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The legislative interim has flown by quickly and the upcoming session is just the corner. January 9th is the first day of the 90 day session. I am anxious to begin working with returning state senators and with those newly elected as there are many policy issues for the legislature to address. Before discussing what’s to come in the new year and session, I must take a moment to cover the events of the past several months since my last column update.
Roads issues have been at the forefront of office inquiries during the interim. The first roads-related meeting within our District 16 counties was held in Burt County on August 28. Two public meetings followed, first in Washington County on October 29 to discuss widening of Highway 133, followed by a November 5 roads meeting in West Point. There was great attendance at each of the meetings, and I believe it was very beneficial to all attending residents to better understand current, present, and future highway projects. Revisiting some of the questions and issues raised, on December 6, I accompanied our District Three engineer, Kevin Domogalla, on another on-site assessment to discuss constituent questions and progress.
Broadband has been another important topic in our district and the state, and my staff and I toured one of the prominent providers in Blair, Great Plains Communications. This was an informative opportunity to see the operations of some of our most valuable technological resources and services.
Many constituents have contacted me with questions, concerns, and policy proposals, and I appreciate the dialogue and bringing attention to matters in our district. Such inquiries have taken me to each of our three counties to meet with individuals and better understand the subject at hand and what recourse is needed, be it research, phone calls, or possibly a bill.
It has also been a pleasure to visit schools, tour successful businesses in and outside of our district, such as Nucor Corporation in Norfolk and CF Industries in Blair. Additionally, I met with local government officials, including school superintendents, county boards, community colleges, and Natural Resources Districts. State agency meetings have covered topics of legislation and current events and included Health and Human Services, Game and Parks, and the Department of Roads. Similarly, it was valuable to meet with representatives from organizations such as First Five Nebraska, our Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Club, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, among others.
Within the legislative arena, my respective committees have held interim study hearings. October 5 the Agriculture Committee conducted a hearing on to examine agriculture’s role in our education curriculum. In October and November the Revenue Committee held interim study hearings on subjects including revitalization of historic business districts, alternative county revenue sources if the inheritance tax is repealed, and issues of land banking. I do expect to see legislation related to each of these interim study hearings next session.
There are also other policy matters that will be significant. Specifically, setting a biennial budget will be a major obligation. We are fortunate that most recent projections show an improvement in the shortfall, moving from a $624 million shortfall to what now is a $195 million shortfall with an estimated $57 million surplus revenue for the cash reserve fund. Nevertheless, it will be important to show fiscal restraint in setting the budget while providing for needs. State aid to education will factor into the budget, as well as consideration of taxes. Other prominent legislative issues that may come before us are: legislative action on state health care exchange, changes to tax structure (inheritance, sales, income, and property taxes), juvenile justice and crime prevention, just to name a few.
As I prepare for the legislative session, I have compiled a survey to better understand what issues are important to you. Please consider taking the time to complete the survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6VRT97J.
Just as I have done during previous sessions, I will provide you with weekly columns throughout the session. Several changes are anticipated, however, including moving to a new office in the State Capitol and hiring a new legislative aide. My current legislative aide, Sarah Skinner, accepted a position with Senator-Elect Deb Fischer, and I thank her for service to District 16 and will introduce you to my new legislative aide in January after I have completed the hiring process.
As always, please contact me with any legislative questions. The office phone number is (402) 471-2728, or you may e-mail me at email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you and working for you in the upcoming legislative session.
Serving you in the Nebraska Legislature to Keep the Good Life Growing,
Senator Lydia Brasch