NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Dan Watermeier

Sen. Dan Watermeier

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 dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov

Legislative Update

April 7th, 2016

This past week, the Legislature gave second-round approval to LB 10, which would return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system for the distribution of electoral votes in presidential elections. Our current system awards a presidential electoral vote to the winner in each of the state’s three congressional districts, while giving two votes to the statewide winner. In addition to Nebraska, only Maine does not deliver all of their electoral votes to the statewide presidential winner.

LB 10, introduced in 2015 by Senator Beau McCoy, has been filibustered at every stage of debate, requiring a cloture motion to cut off debate and allow for a vote on the advancement of the bill. Last year, at the first stage of debate, the cloture motion was successful, but it fell two votes short at the second stage of debate. After being prioritized again in 2016, the cloture motion was successful this year at the second stage of debate. Senator Ernie Chambers is very much opposed to this legislation and promised to halt the session if it was advanced. Consequently, the next couple days proceeded at a very slow pace.

Senators debated LB 643, which would allow medical marijuana in Nebraska, for four hours this past week. After a cloture motion failed, the bill was pulled from the agenda for the year.

Supporters of LB 643 argued that almost half of the states have laws permitting medical marijuana. They pointed out that under the provisions contained in LB 643, Nebraska would have had one of the most tightly regulated medical marijuana programs in the nation. Persons seeking medical cannabis would have needed certification from a health care practitioner and must have been suffering from one of the conditions specified in the bill, such as cancer, seizures, terminal illness, or Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, patients would have been limited to taking the drug in the form of pills, liquid, or through a vaporizer. Smoking marijuana was not permitted under the bill.

Opponents included Governor Ricketts, Attorney General Peterson, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Medical Association, the County Attorneys Association and the Nebraska Sheriff’s Association. Senators opposing the bill reminded their colleagues that marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I substances are considered to have a high potential for dependency and no accepted medical use, making distribution of marijuana a federal offense. Although the current administration has chosen to be lax in enforcement of marijuana laws, senators pointed out that this could change with the next administration. They were also concerned with the use of marijuana by our youth, as studies have confirmed that casual marijuana use causes structural harm in the brain of young users and has long-term impact on their mental health, making them more susceptible to serious mental health conditions. Opposing senators felt that marijuana should go through the research and testing protocols required by the FDA before it should be used as a medicine.

This was a very emotional issue and the rotunda was full of families who have a loved one with severe health issues. They have tried conventional drugs and they haven’t worked. They were pleading for another option.

As I understand, a decision on whether to reclassify the drug may be made in the near future. If it is reclassified, it will allow for more research on marijuana for medicinal purposes. The pharmaceutical grade marijuana extract of purified cannabidiol is already being tested through FDA authorized trials and it is possible that a FDA approved product could be on the market soon. Furthermore, a ballot initiative to reform marijuana laws has been filed with the Secretary of State.

As we head into our last few days of this legislative session, I still encourage you to contact me. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

April 1st, 2016

The Legislature gave first-round approval to both bills introduced on behalf of Governor Ricketts, containing his plan for property tax relief. However, the bills have been completely rewritten through the amendment process.

LB 959, as amended by committee amendments, eliminates the minimum levy penalty which reduces state aid to districts with levies less than .95 cents, removes the levy criteria from the averaging adjustment calculation, and caps the special levy school districts can use to address health, safety and accessibility problems in school buildings at 3 cents, down from 5.2 cents. LB 959 will allow a number of school districts to reduce their levy and will also provide more state aid to some districts that depend heavily on property taxes to fund their schools.

LB 958, as introduced, would have affected local governments by placing limitations on the budget of restricted funds and reducing the number of exclusions to the property tax levy limit. It also would have limited the state-wide increase in agricultural land valuations to 3 percent. Following the public hearing, when the committee heard significant opposition from representatives of cities and other political subdivisions, LB 958 was advanced from the Revenue Committee with committee amendments that rewrote the bill. Although a portion of the original bill remained in the committee amendments, pertaining to the unused restricted funds authority for community colleges, the sponsor of the bill has filed an amendment to strike this portion during the second round of debate, as he doesn’t want it to hinder the passage of the bill.

Under the committee amendments, LB 958 proposed a $30 million increase in the Property Tax Credit program, targeted for agricultural landowners. This would be accomplished by valuing agricultural land for purposes of the Property Tax Credit program at full market value rather than 75% of market value. With the additional funding, on top of the $204 million already appropriated for the program, the credit for agricultural landowners would result in an approximate 10% reduction in property taxes.

During debate on LB 958, urban senators felt that all taxpayers should receive tax relief, not just rural landowners, and an amendment was offered to strike the provisions of the bill, replacing it with an income tax reduction. Following several hours of contentious debate, a compromise amendment was offered to reduce the additional funding for rural landowners through the Property Tax Credit program to approximately $20 million annually. I was disappointed that we had to compromise in order to get LB 958 advanced. Considering that property taxes collected statewide on agricultural land increased 176% over the last 10 years, compared with a 35% increase in residential property and a 49% increase in commercial property, it was obvious that agricultural landowners deserved some immediate relief. However, the Legislature must continue to work to provide significant relief for all taxpayers.

LB 1032, is Nebraska’s fourth attempt at expanding Medicaid, as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. After about an hour of debate, a motion was offered to bracket the bill until April 20, which is the last day of session. The motion was successful, meaning that the bill is essentially killed for this session.

The Health and Human Services Committee amendments to LB 1032 proposed to add a sunset date in three years. The amendments also proposed to appropriate $63 million from the Health Care Cash Fund to fund the state match for the coverage of the newly eligible.

In addition to the sunset, LB 1032 also states that if the federal share falls below 90%, the coverage for newly eligible individuals shall terminate. Although the intent of the bill is to ensure no appeals to the loss of eligibility if the program terminates, this could be problematic. Federal law classifies the new Medicaid expansion population as a “mandatory population” for states that opt into the expansion.

Furthermore, senators questioned whether the source of funding was sustainable. When federal reimbursement falls to 90% in 2020, the projected cost to the state for the expanded population would be approximately $58 million annually. Although the Health Care Cash fund has a positive balance currently, it only brings in approximately $59 million annually and is used to fund many other programs as well, such as tobacco-cessation programs, biomedical research, and behavior health and substance abuse services. Senators sympathized with those who fall in the gap, making too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to be eligible for subsidies. However, the majority feared that the program could end up costing more than our state could afford, thereby requiring cuts in other essential programs and services.

With just a few days left in this legislative session, I still encourage you to contact me with your opinion on issues before us. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

March 24th, 2016

The budget bills were given second-round and final approval this past week. Governor Ricketts now has 5 days (excluding Sunday) to decide whether he’ll use his line-item veto authority to strike specific budget appropriations from the package. His vetoes are due to the Legislature by midnight on Wednesday, March 30. The budget passed by the Legislature did not differ markedly from what the governor recommended.

My priority bill, LB 744, received first-round approval this past week on a 42-0 vote. Under LB 744, open adoptions would be recognized in state statute, allowing for future communication or contact between birth parents and adoptive parents in private and agency adoptions. However, the law would make it clear that the failure to comply with such an agreement would not affect the validity of the adoption. A recent Nebraska Supreme Court decision stated that until the Legislature acts to approve of these open adoption arrangements in a private adoption context, they will not recognize them and will instead continue to hold that relinquishments signed with the promise of such an open adoption are invalid.

In order to help the birth mother as she makes this important decision, I offered an amendment to require independent legal counsel for the relinquishing parents from that of the adoptive parents, at the adoptive parents’ expense. The amendment also requires that free counseling be offered to the birth parents.

Due to this lawsuit, agencies and private attorneys may have advised against any type of open adoption because even the existence of a communication and contact agreement could prove problematic in the view of the court. LB 744 will allow open adoptions to continue in Nebraska and will assure the permanency of the adoption process.

LB 886, a bill that I co-sponsored with Senator Al Davis of Hyannis, has received initial approval from the Legislature. The legislation would provide a refundable income tax credit of $250 for volunteer emergency responders who meet certain criteria. The intent behind the bill is to recognize volunteers for the important service they provide to their local communities. It stemmed from an interim study that I introduced last year, which among other things, looked at incentives for recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters, emergency responders and rescue squad members in our rural communities.

LB 1038, another bill given first-round approval, contains the language needed to implement the Niobrara River Memorandum of Understanding between the Nebraska Public Power District, the Niobrara NRDs and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. I have been involved in meetings preparing for this important legislation. After many years of legal battles and negotiation, these three political subdivisions reached an agreement on the transfer of the controlling water rights to the Niobrara River. The agreement will allow the NRDs and the Game and Parks Commission to jointly purchase and hold the water rights from the Spencer Hydroelectric generation facility and convert the rights to provide a protected instream flow for the Niobrara River. The agreement protects all existing uses of domestic, livestock, municipal, surface water irrigation and groundwater irrigation.

The Speaker of the Legislature informed senators that 33 priority bills are on General File (first stage of debate) and 15 priority bills are on Select File (second stage of debate), verifying that we have a great deal of work to do in our last 11 days of this session. We will be working into the evening on most days.

As we debate the final priority bills before us, 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 email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

March 18th, 2016

The Legislature gave first-round approval to the budget package this past week. Senators also stopped a measure that proposed to repeal the motorcycle helmet law for riders 21 years of age and older.

Progress has been made this past week on property tax relief, although it isn’t as comprehensive as hoped. LB 958, introduced on behalf of the Governor, sought to slow the increase in agricultural land valuation by capping statewide agricultural land valuation growth at 3% per year. It also aimed to slow the growth of property taxes levied by political subdivisions. After significant opposition was encountered from representatives of cities and other political subdivisions, the committee eliminated most of the bill, except for the portion that limits the unused restricted fund authority for community colleges to 3% of their prior year’s restricted funds. In the amendment proposed by the Revenue Committee, instead of the 3% cap on valuation, the committee is proposing an increase in the Property Tax Credit program. This program provides direct property tax relief for property owners through a credit on their property tax statement. Last year, funding for this program was increased by $64 million to $204 million in annual funding. This year, the proposed increase in credits would be directed to agricultural land owners. Since this is a new concept, the Revenue Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment on Thursday, March 24. After calculations are completed, an amount of funding will be added to the amendment.

A companion bill, LB 959, also introduced on behalf of the Governor, intended to slow the growth of spending and property taxes levied by school districts. It was advanced from the Education Committee, after being substantially amended. The bill now proposes to eliminate the minimum levy adjustment, which takes away state funding from schools with levies below $0.95. Additionally, it would tighten limits on a special project fund that schools use to address safety, environmental hazards, accessibility barriers and mold in existing buildings.

Two other bills promising property tax relief encountered roadblocks this past week. LB 717, introduced by Senator Mike Groene, proposed to use a 5-year history of comparable sales, excluding 20% of sales with the lowest valuation to sale price ratio, in an effort to remove abnormal high priced sales. It also would have frozen 2016 valuations at the 2015 level. An attorney general’s opinion stated that the bill is likely unconstitutional as it would appear to result in property within the same class being assessed at values that are not uniform and proportionate relative to their market value.

LB 883, introduced by Senator Jim Scheer and eleven other senators, including myself, was killed by the Education Committee. This legislation proposed to add a per student foundation aid component to the K-12 school funding formula, in an effort to reduce property taxes by giving every school district some base funding through the state aid formula. Currently, almost two-thirds of our school districts don’t receive equalization aid because their resources from property taxes exceed their needs, which illustrates the high dependence on property taxes in our school funding formula. This concept would require additional revenue to implement and I feel that this is a discussion that needs to take place.

According to calculations made by Senator Scheer’s office, under LB 883, schools in District #1 would have seen substantial increases in state aid. Following is the projected amount of additional state aid that schools would receive over the current amount, with the addition of $3,000 per student in foundation aid. Sterling Public Schools – $587,467; Johnson County Central Public Schools – $1,515,000; Johnson-Brock Public Schools – $389,596; Auburn Public Schools – $198,681; Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca Schools – $2,123,988; Nebraska City Public Schools – $580,394; Palmyra District OR 1 – $1,135,510; Pawnee City Public Schools – $306,458; Lewiston Consolidated Schools – $37,773; Falls City Public Schools – $2,455,119; and HTRS Public Schools – $1,029,000.

Property taxes bear a disproportionate burden in support of our school districts, especially in our rural areas. I believe the concept of foundation aid has merit and I am hopeful that it plays a major role in the Legislature’s continued discussion of property tax relief this year and in following years.

As we begin late night sessions, I encourage your input on legislation of interest to you. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

March 10th, 2016

The Appropriations Committee submitted their budget recommendations this past week to the full Legislature by the 40th legislative day, as required by legislative rule. The appropriations bills must be passed by the 50th day, which falls on March 29th this year. The appropriations bills presented this year are mid-biennium adjustments to the two-year budget passed last year for fiscal years 2015/16 and 2016/17, resulting in a net increase of $4.2 million.

Although the financial status at the end of the current biennium remains similar to what it was at the end of the last year’s session, it has fluctuated greatly during the past year. The projected status went from a positive $2.3 million to a negative $110 million after the Nebraska Economic Forecast Advisory Board reduced revenue projections by $154 million last October. This was partially offset by a lapse of unexpended appropriations, reductions in Medicaid, and a $13 million net gain when the Forecast Advisory Board met again in February, resulting in the current positive financial status of $10.1 million. However the projected status for the following biennium shows a $106 million shortfall. This volatility shows the necessity for keeping a sufficient balance in the cash reserve fund.

The $10.1 million figure is the amount of revenue above the required 3% minimum reserve, which is available to fund legislation with a fiscal impact. The reality of this figure makes it apparent that any substantial tax relief will require a tax shift or significant cuts in spending. Due to significant opposition from cities and counties, the Governor’s proposal for property tax relief will most likely not advance from the Revenue Committee as introduced. The intent of LB 958 was to slow down the increase in agricultural land valuation by limiting the state-wide increase to 3 percent per year and to slow the growth of property taxes levied by the political subdivisions. A related bill, LB 959, sought to slow the growth of spending and property taxes levied by school districts. Likewise, it has not been advanced by the Education Committee at this time.

The Appropriations Committee recommended funding three one-time projects from the cash reserve, reducing the balance by $91 million to $655 million. The transfers include $27.3 million to the Department of Corrections for adding capacity to the Lincoln Community Corrections Center, $13.7 million for the modification of two federal levee systems that impact the Offutt Air Force base, in an effort to help secure federal funding to rebuild Offutt’s deteriorating runway and keep the 55th Wing in Nebraska, and under LB 960, $50 million to fund the newly created Transportation Infrastructure Bank.

LB 960, as amended by the Appropriations Committee, creates three new programs funded by the $50 million transfer from the cash reserve fund. It also commits $400 million in additional fuel tax revenue generated by LB 610, passed by the Legislature last year. The Accelerated State Highway Capital Improvement Program will provide up-front money for major highway projects including the completion of the expressway system. The County Bridge Match Program will promote innovative solutions and provide additional funding to accelerate the repair and replacement of county bridges. Finally, the Economic Opportunity Program will finance transportation improvements to attract and support new businesses and business expansions.

Included in the budget recommendations, are amended versions of two of my bills. The first would provide a one-time $1.5 million appropriation to help with recruitment and retention of correctional staff, particularly at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. The other extended the current appropriations for deferred maintenance, repair, renovation and facility replacement construction projects at the three state colleges, thereby allowing for the Theater/Event Center project at Peru State College to proceed.

As legislators discuss the budget and other priority bills, I encourage your input. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

March 3rd, 2016

The public hearing process has concluded. Every bill that was introduced was referred to a committee for a hearing, where the public was invited to testify. Committees are finishing the process of advancing the bills that they think should be discussed by the full Legislature. Beginning Monday, March 7th, senators will meet in full-day session.

Last year, I was elected as the chair of the Legislative Performance Audit Committee. This committee is responsible for overseeing the state’s performance audit process. Performance auditing is a systematic review of any aspect of agencies and their programs to evaluate an agency’s success in effectively implementing legislative intent. This function is carried out by the Performance Audit staff, under the direction of the Legislative Auditor.

The Legislative Performance Audit Committee is authorized to introduce legislation. This year, we introduced three bills and one legislative resolution. I personally introduced another bill pertaining to the jurisdiction of the Performance Audit Act.

LB 867 proposes to amend the Administrative Procedure Act, which sets forth the formal process for agencies to follow when adopting administrative regulations. This bill was introduced as the result of a 2015 audit, which found that the APA does not provide adequate guidance to agencies about what types of policies must go through the formal rulemaking process. LB 867 also puts in place a process for the adoption of emergency rules. LB 867 was designated as a Performance Audit Committee priority bill and is pending on the agenda for first-round debate.

The intent of LB 1022 is to provide the Legislative Audit Office with full access to the information they need in order to perform accurate and thorough evaluations of state programs. Last year, legislation was passed to require the Legislative Audit Office to conduct a performance audit of our tax incentive programs. However, when the auditors started the first audit, they found that they were not able to access necessary electronic files pertaining to the Nebraska Advantage Act in a timely fashion, nor were they given access to records for all tax incentive program projects. LB 1022, another committee priority bill, has received first round approval from the Legislature.

LB 756 would eliminate the Long-Term Care Savings Plan, which the committee recommended following a performance audit of the program. The audit found that very few people were participating in the plan and that the program was not meeting its goals of encouraging Nebraskans to save for long-term care or reducing the costs of Medicaid. LB 756 has not been advanced from the Revenue Committee at this time, but has been designated as a speaker priority bill, giving it a good chance for debate once it is advanced to the floor.

LR 413 is a legislative resolution that proposes to create the Task Force on Behavioral Health. The purpose of the task force is to provide legislative oversight to monitor the progress of the Department of Health and Human Services in conducting a statewide needs assessment and in the development of a strategic plan. Furthermore, the task force will study the infrastructure, provider rates, current workforce, delivery systems, and the number of qualified facilities within the state. The resolution was introduced as the result of a 2015 audit of the Behavioral Health System in Nebraska, which identified several gaps in services across the state. LR 413 was adopted by the Legislature earlier this week.

Finally, LB 1016, the bill that I introduced, amends the definition of “agency” in the Legislative Performance Audit Act, adding the Office of Probation Administration and the Office of Public Guardian to the list of governmental units that can be subject to a performance audit. LB 1016 was passed by the Legislature this past week on a 49-0 vote.

As we begin full-day debates, 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 email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

February 26th, 2016

I introduced LB 793 before the Judiciary Committee this past week, at the request of the Nebraska Attorney General’s office and county sheriffs. Currently, our statutes don’t prohibit the introduction of contraband into a jail, other than something that is useful for escape. LB 793 retains the prohibition on implements for escape but expands it to include other items considered to be contraband that have no place in a prison, jail or other detention center, such as controlled substances, weapons, explosive materials, cell phones and metal files. Under current law, an inmate may possess any number of items without fear of facing more than in-house discipline. The person providing the inmate with such contraband, can’t be punished for any offense, other than possibly losing their visiting privileges. This poses a risk to the inmate, other inmates, and especially the detention facility staff.

LB 793 also amends the statutes pertaining to the assault of an officer, emergency responders, and certain employees to specifically include county jailers and juvenile corrections officers. The need for the change in assault statutes became clear two years ago when a juvenile corrections officer was assaulted and murdered by a juvenile inmate in a western Nebraska juvenile detention facility. Since the “Assault on Officer” statutes don’t clearly cover juvenile corrections officers, had the employee not died, the inmate could not have been charged with an enhanced penalty and would have been charged with a lesser crime based on the level of injury of the employee.

I also introduced LB 952 before the Health and Human Services Committee. It recognizes that efficient and reliable statewide out-of-hospital emergency medical care is a primary and essential service. It also requires county boards to ensure the availability of emergency medical services to its residents. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the counties will be managing or paying for such services, as this requirement could be met through arrangements with existing providers.

If a local community finds it must quit providing EMS, due to recruitment problems, a surrounding town may generously decide to expand their services to provide residents with protection. However, these other locations shouldn’t have to be responsible for this.

In 2004, in their Five-Year Report to the Legislature, The Nebraska Board of Emergency Medical Services stated that although the citizens of the State have benefitted from a largely volunteer EMS system for many years, there is no statutory requirement for the provision of those services. If EMS systems fail, a crisis could occur with no governmental responsibility to ensure the provision of services.

I realize this is a controversial issue, as it could have a financial impact on counties. However, I felt that it was time to start a serious conversation on county oversight of emergency medical services.

Furthermore, LB 952 alters the make-up of the Board of Emergency Medical Services. Currently, the 17-member board is only required to have one member who is a volunteer emergency medical care provider. My proposal would increase the number of volunteers to 3 on the board, ensuring better representation in rural Nebraska.

Debate on the floor this week centered on LB 188, which was the bill I introduced to define “innocent third party” in police pursuits. After surviving a cloture vote on General File, LB 188 fell two votes short of the necessary 33 votes on the cloture motion on Select File. Consequently, the bill will not be debated again. Since the Legislature had not defined the term “innocent third party”, the courts had judicially done so, leading one Supreme Court judge to suggest that the Legislature might want to narrow the court’s definition, as he didn’t think that some of the persons qualifying for $1 million in damages as an innocent third party were what the Legislature intended, such as a passenger in the fleeing vehicle with meth on him and drinking from an open container of beer. However, a number of attorneys in the Legislature didn’t support the recommendations from the Supreme Court judge.

As we continue to debate bills that have been prioritized, I encourage your input. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

February 19th, 2016

February 19th marked the deadline for priority bill designations. Every senator is allowed to designate one bill as their personal priority bill. Committees are allowed to designate two bills and the Speaker of the Legislature is allowed to designate up to 25 bills as speaker priority bills. Typically, after the deadline date, bills that have not been designated as priorities do not stand a good chance of being debated, unless they are non-controversial and are chosen for consent calendar.

I chose LB 744 as my priority bill. It recognizes communication and contact agreements to permit continuing communication and contact after the placement of an adoptee between the birth parents and the adoptive parents in private and agency adoptions. However, the law would make it clear that the existence of, or the failure to comply with such agreements, does not affect the adoption decree, the relinquishment of parental rights, or the written consent to adoption.

Senator Lydia Brasch chose LB 960, introduced by Senator Jim Smith, at the request of the Governor, as her priority bill. LB 960, the Transportation Innovation Act, would create three new programs funded by transfers of up to $150 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to the Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund by June 30, 2023 and pledges up to $150 million of state motor fuel taxes collected during the same time period. A major purpose of the Accelerated State Highway Capital Improvement Program is to fast-track the completion of the expressway system. The County Bridge Match Program is proposed to promote innovative solutions and additional funding to accelerate the repair and replacement of county bridges. The goal behind the Economic Opportunity Program is to finance transportation improvements to attract and support new businesses and business expansions.

Senator Ernie Chambers picked LB 1056, the Patient Choice at End of Life Act. This legislation would allow an adult with a terminal illness to request a prescription for aid-in-dying medication. Senator Tommy Garrett has chosen LB 643, which would allow for the use of marijuana for medical treatment. Senator Mike Gloor selected LB 1013, which proposes to increase the tax on cigarettes from $0.64 to $2.14 per package.

Senator Laura Ebke has designated LR 35, which calls for Nebraska to join other states in passing an application calling for an interstate convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The scope of the convention is to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress. The convention will only occur after 34 states pass the same application. In order for a valid amendment to emerge from the convention, it needs a simple majority vote. However, it still must be ratified by the legislatures of 38 states before becoming part of the U.S. Constitution.

Senator Mike Groene selected LB 717, which would change the way that land is assessed for property tax purposes, using a 5-year history of comparable sales, rather than the current 3-year history for agricultural and commercial property and two years for residential property. It would exclude the sales that constitute the lowest 20% of assessment ratios, thereby removing abnormal sales and smoothing out the spikes in valuation. It would also freeze 2016 valuations at the 2015 level of assessment.

Senator Jim Scheer picked LB 883 as his priority. This bill, which I have mentioned several times in past newsletters, proposes to add a student foundation aid component to the school finance formula. It would provide a base level of funding to all public school districts, regardless of whether they qualify for equalization aid.

Senator John Kuehn prioritized LR 378, a constitutional amendment introduced in an effort to protect agriculture as a vital sector of Nebraska’s economy by guaranteeing the rights of Nebraskans to engage in farming and ranching practices. It is meant to protect Nebraska farms from out-of-state extremist animal rights and environmental groups that target Nebraska agriculture.

The Revenue Committee chose LB 958 and the Education Committee selected LB 959 as committee priority bills. These two bills, introduced at the request of the Governor, aim to slow the increase in statewide agricultural land valuation, slow the growth of property taxes levied by the political subdivisions, and slow the growth of spending by schools.

The Health and Human Services Committee selected LB 1032 as one of their committee priority bills. LB 1032, which would adopt the Transitional Health Insurance Program Act, is the fourth attempt at Medicaid Expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. Even with the federal government picking up 90% of the cost, the Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that over a 10-year period, it could cost our state almost $1 billion to pay for health insurance for this expanded population.

These are just a few of the bills that have been designated as priorities, but portray the controversial issues that have been selected. Senators are set to begin all day debate the first full week in March. I can foresee that we will be working into the evening on many nights prior to our scheduled last day on April 20.

I have heard from constituents who have received telephone calls from organizations asking them to call their senator either in support or against a certain issue. Sometimes these robo calls may give you incorrect information. You may need to ask some questions or do some research in order to get the full story.

As we get into discussion of priority bills, I encourage you to inform me of your opinions. Only with your input, can I thoroughly represent my district. 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 dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

 

Legislative Update

February 11th, 2016

Nebraska is the only state in the country which imposes strict liability for law enforcement motor vehicle pursuits on a law enforcement agency even when it is the driver of the vehicle being pursued that causes injury to an “innocent third party”. This means that this liability is imposed even if the law enforcement agency is not in any way negligent in its pursuit and follows to the letter the motor vehicle pursuit policy that all law enforcement agencies in Nebraska are required by statute to have in place.

This law, written by Senator Ernie Chambers, was passed some 30 years ago, in an effort to protect an “innocent third party” who is injured due to a police pursuit. In the debate at that time, Senator Chambers spoke of compensation for parties who were not involved in the chase, such as innocent bystanders and persons in other vehicles that might be hit by the fleeing vehicle. I don’t believe that anyone would have envisioned how the law has evolved over time.

Since the Legislature did not define “innocent third party” for purposes of the strict liability pursuit law, the courts have judicially constructed a definition. However, in a recent lawsuit, the Nebraska Supreme Court held that a passenger in a fleeing vehicle, who was drinking from an open container of beer and was in possession of methamphetamine, was nonetheless still an innocent party. As a result, the self-insurance pool for the counties had to pay $1 million in damages. This holding caused one Supreme Court judge to issue a separate opinion, where he stated that he doubted that most members of the Legislature would characterize such a passenger in a vehicle fleeing from law enforcement as an innocent third party. However he concurred with the final result of the court because the Legislature had not replaced the court’s definition with one of its own. He went on to emphasize that the Legislature has the power to change the result in a future case by narrowing the definition of “innocent third party”.

After this lawsuit, a local county commissioner and deputy sheriff contacted me and asked if the law could be changed. As a result, I introduced legislation. LB 188, which defines “innocent third party”, was debated for six hours over the last two weeks. I offered a motion to invoke cloture, which received 37 votes, 4 more than required. This cut off debate, allowing for a vote to be taken on the advancement of the bill, which was also successful.

LB 188 does not change the law relating to bystanders or for persons in other vehicles. It only affects passengers in the fleeing vehicle and only under certain circumstances such as if they are sought to be apprehended by law enforcement or if they have engaged in conduct chargeable as a felony, which for the most part have been spelled out through case law.

Over the years, the number of police pursuits has decreased significantly, which is good. However, law enforcement still need this option in certain circumstances. LB 188 will give the court some standards to consider in determining whether a passenger in a fleeing vehicle is really an “innocent third party” and therefore eligible for automatic recovery of up to $1 million in taxpayer money.

LB 188 was not designated as a priority bill and may be the last bill that is debated this year without priority status. Next week is the deadline for designation of priority bills. After that date, typically only bills with priority status or bills that are non-controversial and eligible for consent calendar, are placed on the agenda.

I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on legislation being debated by senators or if you have questions on any bills. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.

Legislative Update

February 5th, 2016

The chairman of the Revenue Committee, Senator Mike Gloor, introduced LB 958 at the request of the governor. LB 958 is part of a property tax relief proposal offered by Governor Pete Ricketts. The public hearing on LB 958 was held this past week before the Revenue Committee, lasting 6 ½ hours. The governor was the first proponent testifying after Senator Gloor.

The intent of the Governor’s proposal is to slow the increase in state-wide agricultural land valuation and to slow the growth of spending and therefore, property taxes levied by political subdivisions. The legislation limits the budgeted growth of restricted funds, eliminates exclusions to the levy limit, and limits the state-wide increase in agricultural land valuation to 3%.

Under LB 958, if the increase in agricultural land in any year exceeds 3% on a statewide aggregated basis, the Property Tax Administrator will determine the factor needed to uniformly and proportionately reduce the value of every parcel of agricultural land so that the statewide aggregate increase on agricultural land does not exceed 3%. The adjusted valuation used for the calculation of the school finance formula would also be adjusted by this factor.

Governor Ricketts said that the legislation introduced this year is a step toward his broader goal of tax relief in Nebraska. He pledged to continue to work to reduce property and income taxes during his time as governor. He mentioned that he has heard from Nebraskans that say his proposal doesn’t go far enough and from others, primarily local governments, that felt it goes too far, leading him to conclude that it strikes the right balance.

Earlier this week, the Nebraska Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Cattlemen and the Nebraska Pork Producers all indicated their support for LB 958. The three major agricultural groups believe that the governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction and will help remedy the disproportionate property tax burden placed on agricultural landowners when supporting school districts.

Open Sky Policy Institute testified in opposition to LB 958. The Institute released a policy brief stating that if an assessment growth cap on agricultural land had been in effect for this year, it would have resulted in shortfalls for schools and other localities, tax shifts and disparate impacts on agricultural landowners. They cited another study which stated that such unintended consequences are why assessment caps are among the least effective, least equitable, and least efficient strategies available for property tax relief. While the intent of the cap is to help the agricultural community, the Institute believes that the largest benefits will go to farmers and ranchers near urban areas, not to the most rural parts of Nebraska.

Others testifying in opposition to LB 958 stated that the bill would shift taxes to residential and commercial property owners. Others feared the potential loss in revenue for school districts and other political subdivisions. City representatives stated that it would hinder their ability to save money for major projects, as well as provide for services such as public health and 911 coverage, because the bill would put capital improvements and expenditures for interlocal agreements under the overall budget limit.

As the Legislature continues to discuss various bills pertaining to tax relief, I encourage your comment. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number at the capitol is (402) 471-2733.

Sen. Dan Watermeier

District 1
Room #2108
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2733
Email: dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov
Search Senator Page For:
Topics
Archives
Search Current Bills
Search Laws
Live Video Streaming
Find Your Senator
>