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 July 27th
August 3rd, 2020

Levees and Leverage: A Win for Southeast Nebraska

Life in Southeast Nebraska was turned upside down one year ago as levees were decimated and thousands of acres of land were inundated with floodwaters for months. As Southeast Nebraskans always do, we stood strong and refused to accept anything besides a full recovery for our region. One of the biggest, and most expensive, hurdles faced by District 1 was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s inability to repair the Missouri River levee at Peru. We needed assistance from our federal representatives to repair the levee. Last week, Southeast Nebraska got the outcome it needed in Washington, D.C., thanks to Congressman Adrian Smith.

When the Peru levee failed in March 2019, the Corps refused to repair the levee because it had recently fallen to “inactive” status. Statutory language tied the hands of the Corps, preventing them from starting the repair project. This left our area holding the bag on a multi-million dollar repair to protect critical infrastructure for Northeast Nemaha County. My office and Peru residents explored all options for the levee repair, and we concluded that adjusting language in federal statutes to permit repair of inactive levees by the Corps was the only realistic solution. We reached out to Congressman Adrian Smith for his help. 

Congressman Smith listened to the concerns of our region and took the time to tour flood damage in Southeast Nebraska. On that visit, our message to Congressman Smith was clear: we needed his help to repair Peru’s levee. Congressman Smith’s office drafted language permitting inactive levees to become eligible for Corps repair if they paid for the repairs necessary to bring the levee up to “active” status prior to the flooding. This language was included in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which is a biennial bill to authorize funding for infrastructure investments. 2020’s WRDA bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 29. 

What does this mean for Southeast Nebraska in layman’s terms? WRDA’s passage is a big step in the right direction to repairing Peru’s levee. This new language means the Corps is now able to repair the Peru levee if certain conditions are met. There are still many steps left before bulldozers appear to break ground, but for the first time in a long time, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel that the Peru levee will be repaired. Last week’s victory was a team effort between Congressman Smith and state and local officials. The tenacity of Southeast Nebraskans is paying dividends for our region on the federal level.

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 20th
July 27th, 2020

Property Tax Relief & Business Incentives: Grand Compromise Ahead?

There are now less than a dozen days left in the 2020 legislative session. It has become abundantly clear during the last week of debate that compromise will be the only path to success for big-ticket items of this session.

On Wednesday, July 22nd, the property tax relief bill (LB 1106) was debated for the maximum time allowed and now most show support from 33 of Nebraska’s 49 senators to return for a vote.

The new business incentives bill (LB 720) was also debated on Wednesday. The current incentives program, Nebraska Advantage Act, sunsets this year, leaving our state without a business incentives program unless a replacement is passed in this session. Many of you have contacted my office expressing your concerns with passing a corporate incentive bill before property tax relief. You can rest assured that I will not vote for LB 720 before property tax relief is achieved with LB 1106.

Neither LB 1106 or LB 720 has the votes to advance as standalone bills. Rural senators, including me, have stood firmly in support of property tax relief. Urban senators have leaned in favor of business incentives. Neither side has the 33 votes necessary to break the stalemate. We must form a compromise, which may include combining LB 1106 and LB 720. Whatever compromise is brokered will likely be debated in the coming week. I’m standing strong for property tax relief with my fellow rural senators.

Tensions have been high on the floor of the Legislature. You may have heard that Senator Chambers threw me into the mix by speaking about raping and enslaving me during debate on Monday. Those comments have done nothing to distract me from my priorities of property tax relief, better rural internet access and roads, and COVID-19 and flood recovery.  

There are 12 days of session left. A new poll indicates 77% of Nebraskans support the current property tax relief bill, LB 1106. Outside “noise” of feuds and bickering in the Legislature are just that: noise distracting from the true task at hand. 

If Chambers wants to go after me, it doesn’t matter. There’s no amount of hateful language he can use that will distract me from serving District 1. 

Commodity prices are low and property taxes are at record highs. Words spouted on the floor don’t get me fired up, but 40 years of failed tax policy do. 

Passing LB 1106 would be a strong step to easing the burden on our property taxpayers and improving funding for our rural schools.

Enough talk. Enough noise. Let’s get this done.

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 13th
July 20th, 2020

Everyday Heroes in Southeast Nebraska

The 24-hour news cycle can lend itself to an emphasis on negative news stories. COVID-19 has only brought this into sharper focus, as some journalists clamor to get the latest confirmed case numbers and mortality rates. Constant consumption of these stories can have a negative impact on your mental health. This week, I’m going to flip the script and look to the positive happening right in our backyards. 

Auburn resident Marvin Behrends is a decorated WWII veteran who earned a Purple Heart and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Upon his return in 1945, there were no ticker tape parades or photo ops with dignitaries- Marvin got right to work to provide for his family. Time treated him well, and he celebrated his 100th birthday on July 17. COVID-19 stood in the way of an open house to greet family and friends, so a family friend reached out to my office to see if we could send Marvin a card. That idea turned into throwing a card shower, which led to Marvin’s card shower being promoted on Facebook. 

Marvin went “viral,” as the kids would say. The original post to invite community members to send birthday cards reached over 25,000 people- not bad at all for a centenarian. Messages of gratitude, offers to send gifts, and stacks of cards came pouring in. Nebraska City’s chapter of Blue Star Mothers even gave Marvin a Quilt of Valor in a special ceremony. Most of the responses came from complete strangers who just wanted to make a hometown hero’s birthday a little bit brighter. Thanks to their kindness, Marvin had a birthday celebration that he and those close to him will always cherish.

These stories aren’t uncommon in Southeast Nebraska and get right to the core about what makes our corner of the state unique. Everywhere you look in District 1, you’ll see neighbors going above and beyond to help each other. There’s no CNN camera crews filming these moments or monetary incentive involved, just everyday heroes doing good for their community. In a time where it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in bad news in our country, don’t forget to appreciate the good that’s happening in your own hometown. 

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 6th
July 13th, 2020

A Penny for Your Thoughts?

As we near the restart of the legislative session on July 20, I wanted to remind you that my office is open during usual business hours and always happy to help. Please do not hesitate to call with any questions or concerns you may have, especially as the final 17 days of the session approach. One concern that has been raised several times over the past week is the coin shortage our country is facing, leading some retailers to ask for exact change or decline cash payments altogether. This week’s column will dig into the reasons behind the coin shortage and what you can do to help.

Like the other shortages we’ve faced over the last few months, the lack of coins in our country can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are three different factors contributing to the shortage. First, brick and mortar business closures during the pandemic led to more people shopping online, cutting cash transactions and disrupting normal circulation patterns for coins. Next, many banks closed their lobbies and coin collection machines were shut down, limiting options for those who wanted to deposit their spare change. Finally, the U.S. Mint’s coin production has been slashed due to measures meant to protect its employees from COVID-19. This triad has created the perfect storm for a coin shortage that has left banks and other businesses scrambling.

The Federal Reserve is working to address the low inventories by rationing coins sent to banks, encouraging consumers to bring in their spare change, ramping up productivity in the U.S. Mint, and creating the U.S. Coin Task Force to address the issue. Yes, the federal government has created a task force to tell us what we already know: we need more coins. Who would have thought that a “penny for your thoughts” would have to go through so much bureaucratic red tape?

Although the Federal Reserve is confident that this coin shortage issue will be resolved once the economy returns to normal operations, there are still things you can do to help. Now is a great time to break open the piggy bank to cash in your spare change. Our society has moved towards digital transactions with debit and credit cards in the last two generations, but the security of cash transactions can never be rendered obsolete. Cash and coins must be maintained as legal tender in our society, both for financial and national security.

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 June 29th
July 13th, 2020

Session is Right Around the Corner

We are less than two weeks away from reconvening the 106th Second Legislative Session. The Capitol staff has been working hard to ensure the Chamber follows guidelines of local health officials and senators remain healthy. There is a packed to-do list in the last 17 days of session, and property tax relief is still my top priority.

While session has been suspended, the Revenue Committee has worked hard to find a compromise for property tax relief between the rural and urban senators. Though it’s an annual struggle to get the necessary 33 votes from 49 senators on a major relief package, I remain hopeful that we can come together and get relief for Nebraskans whose bottom lines suffer due to high property taxes. Our homeowners, farmers, and small business owners are facing the most uncertain times in a generation. There is little that the Legislature can do to steady the ship of our national economy, but we can take a solid step in the right direction in Nebraska by focusing on property tax relief.

When session was suspended in March, the 2020 statewide budget adjustment was not yet finalized and had passed through the first round of debate. This delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as our state will likely face a revenue shortfall due to COVID-19. We will need to trim the budget where we can, just like any other budget put under pressure during tough financial times. Passing a balanced budget will be the first major item on the agenda to ensure that important projects like funding for flood recovery are approved in a timely manner. Other major initiatives that will be discussed in the remainder of session include rural broadband access, business incentives, and providing tax cuts on military retirement pay.

While these 17 days may not look like a typical session and tensions will be running high, my focus will remain where it has been from day one: serving you and working to grow Southeast Nebraska. On July 20, you can count on me to effectively advocate for those who call our wonderful corner of the state home. 

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 June 22nd
June 29th, 2020

This week’s column will focus upon the prison overcrowding emergency that will be declared in Nebraska on July 1. On that date, our state’s prison population will be in excess of a threshold (140%) for design capacity set by a law passed in 2015. Since Nebraska’s prison population is above that percentage, an emergency will be declared. The only required action as a result of the declaration is a review of all parole-eligible inmates, including reconsideration of those that have already been denied parole. This does not change the criteria for parole eligibility and will not lead to a mass release of inmates.

The current overcrowding statistic is based on a measurement of “design capacity,” which is the capacity estimated by the original architects of the prisons. Many other states gauge their prison capacity by “operational capacity,” which is the functional capacity of the prison based on current standards. Nebraska’s prison population currently stands at 158% of design capacity; however, our current population is at 116% of operational capacity.

Many of you have contacted my office concerned about what this means for our state and what’s next. There seems to be two sides to this debate: expand capacity (i.e. build a new prison) or lower the population (i.e. release prisoners and offer less harsh sentences for crimes). This will likely be a major subject of debate in the 2021 session. I support expanding capacity for a few reasons. Nebraska has one of the lowest per capita rates of imprisonment in the Midwest, yet one of the highest overcrowding rates due to a decades-long failure to invest in new facilities. Our state already attempted sentencing reform with LB 605 in 2015, which was projected by national outlets to drop our prison population by 1,000 inmates. Five years later, no such drop has occurred. Our state cannot sacrifice safety by releasing dangerous inmates early. We need to invest in a new facility.

“What about releasing all of the non-violent drug offenders?” This has been another common question fielded by my office. Nebraska simply does not have a pool of low-level offenders to release, due to the high bar for imprisonment in our state. 14% of Nebraska’s prison population has a drug crime as their most serious offense. The average number of prior convictions amongst that population: 20. Inmates who have a drug crime as their most serious offense have an average of 20 prior convictions. The pool of imprisoned low-level drug offenders simply doesn’t exist in Nebraska.

I hope this can provide some clarity to a complex issue facing our state. The safety of District 1 and our staff members at Tecumseh State Correctional Facility will remain at the forefront of my attention throughout this process.  

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 June 15th
June 22nd, 2020

2020 has been a whirlwind year. Through unprecedented challenges, selfless leaders have answered the call to serve District 1. I want to give a big thank you to our local elected officials and first responders. Your leadership throughout these uncertain times is appreciated and does not go unnoticed.

COVID-19 has created a slew of new issues for local leaders, from NRD members to city council. These roles are typically volunteer positions, meant to be served in addition to whatever full-time job the official has during the day. Very few are willing to answer the call to serve and commit their limited time to giving back. This is compounded during times of crisis when these officials are faced with situations that are “Kobayashi Marus,” as in, no-win situations. Each board has their own set of questions that come without historical comparisons. Should we have the county fair this year? When would be the best time to start fall classes at our local schools? What protocols should be in place to better protect the public at sporting events? These tough questions are in the hands of our very capable officials, and I’m grateful for their work.

Also answering the call to serve are our first responders and their families. Whether you’re a law enforcement officer, EMT, dispatcher, correctional officer, or firefighter- my message this week to all District 1 first responders and their families is simple:

Thank you for your service.

The sense of comfort and security in our communities is reinforced by our local first responders. Their devotion to a role where solid judgment is required and safety isn’t guaranteed is appreciated.

If you see our local first responders and elected officials around town, please take some time to thank them for their service to District 1. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the negative news in our world today- the best thing we can do is spread our own positive message in response.

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 June 8th
June 15th, 2020

COVID-19 and Nursing Homes

Verdigre resident Lottie Randa celebrated her 108th birthday last week. Residents have flocked to her nursing home to help Lottie celebrate for years, but 2020 presented a unique hurdle to the party. Like many others in the state, Lottie’s nursing home is not open to visitors. Town residents adjusted and threw their town’s beloved matriarch a parade instead. Lottie’s birthday celebration underscores an issue facing thousands of Nebraskans with friends and family members in nursing homes, which have been locked down as a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Fears of the virus reaching our nursing homes are not unfounded. Dozens of Nebraska nursing home residents have died of COVID-19. Nursing home outbreaks can stem from a single resident being exposed to the virus, which typically leads to the virus spreading like wildfire throughout the facility. Administrators are left to walk a tight balance between protecting the health of their residents and ensuring they have a reasonable quality of life.

One of my own family members lives in a Nebraska long-term care facility, so this issue is personal for me. Many cannot access their spiritual advisors for counseling or last rites. Family members are left to visit residents through windows and via video calls, which is better than no contact, but is certainly no substitute for in-person contact. Compounding the stress of virtual contact for families of memory care and hospice patients is the limited time remaining with a loved one. Even simple interactions that may have been taken for granted before have a high value. Hairdressers and manicurists that made regular visits to our facilities are not considered essential visitors, but there’s significant intrinsic value for residents to feel comfortable and pampered.

My office and the legislative branch does not have direct control over the Directed Health Measures in place, but I always forward the concerns raised by nursing home staff, loved ones, and volunteers to the executive branch to help them better understand the implications of their decisions. Thank you to those who have reached out to my office to express their feelings on this issue, and thank you to all of our care center staff members, from administration to maintenance and personal care. Your work to balance the health and wellness of nursing home residents in District 1 does not go unnoticed. 

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 June 1st
June 15th, 2020

Small Business Stabilization Grants

Many in District 1, including small businesses and livestock producers, have been hit hard by COVID-19 and can’t seem to catch a break. While many businesses are starting to open back up and life is slowly going back to as we know it, there are still lingering economic impacts from COVID-19. 

Governor Ricketts announced on May 27 his plan to “Get Nebraska Growing.” This plan includes funding for many different areas including small business stabilization grants and grants for our livestock producers. 

Livestock producers who have been adversely affected by manufacturing closures and changing consumer demand due to COVID-19 qualify to apply for the Small Business Stabilization Grant for Livestock Producers. This grant is to help cover operating expenses and enable producers to return to stability and profitability. 

Producers with 1 to 10 employees as of March 13, 2020 that have closed or sustained a loss of revenue or employment since March 13, 2020 are eligible to apply. This includes beef cattle ranching and farming, dairy cattle and milk production, hog and pig farming, poultry and egg production, and sheep/goat farming.

Nebraska-owned businesses with 5 to 49 employees as of March 13, 2020 are eligible for application of the grant also. Ineligible business/industries/operations include mining, utilities, finance and insurance, management of companies and enterprises, educational services, public administration, and lobbyist and political organizations.  

The Department of Economic Development will make forms available from June 8 through June 19 for small businesses and June 15 through June 26 for livestock producers. Awards will be issued to qualifying applicants until funds are exhausted. For more information, please visit getnebraskagrowing.nebraska.gov.  

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 May 25th
June 1st, 2020

Old Man River

This weekend, the community of Peru will celebrate “Old Man River Days,” which was established after citizens of the community banded together to save the town from approaching floodwaters in 1943. Peru has a long history of winning battles against Old Man River, and it has done so with strong support from the federal government. This week’s column discusses how the federal government can step up to help our region recover from devastating flooding in 2019, which has now extended itself into 2020.

Just over two weeks ago, I spent the afternoon touring the Peru bottoms. Farmers were planting crops, roads were repaired, and life was beginning to have glimpses of normalcy again in an area that was devastated by unprecedented flooding in 2019. Unfortunately, that glimpse of normalcy was washed away after a few days of rain by the Missouri River. The river is attempting to re-route itself through Northeast Nemaha County when it reaches 16’ at Nebraska City, which is a full two feet below minor flood stage. 

Responsibility for this year’s spring flooding falls directly on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). 

Many of you are likely familiar with the ongoing dispute regarding the USACE’s refusal to repair the large levee breach that occurred during the 2019 floods. This year’s flooding is not due to the damaged levee, which protects Northeast Nemaha County. 2020’s flooding is due to damage along the Missouri River’s bank, causing the river to re-channel itself on dry land if it rises even a few inches beyond its average flow. 

USACE is legally required to maintain the channel of the Missouri River. That channel was compromised in our area during the 2019 floods, which damaged the river bank and caused the river to partially re-route itself through our district. Water is currently free-flowing through the hole in the river bank, even as the Missouri River is two feet below flood stage. USACE committed to repairing the damage, but has delayed the project indefinitely from its scheduled start date in January 2020. Continued delays are not only devastating for our landowners, but also increases the cost of repair as the new channel carves more deeply into the river bank and surrounding land.

I am reaching out to District 1’s representatives in Washington, D.C. to hold USACE accountable to complete legally-required repairs in our area. Our district depends heavily on this fertile farmland- which, prior to 2019, had not been flooded since the 1950s. This is valuable agricultural land that needs to be put back into reliable production. 

Old Man River is a formidable opponent, but it has been proven time and time again that major flooding in our area can usually be kept at bay by infrastructure investments and timely repairs. 

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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