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The holiday season is upon us which means the next legislative session of the Nebraska Unicameral is just around the corner. Nebraska’s Constitution requires the Legislature to convene in session each year on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January, making the 2022 session get off to an early start on January 5, 2022. The Legislature operates on a biennial schedule, with the first session of the biennium in odd-numbered years lasting a maximum of ninety days and the second session occurring in even-numbered years and lasting a maximum of sixty days. This means 30 fewer days for the 107th Legislature to hold public hearings, conduct debate and vote on the many proposals that will come before the body.
I anticipate many of the issues that will be considered during the 2022 session will be those issues that are routinely part of the legislative forum – tax reform, property tax reduction, state aid to schools, prison overcrowding, aid to individuals, behavioral-health services, election integrity, affordable housing and economic development. However, as evidence of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on our society and our “normal” daily lives, I predict the next legislative session could very well include impassioned discussions involving vaccination and mask mandates, the powers of local health departments and business rights versus individual rights.
Also related to the pandemic, the Legislature will be presented with an extremely unusual challenge in the coming session – how to spend over a billion dollars in federal funds. In March, the federal government passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with the intent of helping states, counties, cities, tribal governments, businesses, and individuals overcome the economic and personal impacts of the pandemic. In total, Nebraska is slated to receive roughly $6 billion. Of this, ARPA dictates direct allocation of $3.3 billion to specific state/federal programs, $773 million to education, $375.3 million to counties (Sarpy County will receive over $36 million) and $287.2 million to cities (Papillion and La Vista will each receive over $3 million). Additionally, under ARPA, the Capital Projects Fund was created of which Nebraska will receive $128.7 million. These funds can be used for capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring.
That leaves $1.04 billion to be spent at the discretion of the Governor and the Legislature. As you can imagine, many special interest groups have already shared numerous ideas on how this money could be utilized. However, these funds may only be used to cover costs associated with the public health emergency, including support for public health, and addressing negative economic impacts to workers, households, small businesses, and industries. The funds may also be used to invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, replace lost public sector revenues related to the pandemic, and to provide premium pay for essential workers. The funds may not be used to provide tax cuts or to increase any pension fund. Funds that are inappropriately expended are subject to recoupment as are funds that aren’t obligated by December 31, 2024 and expended by December 31, 2026. The Legislature will also have to resist the temptation to use this money to create new government programs no matter how worthy the cause. These are one-time funds and any program that requires on-going financial support will fall on the shoulders of taxpayers.
This will be my fourth legislative session and I have found serving the state and the constituents of Legislative District 14 in the capacity of a state senator to be more challenging than I ever imagined and equally more rewarding than I initially anticipated. I thank all of you who have contacted me to share your thoughts on the number of different issues that come before the Legislature. Your voice helps guide me in making difficult decisions and ensures I represent the district adequately while adopting policies to make our great state even greater.
I wish you and yours a promising and prosperous 2022 and look forward to hearing from you next year!
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