Welcome

January 7th, 2015

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 17th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

Please feel free to contact me with any issues or concerns you may have regarding public policy or your state government, and let me know how I may assist you. My staff in my State Capitol office in Lincoln look forward to hearing from you and assisting you. Please feel free to contact me using the contact information on the right.

Sincerely,
Sen. Dave Bloomfield

Newsletter 6/26/15

June 29th, 2015

While I make no pretense of being a legal scholar or of ever having studied “the law”, I do have my opinions and an opportunity to share them. I believe we have witnessed this week, judicial activism at the highest level. In two rulings handed out by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), the courts have pretty much said that they no longer respect the letter of the law nor the rights of the separate states.

In the first ruling, SCOTUS ruled in favor of a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affirming nationwide subsidies for poor and middle class Americans.

In the 6 – 3 ruling the court was asked to interpret the portion of the law that said that tax credits are authorized for those who buy insurance on marketplaces that are “established by the state.” The questions came because most states, like Nebraska, did not create their own exchanges rather they participated in exchanges established by the federal government.

As of March, about 6.4 million people across the country are reported to have been receiving subsidies to assist in covering the costs of their health care in 34 states, which had not established their own marketplaces. Had the court ruled the other way those individuals would have lost their subsidies worth roughly $1.7 billion a month.

The fact remains that the ACA is a broken and costly program that needs to be fixed. While I am all for AFFORDABLE healthcare for all – this program is anything but that.

The second ruling came today, Friday, June 26th, and SCOTUS ruled that state same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional. Governor Ricketts has already said on his Facebook page that, “While 70 percent of Nebraskans approved our amendment to our state constitution that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, the highest court in the land has ruled states cannot place limits on marriage between same-sex couples. We will follow the law and respect the ruling outlined by the court.”

As I write this, marriage licenses are already being issued to same-sex couples in Lancaster and Douglas Counties. While I disagree with this ruling, I will respect it, it is now the law of the land but it I fear that this decision has only opened the door to even more questions and concerns. It is my firm belief that SCOTUS waded into unchartered territories that it often avoids, by taking the definition of marriage away from the states.

I think Justice Scalia said it best, in reference to these two cases, he said the cases “will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.” I, like Justice Scalia find this to be unacceptable! I fear these rulings will haunt our nation for decades to come. Much like the case of Roe vs. Wade with abortion, we are destined to learn again that just because a thing is legal it does not mean that it is right.

 

Newsletter 6/19/15

June 19th, 2015

There was a news article recently regarding tuition at the University of Nebraska campuses as well as the Nebraska State College System. It seems as though the tuition freeze is a thing of the past.

Former Governor Dave Heineman had struck a deal that had the university and the state colleges freezing tuition rates for the last few years. Last week the university announced that they would be increasing tuition this fall by 1.75 percent and 2.5 percent next year. The Nebraska State College System’s board at its meeting in Wayne yesterday voted to increase tuition by 9 percent.

The state college system claims that this increase is needed in order to cover the costs of doing business – salaries, insurance, utilities, etc. The system had asked the Legislature for a 6.35 percent increase for this year to avoid a tuition increase and the Legislature gave the university and the state colleges each a 3 percent annual increase in each year of the two-year budget. 3 percent this year plus 3 percent the second year in this case would equal a little over 6 percent.

Here is what I find troubling. The state colleges asked for 6.35 percent increase to avoid a tuition increase – they got a 3 percent increase this year and next – they increased tuition 9 percent. The same day that they voted to increase tuition, they also voted to increase some key salaries. Chancellor Stan Carpenter  will see a 9 percent increase moving his salary to $255,000; Peru State President Dan Hansen will get a 5 percent increase to $189,000; Chadron State President Randy Rhine will have a 7.5 percent increase to $184,000; and salary information was not yet available for Marysz Rames who has been selected to be Wayne State’s new president. While I am in support of keeping our schools strong, it does seem like they require a lot of money. As we struggle to find ways to decrease the tax burden on the people of Nebraska, it seems that we are treating some of the best paid people in the state pretty well at the taxpayers expense. This is the same idea that led me to vote no on the pay increase for the Supreme Court Justices.

 

Newsletter 6/12/15

June 13th, 2015

June 7th – 15th marks the first international trade mission for Governor Ricketts. This mission is taking him to the European Union (EU) with visits to Belgium, Denmark, and Italy with the hopes of strengthening existing relationships while building new ones.

Trade missions are going to be a priority for the governor and his administration. The governor has made it clear that growing the economy here in Nebraska is important for not only future generations but also to ensure that our economy stays strong. Fostering relationships on a global level is going to be key to ensuring that we stay strong in years to come.

While the governor is out promoting Nebraska and Nebraska agriculture, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency continue to monitor the Avian Flu outbreak in northeast Nebraska. While nationally, it appears that we are seeing a slowdown in the spreading of the disease it is still too soon to say that we are in the clear here.

Four million young and laying hens have been euthanized, here in Nebraska, after finding the Avian Flu in three commercial and one small flock of less than 100 birds.  A flock of three million laying hens is in quarantine based on an initial positive test. All of the flocks impacted thus far have been in Dixon and Knox counties.

As a precautionary measure, all poultry events that were to have been held in Nebraska have been cancelled for the rest of 2015. This includes county and state fairs, swap meets, exotic sales, exhibition shows and live bird auctions.

The process of gathering signatures to put the death penalty issue to a vote of the people has begun. I will try to have petitions with me when I am at public events like parades and fairs. If you would like to sign one, look for me and ask. The “hate mail” continues to come in from both sides. It seems that this issue really points to a divide in our state.

 

Newsletter 6/5/15

June 5th, 2015

The session ended with me receiving numerous emails and phone calls regarding the passage of LB268, a bill that repealed the death penalty. While I have had some communication supporting the repeal, those in support of keeping the death penalty were far greater.

I promised that as things progressed towards taking the death penalty to a vote of the people, (where I believe the decision should be made), that I would keep you informed. On Monday, June 1, the group “Nebraskans for the Death Penalty” filed the paperwork with Secretary of State John Gale. Now that the paperwork has been done, the work of collecting signatures to keep LB268 from going into effect in late August can begin.

If the group is able to collect 10 percent of signatures of the registered voters (on the day that the signatures are turned in) the change in the law would not take affect and the issue would be placed on the ballot in November of 2016. Ten percent of signatures is expected to be somewhere between 112,000 to 115,000. The 10 percent needs to come from 38 of the 93 Nebraska counties.

It really is all about the numbers. If only 5 percent of the signatures are collected from voters in 38 of the counties, the issue will still be placed on the 2016 ballot but it would allow the repeal law to take effect in August of this year.

Over the last few days, the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has said that recent surveys conducted of Nebraskans showed that 64 percent were in favor of the death penalty while only 24 percent supported repealing it. I would say that the contact with my office has run a little higher.

Within minutes of LB268 passing over the objections of the governor, Senator Beau McCoy, of Omaha, launched a group called the Nebraskans for Justice. He has said that he fully supports the Nebraskans for the Death Penaltygroup and that the groups have merged. The group launching the referendum also has the fullsupport of myself and Governor Pete Ricketts.

Since LB268 passed, there has been a lot of “heated” rhetoric from both sides of the issue, each side seemingly intent on belittling senators who voted “the wrong way”. While passions and opinions are strong, I do not think we make any headway on this issue by badmouthing other senators and how they voted. It is time for cooler heads to prevail. This should and I believe will be decided by you, the voters of Nebraska.

 

Newsletter 5/29/15

May 29th, 2015

The first session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature is over, THANK GOD. While I am honored to serve the 17th Legislative District, I cannot say that I am particularly proud of what we have done this year.

We started off this session back on January 7th with 18 new member in the Legislature, a new governor, and dreams of reducing the tax burden on our fellow Nebraskans.

We knew when we started the year that the biggest issue across the state was that property taxes were way too high. We were going to fix that with help and encouragement from our fresh new governor. Three bills were introduced to lower the percentage of the valuation to be taxed on agricultural property – none of them survived the Revenue Committee. This is the same Revenue Committee that would not vote out of committee a bill that would have exempted veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion, VFW, Sons of the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary, from having to pay sales tax on food sold at fundraisers for these organizations. The committee did find it perfectly acceptable to eliminate the sales tax for the Henry Doorly Zoo and other zoos throughout Nebraska where a good share of the money collected would be collected from folks who live outside the state of Nebraska. The same committee did manage without any problem to pass out a six cent per gallon increase in gas taxes. This tax increase passed on the floor and survived a veto by the governor.

We did manage to pass an exemption on the first $10,000 of valuation on personal property tax that should save everyone that pays that tax around $160.00. It is not a lot, but it is a step in the right direction.

We as a body passed LB623 allowing the so-called DREAMERS (the children of illegal immigrants that were brought here at a young age and have essentially grown up in the United States) to get their drivers license. That in and of its self is probably not a bad thing – the dirty little secret though is that within that bill is language that could allow those who with full knowledge broke our laws and crossed our borders illegally on their own  to also get a drivers license.

We were intent to fix the overcrowding in our prison system and passed a couple of bills along that line but then the body voted to end the death penalty as the means of the ultimate punishment in the most heinous of crimes – again the governor vetoed the idea and again our so called conservative body overrode the veto. This was the final straw, the people of Nebraska are upset and I do not blame them. I am upset too. We have not heard the end of this issue. “Stay Tuned”.

There is currently in Nebraska law no process to “recall” elected state officials – my staff is looking into ways to change that.

The one thing I can say is that property tax is no longer the biggest issue for Nebraskans, we the Legislature are.

Newsletter 5/15/15

May 29th, 2015

Last week I told you about the Legislature advancing and Governor Ricketts vetoing LB610, the gas tax increase. It passed on Final Reading with a vote of 26-15-8. On Thursday, May 14th, we took up the motion to override the Governor’s veto. With a vote of 30-13-6, the Legislature decided LB610 would become law notwithstanding the objections of the Governor. I voted to sustain the veto.

 

Beginning January 1, 2016, the gas tax will increase by 1.5 cents and will increase every January 1 for the three more years giving us an increase of 6 cents over four years. Supporters of this legislation claim that extra revenue generated will provide us with smoother roads and safer bridges I guess time will tell.

LB643, introduced by Senator Tommy Garrett of Bellevue, the Medical Cannabis Act received first round approval. The bill would allow patients to have and use the drug to treat specific conditions and illnesses. There are some issues and concerns with the bill that Senator Garrett is working on addressing before the bill is debated on Select File.  One of the concerns he will be addressing is making sure the drug will ONLY be available in pill or liquid form. While I have some reservations about this bill, I do recognize the benefit that medical marijuana can bring to some individuals and think it is worth working on which is why I voted for it.

LB623, introduced by Senator Jeremy Nordquist, allows the children of illegal immigrants to qualify for driver’s licenses. Currently, Nebraska is the only state that does not allow the issuance of licenses to the group of young immigrants that were brought to our country illegally as children. In 2012 President Obama issued an order saying that immigrants granted a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status were eligible for work permits, Social Security numbers, and a two-year deportation deferral that can be renewed. The bill advanced to the second round with a vote of 37-8. I do not support this bill.

The bill to repeal the death penalty, LB268, easily advanced to Final Reading. As you know, I have struggled with how I was going to vote on this bill and I still do. Earlier this week it was announced that Nebraska had purchased the three drugs necessary to carry out a lethal injection execution, allowing us to carry out an execution something we have not done since 1997. Senator McCoy, of Omaha, introduced an amendment that would have sent this issue to the people of Nebraska to vote on. While I supported this amendment, others did not and the amendment failed. Given the recent events at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, I now find it hard to vote for the repeal of the death penalty. There are a few cases, where I am now convinced that regrettably nothing else can suffice. Governor Ricketts has said that he would veto this bill if it comes before him. I will vote to uphold his veto.

A few weeks ago, I told you about LB599, a bill that would lower the minimum wage for young part time workers. In a surprising vote today (May 15th) the bill failed to advance to the governor. LB599 needed 33 votes on Final Reading because it was modifying the ballot imitative that was passed last November. While the bill had the support on the first two rounds of debate, today the bill died with a vote of 29-17-1. Those among you who think that the Legislature does not listen to you, should know that this turn around came as a result of pressure from the people of Nebraska.

In other news, Governor Ricketts has declared a state of emergency because of the H5N2 avian flu virus. By declaring an emergency, funding will be available to help contain the virus that threatens the $1.1 billion poultry industry in Nebraska. Just this week the Nebraska Department of Agriculture has identified two farms in northeast Nebraska that have the virus.

Next weekend we will celebrate Memorial Day, I will be speaking at the event in Wayne.

Newsletter 5/8/15

May 8th, 2015

At the time, this is written thirteen days remain in the Legislative session.

Confirmations of gubernatorial appointments are generally fairly routine with a few senators saying a few kind words about the appointee followed by a vote of the body to confirm the appointment. This week the confirmations were anything but routine. All appointees have a public hearing and the committee then advances the nominee to the full Legislature for approval.

Governor Ricketts had nominated Bradley Rice to become the Superintendent of the State Patrol. The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee recommended his confirmation with a unanimous vote. The Legislature, however, spent several hours debating this confirmation because of Rice’s involvement in a female trooper’s 2007 gender discrimination lawsuit. After debate, the Legislature confirmed Rice with a 32-7 vote.

Dr. Joseph Acierno was up for confirmation to continue serving as the state’s chief medical officer. Governor Heineman originally appointed him in 2013 and Governor Ricketts decided to keep him on. Some senators raised questions about his willingness to work with the Legislature to answer questions and concerns they had. With a vote of 22-15, the confirmation of Dr. Acierno was rejected.

Rejecting a governor’s appointee is something that rarely happens and caught several off guard. The vote was later reconsidered and after more debate, the Legislature did finally approve the confirmation of Dr. Acierno. This is a case where I did change my vote from no to yes after visiting with the chairwoman of the HHS committee and several others who serve on that committee.

LB610 was passed which would increase the gas tax. It passed on Final Reading with a vote of 26-15-8. I was one of the 15 “No” votes. Governor Ricketts wasted no time in vetoing LB610 and returned it to the Legislature. I will vote to sustain the veto if it comes to that.

The budget bills have been advanced to Final Reading, the final step before going to the governor. The two-year $8.6 billion budget keeps spending growth at 3.1 percent. This does not sound too bad until you realize that is a $266,600,000.00 increase, which is about $145.00 increase for every man, woman and child in the state of Nebraska. This is just under $5000.00 per each of us and this does not include property tax. No wonder no one is happy with us!

 

Newsletter 5/1/15

May 4th, 2015

On Wednesday, April 29th, it was my honor to have Pastor Earl Fuoss, Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod of Wayne in Lincoln to deliver the prayer at the beginning of the Legislative Session. This was the second time this session Pastor Fuoss has given the opening prayer.

This week also marked the beginning of late nights for the Legislature, meaning the session is drawing closer to the end.  On Thursday, April 30th, we started debate on the budget bills – the one thing that constitutionally we must do during the session. On the same day, the Economic Forecasting Board met, projecting that we would have an additional $9.7 million available this year. The projections were better than anyone thought and it did not take any time at all for senators to start figuring out ways to spend the money. I, however, am more cautious these are projections; they are not solid numbers that we can take to the bank. I and others will make an attempt to add the extra money to the property tax credit fund and give it back to the people.

We did give the $8.6 billion budget bills first round approval. The budget, which covers two years, has an increase in the annual state spending of 3.1 percent, which is relatively low. Key points to the approved budget include $200 million a year being set aside for property tax credits. (We still cannot seem to provide any serious tax reform, so providing more money for the Property Tax Credit Fund will have to work.)

Also included in the budget is funding for K – 12 and higher education. The two-year budget includes an increase of $47.7 million for the K -12 state aid formula (something else that needs a serious overhaul). The University of Nebraska, state colleges and community colleges will see an increase of 3 percent.

We did spend a fair amount of time discussing $8 million dollars that has been allocated for services and equipment for the training of dental students. We spent time on this because the money would be going to Creighton dental school in Omaha – they currently provide charity services and they are planning to build a new clinic so they are able to treat more patients as well as train more future dentists.  (Keep in mind that Creighton University is a private, Catholic University in Omaha.) Proponents of this bill argued that this money would be well spent and would encourage dentists to get their degree and then move to out-state Nebraska, where they claim there is a shortage of dental providers, to practice. This is hogwash, (there is nothing in the bill that requires any practice in out-state Nebraska) this appropriation does no such thing, but it would give $8 million dollars to a private university.

Newsletter 4/24/15

April 23rd, 2015

In the upcoming weeks, we will undoubtedly be discussing LB268, which changes the maximum penalty for first-degree murder from the death penalty to life imprisonment without parole.  The bill was once again brought by Senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha and advanced easily from General File.

This is an issue I have struggled with – there are cases when I feel the death penalty is warranted but then I wonder if there is any case, in which the State should be taking a life. For those of you that read this newsletter I would like you to contact my office to let me know your thoughts on the death penalty and if we should keep it or move to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Another bill that easily advanced to Select File this week was LB72, introduced by Senator Paul Schumacher of Columbus. LB72 looks at the use of revocable trusts by individuals who plan for retirement and the use of Medicaid for long-term care. Currently, if assets are placed into a revocable trust five years or more before application, they are not considered when deciding the eligibility of that individual for Medicaid. After the death of that individual, the trust is seldom looked at to help reimburse Medicaid. This process has been used to protect assets from the cost of long-term care expenses such as nursing homes.

Under LB72, trustees would have to settle-up with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) before assets in the revocable trust can be split amongst the designated heirs. LB72 also requires the courts to notify HHS of any hearings addressing inheritance taxes, which could be considered a sign that there are assets available to reimburse Medicaid.

 

Newsletter 4/17/15

April 20th, 2015

Last week an opinion piece appeared in one of the papers in our district saying I had “flip-flopped and become a vocal advocate for doing away with the current eight –year term limits”. They went on to say that, the Legislature was trying to undo what the people had done. This individual, Nick Tomboulides from a group with offices in Washington D.C., and somewhere in Florida, obviously does not understand the process in Nebraska. We debated LR7CA, a resolution brought by Senator Paul Schumacher of Columbus, which would have extended the amount of time a senator could serve to two six-year terms instead of two four-year terms. We did move the bill to Select File to get the language correct, but no further.

LB610, brought by Senator Jim Smith of Papillion, which would increase the gas tax 6 cents over the next four years passed “Select” and has now advanced to Final Reading, the final stage before being sent to Governor Ricketts. I discussed this bill a couple of weeks ago; I hope the Governor will veto the bill if it does indeed pass. Nebraskans do not need or want a tax increase!

This week the Legislature spent a lot of time discussing minimum wage. Last November the people of Nebraska voted to increase the minimum wage to $8.00 an hour on January 1, 2015 and then to $9.00 an hour on January 1, 2016. Our current minimum wage law does provide for a few exemptions. People compensated by way of gratuities (waitresses, waiters, bellhops and porters) are paid the minimum wage of two dollars and thirteen cents per hour, plus all of the gratuities given to them. The sum of the wages plus the gratuities must equal or exceed the minimum wage rate. Additionally, student-learners who are part of a vocational training program can be paid at a rate of at least seventy-five percent of the minimum wage. Current law also provides for a training wage. The training wage is for an employee younger that twenty years of age and not a seasonal or migrant worker and it is at least seventy-five percent of the federal minimum wage for ninety days from the hiring date. The employer may pay such new employee the training wage rate for an additional ninety- day period if the employee is participating in on-the-job training, which 1) requires technical, personal, or other skills necessary for employment and 2) is approved by the Commissioner of Labor. No more than one-fourth of the total hours paid by the employer shall be at the training wage rate.

Senator Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha brought LB494, which would have increased the minimum wage for gratuity workers from the current $2.13 an hour to $2.35 in August and then $2.64 next year. It was argued that would be keeping it on pace with the overall minimum wage that was increased by the voters last fall. I did not support this bill and it failed to get the votes necessary to advance.

The second bill we discussed regarding minimum wages was LB599, brought by Senator Laura Ebke of Crete, which would lower the minimum wage for workers under 18 who are enrolled in school. The Business and Labor Committee advanced this bill to the full Legislature with an amendment. The original bill would have rolled back the minimum wage for these young workers to $7.25 an hour, the committee amendment that was adopted will keep the minimum wage for the youngsters at $8.00 an hour even thru 2016. This bill was brought at the request of the grocery industry and I support it. There is no reason in my mind why teenagers, who are limited, by law, from doing many of the jobs a twenty year-old can, should receive the same pay. While there may be a few concerns that need to be addressed yet, which we can do on Select File, I think that LB599 will be advanced and sent to Governor Ricketts.