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 email@example.com; or stop by Room 1016 if you are at the Capitol.
Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,
Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16