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 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 

Week of May 18th
June 1st, 2020

Legislature to Reconvene on July 20

While Nebraska is “crushing the curve” of COVID-19 and beginning to reopen, Speaker Scheer announced that the Legislature will be called back into session on July 20, 2020. There are 17 days left of the 60 day session, with hundreds of bills to consider and the major agenda items of this session still awaiting debate. 

Property tax relief is still at the top of my agenda. While we were back in session for three days to allocate emergency funds for the Governor for COVID-19, the Revenue Committee introduced an amendment to the property tax relief proposal. This amendment doesn’t change the major components of the previous bill, but adds a few minor adjustments. In addition to property tax relief, the Legislature will also need to pass our annual budget adjustment, which contains over $50 million in flood relief funding. 

Many senators’ priority bills are still on the table and up for discussion. There were over 400 bills introduced this session with hundreds of additional Legislative Resolutions. The Legislature has a tall task before it with 17 days remaining in this biennium, and the challenge only becomes greater when considering our state’s current financial situation.

The Tax Commissioner reported that gross General Fund receipts for April were $469 million, which is 41% below the certified forecast of $795 million. Tax refunds for April were $124 million, which is 21.4% below the certified forecast of $158 million. Net receipts for April were $345 million, which is 45.9% below the certified forecast of $637 million. The Net General Fund receipts for the fiscal year 2019-20 were $4.001 billion, which is 0.1% above the certified forecast of $3.997 billion. These numbers don’t spell the end for property tax relief, as much of the dip on income taxes can be attributed to Nebraskans filing ahead of the July 15 extended deadline. Like all budgets, this year’s crunch will be about defining priorities and investing our state’s resources where it matters most. 

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 11th
June 1st, 2020

Planting season is wrapping up and crops are springing above ground across Southeast Nebraska- a welcome reminder of normalcy in these uncertain times. Make no mistake about it, however, COVID-19 has not spared agriculture.

COVID-19 has created a crisis for livestock owners across Nebraska. With pandemic-related shutdowns of corporate meat packing operations, there is a backlog of market-ready animals accumulating on farms and ranches. The temporary closures of processing plants has cut nationwide processing capacity by nearly one-third. To put it into perspective, it was estimated that on May 1, the shortage of pork processing was up to 100,000 hogs per day across the country. Producers will have no choice but to euthanize millions of healthy animals in the coming weeks. 

I have signed on to a letter, along with many fellow Nebraska state senators, urging Congress and USDA to consider cutting red tape to create opportunities for the producer and consumer. With more flexibility in the rules governing custom slaughter and processing exemption of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, out local, family-owned meat processors will be better able to serve consumers and ease pressure on our livestock owners.

One way the federal government can effectively address this crisis is by allowing consumers to source meat locally as corporate processors are strained. The custom processing exemption would allow producers to sell their products directly to the consumer to cut out the middle man and meet the need for processing during these trying times.

There are countless opportunities available to help our livestock owners. Cutting red tape and country of origin labeling are just a few ways the federal government can ease the negative impacts of this crisis.

The Legislature will have a tentative date set to reconvene announced before the end of this month. I’ll begin previewing the biggest issues for our return to session next week.

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 4th
June 1st, 2020

Outdoor Activities Abound in District 1

May 4 marked the beginning of eased COVID-19 restrictions in regions of Nebraska less impacted by the pandemic, including District 1. Spring has sprung, Mother’s Day is upon us, and Memorial Day is on the horizon, and this week’s column will focus on just a few of the many options for outdoor activities still available in our region.

Starting May 20, Nebraska Game and Parks will begin opening up overnight camping pads at state parks where social distancing and group-size recommendations may be maintained and confirmed COVID-19 cases have remained low. Tentatively, this plan to reopen includes Indian Cave State Park in Richardson County. State parks and recreation areas remain open for day use. This includes fishing, hiking, boating, biking, wildlife viewing, and other activities that provide adequate room for distancing. Alternative methods of camping, including tenting and cabin rentals, remain closed to the public at Nebraska Game and Parks facilities.

All Nemaha Natural Resource District facilities are currently open. Overnight camping is still allowed, as long as campers abide by social distancing regulations. Park permits are still required at Kirkman’s Cove, Iron Horse Trail Lake, Duck Creek, and Wirth Brothers Lake. 

Other points of interest for potential day trips include the Southeast Nebraska Cancer Memorial Garden, located in Humboldt. This is a beautiful place to go for a walk, reflect, and take in the beauty of nature. Golf courses also remain open throughout District 1, and modified operations are in place at many facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While we are still encouraged to practice social distancing, there are still great opportunities to get out of the house and enjoy spring in District 1.

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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