NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Lydia Brasch

Sen. Lydia Brasch

District 16

Week twenty of the first session of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 82 through 85 of this session.

Originally the Speaker scheduled adjournment “sine die” for the 90th day on June 2, but the last day this session will instead be day 86 on May 23, ending four legislative days earlier.  It is estimated that early adjournment will save about $34,000 of costs.

While the regular session is concluded, we wonder if will be called back into special session yet this year. Yes, we passed a budget that is technically balanced, but based on what some believe, the revenue projections may prove overly optimistic over the next two years in light of continuing stress in the agricultural economy.  The budget adopted draws down our state rainy day fund and we will start the next budget with an uncomfortably low carryover balance from the current budget, leaving almost no margin for error should state tax collections continue to fall short of projections.

Normally, the budget is based upon a 3% reserve, meaning we only authorize spending 97% of the revenues we anticipate being available.  That way, if revenues fall short of predictions, there is a cushion so that we have not committed to spend more than we actually take in.  As I mentioned in a previous column, the budget the Legislature presented to the governor was balanced in part by only providing for a 2.5% reserve.  However, the governor vetoed $55 million of spending, which restores us back to be a more fiscally responsible 3% reserve.

Efforts to override a number of the individual spending items the governor reduced through line-item vetoes were unsuccessful. Important to know is that the line-item veto in each of these programs does not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. Among these were reductions in amounts authorized in the Department of Health and Human Services.  From the $1.69 billion two-year funding for the Medicaid program, Governor Ricketts vetoed $11.8 million in each of the two fiscal years.  That is about a 1.4% reduction.  The Governor also vetoed $3.23 million each year, or 2.12%, from the $303.7 million the Legislature had authorized for the development disability aid program.  The governor’s vetoes reduced the amount appropriated for behavior health by $1.186 million each year from the total of $146 million passed by the Legislature for the next two years, or about 1.6%.  In child welfare programs, the Legislature authorized spending $333.4 million over two years.  The governor vetoed $640,000 in each of the two fiscal years, or about .38%.

Much misinformation was being circulated by certain associations with lobbyists working the floor, email and social media. Following this upon our contacting the Department of Health and Human Services Director Calder Lynch, we were provided a fact sheet with details of how individuals receiving Medicaid services care will continue to do so. Please note that the Governor, and also senators make protecting ongoing services under these aid programs a priority as working on the budget.  Overall, the reductions to HHS aid programs in this budget amount to little over a one percent decrease.  Other agencies, such as Environmental Quality and Natural Resources among many others, saw much greater reductions in the 6-9 percent range.

Again, important to know is that the line-item veto in each of these programs does not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. Nor does it mean that critical services will be reduced.   The Medicaid budget is a block appropriation based on forecasted need and the state has the responsibility to manage the program to minimize impact on access to services for Medicaid eligible individuals.  Additionally, this does not impact services not covered by Medicare like long-term and nursing home care, and assisted living services.   Also, none of the vetoes automatically or necessarily translate into available services falling short of needs.  The Department of Health and Human Services will work with stakeholders to protect critical services within the budgeted amounts.  In some cases, the budgets for these programs will benefit from an increase in the federal match rate, which will result in some increase in federal funds offsetting some of the reduction in state appropriations.

Please contact me, or our staff with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online please visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

 

Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care

The line-item veto of funding in the Medicaid aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions.  The Medicaid aid budget is a block appropriation based on forecasted need and Medicaid has the responsibility to manage the program within its appropriation and minimize adverse access-to-service issues for Medicaid eligible individuals and families. For example, Medicaid has identified that Nebraska is an outlier in reimbursing certain hospital and professional services for Medicaid/Medicare dual eligible member services up to the Medicare rate. Capping payments at the Medicaid rate, as 44 states do, would achieve the general savings necessary to meet the requirements of the Governor’s veto. This does not impact services not covered by Medicare like long-term care. Medicaid will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical services like long-term care.

Division of Developmental Disabilities

The line-item veto of funding in the DD aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions.  DD has the responsibility to manage the program within its appropriation and minimize adverse access-to-service issues for DD eligible individuals and families. DD will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical services.

Division of Behavioral Health

The line-item veto of funding in the Behavioral Health aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. The amount of funding included in the line-item veto represents 1% of total contracts funds to the Behavioral Health Regions. DBH worked with the Regional Administrators to examine historical utilization and identify reductions in non-core programs like training, special projects, initiatives, and administrative costs.  Historically, behavioral health providers under contract with the Regions have received a 10% increase in rates over the last four years, including a substantial increase in two services through DHHS cost model work.  Those rate increases are sustained in the current budget plan and DBH will work with the Regions on the implementation plan to protect critical services.

Division of Children & Family Services

The line-item veto of funding in the CFS budget will not mean providers or contractors will receive across-the-board rate reductions.  CFS has the responsibility to manage its programs within its appropriation and minimize adverse access-to-service issues for families. CFS has identified efficiencies in how it administers drug testing contracts that will garner savings in excess of the amount included in the line-item veto.

Week nineteen of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 78 through 81 of this 90-day session.

On Monday and Tuesday the Legislature took final action by adopting the state’s biennium budget. This session took place during an exceptionally low revenue growth in our state, primarily caused by a sharp ongoing decline in commodity prices in the agricultural economy. The budget adopted by the Legislature authorizes $8.9 billion of spending over the next two years, averaging about 1% annual growth in state budget expenditures. While this budget slows the rate of growth in state spending, and includes about $700 million of general fund reductions from the initial budget requests by state agencies, other senators and I believe that perhaps we should have made additional budget reductions to prevent the need for a special session later this year.

To balance the budget, the four budget bills call for drawing down the state cash reserve fund and only provides for a 2.5% cash reserve rather than the normal 3% cash reserve. During the final round of debate, the Legislature again debated the same amendment I discussed in my previous column that would have taken the budget back to amounts in the 2016-17 budget and utilized the cash reserve fund to accommodate increases in the salaries of state employees and health care costs. Another amendment, introduced by Senator Albrecht, was debated that would have made a one percent across-the-board reductions to general fund amounts. Since both amendments were withdrawn the Legislature did not have the opportunity to vote on them, but the amendments provided an opportunity to highlight additional needed reductions in state spending. The next step in the process will be for the Governor and his staff to go through the budget passed by the Legislature to determine if they would like to make any line-item vetoes.

On Thursday we debated LB 651, also known as the Nebraska Reading Improvement Act. Due to all the misinformation about this bill, it generated much undue controversy. Contrary to popular belief, this bill would not require a student who has failed a single test at the end of third grade to be retained in third grade regardless of disabilities, a lack of proficiency in English, or many other reasons that might explain why the student is struggling. If a third grader is not reading at third grade level, as demonstrated by a multitude of tests, the bill – with the amendments – would require that retention be seriously considered by the parents (or guardians), teacher, and principal.

Many people have asked why this bill is even necessary? According to the Nebraska Department of Education, 23% of third graders across the state were not meeting Nebraska state assessment (NeSA) standards in 2012. Some improvement was seen in 2016, as that number dropped to 18%. While some schools are continuing to improve because of increased attention on reading beginning in kindergarten, many others are not. In some schools, as many as 70% of third graders are not reading at grade level. There is little evidence that a child who is unable to read at grade level but is allowed to advance from third grade to fourth grade, ever catches up. Sad to say, nearly 90 percent of students who fail to earn a high school diploma struggled with reading in third grade; almost 85% of teenagers in the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate; seven out of ten adult prisoners cannot read above a fourth-grade level; and high school dropouts make up 90% of Americans on welfare and 75% of food stamp recipients. The ability to read and write well is a very necessary and fundamental skill to function in our lives today, and it is important that we instill reading skills at an early age.  Implementation of LB 651 seeks to chip away at illiteracy and its ill effects, which are borne by all of us.

Please contact me, or our staff with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online please visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week eighteen of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 74 through 77 of this 90-day session.

On Tuesday the Legislature debated and unfortunately did not advance LB 461, the tax reform package introduced in the Revenue Committee by Senator Smith and me at the request of Governor Ricketts. This legislation was a combination of property tax reform for agricultural producers, as well as income and corporate tax relief – tied to revenue triggers – for all working Nebraskans. There was a lot of confusion on the floor of the Legislature about the revenue triggers utilized in the bill. The way the triggers would have worked was by economic forecasting. The Tax Rate Review Committee meets in November and would have examined the expected rate of growth in net General Fund receipts from the current fiscal year to the upcoming fiscal year, as determined by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board, and if the expected rate of growth in receipts is at least 3.5 percent – including the tax relief set to take place – for the upcoming fiscal year, then small incremental tax relief would have been implemented. If the expected growth did not hit the 3.5 percent threshold then the small incremental reductions in taxes would have been deferred until the growth was reached. This legislation is a prudent and safe way to implement tax reductions. Many of the opponents of the bill kept using this year’s budget shortfall as political rhetoric to oppose the bill. However, as I previously explained, the tax relief would be future tax reductions that depend entirely upon the General Fund revenues growing at least 3.5 percent a year, which would include the expected reduction in revenue. So if a bill similar to LB 461 had been passed last year, it would not have made balancing the state’s budget this year any more difficult, since the tax relief would not have been triggered this year.

Each budget bill was advanced to Final Reading last week. Senator Steve Erdman introduced an amendment to the main budget bill, LB 327, which would have kept spending at fiscal year 2016-17 levels except for added increases in salaries for state employees and health insurance packages that have already been negotiated with the unions. I supported that amendment as it would have further restrained spending and would prevent the Legislature from needing to call a special session later in the year, as yet might happen with the further decreases in state revenue expected in 2018. I am concerned that the Legislature is drawing too much money from the cash reserve fund and not cutting spending further, which is why I voted no in advancing the budget bills.

On Thursday the Legislature debated LB 44, also known as the Remote Seller Sales Tax Collection Act. This legislation would have required remoted sellers, which are online sellers with no physical presence in our state, to collect and remit sales tax if their gross revenue in Nebraska exceeded $100,000 or their sales in Nebraska consist of 200 or more separate transactions. I believe we need to wait for pending federal court cases which will be deciding the constitutionality of states’ authority to require the collection and remitting of the online sales tax. I and many other senators did not support this bill, and it failed to receive the necessary 33 votes to overcome a filibuster.

The Legislature also advanced LB 289 to Final Reading last week. I have discussed this important bill in a previous column. In short, it will impose harsher penalties on sex traffickers and on those who solicit victims of sex trafficking. It will also allow victims of sexual assault to terminate the parental rights of their attacker if a child results from the sexual assault.

Please contact me, or our staff with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online please visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week seventeen of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 70 through 73 of this 90-day session.

On Monday of last week we debated LB 595 at length. This bill allows teachers or administrators to use necessary and reasonable physical force or restraint to subdue a student who becomes physically violent toward himself or herself, another student, a teacher, or an administrator until such student no longer presents a danger. This legislation also allows teachers or administrators to use physical restraint to subdue a student if he or she exhibits destructive behavior toward school property until such student ceases the destructive behavior or the student is removed from the classroom. Furthermore, LB 595 allows a teacher to remove a student from a class if the following criteria are met: the teacher documents that such student repeatedly interferes with other students’ ability to learn; the teacher determines such student’s behavior is so unruly, disruptive, or abusive that it seriously interferes with other students’ ability to learn; and the teacher determines that such student has committed other disruptive acts that merit discipline under the Student Discipline Act. When this bill had a public hearing on February 7th Jay Sears, the Director of Instructional Advocacy for the Nebraska State Education Association, testified as a proponent and said that he has worked at the NSEA for 32 years and never have they received such overwhelming approval from teachers across Nebraska on a bill like they have on this one. He said that the NSEA received over 3,000 responses – in less than three hours – to their teacher survey on LB 595 with the vast majority in support of the bill. He noted that the NSEA has never received 3,000 responses on any issue, let alone in three hours. That tells me that this legislation is necessary and our teachers are signaling, loud and clear, that they need to be able to control their classrooms. I am in favor of this bill, but unfortunately it did not have enough votes (33 is needed) to overcome a filibuster.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we began debating a series of bills that will set the state budget for the next two years. As I mentioned in a previous column, we entered the session facing a large budget shortfall, in large part due to a slowdown in the agricultural economy which led to a reduction in available state revenues to support ongoing commitments. As the Legislature began debate on the budget, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board lowered its estimate of revenues the state would collect in this budget cycle by another $55 million, making the task of balancing the budget even more difficult. I applaud both the Governor and the Appropriations Committee for presenting a budget plan that must make necessary reductions to bring state spending commitments back in line with anticipated revenues. So far the Legislature has been willing to hold the line on not imposing new fees or higher taxes. You can review the budget at this webpage: http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/fiscal/2017proposed.pdf.

LB 409 passed its second round of debate on Thursday. This bill was prioritized by the Education Committee as its necessary adjustments to the TEEOSA formula help to balance the state’s budget. The bill reduces the increase that was originally scheduled for TEEOSA; the amount of TEEOSA is still increasing but at a lesser rate. LB 409 increased the local effort rate assumed by the formula, which increases a school district’s resources. This legislation also decreases the amount of Net Option Funding that school districts will receive. I am concerned about these cuts in the TEEOSA formula since they may place a bigger burden on property taxpayers as we work to balance the state’s budget.

On Monday we were happy to welcome the third and fourth graders from St. Paul’s Lutheran School located in Arlington, NE, and on Wednesday we were happy to welcome the fourth graders from Lyons-Decatur Northeast Schools.

Please contact me, or our staff with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online please visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week sixteen of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 66 through 69 of this 90-day session.

On Friday we began debate on LB 461, our Revenue Committee’s tax package. A significant portion of it is the Agricultural Valuation Fairness Act, LB 338, which I introduced at the request of the Governor. After much discussion and work, LB 461 contains LB 338 as AM 954 and 1095 – as well as many portions of LB 602 sponsored by Senator Steve Erdman – which utilizes an income potential approach for valuation of agricultural and horticultural land. This is an essential part of the complete tax reform package. Moving away from the market approach to an income potential approach will be fairer, more sustainable, and more predictable over the long term in valuing agricultural and horticultural land. LB 461 creates an Agricultural Valuation Fairness Committee that will develop income and expense estimates for all agricultural and horticultural land in Nebraska, as well as capitalization rates necessary to produce uniform and proportionate assessed valuations. LB 461 would also add an additional $30 – $40 million a year to the state aid formula for schools. Three hours of full debate took place and we adjourned for the weekend. LB 461 will return to the floor for the remaining three hours of debate before a vote is taken.

On Tuesday we debated LB 640. There were a lot of moving parts in this bill. First, it split the school districts’ budgets into two components. In one, only 55% of a school’s budget could come from property taxes. The other 45% was again split into two components. In one, 75% of the remaining 45% would come from state aid, and the other 25% of the remaining 45% could come from local property taxes, but only by a two-thirds vote of the local school board. The bill would have also lowered the assumed amount of a school district’s resources, which is used to determine how much state aid school districts receive via the TEEOSA formula. The bill also lowered the maximum levy rate for school districts from 1.05 to 1.00. The intent of this bill was to equalize a grossly unequal method of funding schools via state dollars. If LB 640 is passed, most property taxpayers in Nebraska would see their property tax burden significantly decrease, especially those in the unequalized districts. However, no action was taken on this bill as it did not have the 33 votes necessary to break a filibuster. The Legislature may debate it again in the future if a compromise can be reached. I support this bill.

We also debated LB 661. This bill protects the identity of any person or entity that manufactures or supplies compounds, medical supplies, or equipment, or prescribes the substance or substances utilized to carry out an execution. This is a necessary step in helping to ensure that capital punishment can and will be used in Nebraska. Senator Kuehn, who introduced the bill, persuasively made the point during floor debate that the reason a measure like this has become necessary is because extreme anti-death penalty activists harass, intimidate, and bully drug manufacturers and others involved in assisting the state in carrying out justice. Last November, the citizens of Nebraska had a chance to show the Legislature where they stood on the death penalty when they voted at the polls. The citizens of Nebraska showed – by an overwhelming majority – they want to keep the death penalty. It is now up to the Legislature to ensure that the death penalty can be utilized. Three hours of debate did not result in a vote, but it will return for a vote with three more hours of debate remaining. I will vote in favor of this bill.

Please contact me, or our staff with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online please visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Week fifteen of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 62 through 65 of this 90-day session.

On Friday, April 21st – day 69 – LB 461 is scheduled to be on General File. This is the first time the full Legislature will debate and possibly vote on the tax proposal bill from the Revenue Committee. My column last week described this bill at length and the great importance of moving it forward. In a state where one in every four jobs is tied to agriculture, lowing valuations of agricultural land is key to growing our economy. Statewide needs and inequity in funding and taxes must be addressed, and LB 338, my agricultural valuation bill that was amended into LB 461, would help to address the inequity.

Budget discussions are likely to dominate much of the remainder of the legislative session.  According to legislative rules, the Appropriations Committee is required to report its budget recommendations to the Legislature no later than April 24th this year. I am anticipating that the budget recommendations will be presented this week, and that we will begin budget debates during the final week of April.  Our budget discussions are shaping up to be some of the most contentious we have faced in recent times. A preliminary budget projection prepared by the Appropriations Committee earlier this session indicates that we started the session with a budget shortfall of $134 million. The fiscal status deteriorated even further when projections of state revenues over the next two years were revised downward in February.  That revenue forecast added another $153 million to the imbalance. The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board will provide a final revenue projection before the end of the month, and it is possible that the revenue projection that we will base the budget on will be revised downward again.

It will be a difficult discussion, since to balance the budget it will be necessary to make actual cuts in general fund commitments to many ongoing programs while still meeting obligations in corrections, school funding, and other areas.  I am also committed to leaving room in the budget for achieving much needed reform of the method of valuing agricultural land for property tax purposes. We do have the option of utilizing some of the state’s “rainy day fund” to help us balance the budget in the short term, but we will not be able to achieve long-term budget stability without reducing the state’s budget commitments and a return to more normal revenue growth in the years ahead.

Last week the Legislature debated LB 44, which would require online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes for purchases made by Nebraskans over the internet.  As online shopping grows in popularity, it is impacting state and local sales tax revenues as well as being unfair to retail businesses located in the state.  While the concept of asking online retailers to collect sales tax is appealing, and by some estimates could result in $30 – $40 million additional state revenues annually, there are many problems surrounding LB 44.

During floor discussion it was noted that, even if passed, LB 44 would likely be challenged and enjoined and therefore would not help us with our budget situation for the foreseeable future. A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision barred states from requiring out-of-state businesses to remit sales taxes if that business lacked a substantial nexus with that state. That decision has not stopped states from continuing to pass legislation requiring out-of-state businesses to remit online sales taxes. The best solution would be for Congress to intervene, and there are bills in Congress to allow and assist states in collecting online sales tax.

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 lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; 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.

Week fourteen of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 58 through 61 of this 90-day session.

On Wednesday, LB 338, the bill that would change the method of agricultural land valuation to an income-potential based system, advanced from the Revenue Committee on a 6-2 vote. This is the bill I introduced at the request of Governor Ricketts, and the bill I also designated as my priority bill. LB 337 (the Governor’s income tax relief bill) and 338 were both amended into LB 461, which received a priority designation by the Revenue Committee for this session. LB 338 would begin to go into effect this year. The Agricultural Land Valuation Committee would meet for the first time in November 2017, and agricultural land valuations next year will be done by income-potential.

It was decided by the Revenue Committee that LB 337 and 338 would come out of committee in one bill as a tax relief package. According to the Tax Foundation, Nebraska is a high tax state for certain categories of taxes relative to other states. The income tax cuts will be phased in over an eight year period beginning in 2020, but will begin only if the expected rate of growth in net General Fund receipts is 3.5 percent or greater for the following fiscal year. The Tax Rate Review Committee shall meet in November of each year to make this projection. In November 2019, if it is projected that tax receipts will exceed expenditures by 3.5 percent or more, then the first tax cut of the top bracket would be implemented, decreasing the top bracket from 6.84 percent to 6.73 percent. This process will continue until the top bracket reaches 5.99 percent. Single individuals filing taxes who make $29,000 or more are in the top tax bracket, and married couples filing jointly who make $58,000 or more are also in the top tax bracket.

On Wednesday, Governor Ricketts signed LB 46 into law, which was the “choose life” license plate bill.  It passed Final Reading by a vote of 35-8. This legislation is the first pro-life legislation signed into law in Nebraska since 2011, when the Legislature passed LB 690. That was a bill I introduced that required parental consent in order for a minor to have an abortion, except in cases of a medical emergency.

On Tuesday, the Legislature advanced LB 427 to Select File by a vote of 29-11. The intent of this bill is to help ensure that girls, who become pregnant and have yet to graduate from high school, can still be successful in their schoolwork despite their difficult circumstance. It requires all school districts to adopt a policy that the Department of Education shall create, which identifies procedures to provide for student absences due to pregnancy; provide alternative methods to keep a pregnant or parenting student in school by allowing coursework to be accessed at home or accommodating tutoring visits, online courses, or a similar supplement to classroom attendance; identify alternatives for accommodating lactation by providing students with private, hygienic spaces to express breast milk during the school day; and establish a procedure for schools which do not have an in-school child care facility to assist student-parents by identifying child care providers for purposes of placing their children in child care facilities. All public, private, denominational, or parochial day schools shall provide for private or appropriate facilities or accommodation for milk expression and storage.

On Monday, LB 641 advanced to Final Reading. This legislation directs the Department of Economic Development to establish a Bioscience Innovation Program under the Business Innovation Act and creates the Biosciences Innovation Cash Fund. Proponents of the bill argued that it will help encourage the development of new technologies and create new startup businesses in the bioscience sector. The fund will have available $2 million in grant money for which bioscience businesses can apply. This program terminates when the fund runs out.

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 lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; 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.

Week thirteen of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 54 through 57 of the 90-day session.

On Monday, the Legislature debated LB 339, a bill that would merge the Department of Aeronautics into the Department of Roads and create the Department of Transportation. Through this consolidation, there will be a savings realized by the state of Nebraska in your tax dollars. This legislation advanced to Select File by a 40-0 vote. I voted in favor of this bill.

Both of the Agriculture Committee’s priority bills for this session were debated last week. On Tuesday, the Legislature gave first round approval to LB 600, which makes revisions to the Nebraska Brand Law. On Thursday, LB 276 was advanced to select file.  LB 276 updates statutes that define hybrid seed corn. The standards in current law have remained largely unchanged since they were first put in place eighty years ago. We added an amendment to answer questions regarding the existing enforcement in statute. The amendment used longstanding language applied in many other areas of legislation related to agriculture.

The Legislature also advanced LB 289 to Select File. This bill would place into statute harsher penalties for individuals convicted of sex-trafficking and those who solicit trafficking victims. Also, the bill provides immunity for trafficking victims so that they cannot be prosecuted as participants, as they were coerced into trafficking. LB 289 was designated by the Judiciary Committee as one of its priority bills, and the committee had four other bills related to sexual assault or domestic violence amended into it. One such bill, that I was a co-sponsor of, is LB 188. This legislation allows victims of rape to terminate the parental rights of the perpetrator if the child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault. LB 289 advanced to Select File 42-0. I voted in favor of this bill.

The Legislature also advanced LB 444 to Select File. This bill would prohibit cities and counties from canceling health insurance coverage for first responders who suffer serious bodily injury from an assault that occurs while the first responder is on duty, and as long as the first responder continues to be employed by the city or county. As defined in the bill, a first responder is a sheriff, deputy sheriff, police officer, firefighter, or an individual who is licensed under a licensure classification in section 38-1217, who provides medical care in order to prevent loss of life or aggravation of physiological or psychological illness or injury. Currently, a first responder could suffer serious bodily injury from an assault while on duty and then fall below the minimum number of hours of employment needed to maintain health insurance. Proponents maintained that first responders selflessly sacrifice their own well-being to secure the safety of the community and should not be in danger of losing health care for themselves and their family while carrying out their job. While opponents did not disagree with that argument and also lauded the sacrifices of first responders, they were concerned about passing more unfunded mandates onto less populated counties and townships, who rely on already overburdened local property taxpayers for their budgets. Nothing prevents a county or township from implementing a policy that extends health insurance for injured first responders on its own, and Nebraskans throughout our rural communities are outstanding in demonstrating their generosity to assist those in need without it being state-mandated. For those reasons I was hesitant to support this bill on the first round of debate.

We want to extend a thank you to Dr. Natalie Tymkowych of West Point for serving again as the Family Physician of the day at the Legislature. Lastly, the Tekamah-Herman fourth graders visited their state capitol building on Wednesday and had the opportunity to witness their Legislature in action.

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 lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; 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.

Week twelve of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 50 through 53 of the 90-day session.

Last week was National Agriculture Week – a perfect opportunity for Nebraskans to recognize and celebrate their number one industry. In honor of National Agriculture Week, President Trump signed a proclamation on Tuesday declaring that day as National Agriculture Day. We want to congratulate Terry Rasmussen and his wife, Betty, for being named the Farm Family of the Year by the Fremont Area of Chamber of Commerce. Terry and Betty reside in District 16!

As Chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee I was invited to join Governor Ricketts and Greg Ibach, the Director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, in traveling to Fremont, West Point, and Wakefield to meet with various agriculture groups and producers. We discussed the many opportunities for the future of agriculture, but also the many challenges that it faces. Governor Ricketts and Director Ibach continued traveling to an additional seven communities across the state, but I had to get back to Lincoln to fulfill my duties on the Revenue Committee. The two biggest challenges facing agriculture producers right now is trying to find a way to pay their exorbitantly high property tax bills, coupled with low commodity and livestock prices. This type of economic environment is threatening their sustainability; which is why I prioritized LB 338, the Agriculture Valuation Fairness Act.

LB 338 will change the method of valuation for agricultural land from the market based valuation method to the income-potential based valuation method. The bill has a provision that has a cap of 3.5 percent on statewide aggregate increases of agricultural land valuations. The Governor released a study which showed that, had this bill been enacted in 2007, valuations would be $60 billion less this year. Illustrated another way, since 2007, agricultural land valuations have increased over 250 percent. However, had LB 338 been in place since 2007, agricultural land valuations would have increased only 36 percent – a staggering difference. LB 338 seeks to add long-term stability and better predictability to agricultural land valuations.

On Monday I presented two bills to the Education Committee: 155 and 308. LB 155 would require that, to graduate from a public high school in Nebraska, students must correctly answer seventy percent of the questions on the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Test. One reason I introduced this bill was because of a letter to the editor by three high school girls from Elm Creek, Nebraska. They asked five Nebraska high schools to give the Citizenship test to their juniors and seniors and over 80 percent of them failed. If a large majority of students in five Nebraska high schools, who are currently immersed in a curriculum of American government, cannot pass this test that America requires for immigrants, then I believe we have a problem that needs to be addressed legislatively. Currently, 15 states require this basic test to graduate from high school.

LB 308 would strengthen the Committee on Americanism. The Committee on Americanism is an important, ongoing subcommittee of local school boards. The purpose of the committee is to ensure that kids are developing an understanding of and appreciation for American history and the American republic, and to ensure that the history and government curriculums in Nebraska’s public schools is taught in such a way that it instills loyalty, devotion to justice, and a love of liberty into the next generation of Americans. LB 308 would help to ensure that the committee is properly performing its job in conformity with statutory requirements and to allow for more transparency in the operations and decisions of the committee.

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 lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; 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.

Week eleven of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 45 through 49 of the 90-day session.

On Monday and Tuesday the Legislature debated LB 368. This bill would have repealed Nebraska’s motorcycle helmet law. It would have allowed individuals, 21 years of age and older, to operate a motorcycle or a moped on any highway in Nebraska, provided they are wearing eye protection, such as sunglasses, that covers the orbital region of a person’s face. This year’s bill removed a provision – which was in last year’s bill – that would have required an extra $19 for those purchasing a motorcycle license to fund a brain injury trust fund. This bill did retain, however, on my insistence, the provision that prohibited children six years old and younger from being a passenger on a motorcycle. A motion for cloture to end debate fell one vote short.  I voted for the cloture motion (to end debate) and would have voted to advance the bill if the cloture motion had been successful.

On Wednesday and Thursday we debated LB 62, which was on its second round of debate. This legislation repeals a statute, which was passed in 1919, that prohibits teachers in all public schools in the state of Nebraska from wearing any religious garb in the school or while engaged in the performance of their duty. Garb not only includes all types of clothing, but also any adornments such as necklaces, bracelets, or earrings. The bill overcame an attempted filibuster by a vote of 38-3. I voted for cloture and the bill.

On Thursday and Friday we debated LB 46, the bill that allows Nebraskans to purchase a specialty license plate. These specialty plates are designed to reflect support for the protection of unborn children and will be available in 2018. Seventy-five percent of the fee for these license plates will go to the Nebraska Child Abuse Prevention Fund. This bill also overcame an attempted filibuster and advanced to Final Reading by a vote of 35-8. I voted for cloture and in support of the bill.

On Thursday the Legislature also advanced LB 10 and 11 to Final Reading. LB 10 increases, by one, the number of judges of the separate juvenile courts in counties having 400,000 inhabitants or more, which have established a separate juvenile court. This increase will help with the backlog of juvenile court cases that has occurred in Douglas County. The intent of LB 11 is to make clear in our statutes that Nebraska’s young people, who are going through the juvenile court system, do not have to wait so long before they receive rehabilitative treatment. They sometimes have to wait up to a year or longer before they receive the help they need. That should be fixed under this bill. I voted to advance both bills.

On Friday we adopted the permanent rules, with no changes or amendments from last year’s rules. This was done so that we could end debate on the cloture rule and finish the session by focusing on the people’s business.

On Wednesday, March 15th we were pleased to welcome the fourth graders from Arlington Elementary School to the state capitol building. It was a joy to have them in my office and have the opportunity to speak with them about issues important to them. By their suggestion, we discussed extending a 4th graders’ recess time – not something the legislature can help with though.

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 lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; 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.

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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