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My priority bill, LB 44, received initial approval from the Legislature this past week. LB 44 seeks to collect sales tax on Nebraska purchases from out-state online retailers. This is not a new tax, as Nebraska law requires that if sales tax is not collected by the seller on any taxable sale, the purchaser must remit the use tax directly to the state. There is a line on the Nebraska Individual Income Tax Return for individuals to report their use tax due on Internet purchases. However, few Nebraskans comply.
Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not require that sales tax be collected on mail-order sales shipped into a state because the diverse state and local sales tax systems among the states would make collecting sales taxes an undue burden on out-of-state retailers. This decision was upheld in 1992, 25 years ago, when the internet was in its infancy. Times have significantly changed since then. States have responded by adopting a comprehensive interstate system to streamline and harmonize their maze of sales tax rules and requirements. This tax loophole, which places main street businesses at a distinct disadvantage, is now costing states $17.2 billion in lost sales tax annually. The injustice prompted a United States Supreme Court Judge to note that these rulings have resulted in a startling revenue shortfall in many states, creating unfairness to local retailers. State’s education systems, healthcare services and infrastructure are weakened as a result. Justice Kennedy concluded that it was unwise to delay any longer a reconsideration of the court’s ruling.
Under LB 44, online retailers meeting a certain threshold for sales volume will either have to collect the sales tax or abide by the reporting requirements, including notifying purchasers that the sales tax is due and submitting information to the Nebraska Department of Revenue showing the total amount paid in the previous year by each purchaser. LB 44 combines the “collecting” law from South Dakota, which was introduced as a means to get the U.S. Supreme Court to reexamine their earlier ruling, and the “reporting” law from Colorado, which was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
I believe that LB 44 avoids the constitutionality issue, as it does not require remote sellers to collect the sales tax, instead giving them a choice of following the reporting requirements. However, the Governor believes otherwise and is actively working against the bill, indicating that he will veto it if passed. I want to stand in support of all businesses in Nebraska. LB 44 needs to pass to create a fair environment for our small businesses.
LB 68 proposes to give the Nebraska Legislature the sole authority to regulate the ownership, possession, transportation, carrying, registration, transfer, and storage of firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories. Local authorities would retain the authority to regulate the discharge of firearms and to provide for appropriate zoning designations. LB 68 would ensure consistent, statewide uniformity of laws for firearm owners. Currently, there is a patchwork of laws in our state, making it confusing for law-abiding gun owners as they travel across the state. Although LB 68 was filibustered by opponents, a motion for cloture to cut off debate and allow for a vote on the advancement of the bill was successful, receiving the necessary 33 votes. After the cloture vote, LB 68 received first-round approval from the Legislature on a 32-12 vote. I am a co-sponsor of LB 68.
LR 6 is a legislative resolution that applies to Congress, under the provisions of Article V of the U.S. Constitution, to call a convention of the states limited to proposing amendments 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. So far, 10 of the necessary 34 states have endorsed similar resolutions. Any amendments proposed by such a convention would need to be ratified by at least three-fourths of the states.
LR 6 was debated by the Legislature for 3 hours. Proponents feel that it is necessary to limit the power of the federal government. Opponents note that the convention would not be limited to the items listed. It appears that Senator Ebke, the sponsor of the bill, will have to prove that she has the necessary 33 votes for cloture before the resolution is placed on the agenda again. I have signed on as a co-sponsor of this resolution.
During the remaining 25 days of this legislative session, 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 email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
The Legislature gave first-round approval to a budget bill adjusting the current year’s budget. During the ninety day session, typically senators work on the next biennial budget. Due to the large projected budget shortfall of approximately $900 million, the Governor submitted two proposals to the Legislature, one to make adjustments to the current year’s budget, with the intent of getting it passed early in the legislative session, and the other for the next biennial budget. The Appropriations Committee began work immediately on LB 22 and advanced the bill to General File on January 27, thereby giving the Legislature a jump start on addressing the shortfall.
LB 22 was introduced by Speaker Scheer, at the request of the Governor. It contained a series of specific and across-the-board cuts for fiscal year 2016-17, as well as capturing some unexpended balances that were re-appropriated to state agencies. It contained $151 million in cuts, for a total of $276 million in budget reductions, when including other items such as a $92 million transfer from the cash reserve fund.
The Appropriations Committee restored some funding for service providers for people with developmental disabilities, the University of Nebraska, and for justice reinvestment within the Supreme Court, thereby lowering the cuts to $137 million. The committee focused on the reduction of appropriations, noting that the transfer from the cash reserve can be deferred until consideration of the biennial budget.
After hours of debate discussing the proposed cuts and whether the governor should have instead called a special session last year to deal with the budget adjustments in the current fiscal year, senators approved the Appropriations Committee amendments and advanced LB 22 on a 46-1 vote. This debate took place in the mornings while the entire Legislature was in session. The Appropriations Committee continues to meet in the afternoons, now working on the budget for the next two years. The Appropriations Committee must report their recommendations for the next biennial budget to the entire Legislature by April 24.
The public hearing was held this past week before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Legislative Resolution 6, introduced by Crete Senator Laura Ebke. LR 6 proposes to apply to Congress, as allowed under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, to call a convention of the states. The convention of states would be limited to proposing constitutional amendments 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 members of Congress. Thirty-four states must make application on the same subject before a convention could be held. As I understand, eight states have passed identical resolutions and similar language is pending in at least thirty states. If a convention of states were to be held, three-fourths of the states, or thirty-eight states, would have to ratify the proposals before they could become part of the U.S. Constitution.
A similar proposal introduced two years ago failed to receive approval from the Legislature, after a motion sent it back to committee. I signed on as a co-sponsor two years ago and again this year on LR 6. With the number of new senators elected in November, LR 6 may have a better chance for success.
As the Legislature works on issues related to tax reform, I hear from many constituents on the need for property tax relief. I hear little concern over income tax rates. However, the Governor and the chair of the Revenue Committee, are strongly pushing for income tax relief. I would welcome your comments. 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.
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 email@example.com.