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March 31, 2016 District 30 Update
Many hours of discussion focused on tax issues this past week. Education bills LB959 and LB1067 were advanced to select file (the second round of debate) after extensive floor debate. LB959, introduced by the Education Committee on behalf of Governor Ricketts, will provide approximately $8 million of additional state aid to primarily small and rural districts. This should result in property tax relief in those communities. Diller-Odell, Freeman and Tri-County are among the districts that will benefit. LB959 removes the requirement that a district have a minimum levy of $0.95 per $100. Districts will be able to receive equalization aid no matter how low their levy is, if they are entitled under the state formula.
LB959 also restricts the levy for the Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking Fund (QCPUF) to $0.03 per $100 without voter approval, as well as ways those funds may be used. The current QCPUF levy limit is $0.052 per $100.
LB1067 would terminate the common levy for the eleven school districts in Douglas and Sarpy counties. This was a priority of the Governor. Currently, the fiscal note on this bill is $13 million, but there may be a reduction when the bill is debated on select file. The purpose of the common levy was to provide stability to the inner city poverty areas. Accordingly, additional state funds are included to address extreme poverty schools all across the state.
LB 958, the second bill of the Governor’s tax package, was advanced after six heated hours of debate. The bill called for an additional $30 million dollars to be added to the $204 million already in the tax credit fund. The additional dollars would be specifically directed to agricultural landowners. The amount was eventually reduced to $20 million. Senators who spoke against the bill were not opposed per se to the property tax relief but rather believed the bill only focused on agricultural land property tax relief and did not consider income tax relief as well. Others felt this bill might create a budget shortfall in the next few years. A portion removed from the bill would have limited the amount of unused restricted funds that community colleges could carry forward from year to year. Many of us believed this would hurt community colleges, mainly Southeast Community College, and Metro Community College, who have done a great job of educating students and quickly responding to the changing needs of higher education.
We also debated LB 884, by Senator Scheer this week, which would apply turnback tax provisions to any publically or privately owned hotel located with 600 yards (currently 200 yards) of an eligible facility. Expanding the area to be included for the turnback not only will help Lincoln, Omaha and Ralston which have arenas, but helps smaller communities as well. Under existing law, 70 percent of state sales taxes generated by retailers near an arena are turned back to the city to help pay for the new facility. Thirty percent is placed in a fund that provides development grants to smaller communities across the state.
District 30 has benefited from this fund. Grants were given in the amounts of $28,000 to Firth for the Community Center, Odell’s Rice Lodge and Conference Center received $88,000, Carnegie Building Civic and Cultural Center in Beatrice received $318,000, the Community Center in Hickman received $375,000, and $74,050 went to the Panama Community Center.
As amended, the bill would also allow cities to use the turnback tax to pay for capital improvements on the facilities in addition to helping pay off the principal and interest on the bonds. The bill was advanced to the second round of debate.
As always, I encourage you to contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2620.
Ten working days remain for the Unicameral this year. In legislative terms, this is a short time in which to address many of the issues remaining in the queue. As specified by the Speaker, Senators’, committees’ and Speaker priority bills will be the focus of the waning days of the legislative session. There are 33 priority bills on General File and 15 on Select File. Some of these issues may not require extensive debate, others may take hours.
One major policy which senators will debate next week is LB 1032, the Transitional Health Insurance Program which would expand Medicaid for people who do work but cannot afford any of the insurance options under the Affordable Care Act. [This bill was bracketed on March 29 and will not be debated again this session.] We will also take up LB 1067 relating to changes to the learning community in the Omaha area.
In a rare occurrence, the Revenue committee held an additional public hearing on Thursday to address amendments to LB 959 due to substantial changes in the original bill. The Speaker will schedule LB959 for debate as well, now that the Revenue Committee has advanced that proposal to address the need to reduce property taxes. LB 959 is the one Governor Ricketts has supported in an attempt to address the impact of high agricultural land property values of recent years.
The second piece of the proposed property tax package to be discussed is LB 958 and the amendment AM2617. The amendment would restrict a community college board to a 3% carryover in unused budget authority and would dedicate future additional property tax credits to agriculture and horticultural land. The total amount of credits for all other real property would remain at the 2015 credit level. It is anticipated that an additional $30 million will be allocated in the next biennial budget for property tax relief directed primarily to agricultural land owners.
Senator John Kuehn of Heartwell introduced Legislative Resolution 378CA commonly known as the Right to Farm Act. It would have placed a constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot. LR 378CA declared a guaranteed right of Nebraskans to engage in farming and ranching practices; and prohibited laws abridging the right of citizens to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices.
“Right to farm” is good in concept, and I along with many of my fellow senators wish to be supportive of Nebraska’s #1 industry. However, the bill contained multiple subjects, likely making the language unconstitutional. By our Nebraska constitution, a proposal to amend the constitution can only contain one subject. Several major agriculture organizations and numerous senators agreed that more work is needed on the language. Many also believe any such protections of agricultural practices should be in state statute rather than in the state constitution. Senator Kuehn moved to bracket his own bill citing concerns about constitutional language and also the time that would be taken up on the floor to debate all the issues on this proposal. I commend Senator Kuehn for being mindful of our limited time.
District 30 Update
Focus on Education
The Education Committee completed its work on March 17. Two bills were advanced out of committee: LB 959, the Governor’s bill; and LB 1066, the technical cleanup bill. Action on the bills will be critical as another step to reduce property taxes.
Amendment 2622 replaced LB959, which originally contained eight major provisions. My office solicited and received feedback from school board members and school officials from all over Nebraska. The responses strongly indicated that some of the provisions would have crippling effects on many school districts. Ultimately, the Education Committee voted to approve AM 2622, which includes the following:
When the minimum levy requirement first went into place, it was tough to explain the logic as to why we would have to levy more than we needed, or else lose dollar for dollar in state aid the next year. After splitting the difference the first year, the board kept at the minimum levy thereafter. The budget of expenditures was not increased; instead the additional tax dollars were placed in cash reserve – which came in handy when that campus was struck by a tornado in 2004. Back then, it was thought the minimum levy requirement was bad public policy, and I still think that.
Previously, the committee advanced LB1067 which will modify the Learning Community provisions. While this bill pertains only to the eleven school districts located in Douglas and Sarpy counties, I have worked to support the agreement reached by the districts involved. The most important aspect is the removal of the common levy, which has been to the great disadvantage of the more rural Springfield Platteview and Douglas County West (Valley and Waterloo) schools. It is likely there will be amendments offered when the bill is debated on the floor. The Omaha and Ralston school districts believe there should be more state support for their schools that have extreme poverty populations.
On Friday, March 18 the legislature spent the day on Consent Calendar bills which are non-controversial or have technical clean-up language. I had two bills advance on this agenda. LB 1002 would allow education service units to pay membership dues to associations. This language mirrors existing statutes which allow school boards to pay association dues. The other bill was LB 899 which updates the Nebraska definition of ‘lead free’ in the Safe Drinking Water Act to comply with the federal definition enacted in 2014. The Department of Health and Human Services has been educating, training, and implementing the new standards for two years so this bill just updates the statutes.
District 30 Update
Today on Select File, which is the second round of debate, the full legislature took up my priority bill, LB 722, which creates a system of care for stroke patients. As a member of the Health and Human Services committee, I worked to amend the bill to significantly reduce the costs of implementing the Act from the original estimates provided by the fiscal office. Both the committee amendment and the bill were quickly approved and the bill was advanced to final reading.
The Health and Human Services Committee advanced LB 1032, with amendment AM2473. This bill is the Transitional Health Insurance Program (THIP), introduced by Sen. John McCollister.
AM2473 sunsets the program after three years. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would be required to hire a consultant to analyze performance measures, revenue generated and savings attributable to the Act. A report must be submitted to the Governor and the Legisalture six months prior to the legislative session when the program would terminate.
The amendment also appropriates $63 million from the Health Care Cash Fund for the THIP fund, for purposes of the state match for newly eligible persons’ coverage.
Three Health and Human Services committee members are for the bill, and three are against the THIP. I am the seventh member and the decision came down to my vote. I voted to advance the bill, reasoning that an issue of this magnitude should be decided by the full body of the Legislature and not terminated by the seven member committee.
While the main state budget is formed and advanced during the first session of the biennium, adjustments are made during this second, shorter session. Budget items of note to be debated include: road construction, the prison system, and work at Offutt Air Force Base.
A plan has been advanced to the floor (LB960) to create a transportation infrastructure bank with a $50 million transfer from the state’s cash reserve. Approved by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee this week, the bill is a compromise resulting from work with the Governor to improve Nebraska’s infrastructure. The amended bill contains a 10-year extension of the bank, meaning a total of at least $450 million in funding for the infrastructure funding program over its lifetime. The statutory authority for the infrastructure bank would terminate on June 30, 2033.
The Department of Correctional Services submitted significant requests for additional funding for purposes including operating funds, continuation of the county jail program, and additional facilities at the Lincoln Community Corrections Center. The Governor’s recommendation funded the agency request, and the Appropriations Committee concurred. In addition, the committee added $1.5 million one-time funds in FY2015-16 for staff recruitment and retention efforts.
The Appropriations Committee also recommended a $13.7 million transfer from the cash reserve to improve the Missouri River levee near Offutt Air Force Base, to help secure federal funding to rebuild Offutt’s crumbling runway and keep the 55th Wing in Nebraska.
The Appropriations Committee is leaving $10 million for any bills that might come out of the Revenue Committee or from senators’ proposals for the remainder of the 2016 session. This includes bills to provide tax relief. The two-year average increase in the budget is now at 3.7%. Floor debate on the budget bills is expected to begin next week.
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District 30 Update
The Legislature has reached the last week of committee hearings. The Education Committee completed hearings last week so the time was used for executive session. Our discussion focused on LB 959, introduced by Senator Kate Sullivan on behalf of the governor, which would make changes to the state equalization formula which determines how much and which schools receive additional state dollars. Members of the committee are discussing options and changes to make it work for school districts and provide tax relief. The bill is still in committee.
This past week the Speaker turned the focus of floor debate to senator’s priority bills. My personal priority bill for this session is LB 722. The Stroke System of Care Act would help create a more cohesive system for stroke care and treatment from emergency medical services to hospitals. When a person is having a stroke, receiving the appropriate care is essential in saving the brain from further damage. The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to designate which hospitals meet the criteria of: Acute Stroke-ready, no designated beds for care of stroke patients: Primary Stroke Hospital which has a stroke unit: or Comprehensive Stroke Hospital which has dedicated neuro-intensive care beds for complex stroke patients available 24/7. The bill would also put in place a nationally recognized stroke triage assessment tool for Emergency Medical Services for the assessment, treatment and transport of a stroke patient. The bill advanced to the next round of debate.
The legislature also took up a bill, LB 710 by Senator Dan Hughes, which would expand the definition of hazing. Under existing law, hazing is defined as any activity where a person intentionally or recklessly endangers the safety, physical or mental health of an individual for initiation or admission or continued membership into an organization. Hazing by college students is already prohibited. The bill would extend this same prohibition to include primary and secondary school students; and expand the definition of hazing to include several specific lewd behaviors. A committee amendment would also add ‘coercing another person to commit an act of public indecency’. The bill advanced to Select File.
On Friday, February 26, I had the opportunity to meet together with a large group of people in Beatrice who are concerned about the future of the Beatrice State Developmental Center, and two bills in particular introduced in the legislature.
LB 895 would create a comprehensive plan for BSDC and the Bridges program at Hastings. The bill requires DHHS to conduct an analysis of BSDC and Bridges, take into consideration the preferences of the residents there, and look at nationwide trends in similar facilities. The plan will also include the cost efficiency of services provided, an analysis of the facilities, and the long term structural needs of those facilities. The report will examine census trends and future needs for services and the level of community integration for residents. Public hearings will be conducted to receive input from interested stakeholders, the public, and the families of individuals residing in BSDC and Bridges. A report from DHHS with all these elements would be submitted by June of 2017.
Another bill, LB 1033, requires DHHS to develop a plan to meet the federal integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision. A task force and strategic plan are intended to meet the requirements set forth in Olmstead, and bring Nebraska into compliance with other federal laws and regulations. DHHS would have to complete a strategic plan by December, 2018.
I will follow both bills closely to ensure the best outcomes for persons with intellectual disabilities as well as the communities where they live, and would encourage all stakeholders to participate in the public hearings.
District 30 Update
The week of February 22nd had just four legislative days; Friday, the 26th was a recess day. This allows senators who stay in Lincoln during the week time to travel home, take care of business and see family. It also offers senators a chance to return to their districts to meet with various groups to discuss the legislative issues before us. I met with several different groups in District 30 over the recess, including representatives from BSDC and Mosaic, the Beatrice Chamber and Gage County Board, the Beatrice Mayor’s office and Council; and the Governor.
At the beginning of the past week we began the debate on LR 35 offered by Senator Laura Ebke. This resolution calls for a convention of the states which is authorized under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. Congress must convene a convention if two-thirds, 34 states, pass the same resolution. Senator Ebke stated the convention would be limited to imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and term limits for federal officials and members of Congress. Opponents were concerned about several issues: that the ‘call’ of the convention could not be limited, that the same aggressive lobbying that occurs in Congress might be applied to the representatives of the convention; and they questioned who would be selected to speak for Nebraska. Once debate began, it was obvious a filibuster was imminent. First round debate would have extended for the full six hours – which takes up the better part of three legislative days at this point in the session – and then 33 votes would be necessary for cloture. The senators in support of the resolution did a straw poll and knew they did not have the 33 votes necessary to call for cloture. Instead of taking up six hours of debate just to see the issue fail, the vote to recommit to committee was taken and was successful.
Senator Sue Crawford of Bellevue introduced LB 1059. The bill would require a business seeking economic development incentives under the Local Municipal Economic Development Act, to disclose additional information to the municipality before applying to participate in an economic development program. The bill helps address the cross-over between state incentives and local development incentives.
Often times the state tax credits can include a refund of a municipality’s local option sales tax which is not always evident to a municipality before it awards local incentives for the same project. Senator Crawford indicated that some municipalities have gone months without local option sales tax revenue because of state incentives granted for the same project. This bill helps municipalities make more informed decisions before committing to granting incentives under the Local Municipal Economic Development Act. The bill advanced to the second round of debate.
The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on LB 998, offered by Senator Paul Schumacher of Columbus. When law enforcement takes a person into custody who is experiencing a mental health crisis and places that person in Emergency Protective Custody (EPC) the burden of evaluation falls to counties to determine if the individual is mentally ill and dangerous. Often there is a lack of capacity in appropriate facilities and so the individual is kept in jail. Under the bill, the evaluation and care of the mentally ill person would fall to the mental health system as quickly as possible. The bill would also create five emergency community crisis centers to be located across the state. The committee has not yet taken action on the bill.
The last day of February and the first week of March, the Speaker will begin scheduling senator’s priority bills for floor debate. My priority bill, LB 722, creating the Stroke System of Care Act will be heard March 2nd.
District 30 Update
Legislative day twenty-nine fell on Friday, February 19, putting us one day short of the half-way point of our sixty day session. This past week the senators heard more discussion on LR26CA, a constitutional amendment which would allow a person who reached the federal voting age (currently 18) to be elected or appointed to the Nebraska Legislature, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Chief Justice or Judge of the Supreme Court as long as he or she has the necessary qualifications. Arguments against the issue focused on the ability and limited life experiences of an18 year old. The bill failed to receive enough votes for the cloture motion to end debate; the bill is done for this session.
Friday was also the last day for senator to submit his or her priority bill for the session. Each senator is allowed one priority and I selected LB 722 as my priority for this session. This bill establishes a statewide stroke system of care. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and disabilities. Quick response and appropriate medical intervention is imperative to deliver the best care available. Under LB 722, hospitals will be designated as a Comprehensive Stroke center, a Primary Stroke Center or an Acute Stroke Ready Hospital. The Department of Health and Human Services will compile and maintain a list of hospitals which meet the criteria, establish triage assessment tools and create a task force to address matters of triage, treatment, and transport of stoke patients.
The Department of Health and Human Services asked me to introduce LB 899, to change the state definition of lead-free materials used in public water systems to comply with federal standards. I have asked the Speaker of the Legislature to put this bill on the Consent Calendar. Items on the consent calendar are non-controversial.
Senator Kathy Campbell introduced LB 746, the Strengthening Families Act in Nebraska, which implements federal guidelines designed to give foster children the most normal and stable situation possible. Youth in foster care would receive a statement of their rights and the Act would provide foster parents the ability to make day-to-day decisions which would allow foster children to participate in age or developmentally appropriate extracurricular and social activities such as field trips, sports, clubs, religious groups, and family vacations. Current state regulations pertaining to out-of-home care have been interpreted to prohibit such participation. The bill advanced to General File.
An issue generating a great deal of discussion both within the legislature and across the country is a Convention of the States. Senator Laura Ebke introduced LR 35 which states that the Nebraska Legislature urges Congress to call for a convention of the states, limited to proposing amendments to the Constitution that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for Members of Congress. Thirty-four states would have to approve a call for such a convention. LR 35 and LB 746, are on the agenda for debate in the coming week.
I would appreciate hearing your views and concerns. Contact me at 402-471-2620 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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