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The Appropriations Committee completed its work on their budget recommendations for the next biennium, voting 9-0 to advance the recommendations to the full Legislature. The budget bills will be placed on General File by April 28, the 70th legislative day. The Legislature will take up the budget package on General File beginning April 30. According to the Legislature’s rules, the appropriations bills must be passed no later than the 80th legislative day, which falls on May 14 this year.
The budget, amounting to $8.7 billion, increases state spending by an average of 3.1% over the two-year period. The increase in spending is noticeably lower than the average 4.3% increase over that past 20 years. The budget package does include the concept contained in LB 364, the bill that I introduced to add an additional $60 million annually for the Property Tax Credit program, which provides direct property tax relief to property owners.
A bill to strengthen the Commercial Dog and Cat Operator Inspection Act was given first-round approval this past week. The legislation adds a definition of significant threat to the health or safety of dogs and cats. Due to recent concern regarding the inspection and enforcement procedures for licensed facilities by the Department of Agriculture, the department has updated their rules and regulations. The statutory definition mirrors the department’s regulations, clarifying that the department’s inspectors may impound animals or ask law enforcement to impound animals, if conditions pose a significant threat to the health or safety of dogs or cats. The legislation also provides for non-lapsing licenses, eliminating the difficulty the department had in taking enforcement actions against licensees whose license had expired. Furthermore, the bill removes obstacles for unannounced inspections and authorizes the department to charge a reinspection fee and mileage for reinspection trips to determine if correction of defects found in previous inspections have been completed.
As amended, LB 360 increases the annual license fee for breeders by $25 for each license fee category and imposes a new annual fee in commercial license fee categories of $2.00, times the daily average, for dogs or cats numbering more than ten. The legislation would increase the annual dog and cat license fee in cities, counties and villages from $1 to $1.25. These fee increases are necessary to adequately fund the program.
The Legislature also gave first-round approval to a bill containing many of the recommendations submitted by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission. The legislation seeks to define hard cider as beer instead of wine, allows retirement homes to apply for liquor licenses, applies the keg laws to all kegs containing alcohol liquor, allows retail licensees to bottle and sell growlers, and offers tax credits for beer manufacturers to utilize local barley and hops. As introduced, LB 330 repealed the mandatory closing time for bars. This provision was stripped from the bill by the committee amendments.
LB 330 gave the Liquor Control Commission the authority to regulate powdered alcohol. This powder produces an alcoholic beverage when mixed with water. A successful amendment struck this authority by banning powdered alcohol in the state, except for research purposes. Senators were concerned that this new product would appeal to underage drinkers and would be hard to control.
A Unicameral Youth Legislature will be held on June 7-10, 2015 and I encourage high school students who have an interest in law, government, leadership or public speaking to register for the event. Students will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and learn more about our nation’s only Unicameral. Scholarships are available. More information and registration forms can be obtained at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl.
If you have any comments on legislation currently before the Legislature, I urge 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.
Bills can be introduced during the first 10 days of the legislative session. The last day for bill introductions is Wednesday, January 21. The following is a brief description of the bills that I have been working on throughout the interim and have introduced so far.
LB 46, introduced on behalf of the statewide Trauma Advisory Board, revises language regarding the accreditation of rehabilitation centers in the state, specifically as it relates to the rehabilitation of trauma patients. The bill redefines the levels of rehabilitation services to reflect current practice and to bring the levels and definitions up-to-date.
LB 47 makes the question mandatory on an application for a driver’s license or identification card regarding whether to be on the Donor Registry. Currently, it is optional for applicants to answer this question. Nearby states that require responses have higher percentages of applicants indicating their wish to become donors.
Under LB 105, the state rather than the county, would have to pay for the costs associated with an autopsy and grand jury when an inmate dies in state custody. This is one of several unfunded mandates that the Legislature will address as we work towards property tax relief. This legislation would help Johnson County, where Tecumseh State Correctional Institution is located.
LB 106, the Livestock Operation Siting & Expansion Act, was introduced to encourage livestock development and expansion, which is extremely important to the economy of our state. The industry in Nebraska hasn’t grown in the past two decades at rates comparable to neighboring states. The legislation would allow counties to use a scoring matrix system for the approval of new or expanding livestock facilities, which would make the process more predictable and consistent throughout the state.
LB 130 would allow projects allocated funding through the Nebraska Resources Development Fund to be eligible for funding from the new Water Sustainability Fund. I will also introduce a bill to appropriate enough funding within the next two years to allow for the completion of these projects. These projects were existing when the new funding system was passed last year. They are important projects that are beneficial for the state and have already been approved through an extensive application process.
LB 145 would eliminate the executive officer licensing requirement, while retaining the ability of the Department of Banking and Finance to suspend the authority of the executive officer or impose fines upon the executive officer for violations of law. Nebraska may be the only state that requires a formal license process.
LB 178 would reduce the valuation of agricultural land by 5% per year for four years, thereby reducing it from 75% to 55% for school district taxation purposes. This is another option that is being presented to look at property tax relief and the high burden placed on agricultural land owners in the support of local schools.
LB 188, which I am introducing again this year, amends 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”. Under this legislation, a passenger in a fleeing vehicle would not be considered an “innocent third party” if they entered the vehicle knowing that the driver was 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 228 would reduce the corporate income tax rate to the level of the top two brackets of the individual income tax. Other types of companies, such as limited liability companies and Subchapter S corporations are considered “pass-through” organizations under state and federal income tax laws. This is a special business structure that is used to reduce the effects of double taxation, meaning that pass-through entities don’t pay income taxes at the corporate level, only at the individual owners’ level. LB 228 is attempting to level the playing field for the different types of business structures.
LB 229 appropriates funding for the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) program. There are currently 22 CASA programs serving 38 Nebraska counties, with more than 600 volunteers advocating for more than 1,500 Nebraska children. Statistics have shown that a child with a CASA volunteer is more likely to be adopted and less likely to re-enter foster care. The funding would allow the program to continue and grow to serve more counties.
LB 364 would increase the funding appropriated to the Property Tax Credit program, funding the program at $200 million per year. This would translate into an approximate $100 credit for each $100,000 of valuation.
LB 386 would exempt header trailers and seed tenders from sales tax. Agricultural machinery and equipment was permanently exempted from state sales tax beginning in 1992. In 2012, the Department of Revenue issued a revised “Information Guide” ruling that these implements did not qualify for the sales tax exemption. This legislation would clarify that such trailers are exempt, as was the practice before the ruling.
As the bills are introduced, 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, Nebraska 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.