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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 30th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Myron Dorn
The final week of public hearings in the Legislature is complete. We have also concluded 50 days of this 90 day session. So the work continues at a fast pace, including the fact that seven of my bills had their hearing this week.
Here is a recap of those bills. LB 415 would appropriate $1 million to the Emergency Medical Services Practice and the Statewide Trauma System Acts; and $150,000 for the statewide patient care reporting and trauma registry. Services included are EMS licensing, training, technical assistance and testing. The trauma system provides care, prevention activities, and aims to prevent unnecessary death and disability from trauma and reduce costs.
The EMS and trauma program began with a bill by the late Senator Dennis Byers, in the “50 Cents for Life” act in the 1990’s. Funding over the years has not stayed consistent, so this bill would direct dollars from the state general fund for the programming. Training and licensing costs about $10,000 per EMS squad across the state. Without this added assistance, the cost inevitably falls back on local fundraisers.
I received my own EMT license in about 1985; back then you needed around 128 hours in the classroom, and that has risen to 200 hours, plus continuing education. Joining an EMT squad today is a tremendous commitment of time, plus passing a difficult test. In some rural areas, there is no one to turn to for medical help without those rural EMT squads. We are so thankful and supportive of those who go through the process in order to give back to their community.
LB 362 was introduced to raise behavioral health provider rates by increases of 5% for Behavioral Health
Aid, Medicaid Expansion and Juvenile Justice through the Supreme Court. We see examples in the news every day of the growing need for these interventions; we also need to recruit and retain competent providers in this field.
A group of bills heard on Thursday, LB 46, LB 128, 129, 130 and 131, all deal with health care services. The first one, LB 46, funds a study of the rates paid to home health care providers, skilled nursing services and private duty nursing services under the Medical Assistance Act. Again, vital resources whether you live in Lincoln or a smaller community in District 30.
The remaining four bills addressed reimbursement rates under Medicaid in Nebraska hospitals for inpatient and outpatient care; nursing homes and assisted living facilities. One of those, LB 130, creates a separate and distinct budgetary program within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Medicaid nursing facility services program.
Reimbursement increases are needed because provider rates have not kept pace with the inflation we have experienced in the past couple of years. Far too many health care centers across the state have had to close. In conversations with Bryan Health, we see that once a level of around 50% of patients are on Medicaid, that’s when hospitals begin to incur loss but cannot refuse care.
When provider rates are too low, the loss is made up for by persons who do have health insurance, through charges made to those insured patients. So this is an area where we can benefit everyone by boosting reimbursements. Safe and stable health facilities, staffed by qualified workers, are crucial to making large and small communities attractive places to live, for people of all ages.
Last week, a constitutional amendment proposal was introduced in committee by Ralson senator, Merv Riepe, to repeal the inheritance tax. LR23CA would have voters decide whether the state and any political subdivision shall continue to levy an inheritance tax. Nebraska is the only state where eliminating the inheritance tax would have no effect on the state’s revenue or income, but would impact counties.
While this sounds like a good idea, the end result is that if those funds are needed, it will fall 100% on property taxes. Inheritance tax began in the early 1900’s. In the 1960’s the taxing authority was given to counties to help with their budget. The amounts collected in each county have grown with property values. Totals vary but in general, Lancaster county gets about $6 million a year which goes into their general budget. Gage county takes in about $600,000 which is used for special projects. Hickory Road north of Beatrice is a good example: without the inheritance tax, it wouldn’t have been completed.
There are only a few states remaining that still have this tax and I am firmly behind eliminating the inheritance tax; but I am also determined to replace that lost revenue for counties with state funding. Without revenue from inheritance tax, a county will need to make up the deficit by cutting services or increasing property tax. I have introduced an amendment to LR23CA that is based on the five-year average of inheritance tax receipts for each county, with reimbursement from the state general fund.
On the floor this week, all of our time was taken up by LB 574. Called the Let Them Grow Act, the bill would prohibit the performance of gender altering procedures for individuals under the age of 19 and allow for civil action to be brought against violators of the act. Very strong feelings were expressed on both sides of this issue, not only this week but in previous debate on unrelated bills. As a result, debate on LB 574 took the full eight hours on General File and required 33 votes to invoke cloture (end debate). I agreed with parts of the bill and felt other sections went too far. An amendment has been filed that bans surgery but retains the therapeutic treatments, which I support. However, I do not know if an amendment is even possible, since opponents of the bill have said they will filibuster the remainder of the session.
With the end of hearings, the hard work for the Appropriations Committee begins. We will review agency budget requests, all bills before the appropriation committee, the Governor’s budget proposal and the state’s ongoing obligations. We also must factor in any Revenue Committee bills that reduce the state’s income. We are required by the state constitution to present a balanced budget on legislative day 70, which falls on May 2nd. With debate scheduled from morning into the evenings, our committee will meet through the lunch hour to hammer out this plan.
As always, I want to hear from you. My contact information is: email@example.com, 402-471-2620. Thank you.
It’s been a fun month of basketball for this area. I spent some quality bleacher time the past couple of weekends and it was sure enjoyable to be at the games in person, post covid, and see the boost in economic activity for the city of Lincoln. We want to congratulate all the District 30 boys and girls teams that made it to state – and there were a lot of them – and to Freeman for winning the Boys Class C-2 Championship.
Looking ahead to next week, we hope to get the process moving on debating some bills on the floor. There is finally some consensus between the Speaker and those senators engaging in filibusters, to get specific bills on the schedule. We will also begin to stay into the evening hours for debate, as that is one way to extend the hours available for taking up bills. The Speaker has done a good job of working through the process. There are still a couple of committees hearing bills in the afternoon, with Appropriations being one of those. Once those are completed, we will be on the floor all day long.
LB 401, my bill to expand the Nebraska Mesonet System, was heard by the Appropriations committee on Tuesday. Mesonet is a meteorological term that describes a network of automated weather stations that make hourly observations, and measure and track weather data. These instruments measure the variety of conditions related to drought, flood risks, wind and fire risk, as well as daily management decisions.
The Mesonet has many users; the National Weather Service, the University of Nebraska Climate Office, the Department of Natural Resources, local NRDs, towns and cities, cattlemen and crop producers. In the 1980’s Nebraska was a leader in Mesonet technology. In the 1990’s the state of Oklahoma was interested in establishing a Mesonet network and looked to Nebraska for guidance in setting up their system.
Nebraska has now fallen behind Oklahoma. This is unacceptable. Last year, about one quarter of the sites were shut down, or scheduled for closing. So there is a real fear we could lose all of these automated stations, along with their crucial real time and ongoing climate data. Today a new station costs about $15,000, and the yearly maintenance and technology support is around $2,500.
Besides the fact that this weather data impacts every one of us daily, I believe there are two very important reasons to sustain and expand the mesonet system. First, there are numerous instances of protecting life and property from both wildfires and flooding in just the past couple of years. Secondly, if we want to have an accurate discussion about the climate, we need solid data from a wide area across our state. We can estimate or extrapolate right now about what might be going on in unserved areas, but as we go forward this will be extremely useful information when we have those conversations.
After I introduced LB 401, it became obvious that there are many partners who need to be at the table and develop a long term, sustainable plan for a statewide Mesonet system. I have spoken to a few of those and we agree that the best way forward is to hold the bill in committee over the summer and conduct an interim study with everyone involved. We will be back next year with a strong plan to make Nebraska a leader again in the Mesonet system.
Priority bill designations were due this week. Each senator is allowed one and each committee may designate two. With the limited time remaining in the session, only priority bills will be debated on the floor, and even then, not all bills will be taken up.
A bill prioritized by Sen.Walz of Fremont, LB 516, would create two new grant programs to fund safety related upgrades for Nebraska school buildings, and additional mental health services for students. School shootings across the country motivated Sen.Walz to introduce this bill to pay for infrastructure such as surveillance cameras, door lock systems and double-entry doors. The other portion of the bill would be directed to help schools intervene with mental and behavioral health support to their students. There is also a support for the statewide, anonymous reporting system to support school threat assessment teams. This program is currently funded with federal dollars, which will run out by the end of the next fiscal year. The ultimate goal is to make schools safer and to deal with the mental health issues that figure into that.
My final seven bills will all be heard in committee in the coming days. All of these bills deal with health care in some way. I feel it is vitally important to support our caregivers and facilities, not just in our major population areas, but also our rural communities. These bills cover emergency services, behavioral health, Medicaid assisted living and nursing facilities and inpatient/outpatient care; and a study of provider rates.
I hope you can see from these weekly updates that senators are faced with an incredible range of subject matter. Your input makes a difference in helping us learn about the issues. Contact me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2620. Check the Unicameral website at www.nebraskalegislature.gov
The month of March brings many visitors to the Capitol who are in Lincoln to attend state athletic tournaments and fine arts competitions. I have appreciated getting to see both new and familiar faces around the Rotunda.
With news of the final payment in the federal judgment of the “Beatrice 6” case by the Gage County Board, all of those involved have felt a tremendous amount of relief. We are grateful for some degree of closure for the Helen Wilson family first, the six defendants and everyone in Gage County.
Between sales tax collected, the state allocation of $4 million, an insurance settlement and property tax, the county was able to retire this debt much earlier than anticipated. The Gage County Board of Supervisors, Clerk Dawn Hill and many others worked very hard on this issue for a lot of years. As board member Gary Lytle said, you really don’t know whether to celebrate or cry. It is deeply emotional on a lot of levels. But I do want to be sure to extend my thanks to everyone who helped with this.
Regarding the two bills I introduced previously that dealt with the Beatrice 6 case, I found that in moving from the county board to the Legislature, there is an unbelievable learning curve in your first year. You must familiarize yourself with the process it takes to develop a bill, get it through the committee hearing, and work the bill on the floor. Then in one instance, the Governor vetoed a bill, so we had to learn how to take up an override. I just knew my intent and my passion was to keep the judgment from being paid entirely by property taxes. In fact, the idea of the entire settlement resting on property tax was something that resonated with other senators and helped the bills be successful in passing. As I said, it is a relief to be finished with the monetary settlement of this case.
Another success story from past legislation has to do with our local rescue squads and rural fire districts. Last year a little over a billion dollars in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding was allocated by the Legislature. Along with the Governor’s proposal of funding $20 million for ambulances, I had a bill for equipment funding of $5 million. As the pandemic unfolded, we knew we needed to help our rural emergency departments with this money.
The supply chain adversely affected the cost and timeline of replacing an ambulance; a new one costs well over $300,000. After an application and evaluation process, several of our District 30 and neighboring communities were able to benefit from the ARPA program. These communities received $150,000 towards ambulance replacement: Tecumseh, Bennet, Exeter, Firth, Daykin, Douglas, Diller and DeWitt. Awarded $75,000 were: Palmyra, Adams, Wilber, Clatonia, Hallam, Wymore, Hickman, Crete and Beatrice.
Awards for EMS equipment were also given out. Tecumseh, Sterling, Wilber, and Plymouth received $49,999 and DeWitt was awarded $37,430 towards medical equipment. The total list of ARPA funded squads spans the entire state. Community fundraisers are often held to try to cover their substantial costs. While the award amounts won’t cover all the needs, these federal dollars are certainly welcome. Without our rescue squads and fire departments nearby, results could be catastrophic, so we need to keep these local services viable.
In current legislation, my bill LB 564 to expand the Economic Opportunity Program, was heard by the Transportation Committee this week. The program has been used to build rail spurs, pave county roads, build turn lanes and improve existing roads to attract new business. It has already benefited several enterprises across the state.
The idea for this bill was brought to me by the Nebraska Dairy Association, as they are looking at the possibility of a dairy processor and some large dairies coming into the state. For instance, a ten thousand head dairy would probably be located several miles from an urban area, so roads become an issue for heavy transportation of milk, feed and livestock, and workers. A dairy facility of this size could generate $1.7 billion in economic impact.
LB 564 adds livestock production and processing operations to businesses eligible for this program. Applicants must show the potential economic benefit to Nebraska. Counties and business entities would work together to apply for this financial assistance.
I have signed on to LR 22CA as a co-sponsor, a constitutional amendment that would allow a state senator to serve three terms instead of just two. If the legislature approves this, it would be on the ballot in November of 2024, and voters would decide. As a new state senator, I was very glad to have experienced staff with institutional knowledge of the legislature. I mentioned the enormous learning curve earlier; there is also a great deal of responsibility. So the concept of LR 22CA is to have a greater number of senators with more of that historical perspective, who can serve more effectively and efficiently as a representative of a district, yet still be limited in terms.
Your input is important to me as we consider the bills and issues before the Legislature. Contact me at 402-471-2620 or send email to email@example.com. Thank you.
Statehood Day was March 1st, Happy 156th Nebraska! We all look forward to another great year for our great state.
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board convenes four times per year and had their most recent meeting last Friday. The panel did not change their state revenue estimates from the previous projections last October. Some tax receipts have shown a little bit of a decline but all in all, are still very strong. Our legislative fiscal office helps supply information to the forecasting board, and their data did show some evidence for lowering estimates a little bit. The forecasting board will meet again in April, just prior to the 70th day of the legislative session, which is the day we must present the Appropriations Committee budget to the floor. As a committee, we will use their forecast to confirm our numbers in the budget for this fiscal year.
We do have a very robust rainy day fund right now; with no spending it would stand at $2.3 billion at the end of June. But to put this in perspective, four years ago, that number was just $300 million. Obviously, there has been tremendous growth in state revenue in recent years. But as I visit with senators on the floor, there is concern for the long term viability of the fund; and long term fiscal responsibility of its use. I am hearing more senators express the desire to maintain a strong rainy day fund, while meeting our state obligations and funding a few new projects. So that is all part of the discussion as we create a budget in the Appropriations Committee.
Last year we passed my bill, the Precision Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Program, to enhance broadband connectivity for technical soil and water equipment for farmers and ranchers. It was included in a large bill from the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. At that time, we expected funding to come from BEAD (Broadband Equity Access Deployment) federal dollars. As the new law was implemented by the Public Service Commission, it was determined that the fund could only be used for the broadband portion of the program and not technical equipment. So this year I introduced LB 361, heard in committee this week, to add $1 million each year from general funds to expedite the technology portion of the program, and $1 million for broadband expansion, which can be reimbursed to the state through BEAD funding. The PSC did vote unanimously to support this bill, and we had excellent testimony from area farmers..
Also heard in committee, LB 563 would appropriate $250,000 for the next two fiscal years, to the Nebraska State Historical Society to contract with programs that provide education and technical expertise related to downtown or mainstreet revitalization, business growth, and historic preservation. The Main Street Nebraska Network program is one of those, with participating communities in Beatrice, Cortland, Falls City, Fremont, Grand Island, Grant, Hastings, Lexington, Minden, Neligh, North Platte, Papillion, Schuyler, Tekamah, Wayne, Weeping Water and York at this time.
I introduced LB 563 to expand on the success experienced in District 30. Testimony on the bill was given by Michael Sothan of Main Street Beatrice. He did a great job explaining how Beatrice utilizes this program, demonstrated by a net gain of 30 new businesses in the past decade. In fact, Beatrice has one of the most successful Main Street programs in the state.
Other bills of interest to the district were heard by committees this week. LB 703 would create a Nebraska expressway program comparable to the one used to complete the South Beltway. Right now, east of Columbus, only part of a two lane to four lane expansion has been completed. A couple of those lanes end in a cornfield, and they would really like to get that finished. I am okay with this bill. We learned in the South Beltway project that costs are increasing at rates of 10-12% every year. If we wait 20 years the cost could double or triple. Expanding and improving the state highway system is vital to agriculture, manufacturing and transportation. There are several areas across Nebraska with similar needs, and now with the South Beltway done, the next logical discussion is tackling the East Beltway project.
A bill to impose a tax on e-cigarettes and vaping devices was proposed in LB 584. Other than sales tax, we don’t have a tax on vaping products. Studies have shown that as you increase tax, usage goes down. I am very much in favor of that. In addition, our fiscal office estimates $1.3 to 1.5 million in tax revenue would come into the state from this tax.
Students have told me how e-cigarette usage has grown exponentially in the high schools, and I appreciate that students were concerned and would come to the Capital to visit with me about that. In another instance, I was working late in my office one evening during the previous session and a person on the Capitol cleaning crew explained a lot about e-cigarettes and vaping to me. We need to be mindful of how and why this increase is happening, what that means for future use of cigarettes and other products, and how this will affect overall health in coming years.
In floor debate, only a couple of bills have been discussed in depth. LB 77 would allow persons 21 and older to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Right now the law requires a $100 fee for a permit, and several hours of training. LB 77 would eliminate the permit, fee and training. Any one who wants to purchase a gun in Nebraska has to have a background check and I want to emphasize that LB 77 would not take away that requirement. An amendment to the bill has made it slightly more palatable to some law enforcement; and another amendment does increase criminal penalties. We have had good debate on the aspects of the bill itself, which I feel has been worthwhile. There were enough votes to end the filibuster, and LB 77 advanced to the second round of debate on a vote of 34 to 11.
As always, I encourage you to contact me with your comments, opinions and suggestions. My phone number is 402-471-2620. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
We have completed the last full week of February here in the Legislature. The schedule of morning debate on the floor and afternoon public hearings continues for a few more weeks. At times the days seem long, but the session is racing by.
LB 45, my bill to help revitalize rural communities, was heard on Tuesday by the Urban Affairs Committee. I want to give credit to Senator Tom Brandt who basically co-sponsored this legislation. This bill, which we call ReRun, got its start in Hebron last summer, when we were invited to tour their downtown. We had a large group of interested people and ended up visiting several towns, and hearing from many more.
We learned there are many small rural communities with deteriorating structures which are not only eyesores, but are potentially hazardous. The cost of demolition is just too great for these towns and villages to afford. We are talking about towns, termed cities of the second class, with fewer than 5,000 people, and villages below 800 in population. These locales want to keep their towns beautiful and maintain their commercial center, no matter how small it may be.
LB 45 creates the Revitalize Rural Nebraska (ReRun) grant program, to be administered by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy. It would appropriate $10 million and communities could apply for monetary assistance to demolish these buildings. If a grant is awarded, the town or village must match at a rate between 10 and 20% based on population, and has two years to use it. If money remains in the fund then a city of the first class (5,000 to 100,000 population) can apply for any that is left. The bill does protect structures on the National Register of Historic Places. I hope to see this moved to the General File very soon.
I have a simple bill waiting on the agenda to be heard on the General File (first round debate). LB 47 was brought to me by the fire chief in Panama. In 2020, legislation was passed to allow small towns and villages to post public notices in three conspicuous places in their area as an alternative to using print media. When that bill passed several years ago, they did not include rural fire districts. So this bill simply adds rural fire and suburban fire protection districts to the list, which have limited budgets. Of course, these entities may still publish notices in their local papers if they wish.
The Legislature heard the annual report from Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice, Mike Heavican, this week. His address included prison facilities, the needs of children, minority defendants and the challenges of mental health.
Statistics show there are 14,000 adults and 2,500 juveniles on probation at any given time. This has an effect on our state in several ways. The average cost to supervise an adult on probation is $5,500 per year, compared to a cost of $42,000 a year to incarcerate that person. Probation also keeps people employed, engaged in society and close to their family and local support system in ways that imprisonment does not.
Another recent innovation of the judicial system has been specialty courts. These focus on specific problems such as drug and alcohol addition, veterans treatments and of course, children, youth and families. A lot of success has been achieved with these courts and we need more of these outcomes. Communication is also a problem for our court system. The Chief Justice said there were 46 different languages interpreted in court proceedings in the past year.
Mental health is a major issue in our justice system, here and all across the country. This became increasingly apparent in the past few years, and especially during covid. Our jails and prisons are not meant to be used as mental health facilities. We need to confront that and get these individuals to places where they can get the help they need.
The Lincoln Regional Center has a present backlog of six months to do mental health evaluations. If we can get that down to at least three months and move people into treatment, that will go a long way in alleviating this problem. It will benefit not just offenders but the members of our community who put their lives on the line and work in the justice system as well.
LB 299 was debated this week by the full Legislature. It would ensure voters can approve interlocal bond agreements to pay for the construction of school buildings.
Residents of Beatrice are aware of the interlocal agreement between ESU 5 and Beatrice Public Schools (BPS). After failing twice to pass a bond issue; the school partnered with the ESU. Other schools in Nebraska have used this arrangement as well. Under current statute, any school can use up to 14 cents of levy for capital construction. Originally, this allowed for a funding source for things such as a new HVAC system or other expensive repairs. The caveat is that the 14 cents fall within their levy cap of $1.05. So BPS is using that 14 cents of levy to pay for construction through the interlocal agreement with the ESU .
I have reached out to people on both sides of this issue; and the primary concern was the lack of a vote on something with such long term funding ramifications. LB 299 would still allow interlocal agreements like this to be possible, but it eliminates the option of proceeding without a vote, and I support this concept.
In Appropriations, we are continuing with agency reports and hearings on bills. When I started as a senator just over four years ago, the state’s “rainy day fund” was at $300M. That amount was as low as we would ever want to see it. Now, if we didn’t spend any money, along with federal relief dollars coming into the state, strong revenue receipts and if revenue meets the forecasting board projections at the end of the fiscal year, we would have $2.3 billion in that fund on July 1st.
However, there are numerous proposals for spending. I have heard numbers that range up to $4 billion worth of ask. There are a lot of good ideas in these bills, I do know that. But I continue to look at it from a long term perspective. We need to make sure we are financially sound as a state four years from now. If we over-appropriate today, we will have big concerns in the future, if or when revenue drops again. We simply must be wise in our state expenditures.
I welcome your thoughts, comments and ideas. You can contact me by calling 402-471-2620; emailing email@example.com, or sending mail to District 30, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509-4604. Thank you.
One third of the 90 day session is complete. The Thursday snow storm did not stop the Legislature from convening, but it does create a difficult situation for anyone wishing to testify at a committee hearing. If conditions like this occur, please remember you can view all proceedings via nebraskapublicmedia.org; and you can submit written testimony on the Unicameral website: nebraskalegislature.gov. Enter the bill number on the right hand side of the page, and then click on the “submit testimony” button. The site includes additional information and guidelines for submission.
At this point we have debate on the floor in the mornings, and the committees are in full swing with afternoon hearings and executive sessions to discuss the bills already heard. We have around five more weeks of hearings yet to go. Thus far, three of my bills have been presented before committees but we are still waiting for those to be moved to the floor for first round debate.
I have designated LB 562 as my priority bill. This is the measure to increase the accessibility of E15 ethanol across Nebraska. It was heard by the Ag Committee and I am hoping they will move it to the floor next week. We have been in discussions with various interested parties about some amendments to make it work better for both retailers and consumers.
Many gubernatorial appointments have to be confirmed by the full Legislature. People seeking these appointments go before the legislative committee that oversees that specific subject area; the committee then advances their recommendations to the floor for a confirmation vote. We rely on the committee to do their due diligence and research on those individuals. This week we spent several hours discussing various appointments, with the bulk of our time spent on the Natural Resources Committee recommendation of Jim Macy to continue to serve as director of the Department of Environment and Energy.
We have released a preliminary budget report in the Appropriations Committee. You can find it at https://nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/fiscal/2023prelim.pdf. This document is just a starting point and will definitely change as we go along. This report was due on the 15th of February; the Governor will need to submit his by the 25th. There is a difference between those two proposals for various reasons.
As an Appropriations Committee, we have been getting updates from our legislative fiscal office on the revenue and expenditures of the state. We also hear from each state agency and review their budget requests. These range from the Department of Health and Human Services, which by far has the most employees and the largest budget, to entities such as the Dry Edible Bean Board located in the Panhandle.
The Governor’s budget does not include all of the funding requests introduced by individual senators. In addition, an item that was not included in Governor Pillen’s initial budget plan was the state employee union negotiation for wages and benefits. His final budget proposal will reflect that and bring the two proposals a little closer together.
In our committee, we have already approved a few items, such as the property tax credit fund, and we have temporarily earmarked some project funding such as the Perkins County Canal. Our committee budget also leaves room for about $460 million for senator’s bills on the floor. By legislative day 70, we must have our budget to the floor, and by day 80 that budget must be passed. After that, the other bills that request funding will be considered.
Medical marijuana legislation has been brought forward several years now. I wouldn’t have supported the original bill from previous sessions, but in recent years the proponents have tightened up the bill and worked with doctors to get their support. That said, I will not support recreational marijuana. But we are one of just a few states that do not authorize medical marijuana. The current bill requires that you see a doctor to obtain a prescription, so it will be regulated. I don’t yet have a good read on how a vote on this issue might turn out, and don’t know what opportunity there is for the bill to pass.
Several judicial reform bills are still pending before the committee. Last year a list of 21 reforms were recommended from a study of our state corrections programs; but four of those became a sticking point for several senators and as a result, the whole bill (LB920) failed to pass. An act introduced this year, LB473, brought by Senator Geist would create a grant pilot program to create a safe and secure treatment center for juveniles in Nebraska. The treatment center would provide family outreach, mental health and other treatment, education and family reunification services to get youth back on the right path. The goal is to provide more opportunities, utilize diversion and avoid detention. Senator Geist has been visiting with Senators McKinney and Wayne and others about how to solve some of our correction issues. Sen. McKinney has been very vocal about not building a new prison until we address some of these factors ahead of time. He contends that building a new prison won’t solve our problems and I agree with that. We do have funding set aside for constructing corrections facilities but have not yet approved its expenditure.
As we take up these important issues in debate, I welcome your comments. Call me at 402-471-2620. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
We have completed two weeks of full day public hearings here at the Legislature. Next week, we return to a schedule of morning debate and afternoon hearings until all bills have been presented before a committee.
One of my major initiatives, LB 562, the E-15 Access Standard Act was heard by the Agriculture Committee on Tuesday. The goal of the bill is to increase consumer access for fueling up with E-15 ethanol starting in January of next year.
Most vehicle owners already know the benefits of the E-10 ethanol blend. The advantages of E-15 include a lower average price of 15 cents less per gallon; which translates to a savings of $50 million in Nebraska alone, money that goes back into our pockets. Retailers would net 3% more revenue if all fuel sales were ethanol blends.
Nebraska is the second largest producer of ethanol in the United States. With the use of E-15, production could increase by 40 million gallons, and utilize the equivalent of an additional 14 million bushels of corn.
It is easy to see how the benefits of increased ethanol production and use would spread out in a state like ours, where one in every four jobs is directly related to agriculture.
As it is written right now, LB 562 would require fuel retailers who install, replace or convert fuel storage tanks and fuel dispensers to be able to offer E-15 in at least half of their dispensers/pumps. This would need to be complete by 2027. The bill also offers several waivers to small filling stations and the Department of Agriculture can issue waivers to those with incompatible infrastructure.There are also waivers if the cost of installing such equipment exceeds a certain amount. The waivers extend past the 2027 date and can be waived indefinitely. The bill also includes funding grants to qualified retailers to help with the needed upgrades in equipment.
E-15 and other ethanol blends are high performance fuels, and more than 96% of cars on the road today are approved for ethanol use. Mileage is statistically the same, but the cost of ethanol is less, so there is definitely more value per mile. Having more pumps dispensing E-15 gives us, as consumers, a lot more choice.
New stations are utilizing higher levels of ethanol blends, as they see the trends and demand. So once E-15 is widely available at existing locations as well, the use of ethanol will go up. That will be good for the environment and Nebraska’s economy.
Farming has ups and downs, and it is only a matter of time before the price of corn per bushel drops again. If we wait until commodity prices are low before we begin to work on these additional markets, we won’t be able to make it up. Ethanol is one way we help cushion the peaks and valleys, and help stabilize the farm economy for the long term – which in turn, sustains the whole state’s economy. At the national level, there is legislation to make E-15 available year round across the country. That will open up even more markets for ethanol produced in Nebraska.
It was a second week of high profile bills going through the public hearing process. One issue that always generates a lot of conversation is the adoption of year round daylight saving time. A bill I am particularly interested in was presented to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, dealing with the Nebraska Broadband Office.
Creating this office would be very good for our state. I have spoken with Sen. Bostelman, who introduced LB 683, about how it will help Nebraska. There were some federal funds that required we have a broadband director in order to qualify, so we have missed out on those. This would help funnel some of that federal money, our own tax dollars, back into the state.
The broadband office would develop a strategic plan and oversee infrastructure expansion. Covid revealed our weaknesses in internet connectivity, and the remedy has not been accomplished at the rate we want to see. When I first became a senator four years ago, we talked about broadband speeds of 10/20 up and down – now we talk about speeds of 100/100. That is just how fast broadband is changing and improving. Speed is critical. Economic activity and education rely on it. So we know having a top notch level of broadband can only be a benefit.
The Governor has proposed a number of measures dealing with taxes. One of those, LB 589, can be construed as a “soft cap” on school district spending and would limit the growth in property tax collection to about 3% per year. Factors such as fast growing districts and the associated extra costs, English language proficient speakers, the number of students in poverty, and so on, can be considered. A super majority of school board members would need to vote to exceed the cap. So there is some leeway in the bill, but also some safeguards. It will be interesting to see how the Governor’s total tax package will fare and how it will come out of the various committees hearing the individual bills.
Contact me at any time by calling 402-471-2620, email me at email@example.com. I always appreciate your communication on the issues facing the Legislature. www.nebraskalegislature.gov
February 3, 2023 District 30 Update
Sen. Myron Dorn
This past mid-week, entire hallways and the Rotunda were packed with people waiting to testify on several major bills. There were strongly held opinions on both sides of these issues and committee hearings took several hours. A turn out of this kind is a good demonstration of how our Unicameral works, with the people of Nebraska acting as the “second house”, able to provide input in person, and through written testimony submitted on the legislature’s website.
LB 535, the voter identification bill, was heard by the Government Committee. This legislation is necessary because of the constitutional amendment that passed in the previous election. It now falls to the legislature to determine the guidelines for requiring identification to cast a vote. Those ready to testify at the hearing had comments prepared but the introducer, Sen. Slama, brought a new amendment which replaced the existing bill. One major difference in the amendment was a requirement for early or mail-in ballot envelopes to be signed in front of a notary public. There will be more amendments and work on this bill, but I do want to be mindful of the fact that there are many voters who cannot vote in person, and we need to ensure their ability to participate in elections.
Another bill before committee this week would offer grants to recruit and retain new teachers. This bill would help new teachers, who receive the lowest pay, and also focus on certain high need areas such as special education, math, science and technology. LB 385 is designed to address teacher shortages being felt all across Nebraska but especially in areas outside of Lincoln and Omaha.
Before covid, we were looking at statistics that in five to ten years, there would be more teachers retiring and leaving teaching than new teachers entering the profession. Covid magnified that, adding to early retirements and those simply leaving education. So we are facing shortages and without programs like this, it will be a challenge.
The motorcycle helmet repeal bill was back before committee again this year, in the form of LB 91. It would allow any motorcyclist or passenger over the age of 21, who has completed a basic safety course, to ride without a helmet. Supporters say it would help keep visitors traveling through Nebraska, especially on their way to Sturgis, South Dakota, instead of going out of their way to avoid our state helmet law. I have signed onto this bill as a co-sponsor.
One of the larger hearings last week involved LB 77, which would repeal the requirement to have a concealed handgun permit. Sen. Brewer has brought a constitutional carry bill for all of his years in the legislature. Current state law says a background check, a $100 fee and a training course are all required to obtain a concealed carry permit. His bill would waive the fee and course, and also keep counties and cities from making separate regulations. Only those individuals not otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm would be allowed to carry without the permit.
I did sign on to LB77, as I have in the past. There are some things I might like to see added in the way of training. Sen. Brewer has met with law enforcement and added amendments in the past. But being unable to get the various law enforcement groups to agree, he bypassed their carve outs and introduced this current bill.
Omaha and Lincoln police chiefs and several organizations testified in opposition to the bill.
We hear from many who say this will lead to more guns. I do not think the number of guns will increase. In general, those with conceal carry now are the ones I trust to have them. Some may fall through the cracks, but that could be said of many different laws. And those who use firearms unlawfully to commit a crime were never going to apply for a permit anyway.
LB 626, known as the “heartbeat bill” would ban most abortions at around six weeks gestation, once cardiac activity can be detected. As I mentioned, the Capitol was packed with testifiers and the hearing lasted nearly eight hours. More than 2,500 people submitted comments through the website. Last year, a bill was introduced that would have banned virtually all abortions in the state. This current bill does include several exceptions for rape, incest and life saving medical procedures. It also clarifies that it does not apply to ectopic pregnancies, in-vitro fertilization and other procedures that could lead to the end of a pregnancy.
LB 626 would add restrictions to the current law, which right now allows abortions up to 20 weeks past fertilization. Instead of a criminal offense as proposed last year, LB 626 would allow for a doctor’s medical license to be revoked if they perform an abortion after cardiac activity is detected. There is a review process and other guidelines that would affect what could happen if a doctor performed an abortion after 6 weeks. The intent is not to try to catch a medical person in wrongdoing. The perspective is more about allowing abortion and at what stage of pregnancy. I believe this year’s bill does have the committee votes to get to the floor. At that point there will be a lot of discussion. Some senators have vowed to not let it pass, while others will do all they can to enact it into law.
Obviously, the week’s hearings have generated many contacts via email, phone, letters and constituents dropping in to the office. I welcome and encourage you to keep these lines of communication open. Call anytime to 402-471-2620, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Legislative website has information on every bill, existing statutes, each senator, the schedule and much more. www.nebraskalegislature.gov
Before the session even began, we knew the Legislature would be facing some weighty issues. After just the third full week, we see that prediction is accurate. Hearings this week included motorcycle helmet laws, interlocal agreements, concealed weapons, and taxes.
The Legislature has 14 standing committees which are organized on the first day of the session, and as I have noted, I will continue to serve on the Appropriations Committee. We also have several select committees and I was pleased to be appointed to the Performance Audit Committee and to be elected chairman.
The Performance Audit division of the Legislature evaluates whether specified state agency programs are accurately implementing legislative intent. Examples of their recent work include a review of the Nebraska Advantage Act, and overtime paid by Corrections, Health and Human Services and Transportation. Any senator can ask for an audit, then those requests come before the committee and along with the division, we decide what will be taken up.
As a committee, we also go over draft reports prior to their release. A final report from Performance Audit may lead to some additional legislation to improve a program. The Performance Audit staff can request confidential information if they believe they see something of interest, non compliance or even wrong doing, but must maintain that confidentiality.
The Governor delivered his State of the State address to the Legislature on Wednesday. I felt he did a good job of explaining his priorities. Governor Pillen wants to control spending and limit budget growth to a two year average of 1.3%. This would be a very fiscally tight, conservative budget.
The Governor’s tax plan would remove property taxing authority from community colleges and replace it with state funding. In K-12 education, one of the major proposals includes $1500 per student in foundation aid. The Governor also supports “school choice” which would extend some form of funding to students in private education.
Generally speaking, since I’ve been in the Legislature, there have been some good education bills brought forward. With most of those bills, it isn’t the idea so much as it is the funding it requires. The determining factor as to why those bills haven’t passed is the dollar amount, and trying to fit that into our state budget. Governor Pillen proposes taking $1 billion out of the rainy day fund and moving that to education; with $1.3 billion investment in education in the next few years.
Another item in the Governor’s budget is the Perkins County Canal project to get water flowing from Colorado into the South Platte. We put in $53.5 million in the budget last year; the Governor wants to add $574 million for construction of the project. This will show the state of Colorado we have intent to proceed with that project and make sure we get our water. Colorado has no responsibility to give us water unless the canal is built, so that is a very important step.
The Pillen budget also includes $95.9 million for a new corrections facility. We had set aside money the previous two years of around $240 million for construction, but without spending authority. With his proposal, the amount available for building would be roughly $340 million, which studies show will be the amount required to construct the proposed facility. All of those funds will be sitting in a fund with no spending authority until given by the legislature. Another $500 million of the state budget would be devoted to transportation infrastructure.
The Governor suggested legislation that would look at income from ag land. Studies have shown property tax on agricultural land should not be based on sales in the area; but instead on income potential, with several years of data included. There would also be a proposed cap on the increase of 3% per year.
This will be something for taxing entities and home owners to watch in the next few years. With the rapid rise in home valuations, if the levy does not go down when the valuation goes up, then you obviously have a higher tax bill. Holding the levy steady is not the same as providing property tax relief with these rising valuations.
Prior to his address, the Governor met with the Appropriations and Revenue Committee to discuss his budget. The revenue numbers in his proposed budget are based on predictions from the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board, which meets quarterly. Their forecast in April will be the one we use to finalize the budget bill and funding requests. The board typically does an excellent job of predicting revenue. They use a formula that has proven pretty reliable, and we generally look at a four year cycle. With the surge of federal funding, revenues have increased in the last couple of years. But looking ahead, with less federal aid, inflation and potential changes in the economy, we need to consider how this will look in years three and four.
Over the interim, I had commented that we have a lot of money in the general and rainy day funds, which may lead to a lot of requests. That has come to pass. The Appropriations Committee has 84 bills that ask for direct funding requests, as well as other committee’s bills with funding attached. Right now we are going through the 93 state agency reports, plus specific programs and commodity boards. We have already seen some funding increases from the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and Attorney General. We are seeing requests for increases in staff due to workload. For example, the Secretary of State has indicated a need for additional personnel to handle election security questions. All of these requests will be reviewed to see if they fit into the budget.
I always appreciate hearing from you. Contact me at email@example.com or 402 471-2620. Thank you for sharing your concerns and suggestions.
By the numbers: 2023, 108th Legislative Session. Ninety day session, 812 bills and 9 constitutional amendments introduced. I have 16 of those bills, and will consider a couple of recommendations for interim studies to be completed next summer.
In the end, only around a quarter of those bills will pass; and several of them will relate to the state budget, which is required to be passed in this 90 day session. A brief summary of three of the bills I have introduced follows:
LB 562 would require gas stations to have at least 50% of their pumps provide E-15 fuel, and grants would be available to gas stations for conversion. This bill was brought to me by the Renewable Fuels Nebraska organization, and is modeled after similar legislation in Iowa. The goal of this bill is to increase use of E15 and boost the ethanol industry, which in turn helps out corn farmers in our state. We talked with retailers and ethanol producers about the best ways to accomplish this, and the bill does include grant money for pump conversion, waivers for older gas stations, and so on. The bill will be heard by the Agriculture Committee on February 7, 2023.
LB 563 would provide funding for downtown revitalization. At one time, there was funding to help with statewide implementation of these programs, but that support dwindled during budget cut years. My staff and I worked with Michael Sothan in Beatrice and the Nebraska Main Street Network organization over the summer, looking at the positive impact in the past and what could be done in the future through these projects. Getting an early start on the legislation gave ample time to develop a bill I was comfortable introducing.
LB 564 The Dairy Association brought me a proposal that would include all livestock production and livestock processing operations to be included in the Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund for road improvements. For example, if a five thousand head dairy operation wanted to build on a site in Nebraska, and they needed a two mile road improvement for access, this bill would help with those road improvements.. This helps keep large livestock facilities away from more populated areas, while improving the access they need on roadways. It manages traffic, provides a safer roadway, and is good for the current residents in the area.
I was thankful Governor Pillen came forward with a proposal on school funding. The bill package, which was developed by a committee he put together, provides a good starting point for discussion. LB 583 would provide $1500 per student each year from the Education Future Fund. This fund would be created in LB 681, starting with a $1 billion appropriation in the current budget, and another $250 million in each of the next six years following, resulting in a $2.5 billion fund. The last piece of his recommendation is a ‘soft cap’ on property tax asking of 3%, based on total revenue. There are some exceptions and ways to accommodate school district fluctuations built into the bill.
Currently in Nebraska, we have 86 to 90 schools which are equalized and get funding from the current funding formula known as TEOSA. The remaining 150+ schools in the state or so receive only funding for special education, option students, etc. Funding provided by the federal government for special education has eroded over time to about 42% of the actual costs, leaving schools to pick up the rest. This bill would add $157 million to special education to compensate for that gap.
The eye popping part, the big number, is the Education Future Fund. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am always looking at how we sustain programs, especially in times of lower state revenue. I see a lot that is good in this package. But I will be focused on the funding aspects. When you throw out numbers like a billion or two billion, it is our duty to make sure it is both doable now, and sustainable for long term planning.
Today the state is in a very strong position financially; but will we be in the same place four years from now? That is a question I ask. In past years we had some good school proposals, but the funding portion was the determining factor. If the funding isn’t responsible and sustainable, and we have to cut it in future years, then it is not a good proposal. Again, the package is intriguing and I am very glad it was brought forward and that Governor Pillen is involved in this conversation.
The Governor also announced a legislative tax package. Several of the bills in this proposal speed up the timeline of reductions we have passed in previous sessions. LB 754 would reduce the top income tax rate to 3.99% by 2027. LB 641 eliminates state income tax on social security. A bill was passed last year to be phased in over five years; this new bill would make it effective much sooner. Additional bills in the package would immediately implement income tax cuts made last year; eliminate Community College ability to levy property tax and replace it with state funds and cap the increases; and provide income tax credits for donations to organizations that give scholarships to students going to private schools or parochial schools. In the past, this proposal for credits has been filibustered and the votes haven’t been there. But with 17 new senators and a new governor, we could see some of these moving forward.
LB 750, speaks to how we assess agricultural land and would base valuations on income potential rather than land sales prices. Between the years 2010 to 2020, ag land went up 150%. If valuations had been based on income instead of land sales, we wouldn’t have had that steep increase in those ten years. Until we decide, in the state of Nebraska, to determine how to evaluate land, other than the current system, we’re going to continue having these same discussions.
We are now seeing the same issue in residential valuations. Lancaster county residents received valuations notices in the past few weeks that for some grew by 20 to 30%. Again, this reflects the housing market of recent years. We will see if we have the will, along with this governor, to change some of that. I don’t have a good read on that as of yet, but again, I’m glad we’re going to have this discussion and people can weigh in on these concepts.
On Thursday I had the opportunity to preside over the Legislature while we were in session. This enabled the Speaker, Sen. John Arch, to participate in debate about the permanent rules. It was a great experience and I look forward to more opportunities to “sit in the chair.”
To contact me directly, use my email or call/leave a message. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620. Send mail to District 30, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509-4604. Follow me on Facebook or see my webpage by going to the legislative website. As always, I look forward to hearing from you!
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