Welcome

January 8th, 2014

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 24th 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. Greg Adams

March 8, 2013 Newsletter

March 7th, 2013

 This week in the legislature started quietly and ended with lengthy and at times emotional debate. Monday involved Select File which is the second round of debate on bills. The second round this week went fairly quietly. Bills were either noncontroversial to begin with or had amendments which mitigated concerns brought up during General File debate. Tuesday was a check in day only. No debate was scheduled, instead committees held make-up hearings in the morning which were intended to replace hearings that had to be canceled because of snow. Wednesday started on an easy note and was the beginning of a long debate on “historical horse racing”. The debate continued on into Thursday.

 The debate on historical horse racing is not a new one. The same debate was held last year and the bill passed by a small margin. It was vetoed by the Governor but the attempt to override the veto failed. In 2012 we debated a bill to authorize the placement of machines into horse racing venues which would allow bettors to place wagers on races that have already been run somewhere at some track in the U.S.. This year the debate is the same; is the legislature authorizing a form of expanded gambling? Or, is it merely allowing another form of pari-mutuel betting that would be the legal equivalent to actually betting on a live race or a simulcast race? Also this year, the item shows up on the agenda as a proposed constitutional amendment accompanied by a separate bill to “enable” the proposed amendment if it passes. It gets legally a little complicated and as a result a number of new arguments are being made and a host of new motions are being filed including one by the primary introducer to kill his own bill. The debate could end as early as Thursday (tomorrow) or we may still be on the bill into the early parts of next week.

 Each afternoon my staff and I determine the agenda for the next day and we review all of the bills pending in an effort to determine how far we’ll get on any given day. We review the subject matter of the bill. We look at how much opposition testimony there was during the committee hearings, and we look to see if any “hostile” motions or amendments have been filed prior to debate. I also ask myself “what will Senator Chambers want to do with this bill?” I am getting better at predicting how long we will spend on bills and how far we’ll get in a day. But, more than once I’ve miscalculated. Each time a bill takes longer than I expected I have to remind myself and some of my colleagues that the legislature is a deliberative body where debate is meant to happen. I have said to a host of different groups that I speak to that I find it interesting, and at times satisfying, that on a given day a senator will be angry with me because the debate is too slow, particularly if they want the bill to pass and then the next day the same senator is part of a group intentionally trying to slow a bill down because they don’t like it.

 I’ll have to continue to make judgments about timing, it is a part of my new job. Beginning the week of March 18, we’ll start debating “priority bills”. The Speaker has far more discretion when scheduling bills and influencing the agenda at that time than I have right now. My powers are not dictatorial nor would I want them to be; rather, they are meant to be a way for me to get every senator’s priority bill up for debate and to make sure topics like the budget and state aid to schools get resolved during this session.

March 1, 2013 Newsletter

March 7th, 2013

 Friday March 1 represents the 35th day of the 90 day session. At this point, of the 655 bills introduced 16 of them have been signed into law by the Governor and another 29 are on Final Reading today March 1. In my office where the agenda for each day is determined we also try to keep track of our “legislative productivity” relative to other legislative sessions. We are on track; but, I am ultimately concerned more about quality then quantity.

 Up to this point in the session, bills are placed on the agenda for debate in the order they come out of committee and are reported to the Clerk of the Legislature. Beginning next week, we will try to continue to follow the same pattern. However, Senators and Committees will now be filing their “priority bill” designation with my office. If a bill comes out of committee and it has a priority designation, it will move to the top of the agenda and take priority over bills that have been on the agenda but are not priority bills. Any bills not prioritized and have been reported to the floor for debate will most probably not have any opportunity for debate this year. However, they will go back to the top of the agenda at the very beginning of next year’s legislative session. Once “priority bills” are on the agenda the Speaker has the authority to schedule bills in any order. Managing debate time, energy levels, and tempers in an effort to make sure every priority bill has had an opportunity to be debated and a budget gets sent to the Governor becomes the Speaker’s primary function between now and the last day of the session.

 The committees will continue to hold public hearings until March 21 after which time we’ll try to move to full day-long debate. On February 25th, the Appropriations Committee heard all of the bills associated with the Governor’s proposed budget. Education heard a bill to allow for charter schooling in Nebraska. General Affairs had before it a proposed constitutional amendment which if passed by the voters would allow for expanded gambling in the state. Banking and Insurance heard bills that would require insurance companies to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorders and cochlear implants. Revenue heard bills to repeal the quarter cent earmark of sales tax to road construction. The Judiciary Committee held hearings on bills that would prohibit flying lanterns, stalking, and terrorist threats. One of the big issues for this session was heard before the Health and Human Services Committee. LB 577 would allow for the expansion of people legible to receive Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act, also knows as Obamacare, allows each state to decide if it wishes to expand Medicaid to allow more individuals on the Medicaid rolls. The Governor has taken a strong stand against the expansion. I also am concerned about expanding the number of people on Medicaid because of the potential impact to our state budget.

 I could keep going about all of the bills yet to be heard in the committees. Realize that all of the committees still have full hearing schedules and a wide variety of bills to work on.

 One bill I introduced this year, LB 180, would require colleges and universities to waive all fees remaining due after subtracting awarded federal financial aid grants and state scholarships and grants for dependents of a fully disabled or deceased veteran. The bill was read on Final Reading on Friday and is on its way to the Governor for his signature. This bill was introduced last year but ran out of time in the short session.

February 14, 2013 Newsletter

March 7th, 2013

One of my jobs as Speaker is to set legislative recess days when the legislature will not be in session. Friday the 15th is only the second recess day of this session and the following Monday will also be a recess day. This four day weekend allows the senators to return to their district and spend some quality time with their families, work at their other job if need be, and attend functions in the district. Those of us who live closer have the luxury of making a quick trip home during the week to meet all of our obligations. However, those who live further must sacrifice that time in their district because of drive times. It also gives us a little breather in the midst of hearings and floor debate.

The recess day came at a very opportune time. An issue arose during debate regarding the setting of hearing schedules, hearing a bill already advanced out of committee, and another bill not being heard until much later. Senator Steve Lathrop of Omaha has a bill removing a sunset provision regarding Worker’s Compensation for first responders who seek mental health treatment for post traumatic stress disorder after a disturbing call. In the previous legislation, senators were concerned that there could be a tremendous increase in claims under this provision, and subsequently inserted a sunset clause on the law. LB 21 removes the sunset. Only one person has made a claim for PTSD worker’s compensation payment. The intent of the bill is not at issue, but the procedure of the hearing process is.

Senator Lautenbaugh, also of Omaha, has tried to get a number of worker’s compensation bills advanced from the Business and Labor committee, with little success. He filed a number of motions and amendments to LB 21 until his bills have had a public hearing which are scheduled toward the end of the hearing process. This can mean his bills may not have a chance for debate this session due to time constraints. Senator Lautenbaugh wants to hold up LB 21 until his bills have been heard by the committee.

The debate on Thursday focused on the powers of a committee chair to set hearing dates, bills with similar subject matter, overriding a committees process, and yes even some personality issues. The issue is unresolved and will resume on Tuesday when we reconvene.

Also heard this week was a bill I introduced before the Urban Affairs Committee. LR 29CA proposes to submit an amendment to the voters at the General Election in November, 2014, to amend Article VIII, Section 12 of the Nebraska Constitution. This Section authorizes cities and villages to use tax-increment financing (TIF) to rehabilitate and redevelop blighted and substandard property.

The amendment would: (1) replace the requirement that property be designated “substandard and blighted” with language stating that property must be “in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment,” and (2) extend the maximum length of time to repay TIF bonds from fifteen years to twenty years.

York, Stromsburg, Seward and other communities in my district, and statewide, have benefited from TIF. The words ‘blighted and substandard’ have a negative connotation. What a community who wants to use this tool is really trying to do is redevelop or rehabilitate those areas of a town which are struggling with revitalization. The changes to the constitutional language more appropriately describes what communities use TIF for and still reflects existing statutory language. LR 29CA was supported by the League of Municipalities, and a number of towns, including Lincoln, and Omaha. TIF helps communities of all sizes and LR 29CA simply makes the language clearer.

February 22, 2013 newsletter

March 7th, 2013

 Newsletter       February 22, 2013

 Never did I imagine that being Speaker of the Legislature would be so similar to being a superintendent of a school district. I got to call a snow day, well half of one. Since my duty as the Speaker is to set the daily agenda, I needed to consider the impending snow storm coming through on the 21st and what that would mean for the morning debate, the public hearings in the afternoon, particularly the public’s ability to attend, and for senators travel home. From the forecast, we knew the storm would come later in the day on Thursday, so the morning session was not the issue. The primary concern then became the public hearings in the afternoon and also those senators who return home during the evening. I consider the public hearings to be integral to the legislative process and the snowstorm could prevent people from testifying. However the legislative rules require a seven day notice to cancel hearings. Since this was an extraordinary circumstance, suspension of the rules is required to cancel hearings on short notice. I had to ask for the suspension of the rules, which was approved, and then work with the committees to pick a time when those canceled hearings could be re-set. Those bills that were to be heard on Thursday, February 21 have been rescheduled for Tuesday morning, March 5.

 This week in the legislature was marked primarily by the decision on the part of the Governor to ask that his two tax proposals be withdrawn. The Revenue Committee, where the two bills were sent, took the action to indefinitely postpone both of them.

 The Governor and the committee made the right decision. The two bills proposed either significantly reduced or completely eliminated the income tax and in part or in total eliminated sales tax exemptions.

 There is some merit in what the Governor was proposing. I would not advocate for the complete elimination of income tax. It is a progressive tax, the more you make the more you pay. But, I do believe there are adjustments that need to be made to our income tax system. We also do need to look at our sales tax exemptions, there are a lot of them. We need to reevaluate why exemptions are granted. If and when that happens I believe we’ll find that there is good tax rationale for many of the exemptions, such as the ones that are currently granted to agriculture and manufacturing. We ought to also be looking at property tax. Though property tax is the primary revenue generator for political subdivisions other than the state, state revenue and spending policy significantly influences property tax. There will be a study done by the Revenue Committee. The study will not be an “interim study” but rather a study that most probably will be mandated by statute and will have timelines. The tax study bill will find its way to the floor very soon.

 The Judiciary Committee this week advanced LB 44 which would change the way in which juveniles convicted of first degree murder are sentenced. Similar bills in the past have failed to advance. However, this year because of a recent Supreme Court ruling, Nebraska must change its existing statutes. The sentence can no longer be “mandatory life without parole”. Given that the U.S. Supreme Court has dictated the change, we must change our law. The point of contention will be setting a minimum number of years for a sentence before the convicted juvenile is eligible for parole. The bill from committee has 30 years as the minimum.

 Friday marked the thirtieth day of our ninety day session. Already the senators have engaged in two filibusters to stall bills. With two-thirds of the session remaining, budget bills, Medicaid expansion issues, and taxes, the Unicameral is looking at a long haul before we get to the ninetieth day.

February 7, 2013 Newsletter

February 8th, 2013

Friday, February 8 marked the twenty-second day of the Legislature’s 90 day session. To this point in the session our legislative process is working well. The mornings are filled with debate on the floor and the afternoons continue to be reserved for committee hearings.

Up to this point in time floor debate has been constructive and civil. We have debated a number of bills but it is important to realize that most of the bills being debated this early in the session are making it out of the committees because they may not be very controversial. Also, many of the bills are technical and originated from the various departments of state government. Probably the most controversial bill we have dealt with so far on the floor was the bill which reduces the number of members of the Omaha Public School Board from 12 to 9. The bill raised questions about the benefit of reducing the number of board members based on student outcomes or school district functions. Questions were also raised about the fairness of the voting districts that were drawn and eventually redrawn. The bill will be on Final Reading Monday morning. It will be important for election time-lines within Douglas County that the bill pass with at least 33 votes so that it goes into effect immediately with the Governor’s signature.

The Governor’s two tax reform bills occupied the committee hearing spotlight this week. Although, certainly there were other bills of importance being heard in other committees. The hearing on the Governor’s first tax proposal began Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and did not end until 11:15 p.m. I’m glad that I am not a member of the Revenue Committee anymore! There was a large number of testifiers most of whom were in the hearing to testify in opposition to the bill. On Thursday afternoon the Revenue Committee heard the Governor’s second proposal. Hours of testimony on both sides from Nebraska citizens is what will ultimately lead to the right policy.

The two proposals have initiated a large number of emails and phone calls to my office. I do applaud the Governor for pushing the issue of tax reform and for looking at both income and sales tax. However, property tax should have also been in the mix. I fully realize that the state does not set political subdivision budgets or tax levies, but we do have an impact. I am not a tax expert but it seems to me that it would be better tax policy to have both sales and income tax as our revenue generators. The income tax is a progressive tax, the more you make the more you pay. Are there reforms that can be made to the state income tax? Yes. Sales tax is a regressive tax which means when necessities are purchased the proportional impact is far greater to persons of lower incomes. We do have a lot of exemptions to sales tax that ought to be looked at. Eliminating the exemptions to agriculture and manufacturing would seem to pull the legs out from under the largest segments of our economy. I could not support either of the Governor’s proposals in their current form.

The Legislature is constitutionally granted the powers of taxation and what is now happening at the Capitol is the Legislature taking control of whatever our tax policy will be. The Governor’s tax proposal could be forwarded to the floor for debate or killed in committee. The Revenue Committee could also develop their own tax proposal this session or next. I don’t know what will finally happen. Anything that I shared with you now would be speculation. But like with most controversial issues, the Legislature will find a resolution, a balance.

January 29th, 2013

January 25, 2013 Senator Greg Adams Newsletter

 

 

 

The second full week of the legislative session has ended and so has bill introduction. Senators can only introduced bills in the first ten legislative days of each session. That day came on January 23 and senators offered 655 bills for consideration this session. Each bill in the Unicameral receives a public hearing by the committee that has jurisdiction over that subject matter. The committee hearings began on Tuesday and will continue for about 2 months. The committee hearing is a chance for the general public to have input on the bill. Almost all the hearings begin at 1:30 in the afternoon and most conclude around 5 or 5:30. If there is ever a bill you wish to speak to, you are welcome to attend the bill’s hearing. You can sit and just listen or you can testify. A few bills may be so contentions that a large number of people may want to speak to it but in order to hear from as many people as possible, a chairperson may limit the time each person has to testify and may even limit the length of time each side may use.

 

Even if a person can’t testify, it doesn’t mean he or she can’t have a voice in the process. A person can submit a letter to the committee to be added as part of the official record, one may also write directly to the sponsor of an issue or contact my office and let your concerns be known. My staff will ensure that I receive all correspondence and emails.

 

This session because of my new position as Speaker, I won’t be introducing as much legislation as I have in the past. However, I have put in a bill which would require that Nebraska public higher education institutions waive fees for dependents of deceased military veterans or veterans who are 100% disabled. I have also put in a bill that will give to the State Board of Education authority to identify and work with school districts or specific school buildings that are poor performing. Another bill I have introduced will finish up the negotiated agreement I worked on with the six community colleges one year ago. I have also introduced a bill to clarify some language in the tax increment financing language which has been problematic. Finally, I introduced all of the budget bills on behalf of the Governor which is customary for the Speaker to do. A few of my bills will have their public hearings next week. The rules of the legislature require a seven day notice to be printed. Check the Nebraska Legislature’s web site for information on hearings.

 

Once the committees have had a few hearings, bills will begin to be reported out of committee and the legislature will begin the task of morning floor debate. Hearings will continue until such time as all bills have had a public hearing. When this process is complete, full day floor debate will begin.

January 18, 2013 Newsleeter

January 18th, 2013

January 18, 2013 Newsletter Senator Greg Adams

My first full week as Speaker is done: bill introductions are in full swing, the Governor gave his State of the State address and the state’s budget bills were introduced. Not bad for week one. Bill introductions are always an interesting time. The bills cover the gambit of issues, while some are fairly benign, others create a firestorm of conversation. However the issue receiving the most discussion right now did not come in the form of a bill: yet.

During the State of the State address the Governor proposed a major shift in the state’s taxing policy. The Governor proposed eliminating or substantially reducing the state’s income tax. The revenue lost from this source would have to be replaced with revenue from sales tax. Currently in Nebraska the state exempts more items from taxation than we actual tax. Many of these exemption are appropriate and were fought for by Nebraskans. There is no sales tax on food, medical costs, farm machinery, various ag and livestock commodities, non-profits are tax exempt. Many services are not taxed, like accounts, attorneys, and architects to name a few.

The proposal to eliminate sales tax exemptions is not new to the legislature. Former state Senator Rich Pahls proposed this idea before. Eliminating many of the sales tax exemptions could allow for the elimination of the state income tax. The sales tax rate could even be lowered if many of the exemptions were removed. The details of the Governor’s proposal have not been released and I want to see the details. However, I do think the idea is worthy of discussion.

The Governor also presented his budget proposals for K-12 and higher education. During the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, the legislature reduced state aid to schools. Superintendents across the state can attest to the fact that those reductions were tough to absorb. Now we see an improvement in our economy, it is time to re-invest in state aid. Governor Heineman proposed a 5 percent increase in state aid to public schools for fiscal year 2013-14 and 2014-15, this is an increase of $125 million. Special education would also see a 5% annual increase.

Higher education would receive General Fund support of $68. 3 million in order to allow a tuition freeze for the state college system. Community colleges would receive $10.7 million for tuition freezes as well.

Overall, I was pleased with the Governor’s proposals. I am anxious to see the details of many of his ideas and to see how the Appropriations Committee can meld the requests of the Governor with the requests of other proposal brought forth for consideration.

You may want to keep abreast of these issues so I would like to provide you with means by which you can access information quickly. The Nebraska website is www.nebraskalegislature.gov. The site has live video streaming of the legislature. This allows you to watch gavel to gavel coverage of the unicameral. The daily agenda, access to senator’s web pages, information on the legislative process, bills, and committee hearing schedules, and much more are available on this site. An excellent synopsis of the week’s activities can be found in the Unicameral Update. These are articles written by the Unicameral Update staff on various issues taken up by the senators on the floor and in committee hearings. Committee hearing will begin January 22 at 1:30 and will go until approximately the first week in March.

January 11th Newsletter

January 14th, 2013

January 11, 2013 Newsletter

January 9th was a very exciting and humbling day for me. The One Hundred and Third Legislative Session, First Session, began. The first day’s order of business was to elect all the leadership positions including Speaker, Executive Board Chair, and all the standing committees. I ran for, and was elected, as the Speaker of the Legislature for the next two years.

As Speaker I do not sit on any of the legislature’s standing committees but I do serve on a number of other boards, like Legislature’s Executive Board, the Capitol Commission, The Performance Audit Committee, and the State Planning Committee. If my first two days is any indication, I can expect to be extremely busy. My job as Speaker is to set the daily legislative agenda (decide which bills will be heard on the floor of the chamber each day.) My job also entails keeping the bills moving along and try to avoid long jams (as much as possible) so that all bills brought to the floor have the best chance of being debated. However, with the volume of bills that are presented, I know not all bills will be heard this session. But since this is the start of our two year cycle, any bills not killed by the committees or by a vote will have a chance again in 2014.

In addition to managing the daily legislative process, it will be my responsibility to help each senator do their job, be the spokesperson for the Legislative branch, and represent the 24th district. I look forward to the new challenge.

The legislature must develop a two year budget this session. With the anemic economy not fully recovered, it is difficult to meet the many requests that come before the Appropriations committee. It would be easy to just say no to all new funding requests but the requests come from different groups who believe the funding is imperative. It is the Appropriations Committees job to sift through all those requests and then present a package to the full legislature for our consideration. There will be a host of other issues from school funding to Medicaid that we will deal with this session.

With the new position comes some changes. I now have my office on the second floor of the Capitol, Room 2103. My phone number is the same 402-471-2756 and my email is still gadams@leg.ne.gov. If you ever have any questions or concerns please contact my office and we will do what we can.

 

 

Newsletter January 14th, 2011

January 19th, 2011

NEWSLETTER 1/14/11 SENATOR GREG ADAMS                  402-471-2756

The first eight days of the ninety day session are behind us.  Over 400 bills have been introduced so far and more will come in the final two days of bill introduction.  All of the bills I have introduced this year are a result of my being Chair of the Education Committee and the extreme budget deficit looming before us.  My obligation this past year has been to present proposals for consideration as it relates to education and possible (and feasible) reductions to state aid.  This has been an immense task which has been the primary focus of my office this past interim.  Even though I haven’t introduced bills in other areas this year, I am aware of the issues and want to ensure my constituents that I will pay close attention to those subjects when they are discussed. A bill does not need my name on it in order for me to impact the issue.  But the focus of this legislative session will be the budget.

The stark reality is that the state is facing is a situation wherein revenues are negative or flat at best. The fiscal office informs me that the state has not experienced a revenue decline like this for decades. Simply stated, the state does not have the money and we are constitutionally obligated to balance our budget. Hard decisions have to be made and not just in education.

The Governor has submitted his budget and it is a starting point. Ultimately, it is the legislature that will decide the budget for the next two years, which is why I submitted to state aid reduction proposals. As committee chair I have the responsibility to develop plans and proposals. To not have developed proposals for the committee to consider or to have developed proposals that were unrealistic would have been irresponsible. The Education Committee will spend considerable time examining the two proposals, the governor’s recommendations, and the impact on schools as we amend together a final plan to send to the floor for consideration. Whatever the committee finally sends out and whatever the rest of the legislature finally passes into law for state aid, it will be a cut to all schools in the state. A cut that we have been warning schools of for two years. It is a cut that none of us like to have to make.

Much of the current budget recommendations are based on assumptions that we may be at the bottom of the economic trough and hopefully we will begin to see signs of recovery which means that state revenues will improve. If the preliminary assumptions hold true we can begin to adjust appropriations back to more normal levels, but given the severity of this current recession, there most probably will be a new “normal”. Until we actually see state revenues increase we are required to balance the budget with what we have.

Besides the Governor’s recommendations for education, he presented an interesting and challenging budget. Like with all preliminary budgets from the Governor or the Appropriations Committee, there are parts I’m pleased with and other parts that cause me a great deal of concern.

As always I encourage you to call, write or email my office. Your concerns and comments are important to me. My office phone number is 402-471-2756, my email is gadams@leg.ne.gov.  If you wish a response, please indicate that information and I will do my best.