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 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.

Newsletter 4/10/15

April 10th, 2015

While I do not usually use this column to defend a position that I have taken, I do feel the need to clear the air a little on a certain issue.

Most of you are aware that there was a “Flare up” about some things that Senator Chambers of Omaha said during a public hearing a while back. I have been criticized by a number of people for defending Senator Chambers’ right to say what he said. I have made it clear that I did not agree with what he said but that he did have the right to do so.

Shoot (pardon the pun), I even got a third of a page editorial in the Wayne paper proclaiming in letters five times the size of normal print that I “Blew It”. The editor has every right to that opinion and the right to print the same. What he may have overlooked or forgotten is that the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was not intended for only the media, but for all of us.

Each of you also have the right to say what you will even though you may or may not suffer some “blow back”. There is also additional protection for we elected officials in the Nebraska Constitution. In Article III Section 26 it states: “No member of the Legislature shall be liable in any civil or criminal action whatever for words spoken in debate.” You do not have to like what Senator Chambers said, but you will not take away his right to say it without a fight while I am here. Four of the last five generations of my family have served in combat situations to protect our rights. As I said in reference to the motorcycle helmet repeal bill, I will never give up on freedom.

I do not intend to make a habit of attempting to “hit back” in this weekly update. I will however occasionally use it to clarify my thoughts.

Newsletter 4/3/15

April 3rd, 2015

This week the Legislature voted on and advanced LB610. LB610, introduced by Senator Jim Smith of Papillion, would increase the gas tax six cents over the next four years. The additional revenue generated by this tax would help pay for maintenance on the aging bridges and roads across our state.

There was a fair amount of debate on this bill but it did not face a filibuster. The vote to advance the bill was 26-10 with several not voting. While I understand that some of the government officials from the counties and some communities like South Sioux City and Wayne are in support of LB610 because they feel they need more revenue to work with, I voted against the advancement of it. I am still convinced that we need to be providing tax relief, not increasing taxes.  There is new leadership coming to the Department of Roads and I am hopeful that money can be saved by reducing some of the heavy burdens of over regulation.  When the counties are forced to over build because of such regulation, we all lose.

We also spent a fair amount of time discussing LB106. LB106, introduced by Senator Dan Watermeier of Syracuse, is a complicated bill that seeks to create statewide standard/matrix for livestock producers when building or expanding their operations. I have been fighting this bill since we heard it in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. In the form it was introduced, LB106 would have created another regulating board that would have the authority to override the decisions made by the county and would therefore eliminate “local control”. After hours of debate we were able to agree on an amendment that I think makes a bad bill better. The new board has been removed and the counties will be able to follow the guidelines IF THEY SO CHOOSE. I voted for the amendment but I still was not able to bring myself to vote for the bill even though I think it is now pretty much benign. LB 106 could still be considered “the camel’s nose under the tent”, and that concerns me.

Newsletter 3/27/15

March 27th, 2015

People talk all the time about how unique and special the Unicameral is, and I would agree. I have, however, discovered that we seem to be becoming more and more like Washington, D.C. all the time, which I find heartbreaking.

I learned this week just how similar we are becoming to Washington, D.C. when my priority bill (LB31 to repeal the motorcycle helmet law) was debated and voted on. I chose not to play the political games played by some and I paid the price. I will not vote for something I fundamentally disagree with (Medicaid expansion) to gain votes. Whether you agree with my positions or not, you know where I stand. If I give you my word, I will stand by it. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about all of my colleagues. My bill died due to a lack of votes to stop the filibuster – had all of the individuals who said they were going to give me a vote for cloture, done so, we would have a had an up or down vote on the actual bill. The advancement of the helmet repeal was the closest it had been in years . . . I will continue to fight for it! It is to me a matter of freedom. I will never give up on freedom.

I often use my newsletter to make the readers aware of opportunities available to our youth. If you are a junior or senior in high school and remotely interested in the agricultural industry I would encourage you to apply for the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute (NAYI). NAYI is a five day long conference on the UNL East Campus focusing on career opportunities within agriculture. This year the conference will be held July 6-10, 2015. Applications are due on April 15, 2015. Applications can be found at www.nda.nebraska.gov or by contacting my office.

Newsletter 3/13/15

March 13th, 2015

It was another busy week in Lincoln as committees are trying to wrap things up. All of the committee hearings will be completed by on or before March 20th. By then we will also know all of the bills that have a priority designation – senator, committee, or speaker.

I thought the people of Nebraska sent a clear message the last few years – they wanted tax reform and something had to be done about land valuations. Unfortunately, it looks like most of the members of the Revenue Committee missed that message. It is essential that this committee come to some agreement, which will allow for some additional property tax relief.

This week the Revenue Committee, with a vote of 5-2, advanced LB610 a bill that would increase the gas tax 6 cents over a four-year period. This would bring our gas tax to 31.6 cents per gallon. The increase is being proposed to pay for bridges and roads. It would generate $19 million a year for our roads and bridges and introducer, Senator Jim Smith of Papillion said it is a “user fee” for motorists.

The Revenue Committee also looked at LB350, introduced by Senator Lydia Brasch of Bancroft, which would reduce the taxable value of farmland from 75 percent to 65 percent. LB350 only received two votes to advance it from the eight-member committee. Senator Brasch has selected this bill as her priority bill, which tells me that she still has hopes or it advancing from committee.

 

Newsletter 3/6/15

March 9th, 2015

This session continues to be full surprises and at times frustrations. We are nearing the end of committee hearings and senators are in the process of identifying their priority bills so committees are busy working on bills.

I have had a few frustrating moments in the last few weeks. The first came when LB176 was advanced from the Agriculture Committee. This bill narrows the Competitive Livestock Markets Act prohibiting livestock packers from directly or indirectly owning or feeding livestock and it removes the restriction on packers owning swine during production stages. The committee amendment moves to clarify language and remove ambiguous phrasing throughout the bill. I fought this bill in committee and I will continue to fight it on the floor. I am convinced that allowing the packers, most of whom are foreign owned, to control the production side of the market equation will do irreparable damage to the independent hog producers.

Another frustrating moment came when The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee that I serve on, advanced LB106 to the full Legislature. LB106 allows the Department of Agriculture, with input from an advisory committee, develop a scoring matrix to approve or disapprove a proposed or expanding livestock operation.  The assessment matrix will be reviewed at least once every four years. Additionally, it creates a seven member Livestock Siting Review Board to be appointed by the Governor. I have had issues with this bill since it was brought to my attention and it is again, one I plan to fight against on the floor. This appointed board would have the ability to override county officials and county zoning regulations. In short it would remove local control from the counties and give it to the state. To my way of thinking local control is of vital importance.

On a better note my priority bill, LB31, which would repeal the motorcycle helmet law, was advanced from committee with an amendment this week. The amendment would allow individuals 21 and older to decide if they want to wear a helmet or not. If they decide not to wear a helmet, they would have to have eye protection.

LB479, a bill that I introduced to allow communities to honor veterans was advanced from committee this week as well – it is my hope that this will be on consent calendar.

LB303, another bill I introduced which would task the Department of Education with creating a model child sexual abuse policy that schools could then adopt if they wanted to, will have its fate decided by the Education Committee this week. I would like this bill to come out of committee unanimously so that it can be considered for consent calendar. I am also requesting that it be considered for a speaker priority bill.

Newsletter 2/20/15

March 9th, 2015

This was an interesting week in Lincoln. LB111, a bill that would require photo identification to vote was bracketed until June 5, 2015. This means that we will not be able to discuss this bill again until next year. This was disappointing and frustrating to say the least.

LB118, a bill introduced by Senator Tyson Larson of O’Neill, which I co-sponsored, received final approval on Friday. LB118 once again creates authorization for cigar shops with liquor licenses. It advanced with a vote of 45-3-1 and will be sent to Governor Ricketts for approval this upcoming week.

It proved to be a busy week for me as well. I worked on an amendment for LB88 – a bill that would increase the fee for marriage licenses and copies. A compromise was worked out on General File regarding the fee for marriage licenses but nothing was done to address the increase proposed for the copies of marriage licenses. I filed several amendments to address this issue. My intent was to get the fee for copies down around $8.50 from the $16 proposed in the original bill. We ended up compromising on a $9.00 fee for copies. I introduced LB479 to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. This bill would allow communities to erect memorials commemorating service members of the United States armed forces. Current statutes specify the wars and conflicts members must have served in to be recognized and did not include our most recent wars/conflicts. Rather than add them into the statute I thought it made more sense to strike the specific language. I also introduced LB256 to the Revenue Committee. LB256 would increase the sales tax one-half of a percent and designate all of the revenue generated to the Property Tax Credit Fund.