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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 firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.