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The second session of the One Hundred and Fourth Legislature is coming to a close and despite the session’s shorter schedule and a record number of filibusters, laws were approved that will benefit the residents of Legislative District 14 and the state as a whole. Over 200 bills were passed and signed into law during the 60-day session. There were four in particular that I worked very closely on and that I think will move our state successfully into the future – LB 1067, LB 884, LB 977 and LB 960.
While I introduced my own bill to eliminate the common property tax levy of the Douglas/Sarpy County Learning Community (LB 739), LB 1067 was the vehicle used to pass this overdue policy change. The bill was introduced by the Education Committee chairperson, Senator Kate Sullivan. In addition to ending the 95-cent common levy, LB 1067 increases aid to schools with high numbers of poverty students, exchanges open enrollment with option enrollment and reduces the size of the Learning Community bureaucracy. As a Sarpy County resident, I have been opposed to the common levy since its inception in 2009 and have advocated for its elimination since I was first elected to the Legislature. Not only was the common levy unfair, it did not adequately address the funding needs for high-poverty schools, it fostered animosity between the two counties and it stunted development in Sarpy County, resulting in valuation stagnation for the entire metropolitan area. Now that the issue of the common levy is behind us, it’s time to look ahead to ensure all Nebraska students receive a quality education.
Sarpy County residents will also benefit from a measure I designated as my priority bill for the 2016 session. LB 884, introduced by Jim Scheer, makes significant improvements to the Convention Center Facility Financing Assistant Act and the Sports Arena Facility Financing Assistance Act. The bill will facilitate the building of an economically important athletic complex in La Vista, planned by the nonprofit corporation, Nebraska Multisport Complex. The proposed $125 million venture will include facilities for swimming, diving, soccer and tennis and will attract local, regional and national interests, bringing new investment into the area. The two acts allow for the use of new sales tax dollars generated by convention centers and sporting facilities to be used to pay off debt incurred in the building of these facilities. LB 884 will benefit the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln and the Ralston arena and will result in more funds being generated for a grant program aimed at developing civic and community centers across the state. LB 884 will create new investment and job opportunities, grow the economy, increase state revenues and enrich the lives of all Nebraskans for years to come.
LB 977 contains an important provision that will aid in the on-going success of the state’s number one industry, agriculture. An exemption is granted for certain implements of husbandry, or farm machinery, from weight and load limitations when operated on the highways of this state. Today’s farm equipment is much bigger and heavier than those of the past and the occasional use of our roadways is incidental to the business of agriculture. The passage of LB 977 will protect Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers from hefty fines that compromise their ability to work effectively and efficiently. The bill ensures our valuable agriculture industry will continue to grow and prosper.
Finally, I introduced LB 960 to protect and build our critical transportation infrastructure. LB 960, the Transportation Innovation Act, establishes a $450 million transportation infrastructure bank using $50 million from the state’s cash reserve and earmarking a portion of the gas tax over the next 17 years. The Transportation Innovation Act calls for the completion of Nebraska’s expressway system by 2023, creates a county/state program to fix our state’s excessive number of dilapidated bridges and allows for funding of projects that stimulate economic growth. Additionally, the bill authorizes the Department of Roads to utilize alternative contracting methods expected to accelerate major highway construction, resulting in more efficient use of state funds. The Transportation Innovation Act would not have been possible without collaboration with the executive branch, the private sector and several members of the Unicameral Legislature. The bill passed nearly unanimously on a 48-0 vote – one senator, unfortunately was absent. Our transportation infrastructure is the life-blood of Nebraska, supporting economic growth and the safety of our families as we work and travel across our great state. LB 960 is landmark legislation that will move our state into a bright future.
While the legislative session may be over, our work is not done. During the interim, I will be busy attending meetings and researching legislation for the next session. If you ever have any thoughts or ideas which you would like to share with me, I encourage you to contact my office at (402) 471-2730 or email me at email@example.com. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the residents of Legislative District 14 and the State of Nebraska.
The 2016 60-day session has passed the halfway mark and committee hearings are concluding. Full-day debate on the bills advanced from the fourteen legislative committees will begin on March 7. Despite having more time to discuss legislation, the number of bills make it impossible to get to everything before the session’s conclusion and thus it is necessary to prioritize. Each senator is permitted to designate one bill as his or her personal priority for the session, giving the measure a better chance of being debated.
Senator Lydia Brasch has chosen my bill calling for the adoption of the Transportation Innovation Act as her priority for this session. LB 960 includes the creation of a Transportation Infrastructure Bank to accelerate completion of Nebraska’s Heartland Expressway and to assist counties in repairing and replacing dangerously deficient bridges. While the Appropriations Committee has yet to advance LB 960 to the full Legislature, I have confidence my colleagues will recognize how important a good transportation infrastructure is for the benefit of our state and that LB 960 will eventually pass.
I designated LB 884 as my personal priority bill for the session. LB 884 was introduced by Senator Jim Scheer and would amend the Convention Center Facility Financing Act and the Sports Arena Facility Financing Act. Both of these acts provide for turnback financing. Under this funding mechanism, a portion of the sales tax generated from new businesses established around convention centers and sports arenas is captured to help pay for the facility. LB 884 would make the “capture zone” uniform for both convention centers and sports arenas and would extend the time period for cities to solicit new businesses. This bill not only benefits the larger cities that can support these facilities, it benefits communities across the state with a portion of the new sales tax going to the Civic and Community Center Financing Fund. The fund provides grants to smaller cities and villages to develop community-centered infrastructure such as civic centers, libraries, public pools and auditoriums. In 2015, over two million dollars were awarded to Nebraska communities. LB 884 will give cities of all sizes an important tool to create new investment and job opportunities, help grow the economy, reduce property taxes and enrich the lives of all Nebraskans.
The second session of the One-Hundred and Fourth Legislature is underway and we are busy debating bills that carried over from the 2015 session and introducing new legislation for consideration this year. The second session of the two-year legislative biennium is only 60 days compared to the longer, 90-day first session and while there isn’t as much time to consider legislation, there are still significant issues facing the state that warrant thoughtful deliberation.
Given the time constraints, each senator will be concentrating much of his or her efforts on bills he or she believes should be enacted sooner than later in order to have the greatest positive impact. For me, that bill will be LB 960, the Transportation Innovation Act. Nebraska’s transportation infrastructure is critical to the welfare of our state and its citizens. A safe and functional transportation system is essential to move our children to school and our workers to jobs and our products to market. For the past several years, we have been putting most of our concentration on simply maintaining our existing roads. A statewide expressway system initiated and promised 30 years ago has yet to be completed and Nebraska ranks among the worst in the nation when it comes to deficient bridges.
LB 960 would establish a Transportation Infrastructure Bank to provide funding to accelerate completion of the expressway system and create a county bridge match program to promote the repair and replacement of deficient bridges. In addition, the bill would establish an economic opportunity program within the Nebraska Department of Roads to provide funding for transportation projects that will result in new businesses and expansion of existing businesses. Initial funding for the Infrastructure bank will come from the state’s cash reserve and the bank will be replenished by funds currently flowing to the Department Roads. LB 960 is a collaborative effort between the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and Governor Pete Ricketts. I am pleased to have the opportunity to sponsor this ground-breaking legislation and moving it forward.
Other measures I have introduced this session include the following:
LB 739 – eliminate the common levy imposed on members of the Learning Community;
LB 812 – exempt custom software used by businesses from the sales tax, bringing Nebraska in line with most states in the country;
LB 912 – require individuals labeled as inactive voters to provide identification prior to voting;
LB 913 – allow for the adoption of the Business Rapid Response to State Declared Disasters Act;
LB 938 – allow for the adoption of the 911 Service System Act to modernize our emergency system; and
LB 977 – provide axel weight exemptions for agriculture vehicles and machinery.
While many of the measures I have introduced are a necessary responsibility for me as chairman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, I will still be actively involved in a number of issues. In particular, I will continue to push for tax relief for all Nebraskans. Last year, I introduced LB 357, which cuts both individual and business income tax rates and increases funding to the Property Tax Relief fund. LB 357 is currently being held by the Revenue Committee and I am diligently working to advance the measure to the full Legislature for consideration. I look forward to the work ahead and to serving my constituents as we decide the policies of importance to Nebraska.
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