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The long session of the One-Hundred and Seventh Legislature concluded on May 27th, four days earlier than the usual 90-day session. But there was nothing usual about the 2021 legislative session. As is custom, the first day of the legislative session included the swearing in of newly-elected senators and the selection of the body’s leadership positions. I was elected to serve as the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee for the next two years and I am honored to serve in this capacity. Also in the usual fashion, senators introduced legislation for the first ten days, with 684 measures being proposed this year for consideration. And this is where business as usual stopped.
When the session began in January, Nebraska was still in a declared state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic and drastic changes were made to the day-to-day operation of the Legislature. In the past, the first half of the session was spent with mornings dedicated to debating legislative proposals and afternoons dedicated to public hearings on all of the measures that have been introduced. In order to mitigate the potential for exposure to the virus during the peak months of January and February, the Legislature held hearings both morning and afternoons as committees represent a smaller gathering of senators. Once the hearings concluded in March, the Legislature spent the rest of the session debating the bills that were advanced from the various committees.
Regardless of the unusual circumstances the pandemic presented, the session moved forward and many important policy matters were contemplated. As the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, much of my focus was on bills under the jurisdiction of the committee. In addition, I personally introduced measures intended to improve the health of Nebraskans by increasing access to telehealth services, particularly for those individuals seeking mental health services. These telehealth bills passed with significant support and were signed into law by the Governor. The new laws will take effect in August.
Every odd-numbered session, the Legislature is also tasked with adopting a two-year state budget. This year, the Legislature passed a $9.7 billion budget that represents a conservative 1.6 percent average annual budget growth. Included in the budget is roughly $1.45 billion in property tax relief through the state’s homestead exemption program, the State Property Tax Relief Fund and the new refundable property tax credit. The new credit was passed by the Legislature last year and provides an income tax credit based on property taxes paid to school districts. The credits are available now and can still be claimed even if you have already filed your taxes for 2020. More information on the new credit can be found on the Department of Revenue’s website: https://revenue.nebraska.gov/about/frequently-asked-questions/school-district-property-tax-credit-faqs.
In addition to property tax relief, the Legislature passed other measures to ease the tax burden on Nebraskans. Laws have been enacted to exempt 100% of military retirement income to encourage retired military personnel to make Nebraska their home; phase in an exemption from income taxation of social security benefits to keep our retirees in the state; reduce our corporate income tax to make us competitive with neighboring states in attracting new business; and repeal the sales tax on residential water. Other important bills that passed will provide for the expansion of broadband access across the state; leverage federal dollars for investment in small businesses; authorize the creation of inland port authorities to assist in large commercial and industrial development; and allow for the development of an implementation plan for a Mental Health Crisis Hotline.
Despite some of the challenges that COVID-19 presented to an already challenging job, my colleagues and I worked through the session to provide the public service for which we were elected. And while the session has come to an end, we continue to work on issues throughout the interim. I personally will be serving as the chairman of a special investigatory committee looking into our child welfare services in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, as vice-chairman of a special committee to provide oversight for the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers, and will continue to study potential future legislation. Your voice is valuable in the legislative process no matter what time of year and I encourage you to continue to share your thoughts on issues that are important to you.
Despite being over a year into a global pandemic that has shuttered businesses and caused record unemployment, Nebraska’s February economic forecast was surprisingly very positive. However, because of the many unknowns that come with an unexpected event such as a pandemic, the Legislature exercised constraint and fiscal responsibility in passing the new biennial budget for the state of Nebraska.
The $9.7 billion budget, which has been approved by Governor Pete Ricketts, represents a conservative 1.7 percent annual budget growth. Instead of spending excess funds on expensive new government programs, the Legislature significantly increased the state’s cash reserve fund by $351 million, bringing the total to $763 million. The cash reserve fund, also known as the “rainy-day fund” provides important security for the state in cases of emergencies and was tapped at the onset of the pandemic before federal aid became available.
While the budget ensures fiscal security in times of emergencies, it also addresses key concerns of Nebraska citizens. Over the two-year budget, the state will be contributing roughly $1.45 billion in property tax relief through the state’s homestead exemption program, the State’s Property Tax Relief Fund and the new refundable property tax credit, based on property taxes paid to school districts. Even if you have already filed your taxes, you can still apply the credit. Information can be found on the Department of Revenue’s website: https://revenue.nebraska.gov/about/frequently-asked-questions/school-district-property-tax-credit-faqs.
The budget for Fiscal Years 2021/2022 & 2022/2023 also increases the Medicaid reimbursement to child welfare and mental health care providers by 2% to ensure Nebraska’s most vulnerable citizens continue to get needed services. Additionally, the budget supports the state’s strong educational system by appropriating over $1 billion to K-12 public schools and including private colleges in the state’s Career Scholarships program.
Finally, $115 million has been earmarked as partial payment for a $230 million new prison being proposed by the Governor. While the Legislature and the administration have come to an agreement to aggressively pursue efforts to reduce Nebraska’s prison population, the Nebraska State Penitentiary is over 150 years old and nearing the end of its useful life. The Legislature is requiring a needs study to be conducted before additional funding for the proposal will be approved.
Members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee deserve recognition for crafting a two-year state budget that responsibly addresses essential services, protects taxpayers and looks to the future; ensuring Nebraska remains a great state to call home.
Sen. John Arch invites students to youth legislature
High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 13-16. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.
“The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives participants first-hand experience in Nebraska’s distinctive legislative process,” said Senator John Arch. “Students interested in future public service will gain a valuable lesson about our democratic system of government and will learn about the challenges and rewards of making public policy.”
The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.
To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-2788. The deadline for registration is May 28.
While we continue to work on tax relief in the Legislature, it is important for Nebraskans to know about every tax credit currently available to them. This website will help answer your questions and help you receive the tax breaks you deserve.
On August 13th, the 2nd session of the 106th Nebraska Legislature adjourned Sine Die. The session, originally expected to adjourn in April, was delayed from early March until Mid-July due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In the past few months, we have seen a health emergency with societal and economic consequences unparalleled by modern events, the full impact of which we have yet to realize. In response, the Legislature did meet in a very brief emergency session to appropriate $83.6 million to the governor’s emergency fund specifically for response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In resuming our session, we returned to our legislative priorities set earlier this year, with an outlook inherently changed by the realities facing our communities, state, nation, and world. We continued on in a manner responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic and with a forward-thinking mindset for the continued stability and growth of Nebraska. My obligation, as it has been and will continue to be, is to represent you in our Legislature.
In this session, I introduced twelve legislative bills. Of those twelve, eleven were passed or amended into other legislation that did pass. Some of the bills I proposed and had passed are:
Additionally, the Health and Human Services Committee passed a comprehensive set of bills (LB1144, LB1148, and LB1188) that will provide additional oversight, transparency, and improve the programming of Nebraska’s Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC). I am proud of the work the HHS Committee has taken forward this year and enjoyed my time serving as the Vice-Chair.
In terms of budgetary matters, we have been consistent in our fiscally responsible policies and continued to hold spending down, leaving us the latitude to provide funding for 2019 Flood recovery and COVID-19 Pandemic relief. Despite the Pandemic resulting in a downturn of our budgetary outlook, we were able to pass a major legislative package, LB1107. LB1107 provides performance-based incentives for Nebraska business development, funding for the UNMC NExT Project (which is expected to have an economic impact of $7.6 billion on Nebraska’s economy), and gives taxpayers much-needed property tax relief in the form of refundable income tax credits. In addition to the tax relief provided for in LB 1107, we also successfully passed LB 153, allowing our military retirees to exempt a portion of their retirement from state income tax starting in tax year 2022.
Over the legislative interim, I will be considering my legislative agenda for the next session and will be conducting studies on how the COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted our use of Telehealth with respect to the delivery of health care services and child welfare services. Though the 107th Nebraska Legislature doesn’t begin until January, you are always welcome to share your thoughts by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling my office at (402) 471-2730. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you in the Unicameral Legislature.
Sen. John Arch
While it seems like the COVID-19 outbreak has caused the entire world to come to a stop, the 2020 Census is still underway and it is important every household participate in this nationwide count.
Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution requires a count of every person in the United States and five U.S. territories every ten years. The first census was in 1790 and it has been conducted every decade since despite the numerous challenges the nation has surely endured over the past 230 years. This year is no different and while we are facing some hard times, participating in the 2020 Census couldn’t be easier. For the first time in history, households can complete the census form online, by phone or by mail.
Why is participation in the Census important? The numbers gathered from the Census determine the flow of billions of federal tax dollars across the United State and its territories. Over $675 billion every year is given back to communities based on the census numbers to fund vital programs that involve housing, transportation, health care, education and employment, to name a few. Census numbers are also used to shape our congressional and legislative districts to ensure every citizen is equally represented.
Your household should have already received an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census and may have received a census questionnaire as well. Eventually census takers will be visiting households that have not responded to ensure every person is counted. In an effort to protect census field workers from the novel coronavirus, the U.S. Census Bureau has pushed back the dates for household interviews to late May through mid-August. You can do your part in protecting individuals by responding to your invitation to participate now: https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html
Be safe, but please, be counted!
While the Second Session of the One-Hundred and Sixth Legislature was moving at a steady pace, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has virtually ground everything to a halt. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people. Given the fact the Legislature has 49 members, it has been determined the session should be postponed for the time being.
Governor Pete Ricketts has issued guidelines on what part you can play in slowing the spread of this coronavirus and what you should do if you suspect you have been exposed. I highly encourage you to view these guidelines and to continue to monitor the information posted on the Governor’s website: www.Governor.Nebraska.gov. The website also includes links to the CDC’s COVID-19 page.
Please make sure any information you are accessing comes from a reputable source. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous operations that will take advantage of this outbreak. Avoid opening unsolicited emails and any attachments in particular. Before making any charitable donations, make sure the organization is authentic and read the Federal Trade Commission’s information on charity scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0074-giving-charity
Though the Legislature’s session is “recessed” for now, our offices will continue to operate to serve the citizens of Nebraska. My emails will be checked regularly and the office phones monitored during this unprecedented and ever-evolving crisis.
Sen. John Arch invites students to youth legislature
High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth
Legislature June 7-10. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct
committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an
interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking.
Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.
“This is an excellent opportunity to learn about our democratic system of government in Nebraska,” according to Senator John Arch. “By taking part in this program, students can
experience the challenges and opportunities granted to our elected officials.”
Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers
the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are
The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth
Legislature. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office
coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.
To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-
2788. The deadline for registration is May 15.
As I write, we are just over one third of the way through the short 60-day session of the 2020 Nebraska Legislature. We continue to make progress on addressing our priority issues and carefully consider proposed bills that make changes to state policy.
Chief among the priorities will be to improve upon and replace the Nebraska Advantage Act which provides business incentives to grow employment opportunities for our citizens. The current Nebraska Advantage Act is set to expire after this year. Without some form of a business incentive program, Nebraska will be at a disadvantage when trying to retain current and attract new businesses. This would hurt our economy.
Other priorities will be passing a tax relief package that reduces our property tax burden and makes Nebraska more competitive on personal income and corporate taxes. We are also addressing shortcomings in our juvenile detention facilities and prison system, and we are preparing for the implementation of Medicaid expansion.
As a result of using fiscally responsible policies in previous years, the state is anticipating a budget surplus coming into the new year. Projections for 2020 indicate that we will continue to see modest economic growth in the state. There are many Senators who would like to take the budget surplus and use it for the expansion of programs and new spending. I support using the surplus to bolster property tax relief and increase our rainy-day fund. How we use the surplus will be another issue to be addressed.
This session I have introduced twelve legislative bills. Several are technical bills to update current statutes. These bills will help our government be more efficient, effective, and provide better services for Nebraskans.
Some of the bills I proposed and would highlight are:
• LB837 which will require the Department of Health and Human Services to seek available federal funds through the Family First Prevention Services Act to help childcare providers with the cost of federally-mandated finger printing and background checks for their employees. This is an important child safety issue as we have seen in the news over the past several years.
• LB886 is a patient protection bill that will require providers to be clear about their participation in government and commercial programs. It prohibits using the terms “accepts” or “takes” as it relates to insurance unless the provider participates in the network or product. The use of the terms can be very misleading to patients. They may believe that the provider participates in a network and will, instead, be responsible for the full bill, or higher portion of the bill, if the provider is out of network.
• LB1011 requires any hospital licensed in Nebraska to participate in Medicare. As a result of participating in Medicare, hospitals must provide quality data, accept a fee schedule for Medicare patients that limits the amount they can charge, and not balance bill to the hospital’s full charges. The requirement to participate in Medicare would reduce unanticipated bills and improve transparency to all patients that use that facility.
• LB1158 is intended to help adults who apply for Medicaid benefits to improve their employment status and income. This requires DHHS to ask anyone applying for the new expanded Medicaid program if they would like assistance in career development (finding a job, or better job). This is the first of what I hope will become a bigger effort of helping those in poverty improve their lives through the state’s assistance.
I am also a proud co-sponsor on several other bills aimed workforce development, growing our economy, retaining our Veterans, and improving the overall quality of life for all Nebraskans.
I encourage you to follow your Legislature at nebraskalegislature.gov and to share your thoughts on the measures being discussed. You are always welcome to send me an email at email@example.com or call my office at (402) 471-2730.
Thank you for the privilege of serving you in the Legislature.