NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Lydia Brasch

Sen. Lydia Brasch

District 16

Welcome

January 3rd, 2017

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

Week eight of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 32 through 35 of the 90-day session. Monday, February 20th was a recess day in observance of President’s Day.

On Tuesday, the Agriculture Committee had a hearing on LB 617, a bill that would legalize and regulate the production of hemp as an agricultural product in Nebraska.  LB 617 is modeled after a similar law in Kentucky.  Both the Kentucky law and LB 617 take advantage of a provision of the 2014 Farm Bill, passed by Congress, which allows industrial hemp to be grown for research by either state universities or a state’s Department of Agriculture.  LB 617 would establish a commission within the Department of Agriculture that would license growers.  Although there seems to be increasing desire to grow industrial hemp as an alternative crop, there is concern that the Kentucky industrial hemp program, replicated by LB 617, allows commercial production of hemp beyond what is allowed under the 2014 Farm Bill.  Furthermore, as defined in the Federal Controlled Substances Act, industrial hemp falls under the umbrella of marijuana because both contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a schedule 1 controlled substance.  Until Congress removes industrial hemp from the controlled substances list, there remains considerable risk in allowing it to be grown for commercial purposes.

On Wednesday, the Revenue Committee heard public testimony on LB 312, 313, and 563, all of which either eliminated many sales tax exemptions or increased the sales tax rate by 1 percent. I stated in my previous column that I do not support eliminating tax exemptions, and that I do not support raising the amount of sales tax imposed by the state of Nebraska. My position has not changed. A focus on fixing the problems that are inherent in the valuation of agriculture land is, I believe, the better path to take, which is why I introduced LB 338. This bill would require that agricultural land be valued by an income-based potential rather than market value.

Last week the Legislature advanced LB 62 to Select File by a vote of 36-1-8. This bill repeals two sections of statute that prohibit teachers in our public schools from wearing any religious garb. The statutes were written in such a way, however, that clothing which conveys some type of secular message was not prohibited, such as political speech or slogans. Because of this, there is a strong argument that these statutes are in violation of the First Amendment, specifically the Free Exercise clause. The lifting of the ban will apply to all religions, thereby ensuring that the Establishment clause of the First Amendment is not violated. I voted in favor of this bill.

On Friday, March 3, I will be presenting two bills to two different committees, namely LB 309 to the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee, and LB 466 to the Health and Human Services Committee. If you are able I encourage you to come to our public hearings to testify on these bills and others. LB 309 would exempt the state of Nebraska from participating in daylight saving time. State representatives in Iowa, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, and the big state of Texas, as well as representatives from many other states on the east and west coasts, have introduced legislation to exempt their states from daylight saving time.

LB 466 would eliminate the requirement that certified nurse-midwives be required to be overseen by a physician – what is known as the integrated practice agreement. This change would allow certified nurse-midwives to practice in areas where there may not be a physician in their geographic area, thereby allowing greater mobility in the practice of nurse-midwives and more access to the kind of specialized care that many pregnant women desire.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, two doors south of  previous office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week seven of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 28 through 31 of the 90-day session. Friday, February 17th was a recess day.

Last week the Legislature took a break from debating the filibuster rule when the Speaker proposed a motion that was adopted by a majority of senators. The Speaker moved that the body adopt the temporary rules until the 50th day of the session, so that in the meantime, we can get on with the work that the people of Nebraska sent us here to do.

On Monday the General Affairs Committee heard LB 632, a bill that many craft brewers believe would severely harm their industry. Currently, distributors can transport beer directly from the craft brewery to locally-owned bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. LB 632 would require that beer distributors first collect beer from a craft brewery, then store it at the warehouse of the distributor, and only then could it be transported to locally-owned bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. This change would require that a craft brewery sell beer to a distributor and then purchase it back from the distributor at a higher price. Proponents of the bill say the change is meant to prevent bars from buying a small percentage in a craft brewery so that the bar could self-distribute. There is perhaps a better solution than the one proposed in LB 632 to prevent something like this from occurring. I do not support this bill.

On Tuesday the Agriculture Committee took public testimony on LB 499.  This bill, modeled after a law in South Dakota, would require that whenever owners of large commercial beekeeping operations bring hives from outside Nebraska into the state, that the hives not be placed within three miles of an existing apiary, if that apiary has registered its location with the Department of Agriculture. The problem is that out-of-state beekeepers, who maintain hundreds of hives for pollination services, store their hives in Nebraska during part of the year. These hives end up overstocking foraging resources which negatively impacts local bee operations. According to Nebraska’s beekeepers, the situation is analogous to overstocking a pasture with too many cattle from outside Nebraska.

The Agriculture Committee did not take any action on LB 499; but did vote to kill LB 348, the bill that proposed terminating the excise tax which funds potato research and promotion. The program assesses the tax on only a small number of the state’s largest potato producers. Those who testified from the Nebraska Potato Development Committee (they assess the excise tax) before the Agriculture Committee said they wished to continue the program. Although the committee is willing to accommodate the requests of potato producers, LB 348 had been introduced, at least in part, because resources had not been used in over four years, and there would be no purpose in continuing to collect an excise tax if it was not being utilized. We expect the Potato Development Committee to take full advantage of the revenue from the excise tax, collected from the potato growers, to develop worthwhile programs to benefit their industry.

On Wednesday the Revenue Committee heard several bills for eliminating sales tax exemptions. It is my belief, however, that the Legislature should be very aware of the negative impact that any type of tax increase may have on the household budgets of families and individuals. We are currently experiencing an economic downturn across Nebraska, and this is not the time to ask anyone, anywhere to pay more taxes. I do not support either eliminating any sales tax exemption or increasing any sales tax.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, 2 doors south of  previous office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week six of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 23 through 27 of the 90-day session.

Many of you have been frustrated, and rightfully so, by our lingering debates in the mornings on the floor of the Legislature.  Apart from adopting adjustments to the current state budget and advancing it to the third round of debate known as Final Reading, we continue to be at a stalemate.  Indeed, we are in the middle of a filibuster begun by those who are opposed to making a rule change that would make it easier to end a filibuster, a motion known as invoking cloture.  The rule, first put in place in 1991, established the number of votes required to adopt a cloture motion at 33 votes.  That means, that if just 17 senators did not vote yes for cloture, the motion failed.  What is being proposed is to lower the number of yes votes needed to end a filibuster to 30, but with the caveat that the cloture motion fails if 17 or more senators vote no.  Many senators believe that requiring 30 votes to pass a cloture motion makes sense.  That is the same number of votes required to override a veto by the Governor, as well as the same number of votes needed to suspend the rules to disallow more amendments or debate.  The proposed rule change would make it easier to invoke cloture so that policies favored by the majority will not be so easily stopped by a small minority.  It is essential to good government that an elected majority be capable of passing legislation.  We are perhaps, I believe, much closer to ending this particular filibuster and will then be able to begin debating legislation.

On Tuesday, the Agriculture Committee held a public hearing for LB 600, which makes changes to the Livestock Brand Law.  The Brand Committee, a self-supporting cash fund agency, has encountered much turmoil over the past year which resulted in a critical audit of the agency, and resignations of a member of the Brand Committee, its director, and other key staff members.  Because of past problems, the agency placed an emphasis on selecting a new director based on administrative ability. The primary purpose of LB 600 is to give the brand committee the flexibility to do that.

The Revenue Committee held a public hearing for LB 338 on Wednesday that lasted well into the evening.  LB 338 is the bill I introduced in partnership with Governor Ricketts to reform the method of how we value agricultural land for property tax purposes.  It would adopt an income-based approach, a method already used in the states of Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and other states, to better align assessed values with farm incomes.  LB 338 would help stabilize valuations, and make property taxes more predictable and more in line with the ability to pay.  I believe it will provide a fairer solution — over the long term — to the property tax burden without raising or imposing additional taxes, something desired by a few other rural senators.  I understand that we must balance the need for reform of ag land valuation with the needs of local governments that rely on property taxes.  The Revenue Committee will consider many property tax bills this year and will work toward putting together a package of property tax bills, which I hope includes LB 338, that can be debated on by the whole body.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, two doors south of previous office) if you are in the State Capitol.  If you would like to follow the Legislature online, you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government.  Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week five of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 18 through 22 of the 90-day session.

Due to concerns expressed by constituents residing along the Missouri River in Burt and Washington Counties, I was asked to share the following important announcement. There will be an informational meeting hosted by the Responsible River Management Organization and other related groups about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed changes to the management plans for the Missouri River. The meeting is Thursday, February 9 at 6:00 p.m. at the Iowa Western Community College (in Looft Hall). The address is 2700 College Road, Council Bluffs, IA 51503, I-80 and US HWY 6 Exit #8. For information contact Leo Ettleman at leo_ettleman@hotmail.com or (712) 313-0287.

On Wednesday, February 8 at 1:30 p.m., I will be presenting LB 338 in the Revenue Committee at the request of the Governor. This legislation would change the valuation method for agricultural land from the market approach to the income-based approach. This method is used by many neighboring states such as South Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas. Under LB 338, some land may still experience an increase in property valuation but at a lesser rate than currently; a small number of counties will see no overall change; and no county will experience a faster rate of increasing property valuations than currently.

On Tuesday the Agriculture Committee held a public hearing for LB 348, which would eliminate a licensing requirement for potato shippers, the potato checkoff program, and the Potato Development Act. LB 348 transfers any unused funds to the state’s General Fund. The Potato Development Act created a relatively small program, generating around $75,000 annually. That money was deposited into a cash fund and used by the Director of Agriculture in consultation with an industry advisory board made up of potato growers to finance potato promotion and research projects. Typically the cash fund has a minimal balance at the end of each fiscal year, but in recent years the fund has grown to nearly $200,000. During the public hearing for LB 348 we learned that, although the collection of the checkoff assessment has continued, only minimal expenditures have been made from the fund for the past three years, which explains the rapid rise in the cash fund balance. Members of the Potato Development Board spoke in opposition to the bill and expressed interest in continuing the program. While there may be questions about whether it is appropriate to transfer fees to the state’s General Fund that were originally paid by potato producers for the checkoff program, I believe it is important for the potato industry to have a clear consensus on the value of continuing this checkoff program, as well as a clear vision on what they wish to accomplish with the program in the future.

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the Legislature debated LB 22. This bill was introduced by Speaker Scheer at the request of the Governor. This is the Governor’s expedited fiscal year 2016-17 budget adjustment recommendations. LB 22 makes adjustments to appropriations and re-appropriations for state operations in the current fiscal year which ends on June 30, 2017. Detailed information regarding the Governor’s budget recommendations can be found in the document entitled “Governor’s Budget Recommendations, FY 2016-17 Budget Adjustments” dated January 5, 2017, and may be viewed on the Administrative Services, State Budget Division’s website at http://budget.nebraska.gov/assets/governor_fy2016-17_expedited_budget_book.pdf.

Thank you to Chaplain Gregg Gahan from Craig who led the Legislative body in prayer on Monday. We are very grateful to those who travel here from our district to pray before we face difficult decisions each day.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, 2 doors south of  previous office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week four of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 13-17 of this 90-day session.

On Monday of last week I had a motion filed from the previous week to withdraw LB106. The purpose of this bill was to terminate the parental rights of the biological parent who sexually assaulted the other biological parent if such sexual assault resulted in the conception of a child. Withdrawing this bill was a difficult decision, as I firmly believe that victims of sexual assault should be provided as much protection as possible from having any interaction with the person who sexually assaulted them. However, there was another bill introduced this session with the same intent—LB188, which I have co-sponsored. This bill was introduced by Senator Howard, an attorney with experience in children and family services. I believe her education and background will be of great benefit in debating the technical details of this particular issue in the Judiciary Committee.

On Tuesday the Legislature debated Senator Watermeier’s LB45. This bill allows veterans who serve in the United States Reserves to be eligible for military honor license plates. A concern was shared by numerous senators that a provision in the bill extended this honor to members of trusts, which could perhaps diminish the honor of possessing such a plate and the dignity that goes with serving in the military. Such a provision would allow those who have never served in the military to purchase such license plates. Senator Watermeier agreed to amend LB45 so that trusts will be struck from the bill. LB45 advanced to Select File.

This week the Legislature advanced LB134, which updates provisions of the Nebraska Pure Food Act. One of the purposes of LB134 is to repeal the Graded Egg Act and transfer authority for regulating egg handlers to the Nebraska Pure Food Act. The Graded Egg Act is an archaic and inefficient regulatory mechanism. It was primarily designed to oversee commercial scale producers and packagers of eggs who send their products to wholesale markets. Nebraska has not licensed egg producers or packagers who sell whole eggs for eventual purchase by consumers or businesses such as restaurants or bakeries. Under the bill there would be an exemption from licensure for small producers and retailers of eggs sourced from local producers, similar to the current exemption from licensure under the Graded Egg Act. The bill does not impose any new regulations on small egg producers or sellers. LB134 also defines food delivery services to clarify that the annual license and inspection fees apply to them. However, the bill lowers the fees so they are more appropriate for this type of business.

On Thursday the Revenue Committee held a public hearing on LB295. This legislation allows individuals and corporations to qualify for non-refundable tax credits when they contribute to scholarship-granting organizations. The scholarship-granting organization must receive certification from the Nebraska Department of Revenue, and must also provide education scholarships to assist eligible students to attend a qualified, nonprofit, private elementary or secondary school. An eligible student is defined as a dependent member of a household where the gross income—the amount earned before any deductions—does not exceed two times the required level for the federal reduced lunch program; criteria for which is found at the following website: https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/income-eligibility-guidelines. My office has received dozens of emails in favor of this legislation, many of which are from District 16.

On Friday morning we were pleased to welcome the Pastor of the Day, Nathan Henschen, from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church located in Bancroft in District 16. Pastor Henschen offered prayer before the Nebraska Legislature convened. As the session advances we continue to encourage pastors from our district to volunteer as Chaplain of the Day.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst, with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, two doors south of  previous office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week three at the Legislature, like most of Nebraska, was off to an icy start across with many closings of schools and businesses. We did not convene on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; although it was business as usual on Tuesday, which was day nine of the 90-day legislative session. We convened at 10:00 a.m.

The Legislature spent a considerable amount of time last week discussing the process for referencing legislative bills. The discussion was prompted by a sequence of motions to re-reference certain bills. Simply stated, the Reference Committee determines which standing committee a bill will be directed to for a public hearing.  Each standing committee has jurisdiction over bills addressing certain topic areas.  Legislative rules allow any senator who disagrees with the decision of the Reference Committee to offer a motion to change the referencing to a different standing committee.

One such motion was filed on LB 267, which was initially referenced to the Agriculture Committee.  The primary purpose of the bill is to update the definition of hybrid seeds within a statute that prohibits misrepresenting seed as hybrid seed if the seed does not meet the standards of the definition.  LB 267 also proposed updates to the authorities of the Department of Agriculture to enforce this provision.  Because of these new enforcement provisions in the bill, it was believed by some that the referencing of the bill should be changed to the Judiciary Committee.  As chair of the Agriculture Committee, I opposed the motion to re-reference the bill to the Judiciary Committee. After much debate, the motion to re-reference the bill eventually failed.  I believe the discussion of what constitutes accurate representation of hybrid seed, which is of vital importance to farmers and the seed industry, should take place in the Agriculture Committee, not the Judiciary Committee.  I pointed out that the enforcement provisions were identical, or at least very similar, to enforcement provisions of a number of regulatory programs administered by the Department of Agriculture, and that previous bills containing those same provisions were referenced to the Agriculture Committee without any challenge.

On Tuesday of last week I introduced LB 466, a bill that will eliminate the integrated practice agreement between certified nurse-midwives and physicians. Eliminating this requirement will give certified nurse-midwives the freedom to practice in areas where there may not be an attending physician in the geographical area. The bill also contains a transition to practice agreement that would require certified nurse-midwives to have 1000 hours of training before they could practice on their own. However, since no other state requires a transition to practice agreement, we are going to offer an amendment that strikes that burdensome requirement.

On Friday afternoon I presented LB 105 to the Judiciary Committee at a public hearing. This legislation updates the statutes that specify how much a debtor can exempt when they file bankruptcy. LB 105 increases the amounts, something that has not been done in 20 years. The bill seemed to be well-received by the committee and therefore may have a good chance of passing this year, but we’ll see. This is the third time I have introduced this bill and the third time it has been well-received. It keeps making it to General File, but then the session runs out of time.

Pastor Brian High from First Baptist Church in Tekamah was at the Legislature to open the day’s session with prayer on Thursday. We appreciate it when pastors statewide volunteer to pray before our session day. There are several days that remain open; please contact our office if your pastor is available and interested in joining us this session. We were also grateful to have Dr. Natalie Tymkowych from West Point to volunteer a morning to serve as doctor for the day. This is also an important service to help ensure we are able to maintain good health during our time in Lincoln serving our state.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, 2 doors south of  pervious office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week two was a full week of introducing legislation of this 90-day session (known around the Legislature as the “long session” of the biennium). On Thursday Governor Ricketts delivered the State of the State Address. His recommendations to the Legislature include his vision for the state budget, as well as bills to be introduced on his behalf by senators. I have been invited to introduce LB 338, the Agricultural Valuation Fairness Act. I encourage you to request a copy of the Governor’s State of the State Address or read it online at: https://governor.nebraska.gov/press/governor-ricketts-state-state-address-0

Legislation I am introducing:

  • LB 338 would change the way agricultural land is valued for purposes of property taxes. It would require that agricultural land be valued based on the potential income from agricultural use of the land and would also be tied to what the commodity prices are at the time the land is valued. Eight states, many of which are around Nebraska, use this method.
  • LB 67 would make it possible for individuals who purchase equipment with embedded software, that controls the hardware of the equipment, to maintain, repair, or personally customize such equipment. This is a fundamental property rights issue. LB 67 would  require original equipment manufacturers to make available for purchase the necessary software so that maintenance, repair, and legal modification can be performed and any newly installed hardware can communicate with the hardware that came with the equipment. Nothing in this bill violates copyright or patent law, which is a federal issue, not a state issue.
  • LB 105 would increase the bankruptcy “wildcard exemption” from $2,500 to $5,000. The “wildcard exemption” allows a debtor to exempt personal property, other than wages, that has not been otherwise classified. This has not been updated in 20 years. This legislation also increases certain bankruptcy exemption amounts of “household items” from $1,500 to $3,000 and the “tools of the trade” exemption, which is used for items other than a motor vehicle, is increased from $2,400 to $5,000.
  • LB 106 would require the termination of the parental rights of a biological parent whom a court determines by clear and convincing sexually assaulted the other biological parent which resulted in the conception of a child.
  • LB 155 would require a successful completion of a high school civics examination as a prerequisite to high school graduation. The test would consist of the 100 questions from the Naturalization Test given to immigrants before they become United States Citizens. High School students would be expected to get 70 questions correct before they could graduate from high school.
  • Currently, for any termination or nullification of marriage, or any modification of child support or custody issue filed by previously married parents, a mediation fee is required of them. However, no fee is charged to never married parents. LB 307 is meant to correct this inequity by requiring never married parents to pay for the same services that previously married parents are required to pay for.
  • Local school boards are currently required to form a three-member subcommittee on Americanism. LB 308 would require this subcommittee to hold three public meetings where at least one meeting accepts public testimony. The bill would require the subcommittee to keep all minutes about which members are present and absent at each meeting while also recording the details and substance of all matters discussed. Any curriculum recommendations by this subcommittee to the local school board must be readily available to the public.
  • LB 309 would eliminate daylight savings time in Nebraska. This desire has been expressed to me by many constituents in District 16 and others outside our district including Omaha, Lincoln, and others statewide.

Currently, there is a light load of bills before the Agriculture Committee.  New bill introduction ends on Wednesday, January 18.  Some of the items that have been referred to the Agriculture Committee to date include:

  • LB 134 was introduced by Senator Brasch on behalf of the Department of Agriculture.  It would repeal the Graded Egg Act and transfers authority to regulate egg handlers via the Pure Food Act with other clarifications of the Department’s duties and authorities under the Pure Food Act.
  • LB 135 was introduced by Senator Lowe and would clarify the authorities of the Department of Agriculture with respect to an agricultural promotion program.
  • LB 276 was introduced by Senator Albrecht and relates to standards for hybrid seed corn.
  • LB 260 was introduced by Senator Hansen. It authorizes the Department of Agriculture to participate in the federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program.

I am also anticipating a bill to make a number of cleanups to the Brand Law to respond to issues raised in an audit of the Brand Committee last summer.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, 2 doors south of  pervious office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Our first day back to the work of serving our districts and our Great State of Nebraska in the Legislature has arrived. This begins the first session of a two-year biennium. If you did not attend, watch online or on NET2, each day of session is recorded into a daily “Legislative  Journal,” which read: “Pursuant to the provisions of Article III, Section 10 of the Constitution of Nebraska, the One Hundred Fifth Legislature, First Session of the Legislature of Nebraska, assembled in the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber of the State Capitol at the hour of 10:00 a.m., on Wednesday, January 4, 2017, and was called to order by President Foley.”

Due to term limits, this is my final two years as your state senator. We opened the session with prayer offered by Senator Kolterman, followed by the Presentation of Colors and a Call to Order; there was a Quorum (majority of the body) present. The task was to call for an appointment of Temporary Officers (Clerk, Sgt. at Arms). The motion prevailed.

It was my honor to move the motion that “we proceed to the election of five persons to serve as the Committee on Credentials.” They report to the Legislature on the “credentials of those claiming to be elected to the Legislature in the General Election in November 2016.” John Gale, Secretary of State, ceremoniously carries in a box of certified election results and verifies that “the attached is a true and correct copy of the Official Roster of members of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature elected or appointed to serve in the One Hundred Fifth Legislature, First Session, 2017.”

The election of a new speaker took place; Senator Jim Scheer of Norfolk prevailed. When elections for committee chairs commenced, I was chosen to be the chairperson of the Agriculture Committee. It was a truly joyful, yet humble day to see the balcony and seats filled with many new faces. The press covered a few contentious moments on the floor as some, myself included, spoke freely about the need for transparency in voting with regard to electing our chairpersons. Many senators invoked arguments regarding the true nature of the Unicameral being, or no longer being, a nonpartisan institution. I found it surprising when those opposed to this transparency spoke of George Norris rolling over in his grave about this controversy, when in fact secret voting for chairmanships by the body of the Legislature began as recently as the 1970’s, several decades after Norris’s death.  Certainly the life and principles of George Norris will be closely examined by many in the days that follow.

On Thursday and Friday we witnessed the swearing in ceremonies for the Chief Justice and new members of the Nebraska Supreme Court, Public Service Commission, State Board of Education Members and the Board of Regents; all of them take the same oath of office as every senator. We also began submitting new legislation to be entered into the record. Next week’s column will include bills I introduced.

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, 2 doors south of  pervious office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Tuesday, November 8 is just around the corner, the day Nebraskans will choose their representatives who pledge to support the type of government Nebraskans want.

Nationally, our choice for leadership positions will have a big impact on state policy. From the Supreme Court and the sanctity of life and the family, to regulatory policies, illegal immigration, from the military and national security, unaffordable health care, to a bankrupting national debt and the disregard for the rule of law, there is much at stake in this election.

Statewide, there are 11 term-limited senators and 13 running for re-election to their second, and final, 4-year term. Basically there are about 25 of 49 seats up for reelection every two years.  In the past 10 years, Nebraskans have elected 86 new senators. In two years, when my term is done, along with five other senators, there will have been a 100% turnover. New ideas and leadership emerge with each election cycle.

As much as this sounds like a revolving door, oddly enough some key issues, such as meaningful tax relief, remain stagnant. Instead of addressing heavy taxation, Nebraska became only the 20th state to repeal capital punishment. For one, I hear many more people asking for meaningful tax relief than from those wanting senators to repeal the death penalty. I understand this to be the case across the state as well. This became clear when Referendum 426 successfully gained more than enough signatures to challenge Senator Chambers’s LB268, which repealed capital punishment. On November 8, I will vote “Repeal” in order to repeal LB268, so Nebraska retains the ultimate punishment for those who commit heinous murders and who continue to not only be a danger to law enforcement and the general prison population, but also to society.

Claims that have been made to repeal the death penalty include “times have changed, prisons are more secure than ever” and “life without parole ensures society is safe”. However, building bigger and safer prisons requires more tax dollars in a very stagnant economy, and Nebraska is already facing prison overcrowding. Consider the riot in the Tecumseh prison last year that took the life of one inmate, injured others, and endangered prison guards. If capital punishment is repealed, individuals who commit capital crimes will be housed among the general population of the prison. What about the safety of corrections officers and other inmates? Life without parole sounds good on paper, but in reality, murderers would therefore have nothing to lose and society would be unable to protect itself against those who continue to pose a serious danger to innocent life.

Other claims cite the cost of the death penalty. However, the fiscal note, or cost, of LB268, per the Legislative Fiscal Office, is zero. In other words, the state will not save money without the death penalty. The opposite in fact may occur, as there will not only continue to be appeals for those with life in prison, but the use of the plea bargain as a tool for county prosecutors to plea down from capital punishment to life in prison will no longer be available, which will make it much more difficult for county prosecutors to keep society safe.

Another claim is that death row inmates have been exonerated. That has not occurred in Nebraska and there is no evidence that Nebraska has executed a single innocent person since before 1900. Also, if people are being exonerated in other parts of the country, that means the appeal process is working as it should; and as technology continues to improve, so will the justice system’s accuracy in ensuring that the person executed is the correct individual. These are important facts that should perhaps be taken into consideration.

Sen. Lydia Brasch

District 16
Room #1022
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2728
Email: lbrasch@leg.ne.gov
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