Welcome

January 8th, 2014

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.

Sincerely,
Sen. Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 17, 2014

April 17th, 2014

For better or worse this past Thursday, April 17th, was the 60th and final day of the 103rd Legislature, Second Session.  The last day of a session is generally ceremonial in nature with any Final Readings on bills taking place as well as any governor vetoes that may need to be considered.  The bills read on the last day could be vetoed but we have not had any indication from the governor that this would happen.  We did  recognize 17 senators leaving us and thank them for their service to the state.  This large number is a result of term limits voted into law years ago by the voters of Nebraska.

As you know, this was the short session.  We carried over dozens of bills from the 2013 session.  Beginning this year we had 75 bills on General File alone.  At the end of the year we had 155 bills on General File.  The idea is to try to catch up from the first session but obviously, this didn’t happen.  I have told you in these spaces before that a bill had to be passed this year or it is dead and has to be re-drafted and re-introduced next year or at some point in the future.  I anticipate many of the introduced measures will be back again and sometimes bills are introduced so that when they are re-introduced we will have heard of them before.

Several of the major issues that were talked about over the two year period did get substantial floor debate.  Some of these bills passed but many have unresolved issues that will need to be taken care of at some other time by another legislature.  A good example of this is tax reform.  Almost every senator in the body said taxes whether it be sales, income or property in nature is a concern in his or her district.  I welcome the interim study planned for this summer or fall on assessed land tax values.

As I said last week, important water legislation was passed and since that time has been signed into law.  Prison reform was signed into law and included several steps to better prepare prisoners to be released.  I was disappointed that we didn’t address the “good time” provisions and am sure that will be back at some time.  Again, I want to make it very clear that I don’t support gambling, but I did vote to advance LR 41CA, the historic horse racing measure.  This proposal will appear on the ballot this year and you will be the determining if this form of expanded wagering is to become legal.  I don’t gamble but I will defend your right to vote.

Mountain lions, toy lighters, amber lights on citizen patrol cars and Medicaid expansion are just a few of the other offerings that took a large amount of time, often leading to the extremely time consuming filibuster.  This tactic was one of the many used this year that resulted in this session being described as the most contentious in memory by many.  I believe there were many other factors that contributed to this perception.  We have an ultra-conservative group of legislators.  As I said, we have 17 members leaving and most wanting to “go out with a bang”.  We have several running for other elective offices and just a general disrespect of the system which is disappointing.  Hopefully, next year with the coming changes in officials and senators will bring much needed change.

I hope during this process you have felt informed and somewhat enlightened by these newspaper articles.  I want to thank the various publications that allowed me valuable space for my column.  We might try to have an occasional “Legislative Word” during the interim if and when new information comes up.  I will be out in the district visiting with groups and individuals and coming to as many events as possible.

Please let me hear from you.  My Lincoln office will be open daily so don’t hesitate to call.  I can be reached by phone at: 402-471-2719 as well as e-mail at jjohnson@leg.ne.gov.  Beginning in May I hope to be in my Lincoln office most Monday mornings but will try to work with you if there is a meeting time that would work better.

Until then, have a great summer, and if not before, I’ll see you in January.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 10, 2014

April 11th, 2014

When we get to the end of a legislative session, it becomes easy to look back and think of all of the things we should have done and there are even a few things we could have done differently however, here we are at the end not only of the session but of the biennium as well.  As I have said in this column on occasion, what isn’t done by now is done.  If not passed into law, the measure must be reintroduced next year or at some time in the future.  While most ideas have appeared here in one form or another, shelf life for bills is very limited.

As I traveled not only the district this last year but around the state as well, a few topics were foremost on people’s minds.  I spoke about taxes last week and in previous columns.  We began some programs but quite honestly, we didn’t go far enough.  Noting that it is now the tax filing deadline I can see that perhaps we need some work done on the state income tax laws.  Property taxes were also high on the list of issues to fix and in particular agricultural land valuations.  Various “fixes” were offered but nothing really of substance passed.  Senator Hadley of the Revenue Committee has promised hearings over the summer and into the fall on this particular tax.  I will attend as many of those hearings as I can.  I fully anticipate these to be public in nature so if you can, call my office to find out the schedule.

Water was prominent but rather late this session.  LB 1098 was offered and argued strenuously.  The bill makes major investments in rural and metro water projects.  There will be $11 million used annually from the General Fund for water sustainability projects.  This is a huge increase from amounts taken currently.  This first year this money will be coupled with a $20 million appropriation allowed by the Appropriations Committee.  This combined amount will be used for projects including drinking water, irrigation, habitat conservation, flood control and recreation just to name a few.  Lake Wanahoo will be a beneficiary of this money though the amount at this time is unclear.  Omaha will receive $1 million annually to help with their federally mandated sewer renovation.  This bill creates an expanded Natural Resources Commission to review applications for grants and to award the funds.  This is major legislation that concerns what has been described as the issue of the decade, water supply and management.

Prison reform issues have become law.  After the tragic serial killings last summer in Omaha, there were several unanswered questions about the accused and his incarceration and release along with the major overcrowding that we currently have in the system.  Bills were introduced and passed to begin, and I stress the word begin, to address these issues.  This will be an ongoing process for many years.

Veterans finally started to see some movement on legislation designed not only to help them but hopefully, keep them in our state as well.  We passed laws allowing for certain tax exemptions, tuition assistance programs, modified homestead exemptions and military license plates.  We owe those that have defended our country respect.  Also, as I said, veterans have much to offer with the training they received in the military and since their discharge.  We need to keep them around.

A bill that was defeated on Final Reading, LB 1092, was a bill I supported.  This bill would have allowed the state to issue up to $200 million in bonds for road construction.  The bonds would not have been allowed to be issued after June 30, 2017 and would require that bonds carry an interest rate no higher than 5%.  We have always been a pay-as-you-go state meaning we wouldn’t bond to go into debt to do projects of any kind.  That was the argument here.  Do we allow bonding now at a time when construction bidding is proving favorable and interest rates are low or do we see how funds coming in from the Build Nebraska Act, passed three years ago, come in and get a bit of history to see if that money supply is sufficient.  I am a conservative but I also promised to help complete road projects in District #23 such as the Highway 30 project east of Schuyler.  I remain committed to this notion.

Next week will be the last regular column of the session.  I will try to give you a few final observations and thoughts.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- April 03, 2014

April 8th, 2014

Last week in this column, I explained the budget adjustment we made this year.  We made improvements across the board in many areas including state aid to schools, funding for the Game and Parks Commission, capitol building improvements, tax relief, behavioral health and job training programs, just to name a few.  For the most part, I feel this was a responsible fiscal plan put forth by the Appropriations Committee.  The package received strong support from the body of senators and passed.  I also said in last week’s column that the governor has the responsibility to examine the budget and has the authority to veto any items he deems unnecessary.  The budget comes to approximately $7.8 billion and we knew there was the real possibility of several vetoes coming down.  Our expectations were realized when we arrived this past Monday morning.

The governor has five days from the time a bill is passed to sign it, let it pass without his signature (it still becomes law) or veto.  He vetoed $65 million from our budget bill.  As you might expect, our discussion was interesting in determining whether to override any of the governor’s objections.  The governor said he felt we didn’t go far enough in offering more property tax relief and at least at this time we could afford to give this money back in the form of relief.  We looked at the areas in question and in the end we voted pretty overwhelmingly to override the governor.  Of the $65 million in question we voted to restore close to $61 million of the budget.  We did preserve the $25 million designated to add to the property tax credit program.

All is not lost however.  The governor did sign into law several bills representing over $410 million in tax cuts and adjustments.  While these will be spread out over the next 5 years, it is important to note several senators and the governor himself described these measures as a good start to tax relief.

Senator Galen Hadley, chair of the Revenue Committee, has promised a study this coming summer on our property tax system centering on the agricultural property tax issue.  This too is an important component to future, meaningful tax relief.

We spent a good amount of the rest of the week moving as many bills as possible forward during the few days remaining.  We voted on two bills that I feel the need to explain a bit.

LB 41 CA is a constitutional amendment authorizing legislation for licensing and regulating wagering on live or replayed horse races.  Briefly, the resolution was described as an attempt to expand gambling in Nebraska or as a last ditch effort to save the horse racing industry in our state.  I know you have heard about this measure before and I won’t argue this here.  I voted to pass LR 41 CA.  I know many you may be surprised that I voted for a gambling issue.  Notice the bill is not a bill but a resolution.  It is also a constitutional amendment that, if passed, cannot be vetoed by the governor but must be voted on by you, the citizens of the state.  You could veto it by voting no or allow this by a yes vote.  The measure failed to pass but by voting yes, I feel Nebraskans should have the right to decide.  I don’t like gambling and have made no secret of this however, on many issues I respect the will of the majority, not only here at the legislature but also in all parts of the state.  This is an important right that maybe we don’t allow often enough.

LB 671, the mountain lion bill, also was vetoed by the governor.  Two years ago we passed legislation allowing the Game and Parks Commission to set hunting seasons for these animals. Since that time the Commission has studied the mountain lions and concluded there were 22 of these big cats in a grouping in western Nebraska.  It was felt up to two of these animals could be hunted.  While other sightings were reported, this was thought to be a safe number for management purposes.  Also, we have added a constitutional amendment to our state constitution preserving the right to hunt and fish.  It is felt we may have legal issues if we interfere with the hunting season established.  I voted for LB 671 and to override the veto.  Members of the Natural Resources Committee felt we should stick with the law currently in place.  I have no problem with that and might very well vote differently when we see this bill return next year, and I am sure we will.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 27, 2014

March 27th, 2014

This past week you bought an airplane.  You bought the first installment of a $50-$60 million project to replace windows and re-do heating and air conditioning.  You also purchased 4 fountains at approximately $650,000 per copy.  Of course, these items are some of the $110 million package that was passed by the legislature this past week that comprise the budget “adjustment” to an almost $8 billion overall state budget figure.

The state plane, while not a part of the budget package, was offered as LB 1016 and provides for an expenditure of $3.6 million to purchase a new state airplane.  Last year we had extended debate on this issue and instead of buying a 10 year old plane, we authorized a study to determine the best needs of the state.  The results of the study came back recommending a new plane purchase.  Do we need this item?  I voted yes.  Nebraska is a big state.  It is a long way from Lincoln to many of the western areas of our state.  People in that region deserve to see the governor and other high ranking state officials and currently that is accomplished by using a 30-year old plane that has been deemed unsafe.  Sure, they could drive but that becomes time consuming.   Others said what about the Nebraska National Guard or Air Guard.  Those of you that have served or are currently serving in these units know that your job hardly would be to chauffeur people around on a regular basis.  Use of the aircraft will be tightly monitored and not be allowed for purely pleasure trips or campaigning, just to name a couple of the limitations.

As you can imagine, the budget comprises many areas.  The $50-$60 million item I referenced above is an expenditure to replace the system in your state capitol building.  This figure will be divided into five smaller expenditures over 5 years to accomplish the needed repairs to our beautiful building.

Property tax credits will see an increase of $25 million meaning you will get a tax credit of about $74 for every $100,000 in assessed valuation of you property.  $17.5 million will go to the Game and Parks to maintain and improve our beautiful state park system.  We coupled $21 million from the budget offering with $11 million from the cash reserve fund to apply to funding for water sustainability projects.  Many of these projects including Lake Wanahoo are included in this item.  Job training, early childhood education and developmental disability services will share close to $19 million.  We are going to spend $14 million to begin to address prison overcrowding issues.  This area must be addressed and this money is only the beginning of what will be needed.

Spending growth is 6.7% for this year.  Of course, the governor has the opportunity to examine this package and veto any items he deems unnecessary.  The fountains I spoke of above may be in his crosshairs.  The fountains would be in the four interior courtyards of the state capitol grounds.  They were part of the original design and never completed.  One has to always assess want vs. need in any area of spending whether personally or in an endeavor such as state funding.  I’m not sure where I would vote on an override on this offering at this time.

If we pass this budget, theoretically, we could adjourn for the year.  As I write this column, we have 9 days left of the session and trust me, we aren’t going home anytime soon.  At this time there are 542 bills still being held in the various committees of the legislature.  Some of these are bills I sponsored or co-signed on to.  This is the curse of a short session.  There just isn’t adequate time to address the multitude of material before us.  We also have 166 bills on General File.  Many of these are priority bills and also will not gain passage this year.  We do have several late nights scheduled for debate in the next two weeks.  I am sure we will make full use of those opportunities.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 21, 2014

March 21st, 2014

This past week here in Lincoln was one of the most challenging I have had as the senator for District #23.  We began the week with direction from the Speaker of the Legislature that we would begin late night debate on several of our remaining days of this session.  Late nights doesn’t give me cause for concern but the first bill we considered past the usual time for adjournment was LB 887, the “Medicaid Expansion Bill”.

I am sure many of you know what Medicaid is.  Right now Medicaid, (not to be confused with Medicare) centers on coverage for low income Nebraskans that are over 65, blind, disabled or a child.  LB 887 would expand the program to cover more low income individuals up to 133% of the federal poverty level currently $15,856 for an individual.  The federal government would pay 100% of the cost of expansion this year and until 2016.  This figure would gradually reduce to about 90% from that point on.

I have binders and files that would put the Omaha phone book to shame for thickness on this issue.  There are studies in the file that show anything on the subject you would want to dissect.  I have glossy handouts and newspaper articles.  I have postcards and letters.  Basically, the bill came down to a need vs. cost discussion.  At times this was more than discussion.  Throw together healthcare, free money, distrust and dislike of Obamacare and you had a tough mix.  I have not had an issue which generated more contact with my office than this one since I have been here.

The discussion went late on Tuesday and continued into the morning on Wednesday.  We reached an unwritten rule here that after a bill had been debated for 8 hours, the principal introducer or chair of the committee that heard the bill can ask for cloture or immediate ceasing of debate.  There is risk here.  First of all, there has to be 33 votes cast for cloture or closure of debate.  This is a big number and this vote only says debate ceases and then we would take another vote on bill advancement.  The risk is that if the 33 votes aren’t cast to cease debate, the motion fails and debate on the bill ceases.  Not only does debate cease but the bill is put at the back of the other bills being considered.  This usually means a bill won’t be heard again during the current session and it is the death of a bill during a short session.

So far this has been my toughest vote since I have been here.  We can vote green for yes, red signifying no, or simply not vote on any measure before us.  I believe I was sent to this legislature to vote.  In my mind, not voting is not one of my options.  It is assumed a vote for cloture means you usually support the underlying bill.  I stated that fact last year on the floor that while I might vote for cloture I might not vote in favor of a particular bill in question.  I voted for cloture.  There were 26 other votes for and 21 voting against.

I am a conservative.  I am fiscally conservative and against expanded government and increased government spending.  I am closer to the center however, when it comes to social concerns and doing what we can for our low income, less fortunate citizens in Nebraska.  In the end, I felt a vote for cloture and an ultimate vote on the bill was the right thing to do for our citizens, small communities and our rural healthcare providers.

As I said, this was a tough decision but I feel comfortable with my vote.  This isn’t the last we will hear of this issue.  With the chief sponsor of the bill back next year as well as several supporters of expansion along with at least 17 new members of the legislative body, we will revisit this issue again.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 16, 2014

March 16th, 2014

As promised, this past week we began debate on the budget.  The Appropriations Committee of the Legislature right off the bat proposed we add $25 million in tax cuts or credits to the Property Tax Credit Fund as one of their initial offerings.  The chairman of the Revenue Committee wanted to add $40 million to this fund which currently allows for $115 million of tax relief to Nebraskans.  I voted for the $40 million addition but only 19 other senators joined me while 18 senators voted no.  The vote really hung in the balance by the nine who were present and did not vote.  When I speak to people in District #23 they say they would like some tax relief in the form of property tax adjustments.  This relief fund was created in 2007 and currently saves a taxpayer $66 per $100,000 of property valuation.  The $25 million addition raises the savings to $74 per $100,000 valuation and a $40 million infusion to this fund would result in an $85 credit.  I feel if we have over $725 million in cash reserves and are proposing $135 million in new spending, we need to balance more of what we are giving Nebraskans in relationship to these numbers.

Among the state priorities the Appropriations Committee came forward with is one to fund the state park system (LB 814).  This has been a long ignored area in our state.  We have a wonderful collection of state parks.  It is terrible to see some of the parks that only get mowed once a year or buildings that don’t even get yearly maintenance.  Many of the parks have no facilities for those with disabilities. $15 million has been earmarked from state sales tax on the sale or lease of motorboats, personal watercraft, ATV and utility vehicles to go to the Game and Parks Commission Capital Maintenance Fund.  This is truly a needed expenditure.

We have set in motion a change to our income tax program in Nebraska.  At least initially, we have indexed the tax to keep up with inflation so a taxpayer will not pay additional tax if he or she gets a cost of living raise equal to inflation.  Presently, this could bump someone up into a higher tax bracket.  Full scale cuts to income taxes including elimination of the tax will not advance this year.

Also probably not going forward will be a reduction in ag-land valuations from 75% to 65%.  It was felt that this would be a benefit to only a few farmers and ranchers living near large urban areas.  Lowering the tax would result in a loss of almost $102 million in local property taxes that would have to be offset at the local level.  This loss would fall to the schools, counties or other taxing units to make up.  Then that becomes a loss of services to those in the more rural part of the state or a local tax increase.  This is then a tax shift, not a reduction.  There is talk of an interim study this summer to discuss the tax problems in the agricultural sector.  It was noted that while Nebraska looks at market value of a piece of property, other states use a form of income producing capacity of a piece of ground.

We had extended debate on a “christmas tree” bill this past week offered by the General Affairs Committee.  This is an offering from a committee that hangs a few bills on a main bill or two that then is offered as a package.  Needless to say, it gets pretty creative when looking at how the bills on the tree may be related and grouped together. We did move most of the bills here including a measure to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes.  I’ll talk about that bill and a creative approach to road funding next week.

Time does become an issue now.  By rule, the budget must be passed and sent to the governor by the 50th day of the session.  March 26th looms large on the calendar.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- March 07, 2014

March 7th, 2014

We get most, if not all, of the newspapers that are published in Legislative District #23, here in our Lincoln office.  Again, I would like to thank all of them for offering me valuable space within their pages to put some of my thoughts out there on the current legislative happenings.  I do try to read as many of these newspapers as I can.  I noticed a picture on the front page of the March 6, 2014 edition of the Schuyler Sun that reminded me in a way of this session.  The picture was headlined “Platte River Ice Jam”.

Our session has certain parallels to the river.  We have been cold and unbending in so many areas up to the last few days.  We have been partisan at times, personal at times and seemingly non-moving most of the time.  The hours we have spent on some issues have seemed endless and excessive.  In the last week, however, we have had a couple of occurrences that I think are starting to break things open a bit.

Last week I spoke of the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meeting.  This 9 member group was formed in the mid-1980′s to help provide independent revenue forecasts to the legislature.  They meet each October and February, and in odd-numbered years they meet in April as well.  This coincides with the long session of the legislature.  Generally, their revenue projections have been extremely accurate.  These forecasts have been provided to the Nebraska Department of Revenue as well as the Legislative Fiscal Office to be used in helping craft the state budget.  In good times and bad their numbers have helped us weather down economic cycles or tell us when things are looking up.

Last week’s report was a big one.  Revenue projections for the rest of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-14 were raised by $36 million and for FY 2014-15 by $63 million.  Caution is always to exercised here because these are only projections but, you can imagine the delight in some of my colleagues eyes when they heard there was more money than they had anticipated for some of the programs and causes they are pushing.

The other occurrence was the appearance of the state budget given approval by the Appropriations Committee of the Legislature and made ready for debate as early as next week.  Budgets introduced by the committee in even-numbered years are considered adjustments to the main budgets passed in odd-numbered years which contain a long session.  Going into this year we had over $725 million in our cash reserve fund.  Add to this the $99 million I spoke of above and you see we are in an enviable position compared to many other states.

The committee recommended increased spending of $25 million for property tax credits, $17 million for increased medicaid funding and $8 million to prison inmate expenses just to name a few.  They also recommended using some of the cash reserve fund for water funding ($20 million), state parks improvements and maintenance ($15 million) and capitol building repairs and maintenance totaling over $12 million.

Again, all of the above numbers are projections or recommendations.  Nothing has been decided but as dollars drive a good part of our society, so also our state programs and funding.

The work here seems to be flowing again.  Hopefully, there aren’t too many “ice jams” ahead.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- February 28, 2014

February 28th, 2014

As we turn the page on the calendar and hopefully turn to spring soon, the Legislature enters into the final, crucial six weeks of the session.  This past week saw the end of committee hearings and beginning March 3rd, we will begin full-day debate.  We will be doubling our floor debate time which, at this point, is necessary.

I truly believe that here in Nebraska, we have the best system in the country for hearing bills.  The public hearings of all bills introduced are a guaranteed, fundamental part of our way of doing business.  This is the time the “second house” of our state government, the people, get to be heard however, we are at the point of the session, that in order to get much else done, we must turn our attention to the bills presented and discuss the issues advanced for longer than three hours each morning.

As I said above we have six weeks left.  We have had 105 bills designated as priority bills whether by senators, committees or the speaker.  We will go late on several evenings probably beginning around the second or third week of March.  Bills without priority status are somewhat unlikely to advance from the looks of future offerings still on the table.

The well publicized issues are still to come before us.  Medicaid expansion, prison reform and some form of tax relief, whether income or property tax or a combination of both, are now being advanced by committees so I anticipate beginning next week on some of these issues.

At the beginning of the year, it was well publicized that we had over $725 million in the cash reserve or “rainy day” fund.  I am learning that if you tell this group there is “extra money”, there will be a “rush on the bank” to get some.  As of last week we had well over $200,000,000 worth of ideas on how to spend some of this money.  This figure does include the money to buy a state airplane but the estimate is already off by close to $1 million.  There is a bill to install fountains in the courtyards of the capitol.  The cost here approaches $2.7 million.  There is a request before the Appropriations Committee to begin a 10 year, $78 million renovation of the capitol building’s windows and heating and air conditioning.  The state Game and Parks Commission needs $40 million just to catch up on maintenance.

Recent headlines have declared that our state water plan is “…chaotic, disjointed and irrational” (Lincoln Journal Star 2-27-14).  Our “…School funding system is broken” (Lincoln Journal Star 2-26-14.  Do you think either of these areas will get some discussion?

As you read this column you will probably know the findings and recommendations of the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board which meets Friday, February 28th.  This group analyzes state revenues and compares them to projections.  Even with good news here, I know we must be careful in this “out year” or second year of a budget cycle.  The next several weeks call for considered, measured attention to the important issues before us.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd

February 21st, 2014

This past week marked the halfway point of the 2014 Legislative Session.  We can pretty well see where the majority of our remaining 30 days will be spent.  Tax measures are starting to emerge from committees.  Water funding ideas will be discussed in full.  Prison reform and Medicaid expansion will hopefully be settled as well.

As I discussed in this column earlier this year, we will be dealing with as many of the priority bills, whether senator, speaker or committee, as we can but 30 days will go by quickly.

LB 191, my priority bill for this session, was heard on General File this past week.  As I have said, this offering does not come without a price tag but it has strong support in the body.  Basically, the bill allows for a 20% income tax credit for renovation of historic buildings not to include single family homes.  The renovation project would not qualify for credits past the first $5 million in costs or $1 million in credit.  There was some heartburn however, that if the bill became too popular there could be many projects applied for and approved therefore creating a “raid on the state treasury” as one senator described it.  As a compromise, there is an amendment being drafted that will cap the total amount of money being used at any one time by the program at $15 million.  The bill was passed to Select File and may appear as early as next week for further debate but I feel pretty good about it’s passage.

Reviewing the status of other bills I have offered; LB 702e dealing with villages and cities of the second class, has been moved to General File.  The bill concerns votes being taken in the past concerning re-classification of villages to cities of the second class.  The bill changes state statute to define a procedure to allow for this movement once certain population thresholds have been met.  This bill, while not having priority status, may very well be included as a consent calendar item which still allows for passage this session.

LB 843, brought to us by a constituent, deals with the State Board of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery and would provide that no member of this board be employed by the same employer as another member of this board.  Sounds pretty simple and common sense doesn’t it?  Not so fast my friends.  Members of the Health and Human Services Committee felt perhaps this limitation needed to be looked at in the perspective of all state boards and commissions and feel an interim study or study between sessions is called for to find out if this is an isolated incident or a more common practice than we know.  We’ll see if the study is done and if not, LB 843 will be back in some form next year.

LB 980 was heard by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee this past week.  The bill deals with townships in those counties that still operate under this system, and proposes to streamline the process of county access to funds levied by the township in the event of a township board going into inactive status by virtue of a lack of board members.

This bill could be advanced as early as next week and I will talk about this measure in an upcoming column.

As I said above, we are entering the second half of our session.  Committees are winding up their hearings and full day debate is scheduled to begin on or shortly after March 3rd.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson

Legislative Word in the 23rd- February 07, 2014

February 7th, 2014

These are strange times indeed in the Nebraska Legislature.  You have heard me lament the slow pace of things here in Lincoln when it comes to state government.  This past week a senator tried to withdraw a bill he introduced at the beginning of the session.  This is normally a relatively easy procedure and takes only a quick vote.  When LB 1075 was taken up for this purpose, the introducing senator was questioned about his motives and if, in fact, his reasoning for the motion was to protect the status quo at least for the time being, as it relates to any state officials.

This bill states that a person who appoints members to governing boards of state agencies or political subdivisions, private boards, commissions or committees would not be eligible for employment by these entities for two years after leaving the position held that allowed this individual to make the appointments.  Also, if a person is by virtue of his or her office, a member of one of the described groups, the two year moratorium on employment would also apply.

Over a dozen senators spoke and urged the sponsor of LB 1075 to leave it alone and have the public hearing.  Then, after over an hour of debate, the senator agreed to withdraw his motion to withdraw if you follow that, and the bill will now be heard as scheduled.  The chairman of the committee to which the bill is assigned went so far as to predict that the bill won’t see the light of day this year but, as I said at the beginning of this article, these are strange times indeed.

This past week also saw the beginning of the period of time for designation of priority bills by senators and committees.  I prioritized a bill, LB 191, that was heard a year ago by the Revenue Committee after it was introduced by Senator Jeremy Nordquist.  A senator can prioritize a bill introduced by another senator if that senator gives permission.  Knowing my past to a certain extent as a mayor, councilman and person interested in economic development in general, Senator Nordquist came to me to ask for assistance.

LB 191 would create the Nebraska Job Creation and Mainstreet Revitalization Act.  It would allow for a tax credit against personal, corporate or fiduciary income tax and state bank franchise tax for private property preservation and rehabilitation activities on historically significant income producing properties.  The preservation activities will be regulated by the State Historic Preservation officer and the Nebraska Department of Revenue.  Owner occupied single family homes would not be eligible for credits.

These income tax credits would be non-refundable however, qualified credit recipients may transfer, sell, or assign any or all of the credits to other persons or entities.  Failure to comply with the historic preservation credits criteria enforced by the State Historic Preservation officer could result in forfeiture of all or part of the awarded credits.

If successful in passing, LB 191 or the Nebraska Job Creation and Mainstreet Revitalization Act would sunset or end on January 1, 2020.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Jerry Johnson