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This past week began with the Legislature being notified of the Governor’s veto of $64 million within the budget bills. The Appropriations Committee met early in the week and developed a package of items that they recommended for override. The Legislature agreed with the Appropriations Committee and voted to override the recommended vetoes.
The Governor had vetoed $7.4 million of the $17.5 million in funding for the Game and Parks Commission. In his veto message, the Governor stressed that the partial funding would still allow for the projects at Ponca State Park and Arbor Lodge State Historical Park. However, the written agreement between the Appropriations Committee and the commission stated that should the committee provide $17.5 million, the commission would be able to further address priority deferred maintenance needs statewide and the undertaking of capital projects at Ponca State Park and priority capital projects at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park to put the existing facilities in a condition that would be conducive to transferring operating and management to a local partner. With the successful override motion, it eliminates any question as to whether the projects will be undertaken.
I joined the Governor at a press conference where he signed legislation offering more than $400 million in tax relief to Nebraskans over the next 5 years. Among the bills the Governor signed was LB 96. This bill will eliminate the sales tax on repair or replacement parts for agricultural machinery and equipment. Nebraska was one of only 8 states that charged sales tax on such items, which created a competitive disadvantage for our farm equipment supply industry, particularly for those located close to the state’s border. LB 905 will increase the Property Tax Credit Program by $25 million, bringing the annual appropriation to $140 million. LB 986 will expand Nebraska’s homestead exemption program so that more Nebraskans qualify, by increasing the limit on household income. LB 850, the bill I introduced to authorize a homestead exemption for individuals with developmental disabilities who meet income and valuation guidelines, was included in LB 986. LB 987 will index Nebraska’s individual income tax brackets for inflation, exempt more social security income from taxation, and provide limited tax exemptions for military retirees. Furthermore, LB 725 contains an additional $33 million in state aid to local school districts.
LB 1098, which would reconstruct the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, was given first-round approval this past week. The legislation is the result of the work of the Water Funding Task Force during the past interim. The restructured commission would be required to revise their rules and regulations to ensure the funding process follows the ranking and criteria recommendations of the task force.
Several senators are pushing for basin-wide planning to ensure water sustainability and threatened to filibuster LB 1098 if provisions for a state water plan were not included. Others feel that such a proposal favors surface water irrigators at the expense of groundwater irrigators. I feel that statewide water planning is already in place through the work of the Department of Natural Resources and our local NRDs.
The budget bills contain $31 million in funding for water sustainability projects and LB 1098 is the vehicle for the distribution of these funds. Interested parties have pledged to work together on a compromise prior to the second-round of debate. I spoke on the floor of the importance of dealing with water sustainability projects now and not postponing them. The project at Lake McConaughy cost $43.5 million in 1935. Today, that cost would have grown to $695 million.
Although the Legislature has advanced some controversial issues, other legislation hasn’t fared as well. LB 943, which would have increased the minimum wage, failed to receive first-round approval. LB 1058, a bill that would have adopted the Interstate Compact on the Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote, was pulled from the agenda by its introducer. LB 965, which was intended to encourage more renewable energy development but could have resulted in higher electric rates, was bracketed until the end of session.
As we enter the final days of this legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn on April 17, I still encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My telephone number is (402) 471-2733 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Legislature began meeting in full-day session this past week, following the completion of the public hearing process. The Speaker of the Legislature warned senators of the workload that is ahead of them, with just twenty days left and many priority bills yet to be discussed. Speaker Adams announced that the Legislature will begin working late nights on March 18. Working late is typically around 8:30 p.m., but could be as late as 11:59 p.m.
Legislation requesting funding for water sustainability projects was introduced as a result of work completed by the Nebraska Water Funding Task Force, on which I served this past interim. The Appropriations Committee included $31.4 million for water projects in their recommendations to the Legislature. The proposal includes one-time funding of $20 million from the cash reserve, with $11 million appropriated annually from the general fund. Over the next several years, $10.5 million will be used to complete existing water projects. New water projects will fall under the guidelines proposed as a result of the task force’s work and will require a local match.
LB 1098 reconfigures the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission. The Commission is charged with revising rules and regulations to ensure the funding process establishes and utilizes criteria upon which projects, programs, and activities will be ranked and prioritized according to the water sustainability goals that were recommended by the task force.
LB 1001, which would allow the production, sale, and purchase of industrial hemp in Nebraska, received first-round approval on a 32-1 vote. It would exempt industrial hemp from the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Hemp is used in materials such as fabric, rope, paper, and construction products. Senators viewed industrial hemp as another crop and source of revenue for farmers and NOT as a gateway to recreational use of marijuana. Hemp contains 1% or less of THC, the mind-altering ingredient found in the cannabis plant. Since cross-pollination would ruin a marijuana crop by lowering the THC levels, it would not be feasible to grow hemp in an effort to hide marijuana plants. The farm bill recently passed by Congress allows state agricultural departments and universities to develop research and evaluate markets in states that have legalized industrial hemp. Therefore, this legislation could open the door for additional research at the university, which could result in economic development opportunities for our state.
I successfully amended LB 850 into LB 986 this past week. LB 850 is the bill that I introduced to allow individuals who have a developmental disability to qualify for the homestead exemption, if they meet certain income and valuation guidelines. LB 986 is a Revenue Committee bill that changes the income guidelines for those qualifying for the homestead exemption, in order to expand eligibility for the program. After the adoption of the amendment, the bill was given first-round approval.
Senators also gave first-round approval to LB 814, which proposes to dedicate the state sales tax revenue derived from the sale or lease of motorboats and personal watercraft for the repair or maintenance of the Game and Parks Commission’s infrastructure. Committee amendments added the provisions of LB 841, which would also dedicate the sales tax revenue on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility-type vehicles for Game and Parks projects. This would earmark approximately $2.6 million annually for deferred maintenance projects.
The Game and Parks Commission has a $43 million shortfall in deferred maintenance and ADA compliance projects. The commission has had to reduce maintenance, mowing, and trash removal at some state parks and recreational areas. Furthermore, they have temporarily closed some areas, including the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park.
LB 814, as well as the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation for a one-time transfer of $17.5 million for statewide projects (including projects at Ponca State Park and Arbor Lodge), is necessary to help the Game and Parks Commission deal with the serious backlog issue. Our parks are some of the most popular tourist attractions in the state and it is important that they are sufficiently funded and maintained.
As senators work to address priority issues, I welcome your comments. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
As vice-chair of the Legislative Performance Audit Committee, I introduced LB 836 this past week before the Revenue Committee. LB 836 proposes to add basic goal language to certain tax incentive programs, such as the Nebraska Advantage Act and the Angel Investment Tax Credit Act, that currently have limited or no goal language.
Of the tax incentive programs, the Nebraska Advantage Act has the largest impact on the state budget. This act provides benefits to companies that invest or create jobs in Nebraska.
Last year, the Performance Audit Committee, working with the Pew Center for the States, issued three reports on tax incentives. The committee found that an absence of clear, measurable goals for each tax incentive program made it difficult to assess whether the program is doing what the Legislature intended it to do.
The Pew Center recommended a process for legislators to follow in improving the evaluation of the state’s tax incentive programs, which included the development of goals, metrics, and benchmarks. LB 836 represents a first step in increasing accountability and improving the state’s evaluation of tax incentive programs. The Performance Audit Committee has designated LB 836 as its committee priority bill, assuring that it will be debated by the Legislature, if it advances from the Revenue Committee.
The Performance Audit Committee also introduced LR 444, which proposes to create a committee to develop an ongoing, regular review of tax incentive programs. The intent is to introduce legislation containing additional recommendations next year.
The Appropriations Committee has made some preliminary recommendations for the mid-biennium budget adjustments that must be presented to the Legislature by the 40th legislative day, which falls on March 10th this year. Included in their preliminary recommendations, is a $15 million transfer from the Cash Reserve Fund and a one-time $2.5 million transfer from the State Recreation Road Fund for State Park deferred maintenance and improvements statewide. The Game and Parks Commission has indicated that this level of funding would allow them to undertake capital projects at Ponca State Park, as identified in LB 874, and allow for priority capital projects at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, in order to place existing facilities in a condition that would be conducive to transferring operating and management to a local partner, as identified in LB 1033.
I introduced LB 1033 to allow for the transfer of the operation and management of Arbor Lodge State Historical Park from the state to a local partnership. I believe a local partnership will be in a position to promote more utilization and offer greater stability of this important landmark in southeast Nebraska. I am grateful to the Appropriations Committee members for including this provision in their preliminary recommendations.
As the Legislature begins full-day debate, focusing on bills that have been designated as priority bills, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on the various issues. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94606, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402 471-2733.
Public hearings were held on five of the bills that I introduced this past week. I also introduced two more bills on behalf of the Legislative Performance Audit Committee, of which I serve as vice-chair.
The public hearing for LB 1033 was held before the Appropriations Committee. The legislation seeks $2.1 million in appropriations for Arbor Lodge State Historical Park. The funding would be used for deferred repairs and maintenance projects, and to bring the facility up to ADA standards. The intent is to transfer the operation and maintenance of the park from the state to a local partnership comprised of state and local entities. The appropriation would cover the projects the local partnership felt was necessary to make the transfer feasible. The current temporary closure of the park reiterated the need for a permanent solution.
Even though the hearing was held in the middle of a snowstorm, numerous supporters from the Nebraska City area made the trip to Lincoln to show their strong support and commitment to this project. The expertise, dedication, and enthusiasm expressed by representatives of the partnership will allow for innovation and greater utilization of the facility. Nebraska is the home of Arbor Day, a holiday now celebrated in every state, as well as many countries throughout the world. Arbor Lodge, the home of J. Sterling Morton who was the founder of Arbor Day, has great historic significance to our local area and beyond. It is our responsibility to make sure this site is preserved, well-maintained, and accessible to the public in future years.
The public hearing for LB 850 was held before the Revenue Committee. It proposes to expand the homestead exemption program to individuals with a developmental disability. Currently, the program is available to persons over 65, persons with certain permanent physical disabilities and disabled veterans. I believe that persons with developmental disabilities, who meet the income and valuation guidelines, are also deserving of and should qualify for this property tax relief program. By living in their own home, rather than a group home, not only does it allow them more independence, it also could reduce expenditures for the state. Two individuals who could qualify under LB 850 for the homestead exemption came to Lincoln to testify in front of the committee and did an excellent job.
Since the Department of Health and Human Services does not keep statistics on the number of individuals with developmental disabilities that own their own home, the executive director of Region V Services conducted a poll among providers across the state. He estimated that approximately 46 people might qualify for the homestead exemption. Of those 46, Region V supports 22 people who own their own homes, many of whom live in the Auburn area. The Department of Revenue, however, estimated that more than 400 persons would qualify under LB 850, greatly increasing the fiscal impact of the bill. The department based their estimate on research done by the University of Colorado.
LB 898, which was introduced by the Performance Audit Committee, and heard before the Health and Human Services Committee, proposes to codify reporting requirements for ACCESSNebraska in statute. In a recent performance audit of ACCESSNebraska, we identified several serious problems reflected in key efficiency measures, including call wait times, busy signals, and the backlog of work duties. The new reporting requirements will allow HHS and the Legislature to better target areas where problems are occurring.
The Legislature gave first-round approval this past week to LB 725, which deals with the state aid formula to K-12 school districts. The local effort rate in the formula was set to decrease for the 2015-16 school year, after it had been increased during the recession years. A reduction in the local effort rate increases the amount of state aid provided to school districts because the formula assumes a district has decreased resources. When next year’s formula was calculated, it ran lower than budgeted, primarily due to increased agricultural land valuations. Therefore, LB 725 proposes to move the decrease in the local effort rate up a year. Since most of the school districts that I represent have a good portion of agricultural land within their boundaries, many are experiencing losses in state aid next year. Without LB 725, the reductions would have been even greater.
If you have any comments on these bills or others before the Legislature, I encourage your input. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
Four hundred and sixty bills and six constitutional amendments were introduced during the 10-day introduction period for this legislative session. I introduced seven bills, some on behalf of constituents and some at the request of various organizations.
I introduced LB 711 at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services. When meth labs are discovered by law enforcement, the owner of the property cannot permit someone to live there until rehabilitation has been completed. An owner that violates this prohibition may be subject to a civil penalty up to $1,000. Legal advice suggested the need for due process prior to assessing the fine. LB 711 would allow an owner to request an administrative hearing to dispute a mistake in ownership or errors in the determination that the property was the site of a meth lab or that the property needs rehabilitation. The public hearing was held on LB 711 this past week. Dr. Joe Acierno, the Chief Medical Officer for DHHS, and Kay Oestmann, the director at Southeast District Health Department, testified in support of the bill.
LB 810 would prohibit local ordinances that interfere with the rights of lenders with respect to real estate loans and servicing rights. Such laws could still be imposed by the state or federal government.
Under LB 850, persons with developmental disabilities would be eligible for a homestead exemption, if they meet specified income limits and homestead value requirements. Currently, only persons over age 65, disabled veterans and their widow(er), and persons with certain permanent physical disabilities qualify for the property tax relief program.
LB 881 would amend our current pursuit law, which was enacted to protect an innocent bystander who gets hurt as a result of a police pursuit. Nebraska is the only state that imposes liability on the law enforcement agency regardless of whether the law enforcement agency was negligent in its pursuit and even when the driver being pursued causes the injury to the “innocent third party”. Although attempts to repeal this strict liability law have not been successful, the Legislature has never defined “innocent third party”, which would help limit liability in certain situations. Following a recent Nebraska Supreme Court case which found a passenger in a fleeing vehicle, who was violating the open container law and was found with meth on him, to be an “innocent third party”, one of the justices issued a separate opinion containing suggestions for the Legislature. Under LB 881, a passenger in a fleeing vehicle would not be considered an “innocent third party” for such things as entering the vehicle knowing that the driver is under the influence, if they are sought to be apprehended by law enforcement or if they are engaged in any illegal activity which would itself result in arrest.
LB 930 deals with the One-Call Notification System Act. It would require a representative of the operator to be present whenever an excavation is performed within 25 feet of an underground natural gas transmission line or other critical facility, unless otherwise agreed upon by both the operator and the excavator.
The Game and Parks Commission currently has a significant backlog of deferred maintenance projects and consequently decided to temporarily close some facilities in order to reassign staff to work on projects. Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City was on the list for temporary closure. In order to prevent this from happening again in future years, the Friends of Arbor Lodge Foundation, along with the City of Nebraska City, Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce, the Arbor Day Foundation and the Nebraska State Historical Society have worked on a plan to transfer operating responsibility from the state to the community partnership. In order to make the transfer feasible, $2.1 million of deferred maintenance projects at Arbor Lodge need to be completed first. I introduced LB 1033 to appropriate the money necessary for the maintenance projects at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park.
I introduced LB 1104 to allow a facility with a Y liquor license, which is granted to farm wineries, to also attain a retail liquor license. The development of farm wineries in the state have been important for economic development and the promotion of Nebraska products.
If you have any comments on the bills that I introduced or were introduced by other senators, I welcome your input. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.