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With the legislative session completed for over a week now, the Capitol is a much quieter place mostly populated by visitors from near and far on hourly tours of this magnificent institution and structure. The hallways are no longer filled with the voices of student visitors from across the State with exception of Boys and Girls State and Unicam Youth Legislature students. Lobbyists are not watching the legislative chambers attentively from the rotunda or walking the hallways in search of a senator to discuss their interests on specific legislation. Most Senators living a distance from Lincoln are working remotely with out-of-session business. Trips to Lincoln for us include scheduled meetings, office needs, or interim hearings. Our District 16 office staff continues to keep busy with constituent services and research for next year’s legislative proposals.
This first interim update provides a brief overview of some key legislation debated during session worth repeating or received little or no coverage during session. Other updates will follow leading into what issues we may expect to see in 2016.
As this year was the beginning of the biennium (two-year period), the Legislature’s priority was the constitutional duty to pass a budget. The budget passed with an average 3.3 percent increase in annual spending over the next two years which is the fifth lowest increase over the last thirty years. Most of the spending goes toward education, Medicaid, university/college system, health and human services, corrections, and special education. The budget also leaves a projected $718 million in the cash reserve or “rainy day fund.”
Regarding tax relief, the Legislature granted two forms of tax relief, added an additional tax burden, and left unaddressed a number of other areas. The Legislature provided relief by increasing the property tax credit relief fund. As well, businesses and farmers will receive a partial property tax break on machinery, computers, and other personal property. However, the gas tax will increase 6 cents a gallon over the next four years. Unfortunately, the Legislature did not address the property tax burden shouldered by our farmers and ranchers which I attempted to address with LB350.
As for agriculture, the Legislature ended the session by addressing the issue whether to allow meatpacker ownership of hogs (LB176). The bill had significant opposition from some rural senators arguing this would be a death blow to small, independent hog producers and eventually lead to loss of independent cattle producers. The bill did not survive a second-round filibuster as it fell two votes short of cloture.
Next week’s column will continue covering legislation from criminal justice, the death penalty, education, health and human services.
As always, please contact me, administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or legislative aide, Tom Venzor, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or e-mail at email@example.com.
Keeping the Good Life Growing in Nebraska,
Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16