NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Joni Albrecht

Sen. Joni Albrecht

District 17

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 jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

Welcome
January 3rd, 2024

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

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Joni Albrecht

Memorial Day will be celebrated on Monday, May 27, 2024 in towns and cities across Nebraska. Americans prepare to honor the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have served our country by serving in the military. We honor those who gave up their lives with bravery and selflessness for the countless freedoms we currently enjoy. God Bless America.

Bill Update
This week I would like to go over LB43 which was one of two Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee priority bills

LB43, introduced by Senator Rita Sanders of Bellevue, would direct hearing officers and judges not to rely on a state agency’s interpretation of state laws or regulations in contested cases under the Administrative Procedures Act. Sanders said the goal is to focus more on the legislative intent behind laws and less on agency interpretations in situations involving disputes over state agency actions. Deferring to state agency interpretations often serves to enhance the power of an unelected bureaucracy, she said. (“Omnibus government regulation bill clears first round”. Unicameral Update. 24 January, 2024. https://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35065)

LB43 included six additional proposals that address the state’s Administrative Procedures Act and Public Records Act:

  • LB41, sponsored by Senator Ben Hansen of Blair, prohibits the state from placing “intrusive or politically motivated” filing or reporting requirements on charitable organizations beyond those required by state law unless narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest or to fulfill federal funding requirements.
  • LB277, introduced by Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon, creates a more restrictive standard for imposing a “substantial burden” on a person’s right to the exercise of religion and authorizes indigenous tribal members who are students in approved or accredited public schools to wear tribal regalia at any school facility or function, unless doing so would prevent school purposes or interfere with the educational process.
  • LB297, sponsored by Senator Rita Sanders, prohibits state and local government agencies from compelling a nonprofit organization to release the personal information of its members, supporters, volunteers, or donors.
  • LB366, introduced by Senator Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, changes the threshold at which Nebraska residents may be charged for time spent fulfilling a public records request from four to eight hours and allows nonresidents to be charged the full cost of fulfilling a request.
  • LB637, sponsored by Senator Joni Albrecht of Thurston, requires a public body to allow members of the public an opportunity to speak at every meeting except for closed sessions related to personnel matters, investigations regarding allegations of criminal conduct or other purposes already exempted under state law.
  • LB650, introduced by Senator Mike McDonnell of Omaha, amends public records law to permit the state or any political subdivision to withhold records relating to the “nature, location or function of cybersecurity”.

LB43 passed on a 39-0 vote and took effect immediately after Governor Pillen signed it on March 27, 2024. (“Government reform bill approved”. Unicameral Update. 21 March, 2024. https://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36030)

News from the Governor’s Office

Governor Jim Pillen, in accordance with a request from the White House, announced that all U. S. and Nebraska flags were to be flown at half-staff, on May 15, 2024, on Peace Officers Memorial Day.

“During Police Week, and especially today on Peace Officers Memorial Day, we recognize the tremendous sacrifice made by those men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty,” said Governor Pillen. “We acknowledge their sacrifices and those of their family members, who continue to mourn their loss.”

Governor PIllen marked the start of Police Week with an address to members of the law enforcement community at Offutt Air Force Base on Monday, May 13, 2024. He spoke to law enforcement members from across the state, survivor family members and guests at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Memorial Ceremony in Grand Island on Friday, May 17th, during which time the names of law enforcement officers were added to the wall of remembrance. (Strimple, Laura and Urlis, Allan. Press Release. “Flags to Fly at Half-Staff in Observance of Peace Officers Memorial Day”. 15 May, 2024. https://shorturl.at/cewMP)

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the area high school seniors on their graduation from high school. I want to wish you the best of luck as you move forward with your plans to go to college, vocational training school, or on to a job. I know you will go far with whatever you decide to do with your life. I would also like to congratulate those college/university graduates. I know that you are ready to take the next steps forward in your life’s journey. “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” Zig Ziglar

Bill Update

This week I would like to go over LB262 which was one of two Agriculture Committee priority bills.

LB262 was introduced in 2023 and would clarify and combine terms within the Nebraska Pure Food Act to align with the federal Food and Drug Administration Food Code. Under current law, only individuals who are credentialed as registered environmental health specialists qualify as food inspectors. Among other changes, LB262 would remove that requirement. An Agriculture Committee amendment replaced the bill and added other proposals to LB262.

  • LB264 revised the definition of “grain” to remove an ambiguity regarding whether grain excludes segregated commodities such as certified organic. It would also change grain dealer licensure requirements as follows:
    • increase the maximum dealer security from $300,000 to $1 million;
    • increase the maximum warehouse bond from $500,000 to $1 million;
    • Remove a formula for calculating the security amount and allow the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) to set the amount by regulation; and
    • Clarify an exemption from criminal background checks for an individual submitting a new license application who previously submitted a background check for a separate license.
  • LB305, sponsored by Senator Steve Halloran, would remove the duty and authority of the PSC to establish grain storage rates, but would specify that warehouse licensees must prominently post storage rates and related charges on signage issued by the commission. New license applicants would file a schedule of storage rates and charges with their application. Warehouse licensees could adjust such rates and charges by filing notice with the PSC and all grain owners of record at least 30 days prior to any adjustment taking effect. The amendment would also make it a Class IV misdemeanor to charge storage rates other than, or in addition to, those filed and posted. (“Omnibus ag proposal clears first round”. Unicameral Update. 6 March, 2024. https://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35871)
  • Portions of LB999, introduced by Senator Teresa Ibach of Sumner, would transfer licensure and regulation of hemp cultivation from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to the U. S. Department of Agriculture beginning January 1, 2025. Hemp production in Nebraska has declined significantly in recent years and the few Nebraskans who are engaged in hemp cultivation would be better served by federal regulations–including a lack of licensure fees. The state would continue to regulate the transportation of hemp. It would also terminate the state hemp Commission and the Hemp Promotion Fund and transfer any money in the fund to the state’s Noxious Weed Cash Fund.
  • LB1061, sponsored by Senator Ibach, would change the Nebraska Corn Resources Act. Her amendment to LB262 would increase the checkoff assessment collected at the time corn enters commercial channels from 0.5 cents per bushel to 1 cent per bushel, beginning October 1, 2024.
  • Provisions of LB321, sponsored by Senator Tom Brandt of Plymouth, were amended into LB262 and would change regulations under the Nebraska Pure Food Act related to the cottage food industry–which authorizes the sale of foods prepared in private homes and sold directly to consumers. The amendment expanded the cottage food exemption to include additional foods. The changes allows producers to sell certain non-refrigerated foods and other specific time and temperature-controlled items.
  • LB1207, sponsored by Senator Joni Albrecht of Thurston, added “insect production” to the definition of an agricultural product in state law.

LB262 passed on final reading 47-0 and was signed by Governor Pillen on April 16, 2024. (“Agriculture proposal amended, advanced”. Unicameral Update. 15 March, 2024. https://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35967)

NDOT State Highway Construction & Detour report for Northeast Nebraska

This update is from the May 1, 2024 Nebraska Department of Transportation in Interstate and State Highway Construction and Detours currently happening. Call 511 or visit www.511.nebraska.gov for the most current information.

  • NE-9 in both directions between Willis Street (near Pender) and Prairie Street (Emerson). Bridge construction. A lane is closed intermittently. Look out for temporary traffic lights. There is a 12-foot width in effect.
  • NE-9 ROAD IS CLOSED between W Road and X Road (3 miles south of Pender). Bridge construction work is in progress .County Road W is closed westbound due to bridge construction.
  • NE-9 ROAD IS CLOSED at W Road (3 miles south of Pender). Road construction is in progress.
  • NE-9 between W Road and X Road should potentially be open by May 17th. They are putting the asphalt overlay on the bridge and the project is close to finishing up.
  • NE-57 in both directions between 859th Road and 860th Road (near Carroll). Road construction work is in progress. The roadway is reduced to one lane. Look out for temporary traffic lights. Look out for flaggers. There is a 12-foot width limit in effect.
  • NE-57 in both directions between 857th Road and 858th Road (2 miles south of Carroll). Road construction work is in progress. The roadway is reduced to one lane. Look out for temporary traffic lights. Look out for flaggers. There is a 12-foot width limit in effect.
  • US-77 in both directions between NE-94 and US-75 (6 miles south of Winnebago). Road construction work is in progress. Traffic will be maintained with temporary traffic signals, a pilot car and flaggers. There is an 11-foot width limit. Anticipated completion is July 2024.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

What a week we have had of unsettling weather. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who were affected by the tornados that went through Nebraska on April 26th. It was nice to watch Nebraskans rally around one another to help clean up, provide food and water, and even find a location for lost pets to be brought and checked over until their owners could be located.

Governor Jim Pillen issued the following statement in the aftermath of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that resulted in damage across eastern Nebraska Friday (April 26th) afternoon. “Suzanne and I extend our deepest prayers to all those impacted by today’s storms. I have ordered that state resources be made available to assist with the emergency response and to support local first responders as they assess the damage. Nebraskans are tough, resilient people, and our neighbors and communities will rally around affected families and businesses to assist them. Nebraskans are no strangers to severe weather and, as they have countless times before, Nebraskans will help Nebraskans to rebuild.” (Strimple, Laura and Urlis, Allan. Press Release. “Governor Pillen Reacts to Damaging Storms; Orders State Resource Assistance”. 27 April, 2024. https://shorturl.at/fuCFT)

I would also like to wish all the mothers out there a very Happy Mother’s Day. I hope that you are able to spend time with your children and extended family.

Bill Updates

This week I would like to continue going through the bills included in LB937.

  • LB937, introduced by Lincoln Senator Eliot Bostar, a family caregiver is eligible for a non refundable income tax credit equal to 50% of expenses incurred that are directly related to the care for and support of an eligible family member. Total credits are limited to $1.5 million in fiscal year (FY) 2025-26 and FY 2026-27 and $2.5 million in the following years. As amended, LB937 contains provisions of several other bills heard by the Revenue Committee this session.
  • LB901, introduced by Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, purchases made by a nonprofit organization are exempt from state sales and use tax if the nonprofit acquired property or contracts to build, improve, or repair property that will be transferred to a nonprofit whose purchases already are exempt.
  • LB1084, introduced by Senator Teresa Ibach of Sumner, a Class III shoreline rail company located wholly or partly in Nebraska can apply to the department for a nonrefundable tax credit equal to 50% of its qualified maintenance expenditures during the tax year. The credit amount cannot exceed $1,500 per mile of track.
    Under the amended provisions of LB1184, introduced by Eliot Bostar of Lincoln, Nebraska taxpayers can apply to the Department of Revenue for a one-time, refundable state income tax credit of up to $1,000 to offset the cost of installing a reverse osmosis system at their primary residence if test results show high levels of nitrates, uranium, or certain chemicals in the drinking water.
  • The amended provisions of LB1002, sponsored by Plymouth Senator Tom Brandt, set the maximum amount of tax credits available under the Nebraska Biodiesel Tax Credit Act at $1 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2024-2025 and $1.5 million in the following years.
  • LB1047, introduced by Senator Tom Brandt, expands the list of denaturants subject to an excise tax paid by ethanol producers and imposes the tax on 2% of certain agricultural ethyl alcohol sold that is unfit for beverage purposes.
  • LB1072, introduced by Senator George Dungan of Lincoln, allows a producer or importer of sustainable aviation fuel to claim a nonrefundable income tax credit based on the number of gallons in all sold or used qualified mixtures.
    (“Tax credits for caregivers, others created”. Unicameral Update. 18 April, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36526)

LB126, introduced by Omaha Senator Jen Day, allows current homestead exemption recipients to remain eligible for an exemption if a valuation increase pushes the value of their homestead above the allowed maximum. For homesteads valued at or above the maximum value, the exempt amount will not be reduced and the homestead will remain eligible for an exemption for the current year if it received an exemption in the previous year, was valued below the maximum value in the previous year, and is not ineligible for an exemption for any reason other than exceeding the maximum value by at least $20,000. The exception does not apply if the valuation increase is due to improvements to the homestead. Two other bills were amended into LB126 by a Revenue Committee Amendment on Select File.

  • Provisions of LB1151, introduced by Norfolk Senator Robert Dover, updates the definition of “occupy” under the homestead exemption program. Under LB126, a departure from a property for health or legal reasons does not disqualify an owner from receiving an exemption so long as they demonstrate an intention to return to the property.
  • LB1019, introduced by Bellevue Senator Rick Holdcroft, requires county assessors or county clerks to correct the assessment and tax rolls after a final order of the Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC).

(“Homestead exemption changes approved”. Unicameral Update. 18 April, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36520)

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

Weekly News–April 26, 2024
April 29th, 2024

Planting season is in full swing and calving season is happening. It was so nice to get some much needed rain in our area. Hopefully that hasn’t delayed planting but added some nice moisture to the soil. This time of year reminds me of a tweet that I received from the Nebraska DOT last year with this reminder–“Drivers–be on the lookout for farm equipment this planting season! If you happen to come across a farm vehicle, slowing down and practicing patience is an easy and effective way of keeping both you and the farmer safe.” Please keep an eye out for farming equipment moving on the roads and stay safe.

This past session there were many omnibus packages passed and I would like to go through several of these and share information about what was amended into the overarching bill. I plan to do this over the course of the next several newsletters. This week I would like to begin with LB937.

Bill Update

  • LB937, introduced by Lincoln Senator Eliot Bostar, a family caregiver is eligible for a non refundable income tax credit equal to 50% of expenses incurred that are directly related to the care for and support of an eligible family member. Total credits are limited to $1.5 million in fiscal year (FY) 2025-26 and FY 2026-27 and $2.5 million in the following years. As amended, LB937 contains provisions of several other bills heard by the Revenue Committee this session.
  • LB58, introduced by Omaha Senator John Cavanaugh, exempts diapers from state sales and use tax.
  • LB1025, introduced by Senator Eliot Bostar, creates the Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Support Act. The provisions allow qualifying direct support professionals who care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to claim a refundable state income tax credit. Employers of direct support professionals can claim a new nonrefundable credit, as can employers that either employ an individual receiving services pursuant to a Medicaid home and community-based services waiver or provide certain services to an individual pursuant to such a waiver. The state Department of Revenue may approve a total of $1 million in credits in FY 2025-26, $1.5 million in FY 2026-27, and $2 million in later years.
  • LB901, introduced by Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, purchases made by a nonprofit organization are exempt from state sales and use tax if the nonprofit acquires property or contracts to build, improve or repair property that will be transferred to a nonprofit whose purchases are already exempt.
  • LB1158, introduced by Senator Eliot Bostar, the state treasurer will contract with a medical debt relief coordinator to purchase and discharge medical debt of eligible residents. Nebraska residents with a household income at or below 400% of the federal poverty guideline or with medical debt equal to at least 5% of the individual’s household income qualify. Contributions to the program’s fund are deductible for state income tax purposes.
  • LB606, introduced by me, allows individuals, passthrough entities, corporations, estates and trusts to claim a nonrefundable credit of up to 50% of their state income tax liability on contributions they make to qualifying pregnancy help organizations. Total credits are limited to $500,000 in FY 2025-26 and $1 million in FY 2026-27 and later years.
  • LB1022 (The Cast and Crew Nebraska Act), introduced by Senator Rita Sanders of Bellevue, film and television production companies may apply for a refundable income tax credit equal to at least 20% of their qualifying expenditures attributable to the production of films, documentaries, and other projects in Nebraska. The state Department of Economic Development could approve no more than $500,000 in credits in FY 2025-26 and $1 million in the following years.
  • Under a bill passed last session, grocery stores, restaurants, and agricultural producers may apply for a nonrefundable state income tax credit equal to 50% of the value of food they donate to food banks, pantries or rescues, up to a maximum of $2,500. Under LB1040, introduced by Senator John Fredrickson of Omaha, the Nebraska Department of Revenue may approve $500,000 in credits each fiscal year beginning in FY 2025-26. (“Tax credits for caregivers, others created”. Unicameral Update. 18 April, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36526)

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

Weekly News–April 19, 2024
April 25th, 2024

As we ended session on April 18th, we heard from Governor Pillen and Speaker Arch. Governor Pillen commended us on the work we had accomplished, but was also disappointed that we didn’t get Property Tax Relief across the finish line. He did tell us he would be calling as many special sessions as it would take in order to get the people’s work done. The people of Nebraska have spoken and the number one concern is lowering property taxes. I look forward to continuing to work with Governor Pillen to reduce the property tax burden in our state. 

Speaker Arch also commended us on the work we were able to get done in 60 days. There were 597 bills introduced this session and over 370 were sent to Governor Pillen’s desk including Appropriation bills.

Fifteen of us are leaving at the end of this year as we are either term limited or not returning for one reason or another. Each one of us was able to give a farewell speech. I am grateful to my constituents for electing me to serve them for eight years. Again, I can’t say enough what an honor it has been to serve District 17.

On Saturday, April 20th, I attended the Dakota City Appreciation Dinner. This dinner honored city employees as well as firefighters and first responders. I was pleasantly surprised and honored when I received an award for my “continued support and dedication to First Responders in the State of Nebraska”. I have always appreciated the work that First Responders and Volunteer Firefighters bring to our district. Your willingness to respond to an emergency and assist the community at the sound of your pager is a testimony to your service and dedication to each community. It has been an honor to continue to support legislation that helps firefighters and first responders in the state of Nebraska.

Bill Update

LB1402, introduced by Senator Lou Ann Linehan from Elkhorn, passed on Final Reading on Thursday, April 18th.This bill would appropriate $10 million dollars in general funds in fiscal year 2024-2025 to the state treasurer to provide grants to scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs), who then would use the funds to provide scholarships to eligible students to pay costs associated with attending a K-12 qualified school. Section 1(2)(c) of LB1402 states that a qualified school means any nongovernmental, privately operated elementary or secondary school located in this state that (i) is operated not for profit, (ii) complies with the antidiscrimination provisions of 42 U.S.C. 1981, as such section existed on January 1, 2024, (iii) complies with all health and life safety laws or codes that apply to privately operated schools, and (iv) fulfills the applicable accreditation or approval requirements established by the State Board of Education pursuant to section 79-318. If the total amount of grants awarded in any fiscal year exceeds 90% of the appropriation to the state treasurer for that fiscal year the appropriation for the following fiscal year would increase by 25%, not to exceed a maximum appropriation of $100 million. Senator Linehan said she offered the bill as a replacement for the Opportunity Scholarships Act (LB753), which was passed by the Legislature last year. The state treasurer, rather than outside SGOs, would be responsible for overseeing the program and the treasurer could contract with an outside entity to administer it. The amendment would repeal LB753. Senator Linehan said 1,000 students have applied for scholarships under the existing program, and about 2,500 students have expressed interest.(Portions taken from “Private school scholarship program clears first round”. Unicameral Update. 10 April, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36319) Nebraska will become the 50th state to have school choice. That makes us the very last state to offer this option to the citizens of Nebraska!

Many arguments have been made against LB1402. Here are the facts about those arguments.

  • Constitutionality–The Nebraska Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the state constitution permits direct aid to students and also allows an incidental or indirect benefit to a school. In Lenstrom v. Thone (1981), the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld a nearly identical scholarship program at the post-secondary level, which is more easily recognizable today as the Nebraska Opportunity Grant (NOG) program. In the Lenstrom case and in the same way NOG functions today, these programs provide appropriations for scholarships to students in financial need to attend a postsecondary school of their choice, including private religious universities and colleges. The “direct beneficiary” of a student aid program is the student, not the school. Almost every court, including the U. S. Supreme Court, has found that the beneficiaries of student aid programs are students, not schools.
  • No Accountability–All school choice programs have some level of administrative and financial accountability and most programs have academic accountability. Private schools in every state must comply with health and safety regulations as well as antidiscrimination laws. Already in Nebraska, nonpublic schools must comply with the Department of Education’s Approval (Rule 14) and Accreditation (Rule 10) standards. As such, private schools have testing standards, health and safety standards, financial accountability standards, among other standards, And private schools are accountable to those who matter the most:  parents.
  • Special Needs Students–According to RealClear Education, over 137,000 special education students report using choice programs nationally (over 16% of all students exercising choice). Clearly private schools are meeting the needs of a substantial number of students with special needs and doing so without the funding mechanisms accessible to public schools. Private schools are increasingly developing funding and programming to accept more children with special needs, as well as creating schools specifically tailored to serving certain populations of students with special needs. As studies show, 15%-16% of students in public schools have special needs, while 12%-13% of students in private schools have special needs.

Just a reminder that the Legislature passed LB583 which provided $1,500 to each student in public schools and expanded special education funding to 80%. We also established the Education Future Fund, championed by Senator Robert Clements, which provided an initial investment of $1 billion with an additional $250 million each year after. The annual investment to public school districts will exceed $300 million per year beyond what they receive through the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act. (Strimple, Laura. Press Release. “Gov. Pillen Highlights Public Education Funding at Back to School News Conference”. 27 July, 2023. https://shorturl.at/fARY8) We do support public schools, but also realize that we need to support all children in Nebraska where they are.

If we do nothing more this year and we don’t come back for a special session, we will have moved public school funding up to 28th in the nation from 49th. If we come back for a special session and address property taxes, we can move up to 8th in the nation for public school funding if we do what we set out to do for funding public schools in Nebraska.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

Weekly News–April 12, 2024
April 25th, 2024

Session finished up this week (April 18th). It has been an honor and a privilege to serve District 17 as your representative for the past 8 years. I so appreciate those of you who have supported me and made this an awesome experience and having the opportunity to make Nebraska a better place to call home.

Bill Updates
This past session there have been many omnibus packages passed. I plan to go through several of these and share information about what was amended into the overarching bill over the course of the upcoming months. This week I would like to touch on a few bills that were passed on April 11, 2024 on Day 59 with further information coming soon.

LB1301, introduced by Niobrara Senator Barry DeKay on behalf of Governor Jim Pillen, adds a number of conditions to the right of foreign individuals or foreign-owned companies to own land in the state. This bill will modernize restrictions on foreign ownership of land in Nebraska. Most of the state’s laws regarding foreign ownership of land haven’t been changed since 1943! Individuals and entities are subject to greater scrutiny and restrictions on land ownership in Nebraska if they are on the sanctions list maintained by the federal Office of Foreign Assets control of the U. S. Department of the Treasury or determined by the U. S. Secretary of Commerce as having engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to U. S. national security. Among other provisions, the measure allows individuals to report suspected foreign ownership of land by a restricted entity, and the state Department of Agriculture is required to investigate suspected violations and refer them to the state attorney general or, if necessary, retain outside counsel. The court may terminate a lease that is in violation of the bill and the state may sell any real estate acquired under the bill’s divestment provision. This bill passed on a 46-0 vote and was sent to the Governor’s office for his signature on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (“Foreign land ownership restrictions updated”. Unicameral Update. 11 April, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36334)

LB262, introduced by the Agriculture Committee, clarifies and combines terms within the Nebraska Pure Food Act to align with the Food and Drug Administration Food Code and adds insect production to the definition of an agricultural product in state law. My bill, LB1207, was amended and adopted 31-0 on Select File. My bill adds insect production to the definition of an agricultural product in state law. Other bills amended into LB262 were LB999 and LB1061 by Senator Teresa Ibach and LB321 By Senator Tom Brandt. I will elaborate more on this committee priority bill in the coming weeks. (Portions taken from “Agriculture proposal clears final round”. Unicameral Update. 11 April, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36361)

LB867, introduced by Senator Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, would allow the state Game and Parks Commission to create an online hunting and fishing guide and outfitter database. The provisions of five other bills heard by the committee this session were included on general file. I introduced an amendment on Select File to include provisions of LB636, which would prohibit political subdivisions from enacting any ordinance or other policy that restricts or prohibits the types of fuel sources of energy that natural gas utilities, natural gas transmission companies, and certain other entities may use or deliver to customers. I introduced this bill on behalf of Black Hills Energy. “Bans can cost jobs in the [industries that] rely on affordable energy–like agriculture–can hurt a community’s competitiveness and negatively impact the economy.” I said. Other bills amended into LB867 include LB866 and LB868 by Senator Bruce Bostelman, LB971 by Senator Loren Lippincott, LB1001 by Senator Danielle Conrad, and LB1406 by Senator Rita Sanders. I will elaborate more on this committee priority bill in the coming weeks. (Portions taken from “Natural resources omnibus bill amended, advanced”. Unicameral Update. 15 March, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35960) This bill passed on Final Reading 47-0 and was sent to the Governor’s office on April 11, 2024.

LB685, introduced by Kearney Senator John Lowe, imposes a 5% annual tax on the net operating revenue of each mechanical amusement device in the state. Such devices are cash video machines that are used for games and contests and are considered games of skill. Fraternal organizations are exempt from the annual revenue tax. Revenue generated from the tax will be distributed as follows:

  • 40% to the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund;
  • 10% to the Nebraska Tourism Commission Promotional Cash Fund;
  • 2.5% to the state General Fund;
  • 2.5% to the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund; and
  • 20% to the Charitable Gaming Operations Fund to carry out the bill’s provisions.

The remaining 25% of tax revenue will be split between the cities and counties where mechanical amusement devices are located. Beginning January 1, 2024, the bill also requires an annual licensing fee of $5,000 for manufacturers of mechanical amusement devices and $100 per device, up to $5,000, for distributors. In addition, a retail establishment offering cash amusement devices is required to generate at least 60% of their gross operating revenue from other sources under the bill. The state tax commissioner is responsible for establishing a central server to receive accurate revenue and income reporting from cash devices across the state. Once the server is operational, each cash amusement device must be connected to it at all times. Portions taken from “Cash amusement device, co-branded alcohol regulations approved”. Unicameral Update. 15 April, 2024. Portions taken from “Natural resources omnibus bill amended, advanced”. Unicameral Update. 15 March, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35960) This bill passed on Final Reading 46-0 and was sent to the Governor’s office on April 11, 2024.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

Weekly News–April 5, 2024
April 8th, 2024

We are down to less than 4 days left in session with a lot of work ahead of us. There are 111 bills on Select File and Final Reading. Ten or more bills need to be amended either on Select File or with a return to Select File from Final Reading to lower the fiscal impact. Just the processing of those bills and amendments could likely take up the time we have remaining. We will be meeting on Day 60 (April 18th) in order to read some bills as well as have time to address any vetoes from Governor Pillen’s office.

Bill Updates
There are two bills that were debated last week that work hand in hand to help with property tax relief and increase school funding.

LB388 introduced by Senator Lou Ann Linehan is a proposal to generate state revenue that would be used to provide additional property tax relief. The additional revenue would fund a companion proposal contained in an amendment to LB1331, introduced by Senator Dave Murman of Glenvil. Senator Linehan said the two proposals–in conjunction with a modified cap on school property taxing authority in the amendment to LB388–would provide more funding to schools at a time when valuations in some urban and some suburban districts are spiking, which reduced their state aid under the school funding formula and forces them to rely more on property taxes. Beginning January 1, 2025, the committee amendment would increase the state sales tax rate from 5.5% to 6.5% unless actual state General Fund net receipts for fiscal year 2023-24 exceed the most recent forecast of net receipts provided by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board by 3.5%. If net receipts exceed the forecast by 3.5%, the state tax commissioner then would set a lower rate, from 6.25% to 5.5%, based on how much state revenue exceeds that threshold. The commissioner would determine the applicable rate on or before July 14, 2024. The amendment would also limit to 3% the amount by which a city, county, or village could increase its property tax request from one year to the next with several exceptions, including a percentage based on real property growth. Senator R. Brad von Gillern of Elkhorn said the proposal is not a dollar-for-dollar tax shift and would result in a “net tax reduction” for many Nebraskans. He said the sales tax increase would not have an outsize effect on low-income Nebraskans because they spend most of their income on essentials, such as groceries and rent, that are not subject to sales tax. The committee amendment would help offset any regressive effects from the sales tax increase by exempting residential utilities from sales tax. Senator Linehan said she was open to amending the proposal on select file to remove the sales tax increase. This bill was advanced to Select File and is still being adjusted to figure out the right way to bring property tax relief to Nebraska. (“Potential sales tax increase, local taxing authority cap advanced”. Unicameral Update. 3 April, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36242)

LB1331 introduced by Senator Dave Murman of Glenvil is a proposal that would terminate the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) and establish a new school funding system. This bill was gutted and replaced with a separate proposal containing provisions of Omaha Senator Justin Wayne’ s LB1231. Senator Murman said it became apparent that establishing a new school funding system was of greater importance this session. This bill is a companion bill to LB388. These two bills aim to generate state revenue to fund additional property tax relief by implementing the Nebraska Education Formula and increasing yearly per student foundation aid from $1,500 to $3,000. The amendment would end the refundable income tax credit against school taxes paid that was created under LB1107 in 2020 and instead “front load” the funds allocated to the credit by increasing foundation aid to public schools. Other provisions of LB1331 include prohibiting school districts from adopting budgets that surpass certain allowable reserve percentages. The percentages would differ based on the district’s average daily membership and the department would be responsible for annually determining and certifying each district’s specific allowable reserve percentage. Senator Linehan supported the bill, saying TEEOSA has long been a problem. She said equalization aid–calculated by subtracting needs from available local property tax revenue–has disproportionately affected rural school districts that contain large amounts of agricultural land. In addition, she said, recent property valuation increases in urban and suburban areas have decreased foundation aid for those districts. LB1331 advanced to Select File. (“School funding changes advanced”. Unicameral Update. 4 April, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36253)

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I would like to invite students to the Unicameral Youth Legislature. High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 9-14. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.

The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.

The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s 4-H Extension Career and College Readiness Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.

To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-2788. Early registration discounts and scholarships are available. The final registration deadline is May 20.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

Wekly News–March 29, 2024
March 28th, 2024

Last weekend was the celebration of Easter. I hope you were able to enjoy time with your family during the Easter weekend. I know I sure enjoyed time to get away and enjoy Easter with mine.

Bill Updates
     Last week we debated the budget bill on Final Reading. This is the Appropriations Committee’s mid-biennium budget adjustment package as we approved the biennial budget last session. The state budget is structured on a two-year basis, with the budget enacted during legislative sessions held in odd-numbered years. Adjustments are made during sessions held in even-numbered years. The committee’s proposed adjustments to the state’s $10 billion budget would result in a $904 million balance in the state’s Cash Reserve Fund, also known as the “rainy day” fund. The proposal reflects a 3.1% increase in state spending and would leave approximately $23 million to fund legislative proposals this year.
     LB1413, introduced by Speaker John Arch of LaVista at the request of the Governor, would provide for the transfer of funds and create and change the use and distribution of funds. The governor’s proposal called for a sweep of funds from 31 different agencies, transferring those dollars to the state General Fund. At the bill’s public hearing, the state budget director described this as an attempt to “kick start” the revenue necessary to provide a 40% reduction in property taxes. Committee chairperson Senator Robert Clements of Elmwood said 11 transfers from Pillen’s original request ultimately were deemed “not appropriate” by the committee and were not included in the adjustment package. Clements said the transfers outlined in the amendment, totaling $244 million, would help fund the state’s budget for the next two years while also bolstering the rainy day fund. The Cash Reserve Fund balance at the end of the biennium would be 16.6% of annual expenses, which he said is the committee’s target funding level.
     LB1412, also introduced by Speaker John Arch at the request of the governor, is the main line budget bill. The proposal would provide, change and eliminate appropriations for the operation of state government, postsecondary education, state aid, capital construction and federal funds allocated to the state from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021. Clements said the committee started with the governor’s recommendations and made minor adjustments based on information gleaned from agency heads and the public. In addition, the committee held hearings on 59 bills introduced by senators that included $250 million of new general fund spending requests and approximately $108 million in federal ARPA requests. The only significant changes from the governor’s original recommendation, Clements said, was a $30.1 million increase in funding for the state’s homestead exemption program over the biennium and a $94.1 million increase in Nebraska Tax Equity and Education Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) funding. He said a “recalculation” of the state school funding formula in January indicated the need for additional dollars. (“Budget advances with minor adjustments, more changes likely”. Unicameral Update. 15 March, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35942)
     Final debate on the two budget proposals took place on March 26th. LB1412 reflects a 3.1% increase in state spending and leaves approximately $20 million to fund legislative proposals this year. The bill passed with a 42-6 vote and took effect immediately. LB1413 passed with a 37-8 vote and took effect immediately. The governor has five calendar days, excluding Sunday, to sign, veto, or line-item veto appropriations within the budget bills. If budget bills are returned to the legislature with line-item vetoes, the Appropriations Committee must report on the fiscal impact of the vetoes within one day and may offer a motion to override any or all of them. Thirty votes are required to override a veto. (“Budget adjustment package passed”. Unicameral Update. 26 March, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=36154)

LB43, sponsored by Senator Rita Sanders from Bellevue, is an omnibus measure aimed at furthering open government and transparency. This bill would direct hearing officers and judges not to rely on a state agency’s interpretation of state laws or regulations in contest cases under the Administrative Procedures Act. During Select File, Senator Brewer amended my bill, LB637, into LB43. Provisions of LB637 would require a public body to allow members of the public an opportunity to speak at every meeting except for closed sessions related to personnel matters, investigations regarding allegations of criminal conduct, or other purposes already exempted under state law. I say it is important for local elected officials to make the time to listen to their constituents and for residents to know that they have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Many government agencies currently don’t put a public comment item on their agenda for every meeting, despite state law requiring that constituents have that opportunity. LB43 passed with a vote of 39-0 on March 21st and took effect immediately. Governor Pillen signed this bill into law on March 27th. (“Government reform bill amended, advanced”. Unicameral Update. 4 March, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35828)

LB1087, introduced by Senator Mike Jacobson of North Platte, would require the Department of Health and Human Services to submit a state plan amendment to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for approval to impose an assessment on Nebraska hospitals. Under the bill, every Nebraska hospital would pay an assessment fee based on their quarterly net patient revenue. The total statewide assessment amount would equal the state share of payments authorized by CMS plus an administration fee, which could not exceed 2% of the assessment amount. The complete assessment total could not exceed 6% of the total net patient revenue of all assessed hospitals. The bill would also require DHHS to partner with a statewide hospital association to establish Medicaid quality improvement metrics and track progress on those metrics. Senator Jacobson said Nebraska would join 43 other states and the District of Columbia in using the program, which he estimated would draw nearly $1 billion in federal funds to the state’s hospitals. (“Hospital assessment program considered”. Unicameral Update. 2 February, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35283) LB1087 passed 45-0 and took effect immediately.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

Weekly News–March 22, 2024
March 25th, 2024

Spring has finally sprung. The first day of spring was on March 19th. I am looking forward to the weather changing, being able to get outside with my grandkids, seeing the baby calves frolicking in the pasture, and working in the yard. I always enjoy this time of the year.

Bill Update
     This past week we debated my personal priority bill (LB441) on the floor for three days. LB441 was to close an unintended loophole in Nebraska obscenity law. Currently it is against the law for anyone in Nebraska to present materials considered criminally obscene or harmful to minors except in K-12 schools and libraries. This means it is lawful to present criminal obscenity to any age of schoolchildren. It makes no sense that schools and libraries, of all places, should be given a pass to expose children to material the law already would recognize as criminally obscene to children.
     The drafters of the original legislation never intended that loophole to exist. The 1977 obscenity law was particularly and expressly intended to protect school children from obscenity. The exemption from prosecution was intended for postsecondary educational institutions only, NOT K-12 schools.
     LB441 would not have changed a thing about the definition of obscenity (found in Nebraska State Statute §28-808) as applied under Nebraska law. It simply would make Nebraska’s obscenity statutes applicable to K-12 educational institutions just as these obscenity statutes are applied everywhere else in Nebraska.
     This became abundantly clear in debate when Senator Halloran read a portion of hearing testimony on the floor. It created a problem for the adults in the room, but these same adults want this available to school children in K-12 schools. If it is hard for them, why would we want to create the same problem for children in Nebraska schools?
     LB441 garnered 30 votes but not the 33 votes required to overcome the filibuster. This bill’s intent was to include K-12 in Nebraska state statutes to protect children from what is “criminally harmful to minors” as it is throughout the great state of Nebraska.

Governor Pillen property tax relief plan
The Revenue Committee is getting closer to putting out their property tax relief package. There has been much discussion on what is the best way to meet Governor Pillen’s goal of a 40% reduction in property taxes in Nebraska. The committee is working up to the wire to make this goal a reality. More information will be coming soon as we get closer to submitting our package to the floor for debate.

Severe Weather Awareness Week
March 25-29 is Nebraska Severe Awareness Week. This week gives Nebraskans an opportunity to review their plan when severe weather strikes. “The devastating impacts of extreme events can be reduced through improved readiness,” said NEMA Assistant Director Erv Portis. “In addition to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, we need to prepare for hazards that could happen due to drought conditions impacting the state.” “In a time of drought, wildfires are a top concern,” Portis said. “Even the smallest spark could ignite and threaten entire communities. If you are ordered to evacuate, know where you would go and what route you would take to get there.”
Every Nebraskan should make a safety plan, create a preparedness kit, and review proper safety precautions with your family.

  • Make a Plan–Talk to your friends and family about how you will communicate before, during, and after a disaster.
  • Build a Kit–Gather supplies that will last for several days after a disaster for everyone living in your home. Don’t forget the unique needs of each person or pet. You can find a list of items to help you get started here: https://nema.nebraska.gov/assets/files/preparedness/preparedness-kit.pdf
  • Prepare for Disasters–Know the risk of disasters in your area and check your insurance coverage. Learn how to make your home stronger in the face of storms and other common hazards.
  • Teach Youth about Preparedness–Talk to your kids about preparing for emergencies and what to do in case you are separated. Reassure them by providing information about how they can get involved.
  • Get Informed–Find out what disasters could impact your area, and where you would go if you and your family need to evacuate. Keep a NOAA weather radio tuned to your local emergency station and monitor TV and radio. Follow mobile alerts and warnings about severe weather in your area.

For more information on severe weather awareness, or preparing for severe weather, visit: nema.nebraska.gov/. (Sperl, Katrina. News Release. “Severe Weather Awareness Week”. 19 March, 2024. https://shorturl.at/fimEN)

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

Weekly News–March 15, 2024
March 15th, 2024

This past week we spent a majority of all day floor debate discussing changes to the budget. As we finished up the week, there are only 16 days remaining in this 60 day session. We begin late nights on March 18th and will have 10 late nights to try to complete the work we began in January, 2023. Besides the budget there are many Senator and Speaker priority bills to be debated as well as different committee priority package bills.

SCAM ALERT
As tax season is upon us, it has come to my attention that there are tax-related scams happening in Nebraska. Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers and Treasurer Tom Briese said Thursday, March 14th that scammers are sending messages that look like official documents from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), state agencies or officials, tax software companies or Nebraskans’ own tax professionals. The IRS states that thousands of people have lost personal information or millions of dollars through scams. “They may copy language, logos or fonts from the IRS to make it look as legitimate as possible,” Hilgers and Briese said in a joint news release. “These scammers are seeking to steal personally identifiable information from your official tax documents.” Hilgers and Briese said Nebraskans should never click on any links in these suspicious communications and should check on their status of any pending refunds directly with the IRS. “The IRS will always contact you by mail first,” the statement says. “The IRS will also not require a specific type of payment.” Often scams may include hard to reverse payments, including gift cards, prepaid debit cards, wire transfers or cashier’s checks.
In cases of suspicious calls:

  • Don’t give personal or financial information.
  • Hang up.
  • Contact the IRS directly.

Nebraskans who think they may owe back taxes can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or visit irs.gov/balancedue. More information is available from the Attorney General’s Office or with its Consumer Affairs Response Team at (402) 471-2682. “Take extreme caution if you get an unsolicited contact about your tax information,” Briese and Hilgers said. (Wendling, Z. (2024, March 15). “AG Hilgers, Treasurer Briese: Nebraskans need to beware of tax-related scams”. Nebraska Examiner. https://shorturl.at/QSV37

Bill Updates
LB16, originally introduced last year by former Albion Senator Tom Briese, was taken up this session by Lincoln Senator Danielle Conrad. This bill would make a number of changes to state law regarding credentials for certain professions. LB16 provides broad reciprocal licensure for military members, apprentices, and individuals who are licensed in other states, provided they meet a number of criteria. Among other provisions, the bill requires that applicants for reciprocal licensure must hold a credential that covers a similar scope of practice, not have a disqualifying criminal record, and not have had their credential surrendered or revoked for negligence or misconduct. This bill passed Final Reading on February 29, 2024 and approved by the Governor on March 5, 2024. (“Occupational licensure bill approved”. Unicameral Update. 29 February, 2024. http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=35768)

News from Governor Pillen’s office
Governor Jim Pillen has approved regulations governing nonsurgical pharmaceutical gender altering treatments for individuals under nineteen years of age. “Nebraska’s kids are our future. They deserve the opportunity to grow up and develop to their full, God-given potential,” said Governor Pillen. “As a state, we must protect children from making potentially irreversible and regrettable decisions–decisions for which they may not completely understand the irreversible consequences. I extend my appreciation to the Legislature for the passage of LB 574 and to those at DHHS who worked swiftly and thoroughly to ensure completion of these important regulations.” The Let Them Grow Act, LB 574 (2023), requires DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) chief medical officer (CMO) to promulgate and adopt rules and regulations governing nonsurgical pharmaceutical gender altering treatments for individuals under nineteen years of age.
The adopted regulations included:

  • The requirement that a patient receive a minimum of 40 gender-identity-focused contact hours of therapeutic treatment prior to receiving the prescribed medications;
  • Required procedures for obtaining and documenting a patient’s informed consent for treatment;
  • A minimum waiting period of seven calendar days between the informed patient consent and the time the drugs or hormones are prescribed, administered or delivered to the patient;
  • Requirements related to the labeling, administration of, and delivery of the puberty-blocking drugs and/or cross-sex hormones;
  • The requirement that a patient under the age of majority must receive at least one therapeutic contact hour every 90 days while the drugs or hormones are being administered to evaluate ongoing effects on the patient’s mental health;
  • Patient medical record documentation requirements for prescribing practitioners; and
  • The requirement that a health care practitioner obtain three hours of continuing education prior to prescribing drugs or cross-sex hormones.

A patient is exempt from these requirements if:

  • The patient began receiving the prescribed medication prior to October 1, 2023;
  • The medication is not being prescribed for the treatment of gender nonconformity or gender dysphoria;
  • The patient has reached the age of 19.
    (Strimple, Laura. Press Release. “Gov. Pillen Approves LB 574 Regulations on Nonsurgical, Gender Altering Treatments”. 12 March, 2024. https://shorturl.at/dgBQ0

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by calling my office at (402) 471-2716 or emailing me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov.

Sen. Joni Albrecht

District 17
Room 1404
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2716
Email: jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov
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