NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Mark Kolterman

Sen. Mark Kolterman

District 24

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Weekly Column – February 21st
February 21st, 2020

This week, the Legislature began debate on LB 974, the Revenue Committee’s Property Tax Relief Proposal.  LB 974 was crafted to reduce the property tax bills of all Nebraskans by reducing the reliance on property taxes to fund public education.  If LB 974 is successful, the state would reduce the taxable valuation used by school districts to generate property tax dollars.

For residential and commercial / industrial properties, we would take gradual steps to reduce the taxable valuations from 100% as of today, to 87% of the actual value in 2022.  For agricultural and horticultural properties, we would take the same steps to reduce the taxable valuations from 75% as of today, to 55% of the actual value in 2022.  Until the school fiscal year 2022-23, the maximum tax rate will remain $1.05 per $100 of taxable valuation.  In order to match school spending increases to what is happening in the economy, the basic allowable growth rate for school districts will be equal to the growth in inflation.In order for school districts to remain whole, LB 974 has been crafted to increase state funding for schools through the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act, otherwise known as TEEOSA.  We are creating a new component of TEEOSA called “Foundation Aid.”  Foundation Aid would replace the allocated income tax portion of the formula. For 2020-21, foundation aid would be based on a school district’s fall membership count and 5% of the net income tax collections, net corporate tax collections and the net state sales use tax collections for calendar year 2018 divided by the statewide fall membership count.  Over three years, the percent would grow from 5% to 15%.  But if the calculation of foundation aid is not equal to or greater than 15% of the basic funding calculated for the school district, the foundation aid will be increased to equal 15% of the basic funding.

We are also adding an additional component to the formula called “Transition Aid.”  Transition Aid will be provided to school districts that have a combined general fund and special building fund levies of $1.05 or greater and has a percent change in school revenue that is greater than 0% for 2020-21, 1% for 2021-22, and 2.5% for 2022-23.  For 2020-21, the transition aid will equal 100% of the change in school district revenue and by 2022-23, the transition aid will equal 50% of the difference of the change in school district revenue minus 2.5% of the school district revenue for school fiscal year 2021-22.

I stand in support of LB 974.  The Revenue Committee, of which I am a member on, has worked diligently over the summer to address concerns we have heard from Nebraskans that property taxes are too high, and that property taxes specifically levied by schools are too high.  With Nebraska consistently ranking low among the nation in terms of State dollars for K-12 education, we are lowering taxable valuation for the TEEOSA formula while increasing the State’s share of the cost of educating our youth.

Like with any other bill, there is always room for improvement.  After debating the bill for three hours earlier this week, the bill has been removed from the agenda.  This allows us the opportunity to work together with individuals who have concern about the bill to come to a greater consensus on how to proceed.  That being said, I am hopeful my colleagues and other stakeholders will continue to work with the Revenue Committee to come to create good state policy to address high property taxes in Nebraska.

As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. Please stop by any time. My e-mail address is mkolterman@leg.ne.gov, and the office phone number is 402-471-2756. Tyler and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address any issues that you may need assistance. Please continue to follow me on Facebook at Kolterman for Legislature and on Twitter at @KoltermanforLegislature.

Area school districts are supporting a bill introduced by District 24 Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward.

LB 759 would require the Department of Health and Human Services to consult with school districts before establishing guardianship or making an educational placement of a child in a district, specifically with regard to children in the foster care system.

The bill is designed to ensure the district receiving the child is equipped to handle any specific educational or behavioral needs and to determine who is responsible for the cost of those services.

“It’s not that we’re opposed to placing kids anywhere in the state. The problem is HHS doesn’t let people know when they’re coming,” Kolterman said. “Some of our districts don’t have the resources to go out and hire a para.”

Two area superintendents, Dr. Josh Fields of Seward and Kevin Wingard of Milford, and Educational Service Unit 6 Administrator John Skretta testified in favor of the bill in late January.

The bill is now being looked at after years of frustration among school districts that haven’t been notified in advance of new students entering their district because of foster care placements.

“It came out of some frustration from superintendents across the state of Nebraska about the lack of communication from the Department of Health and Human Services,” Fields said.

Brad Best, superintendent at Heartland Public Schools, gathered stories from other districts and presented them to Kolterman, asking him to champion the bill.

“It is any student in the foster care system or wards of the state. Some of these stories are of students that have extreme needs or high needs, maybe coming with a police background or a sexual assault,” Fields said. “Not knowing those things before placing them in a school is very detrimental. If they’re not safe at the time to be in the school, it would be nice to be able to have those conversations.”

Wingard said the schools want to work with DHHS to create a better transition for both the student and the school district.

“We’re not trying to question or put down DHHS workers or case workers. What an unbelievably hard job to find foster homes and placements, and we understand there’s emergency placements,” Wingard said.

He said schools are ask-ing for the student’s background information ahead of time so they know if they need to provide staff with certain skills or coordinate transportation. Some need a full-time, one-on-one paraprofessional, while others are transported to an alternative school location if the district doesn’t have such staff available.

Wingard said that history, called an Education Core Report, is provided to a judge when a student is involved in a court case. Then, the record is sealed because the case involves a juvenile and the schools are not given access.

The Education Core Report includes information about the student’s past attendance, academic performance, health factors and special needs, as well as the child’s interests and what activities they’d like to be involved in.

“We’ve worked with foster students in the past for years, and I think we do a great job with foster students, but there needs to be some input so we’re ready for those students,” Wingard said. “They’re already going through trauma. Let’s be prepared for them and let’s not take a week to figure it out. In no way are we questioning the foster program or foster parents. Many kids get adopted in our district, so it’s been great. We just need earlier communication.”

“The input of the receiving school district regarding the best educational placement of the child shall be considered regarding the difficulties in providing or hiring personnel necessary for additional educational programming services, such as specialized personnel or the placement of such child at a specialized facility, which may result in a substantial financial burden for the resident school district and the receiving school district,” the bill says.

Wingard said with one student who may be coming to the Milford district, he’s heard from other agencies that the student would require hiring two or three staff members and coordinating transportation.

“But DHHS hasn’t confirmed that,” he said.

According to the superintendents, DHHS has opposed the bill, though a call to DHHS was unreturned at press time.

“DHHS opposed it, but said they need to get better at communicating with schools,” Fields said. “They felt they didn’t need a bill for this, that they could get better at doing it themselves.”

Fields and Wingard both said by law, school districts can’t deny a student based on educational or behavioral needs. They’re just looking for a bit of a heads up.

“It would be great if it was 48 hours to be able to have that communication,” Fields said.

Skretta said the Educational Service Unit is not directly involved in student placement, but it does provide specialized educational services, like school psychologists and special education resources, which are available to students with what Skretta called “multiple adverse childhood experiences.”

“They need additional mental and behavioral health services,” he said.

Not giving the school a heads up means potentially making the student’s transition more difficult, Skretta said.

“It puts the school behind the eight ball. By that time, you may have already had any number of turbulent experiences in transition for that student,” Skretta said. “There’s a shared responsibility here. Public schools are inclusive environments, and they absolutely want to include every student.”

Skretta said some DHHS opposition revolved around “constraints” created by the bill.

“The criticism of the bill really is that there shouldn’t be any constraints on this because their number one priority is getting the young person into a foster care placement,” Skretta said. “The bigger element is finding qualified personnel who can meet the needs of that student, especially if they’re placed in a small rural district, it’s less likely they have those people already in place.”

Kolterman said he wasn’t sure if the bill would go anywhere, but that most of the feedback he has received has been positive.

“There’s some things we’re going to look at,” Kolterman said. “DHHS is open to it. They are open to the conversation.”

https://www.sewardindependent.com/milford/we-need-earlier-communication-districts-in-favor-of-kolterman-s/article_61b04790-529b-11ea-b99e-dbf7edaf4646.html

Weekly Column – February 14th
February 14th, 2020

Last year, when I introduced, prioritized, and carried LB 720 to Select File, I did so because I firmly believe in the importance of growing our state.  Whether your top issue is to reduce high property taxes for farmers and ranchers or to reform school funding, we must recognize that a thriving business sector is a critical part of the solution.  Our businesses are listening and I hope this message is that we value their commitment to Nebraska, and we value the jobs that they bring to our communities, border to border.

After LB 720 was held on Select File, I used the interim to make a good bill even better.   In order to meet the competitive needs of Nebraska’s businesses and communities, we’ve made changes to specifically address business activities in areas of opportunity for our state and we’ve made other competitive enhancements as well.  We’ve worked to address concerns that we heard in the bill hearing with this committee last year, throughout the session, and into the interim: primarily that LB 720 didn’t go far enough in addressing the pressing needs of rural Nebraska.

Based upon concerns we heard from our rural senators and rural manufactures across the state, we have added two new tiers to the mainline program.  Last Thursday, I presented these changes to the Revenue Committee.

We have added a new rural manufacturing tier.  For counties with populations less than 100,000 thousand people, if a company hires 5 new FTE’s and invests $1,000,000 dollars, the company would qualify for a wage credit of 6% and an investment tax credit of either 4% or 7% if the investment is greater than $10 million dollars.  Manufacturing is a growth industry for Nebraska and often starts employees out at entry level wages because of the large training investment these companies put in to their employees. These companies also often bolster these wage levels with strong benefit packages too.  One of the concerns we heard last year were the wages were too high for rural areas so the proposal is to set the wage compensation at $31,387 annually, must offer an ACA compliant health insurance plan and a sufficient benefit package.

We have also added a new Manufacturing Growth and Expansion Tier.  If a manufacturing company if a company hires 10 new FTE’s and invests $1,000,000 dollars, the company would qualify for a wage credit of 4% and an investment tax credit of either 4% or 7% if the investment is greater than $10 million dollars.  To qualify under this category, a company must pay a new employee $33,618 annually, offer an ACA compliant health insurance plan, and a sufficient benefit package on top of that base wage.

Even by making these wage threshold adjustments, we are still increasing wages under this program from where we are today with Nebraska Advantage.

We are also creating a new program called the Key Employer and Jobs Retention Act. This will allow the state to be proactive when it comes to keeping key employers in the state and retaining our well-paid employees when there is a change in ownership and control of the key employer and the new owners are considering moving some or all of the jobs to another state.

We are trying to create a new program that is nimble and responsive to the conditions of a quickly changing economy. In an economy that will continue to see more acquisitions, mergers, and relocations, this Act is a step in the right direction.

In order to qualify for this new act, a key employer must employ over 1000 FTE’s.  They must keep at least 90% of the base year employment at a wage threshold of 100% of the statewide average.  There is a yearly cap of $4 million dollars and a 10 year cap of $40 million dollars.  If the company fails to retain the required level of employment of the entire performance period, all or a portion of the retention credits will be recaptured or disallowed.

If this program had been in place a few years ago, our state would have been more competitively positioned to help retain Cabela’s in Sidney. We simply cannot afford to continue to be reactive to this reality of today’s economy. With an ever-evolving tech economy and fast-growing companies developing across our state, we need to look forward and contemplate what tools will be necessary in order to retain growing companies who are prime for buyouts by out-of-state corporations.

I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure a timely passage of LB 720 this session because if we do not, the State of Nebraska will be at an extreme disadvantage at attracting new opportunities for our employees in an ever changing global economy.

As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. Please stop by any time. My e-mail address is mkolterman@leg.ne.gov, and the office phone number is 402-471-2756. Tyler and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address any issues that you may need assistance. Please continue to follow me on Facebook at Kolterman for Legislature and on Twitter at @KoltermanforLegislature.

​I​f opportunity – in the form of the Department of Defense — knocks, we hope Nebraska is ready to answer the door.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center hopes to embark on a $2.6 billion public-private partnership called NExT, or the Nebraska Transformational Project.

​​NExT would build from the ground up a state-of-the-art academic medical facility and an all-hazard disaster response facility operated as a military and civilian partnership.

The Department of Defense will look at several possible sites before selecting where it wants to put the program. But one factor in their decision will be the local commitment of financial resources to the project.

To that end, we endorse LB1084, introduced by Sen. Mark Kolterman, which sets in motion a $300 million state investment over six years if funding from the federal government and the private sector gets kicked in.

The benefits of NExT are enormous and, as the name implies, “transformational.” Between construction and permanent medical staff, nearly 42,000 jobs could be created. For the state’s $300 million investment – spent only if the other money comes through – it could add $1.3 billion to the state’s economy annually by the time the facility is fully operational in 2030.

NexT would build one or two towers in the northwest corner of the current medical center campus in midtown Omaha, towers being optimal for potential quarantine situations and for maximizing land use.

Sweetening the deal for the state and potential contributors and investors are the commercial opportunities quite literally surrounding the project – hotels, restaurants, other office space. A center for training and treatment draws far more than patients, and they need places to eat and stay.

The project would be designed to treat military and civilian victims – lots of them – affected by trauma or biologic, chemical or natural disasters.

With the coronavirus making headlines and a plane of evacuees arriving Friday for 14 days of quarantine at Camp Ashland, the need for this capability is obvious. Less obvious is the minimal risk to the population at large posed by such a facility. UNMC Chancellor Jeff Gold cited their successful treatment of Ebola virus patients in 2014 and 2015. With top-notch facilities and training as well as experienced personnel, a more robust treatment and research center makes us safer than were it not here.

LB1084 deserves approval. The state’s share, $50 million annually for six years of construction, would mark an investment in our state’s economy, worldwide health and our future.

 

https://journalstar.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-next-big-thing-is-big-indeed/article_13056b96-a5b3-59ff-b339-7773585111e9.html

​As the state prepares for Americans fleeing an outbreak of a deadly disease in China, the University of Nebraska Medical Center pitched state lawmakers Thursday on an audacious plan to make Nebraska the national destination for all-hazard responses.

The proposed Nebraska Transformational Project, or NExT, would stand up a new teaching hospital and research and education tower on UNMC’s campus in Omaha in partnership with state and federal agencies to respond to crises like natural disasters to infectious diseases.

At an estimated price tag of $2.6 billion, the NExT project would also potentially be the largest economic development project in Nebraska’s history to date.

Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, who introduced a bill (LB1084) triggering a state investment of $300 million if funding conditions by the federal government and private donors are met, called the project “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to transform the state.

“This idea, this bill, this appropriation, this incentive is bigger than any of us in this room,” Kolterman told the Legislature’s Revenue Committee on Thursday.

The project stems from a call for increased surge capability and capacity of the National Disaster Medical System included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act — an expansion of the U.S.’s capability to treat patients affected by disease outbreaks or injured in biological, chemical or nuclear disasters.

The five-year program, managed by the U.S. Department of Defense, requires a report be submitted to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and House of Representatives within 180 days detailing “no fewer than five major aeromedical transport hub regions” that could serve as a demonstration site.

A spokesman with the Department of Defense said there have been no decisions made on where to locate the program. It wasn’t clear what other sites, if any, are also in consideration.

Kolterman and UNMC Chancellor Jeff Gold said Nebraska has a track record of success in combating infectious diseases, as when it successfully treated several patients infected with the Ebola virus in 2014-15, and has effectively managed public-private partnerships in the past like the $323 million Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, which opened in 2017.

Since taking on a global leadership role in combating Ebola, UNMC has trained thousands of health care professionals around the world in best practices for treating patients carrying contagious diseases and has secured millions more in federal funding for research and to set up a national quarantine center.

If the Department of Defense chooses UNMC to be one of the five sites and awards at least $1 billion in federal funding to start construction, Kolterman’s bill requires a kick-in of at least $300 million from private investment before the state would be required to contribute funding.

The UNMC chancellor told the Revenue Committee, where the bill was heard because it establishes an incentive rather than directing an appropriation, a demonstration of urgency by the Legislature could help push Nebraska to the front of the line.

“Your support as a state government is essential to the success of these partnerships,” he said.

That could be key to creating nearly 42,000 jobs in all, including 8,700 permanent jobs at the medical center, generating $211 million in new state tax revenue and adding $1.3 billion to Nebraska’s economy over the next decade.

Lawmakers on the committee, who are also shaping legislation creating new tax incentives for businesses and overhauling Nebraska’s property tax statutes, focused on the scope of the project.

“How critical is the state match to obtaining this facility?” Sen. Tom Briese of Albion asked.

Gold said the NDAA specifies a preference for public-private partnerships in how it will select the site, and that the project was scaled down to “the most conservative numbers” UNMC felt comfortable bringing to the Legislature and asking the private sector to commit to.

“Once determination of eligibility is made, we would like to say we have commitments from the state and private sector,” he said.

Gold was also bullish on the prospects of private philanthropy being drawn to the project: “Frankly, they know a winner when they see one, and they like to invest in success.”

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte questioned Gold about who would own and operate the building, as well as if the project would benefit Nebraskans outside the Omaha area.

Once completed, the center would be owned by NU and make Omaha a health care destination in the U.S. and international communities, Gold responded, while NExT would also create opportunities for Nebraskans studying at UNMC, many of whom later work in health clinics and hospitals across the state.

The Nebraska, Omaha and Lincoln chambers of commerce also back the NExT project, which they see as a vehicle for job creation and attracting and retaining top talent in the state.

Leslie Anderson, the CEO of the Bank of Bennington who spoke on behalf of the Omaha and Lincoln chambers, said NExT was exactly the type of economic development project to spur growth in H3 jobs — high-skill, high-demand, and high-wage professions.

And Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska State Chamber, said in addition to serving a global, local and strategic defense need, the NExT project would result in “game-changing” growth in a major economic sector in Nebraska.

On Thursday, no one testified against Kolterman’s bill, which has more than 30 co-signers from across the political spectrum.

Bob Grothe, manager of the Iron Workers Local 21, testified in a neutral capacity, saying while the union representing construction workers in 73 counties in Nebraska was in favor of the project, it also wanted to ensure the estimated 33,000 construction jobs stayed local.

“This really worries me,” he told the committee. “Not only the dollars, but, as a construction worker, you take a lot of pride in everything we’ve done. I want to see language ensuring Nebraskans will build the project.”​​

After the hearing, Gold said the last major project at UNMC — the Buffett Cancer Center — was designed and built by local firms, adding the university prioritizes companies that can keep the work local.

The Revenue Committee did not take any action on the proposal on Thursday. Gold said a decision from the Department of Defense could come this spring.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

https://journalstar.com/news/local/education/lawmakers-hear-once-in-a-generation-opportunity-pitch-for-unmc/article_4afe709c-9a77-571d-a2bf-1a23e8bcdd94.html

Weekly Column – January 31st
January 31st, 2020

As the first couple of weeks of the new legislative session winds down, I would like to introduce you to a bill that I am deeply honored to carry this year on behalf of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

This year, I introduced LB 1084, a bill that supports a transformational project that, if successfully implemented, will be a game-changer for the State of Nebraska and its economy.  I am joined in support of this bill with 31 of my colleagues, an indication of how this project adheres with the goals of creating high-skill, high-demand, high-wage jobs and growing our state.

The Nebraska Transformational Project, commonly referred to as the NExT, project, allows for significant expansion to the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine through a joint partnership with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.  Both Nebraska Medicine and UNMC currently employ thousands of skilled employees, educate our health care providers, and advance scientific research.

In recent years, the University of Nebraska Medical Center has become a much bigger player in national conversations.  Recently, UNMC has cared for patients suffering from the Ebola virus in one of the nation’s few Biocontainment Units and has brought in tens of millions of dollars in grant dollars to support training and facilities on ways to manage infectious diseases and sharing its expertise globally.

Based on a preliminary estimate of this $2.6 billion public-private investment, a Tripp Umbach study conservatively reports that the NExT initiative will create a total economic impact of $7.6 billion during construction of the project, over the next decade.  The project could generate employment directly and indirectly for 41,655 Nebraska workers over the next decade which includes nearly 33,000 construction-related jobs and 8,700 permanent jobs.  An estimated $211.8 million in state tax revenue over that 10-year period would also be created. This would be in addition to local government tax revenue.  By adding an additional $1.3 billion annually to the state economy when the project is fully operational in 2030, conservatively generating $38.2 million in annual state tax revenue.

I am honored to sponsor LB1084 with the support of at least 31 of my other colleagues because this is a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity for us to catapult Nebraska into the national and international scene, boost our economy and further position us to be a world leader in infectious disease and all-hazards training and response.

As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. Please stop by any time. My e-mail address is mkolterman@leg.ne.gov, and the office phone number is 402-471-2756. Tyler and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address any issues that you may need assistance. Please continue to follow me on Facebook at Kolterman for Legislature and on Twitter at @KoltermanforLegislature.

Sen. Mark Kolterman

District 24
Room 2004
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2756
Email: mkolterman@leg.ne.gov
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