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This past week, the Legislature debated whether the fees for issuing a marriage license and providing certified copies of marriage records should be increased. The marriage license fee hasn’t been increased since 1995. The proposed increase, from $15 to $50, would cover the counties’ administrative costs for issuance. Currently taxpayers are subsidizing a good portion of the cost. Amendments are pending to lower the proposed increase to $30 or $35. Under LB 88, the cost of providing a certified copy of a marriage record would increase from $5 to $16, which would align the fee charged by counties with what is charged by the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
Chief Justice Michael Heavican delivered his State of the Judiciary this past week. In his speech, he mentioned that the Judicial Branch participated in the Council of State Government’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group, along with the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch. The analysis from the CSG group found that people sentenced to probation have lower recidivism rates than people sentenced to prison and emphasized the value of increasing the use of sentencing alternatives.
Chief Justice Heavican reported on two effective sentencing alternatives available for our courts, instead of more costly incarceration sentences. Nebraska’s 16 problem-solving courts served more than 1,000 people last year, resulting in an estimated $15 million cost savings. Drug courts emphasize education and employment and results have shown that 95% of active participants are gainfully employed or attending school full-time. Furthermore, an evaluation of the drug courts portrayed that 95% of those who successfully complete the program remain crime-free one year afterwards. The second alternative is the Specialized Substance Abuse Supervision (SSAS) program, which provides an opportunity for otherwise prison-bound substance abusers to be intensively supervised by probation while receiving treatment. This program has seen 91% of participants remaining crime-free one year after being successfully discharged from the program. Additionally, an average of 94% of graduates were gainfully employed.
Several bills were heard before the Revenue Committee this past week that attempt to deal with the issue of high property taxes. Senator Kate Bolz of Lincoln introduced LB 186, which would establish a refundable income tax credit program. At a projected cost of over $200 million annually, this “circuit breaker” legislation aims to provide income tax credits to people whose property taxes or monthly rents are high compared with their incomes.
I introduced LB 178, which would lower the valuation on agricultural land from 75% to 55% for school district taxation purposes. Nebraska farmers and ranchers today represent less than 3% of the state’s population but pay more than 30% of the total property taxes collected statewide. Furthermore, in the last decade, property taxes on agricultural land has increased 162%, compared with the 40% increase in residential property over the same time period. Although I realize this legislation isn’t the end solution to the property tax problem, I feel that it is a first step, in that it helps address the disproportionate burden placed on rural land owners in the support of their school districts. The increased state aid which would be generated by this bill would be approximately $55 million, after the reduction in valuation is phased in over a four-year period.
Grand Island Senator Mike Gloor introduced LB 259, which proposes to exempt the first $25,000 in value of personal property. The fiscal impact on this bill is approximately $40 million per year.
More bills have been introduced with the goal of lowering property taxes in our state, which I will report on in coming weeks. If you have any questions or comments on legislation proposing property tax relief or on other issues before the Legislature, 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 10-day bill introductory period is complete, resulting in the introduction of 663 bills and 4 constitutional amendments. Last week, I summarized most of the bills that I had introduced to date.
This past week, I introduced several more, including LB 490, which would adopt the Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Act. A POLST is a medical order, completed and signed by a medical provider, resulting from a detailed conversation between the patient and physician or other health care provider. A POLST is intended towards individuals with advanced illness or frailty. The purpose of a POLST is to improve end-of-life care by converting a patient’s treatment preferences into medical orders that are transferable amongst home and health care settings. The use of a POLST form is not mandatory. It is voluntary, meaning that it is used only if a patient chooses to complete one. It can be reviewed and revised as needed. It is limited to one page, is printed on bright colored paper, and is commonly kept on the refrigerator for easy recognition by paramedics.
POLST legislation has been approved in 19 states. Additional states are in the process of developing programs. Several communities in Nebraska are already using a POLST form. A primary goal of LB 490 is to have a standard form, for use throughout the state, in order to avoid confusion among health care providers in emergency situations.
Newly elected Governor Pete Ricketts delivered his first State of the State Address this past week. The Governor outlined the following objectives: controlling spending to keep it under the growth in revenue; property tax relief; cultural change and operational excellence in state agencies (through the creation of two new positions in the Governor’s cabinet – a chief operating officer and a human resources director); comprehensive reform in the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health and Human Services; regulatory process review; building on a military friendly culture; and improving educational outcomes, by creating a public-private partnership to create a career and vocational training program.
The Governor’s budget proposal would limit the two-year average growth in general fund spending to 3.1%, which is significantly less than the approximate 6.5% per year budget growth during the last biennium. He also stressed that he would not support any tax increases. To deal with what he termed as the #1 priority, he would add an additional $60 million per year to the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund. This is the concept that is contained in LB 364, a bill that I introduced last week. The Governor also indicated his support for reducing the value of agricultural land from 75% to 65% of actual value, along with an additional $9.5 million to the state aid formula, to make up for the loss in property tax revenue for school districts. I have introduced legislation similar to this concept, in 2013 and again this year, with LB 178.
The cash reserve fund was not touched by the Governor’s plan. However, he hinted that he believes the balance is too high and a portion should be returned to taxpayers. Although the Governor has indicated that he is supportive of income tax reductions, his proposal focused on property tax relief and only contained income tax relief for retired military veterans.
The public hearing process has started with committees meeting every afternoon. In the mornings, senators have begun debating legislation that has been advanced from the various committees.
If you would like to voice your opinion on legislation that has been introduced, I 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.