January 7th, 2015

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 23rd 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.

Sen. Jerry Johnson

Senator Johnson Invites Students to Youth Legislature

April 17th, 2015

High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 7th- 10th. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.

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

“The students of today become the leaders of tomorrow, so a strong background in civics and government is essential,” said Senator Jerry Johnson.

Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Speaker Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are also available.

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

To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-0764. The deadline for registration is May 15th.


Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 16, 2015

April 16th, 2015

This past week in your Nebraska Legislature was interesting.  As usual, we passed a few things, voted down a few things, and talked for awhile on many things.

To begin the week, we passed LB 610, the “Gas Tax Increase” bill to Final Reading.  As many of you know, this bill will raise our state gas tax by 1 1/2 cents per year for 4 years.  At the end of this 4 year period the accumulated 6 cent increase will be generating an estimated $75 million extra for roads and bridge projects in the state.  The proceeds from this increase will be divided into thirds to be distributed to the cities, counties and to the state.  I know I have told you I am against tax increases and credits and other tax shifts as well but, as I have traveled around District #23 other than property tax relief, many of you have said we need more money for roads and bridges.  This includes city streets, county roads, paving or widening projects and of course bridges.

I felt from the start that the percentages of the division of money from LB 610 were a little off.  I felt that the cities and counties should be getting a greater share.  As advanced, the bill remains at the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 level.  I have had many in the agricultural community contact me and say they favored the raise.  In fact, some said to raise the 6 cents or more right now, don’t bother with the phase in period.  In fairness, I heard from several that said they didn’t want a tax increase and I understand their point of view.  They argue that it is not the right time for this increase, that we should wait until a new state roads director is appointed and can assess the situation or the increase is not fair to those who have limited incomes.  I get it but when is the right time?  If I ask people do they want a tax increase obviously they say no but if I say this may be how they get that road done or bridge moved up on a county work agenda, then the conversation changes.

Another hoped for benefit is that this bill’s passage might reduce property taxes.  If we get another revenue stream for the counties and cities then hopefully, county levies may be reduced and then other taxing authorities may be positively affected.  I did vote for LB 610.

We spend so much time on some of the “big” issues before us, that once in awhile a bill comes through that doesn’t generate quite as much attention but nevertheless is passed simply as the right thing to do.  LB 439 is one such bill that we passed back in early April and this measure was signed by the Governor on April 7.  This bill states that there would be no violation or penalty of the minor in possession law for a minor who requested emergency medical assistance in response to a possible alcohol overdose of themselves or another person as soon as the emergency is apparent.  The bill went on to say the person making the request for another person must remain on the scene until medical help has arrived and that person must cooperate with medical assistance and law enforcement personnel.

The discussion quickly centered on college age students probably because there have been several recent incidents and unfortunately deaths associated with this age group.  We worry about drugs and exposure to them by our young people.  Alcohol, while legal, is a drug and can be deadly if misused.  The University of Nebraska/Lincoln said they would review all of their alcohol policies as a result of LB 439.  I voted for this bill, it is the right thing to do.




Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 10, 2015

April 10th, 2015

This past week in your Nebraska State Legislature, I got LB 139 across the finish line.  This bill concerns changes in the Real Property Appraiser Act.  This is an ongoing process regarding the Act and it has been and will be an almost annual bill for needed changes and updates.  I have spoken about this bill here before but I think the remarkable thing is getting a bill passed.  The pace seemed to quicken this past week a little but the Speaker, the captain of our legislative ship, as I told you last week, wants to pick it up.  Also he handed out a memo outlining scheduled late nights.  Between April 28th and May 28th he has scheduled 15 late nights.  This number is more than in past sessions so one can sense the seriousness of his intentions.  Late nights can run as late as 11:59 pm on a given day but cannot go into a new day without it becoming the next scheduled day of the session.  I haven’t seen any nights that late in my time here but we have been warned.

We moved LB 419 forward this past week as well.  This bill seemed pretty simple initially.  It would give Nebraska zoos a sales tax exemption on admissions, memberships, zoo purchases and any sales tax generated on concessions.  Obviously, this would give zoos extra money that could be reinvested in operations, facilities and promotions.  Presently, there appears to be four zoos that could take advantage of this proposal; Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, Wildlife Safari Park near Ashland and Riverside in Scottsbluff.

The fiscal note estimated this exemption would cost the state $2.6 million over the next two years.  Several senators felt all Nebraskans deserve tax relief of some kind not just a few non-profit entities.  We heard pretty convincing arguments in favor of the tax break.  Obviously tourism and economic development were among them.  However many said when they travel the state they hear people wanting true property tax relief.  I hear the same message.  I’m not saying I may not vote for this bill as it progresses forward this year, however I will need to see some definite movement toward any kind of meaningful property tax relief for me to be convinced.  I joined the minority and voted against this bill.

In a similar vein, we debated and passed LB 414 on to Select File.  This bill, while affecting many fraternal benefit societies in Nebraska, was aimed primarily to benefit the Woodmen of the World group headquartered in Omaha.  This organization feels they are entitled to a property tax exemption on the part of their skyscraper in Omaha which they use.  The bill would grant a roughly $800,000 exemption.  I am not questioning the jobs a big organization such as this provides, nor am I suggesting they don’t do many charitable works around the area aside from operating their insurance company to benefit their members.  All I am saying is that much like LB 419, is this the best use of exemptions, credits and other tax breaks that benefit the most Nebraskans?  I voted against this bill as well.

We have tough debate ahead of us on many issues. Until I see and can vote on meaningful tax relief measures, I can’t vote for tax credits or exemptions.




Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 02, 2015

April 2nd, 2015

LB 106 is a bill that is a perfect example of why I tell many of you when we visit, either in person or by some other means, that I am reluctant to support a bill until it reaches the floor of the Legislature for General File debate.  Bills can say one thing at first and be changed significantly as they move forward.  Such is the case with this measure.

First of all, we had a hard time finding a committee for this bill.  It was originally referenced to the Agriculture Committee but upon close examination, we realized this bill talked about where to put livestock operations not how to build them.  Realizing this bill probably spoke more to zoning issues, we asked that the bill be re-referenced to the Government, Military and Veteran’s Affairs Committee.  This was somewhat a stretch for this committee as well but they took it.

As initially presented it was suggested this bill would encourage growth in the livestock industry “simplifying” the process of application and siting in each county.  While the state is a leader in many livestock categories, proponents of LB 106 point to the decline in dairy operations in the state as well as lagging growth in other sectors as reasons to adopt this measure.  It is felt that the state is a “patchwork quilt” for those looking to expand into or around our state.  It was pointed out that regulations for expansion varied widely across our 93 counties.  It was felt that by creating some order out of the confusion it would help our state economically and in our huge agriculture industry.  A statewide matrix or plan was to be developed by the Department of Agriculture that would be given to each county to follow.  The use of the matrix was to be mandatory and would outline several standards that would be followed giving developers a clear path to follow.

It was this mandate to use the matrix that caused the fall-out.  I learned very quickly when I came to the Legislature, the meaning of the phrase “local control”.  You can do many things here in the Unicameral but don’t mess with local control.  What works and is good for people in Scotts Bluff may very well not work at all in and around Schuyler.  As introduced this state mandate seemed to encroach into county board business.  Many counties, by comprehensive plans or other means, have set their own standards for feedlot permitting.  As you can imagine, agriculture groups, county boards, cities and individuals quickly took sides with a clear majority opposing this idea.

After lengthy debate, LB 106 was amended to be mainly voluntary.  The bill now provides that a panel of experts would be appointed by the Department of Agriculture.  They would be charged with developing the matrix that county officials could use, if they want, to decide whether to use this approach.  The board would be made up of representatives from several organizations from across the state and would possibly divide the state into sections to better meet local needs.  Again, the use of the matrix would answer siting, smell, size, water issues and any other related county level concerns.

Now that the bill has become voluntary, I can imagine virtually all counties across the state accessing this matrix and at least using it as a guide when needed.

At the end of the week the Speaker of the Legislature gave us what some would describe as a pep talk and others may see it as a kick in the pants.  He reminded the body that we have a little over 30 working days before adjournment.  We have 60 priority bills that haven’t made it through the first round yet and 22 priority bills still stuck in committee.  He said we need to get busy and he is probably correct.




Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 27, 2015

March 27th, 2015

This past week brought a change in the format that we will follow for the remainder of our working days this session in your Nebraska Legislature.  We began all day debate on the legislative floor.  This signals the end of public hearings on all bills as well.  Some feel this signals the halfway point of our session, others feel that by doubling the floor time we really have just begun the real portion of the session.  I tend to feel both viewpoints are accurate.  

Going forward, we won’t be burdened by a time limit of 2 or 3 hours before lunch to talk about bills.  There is the hope that, absent unnecessary filibuster, we can begin to move through the multitude of offerings that have been advanced to General File.

At this point, we still have major debate scheduled on most priority bills.  Some of these measures include the death penalty, school aid, some form of tax relief and any number of other proposals before us.  It is also hoped by many, myself included, that we can get through the priority designations to go back to General File on other bills that are of interest.  Also we anticipate a multi-day discussion on our biennial budget.  It is constitutionally required that we pass a balanced budget before we adjourn for the year.  There really is no other requirement that we have aside from this.

I did have a good hearing on a bill that I proposed to the Judiciary Committee this past week.  LB 136 concerns the flying lantern type of device that is sold annually at fireworks stands across the state.  This bill prohibits the sale, possession and use of these incendiary products.

You all know what I mean when speaking of flying lanterns.  The product is lit and then released to follow the wind in any certain direction but certainly not under the control of the person who lit the device.  It becomes a flaming ball that can travel for several minutes and for several miles.  Several testifiers who support LB 136 came to the hearing and told of stories of fires at their homes or properties that were started by flying lanterns.  A large ethanol plant had representatives relate that they watched a flying lantern just miss large ethanol storage tanks at their facility. That combination could have resulted in a disastrous situation.

There were also several opponents to the bill.  Virtually all of these were vendors and fireworks sellers.  They stated there were only a handful of documented cases of fires started by these lanterns.  They argued that these lanterns really weren’t even classified as fireworks.  Others said these items made up only a small portion of their yearly gross.  The questions immediately were raised such as why sell them if you advertise as a fireworks vendor and they aren’t fireworks?  Why sell these things if they really don’t amount to much of the bottom line?  It doesn’t take any imagination to see the danger here.

Fire chiefs and marshals said there will be a new push to classify flying lanterns as a firework.  This will result in more complete reports when fires result from these devices.

I am certainly not against beautiful and safe fireworks displays.  I am not against safe fireworks being used under proper supervision at home.  Flying lanterns are not safe and should be eliminated.




Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 20, 2015

March 20th, 2015

I am going to take a break this week from the grind of the legislative session.  I will get back into it next week but this past week, as the chair of the Agriculture Committee of the Legislature, I was invited by Governor Ricketts to accompany him on a state-wide fly-over as part of National Agriculture Week. The Director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Greg Ibach and Steve Nelson from the Nebraska Farm Bureau also were part of the travelling party.  

We began the day in Omaha at Green Plains, Inc., the nation’s fourth largest ethanol producer.  Here the Governor started right in by taking the Environmental Protection Agency to task for for delaying important regulations that are key to ethanol producers.  At issue is the EPA renewable fuel standards requiring what mix ethanol can be blended into the nation’s fuel supply to comply with federal law.  The Governor, to his credit, said basically that big government, “just doesn’t get it”.  I agree.  Not only is agriculture the biggest economic driver in our state, but you would be hard pressed to find many economies across our nation that aren’t impacted by agriculture.  I pointed out the value of an ethanol by-product, distillers grain, that is a left over mash which in turn is a high protein feed supplement for cattle.

We continued on to Broken Bow where we were hosted by their Chamber of Commerce and the Custer County Farm Bureau..  Rural leaders as well as four area FFA Chapters also were in attendance at the noon event.  Custer County every year is one of the biggest ag producing and value added counties in Nebraska.

Moving on we went to North Platte where the Governor held his monthly call-in radio show.  Again, he hit on the idea that in order to grow Nebraska, we have to grow agriculture.  Time and again he said livestock, crop production and most importantly our farmers, ranchers and their families are key to this industry.  Their efforts result in not only local vitality but on the export front, we experienced $6.6 billion in Nebraska exports in 2013.  In 2014, we exported over $1 billion in sales of beef products.  These are big numbers.  These dollars are the result of Nebraska’s largest industry.

The final stop was at the 47th Annual Kiwanis Ag Leaders Banquet in Seward which featured the presentation of Ag awards to three Agri-Business Operations in Seward County.  Close to 500 people were in attendance to hear our travel group discuss various agriculture topics ranging from property tax relief, school aid and other legislative bills of interest.  All of this focused on the Governor’s theme “GROW NEBRASKA & GROW AGRICULTURE”.




Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 13, 2015

March 13th, 2015

As we ended this past week in your Nebraska State Legislature, we find ourselves within a day of the halfway point of this session.  Committees are winding up the public hearings that have been assigned to them and the deadline for priority bills to be filed has come and gone.  The priority bill procedure is pretty much what it says it is, senators are allowed to name one bill they deem most important and ask for this favored status. Standing committees of the Legislature are allowed two priority nominations each and the Speaker is allowed 25 priority bills.  You can imagine the load of bills he has to pick through to arrive at his list.

Normally, the priority bill process is a good one.  Every senator is allowed one bill.  The most senior as well as all of the freshmen get one.  It is often pretty difficult for newer lawmakers to get a bill moving so the priority system can help them along.  The problem arises when the Speaker has to start jumping several bills that are on regular General File and moving priority bills up the ladder.  I have a couple of bills that were close to being addressed on General File but have since been moved back to allow for the rush of priority bills.  Somehow I question the overall fairness here but I have been the recipient of this favor in the past so I can only nudge the Speaker a bit and ask him not to forget me.

I selected LB 183, a bill I introduced in cooperation with the Public Service Commission (PSC), for my personal priority bill for this session.  LB 183 would make two significant changes to the Grain Dealers Act.  First, the bill would limit the obligations of the security grain dealers are required to carry to assure payment for grain in the event of a financial failure.  LB 183 would require grain dealer’s security to only cover losses by growers who are not paid for grain that they have delivered to the dealer.

Secondly, the bill tightens the window of time during which those who have sold grain to a dealer may complete actions to be eligible for payments from a grain dealer’s security when they have not been properly paid.  Currently, up to ninety days might elapse before the Public Service Commission became aware of the situation, during which time producers losses can mount quickly and overwhelm the amount of grain dealer security.  LB 183 is intended to provide earlier warning that producers are experiencing problems getting paid for their grain and help limit losses before the PSC can intervene.

In the recent failure of Pierce Grain, the security for its dealer activity is expected to cover just under 10% of the losses growers and others experienced..  LB 183 would help to prevent the protection intended for growers is not so severely diluted.

I know this may sound somewhat technical in nature but my background in cooperative management makes this bill very important to me, grain dealers and producers.




Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 06, 2015

March 6th, 2015

Many of you have heard of the sales tax holiday that has been implemented in many states, including Iowa, that usually occurs right before the beginning of the school year and allows sales tax free shopping on certain school items for students to use during their pending academic year.  There are limits to the amount of money that can be spent (typically $100 to $200) and on the school supplies that can be purchased.  This usually means school clothes, shoes and the like.  

This past week, I introduced LB 653 before the Revenue Committee of the Legislature.  It takes the concept of a tax free holiday in a bit of a different direction.  The bill as written, would provide a sales tax holiday for the first full weekend in October each year on sales of Energy Star products.  The products defined in the bill would include dishwashers, clothes washers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, doors, windows, dehumidifiers, refrigerators and other products that meet the energy guidelines set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Energy.  They would have to carry an authorized Energy Star label.  Another section of the measure would limit the aggregate total of appliances purchased to $2500.  At the common rate in the state of 5 1/2% state tax and up to 1 1/2% local option rate, a consumer could realize a savings of up to $175.

The limit on the purchase amount would be to minimize the sales tax hit the state, cities and counties would forfeit by passage of this bill.  Obviously the hope is that Energy Star products purchased during this time would result in a significant energy savings as a result of consumers replacing old, inefficient appliances with energy efficient products.  Energy Star certified products will save hundreds of dollars during their useful life compared to non-certified items.  It is estimated that Energy Star light bulbs for instance, use 70%-90% less energy.  The consumer should see a difference in operational costs while Nebraska would be edging closer to achieving a sustainable energy policy.

Thursday March 12 is the deadline for committee and senator priority bills to be turned in.  Each senator can name a bill as his or her priority measure and each committee can name two such bills.  There is another avenue that can be taken as well.  The Speaker of the Legislature can name 25 bills as his priority.

I am not ready to name my priority bill or committee priority bills yet, but one of the committee priority bills will be some sort of a combination of the dog and cat protection bills we heard earlier this year.  I want the Department of Agriculture as well as the Governor to see that we are taking this “puppy mill” problem seriously in the Agriculture Committee and in the Legislature.  It truly is a problem that has gone on way too long.

Finally, the 2015 Unclaimed Property Report has been issued by State Treasurer’s office.  Sadly, while I saw a few Johnsons, I didn’t see my name among the lucky ones on the list but, a quick scan revealed many familiar names to me from District #23.  Please call 402-471-8497 or outstate at 877-572-9688.  You can also go online at treasurer.nebraska.gov.  Help out the State Treasurer who is holding more than $135 million in unclaimed property for over 350,000 Nebraskans.




Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- February 27, 2015

February 27th, 2015

As you know, there are several sub-committees or standing committees here in the Legislature.  The membership on these committees consists of members of the legislative body.  Most of these committees can be pretty well described by their names, i.e. Banking, Transportation, Agriculture, Natural Resources etc.  There are 14 of these committees and every senator serves on one or more of these committees.  The only committee that meets every day of the week is the Appropriations Committee which prepares and presents our budget to us each year.  Their findings are the beginning blueprint for the way we will allot the money that the state brings in through various revenue sources (taxes).  We as a legislature are required to produce and pass a balanced budget.  Other than this requirement, we really have no other mandated obligations.  

We had the first draft of the preliminary budget given to us this past week and really there are no surprises here.  The committee proposes an $8.7 billion plan.  As you can guess, corrections, education, Medicaid and the University of Nebraska system use a big part of the money at hand.  This last week the committee started hearing from agencies that must submit and defend their budgetary requests.  After hearing the requests from these groups then the Appropriations Committee will hear from senators interested in gaining some financial help as well.  I will have a bill before this committee (LB 263) in a couple of weeks that will seek to obtain funding to help the Main Street Program.  Those of you that know me know that I strongly support economic development in our smaller communities.  This program provides technical assistance in downtown revitalization to Nebraska communities.  I’ll speak of this measure later in the spring.

All of my colleagues realize we have to spend money to keep the ship of state moving forward.  Many also see that we have close to $750 million in our cash reserve or rainy day fund and this can have a “blood in the water” effect on some.  The Appropriations Committee has a difficult job that really has only just begun.

There also is a grouping of committees known as Special Committees.  These are comprised of such things as building and maintenance, audit, legislative planning and the like. The Executive Board of the Legislature is included in this group..  By law, this board employs personnel and sets salaries as needed to carry out the intent and activities of the Legislature. The Exec Board also is responsible for ruling on constitutional amendments that govern the Legislature, candidate eligibility, senator’s salaries, term limits and legislative ethics just to give you a partial list of responsibilities.  This committee also can and does hold hearings if necessary on some of the issues described above.

This past week the Board heard testimony on a constitutional amendment that, if passed, would require a state-wide vote to become law.  LR 7CA would still retain the notion of term limits that state senators serve under but instead of two four year terms the terms would be expanded to six year terms.  This length of time is not unheard of, our Board of Regents at the University of Nebraska are elected to 6 year terms as are the United States Senators from each state.  I know we have voted on a variation of this over the years but usually this included allowing senators to serve a third four year term.  This bill saves a campaign season which has become more and more costly over the years.  More important than cost containment is the loss of institutional memory involved with a quick turnover in the body.  This is an issue that affects us all in one way or another.  Some pick up the system just a little quicker than others and excellent leadership is shown the door after a relatively short time.  I know there are arguments against this idea specifically centering on the ideas of eight years, take it or leave it.  You know what you get when you run the first time.

I’ll admit, I find this idea interesting.  We’ll see where it goes.




Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- February 20, 2015

February 20th, 2015

We still have approximately 4 weeks of public hearings left before we begin all day debate here in the Legislature.  It is at this time that the Speaker of the Legislature has several responsibilities aside from his normal routine that are most important.  He has to continually take the pulse of the body on the floor and of his committee chairs urging them to move bills along that they feel are worthy of moving to General File.  Also, in years past we have been told not to worry about feelings but rather kill any measure that just doesn’t look like it will measure up to further scrutiny.

Last week, I told you about a bill that I had to withdraw because I knew it was just not ready and it didn’t measure up.  Another bill requiring vaccinations for meningitis was bracketed until June 5th, the last day of the session for this year and, while not dead, it will not receive any more attention this session.  That is the same fate the has happened to LB 111, the Voter I.D. bill. This bill would require a state picture I.D. of some sort that would have to be produced to poll workers when voting in person.  If my e-mails are any indication, this bill has strong support in District 23 and from what I am hearing it has this same level of support across the state.  Here is another area that the Speaker must be aware of, the filibuster or extended debate on an issue. A senator got up on LB 111 on Select File and pronounced that he was going to filibuster this bill.  The trouble was, this senator had not counted on a bracket motion being filed.  The motion was filed and this bill also has been bracketed to the last day of this session, June 5th.  Again, these bills are not dead but won’t pass this year.  It does look however, like June 5th is shaping up to potentially be a busy day.

Property tax and prison bills are now being heard and soon will be emerging from committee and coming before us.  As to prison bills which encompass everything from good time release, overcrowding, possible new prison construction and on and on, well I know many of you still read newspapers or follow the news on other social media and the situation is as bad as we thought. The new administration has appointed new leadership for our prison system.  This will be a huge undertaking that will not be solved quickly but it must be taken care of.

Property tax bills are coming at a pretty rapid pace as well.  It appears that there are multiple bills that want to reduce ag land valuations which have sky-rocketed the last several years. This is needed no matter how small a cut might be made.  The popular path here is reducing the tax from the current 75% of value to 65%.  Some call this a “band-aid”, others call it a beginning. Either way we have to begin to act.  Other ideas range from decreasing local property taxes and increasing income tax to reducing income taxes and providing $80 million in additional property tax credits.  Both plans include the 10% reduction in ag land valuation.  I’m not sure increasing taxes of any kind will solve the problem we find ourselves in presently.  Some feel increasing income tax revenue, and using this for our schools would help provide more state funding and provide property tax relief.  I’ll have to hear more about these proposals.  I don’t want to promote tax shifts in the hope that the equation will balance out.  Presently, if we take from one bucket such as property tax reduction, we very well will face issues at the local level in our counties and cities.  If we reduce funding levels here then local entities will have to face the dilemma of cutting services or raising taxes to provide the same levels of service.  The issue here is pretty evident, the “how do we do it” needs work.




Senator Jerry Johnson