NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Mark Kolterman

Sen. Mark Kolterman

District 24

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at mkolterman@leg.ne.gov

The Business and Labor Committee collected information on the Department of Labor’s response to the current Covid-19 situation. I want to thank Senator Matt Hansen and his office for sharing this information. 
 

 
Office of Senator Matt Hansen
Chair, Business and Labor Committee
 
There are a lot of questions about those unable to work during the current crisis. First I want to thank the Nebraska Department of Labor and the Governor for their quick response to the pandemic. Below are resources available for those unable to work or working reduced hours during:

 

Short-Time Compensation
​​https://dol.nebraska.gov/stc
● Employers can apply for this program.
● For those still working but limited hours during the pandemic period.
● The Short-Time Compensation program allows employers to uniformly reduce affected​ employees’ hours by 10 to 60 percent while permitting the employees to receive a prorated​ unemployment benefit.

 

Unemployment Insurance
https://dol.nebraska.gov/uibenefits
● For those who are not able to work and not receiving a paycheck during the pandemic period. (If​ you are working from home or using sick or vacation leave then this does not apply to you)
● Under the executive order signed by Governor Ricketts starting March 22 through May 2 the​ following will be in place for unemployment insurance:
○ The waiting week for benefits has been waived
■ Benefits will begin immediately and not with the usual first week unpaid.
○ The work search requirements will be waived
■ Individuals will not have to apply to jobs in order to receive benefits. It will be assumed that they will be able to return to their jobs after the crisis is over.
○ Benefits will not be charged against individual employers accounts.
■ Money will be paid out of the general trust fund as the job losses are not the fault​ of individual employers.
■ Nebraska’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is well funded and is expected​ to handle the increased number of applications.
 
Other Important Considerations
● Please remind your constituents that there are expected to be long wait times when calling the​ Department of Labor. This is due both to the increased demand and the Department is also​ dealing with the same issues as all employers. If they cannot get through it is best to leave a call​ back number and they will be called back.
● Currently these programs do not apply to contractors or self employed individuals as they do not​ participate in the unemployment system. There may be coming Federal action to help these​ individuals. Please contact your Federal representatives.
● As we are aware the situation is changing rapidly. The Department and the Governor with his​ emergency powers can respond quickly as needed. We have been in close contact with the​ Department of Labor and will keep you updated.
Weekly Column – March 13th
March 13th, 2020

In this week’s column, I would like to share important information regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  This is a major public health issue that is affecting every corner of the globe.

As you may know, COVID-19 is spread primarily by respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes from someone who is afflicted by the disease.  While it may be possible to become infected by touching a surface or object contaminated with the virus, this is not the primary source of transmission.  Therefore, it is imperative that if you are feeling ill, stay home.

As of March 10, there were more than 700 confirmed cases in the United States and in just two days, that number almost doubled to 1,323 confirmed cases, with 10 confirmed cases in Nebraska.  COVID-19 has symptoms of a fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath or difficulty breathing that will show 2 to 14 days after exposure. It is all but certain the number of confirmed cases will spike at an alarming rate, given that people who have been exposed may not be showing any symptoms yet.  According to Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an untold amount of people in the United States will be exposed to the virus in the coming months.

At least 80% of the cases globally have been mild, but if the death rate continues to hover around two percent, that could lead to tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States alone.  It is important that everybody reading this column take proactive steps for slowing the spread of the disease. Measures being adopted today such as the closing of schools, the cancelling of mass gatherings, self-quarantining, and avoiding crowds is designed to help alleviate this concern.  People will continue to get sick, but at a slower rate as to not overwhelm our medical system.

The two most vulnerable populations at risk for COVID-19 are those who are over age 60 and/or those with chronic medical conditions.  Even if you are young and healthy, it is important to remain diligent and to follow social distancing measures to avoid spreading the disease to others.   While most healthy individuals who become infected will only have mild symptoms, they can spread it to those at risk who can become very sick, very easily.

Thanks to coordination with our excellent professionals at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who specialize in infectious diseases, Nebraska is one of the most prepared states for this outbreak.  Our state government is working closely with experts and are listening to their guidance, but that can only do so much. Your help is needed as well. My call to action is for you to take the appropriate steps to help mitigate this outbreak – wash your hands frequently, sneeze into your elbow, consider avoiding events with large crowds, and stay home if you’re feeling ill.  Things will continue to get worse before they get better, but we all can make sure this outbreak doesn’t get as bad as it could.

If you would like more information on COVID-19, more information can be found at www.unmc.edu/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov or call Four Corners Health Department at 402-362-2621 or the United Way Resource Hotline at 211 or 402-444-6666.

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.

Weekly Column – February 28th
February 28th, 2020

As most of you know, one of the unique characteristics of the Nebraska Legislature is that every bill introduced by a senator receives a public hearing. On Thursday, February 27th, we concluded committee hearings for the 482 legislative bills and 16 legislative resolutions introduced this year. The legislature began full day debate on bills on Tuesday, March 3rd. With 27 days remaining in this short legislative session, we still have a lot of important legislation to tackle, including rebalancing the two-year biennial budget.

We have also reached the deadline for designating priority bills. As many of you know, the Rules of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature allow each senator to designate one bill each year as their priority bill. Senators may prioritize a bill they introduced or legislation introduced by another Member or Committee. In addition to individual Senator priority bills, each standing Committee may prioritize two bills that it advances. The Speaker of the Legislature is permitted to prioritize 25 bills.

Prioritized bills that have been advanced out of a committee will be heard by the Legislature before the bills that have not been prioritized. During this short 60-day session, it is unlikely that a bill advanced out of a committee will make it to floor debate without being prioritized. With 49 Senator priority bills, 31 Committee priority bills, and 25 Speaker Priority Bills, we are looking at the possibility of 105 total prioritized bills. Since we have already debated a handful of prioritized bills, the remaining bills will be debated over the course of the next 27 legislative days.

One of the bills that has received a speaker priority is a bill I introduced, LB 760 which would require health carriers to provide coverage for asynchronous review by a dermatologist by way of telehealth.   LB 760 ensures that Nebraskans, regardless of where they live, have the ability to access quality healthcare via telemedicine by a dermatologist, if the service is provided by asynchronous review, otherwise known as store-and-forward.

For example, if you were a patient in Gothenburg, and you visit your family physician who notices a suspicious area of skin on your forehead, that physician can take a photo and submit it to a dermatologist whose specialized knowledge allows them to assess, diagnose and treat the suspicious area. What was found, however, is that if the photo is sent to a dermatologist who is not participating in the live conversation, that service is not being covered by all insurers.

LB 760 advanced from the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee on February 11 on a vote of 7 ayes and 1 nay.  While there was one dissenting voice in advancing the bill from Committee, as technology expands access to quality care, it is vital that payment systems keep up in a changing world. With a growing trend in skin cancer occurrences in this state, it is imperative that we ensure Nebraskans, no matter where they live, the ability to access quality healthcare via telemedicine, even if the consulting dermatologist is not able to attend the live visit.

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.

While a band of rural senators is working to tightly tie the fate of a new business investment tax credit program to efforts to gain substantial property tax relief, Sen. Mark Kolterman has moved to put a little distance between those two major legislative proposals.

In the end, he suggests, there will be additional property tax relief and a modernized business investment program, plus a legislative funding commitment to a blockbuster new project at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Kolterman, the quiet-spoken and collegial senator from Seward, is the sponsor of the latter two big-ticket proposals and will be a key legislative figure in the days that lie ahead.

While he says he has reached agreement with Revenue Committee Chairwoman Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn that a series of substantial amendments to the business incentives bill already agreed to by the committee will not move to the floor of the Legislature until senators reach a property tax relief decision, Linehan notes that the proposals will begin to move in tandem at second-stage floor consideration. ​​

That depends on whether the committee’s property tax relief and school aid reform package (LB974) clears first-stage floor debate. It currently is on hold while Linehan attempts to negotiate concerns raised largely by big-city school districts.

If those concerns are addressed, Linehan will then need to convince Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk that she can garner the 33 votes required to eventually disarm a filibuster in order to at least proceed with the bill.

Linehan believes she can do that.

The business incentives bill (LB720) sits at second-stage floor consideration, where it was blocked in the final days of the 2019 legislative session by rural senators seeking action on substantial property tax relief.

Joining this cluster of major decisions is the blockbuster $2.6 billion proposal (LB1084) to build a new center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center that would respond to national health threats and crises, Kolterman said.

That plan includes a $300 million state funding commitment and the promise of at least $300 million in private donor support.

Thirty-two senators have co-signed onto that bill now, Kolterman noted.

“It will be merged into LB720, and it will pass this session,” he said. “Our commitment will be there.

“Everyone knows we have to have some sort of business tax incentives plan,” Kolterman suggested.

And in the end, he said, “we’ll have property tax relief” along with the new business tax incentives plan and the bold state commitment to help fund the UNMC plan.

The state’s current business tax incentives program expires at the end of the year.

“The new Imagine Nebraska Act is so much better,” Kolterman said. “And we’re ready to go.”

The original proposal will be broadened to include provisions to “help us grow rural Nebraska,” he said. Those changes resulted from negotiations with rural senators and rural manufacturers.

As the Legislature grapples with the challenge of property tax reduction now, Kolterman said, “we’ll wait our turn.”

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry chose Kolterman to shepherd the new tax incentives bill, and University of Nebraska Medical Center Chancellor Jeffrey Gold asked him to lead the way on its groundbreaking project.

“I’m a little nervous,” Kolterman admitted, “and somewhat humbled that they chose me.

“When I came to Lincoln, it was not because of issues,” he said.

“I came down to be a representative of the 24th District, and I have tried to build relationships (with) individual senators and the lobby” in order to be effective, he said.

“I am willing to listen to both sides,” he said. “I try to get along with everybody.

“And I don’t like to lose,” he added.

Perhaps the most visible example of Kolterman’s positive chemistry with fellow senators is the challenging and kidding exchanges he sometimes has with Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha during floor debate as they prod one another from opposite sides of the legislative chamber.

“He and I have a great relationship,” Kolterman said. “I sat by him for the first two years. I asked to do that. I wanted to learn.

“The longer you are here,” he said, “the more you learn.”

When Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Slone told Kolterman that he might ask him to carry the business incentives package through the legislative process, Kolterman said he told him: “I’ll think about that. I’m not real good on the mic. But I can get it done.

“I said OK just before the (2019) legislative session started. And it’s been a lot of fun. It’s a work in progress.”

Gold came to him, he said, because he had developed “a really strong relationship” with the chancellor and with the Medical Center during Kolterman’s wife’s 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Suzanne Kolterman died in November 2017.

“We’ve got to get this done,” Kolterman said.

https://journalstar.com/legislature/sen-mark-kolterman-at-the-center-of-big-legislative-proposals/article_c86ab8e1-0cbb-5a95-8879-23330ab7c14b.html

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
Phone: (402) 471-2756
Email: mkolterman@leg.ne.gov
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