Week eight of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 32 through 35 of the 90-day session. Monday, February 20th was a recess day in observance of President’s Day.
On Tuesday, the Agriculture Committee had a hearing on LB 617, a bill that would legalize and regulate the production of hemp as an agricultural product in Nebraska. LB 617 is modeled after a similar law in Kentucky. Both the Kentucky law and LB 617 take advantage of a provision of the 2014 Farm Bill, passed by Congress, which allows industrial hemp to be grown for research by either state universities or a state’s Department of Agriculture. LB 617 would establish a commission within the Department of Agriculture that would license growers. Although there seems to be increasing desire to grow industrial hemp as an alternative crop, there is concern that the Kentucky industrial hemp program, replicated by LB 617, allows commercial production of hemp beyond what is allowed under the 2014 Farm Bill. Furthermore, as defined in the Federal Controlled Substances Act, industrial hemp falls under the umbrella of marijuana because both contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a schedule 1 controlled substance. Until Congress removes industrial hemp from the controlled substances list, there remains considerable risk in allowing it to be grown for commercial purposes.
On Wednesday, the Revenue Committee heard public testimony on LB 312, 313, and 563, all of which either eliminated many sales tax exemptions or increased the sales tax rate by 1 percent. I stated in my previous column that I do not support eliminating tax exemptions, and that I do not support raising the amount of sales tax imposed by the state of Nebraska. My position has not changed. A focus on fixing the problems that are inherent in the valuation of agriculture land is, I believe, the better path to take, which is why I introduced LB 338. This bill would require that agricultural land be valued by an income-based potential rather than market value.
Last week the Legislature advanced LB 62 to Select File by a vote of 36-1-8. This bill repeals two sections of statute that prohibit teachers in our public schools from wearing any religious garb. The statutes were written in such a way, however, that clothing which conveys some type of secular message was not prohibited, such as political speech or slogans. Because of this, there is a strong argument that these statutes are in violation of the First Amendment, specifically the Free Exercise clause. The lifting of the ban will apply to all religions, thereby ensuring that the Establishment clause of the First Amendment is not violated. I voted in favor of this bill.
On Friday, March 3, I will be presenting two bills to two different committees, namely LB 309 to the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee, and LB 466 to the Health and Human Services Committee. If you are able I encourage you to come to our public hearings to testify on these bills and others. LB 309 would exempt the state of Nebraska from participating in daylight saving time. State representatives in Iowa, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, and the big state of Texas, as well as representatives from many other states on the east and west coasts, have introduced legislation to exempt their states from daylight saving time.
LB 466 would eliminate the requirement that certified nurse-midwives be required to be overseen by a physician – what is known as the integrated practice agreement. This change would allow certified nurse-midwives to practice in areas where there may not be a physician in their geographic area, thereby allowing greater mobility in the practice of nurse-midwives and more access to the kind of specialized care that many pregnant women desire.
Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, two doors south of previous office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.