Welcome

January 8th, 2014

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 16th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Lydia Brasch

Interim Update

November 20th, 2014

In just over seven weeks, the 104th Legislature will convene with 17 new senators beginning their tenure, along with a newly elected governor, attorney general, and state auditor. I will also be starting my second term representing District 16. The Capitol is once again filled with increased activity preparing for the upcoming session. This interim has been especially busy and challenging, but fulfilling.

I was heartened by our community spirit witnessed when, like countless others, I worked in various capacities following multiple natural disasters. Becoming whole once again to some may have seemed very distant or unachievable from the mounds of broken glass caused by damaging baseball sized hail to twisted metal silos, feedyards relentlessly beaten beyond recognition, countless piles of uprooted trees that once stood tall, and scattered remnants of homes and farmsteads left behind from devastating tornadoes. Yet today, one sees where determination and strong will prevailed as communities are rebuilding ever stronger and more resilient.

Thankfully, most received enough rain over the summer to pull out of prior drought conditions. Despite weather related setbacks a successful harvest has been completed or nears completion as we wait for the snow and frigid temperatures to subside.

As in years before much of my time was spent visiting or working with constituents of District 16. In the 151 work days since adjournment, I attended over 150 district events, including:

  • Our three County fairs, with 11 parades;
  • An annual ride-along review of District 16’s Game and Parks land;
  • Two annual Road Department ride-alongs (I even operated the concrete paver equipment!); plus
  • Multiple grand openings/ribbon cuttings or constituent meetings.

In September, I was honored to be chosen among 48 policymakers nationwide to participate in the prestigious Henry Toll Fellowship Program coordinated by the Council of State Governments in Lexington, Kentucky. I learned additional skills to effectively advocate for my constituents and navigate and build sound agency relationships for best results for legislation. I also gained valuable advice and a new network of 47 Fellow leaders from coast to coast.

A number of important issues we responded to include:

  • The proposed rule change to the Definition of the Waters of the United States by the EPA;
  • Various Army Corp of Engineer projects along the Missouri River which disregard landowners’ property rights; and
  • Multiple Department of Roads issues.

I look forward to building upon my work and the privilege to once again serve our district and state. We are scheduling Town Hall meetings on December 4 in each county seat to listen to constituents’ views in considering legislation to introduce, support or oppose prior to session commencing January 7, 2015. We also invited representatives from the Nebraska Department of Roads to join us for an update of district projects underway.

If you have any concerns or questions, please contact me and my office via email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov or via phone at 402-471-2728; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Lydia Brasch
Senator, District 16

Burt County Plaindealer Guest Column

October 1st, 2014

Since our April adjournment of the Second Session of the 104th Legislature, I have attended over 95 community events and meetings in Legislative District 16.  During this interim, we also assisted many constituents affected by catastrophic weather damages such as wind, hail, and tornadoes.  The constituents of District 16 continue to prove their resiliency when dealing with Mother Nature.

During my interactions with constituents I am almost always asked about legislation.  The most frequent questions for our district consistently address taxes, primarily ag land and income tax relief, ag land tax relief being the top concern.  Discussions often transition into other state agency-related questions, such as four lane highways, road repair and shoulder work, internet connectivity gaps, energy, game and parks, law enforcement, insurance, and much more than can be discussed in a newspaper column. Therefore, my focus here will be about tax policy and concerns of expanding federal jurisdiction and oversight and our efforts to help address them.

In 2013, I introduced LB145 and designated it as my priority bill in 2014 following the Tax Modernization Committee’s statewide hearings during the 2013 interim.  Because Nebraska was challenged four years ago with meeting fiscal obligations of a billion dollar deficit, the Tax Modernization Committee was formed during the 2013 session with the task of reforming Nebraska’s tax code.  Studies developed by the Committee supported the fact that farmers and ranchers are disproportionately taxed in our district and statewide.  My legislative bill would have decreased the assessed valuation of agricultural and horticultural land by ten percent, from 75 percent to 65 percent of its actual value.  This bill was also previously introduced by former State Senators Deb Fischer and Lavon Heidemann during their time in the legislature.  Unfortunately, LB145 was not advanced from the Revenue Committee.  Various other tax relief bills introduced by Revenue Committee members advanced only to stall on General File due to our short 60-day session calendar.

Over the last four years, the Unicameral enacted legislation to reduce spending and increase revenue.  The Nebraska Constitution requires the Governor to introduce a balanced budget, and state statutes require the Legislature to enact a balanced budget.  As a result of diligent lawmaking and responsible fiscal policies, our Net General Fund revenue for fiscal year 2013-2014 is $4.117 billion, including a cash reserve of $707.5 million, also known as a “rainy day” fund.  This puts our cash reserve right at the recommended 16.7 percent of annual revenues, which is very important if our state should experience a future revenue shortfall due to another economic downturn.  A healthy cash reserve, if it continues, provides options and opportunities moving forward for re-introducing additional tax relief measures.

In 2014, we provided a good legislative start to tax relief in a very short time window with Legislative Bills 986 and 987.  Together, they are expected to give Nebraskans more than $500 million in tax relief over the next five years.  In addition, LB1087 provides a 100 percent property tax exemption for veterans who are receiving compensation for a 100 percent disability, have an honorable or general discharge, and do not qualify for the existing total homestead exemption.  LB96 exempts from state sales tax the sale of repairs and replacement parts for agricultural machinery or equipment. Although we passed these valuable tax reform bills, property tax relief continues to be a priority, as some tax valuations rose more than 30 percent last year.  In fact, the average increase statewide for ag land valuations was 29.1 percent, which heavily contributed to a 12.45 percent increase overall.  Because we have seen these taxes continue to rise in the past decade, we will continue to explore various options to address further increases.

It is also important to remember our public schools are funded primarily by property taxes levied individually by Nebraska’s 93 counties.  One of the obligations we must meet as lawmakers is Nebraska’s constitutional mandate to provide a free public education for all persons between the ages of five and twenty one.  We must carefully balance the financial needs of our schools and our taxpayers.  To manage this important task the Education Committee will hold public meetings beginning in October to gather information to develop a statewide vision for education in Nebraska.  The public hearings will help determine how to properly fund the public school system.  I am hopeful that we can find a solution to help fund education, yet I hope such funding will not place the burden so heavily on the backs of one group, our farmers and livestock producers.

Another item of great concern stems from federal regulation overreach affecting our district and state.  First is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Waters of the United States” proposed rule change; second is the Middle Decatur Bend Shallow Water Habitat construction project in Burt County; and third, the Nebraska Department of Roads has been mandated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to re-route a once approved plan to repair bridges due to newly impacted protected wildlife species.  In an effort to protect Nebraskans from the ongoing broadening of the Clean Water Act, I have been in contact with Governor Heineman, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ), the EPA, Corps, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and our federal delegation, only to learn of continued resistance by federal agencies to take into consideration the voice and rights of our property owners.  The question I continue to ask is whether the decades-old task of “protecting” these birds and fish is truly based on sound science and  a matter of national urgency.  More importantly, in 2011, we experienced a 500-year flood on the Missouri River that struck a devastating blow to our farmland and livelihoods.  Certainly, the protection of fish and wildlife cannot reasonably be more important than protecting the rights of our citizens and the land on which they live.  It is my belief that our endangered fish and wildlife may not be as endangered as the Corps will have us believe.  In fact, the interior least tern, one of the protected species on the Missouri River, is cited by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as of “Least Concern.”

As a district we have faced and will continue to face important issues of public policy.  From September 5 through 10 I will be joining in conversation and study with 48 other state-level leaders across the country at the Council of State Governments Henry Toll Fellowship Program, asking questions and looking for solutions to better serve my constituents and our state and nation.  I will continue to search for ways to provide the best possible education for our children, build and promote strong families, strengthen agriculture and create jobs, build and maintain a viable and affordable infrastructure, and provide public safety and wellbeing for all.

Final Week of 103rd Legislature

April 23rd, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Thursday April 17 brought the last day of the session and the 103rd Legislature, as well as the last day of service for 17 term-limited senators.  In between filibustering attempts by Senator Chambers as retribution for his failed mountain lion bill, the Legislature individually recognized Senators Greg Adams, Brad Ashford, Bill Avery, Tom Carlson, Mark Christensen, Danielle Conrad, Annette Dubas, Tom Hansen, John Harms, Russ Karpisek, Steve Lathrop, Scott Lautenbaugh, Amanda McGill, John Nelson, Pete Pirsch, Norm Wallman, and John Wightman for their hard work and dedication to serving Nebraska.

There has been some speculation that the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District (PMRNRD) has plans to build a dam on the Bell Creek in an unknown location.  PMRNRD General Director, John Winkler, assured me last Monday that these reports are based on an old U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Study outlining such plans, but that there is no current plan or funding for the project and that the NRD will remove the Bell Creek reference from the Draft Integrated Management Plan within the next few days.  According to Mr. Winkler, “There are simply no plans to begin a Bell Creek dam.”

Governor Heineman, in his statement to the Unicameral, congratulated the members for efforts on issues such as water sustainability, prison reform, and tax reform.  Tax measures passed by the Legislature this session included indexing individual income tax brackets for inflation, eliminating sales tax on repair parts for agricultural machinery and equipment, and expanding the homestead exemption program.  “It’s been a very good year for Nebraska taxpayers.  We are providing more than $412 million of tax relief to Nebraskans over the next five years.  That is meaningful, responsible, and significant tax relief,” Heineman stated.

We have had a fantastic presence from District 16 clergy who have travelled to Lincoln to offer morning prayers before the Unicameral convenes.  Thank you to Pastor Jonathan Ripke of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hooper for joining us as Chaplain of the Day on Tuesday, April 8 and to Pastor Lewis Miller of Beemer Mennonite Church in Beemer for joining us as Chaplain on April 9.

Now that the session is over, I am looking forward to several official appointments in District 16, as well as other various meetings and events.  As usual, I anticipate a very busy summer, and my calendar is already starting to fill up.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or my legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of April 7

April 14th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Last week was the final full week of this session, and now we have only one session day remaining.  The Legislature will remain adjourned until Thursday, April 17, when we will debate the override of Governor Heineman’s last vetoes, if there are any, before we adjourn sine die.  The final week was certainly full of twists and turns as several senators were amending bills to include introduced legislation that did not successfully proceed through the traditional stages of consideration.  On several occasions, because it was questionable whether certain amendments were “in a natural and logical sequence to the subject matter” it was necessary to invoke motions as to germaneness.  Overall, this this week was indeed an important, interesting, and valuable exercise in applying our Legislative Rules.

Two of my five bills from this year (LBs 964 and 1093) and my resolution, LR395, passed through the Legislature for Governor approval.  LB964 makes the bankruptcy homestead exemption apply to all claimants and updates the statutory language; LB1093, which was amended into LB464, provides for a more streamlined funding process for the Nebraska Supreme Court to fund its juvenile conferencing services; and LR395 recognizes February 10, 2014 as the 60th Anniversary of the addition of the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.  I believe these are all important pieces of legislation, and I hope to have the opportunity next year to re-introduce those issues and others that did not pass through the Unicameral this year.  LB964 was signed by the Governor, and LR395 was adopted on April 10.

Governor Heineman held signing ceremonies for two key bills this week that favorably affect our district and state.  LB1067 extends the Nebraska Advantage Act, our major comprehensive economic development tool for expanding or relocating businesses to Nebraska for another two years.  LB1067 helps create more certainty for businesses utilizing these job-creation and investment incentives.  Included in the package were extensions of the angel investment credit, the microenterprise credit, and the R&D Act.  LB96, which exempts farm machinery repairs and parts from our state sales tax and which is implemented in neighboring states, was signed by the Governor April 2.  LB 96 makes agriculture implement businesses in Nebraska more competitive and is expected to provide $47 million of tax relief for ag producers over the next five years.

LB526, which expands the scope of practice for optometrists in Nebraska, was placed on Final Reading Wednesday.  Discussion from constituents on this bill turned out to be more disputed than I had expected.  Both opponents and proponents provided solid arguments to support their positions.  In the end, I believe that greater Nebraska will have the potential for more ready access to these simple procedures, whereas people from rural areas currently have to travel to bigger cities such as Omaha to have them done.

We enjoyed welcoming FFA students from Lyons-Decatur Northeast, Wisner, and Blair High Schools Wednesday.  Thursday, we welcomed West Point FFA students as well.  It is encouraging to see our Future Farmers of America and their dedication to continue the tradition of Nebraska’s significant agricultural importance in the world.  Fourth graders from Fort Calhoun and Bancroft-Rosalie also visited.  Their high energy and spirit of excitement and wonder are always very contagious, beneficial, and welcome to everyone!

We have had a fantastic presence from District 16 clergy who have travelled to Lincoln to offer morning prayers before the Unicameral convenes.  Thank you to Pastor Jonathan Ripke of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hooper for joining us as Chaplain of the Day on Tuesday, April 8 and to Pastor Lewis Miller of Beemer Mennonite Church in Beemer for joining us as Chaplain on April 9.

As the session is almost over for the year, I recommend you contact me early in the interim to share your thoughts on any issues you would like addressed next year.  Please contact me, my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or my legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of March 31

April 14th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

April Fools’ Day marked the 51st Legislative Day of the 103rd Legislature, Second Session.  There are five legislative days remaining until we adjourn Sine Die on April 17.  Thank you to Pastor Shawn Linnell of Trinity Lutheran Church in Blair for joining us as Chaplain of the Day on Tuesday, April 1 and to Pastor Coral Parmenter of United Methodist Church of Christ in Wisner for joining us as Chaplain on April 2.  We always appreciate the clergy from District 16 who volunteer to travel to Lincoln and offer their prayers.

After the passage of LBs 130, 905, and 906 (budget appropriation bills), Governor Heineman returned them to the Legislature with line-item vetoes.  On Tuesday, we carefully examined these bills and fully debated the potential outcomes.  The Governor stated his line-item vetoes returns $65 million dollars to taxpayers for the property tax relief they requested.  Among some of the vetoed items were:

  • $14.5 million from the Cash Reserve to the Nebraska Capitol Construction fund for the erection of fountains in the Capitol courtyards and renovation of the building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system;
  • various new Salary Limits for state agencies, new state agency positions, and a transfer from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Contingency Fund Program to the Behavioral Health Aid Program (in order to offset costs to the state due to implementation of the Affordable Care Act);
  • $12.5 million transfer from the Department of Motor Vehicles Cash Fund to the Vehicle Title and Registration System Replacement and Maintenance Cash Fund and $5 million of the $15 million to the Game and Parks Commission for maintenance and improvement projects.

All vetoes were overridden Tuesday by the Legislature.  I supported the Governor’s vetoes and not the override of the Legislature, as I believe more extensive tax relief is possible for our taxpayers.  However, I appreciated the privilege of attending the bill signing press conference with the Governor in support of valuable tax relief efforts for Nebraskans.

Senator Chambers introduced a motion Wednesday to override Governor Heineman’s veto of his mountain lion hunting bill, LB671.  The motion failed on a 24-21-4 vote. Senator Chambers has taken a firm stand that it will be a “rough rest of the session” for those of us who voted for the override.

We enjoyed welcoming Lyons-Decatur Northeast High School seniors and two of their teachers Wednesday.  Unfortunately, I was unable to meet the Lyons-Decatur 4th graders who visited the next day, as they were pressed for time.  We also had student visitors from the Federation of Women’s Club of Nebraska.  I was able to sit down for lunch at the Governor’s Residence with a Cuming County student and his Dodge County friends, and we enjoyed a refreshing trip together to the top of the tower and looked out across a brisk, extremely breezy capital city.

Our session is winding down as the issues continue heating up.  As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts on pending legislation before we adjourn sine die.  Please continue to contact me, my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or my legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of March 24

March 31st, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Thursday, March 20 was the Fifty-First Day of this One Hundred Third Legislature, Second Session. Only nine  legislative days remain of our sixty day session.  On our daily agenda we now regularly have numerous bills in Consent Calendar and on Final Reading, which means many bills are moving through the legislative process quickly.  We are moving forward to make our limited time in session count.  The 17 senators who are term limited after eight years of service continue using every tool in their toolbox and their floor experience with spirited zest in an attempt to bring  their long awaited legislation to fruition before this session ends.

Not only do we consider and debate legislation on the floor each day, but we also do our best to respond to numerous constituent emails, letters, and phone calls. The number of meetings and receptions being held in and around the Capitol are also winding down, where focus is primarily on pending legislation at hand.

Thank you to Pastor Pastor Russ Foust of Grace United Methodist Church in Kennard for serving as volunteer Chaplain leading us in prayer on Wednesday, March 26.  It is uplifting to have our district’s clergy join us during session in prayer before we convene.

Here are some updates on legislation from this week:

  • LR41CA allows pari-mutuel wagering on live, delayed, and replayed (or “historic”) horse races at licensed racetracks.  This bill advanced to Final Reading March 25, and if passed, will be on voters’ ballots in November;
  • LB768 (Livestock Brand Act bill)  In conversation with Senator Schilz, the livestock producers in Cuming, Burt, and Washington counties will not necessarily be impacted by this legislation.  Rather, they still have the option to have an inspection performed by the Nebraska Brand Committee, but if one is performed, there is now a method for the Committee to recover a fee equal to that of inspections performed in the mandatory brand area, as well as expenses incurred in performing the inspection;
  • LB1001 permits the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp by postsecondary institutions for research purposes as an agricultural product.  During all three stages of debate there was no opposition or support from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture or law enforcement agencies, and I was opposed to the bill moving forward without their support.  However, the pending research will hopefully provide valuable information for Nebraskans to learn about hemp;
  • LB983, which updates Nebraska statutes to comply with federal regulations regarding commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs), passed March 24 with an emergency clause and was presented to the Governor the same day;
  • LB671, the mountain lion hunting bill, narrowly passed Monday with a 28-13-8 vote.  Governor Heineman vetoed the bill four days later, citing potential constitutional issues and conflict with a bill passed in 2012 that allowed for mountain lion hunting.

The annual Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute is July 7-11, 2014, at UNL’s East Campus.  “NAYI is a five-day conference for high school juniors and seniors to learn about career opportunities within agriculture.  This includes:  engaging speakers, workshops and panels, agriculture education, professional development, leadership experience, fun and new friends, networking with peers and industry leaders.  All of these experiences come free of charge, thanks to generous sponsors.”  Apply online at www.nda.nebraska.gov.  Applications are due April 15.

We have heard from constituents on numerous issues, and I am always happy to hear from you!  Please continue to contact me, my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or my legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

 

Week of March 18

March 24th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Legislative Days 44-47 followed the final day of District 16 Town Hall meetings where policy and remaining priorities were discussed.  With only 13 session days remaining late legislative nights will be the new normal until Sine Die on April 17.  On Thursday, March 20 I was invited to serve as presiding officer during the evening hours.  Presiding as “Madame President” added some much needed smiles as colleagues inadvertently addressed me as “Mr. President.”  It was a delight and honor to serve in that capacity.

The Unicameral finally approved the Appropriations bills for the Nebraska state budget, which, by legislative rule, must be approved by the 50th day of the 60-day session (March 26).  The Legislature passed LBs 905e, 906e, and 130 on Final Reading Monday, March 24.  I voted against these bills because I believe they inadequately address tax and budget concerns in Nebraska.  The tax cuts are too small.

LB987 advanced from Select File last week.  The bill requires the tax commissioner to annually index state income tax brackets for inflation, and it will reduce the amount of Social Security benefits that are taxed and allow recently retired military personnel to keep more of their retirement income.  The Legislature also considered other bills on Final Reading, including LB740, which allows veterans and their family members to qualify for in-state tuition.  LB740 passed 48-0-1.

My bill that allows election candidates who have been defeated in a primary by a tiebreaker to write in to the general election, LB144, passed and was delivered to the Governor for his approval Thursday.  This bill does not apply to federal office elections or those such as Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General.

LB887, the Medicaid expansion bill, was debated for eight hours last week.  After a motion to invoke cloture was filed (cloture forces a vote on the bill after eight hours of debate), the motion failed with a vote of 27-21-1, effectively killing the bill.  Proponents of Medicaid expansion vowed to bring legislation next year in another attempt to expand Medicaid in Nebraska.

Four of my bills in Judiciary Committee (LBs 962, 963, 964, and 1093) were referred to the Speaker’s office for Consent Calendar, but only LB964 was approved by the Speaker for Consent Calendar.  Consent Calendar is a portion of the agenda where non-controversial bills are advanced to the next legislative stages without debate.  LB964 provides a homestead exemption for claimants under sixty-five years of age and not married, effectively allowing all Nebraskans to keep a certain amount of equity in their home if they have to file for bankruptcy.

Keep Nebraska Beautiful is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, and to commemorate that milestone, they are asking everyone to display their Husker spirit and their pride in Nebraska’s beauty by planting red flowers throughout the state.  For more information contact Keep Nebraska Beautiful at 402-486-4562 or www.knb.org/growbigred.html.

This week, we celebrate National Agriculture Week!  Nebraska is a national and world leader in growing food, feed, and fuels.  Our 2012 exports total $7.2 billion in ag products.  It is important to remember to appreciate the work of our ag producers, the agribusiness men women who work to keep the good life growing in our state.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or my legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of March 10

March 17th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Legislative debate and the temperature outside heated up during the second week of March, Legislative Days 40-43.  We have started to gain momentum as we prepare for the last 17 days of the 103rd Legislature.  While a majority of the 1,105 bills have failed to advance from committee, we saw a fair amount advance this past week, and the first bills of the year were signed into law by Governor Heineman.  Here are some signed bills of interest:

  • LB76e – Adopt the Health Care Transparency Act;
  • LB403 – Prohibit retail sale of novelty lighters;
  • LB446 – Define salvage to include flood damage under the Motor Vehicle Certificate of Title Act;
  • LB470e – Adopt the Superintendent Pay Transparency Act;
  • LB513 – Change notice provisions under the Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act; and
  • LB588 – Change veteran employment preference provisions.

Senator Scheer bracketed his bill, LB682, which addresses statewide allied school systems, until April 17 after facing opposition from various school representatives.

Constituents asked questions and addressed issues at the town hall meetings across the district this past weekend.  Here are some of the items we discussed by general topic:

TAXES/REVENUE

  • LB145 – Change valuation of agricultural land and horticultural land (my 2014 Priority Bill)
    • Status:  Killed in committee.  Similar bills: LBs 670, 101, 813, 721, and 618
  • LB987 – Adjust individual income tax brackets for inflation and exempt social security benefits from income taxation
    • Status:  Revenue priority bill, on E&R Initial (passed from General File)
  • LB1092 – Authorize issuance of highway construction bonds
    • Status:  Dubas priority bill on General File with AM2067
    • Note:  Department of Roads Director, Randy Peters opposed LB1092, stating the “traditional ‘pay-as-we-go’ practices of our state have served us well.”

HEALTH CARE

  • LB887 – Adopt the Wellness in Nebraska Act
    • Status:  Pending debate Tuesday, March 18, 1:30 p.m.
  • LB916 – Eliminate integrated practice agreements and change provisions regarding nurse practitioners
    • Status:  Watermeier priority bill pending AM1916 on General File

AGRICULTURE

  • LB768 – Change provisions of the Livestock Brand Act and estray provisions
    • Status:  ER163 pending, Agriculture priority
  • LB597 – Change provisions relating to county agricultural societies
    • Status:  Signed by the Governor, February 13, 2014
  • SEE ALSO – Governor Heineman’s Column on Ag Conference Overview http://www.governor.nebraska.gov/columns/2014/03/07_ag_conf.html

VETERANS AFFAIRS AND ELECTIONS

  • LB805 – Change application requirements to Nebraska veterans homes
    • Status:  Killed in committee
  • LB383 – Provide for Nebraska Armed Forces Pride Plates
    • Status:  Janssen priority bill on General File
  • LB588 – Change veteran employment preference provisions
    • Status:  Signed by Governor, February 18, 2014
  • LB740 – Provide residency requirements for postsecondary education purposes for veterans and their family members
    • Status:  Final reading, March 10, 2014
  • LB75 – Exempt military retirement benefits from taxation as prescribed
    • Status:  On General File with AM2392 pending

Thank you to Chaplain Rebecca Hjelle from Blair First United Methodist Church in Blair for coming to Lincoln to lead the Wednesday morning prayer.

The Unicameral Youth Legislature will be held at the Capitol June 8-11.  I encourage all high school students interested in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate, or public speaking to attend.  Please contact Ami Johnson at (402) 471-0764 or ajohnson@leg.ne.gov for more details.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or my legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of March 4

March 10th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

The month of March came in like a lion on many levels, with record low cold temperatures.  Legislative Days 36-39 marked the first week of day-long debates, and the bill repealing mountain lion hunting advanced despite a roaring debate to protect our hunting rights.  The Speaker informed senators there will potentially be some “long days,” perhaps lasting until 11:59 p.m., scheduled to debate complex issues.  Late nights occur with every session, and this most likely will be no different.  I look forward to the opportunity to advocate for District 16 on all bills before us.

Legislative Bill 144, my bill that allows primary candidates who are defeated by tiebreaker in a primary to write in to the general election, has been advanced to final reading.  Initially, LB144 only applied to candidates for county, city, village, and school district offices, but I introduced an amendment that allows all candidates, except those running for statewide and federal offices, to be included under the new law.  The amendment was adopted by a vote of 27-0 and advanced to final reading on a voice vote.

All of the bills I introduced this year that went to the Judiciary Committee for public hearing were referred from Judiciary to Speaker Adams for Consent Calendar.  LBs 962, 963, 964, and 1093 passed from Judiciary Committee and are awaiting the Speaker’s approval for Consent Calendar, which should be determined shortly after March 12.

Much to the dismay of farm and ranch families statewide, LB670, lowering ag land valuation from 75 to 65 percent and similar to my priority bill LB145, failed to advance from the Revenue Committee. Nebraska’s property taxes are 3rd highest in the country, where ag land has risen from 18% to 26% since 2006.  Five votes are required to advance out of committee, but the vote was 4 – 4.  Instead, LB986 advanced, which increases the maximum eligible income from $28,500 to $46,900 for partial homestead tax exemptions to married claimants older than 65.  The maximum eligible income for partial exemptions to single claimants older than 65 increases from $24,200 to $39,500.

The Appropriations Committee  proposal includes a $25 million increase in the amount for Property Tax Credits increasing the credit from $115 million to $140 million.  It is intended this $140 million credit level will be continued into future years.  This increase is financed with a transfer from the General Fund, not the Cash Reserve Fund, which would be a one-time source of revenue.  The $25 million increase equates to a 3.3% annual increase if applied to the first full year in 2008.  While this percent increase is under the 5.9% average growth in valuation, it exceeds the 2.5% average growth in the General fund budget since 2008.  With this increase, the amount of the 2014 credit is projected at roughly $74 per $100,000 compared to the current 2013 level of $65.97 per $100,000 of valuation and a projected credit amount of $61 per $100,000 of valuation if the total credit amount was left at $115 million.

LB987, which adjusts individual income tax brackets for inflation and exempts social security benefits from income taxation, is on the agenda for discussion this week.  LB987 is an effort to reduce income tax burdens.  The last time the legislature lowered income tax was in 2012, where tax brackets were adjusted for certain lower income tax levels at a new lower bracket providing modest tax relief to low and middle income Nebraskans.

Two more constituents from District 16 offered morning prayers for the Legislature this week.  Pastor Randall Herman of Bethany Lutheran Church in Lyons led the payer on Wednesday, and student Vicar Pastor Gia Metze from Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in West Point opened the day on Thursday.  Thanks again to both for making the trip to Lincoln and having such a special involvement in their Legislature.

Congratulations to Sheila Monke, from  District 16, for winning the Nebraska Mothers Association 2014 Mother of the Year Award!  Nebraska Mothers Association, Nebraska’s chapter of American Mothers, Inc., awarded Sheila the honor Friday.  I enjoyed introducing her at the ceremony.

Town hall meetings are on Friday, March 14 and Monday, March 17.  More information is available online and in the local papers.  Please contact me, my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or my legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of February 24

March 3rd, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Legislative days 31 through 35 marked the first full week of session in three weeks, the end of February, and the final days of committee hearings.  Starting next week I expect we will see some extended debate on various difficult issues.

My third and final bankruptcy bill, LB963, was heard in the Judiciary Committee Friday, the final day of committee hearings.  LB963 increases the “wildcard” bankruptcy exemption from $2,500 to $5,000, a figure that, like the provisions in LB962, has not been revised since 1997.  Interestingly, this exemption was set at $500 in 1901.  Adjusted for inflation, that equals well over $10,000 today.  The “wildcard” exemption is a small safety net that allows debtors to keep more of their property as they get a fresh financial start.  Gregg Neuhaus, the attorney from Grand Island who proposed these bankruptcy bills to me, noted during the hearing that the wildcard exemption does not even need to be used during bankruptcy.  Rather, it is a protection that any debtor may use from a creditor seeking rights to property in satisfaction of debt.  Considering the fact that the figure would be more than $10,000 if adjusted for inflation alone, an increase to $5,000 is a modest, but important, change.  As with my other bankruptcy bills, there are no fiscal implications nor any tax consequences.

We had the pleasure of having a constituent from District 16 offer the prayer Wednesday morning.  Pastor John Hogue from Arlington Community Church blessed us with his presence (literally).  I was pleased to meet him and visit with him and his wife.  Thank you, Rev. Hogue for your thoughtful and prayerful words, and we look forward to those from District 16 who will offer prayers in the near future.

Senators, committees, and the speaker have all prioritized bills for this year, so we will be debating those on the floor first.  It is possible that many of the non-priority bills may not be addressed this year.  Any bills that are not passed this year will have to be reintroduced next year to become law.  The list of priority bills can be found at http://nebraskalegislature.gov/session/priority.php or by contacting Speaker Greg Adams’ office at 402-471-2756.  We always welcome questions or comments on bills and resolutions.

Town halls will be held March 14, 15, and 17 in Decatur, Bancroft, Beemer, West Point, Oakland, Wisner, Tekamah, Blair, and Arlington.  We will be issuing press releases with all the details very soon.  Please contact me, my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or my legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  If you are in Lincoln, please stop by Room 1016.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16