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 6 of the 2nd session of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 21 through 24 this session.

 

The 6th week of the 2nd Session of the 105th Legislature started on Monday, February 5th. Many have asked me how many days are we into this short 60 Day session? Monday, February 12 was Session Day 25, we are getting closer to being halfway through the session.

 

Monday the 5th of February, I introduced LB1069 in the Education Committee to change provisions to the committee on Americanism. The Department of Education testified in support of the bill and our office also received tremendous support from others for LB 1069. Opponents included the Nebraska Association of School Boards and the Nebraska State Education Association.  An amendment addressing some questions regarding assessment and reporting will be offered. Several Senators have now cosigned this bill that will provide more accountability, public input, and transparency in the development of Social Studies standards.  You can read an editorial from the Omaha World-Herald supporting the bill by searching “civics education” in the editorial section and can track the bill’s progress online through the legislature by searching LB 1069 in the “current bills” section at the top right of the nebraskalegislature.gov homepage.

 

The Agriculture Committee heard testimony February 6th on LB 1133. This bill would allow cultivation of industrial hemp beyond provisions we proposed and adopted in 2014 with Neb. Rev. Stat. § 2-5701 where the University of Nebraska conducts agronomic research on industrial hemp.  Regulations to implement that provision were adopted by the Department of Agriculture in June 2015.   Both industrial hemp and marijuana are members of the same cannabis species and under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), industrial varieties of cannabis are not excluded from the definition of marijuana.  Because of this, growing industrial hemp remains illegal under federal law unless grown within an exception under the 2014 Farm Bill which allows its cultivation strictly for research purposes within a program overseen by a state department of agriculture or research university. LB 1133 adopts a more aggressive interpretation of the farm bill than the law currently in place and facilitates some commercial development by directing the Department of Agriculture to carry out a program licensing growers to cultivate and market hemp for research purposes.

 

The hemp research provisions of the Farm Bill expire in 2019, and to date, Congress has shown little inclination to directly amend the federal CSA to exclude industrial hemp varieties from regulation.  Without federal changes,  legal uncertainty will continue to limit the commercial viability of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop despite the 2014 Farm Bill’s hemp provisions. That concern is shared by the Department of Agriculture, the attorneys general of other states considering similar legislation, and the Nebraska State Patrol.

 

The Revenue Committee heard testimony  February 7th about a package of bills introduced by Senator Smith.  The bills are mostly introduced as placeholder bills aimed at making changes to Nebraska tax law.  A placeholder bill is usually introduced with the intention of a later amendment incorporating parts of various bills that came before the committee that session.  The package of bills will be amended with provisions the committee determines to be the most prudent path towards tax relief after hearing all proposals brought before the Revenue Committee.

 

The Legislature moved to bills on final reading Thursday, February 8th.  LB 105, a bill I introduced to make changes to the bankruptcy “wildcard exemption” passed on final reading.

 

Please contact me; my Administrative Aide, Courtney McClellen; my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell; or the Agriculture Committee Research Analyst, Rick Leonard, with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728, or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  You may also visit my office, Room 1022, in the Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online please visit
netnebraska.org and click on the “Live & On Demand” button or simply follow this link
http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government

 

Week 5 of the 2nd session of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 17 through 20 this session.

Week five of the 2nd session of the 105th Legislature resumed on Tuesday, January 30th after a recess day on Monday, January 29th.  Recess days at the Legislature provide staff members an opportunity to catch up on responsibilities and prepare for future hearings, floor debates, and constituent concerns.  I thank the many constituents who have reached out to our office to provide feedback, thoughts, and concerns about potential legislation.  It’s a blessing to serve the people of District 16.

 

On Tuesday I presented LB 766, a bill in the Agriculture Committee that would make a clarification in Nebraska fence law.  Under current fence law, adjacent agricultural landowners share a mutual obligation for the construction and maintenance of fences built on the property boundary.  Most of the time, neighbors are able to agree on the need for a fence and how to share the costs and responsibility for its construction and upkeep.  On those rare occasions where adjacent landowners cannot agree, the fence law provides that a landowner may file a fence dispute claim in county court.  This bill changes a provision that requires neighbors to provide written notice that a landowner requests their contribution to the fence work. A recent court ruling applying this portion of the fence law revealed an ambiguity regarding when such notice is required to be given.  The bill would make it clear that notice is required before a landowner begins constructing a fence.  Additionally, it would provide that a fence dispute claim could not be filed until at least 30 days after the notice is given in order to give neighboring landowners an opportunity to reach a resolution before a landowner could proceed with the legal remedy.

 

The Governor testified in front of the Revenue Committee Wednesday, January 31st on his proposed bill to provide Nebraskans with property and income tax relief.  LB 947, introduced by Senator Jim Smith of District 14, would restructure existing property tax credits as a refundable credit on state taxes, eliminating the ability of out-of-state landowners to claim the credits.  The bill also lowers the top individual income tax rate from 6.84 percent to 6.75 percent in tax year 2019 the top corporate marginal tax rate from 7.81 percent to 6.75 percent in tax year 2019 and appropriates $10 million to the Job Training Cash Fund by Summer 2019.

 

LB 947 is the result of tremendous collaboration between public, private, rural, and urban groups and individuals.  It is supported by the Department of Agriculture Director, Steve Wellman, and ag groups such as Nebraska Farm Bureau who say that over time the plan will provide tax credits equal to 30% of the total property tax burden.  This bill is the most realistic opportunity for tax relief before the Legislature this year and offers tax relief for all Nebraskans.

 

On Thursday, February 1st LB 51 was debated.  The bill, proposed by Senator Schumacher of District 22, intended to establish a bidding process relating to property tax liens, was bracketed until April 18th on a vote of 26-14.  A special thank you goes to all the individuals and groups who visited our office for Conservative Legislative Day.

 

On Friday, Feb. 2nd confirmation reports were heard and passed from the Natural Resources, Judiciary, Nebraska Retirement Systems, Health and Human Services, and the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committees. Legislative committees hold hearings for appointments for state agencies that require confirmation.  These committees then provide recommendations for the Legislature to confirm the appointments.  Among appointees confirmed was Colonel John Bolduc as Superintendent for the State Patrol.

 

Please contact me; my Administrative Aide, Courtney McClellen; my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell; or the Agriculture Committee Research Analyst, Rick Leonard, with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728, or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  You may also visit my office, Room 1022, in the Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online please visit netnebraska.org and click on the “Live & On Demand” button or simply follow this link http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government

 

Week 4 of the 2nd session of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 12 through 16 this session.

After a weekend blizzard that dropped snow totals of 17.6 inches in Bloomfield, 3.6 inches in Fort Calhoun, and 4.3 inches in Lincoln, Senators immediately turned attention to matters of the Agriculture Committee on Monday, January 22nd by confirming Steve Wellman for Ag Director, Tyler Weborg, a District 16 native, to the Beginning Farmer Board and Harry Hoch to the Nebraska State Fair Board.  The General Affairs Committee considered 9 gubernatorial appointments and heard testimony on LB 921, a bill to create a licensing exception under the State Electrical Act for certain farm building construction.

 

On Tuesday, January 23rd, following the blizzard back home and news that Kenny Brummond was nowhere to be found I requested a prayer for him from the Chaplain of the Day and Legislature during our daily 8:55 prayers. Shortly after, I announced on the floor of the Legislature that our prayers had been answered and Kenny Brummond had been found safe after being missing in the blizzard for over 20 hours.  Kenny is a Veteran, a dear neighbor, and friend of the family. It was such a blessing to receive that good news after such a frightening event.

 

The Agriculture Committee received public testimony on two bills Tuesday.  LB 808 was introduced to support a growing interest in community gardens that make use of vacant or unused properties to grow fresh produce.  The bill would create a matching grant fund to assist with the cost of securing water supplies.

 

Also heard by the committee was LB 764, a bill proposing amendments to the Nebraska Pure Food Act which regulates any person or business that prepares and handles food for human consumption. The bill would expand exceptions to individuals, allowing them to sell some foods considered a low risk for contamination directly to consumers

 

The Revenue Committee heard testimony Wednesday, January 24th on a bill that would adopt a 10% excise tax an ammunition.  LB 730 received passionate and informed testimony from the Legislature’s “second house.”

 

Pastor Andrew Anderson from Country Bible Church in Blair visited the Capitol as the Chaplain of the Day on Thursday, January 25th.  Our office sent invitations to all pastors in District 16 to come and pray.  If interested in being Chaplain of the Day, please call my office for more information.

 

The Revenue Committee continued hearings Thursday receiving testimony on LB 829, a bill to offer an income tax refund equal to the amount of 50% of property taxes paid by Nebraskans.  LB 829 is one of many bills introduced this session seeking to bring property tax relief to the state.

 

I personally provided testimony for the Revenue Committee on LB 804 Friday. LB 804 is a bill I introduced on behalf of the State Treasurer to bring Nebraska tax law in alignment with new federal tax law and makes no changes to public school funding.  It would allow Nebraskans to use NEST 529 plans to pay K-12 private and parochial school tuition and provide for a tax deduction up to $10,000 for contributions made to NEST 529 plans for that purpose.  I hold education very dear and believe Nebraska has excellent public, private and parochial schools. This bill simply allows families to plan and save for tuition at schools that best align with their family’s religious beliefs and values.  Without passage of LB 804, Nebraskans would be unable to utilize some changes made in Federal law for education.  Nebraskans have always supported education.  This is one more meaningful way to do the same with LB 804.

 

Please contact me; my Administrative Aide, Courtney McClellen; my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell; or the Agriculture Committee Research Analyst, Rick Leonard, with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728, or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  You may also visit my office, Room 1022, in the Capitol.

Week 3 of the 2nd session of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 8 through 11 this session.

The Legislature did not convene on Monday, January 15th in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Week three of the 2018 session began on Tuesday and marked the first day of committee hearings.  Committee hearings require a little shuffling of the normal schedule, so until the end of February Senators will meet in the mornings for floor debate of bills that have made it out of committee and reserve the afternoons for public hearings on new bills introduced this session.  We encourage our “Second House” to attend, testify in person, or send written testimony in support of, or in opposition against, bills that come before the 14 standing committees of the legislature.  To be considered by the committee, written testimony must be submitted before 5:00 pm the day before the bill’s hearing.

 

One of the first orders of business as the Agriculture Committee Chair was the consideration of a new Director of Agriculture.  Steve Wellman was unanimously recommended for confirmation by the Agriculture Committee and, if confirmed, will replace former Director Greg Ibach who was nominated to serve as the USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.  Mr. Wellman is a third generation family farmer operating a diversified grain and livestock farm near Syracuse.  As a former President of the Nebraska Soybean Association, past Chairman of the American Soybean Association, a member of international trade missions,  and various other services on state and federal level agriculture advisory boards, Mr. Wellman brings valuable experience to the Department of Agriculture.

 

Additionally, the Agriculture Committee voted unanimously to recommend confirmation of Tyler Weborg to the Beginning Farmer Board.  Tyler and his family are Cuming County cattle feeders who are very active in the community. It was a wonderful feeling to recommend one of our own from District 16 to this important board. Tyler’s great grandfather and great, great grandfather both served as State Senators in our legislature and I believe Tyler pays a wonderful tribute to them by serving on this board.  He will provide excellent leadership for District 16 and the State of Nebraska.

 

On Wednesday, Jan 17th I introduced LB 1069 to change provisions relating to the Committee on Americanism.  This bill is a combination of LB 308 and LB 155 which I introduced last year.  Although the Committee on Americanism exists in current statute it is not enforced in its current form.  This bill would ensure that Social Studies are taught in a way that encourages patriotism, civic duty, and financial literacy.  All of which are required for a well educated, informed, and responsible citizenry.  Furthermore, this bill would require that all schools administer the civics portion of the naturalization examination administered by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.  We hold our youth to high standards in Nebraska and they must be properly prepared in order to contribute to a vibrant and flourishing state.  This bill ensures that all youth in Nebraska will be equipped to do so.

 

District 16 was fortunate enough to receive a visit from the Young Cattlemen’s Conference who were recognized on the floor of the legislature on Thursday, January 18th.  These future leaders expressed their desire to see continued growth in beef production that, depending on the year, ranks Nebraska as #1 or #2 in the nation.

 

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican delivered the State of the Judiciary on Thursday, touting the effectiveness and efficiency of Nebraska’s drug courts.  The Chief Justice also highlighted a pilot program called Restorative Justice that requires juvenile offenders to take a proactive approach in restitution to their neighbors and communities.  You can find a transcript of the State of the Judiciary here.

 

The legislature adjourned on Friday, January 19th after advancing LB 321 to Select File during morning debate and holding committee hearings in the afternoon.

 

Please contact me; my Administrative Aide, Courtney McClellen; my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell; or the Agriculture Committee Research Analyst, Rick Leonard, with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728, or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  You may also visit my office, Room 1022, in the Capitol.

Week 2 of the 2nd session of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 4 through 7 of this session.

It is good to be back home in District 16 after a busy week at the State Capitol.  I hope all were safe and warm through the blustery winter weather late last week. A special word of thanks for everyone who must work outside regardless of weather conditions. From farmers delivering grain to market, livestock and dairy producers ensuring feed and care for their livestock, to those who work outside to ensure public safety and so many others whose jobs may go unacknowledged, I thank you for your work that keeps “The Good Life” growing.

Monday, January 8th began with a flurry of activity. I introduced a rule change on the floor that would make all votes for committee leadership “viva voce,” or verbal, rather than by secret ballot.  This rule change has been proposed each of my 8 years in the Legislature but was not introduced in the Rules Committee hearing by any other senator. Though the rule would provide Nebraskans with the transparency they expect from their elected representatives, it was the subject of much-spirited debate.  I eventually withdrew my proposed rule change so as to not delay getting started with the work of the legislature.

The third bill up for debate in 2018 was LB 105, a bill I introduced to update bankruptcy exemptions that had not been increased since 1997.  After vigorous debate, the bill passed on General File with 41 senators voting “Aye.”  Senators then turned their attention to LB 368, introduced by Senator Lowe of District 37, and the return of helmet law legislation to the floor of the Unicameral.  LB 368 failed on a cloture vote receiving 30 of the 33 votes needed to advance.

LB 81, a bill that would increase fees charged for handgun certificates from $5 to $25 was the focus of debate on Tuesday, January 9th.  A lengthy debate resulted in the bill being indefinitely postponed by a vote of 27-17.

Governor Ricketts delivered his State of the State speech on Wednesday, January 10th, laying out priorities for 2018.  Taxes were the main focus as he announced his proposal to deliver over $4 billion in property tax relief over 10 years.  This would be accomplished by refundable tax credits equal to 10% of property taxes paid, ensuring that tax relief is targeted only for in-state landowners.  Under current tax law, non-Nebraskans receive 14% of property tax credits.  Additionally, this credit would increase as state revenues hit certain benchmarks, providing additional relief as the state prospers, and would include provisions for residential homeowners.

The plan also calls for corporate and individual income tax relief, lowering the top individual tax rate from 6.84% to 6.69% and the top business tax rate from 7.81% to 6.69%.  The cuts are intended to make the state tax climate more attractive while recruiting talented individuals and businesses to grow and diversify Nebraska’s economy.

The Governor’s budget proposal included reducing state spending growth through 2% across-the-board cuts to agency appropriations for the current fiscal year, and 4% for next year.  These cuts would be accomplished without reducing state aid to schools or aid to disabled individuals.

Public hearings on new bills resume on January 16th and Thursday, January 18th is the last day to introduce new bills.  You are welcome to attend hearings in-person to testify or may send testimony on any bill via email or regular mail.  You can also watch testimony live at http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government

Please contact me; my Administrative Aide, Courtney McClellen; my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell; or the Agriculture Committee Research Analyst, Rick Leonard, with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728, or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.  You may also visit my office, Room 1022, in the Capitol.

Week 1 of the 2nd session of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 1 through 3 of this session.

Wednesday, January 3rd marked the beginning of the second half of the biennium of the105th Legislature and the first day of my final legislative session as State Senator for District 16.  Looking back, it has been incredible and a tremendous privilege to serve the people of District 16 the past seven years.  I look forward to representing you in this final session and working for our district until my successor takes office the first Wednesday in January 2019.

On day two of the session and on behalf of the State Treasurer, I introduced legislation to bring state tax law into line with the new federal law.  The proposed changes to the Nebraska educational savings plan will encourage Nebraskans to save for education and prioritize the future.  These changes would take effect Jan 1, 2020.  I also introduced a bill that would make a clarification in the notice requirements under the fence law before a landowner may file a fence dispute claim and a bill that will insert a requirement for the Director of Agriculture to prepare an annual report of revenues and expenditures for the potato promotion program.

Week two of the session begins with floor debate on proposed changes to the Legislature’s rules followed by debate on carryover bills from the first session of the biennium.  LB 105, which advanced from committee last session, will likely be one of the first bills the Legislature will take up during the first week of floor debate.  This bill increases certain bankruptcy exemptions that have not been updated since 1997.

On Wednesday, January 10th, Governor Ricketts will present the annual state-of-the-state address where he will present his budget proposals and lay out his legislative priorities for the year.  The Governor’s budget is the blueprint the Legislature will use to address a nearly $200 million gap between current budget commitments and anticipated revenues.   In October, the Economic Forecasting Board lowered its projected tax receipts for the two-year budget cycle by another $100 million.

It is anticipated that the Governor will also use the state-of-the-state address to introduce new proposals for property tax relief and income tax reform.  LB 461, which contained a version of a bill I introduced to adopt an income approach to valuing agricultural land for tax purposes, stalled during floor debate last session.  Critics of the bill felt it did not offer enough in terms of direct property tax relief.   In addition to the Governor’s proposals for tax relief, the Legislature will consider a competing proposal to allow taxpayers to claim a refundable credit against state income tax equal to 50% of property taxes assessed for schools.

Additionally, the Office of the Attorney General will launch an awareness campaign to fight sex trafficking called Demand An End on January 11th at the Capitol.

This session is a “short session”, lasting 60 working days and concluding on April 18th.  New bills may be introduced during the first 10 days of the session.  667 bills were introduced during the 2017 session.  During the shorter session, Senators typically introduce 400-450 new bills and at the end of the third day, 207 bills had been introduced.  Each new bill will be assigned to the appropriate committee for a public hearing.  Hearings will begin January 16th and will conclude at the end of February.  You are welcome to attend the hearings, provide testimony via mail or email, or testify yourself. You can follow along with all of the legislative activity at https://nebraskalegislature.gov/.

Please contact me; my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; or my legislative aide, Jacob Campbell, with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 in the Capitol.

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.

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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