NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Lydia Brasch

Sen. Lydia Brasch

District 16

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov

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

Week of February 18

February 24th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

With the Legislature adjourned for President’s Day on Monday, the 17th, it was a short, but productive week.  Days 27 through 30 saw one of my bills and one of my resolutions in committee hearings.  We have officially passed the halfway mark of this 60 day session, and I expect we will see long nights at the Capitol before long.

LB962, which increases the personal bankruptcy exemptions under Sec. 15-1556 of Nebraska’s statutes, was heard in the Judiciary Committee Wednesday.  As with my other bankruptcy bills, there are no fiscal implications nor any tax consequences.  Similar to the hearing for LB964, there were two proponents and no opponents of LB962.  Initially, LB962 included a provision that would allow debtors to keep up to $5,000 in the interest in their car regardless of how they use it.  Nebraska law currently only allows this exemption for debtors who use their car for employment purposes.  I received notice from those who represent the Nebraska Bankers Association that they would oppose the bill with the new vehicle exemption.  With opposition during a 60-day session it makes it more difficult for any bill to move out of committee and to the floor for further debate and passage.  Therefore, I amended that language and kept personal vehicles in the “tools of the trade” exemption until we can further analyze the impact this poses on our Nebraska financial institutions.

Legislative Resolution 395 commemorates the addition of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Sixty years ago, lawmakers in Congress introduced legislation that led to a Congressional Joint Resolution to include “under God” in the Pledge, and President Eisenhower signed it into law on June 14, 1954.  LR395 was heard before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Friday.  Two supporters testified on behalf of its passage, and there were none opposed.  I believe it is important to recognize the important events of our nation’s history, and the recognition of God has been a longstanding effort by our citizens and lawmakers.  As President Lincoln stated in his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, “[T]his Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”  This inspired Rev. George MacPherson Docherty, pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., which is the church President Lincoln attended while in office, to preach a sermon called “A New Birth of Freedom.”  In his sermon, Docherty stated, “To omit the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the American way of life.”  President Eisenhower happened to be sitting in Lincoln’s pew on that “Lincoln Sunday,” February 7, 1954, as is the tradition that presidents attend a special service on the Sunday closest to Lincoln’s birthday.  Four months later, he signed the law that included the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance.  As President Reagan put it, “If we ever forget we are one nation under God, we will become a nation gone under.”

We are finalizing plans for town hall meetings around the district and will send out press releases with all the information.  We welcome questions or comments on bills before us this session.  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.  We have enjoyed seeing everyone who has already stopped in and look forward to more visitors!

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of February 10

February 19th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Legislative days 23 through 26 were particularly engaging for the District 16 office.  The second and third of the five bills I introduced were heard in committee.  LB1082 was heard in the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.  Two emergency responder constituents from District 16 testified in support of the bill.  Steven Brune, who serves on West Point Rescue, and Micheal Dwyer, who is a member of the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association’s Legislative Committee and Captain of the Arlington Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Squad both provided important information and solid support.  No one testified against the bill or in a neutral capacity.  Please see the Weekly Update from last week for more details on LB1082.

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony February 13 on LB1093.  Currently, there is a cumbersome series of grants from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to the Administrative Office of the Courts and contracts from DHHS to individual juvenile conferencing programs.  Under LB1093 DHHS will transfer the funds directly to the Nebraska Supreme Court.  Ultimately this is a revenue neutral bill and has been agreed to by DHHS and the Supreme Court.  We are currently working with DHHS and the Supreme Court to make a minor amendment that makes it revenue neutral.  We are confident this will be completed within the next few days.  Representatives from the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Legislature’s Children Commission, Through the Eyes of the Child, and The Mediation Center in Lincoln, as well as Chief Justice Michael Heavican, testified on behalf of the bill.  There were no opponents and only two neutral testifiers, including the CEO of DHHS, Kerry Winterer.  Though Mr. Winterer has been working closely with us on this bill, he testified in the neutral because of the need for the minor amendment to the bill.

Last week the Revenue Committee heard its first two 2014 ag property tax reduction bills this year with LBs 670 and 813.  In 2013 I introduced LB145, which offers an immediate 10 percent reduction.  I introduced it  by request of the Farm Bureau.  LB145 is basically the same in structure as the Ag Land Valuation reduction bill introduced by the late Senator Bob Kremer.  Senators Deb Fischer and Lavon Heidemann subsequently introduced similar legislation during their legislative terms.  All three were respected Nebraska Senators, and one is now a U.S. Senator and the other Lieutenant Governor.  LB145 is still being held in committee; therefore I recently designated it as my priority bill in an effort to move it forward.  Constituents continue to ask about tax relief especially following the statewide Tax Modernization Task Force meetings.  Ag land value reduction has been requested more than other tax relief concerns.  Naturally, further legislation will be considered to address funding concerns from counties, municipalities, and schools.  Nebraska’s cash reserve remains sound, with $1.2 billion in state checking and savings accounts, which shows Nebraskans continue to be fiscally conservative.  Five hundred million dollars of tax relief is available for the next three years, so we should return more dollars to our citizens’ pockets instead of keeping it in state accounts.

We are in the process of planning town hall meetings around the district. We welcome questions or comments on bills before us this session.  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.  We have enjoyed seeing everyone who has already stopped in and look forward to more visitors!

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of February 3

February 10th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Looking back on last week, Legislative days 18 through 22, multiple ongoing discussions continue to grow regarding legislation pending and in progress.  The conversations happen not only at the State Capitol, but also with constituents and others across the state.  Of my bills introduced this session the first one to be heard in committee was LB964.  The Judiciary Committee hearing on Friday, the 7th was brief but effective.  There were two bankruptcy attorneys who spoke in support of LB964.  No one spoke in opposition or in a neutral capacity.  This bill allows the bankruptcy homestead exemption to be extended to everyone, including single individuals under 65 years old.  Current law applies only to single individuals 65 and older and heads of a family (single persons with dependents living in the same home).  This bill allows all single people who file for bankruptcy to claim up to $60,000 of the equity they have on their home as an exemption.  The committee members had only a few questions about the bill, including one from Chairperson Brad Ashford about why the law had not been amended a long time ago to include single individuals under 65.  Please note LB964 has no effect on taxation and should not be confused with the similarly named homestead tax exemption.

Another of my bills from this session, LB1082, which allows all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility-type vehicles (UTVs) to be used as authorized emergency vehicles, was heard in the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee hearing on Monday, the 10th.  Presently, ATVs and UTVs are restricted from crossing highways with more than two lanes unless they are used for electric utility purposes, but must be properly licensed and insured, must only be operated under 30 miles per hour, and must have the proper lighting and safety equipment, including a bright orange bicycle safety flag.  LB1082 allows fire and police departments and volunteer rescue teams to outfit ATVs and UTVs for emergency response use on and around large highways during day and evening hours.  This will be especially valuable to rural communities when their standard emergency vehicles cannot easily reach areas far off the beaten path.

Tuesday, February 4 marked the third day of debate on LB399, allowing amber lights on any public safety volunteer vehicle.  After eight hours of debate and a bracket motion that failed 16-24, a vote for cloture (an action to cease debate on a bill and immediately vote for its advancement) failed by one vote (32-12).  After a failed cloture vote, debate on that particular bill is prevented for the rest of the day.  LB399 remains in Select File.

The Revenue Committee heard its first two 2014 ag property tax reduction bills this year with LBs 670 and 813.  Currently at 75 percent of the land’s actual value, LB670 would gradually phase-in a 65 percent valuation by tax year 2017.  The bill was heard by the Revenue Committee on Friday, the 7th, and committee action is pending.  LB813 would drop the valuation from 75 to 65 percent immediately after 2015.  Last year I introduced LB145, a bill I was asked to carry in 2013 on the behalf of the Farm Bureau, which offers an immediate 10 percent reduction similar to those that former State Senators Fischer and Heidemann introduced during their terms.  LB145 is still being held in the Revenue Committee.

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.  We would love to welcome  you.  Otherwise, please catch the NETV coverage on your local station or at http://www.netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

 

Week of January 27

February 3rd, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

We continue to work through 2013 legislation before addressing 2014 legislation, as the legislative rules dictate.  Despite freezing temperatures outside during Week 4, the Legislative debate on the floor continues to heat up, only to freeze again from time to time.  After three and a half hours of debate on LB144, a bill I introduced last year, it advanced to Select File with a 28-6 vote.  Brought to me from a constituent in Burt County, LB144 allows primary candidates in county, city, village, and school board elections to file, if they choose, as a write-in candidate for the general election if they lost the primary as a result of a tie breaker.  Traditionally, tied elections have been decided by lot (the flip of a coin or cutting playing cards, for example).  Without LB144, anyone but the person who lost by lot can pay a fee and be a write-in candidate for the general election without participating in the primary.  The bill not only faced hours of debate but two amendments and a bracket motion (a motion to postpone debate on a bill until a later date).  The amendments were eventually withdrawn, and the bracket motion failed on a 13-20 vote.  Following a meeting with the Secretary of State’s office and interested senators, we determined we can extend this change to all non-constitutional, publicly elected offices in Nebraska such as Natural Resources District and Public Power District officers.  We are working on an amendment addressing this extension to be proposed for the Select File debate.

On Friday, the 7th, LB964 (allows the bankruptcy homestead exemption to be extended to all single individuals, including those under 65 years old) will be heard in Judiciary Committee.  Current law applies only to single individuals 65 and older and heads of a family (single persons with dependents living in the same home).  This bill allows all single people who file for bankruptcy to claim up to $60,000 of the equity they have on their home as an exemption.

Highlights from other legislation:

  • There were hours of floor debate on LB382, which awards all five Nebraska electoral votes to the popular vote winner of the presidential election.  One of the six amendments failed, and five are pending.  The debate will resume at a later date.

  • On January 30, 16 bills were advanced from Select File to Enrollment and Review for Engrossment.

With the temperature dropping and the price of propane skyrocketing more than 100% in one week, my office received a number of communications from individuals worried about affordability of the increased costs.  We suggest contacting the following resources for assistance in case you have not already done so:

On Wednesday my staff traveled to West Point to attend the UNL Extension Program luncheon.  The Extension Program provides free educational programs on subjects like health, agriculture, social media, and bullying awareness and prevention.  For more information about the UNL Extension Program, visit their website:  http://www.extension.unl.edu/home or call (402) 472-2966.

The legislative debates are broadcast every legislative day on your local NETV station and at http://www.netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government.

If you are in Lincoln, please stop by Room 1016.  Otherwise contact our office with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  Thank you for your questions and ideas.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of January 20

January 28th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Only just over 20 carryover bills from last session have been debated and voted upon in the first 13 days.  At that rate, we will only get through 80 more bills.  Considering that we have 406 carryover bills from last session, and approximately 460 new bills introduced this session, we must pick up the pace if we are to address all the issues.

The heavily debated “novelty lighter bill” (LB403) took up a significant amount of floor debate time.  I introduced floor amendment FA176, which would have made the sale of novelty lighters illegal to minors under the age of 18, the legal smoking age in Nebraska.  This was voted down on the floor.

After further consideration, I commented on the floor that I thought it would be best if the Nebraska Volunteer State Firefighters Association (NVSFA), which played a large part in the introduction of LB403, communicated with vendors and potential vendors of novelty lighters to work on an agreement not to sell them in Nebraska.  Legislation is not a cure-all.  Sometimes we have to back off as legislators and allow the people to attend to their concerns.  Despite the lengthy debate, LB403 advanced to Enrollment & Review (E&R) with an amendment that requires new novelty lighters to have child-proof safety features.

Transparency in our publicly elected offices is a must.  That was the reason for my proposed rule change regarding secret ballots for committee chair and vice chair votes two weeks ago.  That was the same reason I supported LB470, which will increase the level of transparency between school boards and the public with regard to attracting, hiring, and retaining superintendents.  I received comments from superintendents in the district who raised valid points.  They were concerned that the law would single out superintendents.  I explained that I believe in transparency for all elected positions.  Ideally, this would be one step toward increased school board transparency with the public for all related positions.

My bill, LB144, introduced last January, was the first item of debate on Monday, January 27.  This bill provides for the write-in candidacy of a candidate for county, city, village, or school district office who is defeated in a tiebreaker in a primary election.  Currently, primary elections that result in a tie are decided by chance, usually by the flip of a coin or by drawing from a deck of cards.  This seems arbitrary and unfair.  Debate on this bill spanned the entire legislative day and continues Tuesday.  If you are in Lincoln, please stop by Room 1016 or visit the gallery of the chamber floor to watch me debate this bill and others.  Otherwise, please catch the NETV coverage on your local station or at http://www.netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government.

Two informational meetings concerning the Missouri River flood of 2011 will be held next week:

  • Monday, February 3 at the Onowa Community Center
  • Tuesday, February 4 at the Old Dane Golf Course

The group, headed by Scott Olson of Tekamah, is in the process of meetings in Pierre, South Dakota and other locations, including Omaha.  Please contact Scott at 402-870-1140 or scott@leevalley.net with questions.

Please contact our office with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  I will provide another update next week.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of January 13

January 20th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

The first full week of session was certainly an eventful one.  Bill introduction and floor debates continued.  Governor Heineman delivered his State of the State Address, proposing agricultural land value reduction from 75% to 65%, reforming Nebraska’s “good time” law, and rejecting Medicaid expansion.  Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Heavican gave his State of the Judiciary address Friday, discussing conservator and guardianship reform, the Nebraska Parenting Act, and improvements to judicial branch technology.

This week, I introduced Legislative Bills 962, 963, and 964, which amend the Nebraska bankruptcy code.  Currently, the bankruptcy code does not equally protect single people, including widows, divorcees, and other non-married individuals.  Without these bills, those individuals would not be able to keep their cars unless they used them for business purposes.  This especially affects those in rural Nebraska who need their car to buy groceries, go to doctor appointments, or take their children to school.  My bill, LB962 will change this.  I believe it is the right thing to do.  Additionally, the exemptions for personal property are outdated.   They were last amended in 1997.  These bills have no tax implications.  They simply increase the protection a bankrupt individual has to keep personal items and interest in his or her house.  Under current homestead exemption law in Nebraska, a widowed person who sells the family home to downsize would not be allowed to have a homestead exemption should he or she need to file for bankruptcy.  This simply is not fair.

Two additional bills have yet to receive bill numbers.  The first would permit emergency responders to use ATVs and UTVs on the highways, which currently is not allowed in Nebraska.  The second changes the funding mechanism for Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services funds for juvenile dispute resolution, pretrial conferencing, and restorative justice to be applied directly to the Nebraska Supreme Court’s budget instead of a cumbersome series of grants and confusing budgetary transfers.  This bill will provide for improved dispute resolution in the juvenile justice system and has already received the support of Chief Justice Heavican.

Senator Chambers filibustered LB399, which would allow members of certain organizations to use flashing amber lights on motor vehicles.  Chambers told the legislature he would debate the bill for eight hours (the required time necessary to have a full and honest debate before a vote for cloture may be called), and he did.  Cloture is an action to end debate and vote immediately on the advancement of a bill.  After eight hours of debate, a vote for cloture was called, and the bill was advanced from General File to Select File.

We encourage our District 16 clergy to volunteer as “Chaplain of the Day” and say a prayer before the start of each legislative day.  Please contact Jamie Kruse in the Clerk’s Office at jkruse@leg.ne.gov with your name, church, address, and phone number if you are interested in volunteering.

Please contact our office 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.  Otherwise, please catch the NETV coverage on your local station or at http://www.netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government.  I will be posting another column next week, so please stayed tuned.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Week of January 6

January 13th, 2014

Weekly Legislative Update

Happy New Year!  The Second Session of the 103rd Legislature convened January 8th.  It is an honor to continue serving District 16 and the State of Nebraska for my fourth year.  I appreciated hearing your suggestions during the interim at many community events, at the Town Hall meetings, and by email and phone.  Please continue to share your ideas with me, my staff, and our Legislature as legislation is being introduced and considered.

This short, 60-day session promises to be very busy.  A total of 181 bills and six resolutions were introduced during the first three days alone.  To start, I introduced LR 395, commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the addition of the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.  Nineteen senators signed on as co-sponsors.  Thirty eight states have introduced this resolution, including our surrounding states, and more are expected to.  Friday, I went before the Rules Committee, where I serve as vice chair, and proposed a rule change where votes for committee chairs and vice chairs would be recorded rather than performed secretly.  This was killed in committee with only Senator Lautenbaugh voting against the kill motion.  I believe as public officials we must be transparent in votes that impact our district and state.

Bills to note:

  • LB 670 changes property tax valuations of agricultural and horticultural land;
  • LB 671 eliminates provisions relating to hunting and killing of mountain lions;
  • LB 708 exempts social security benefits from state income taxation;
  • LB 721 changes tax provisions, including property tax valuations of agricultural and horticultural land;
  • LB 724 changes provisions relating to unlawful possession of a firearm at a school;
  • LB 768 changes fee provisions of the Livestock Brand Act; and
  • LB 810 terminates the inheritance tax.

By legislative rule, new bills must be introduced during the first 10 legislative days.  As I have five carryover bills from last session, I am continuing to address those issues, but I encourage you to contact me with your ideas early in the introduction period.  Please contact me prior to the eighth day of session (January 17) if you have legislation.

Dates to note:

  • Governor Heineman’s State of the State address, January 15; and
  • Public committee hearings, January 21 through February 28.

The legislative process depends upon the involvement of Nebraska’s citizens, so I encourage you to attend hearings.  If unable to attend you can also watch online through NET at http://www.netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government.  I continue to serve on the Transportation and Telecommunications, Natural Resources, Rules, and State-Tribal Relations Committees and hope to see you at our committee hearings.

Please come to Lincoln and stop by the District 16 office.  We are located in Room 1016 on the west side of the Nebraska State Capitol.  You may also call the office at (402) 471-2728 or email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  Katie Wattermann, my administrative assistant, will likely be the first voice you hear if you call.  My legislative aide, Joe Neuhaus, assists with legislation, public policy, and other state government issues.

Please check back regularly as I will continue newsletter communications throughout the session as we begin the committee hearing process and floor debate.

Keeping the Good Life growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

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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