolution that any senator can introduce during session. It’s an opportunity to analyze a concept in-depth. This information could then potentially be used for future legislation. After a Senator introduces an interim study, it is assigned to a committee. Each committee prioritizes the studies assigned to them and determines which studies will receive a fall hearing. Interim studies differ from bills in that they are not guaranteed a public hearing. If an interim study does not receive a hearing in the committee’s first round of scheduling, the senator can request one. These hearings are public but testimony is generally invite only. The testimonies are normally given by professionals who are educated on the specific topic and can provide information that will benefit the committee. 

This interim, there were 144 resolutions introduced and three of them were mine. LR 95 was introduced to examine the prevalence and economic costs of methamphetamine use in the state. LR 96 was introduced to examine the long-term public power generation and transmission options in the state. LR 134 was introduced to examine the drug testing protocol recently changed by the Division of Children and Family Services for families involved in the child welfare system. Each of these studies could result in legislation for next session, and each topic directly impacts District 1.

Interim studies give senators the chance to dive deeper into issues and hear from those who specialize in the specific area. Studies are a great way to analyze different approaches to a subject, test the waters for potential legislation, or just to learn more about an issue. Interim study hearings began this month and will continue through Thanksgiving.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov

Week of August 26th
December 13th, 2019

This week, my column will have two points of focus. First, there are some flood-related updates to share. The Missouri River bridge at Rulo is expected to re-open this week. Work has begun on Highway 136 leading to the Missouri River bridge at Brownville. With extensive damage to the road and its underlying foundation, officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) are estimating a reopening date of early October for the Brownville bridge. The most up-to-date information on these reopenings can be found on MoDOT’s website.

Congressman Smith visited our area last week to tour the flood damage and better understand the fight Peru is facing to repair our levee. It’s encouraging to know that our federal delegation has taken an interest in our situation, as their support will be critical in accessing federal resources to repair the levee. News stations in Omaha have also been in contact with my office, and a few will be coming down in the next several weeks to show their viewers that our corner of the state is still feeling the impacts of this flood.

Now, to my second focus of this week’s column: accessibility. In the past two weeks, I’ve traveled to town halls throughout the district, including Sterling, Julian, Humboldt, Stella, Brownville, Palmyra, Unadilla, Lorton, Brock, Douglas, Burchard, Lewiston, Talmage, Nebraska City, and Auburn. My goal is to travel to every single incorporated village and town in the district for an official event before the end of the year. Looking over my schedule this fall and map of District 1, there’s only a few communities without an event scheduled yet. 

A number of people have informed me that such a goal is unnecessary, and it would be easier to only schedule events in the district’s larger towns. To me, however, that’s the difference between just “going through the motions” of this role and putting in the work that Southeast Nebraska deserves. Accessibility is one of the most important parts of my job. That accessibility applies to every part of the district, regardless of town size. It’s impossible to form a clear vision for the future of our region without blanketing the area to understand what’s most important to our people. 

That same high-energy approach applies to questions of policy, as well. Many officials consider it to be easier to spout “political fluff” on hot-button issues without any strategy to address them. My approach is the opposite- I’m in the trenches, fighting for a brighter future for our district through achieving long-term property tax relief, K-12 funding reform to ensure that our rural school districts are receiving state funding, better roads and broadband access, and economic development across the region. My plans to get there are specific and achievable. These goals, and the strategy to achieve them, are rooted in conversations that I’ve had across the district. District 1 is my home, and putting in the energy to make a measurable, positive impact is well worth the extra effort.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Week of August 12th
December 13th, 2019

Last week, students across District 1 loaded their backpacks and went back to school. As we transition from summer into fall, my hope is to use this week’s column to share resources that Nebraska families can use for guidance on mental and behavioral health as they navigate the new school year.

Outside of mental health services which may be offered in your child’s school, there are a number of helplines available to help those who need to talk or are seeking advice on resources available to them. Three of the most comprehensive, Nebraska-based numbers are listed below.

The Nebraska Family Helpline: 888-866-8660

The Nebraska Rural Response Hotline: 800-464-0258

Universal Resource Navigation: 211

The Nebraska Family Helpline is designed to be a one-stop shop for parents with kids of all ages, who have any type of question regarding their child’s behavior. Trained Helpline operators screen calls on every topic, from behavioral information for toddlers to mental health crisis information for teens. Operators can also help connect families with community- and state-based resources. The Helpline is supervised by licensed mental health professionals and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Nebraska Rural Response Hotline is provided through the Farm Crisis Response Council. Rural residents can call this number for confidential advice about mental health services and vouchers available for such programs.

211 is a free, comprehensive information and referral system linking Iowa and Nebraska residents to health and human service programs, community services, disaster services, and governmental programs. In short, 211 is a one-stop source of information for people looking for services ranging from food pantries to crisis intervention services. 

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services also has extensive resources dedicated to children’s behavioral health, which can be found at: http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Childrens-Behavioral-Health.aspx. There is a wealth of additional resources available on the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website (dhhs.ne.gov). 

Heading back-to-school and other transitions in life can be tough on children and adults alike. There’s no shame in asking for help when needed.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Week of July 15th
July 31st, 2019

As a state senator, I normally dedicate my column to issues directly facing the state. However, there’s a debate occurring on a national level that has consequences for Nebraskans. Illegal immigration has become an issue shrouded in confusing, and at times, misleading, language. My hope is that this week’s article can provide a basic insight into the debate on illegal immigration.

 

The phrase “illegal immigration” itself has become cloudy. Some claim that it unfairly paints undocumented immigrants as criminals. That line of argument ignores the fact that entering this country illegally is, in fact, a crime. Far-left lawmakers argue all illegal immigrants are “asylum seekers.”  Even though those who cross the border illegally may be seeking a better future for themselves or their families, they are not, under any definition, “asylum seekers” until they formally declare their intent to seek asylum. This can take place at either a legal port of entry or in the United States. 

A person is not an asylum seeker until they begin the formal process. The overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants do not make any effort to begin this process, and to do so, asylum seekers must meet two requirements: they must 1) fear persecution in their own country and 2) fall into one of five protected classes. Referring to all illegal immigrants as “asylum seekers” is incorrect. In reality, most illegal immigrants in the United States are “economic migrants,” meaning they are trying to improve their economic standing by coming to the country. These immigrants do not fall under the definition of asylum seekers. 

There have been dozens of demonstrations against ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials in the last few weeks. The most visible of these protests occurred in Aurora, Colorado, where the American flag was stripped from its pole and replaced with a Mexican flag. Protestors claim that ICE is responsible for separating immigrant children from their parents, when it is really U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents who are responsible for that task. Such separations typically happen when adults are suspected of trafficking the children they are accompanying across the border. Even when the adults are not suspected of trafficking the child, separating the child from their parent upon arrest is something that happens in all cases of arrest in our country, from illegal immigration to DUI cases.

Though most Nebraskans are adamant we would never have a sanctuary state or sanctuary cities, this debate has crept into our politics. LB 502, which came before me in the Judiciary Committee this year, would have made it illegal for local law enforcement officials to ask about a person’s immigration status. Even if the person admitted that they entered the country illegally, the officer could not share it with anyone else, including federal law enforcement officers or even other officers within their own department. This would tie the hands of officers, and be the first time in our state that we have passed a law to forbid cooperation with federal officials. The bill did not have a successful hearing and will remain in committee. I will continue to do everything in my power to keep Nebraska from passing laws to become a sanctuary state and compromise the safety of our citizens.

As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: jslama@leg.ne.gov.

Sen. Julie Slama

District 1
Room #11th Floor
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2733
Email: jslama@leg.ne.gov
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