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In this first session for me as a state senator, I have learned so much. Looking at how the legislature works and what the rules are, to the long and varied list of topics addressed in the bills – there is a lot to learn. We are now at the point in the calendar where nearly every bill is a key one.
After a late night session on Wednesday of this week, the budget bills have finally advanced to Final Reading, which is the last stage for a bill. On Tuesday, the main budget bill got several hours of debate and failed to advance. At issue was the funding of a study about future needs for nursing home care in the state. The amount of funding needed for the study is small in comparison to other budget items, and even draws in some federal dollars to help with it. So the discussion was not just about funding a study but also about the responsibilities and duties of state agencies and different senator’s views on spending. Eventually on Wednesday evening, the bill did advance with the study included.
There will likely be more floor debate and proposed amendments to the budget bills prior to a final vote; and then I anticipate some line item vetoes from the Governor. The Legislature will take up those vetoes during the final week of May.
Another of the big bills before us right now is LB 720. This bill, introduced by Sen. Kolterman, gives incentives such as wage and tax credits, and some tax refunds and exemptions based on investment levels and hiring of employees. Sen. Kolterman had an amendment to require these businesses to provide health insurance. Several senators wanted to amend the bill with provisions for job training, more direct oversight by the Legislature and caps on the amount this bill would cost the state in lost revenue.
I believe a good addition to LB 720 would be a requirement for incentivized business to contribute to scholarships in areas where Nebraska needs to train and retain workers in certain professions. However, the bottom line for me is that the first thing our state needs is property tax relief and reform. Until that happens, I find it difficult to whole heartedly support this bill.
The bill that would achieve at least some degree of property tax relief is LB 289. Because we spent three hours debating this bill last week, the Speaker wants to see that the sponsors have 33 votes on the bill before he places it back on the agenda. Senator Linehan and Revenue committee members, as well as myself, continue to talk to fellow senators and work on amendments to address concerns about the bill – but I do not believe the necessary votes are there yet.
Some of the primary concerns I am hearing as I talk to citizens in the district and my fellow senators are about the education funding portion of LB 289. There is a definite division between the larger schools in Lincoln and Omaha, and smaller schools in the rest of the state. Others do not wish to see any increase in sales tax. The mechanics of the property tax credit fund and dispersion of funds to schools trouble a few senators, and some simply do not want to go against the wishes of the Governor and won’t support the bill.
Late on Wednesday we took up LB 110 which addresses the use of medical marijuana. We had a three hour debate about the legal aspects, the medical benefits, and good debate by senators both for and against this issue. I felt the talk remained on track and brought out some important points. Sen. Wishart worked with many interests to amend the bill into a form I felt was better than as originally introduced. However, she does not think she has the 33 votes to show the Speaker to bring it back. As a result, proponents could mount a petition drive this summer to put medical marijuana use on the ballot in 2020.
The plan by the Speaker at this time is to adjourn for the year on May 31st. That would be a week earlier than initially shown on the calendar, since May 31st would be the 86th day of the 90 day session. Even though adjourning early saves the state a small amount of money and allows senators to return to their jobs in the districts, there are still some senators with pending priority bills who would like to see us work through that first week in June. I have been fortunate in moving nearly all of my bills through the process already and into law.
Your calls and emails are as important now as at the beginning of session. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471.2620.