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 5/29/15

May 29th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newsletter 5/15/15

May 29th, 2015

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newsletter 5/8/15

May 8th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Newsletter 5/1/15

May 4th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Newsletter 4/24/15

April 23rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

 

Newsletter 4/17/15

April 20th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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.