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The Legislature gave initial approval this past week for a proposal to increase the gas tax. LB 610 proposes to increase the fixed portion of the gasoline tax by 1.5 cents per gallon every year for four years. Once the 6 cent increase is fully implemented, it would generate approximately $25 million more a year for the Department of Roads and $50 million more annually for cities and counties, to be used for necessary road and bridge projects.
Roads are very important to Nebraska. Beyond everyday transportation, good roads are a means to move produce from farm to market, to transport freight, and to provide incentives for businesses to locate in our state. Last year, I participated in the Transportation and Telecommunication’s Committee interim study that looked at the condition of our rural bridges. We saw that there is a great need for additional funding.
States have recognized that federal funding for roads has been decreasing in recent years. The federal gas tax was designed to be the primary source of funding for the Federal Highway Trust Fund. However, since it has not been increased since 1993, it is no longer meeting its obligations. Likewise, the state gas tax is only one cent higher than it was twenty-two years ago, although the gas tax structure has been modified over this time. Three neighboring states have recently increased their gas tax and a couple dozen states are considering their options.
LB 610 was advanced from the first stage of debate on a 26-10 vote. If it is successful at the next two stages of debate, it is expected that Governor Ricketts will veto the legislation. Thirty votes are required to override a governor’s veto. Although I am concerned with the growing backlog of repair projects for our roads and bridges, I could not support a tax increase, at a time when I feel the Legislature should be focusing on decreasing property taxes. The Legislature has several alternatives before them for additional funding for road and bridge projects, such as reinstating state aid to municipalities and counties or increasing the current amount of sales tax dedicated to roads.
My priority bill for this year, LB 106, was given first-round approval this past week. As a rural state, we must encourage livestock growth. A recent UNL report showed that the industry has not grown in the past two decades at rates comparable to neighboring states. The report cited issues that have constrained potential development, including local permitting processes.
This past year, a group of livestock producers and county officials met to discuss policy issues that could be hindering livestock growth. Concerns focused on the uncertainty of the conditions that might be required in the local conditional use permitting process, as well as lack of uniformity across the state and the subjective nature of regulations, as well as political pressure placed on local officials. The group recommended the development of a matrix, to be used by county officials when determining whether to approve an application for a livestock operation. Two counties in Nebraska are currently using such a matrix.
Under LB 106, the Department of Agriculture is to develop an assessment matrix, in consultation with a committee composed of county board members, county zoning administrators, livestock producers, and University representatives. The matrix could be used to evaluate operations on factors such as odor control practices, manure storage, proximity to neighboring residences, community support, and economic impact to the community.
As introduced, the use of the matrix was mandatory for counties that were zoned and required livestock operations to be permitted. As amended, the matrix will be completely voluntary. Counties may use the state matrix, may use it as a model in creating their own matrix, or may decide not to use it. It will be another tool that is available for counties to use in making local decisions, if they so choose.
If you have any comments on either of these bills or on other legislation before senators, I encourage you to contact me. 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.
I introduced two bills before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee this past week. The first bill deals with unfunded mandates placed on several counties across the state. An interim study was conducted last year looking at the impact of unfunded and underfunded mandates on counties. As a result, a list of possible state action items was identified. One of the items was the basis for LB 105.
Currently, counties are financially responsible for the costs of an autopsy, grand jury payments and witness compensation when there is a death of an incarcerated person. LB 105 seeks to transfer these costs from the county to the state, if the inmate died while serving a sentence in a state correctional institution. I agreed to offer this legislation because I represent Johnson County, where Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI) is located. Since TSCI opened at the end of 2001, Johnson County has incurred more than $150,000 in expenses, consisting of grand jury fees, witness fees, coroner tests, as well as district and county court filing fees. LB 105 would help with approximately half of these expenses, which are difficult for a smaller county to handle.
The Johnson County attorney researched the deaths that have occurred since TSCI opened and none of the inmates who have died at TSCI were sentenced in Johnson County. It seems logical to require a county to pay the expenses if an inmate dies while in a sheriff’s custody, but it does not seem fair to require the county to pay for autopsies and grand jury hearings on state prisoners that die in a state facility that happens to be in a certain county.
Recent research has shown that unfunded mandates from the state account for at least 8% of local government’s budgets. LB 105 is one small step towards resolving the broader property tax problem in Nebraska.
The other bill I introduced, LB 106, creates the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act. The legislation directs the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to develop an assessment matrix, for use by county officials when determining whether to approve an application for a livestock operation siting permit. Such matrices are already being used in two counties in northeast Nebraska. The matrix would be used to evaluate operations on factors such as odor control practices, manure storage and application practices, proximity to neighboring residences, community support, and economic impact to the community. The matrix would be based on scientific information and the department would set a minimum threshold for approval.
A county may enact a requirement that in areas zoned for agricultural use, a person must obtain a permit from the county planning commission or county board for a new livestock operation or for the expansion of an existing livestock operation if over specified size thresholds contained in the legislation. The county may deny a permit if the site is not zoned for agricultural use only, if the operation will exceed the size thresholds but does not meet the minimum score required under the matrix, or if necessary to protect health, safety and welfare. If a permit is denied, the applicant may appeal the decision by requesting a review by the Livestock Operation Siting Review Board, which is created under the legislation. Such board would uphold a county decision unless the board determines the decision by the county was unreasonable, arbitrary or an abuse of discretion.
A recent report from UNL highlighted the important role that the livestock industry plays in our state’s economy. However, the industry has not grown at rates comparable to our neighboring states. The report cited numerous policies and issues that have constrained potential development, such as local permitting processes, nuisance rules and lawsuits, and concerns from interest groups.
LB 106 attempts to address the constraints and to promote the development of the livestock industry in Nebraska by providing for consistent standards, based on factual objective criteria, to be used by local governing bodies when granting permits.
If you have comments on either of these bills or other legislation before the Legislature, I encourage you to contact me. 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.