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 7 of the 2nd session of the 105th Legislature consisted of legislative days 25 through 28.

 

Week seven brings us just under halfway through the short session lasting 60 days total.  LB 105, a bill I introduced changing provisions in bankruptcy cases, was presented to the Governor on February 8th and approved by the Governor on February 14th.

 

Three bills received their hearing Monday, February 12th before the General Affairs committee I serve on.  LB 1102 was introduced to change biennial licensing fees for lottery operators, increasing the biennial fee of $500 to an annual fee of $1000.  LR 294CA, a constitutional amendment to expand gambling by authorizing any game of chance, any lottery, or any gift enterprise in Nebraska, and LB 984, a bill that would allow organizations to keep greater proceeds from raffles were also heard.

 

The Appropriations Committee held its hearing on the University System’s budget Wednesday, February 14th in light of a budget forecast projecting a $200 million shortfall for the budget period ending June 30th, 2019.  The Governor’s budget proposal includes a 2% midyear cut to the University of Nebraska as well as the state and community college system.  Nebraska has a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, reflecting the fiscal responsibility that its citizens utilize in their personal lives in the state’s government.  A new revenue projection is anticipated at the end of February.

 

The Revenue Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a proposed constitutional amendment introduced by Senator Kuehn of District 38.  LR 290CA would amend the constitution to state that all real property in the state be assessed at the property’s market value at the time of transfer for the purpose of property taxes.  This change would require a fair level of harmonizing of state law, but is an interesting approach to various property tax reform efforts the committee has heard this session.

 

The legislature debated a bill to change laws related to indoor tanning Thursday, February 15th.  LB 838, introduced by Senator Wishart and prioritized by Senator Kolowski, would prohibit any person under the age of 18 from using tanning equipment at a tanning facility.  Current statute allows individuals to use tanning equipment at the age of 16 with permission and the presence of a parent or guardian.

 

In the Revenue Committee, we heard testimony on five bills Thursday.  LB 926, introduced by Senator Crawford, would exempt Nebraska residents who are members of the armed forces and their spouses from motor vehicle taxes while they are on active duty.

 

Friday, February 16th was a recess day at the Capitol.  The Legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, February 20th after a state holiday for President’s Day on February 19th.  February 20th is also the last day for Senators to decide on which bills they will take up as their priority bill.  Much of the remainder of the legislative session will be dedicated to the debate of Senator and Committee priority bills.  The last day of public hearings is February 27th, and then we will start full days of debate on the floor of the legislature.

 

A special thanks goes to Janine Hansen, State President of Nevada Families for Freedom, who traveled all the way to Nebraska to speak about the concerns regarding the proposed Convention of States on Thursday.  Her time, efforts, and expertise were well appreciated by those in attendance.

 

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 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.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 2, 2017

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Brett Waite

Legislative Aide

(402) 471-2728

bwaite@leg.ne.gov

 

Senator Brasch to serve on national and regional committees

Senator Brasch has been selected by the Council of State Government (CSG) to serve on the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, the Interbranch Affairs Committee, and Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

The Intergovernmental Affairs Committee sets the federal-state relations agenda for CSG. It is particularly concerned about federalism issues and states’ rights. The bipartisan committee is comprised of officials from all branches of state government. CSG’s Interbranch Affairs Committee helps foster collaboration among and between the branches of state government. The Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee examines issues affecting rural communities, including rural economies, agriculture, energy, forestry, and wildlife of the individual states and of the region as a whole. The committee’s focus is on the approaches policymakers have taken to promote the related industries and the impact of federal policies on the industries and on the land and people involved.

Senator Brasch has also been selected by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to serve on the Communications, Financial Services, and Interstate (CFI) Committee and to the Natural Resources and Infrastructure (NRI) Committee. The former committee is responsible for protecting states’ interests in federal decisions regarding electronic commerce, banking, insurance, securities and other financial services issues, interstate commerce and taxation of electronic transactions, telecommunications and interstate business activity taxes. The latter committee has jurisdiction over state and federal energy, environment, agriculture and transportation programs, legislation, regulations and policies.

CSG is a multi-branch organization that provides state officials in all three branches of government with information regarding social, economic, and political trends, as well as policy responses to changing conditions. NCSL is a national organization that advocates for the power and authority of state legislatures. This organization has helped states remain strong and independent by giving them the tools, information, and resources to devise solutions.

Senator Brasch expressed her enthusiasm of being chosen by these organizations. “I am humbled and excited for the opportunity to work with lawmakers from other states as we seek to implement good government and solve the problems facing the citizens in our respective states. These two organizations provide a wealth of policy research and information for state officials.”

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As chairperson of the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee, and an ag producer, I’m humbled and proud to promote the successes of agriculture. But even more important is to continue to work on solutions for the challenges facing Nebraska’s farmers, ranchers, and the rural economy, including burdensome property taxes.

I’m excited about all the future opportunities for Nebraska agriculture, such as our continued success with ethanol. As a leading producer of ethanol, Nebraska ranks second nationally, which is why I’m pleased to join Governor Ricketts in celebrating Renewable Fuels Month. It’s been a difficult road to develop the ethanol industry, but the return on that investment has been tremendous for the communities that are home to ethanol plants, the workers at those plants and their families, our farmers and ranchers, and our state’s overall economy.

In February, during the National Ethanol Conference, Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, expressed concerns about the future of the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) beyond 2022. He said “[t]he debate on Capitol Hill is shifting away from repealing the RFS to reforming it after 2022, when the congressionally mandated volumes proscribed in the law are removed and replaced with largely unfettered discretion by EPA to set future standards for all renewable fuels. We need to be active…participants in that debate.”

I agree with Dinneen. I’m not comfortable with leaving the fate of this important industry in the hands of the EPA, which has proven to be a burdensome bureaucracy that lacks accountability and appreciation for the importance of ethanol to the rural economy. To leave the destiny of corn-based ethanol under the complete control of the EPA beginning in 2023 is unthinkable. As we celebrate Renewable Fuels Month, let us also be mindful that we must work to secure the future of the ethanol industry.

State Senator Lydia Brasch

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.

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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