NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. 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 8th, 2020

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

WEEKLY UPDATE August 3, 2020
August 3rd, 2020

Another busy, busy week at the Capitol. There’s been plenty of debate on many bills that have amendments and last-minute changes that affect the host bill to various degrees. So while we might hear it on General File in one form, there can be many changes by second reading (Select). This may cause changes that have an adverse affect on the bills and result in changes in how Senators view their votes on the original bill.

On Monday, July 27 and Tuesday, July 28, the Legislature debated the Budget bill. It was passed to Final Reading, where it was advanced to the Governor’s desk by the Legislature.

On July 29, the Legislature again debated a typically rarely-used motion to suspend the rules and allow a Senator to bring a new bill despite the rule that bills to be considered in this Session are allowed to be introduced in the first ten days of a Session, which was in January. The week before, we debated the same motion made by a different Senator. The first motion passed but the second failed. In both cases, there were great concerns with the limited time left in the Session to properly include all members of the public who wanted to participate in hearings and to deal with new bills. I shared those concern and voted “No” in both instances.

The first bill, introduced by Senator Wayne, would mandate that cities with populations greater than 5,000, which would include Wayne and South Sioux City, which have one or more full-time law enforcement officers form a 7-person citizen advisory committee to oversee local police actions. The bill had a public hearing on Friday, July 31. There appeared to be equal testifiers in support and in opposition to the bill. It is unclear whether the bill will somehow make it to the floor for debate because it is not a priority bill and there are so few days left on the Legislative Calendar.
The second motion was brought by Senator Vargas but failed to get the required 30 votes needed to be introduced. Senator Vargas also filed a Legislative Resolution (LR 459) to have a study on the topic completed before the next Legislative Session. He also brought it before the Business Labor Committee as a proposed amendment to another bill (LB887) and a public hearing is set for 1:30pm on Thursday, August 6, 2020. In its current form, Senator Vargas’s amendment seeks to mandate certain regulations on meatpacking plants through December 31, 2021.

While I understand Senator Vargas’s intentions, there is simply not enough time to thoroughly investigate, process, and work through any new bill or this particular amendment on this topic. The people most likely to be affected by the Senator’s proposal on this topic, including those workers who live in District 17, deserve an opportunity to be heard. They deserve to hear from the meat processing plants, too.

District 17 is the home of the largest Tyson Foods plant in Nebraska, employing approximately 4,500 workers. The Legislature is in its last days of the 2020 Session, scheduled to adjourn August 13. An August 6 hearing date does NOT give sufficient time for residents of District 17 to shuffle schedules or to arrange to take off of work to travel to Lincoln for a hearing. Nor should they have to. Neither is there sufficient time to have the issue debated on the Legislative floor.

I appreciate Senator Vargas filing Legislative Resolution 459 (LR459) for an interim study to review the effects of COVID-19 on the safety of workers in Nebraska. It is a wiser and more practical approach to this issue. In an interim study, rather than requiring people wanting to be heard come to Lincoln to testify, members of one or more Legislative committees can travel to the people. I am looking forward to attending and listening in sessions in District 17 to hear from workers and processors alike.

I will note that prior to the debate on this motion, I had not heard from a single meatpacking worker with concerns about the plant in District 17, although I have spent nearly all of my time in the District since March and my staff has kept me informed of calls daily. I called the Governor at an early point in the pandemic to make sure his office did more to get the messaging out to employees at the plant who speak so many different languages. The Governor started to ramp up testing and he started conducting press conferences in Spanish a couple of days a week. His office also provided documents in several languages and made public service announcements to make plant employees aware of the ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. I also contacted Tyson Foods early on to make sure they were exercising best practices to look out for workers at the plant and I received a copy of Tyson’s commitment to its workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that Tyson’s commitment to the health of their employees, employee families, and to the community reflects a deep consideration of all. It is also important to note that Tyson recognizes its reliance on the continued health of its employees. It was evident to me that Tyson was acting in good faith on the USDA and UNMC recommendations when Tyson closed the plant down for six days for cleaning and modification of work spaces.

Dakota County had a large number of positive cases of the virus reported when intensive testing was initiated in the area. It is comforting to see the number of positive cases steadily decline. I credit residents and businesses in District 17 that have worked hard to stop the spread of COVID-19 through frequent hand-washing, social distancing, and other recommendations of the Governor and the Nebraska Department of Health.

It is true that even one death is too many and my heart goes out to the families and friends throughout the State who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Together we can continue to serve the needs and preserve the safety of District 17 workers and residents by TAKING enough time to really listen. Again, I look forward to hearing from my neighbors at the listening sessions that will take place on the issue.

On Wednesday, July 29, the Legislature had first round debate on LB814, which would prohibit abortions that dismember an unborn child in order to cause its demise. As you might expect, this is an emotional issue for many in the Legislature. I fully support LB814 and, although it stalled on the first round of debate, I am hopeful LB814 will return to the floor once again in this Session.

We also heard second round debate on LB632, which proposes we adopt the Broadband Internet Service Infrastructure Act and provide for certain broadband and Internet-related services. This is an issue of particular importance to those residents of District 17 who struggle with accessing and meeting their increased need for broadband service.

On Friday, July 31, there was debate on LB147, which failed to move on by one vote. LB147 was a teacher-requested bill by the Education Committee and I am disappointed that after working on this bill for over four years, it failed by one vote. LB147 would have been a tool for teachers to act in a situation to protect themselves and other children from an out-of-control outburst by a student that might present harm to themselves or others. I supported LB147 and the training teachers would have received under it. It was a disappointment.

There were several bills passed on Final Reading and presented to the Governor, including several bills designed to provide greater transparency and best practices for housing juveniles at Nebraska Youth Rehabilitations and Treatment Centers (YRTC).

Much has been done—yet there is still so much to do. The current week may see more debate on property tax relief, the State’s incentive program to attract new businesses, and a bill to aid the University in pursuing federal funds with some state match for its NExT project. Stay tuned, the Session is not yet over.

As always, I invite you to contact my office by phone 402.471.2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

Today (July 29, 2020), the Legislature debated a motion to suspend the rules to enable a Senator to bring a new bill despite the rule that bills to be considered in this Session are allowed to be introduced in the first ten days of Session, which was in January. The motion was brought by Senator Vargas but failed to get the required 30 votes needed. I voted against the motion, which is consistent with my vote on the same motion brought by a different Senator last week. Senator Vargas wanted to bring a new bill regarding meatpacking plants.

While I understand Senator Vargas’s intentions, there is simply not enough time to thoroughly investigate, process, and work through any new bill. Especially on this topic. As I stated last week, every bill that is introduced is required to have a public hearing before it can reach the floor for debate. The people most likely to be affected by any bill deserve opportunity to be heard, including the workers in District 17. this should necessarily include people in District 17.

District 17 is the home of the largest Tyson Foods plant in Nebraska, employing approximately 4,500 workers. The Legislature is in its last ten (10) days of the 2020 Session. The earliest that Senator Vargas can hold a hearing on any new bill would be next Thursday, August 6, 2020. That does NOT give sufficient time for residents of District 17 to shuffle schedules or to arrange to take off of work to travel to Lincoln for a hearing. Nor should they have to.

The Legislative Resolution filed by Senator Vargas (LR459) for an interim study to review the effects of COVID-19 on the safety of workers in Nebraska is a wiser and more practical approach to this issue. In an interim study, rather than requiring people wanting to be heard, members of one or more Legislative committees can travel to them. I am looking forward to attending listening sessions in District 17 to hear from workers and processors alike.

I will note that prior to the debate on this motion, I had not heard from a single meatpacking worker with concerns about the plant in District 17. I did speak with the Governor at an early point in the pandemic and testing was conducted in Dakota City a number of times. The Governor also initiated presenting his press conferences in Spanish on a regular basis and provided documents in a number of languages to make sure nearly all, if not all, of those working in the plants were made aware of the ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. I also contacted Tyson Foods to make sure they were exercising best practices to look out for workers at the plant.

I also received a copy of Tyson’s commitment to its workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other meat processing plants, Tyson relies upon its employees to help them perform an important part of feeding America. It is committed to working to keep them safe and healthy.

Dakota County had a large number of positive cases of the virus reported when intensive testing was initiated in the area. It is comforting to see the number of positive cases steadily decline. I credit residents and businesses in District 17 that have worked hard to stop the spread of COVID-19 through frequent hand-washing, social distancing, and other recommendations of the Governor and the Nebraska Department of Health. It is true that even one death is too many and my heart goes out to the families and friends throughout the State who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Together we can continue to serve the needs and preserve the safety of District 17 workers and residents by TAKING enough time to really listen. Again, I look forward to hearing from my neighbors at the listening sessions that will take place on the issue.

As always, I invite you to contact my office by phone 402.471.2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE July 27, 2020
July 27th, 2020

WELCOME back to the remainder of Session! Lots happened in the five days the Legislature met this week. Forty-three bills were voted on Monday, July 20 alone. A couple of rarely used motions were debated. And, the Governor appeared on the floor of the Legislature. Busy week and preview of things to come.

On Friday, July 24, the Governor spoke to Senators on the floor of the Legislature. He updated Senators on the success of TestNebraska, which has trained 929 contact tracers who have been able to contact those who have been exposed to a person with confirmed COVID-19 within the first day after confirmation 90% of the time.

The Governor also spoke of the updated figures from the Forecasting Board. Those figures show an optimistic picture for Nebraska and its economy. The Governor urged the Legislature to put the people’s work ahead of personal politics and suggested four key pillars to get Nebraska growing again. The four pillars identified by the Governor were:

1. Property tax relief by passing LB1106, which he described as giving more money to our schools while reducing taxable valuations to provide property tax relief to every property owner in the State, whether personal , commercial, or agricultural/horticultural
2. Incentives to bring new businesses to Nebraska through passage of LB720, which would replace the soon to expire Advantage Act that has provided hundreds of jobs in Nebraska and would help keep Nebraska competitive with other states as companies
look for new places to locate or expand.
3. The University of Nebraska Medical Centers NExT Project. The NExT project is described by UNMC as including two major components to serve the training and research needs of Nebraska and to provide a federal all-hazard disaster response military and civilian partnership to treat United States military and civilian personnel injured by biological weapons and
4. Veterans tax relief through LB153, which exempts one-half of military retirement benefits from Nebraska Income Tax.

I am in full support of these priorities and continue to work first and foremost towards the passage of LB1106 to make sure the other pillars are possible.

The Legislature also debated Senator Groene’s bill, LB147 this past week. I am a strong supporter of LB147 and the teachers of Nebraska. LB147 will give teachers throughout Nebraska the ability to protect themselves and other children from danger by being able to restrain and/or remove from the classroom out-of-control children. We heard from teachers who have experienced horrible assaults and unmanageable classroom situations that they have been unable or uncertain about what action, if any, can be taken. LB147 also provides that teachers will receive training in proven de-escalation methods to assist them in being able to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for Nebraska children.

As the Session has moved forward, it was encouraging to see LB1186 pass on to Final Reading. LB1186 was introduced by Senator Hilgers and I designated it as my priority bill back in February. The bill requires that school districts pay teachers their salary from day one if the teacher is injured as a result of an assault taking place while at school. Our teachers are important to our children and our future. Making schools safe for them as well as for our students is a priority and I am honored that Senator Hilgers allowed me to designate his bill as my priority bill.

Things got very interesting pretty quickly once the Legislature reconvened. We experienced some procedural matters that are not necessarily typical during Session.

First, there was what is called a “Pull Motion” from Senator Geist to pull her bill banning dismemberment abortion (LB814) out of Committee. In order for a bill to be debated on the floor, it must first be voted out of Committee and on to General File. The Judiciary Committee, which handles an estimated 250 bills per session did not advance LB814. It takes a motion and 25 or more votes to pull a bill out of committee. We debated Senator Geist’s motion on Tuesday, July 21. The motion prevailed with a 30-8 vote in favor. There were seven senators who were Present Not Voting and four who were Excused and Not Voting. LB814 is Senator Geist’s priority bill and is now on General File for first round debate.

On Wednesday, July 22, the Legislature debated a Motion to Suspend the Rules in order to file a new bill out of time. The motion was filed by Senator Wayne for purposes of introducing LB1222, a bill that would require all cities over 5,000 that employee a full-time police officer to mandate formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Council to investigate complaints and examine law enforcement standards and practices. Though seldom used, the Motion to Suspend the Rules is a tool available to Senators where circumstances warrant. As a rule, bills are allowed to be introduced by Senators during the first ten days of Session. The deadline for introducing bills in the 2020 Session was January 23rd.

Senator Wayne’s motion prevailed on a 32-4 vote with 12 members Present Not Voting. I voted “no” on the motion because of the limited time left in this Session and because I see this as best addressed at the local level rather than state government handing down an unfunded mandate. The bill, in its present form, would require each city to pass an ordinance creating a board of seven people without any experience or ties to law enforcement procedures to investigate every complaint, giving them subpoena power and reporting responsibilities, along with one or more mandated personnel positions. I have reached out to cities and law enforcement in District 17 about the issue and am aware that there are already procedures in place that serve this need through a Civil Service Commission or advisory board. My concern is that a one-size fits all response to the unrest we have seen in Omaha, Lincoln, and throughout the United States, is not appropriate considering the differing needs and resources available in various cities and counties throughout Nebraska. Hearings on Senator Wayne’s bill is scheduled to be heard before the Urban Affairs Committee at 1:00 PM on Friday, July 31.

There is much more ahead as we move into the last 11 days of Session and I will do my best to keep residents of District 17 informed.

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you.
You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov

WEEKLY UPDATE July 20, 2020
July 20th, 2020

There is an annual opportunity for college Junior and Senior students to serve as Legislative Page. The deadline for interested parties to submit Page applications for Page is October 2, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. The Page Selection Committee will meet in October to select individuals to fill the positions. If you or someone you know is interested in a Page position, please contact my office for more details.

Tax Commissioner Tony Fulton reports that gross General Fund receipts for June were $578 million, which is 0.4% above the certified forecast of $576 million. Gross sales use, individual income, and miscellaneous funding all rose above the projected forecast, while gross corporate income fell 12.4% below the forecast. According to the Governor, the report provides great hope for Nebraska’s position to work on “a few key initiatives, including property tax relief.”

On Friday, July 17, the Governor held a briefing that included remarks by Matthew Blomstedt, Commissioner of Education for Nebraska. They discussed the work that local school districts are doing to get Nebraska children back in school. The Governor reiterated that the State is not suggesting masks must be worn by students, but did articulate a couple of reasons why wearing a mask in school may be helpful. Included in his reasoning, was the plan for utilizing contact tracing should a child test positive for COVID-19. The wearing of masks in school may reduce the necessity of so many people being tested as a result of one child’s positive test. School districts throughout Nebraska are working towards individualized plans to get children back to school as soon as practicable.

Monday, July 20 marks the first day that state senators return to the Capitol for purposes of debating and acting on legislation introduced at the beginning of the 2020 Session in January. Speaker Jim Scheer has spoken candidly about his intention to see the large number of Priority Bills make it to floor debate. He reinforced this commitment by placing over 40 Bills on Monday’s agenda alone.The Speaker has also made it clear that he is committed to the Legislature exercising fiscal responsibility in the wake of the impact COVID-19 has had on the economy. Even with good numbers coming out for June, what the impact will be during the 2020-2021 budget year is uncertain. He, therefore, identified bills with a fiscal note and suggested that Senators introducing those bills look for ways to amend them. In other words, if there is a fiscal note identifying costs associated with a bill, it is less likely that the bill will make it any further through the process unless it is amended. With that in mind, it is important for residents in Nebraska to know that even though I, or my colleagues, voted in favor of advancing a Bill to Select File (2nd reading), it is entirely possible that those votes may change or the bill comes out different form if costs are involved. I will be paying close attention to bills and amendments that come up for debate.

It is likely the Legislature will also be considering the Property Tax Relief Bill LB1106 at some point this first week. The bill, in its current form, grants property tax relief to every property owner whether residential, commercial, or agricultural property is involved. It works to reduce school district reliance on property taxes to fund education by having the State pick up a larger share of education expenses. It also works to ensure a common-sense approach to limiting increases in school spending in a manner consistent with increased population and economic growth of the State and individual communities. My research continues to show that the taxpayers AND school districts in District 17 will benefit from the proposed changes LB1106 contains. I understand that the larger school districts are concerned about releasing some of their taxing authority and a number of State Senators from urban areas are resistant to be facilitators of the changes needed. However, LB1106 makes certain that school districts do not experience funding gaps, regardless of size. As lawmakers, we must consider the best interests of our State and property tax relief that benefits property owners across the board is in the best interest of everyone in the State. I again urge my colleagues to put aside differences, reach across the aisle, and pass LB1106 to give much needed property tax relief to taxpayers. It is the right thing to do and it is in the best interest of the children and taxpayers of Nebraska.

There will also be a number of bills that have already been designated as Priority Bills coming out of Committees. One of those is LB992, dealing with Broadband. LB992 was designated a priority by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee of which I am a member. The goal is to expand Broadband service into more unserved and underserved areas of Nebraska. LB992 is a vehicle designed to help facilitate the expansion by addressing issues surrounding leasing fiber owned by telephone and power companies to broadband providers. LB992 will be placed on General File (1st reading) a short time after we reconvene, with an amendment designed to address concerns by those in the telecommunications industry.

As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you.
You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov. When calling or emailing my office, please include your name and phone number. The office has received messages with requests for a return call where a number was not left. If you have previously requested a return call and have not received a response, please contact the office this next week.

WEEKLY UPDATE July 13, 2020
July 13th, 2020

As we move closer to reconvening at the Legislature, Nebraska also moves towards economic recovery. Our state continues to lead the country, even in the midst of COVID-19. In June, Nebraska posted the lowest unemployment rate in the Nation, showing once again the amazing work ethic of Nebraska residents and their commitment to a strong recovery of our State.

Speaking of unemployment, the extra $600 per week for those collecting unemployment benefits is set to expire July 31. Also, beginning the benefit week of July 12, 2020, performing and reporting work search activities are once again required for those claiming benefits unless the claimant has an employer-confirmed recall date within 112 days of their layoff, is in approved training, a union member with a hiring hall, or in a short-time compensation program.

Kudos to Walmart South Sioux City that has actively participated in reaching the goal of Walmart’s Veterans Welcome Home Commitment to hire 250,000 veteran associates since its Memorial Day 2013 launch. Nebraska helped reach the goal with 2,200 veteran hires and 421 veteran associate promotions in the state. I am proud that District 17 played a part in this honorable effort.

Working from home the last few months has involved more than a few frustrating moments without adequate Internet service. This last week, I directly experienced the need for improved broadband and internet access for those of us in District 17. The gap in adequate rural access to broadband has become even more apparent with increased use of Internet by so many working from and staying at home during the pandemic. Never having left my mind, rural broadband access is once again at the forefront. I serve on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. In February, the Committee designated LB992 as one of our two priority bills. LB992 proposes the Broadband Internet Service Infrastructure Act and makes changes recommended by the Rural Broadband Task Force to improve access. The changes in part provide a process enabling broadband to expand service by running over existing electric easements to the rural communities throughout Nebraska. I am looking forward to discussing LB992 during these next 17 days of the Session.

Looking ahead to reconvening July 20, property tax relief remains a focal point for me and many of my colleagues. There has been hard work since January to try to bring tax relief to individual, commercial, and agricultural landowners. Many senators have worked tirelessly to make LB1106 a better bill. Reports have indicated that there is still a struggle to get the 33 votes needed to pass LB1106. My thanks to Senator Groene for outlining the following changes being proposed in the most recent amendment to LB1106:
1. Agriculture, horticultural & special valuations within the TEEOSA formula adjusted to 52%; residential, commercial/industrial & centrally assessed property adjusted to 83%
2. Taxable property valuations for school districts: 55% for agriculture, horticultural & special valuations; 87% for residential, commercial/industrial & centrally assessed property.
3. Acceptable ranges for property valuations by Counties adjusted to 49-55% for agricultural, horticultural, & special valuations; 79-87% for residential, commercial/industrial & centrally assessed property.
4. Foundation Aid, currently set at 2.23% of local income taxes to each school district from the State, under LB1106 in its currently proposed amendment would replace the Income Tax Rebate with 15% of net income, corporate, sales & use tax collections divided by statewide K-12 fall membership. Foundation Aid cannot be less than 15% of a school district’s basic funding.
5. Base limitation on budget growth. Adjust from 2.5% Basic Allowable Growth Rate of expenditures, which has averaged 1.48% to 2.0% maximum allowable growth in expenditures.
6. Budget authority, currently allowed to accrue unused budget authority year over year may access a maximum of 2.5% of additional budget authority annually. This would continue after 2020-21, however, would include a one-time reset of all school districts’ unused budget authority back to current year expenditures. To eliminate budget authority hoarding, the 2.5% cap would be eliminated and districts that use the year over year budget method would be allowed to set base-year maximum expenditures at 110
% of the most recent 2-year budget.
7. Maximum levy of $1.05 per $100 valuation adjusted.

In summary, the State pays a larger percentage of educational costs for Nebraska’s children and the school districts restrain spending growth. At the center of the proposal is a plan to reduce local reliance on property tax revenues.

Naturally, the changes noted above, along with a few others may change,. As the amendment is currently proposed, District 17 taxpayers and schools will benefit from its passage.
What is certain is that enough is enough. We need to do what is best for the children, the taxpayers, and the State. As we look toward reconvening on July 20, I am challenging my colleagues in the Legislature to join hands across the aisle and to take care of this issue that the people of Nebraska have already waited 40 years for us to fix. Enough is enough. The time is now. In the infamous words of John F. Kennedy, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

It was an historic day in South Sioux City on July 3. I was honored to be a part of the program at the unveiling of the Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway sign, which represented the official and public renaming of U.S. Highway 20. The renaming is an appropriate honor for those who have given so much to fight for our country. It is an appropriate time for the ceremony as we celebrate the 244th birthday of our great nation. My thanks and the thanks of others go out to the many Veterans who worked so hard to bring this change and to make the day a reality.

On Saturday, I was delighted to take part in the Hoskins parade—the only official Fourth of July parade taking place in District 17. As do many of you, I love parade season. Thank you Hoskins for making this parade happen. I look forward to the many parades I expect to see next year. I believe planning has already begun!

Shortly after the Legislature reconvenes on July 20, the Forecasting Board will meet per the Speaker’s request. The Forecasting Board typically meets twice a year; using the first to develop a forecast of revenues for the year ahead, and the second that usually takes place in April, to adjust the forecast to reflect actual revenue receipts to that point. You may recall my Weekly Update including news of better than expected revenues the past couple of years. Generally speaking, the Forecasting Board develops its forecast using its best estimate. The 2020-2021 Forecast presented in April of this year estimated state revenue growth of 4.8% over last year’s revenues.

Last week, John Keuhn, former senator and current member of the Forecasting Board said that, despite the past couple of months of the pandemic, when compared to the certified forecast, Nebraska revenues so far are fairly on track, off only about 1/10th of 1% from the 2019 forecast. Mr. Keuhn attributed this to what he described as good, responsible, fiscal conservative leadership that “has put us in good position to weather the impact of COVID-19 to this point.” Though strong to this point, Mr. Kuehn believes we will see some lower revenues because of decreased purchasing and activity over the past few months, which he opines will likely cause a ripple effect in rural communities too. Nevertheless, we will recover as we always do, by working together. We are, after all, #NebraskaStrong.

Is it possible that there may be amendments related to what we’ve experienced with COVID-19 when we reconvene later this month? Possibly, but only to a limited extent. Remember, COVID-19 was not expected when Bills were introduced in January, and Nebraska law requires that every new Bill have a Committee Hearing before it can be debated on the floor. Consequently, any new “add on” provisions to legislation that may attempt to address issues related to the pandemic will would also need to receive a public hearing. There are most certainly concerns from businesses and organizations involved in reopening efforts that will need to be addressed but which likely need to take the form of future legislation. Because the earliest new Bills dealing with the COVID-19 issues could be seen is at the Legislature’s January 2021 Session, there is hope that the most pressing issues related to liability and such will be addressed at the federal level in the interim.

Meanwhile, property tax relief and recovery of the Nebraska economy remain at the forefront of our thoughts. There is a group of several senators continuing to work on a viable Bill to reduce property taxes, in conjunction with a Bill to replace the Advantage Act business incentive program due to sunset this year. The senators continue to collaborate in good faith and to keep the rest of us posted on status. Change is hard and, although we all recognize the need to address high property taxes and the inequality being felt by the rural community and its schools, people are resistant to change.

As the unrest across the nation has unfolded and continues, there is a sense that many living in more urban situated states are considering relocating. In that respect, Nebraska holds an attractive alternative. You and I and other Nebraska residents know why. Still, if our population is to grow and if we are to attract talented individuals, families, and businesses from other places, we need to have in place an environment that is inviting from an economic standpoint. Our balanced budget and strong fiscal structure may be attractive, but we also must be able to offer a more family and business friendly tax structure.

As I’ve said in many instances, property tax relief is a priority of mine and remains a priority of many of my colleagues. In addition to talk of the impact of COVID-19, look for lots of discussion surrounding bringing meaningful property tax relief to District 17 and to all of Nebraska.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE June 29, 2020
June 29th, 2020

It is sad and disappointing to not be able to meet and visit with you at the county fairs this year. I know the young people work so hard all year long looking forward to showing the rest of us their skills, fine animals, and amazing creations of all sorts. Like so many of you, my family and I would normally be getting ready to visit each fair. I look forward to returning to our county fair traditions in 2021.

One tradition will continue, though it will look a bit different this year. Hoskins will still host its Fourth of July parade at 11:00 AM, with no breakfast to follow. I am delighted to be participating in the parade and will be excited to see any of you who are able to attend.

As we open up our State, we in Nebraska remain positive about returning to a higher level of normalcy even as we continue to practice measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 to friends and family members.

Moving forward despite recent events, Congratulations are in order for Wayne, Nebraska, which has been recognized and designated as a 2020 Accredited Main Street America program, along with Beatrice, Falls City, Fremont, and Grand Island. Accredited status is the top tier of recognition from Main Street America and signifies Wayne’s commitment to revitalization and commitment to build stronger community through preservation-based development of older and historic commercial districts.

At the state level, Nebraska Tax Commissioner Tony Fulton briefed the Legislature’s Revenue Committee along with other senators on the State’s tax receipts through May 2020. We continue to monitor and analyze the economic impact of COVID-19 on our state as we prepare to reconvene on July 20, 2020.

Even as we consider how to navigate and adjust for economic impact caused by our COVID-19 response, we must also deal with prison overcrowding. In accordance with Nebraska law, on July 1, 2020, the Governor will make an emergency declaration regarding the current overcrowding. That declaration will trigger a series of accelerated reviews by the Parole Board. It is important to note that this does NOT mean the State is releasing inmates indiscriminately. What it does mean is that the Parole Board will continue to put public safety first as it accelerates and holds more frequent parole hearings to consider parole for eligible inmates.

Our country, too, continues to look and move forward. July 1, 2020 marks the beginning date for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaces the current NAFTA agreement that governs trade in North America. USMCA is important to the United States and the new agreement contains enhancements in Intellectual Property (IP), Digital trade and Agricultural markets. No state has a greater interest in USMCA than Nebraska, where the Governor anticipates USMCA will play a key role in growing our state’s economy with its increased opportunities in agricultural, manufacturing, and transportation markets. When addressing State Chamber members online last week, Governor Ricketts pointed to the three primary principles of USMCA, to 1) maintain market access, 2) reduce tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, and 3) update approaches to biotechnology and bioscience that can help take trade relationships to their next level. Predictability in manufacturing and expanded access to the markets will be accomplished through reduced red-tape, protection of trade secrets, and partnerships in production. All-in-all, Nebraska has much to look forward to.

Meanwhile, the state is also addressing immediate needs for recovery. Last week, Governor Ricketts announced the Community CARES program, which offers $85 million for charities and childcare providers across Nebraska. There are three separate components that can be applied for by those nonprofits and providers who believe they are eligible.
$40 million in Stabilization grants are available to provide direct assistance in reopening or stabilizing nonprofits and select providers that have experienced loss or increased expenses due to COVID-19. The grants consist of one-time payments of up to $12,000 per eligible applicant. The application for these grants is June 29, 2020 through July 6, 2020, with award notifications set to go out July 15, 2020.
$43 million is being made available for competitive Response and Recovery Grants. These grants will be competitively awarded in amounts between $50,000 and $2 million. They are designed to support those organizations offering community services including food security, housing, and behavioral health care to underserved populations negatively impacted by COVID-19. The application period for the Response and Recovery Grants is July 1, 2020 through July 8, 2020, with anticipated award decisions made by July 15, 2020.
Finally, $2 million has been set aside for one-time payments to childcare providers and centers of worship to assist in providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies.
Applications and information can be accessed at dhhs.ne.gov/CommunityCares or by calling the DHHS call center at (833) 220-0018.

I remain grateful for the way Nebraskans have worked together through the pandemic and am hopeful as we continue to work together towards our recovery. In District 17, and throughout Nebraska, there is a strong sense of community and it is apparent that we work hard to help ourselves and others live our best lives.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE June 22, 2020
June 22nd, 2020

It was good to have my office opened and fully staffed this past Wednesday. We were able to meet with representatives from First Five Nebraska, University of Nebraska, and the Chamber of Commerce to discuss their focus and ideas as we move forward into the remaining 17 days of the 2020 Legislative Session on July 20 and look ahead to the 2021 Session.

Along with the teams at Northeast Nebraska Public Health (NNPH), Dakota County Health (DCH), and the Winnebago Comprehensive Healthcare System (WCHS), we mourn with the families who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. As Danielle Smith, CEO of WCHS pointed out, we were fortunate to have only one new positive test from the recent mass testing done at Winnebago recently, but recognize that we also had two COVID-19 related deaths, which amplifies the need for us to continue to take this virus seriously by following suggested safety guidelines. “We are a small community and every single life lost to this virus is one too many,” said CEO Smith. We agree.

Reopening Nebraska: Unfortunately, county fairs for 2020 in District 17 have been cancelled. However, Wayne County will have a couple of days for the 4-H and FFA participants to display their projects from the past year to family members with tickets.

As our state continues to reopen safely and gradually, I am honored to be attending and speaking at the unveiling of two signs for the newly named Medal of Honor Highway being held at the Siouxland Freedom Park in South Sioux City on Thursday July 2, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. The ceremony is open to the public.

Early last week, Governor Ricketts announced further loosening of COVID-19-related restrictions throughout the State. Effective June 22, 2020, Thurston and Wayne Counties are among the 89 counties now in Phase 3 of the Safe State Reopening Plan and Dakota County moves into Phase 2. Statewide and Directed Health Measures (DHMs) for each individual county, along with answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) can be found at http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/COVID-19-Directed-Health-Measures.aspx. Updated Reopening Guidelines can be accessed at:
http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/COVID-19-Nebraska-Guidance-Documents.aspx

Unemployment: Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ released May unemployment rates, showing that Nebraska had the lowest rate in the nation at 5.2%. The Platte Institute noted “a more optimistic picture for our nation” citing lower rates in 38 states. This speaks well of the Nebraska work ethic and resiliency, as well as the unity with which many individuals, businesses, and agricultural producers have pulled together to get the State’s economy back on track. The report showed that the number of unemployed in Nebraska was 54,879 in the state, down from a high of 92,638 in April. . Of course, we all recognize there is still a long way to go. At the Legislature, other Senators and I are mindful that we need to consider opportunities we have to help the continued recovery.

Additionally, Extended Benefits (EB) for eligible unemployed individuals who exhaust their previous unemployment benefits are made available according to an announcement by the Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) on Monday, June 22. The EB program offers up to an additional 13 weeks of benefits to eligible persons. NDOL will notify eligible individuals and issue application instructions. The benefit amount will be the same as the individual received for regular unemployment compensation.

Other Resources.
Business and Livestock Producers. My office was contacted by a number of producers who experienced a “glitch” in the application itself that may have caused an automatic denial of applications for the Small Business Stabilization Grants and Livestock Producers that was announced in my newsletter last week. On June 16, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) announced a temporary halt to accepting those applications in order to give the Department sufficient time to validate all applicants more thoroughly and to avoid potential delays in issuing eligible grants. The DED begins accepting applications again today, June 22, 2020 and the deadline has been extended to 5:00 pm (CST) on July 1, 2020. If you received a denial to your application and believe you should be eligible for the program(s), you may apply or re-applying at: https://getnebraskagrowing.nebraska.gov/ag-grants/

Food Security. Under a new program authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which provides assistance to those families eligible for free or reduce meals, Nebraska is able to offer additional resources to current and newly eligible SNAP recipients. Those currently receiving benefits do not need to take any action and will have their increased benefits automatically credited to their EBT card. Families newly eligible can apply in person at a participating Food Bank, online through the P-EBT portal at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) webpage or by phone by calling ACCESSNebraska hotline at 800.383.4278.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

WEEKLY UPDATE June 12, 2020
June 15th, 2020

Things are picking up at the Capitol and all across Nebraska. Maintaining health and safety while reopening our state and re-starting our economy are at the forefront of many minds. To be successful, we must all work together—individuals, businesses, and the ag community—to continue to build and remain #NebraskaStrong. To that end, I continue to monitor re-stabilizing ag and other businesses, the overall health of District 17 and our state, and the anticipated issues we will encounter going forward.

    LIVESTOCK PRODUCERS! ACT NOW! – SMALL BUSINESS STABILIZATION GRANT APPLICATION PERIOD IS JUNE 15TH TO JUNE 26

. Governor Rickets announced that, as part of his Get Nebraska Growing initiative, there are small business grants and grants for livestock producers being made available from funds that were provided to the State under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The grants will be distributed to small businesses and livestock producers that have been greatly affected by the impacts of COVID-19.

The funds are finite and will be distributed by the Department of Economic Development on a first-come, first-served basis in qualified amounts to eligible producers and small businesses.

You may apply for a grant up to $12,000 if you are a small business with five to forty-nine employees or a livestock producer with fewer than ten employees and have closed or sustained a loss of revenue or employment since March 13, 2020. Nebraska Cattlemen reports that the following livestock producer industries are eligible: Beef Cattle Ranching and Farming, Dairy Cattle and Milk Production, Hog and Pig Farming, Poultry and Egg Production, and Sheep/Goat Farming.

In addition, Nebraska Livestock producers must have at least 20 animal units and two-thirds (2/3) of gross income must come from Farming or Ranching. More information is available at https://getnebraskagrowing.nebraska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Small-Business-Stabilization-Program-FAQ-for-Livestock-Producers.pdf

Apply at: https://getnebraskagrowing.nebraska.gov/ag-grants/

The application period ends June 26, 2020. If you believe you are eligible, be sure to get your application in right away.

    REOPENING NEBRASKA

As Nebraska reopens, each health district, and in fact, each county and city encounters its own unique challenges. Nowhere is this more visible than in District 17, where Thurston and Wayne Counties are opening under a Phase 2 Directed Health Measure (DHM) while Dakota County is operating under a more restrictive Phase 1 DHM. Even within the counties, differing challenges exist. COVID-19 has greatly impacted individuals, families, churches, businesses, and industry. Hardest hit economically have been the hospitality (restaurants, hotels, venues) and agricultural industries. We have seen inspiring creativity and adaptability in many areas, including re-directing agricultural products unable to get into the bottleneck created by processing slowdowns and shutdowns, processor plant re-fits to improve safety for workers, and a hospitality industry that has completely re-worked everything from delivery methods (think take-out) to interior design to protect employees and guests. Because of the willingness and dedication of so many producers and business owners, we can all look forward to healthy re-openings.

We mourn those we have lost to COVID-19. We also mourn alongside families who have been unable to hold traditional funerals for their loved ones. We are all heartbroken that most of our high school and college seniors were not able to walk across the stage after so many years of working towards a graduation goal. This has all been hard work and sacrifice, but as Nebraskans, we are not strangers to hard work and we know hard work pays off. As residents of District 17, we can see that there is hope on the horizon. Even in Dakota County, where we experienced a spike in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 over a short period of time, the number of new cases has been slowing down and leveling off, just as they have statewide. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) has continued to find the health of our healthcare system strong and stable. Our sacrifice and hard work have kept our health care system from being overwhelmed. In fact, NDHHS reports that we continue to see 40%-50% of our hospital beds available for those who need it, with 45%-50% of ICU beds, and over 70% or more ventilators. Thank you for being a partner in helping Nebraska flatten the curve.

    LEGISLATURE:

There are a lot of issues facing the Legislature as we move into Session again on July 20, 2020. With 17 days left, we expect to be working long days. My staff and I are working to make sure we are as prepared as we can be. I am in Lincoln this week meeting with various individuals and groups about issues before us when we reconvene. Tuesday morning, I and my staff will be attending a briefing from the Revenue Committee on CARES Act tax cuts.
I also anticipate conversations about things like improving rural broadband service as we all face a post-COVID-19 Nebraska. With so many working from home and schools working to implement more distance learning, this particular issue takes on more urgency moving forward. I will continue to keep residents of District 17 updated.

We continue to work on property tax reform as I have previously discussed in my weekly updates. Until it passes, you still have opportunity to act on your own behalf. As a reminder, property tax valuation disputes must be filed with the County Clerk’s Office in triplicate in person or postmarked by no later than June 30, 2020.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

This past week was one of some good news for the nation and for Nebraska, even in the midst of civil unrest. Riots and civil unrest dominated the media, mostly drowning out the good news that as the economy in many states begins to reopen, jobless claims are down and there is reason for optimism as we emerge from the limitations of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The protests in Lincoln turned to violent and destructive riots, resulting in property damage to businesses including some broken windows at the Capitol. Calm has been restored in the city and damages are being repaired. There was no damage that will negatively affect the planned return of your Legislature on July 20, 2020.

While there were protests in many cities throughout the United States, District 17 and most rural areas of Nebraska were largely peaceful, working to stay healthy during the pandemic and starting to re-open businesses that are important to our economy and our quality of life.

Dakota County began Phase 1 reopening under loosened limitations, while Thurston and Wayne Counties began Phase 2. You can find more information on the reopening guidelines for District 17 counties in my May 22, 2020 Weekly Update at my Legislative webpage: http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist17/

On the economic front, we have seen the USDA work alongside the State of Nebraska to begin bringing much needed relief to the agricultural community and, as counties begin to open up under loosened restrictions, we have seen optimistic signs as people return to work.

The jobless claims rate came in unexpectedly low this past week and 2.5 million jobs were added during the month of May. The national unemployment rate fell from 14.7% to 13.3%. Nebraska unemployment figures for May are not yet available but, while Nebraska’s April unemployment rate rose to a historical high of 8.3%, it fared far better than the national rate of 14.7%.

Here in Nebraska, economist Ernie Goss, PhD continues to analyze and give updated numbers as they are released every Thursday. In a recent Platte Institute Webinar featuring Dr. Goss, he analyzed the latest numbers. Manufacturing in Nebraska is on the rise, but the service industries were hit harder, and the agricultural sector hit the hardest by the economic shutdown resulting from COVID-19 concerns. Dr. Goss estimates that the fiscal impact to Nebraska from March 14 to May 5, 2020 is $80 million. However, this figure does not take into account relief brought by the CARES Act.
Dr. Goss said he expects Nebraska hit the peak of unemployment mid-May. He expects a rebound in the stock market and, although optimistic about recovery, does project that it will take longer than originally hoped.

As I studied the video and analysis, I was pleased to hear the experts say that although this may be the most severe recession we have experienced, it should also be the shortest in duration.

The Legislature must take a leadership role in the recovery process. I do not believe any of us are surprised at Dr. Goss’ prediction that the State will need to tap into its reserves to make up for the decline in revenue brought about by COVID-19.

As your representatives, we must focus on reducing property tax burden and concentrate providing a regulatory environment that facilitates business start-ups and growth.

We will not know the total impact to the reserve funds until we know the revenue from income tax. Those figures will not be available until after the delayed filing deadline of July 15. The Governor and Chair of the Executive Committee have called for a special meeting of the Economic Forecasting Advisory Board on July 23 to consider the impact of COVID-19 and to review and revise the forecast of net general fund tax receipts for the remainder of the biennium accordingly.

The key to successful recovery is unified purpose and shared sacrifice at both the State and local levels. The Legislature, along with local government entities, including our K-12 and secondary education providers must work together to reduce the tax burden on already stressed property owners, businesses, and agricultural producers by restructuring the property tax system. We have already seen plans to rein in spending by the University of Nebraska and Creighton University. We also need local school districts, specifically the larger districts in Lincoln and Omaha, to step up and support property tax reform that allows flexibility in property valuations and that reduces school districts’ reliance on property taxes. So far, Senators representing the largest school districts have made a concentrated effort to stall that reform by use of filibuster. These districts continue to have higher property taxes than most of Nebraska, while also receiving the largest amount of supplemental state funding under the current formula. As I have noted in prior newsletters, the current property tax reduction proposal (LB1106) would decrease the schools’ reliance on property taxes while increasing state aid and provide per pupil state aid funding equally to school districts across the state. This approach would reduce the burden to individual, business, and agricultural property owners. It is time that these large school districts release the senators representing their districts to do the right thing for all of Nebraska by joining with senators who have been working tirelessly to bring balanced tax relief to all taxpayers across the state.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts, ideas, concerns, or suggestions by contacting me at jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov or by calling my office at 402.471.2716.

Sen. Joni Albrecht

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