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This past week was quite similar to the previous one with long days of debate and important issues before us. Not every measure advanced, but some critical legislation was passed.
LB 933 was the bill that would ban abortions in Nebraska, if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. We took about eight hours of debate, so it needed 33 votes to break the filibuster. I am a co-sponsor of the bill and of course, voted to support it. However, only 31 yes votes were cast, so it most likely will not come up again this session. I do expect some form of the bill to be brought back next year in the 2023 Legislative session.
LB 873 was passed on final reading, and now goes to the Governor for his signature. This bill number may not be familiar because two other bills were used as vehicles for a tax package but both failed to advance. The third attempt amended the income and social security tax reductions into LB 873. The bill lowered individual and corporate income tax rates; eliminated an income tax on social security benefits; guaranteed the amount of credit available for property tax paid for K-12 schools, and added property tax paid for community colleges to that credit program as well. This credit must be claimed on your Nebraska tax forms.
Several veto override motions were taken up this week. Using the strong financial position of the state as it stands today, the Appropriations committee and the Legislature’s fiscal office worked diligently to produce a budget. And as a member of this committee, I can tell you our decisions about the budget were well thought out. Three bills comprised the budget, LB 1011, 1012 and 1013. These were passed last week and the Governor used his line-item veto authority to reject certain portions. All three bills were restored by more than enough votes to override the vetoes.
It was important to me to put provider rates back to the level we had appropriated in the budget, with an increase of 15%. The Governor had line-item vetoed about $50 million allocated for child welfare providers, developmentally disabled care providers and others. As we have heard in the past 24 months in particular, staffing issues and extra costs, as well as an increased need for care, have reached a critical stage. I felt it was important for the state to show a firm willingness to support this sector of our economy and these human services. If Medicaid rates are higher, it allows facilities to take on more of those patients and still keep their bottom line healthy, provide jobs and keep their facility open. This is vital for our district and for the state of Nebraska.
Another attempt to override the Governor’s veto was close, but fell one vote short. LB 1073 would have required the Governor to request additional rental assistance from the federal government. During discussion on this override motion, we learned that in rural Nebraska, nonprofit organizations were not available to disperse the funds like they were in Lincoln and Omaha. Individuals had to get online to request the funds and the process was somewhat difficult. As a result, not all of the original federal allocation for rural areas was dispersed. The state will still get another $70 million but it will be allocated to Lincoln, Omaha and their counties. We hear there is still a great need in rural areas, and the additional $50 million would have been for those areas.
After much negotiation and extended floor discussion about LB 920, proponents of the criminal justice sentencing reform bill said they would rather let the bill go as it had been amended, and bring it back in the future. A study of the corrections system last year produced 21 suggestions to deal with our prisons; 17 of those were included in a bill with agreement among the study group members. Another four issues did not have a consensus but were included in the bill. Sen. Geist’s amendment removed those four main points, resulting in a filibuster which fell short of the votes needed to advance.
There is about $240 million sitting in a fund for construction of a new prison, but it has not been officially allocated and cannot be spent without legislative approval in the future. Again, I do not feel like one can advance without the other – we need both sentencing reform as well as improved or additional facilities to help solve our problems in the corrections system.
LR 264CA, if it had passed through the three stages of debate, would have ended up on the November ballot for voter approval. This measure was called the “epic consumption tax”. A simple description of the bill is it would have eliminated property, sales and income taxes, and instead would have implemented a tax on all new purchases of around nine percent. I voted against this because there are far too many unknowns about completely tossing out our tax structure. Entities from schools, counties, NRDs, townships, fire districts, etc., would all have their funding coming to the state before it was dispersed back out to local areas.
Basically with a consumption tax, the state would be in control of all of these funds, and there would be less local aspect to the tax collection. My fear was that if revenue went flat or below projection, local entities would have been at the mercy of the state’s appropriations no matter what their budget required.
While I definitely agree that our tax structure needs overhaul, I did not feel the specifics of revenue collection and distribution were spelled out well enough in LR 264CA to ensure all local subdivisions would have a strong voice, be treated equitably, and be able to operate sustainably. I do believe we will continue to discuss the more intriguing parts of this concept in the next session.
There are only four days left in the current session, but I encourage you to keep the lines of communication open with my office. Contact me at email@example.com or call 402-471-2620.