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Our eleventh week of session – days 46 – 49 – adjourned Thursday. Week eleven consisted of long days, quick working lunch breaks, and heated debates. Many bills advanced to the next round, but several bills failed to advance after hours of debate.
On Day 49 a special public hearing was held by our Revenue committee on AM2617 to LB958. Both the bill and amendment passed with 7 yes and one not voting. I supported the amendment and the bill. AM2617, if adopted by the body, increases the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund for agricultural landowners by $30 million a year. AM2617 also restricts the growth of Community College budgets by 3% a year. It starts to address growing property tax burdens placed upon farmers and ranchers. Taxes are not a tool to punish or burden any person, or group of individuals. Taxes are intended to be balanced like a 3-legged stool, today taxes are not balanced.
LR378CA, introduced by Sen. Kuehn as a constitutional amendment, guaranteed the right to engage in certain farming and ranching practices. Surprisingly, this resolution created unexpected controversy. Especially disappointing, is when certain agricultural groups in the past have testified and supported the right to hunt and fish, but then voiced their opposition to LR378CA. Concerned animal rights groups protecting our pets, please note it was Senator Kuehn who introduced LB389 last year, which increased the fees and available funds for the Department of Agriculture to inspect and enforce standards for pet breeders in an attempt to identify and clean up puppy mills. The Supreme Court has made it clear that dogs and cats are not included in the definition of livestock or animal husbandry operations. LR378CA was bracketed until April 20, this year.
Another bill debated was LB586. This would prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, not limited only to employment. Our office received dozens of emails in opposition to this bill, with only a few emails in support. I opposed LB586 as it will create numerous problems. For example, at a public pool or a local gym, like the YMCA, men, women, and children could be forced to share a locker room, restroom, or changing area with a person of the opposite sex who identifies as a sex opposite their biological sex; this would violate our constitutional right to privacy. Additionally, business owners with deeply held religious beliefs who operate a for-profit business that provides a service – like bakers, florists, restaurant owners, etc. – could be forced to participate in ceremonies celebrating a view of marriage that is prohibited by their religious beliefs. This violates two First Amendment rights: freedom of speech (creating forced speech), and the free exercise of religion (by preventing people from exercising their religion). Finally, there was no evidence offered by the proponents of obvious widespread discrimination in Nebraska. Successful business owners in Nebraska do not discriminate and are simply looking for talented, hardworking individuals. Employers are disinterested in employees’ private and personal sexual beliefs that belong outside the place of employment. The question asked before hiring is: can they adequately do the work, it cannot be whom they love. The protection of privacy, speech, and freedom of conscience are important constitutional protections we should not take for granted.
Please contact me; my administrative aide, Katie Wattermann; or my legislative aide, Brett Waite, with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or stop by Room 1016 in the Capitol. You can follow the Legislature online at http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.