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This winter’s weather may have caused quite a few cancellations but when the Legislature is scheduled to be in session, it IS in session. We continue to meet in the Chamber in the mornings to debate bills; and in public hearings each afternoon. Of the nine bills I introduced, two have been heard, two have hearings scheduled and five are still in the queue to be placed on committee calendars. With over 700 bills to be heard, there is a lot of work yet to be done.
The South Beltway is a major issue affecting District 30. The Governor announced early this week the project could be completed in three years instead of the original eight. The faster schedule could save the state around $25 million. LB 616, introduced by Lincoln Senator Mike Hilgers, would create the financing mechanisms needed.
According to the Legislature’s fiscal office, LB 616 establishes a build-finance project where the Department of Transportation (DOT) may make payments to the entity who completes the project for up to ten years after the date of completion.
In meetings I have had with DOT director Kyle Schneweis, he said he expects lots of bids on the project and to be moving earth in about a year as it gets underway.
Property tax issues continue to be at the forefront and several key bills had hearings this week, LB 314, 497 and 677. A key fact to keep in mind is that the state does not set the levy on property taxes; the levy, collection and use, is always a local decision. The State only collects sales and income tax. That being said, the Legislature is working to affect property taxes in the ways left to the State, whether that is through valuations, spending caps, or finding other revenue sources to lessen the burden on property tax.
Senator Briese’s bill, LB 314, is a comprehensive “revenue neutral” package that would collect sales tax on internet sales, eliminate some exemptions and raise some specific sales and income rates; and direct all revenue generated which is not otherwise earmarked into the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund. Other revenue would be specifically directed to restoring the Allocated Income Tax rate for schools to the 20% included in the original introduction of the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA).
LB 497, introduced by Senator Friesen, includes a combination of increased state aid to schools along with decreased levy rates and lower valuations on agricultural land. Revenue would be generated to cover the increase in state aid through alcohol, cigarette and various sales taxes, including food. Various ag groups have come out in support of this bill. LB 677, brought by Senator Groene, lowers the local levy and increases state funding from the property tax credit fund, which is appropriated by the Legislature. Almost 10 hours of testimony, from both proponents and opponents, was given at the hearing for these three bills.
There is no simple fix for property tax and school funding, and I am closely following the bills in the Revenue Committee. Because of my position on the Appropriations Committee, I am well aware of how tight the budget is for the entire state and how all of these issues are interrelated.
Of course, residents of Gage County are greatly affected by the federal judgment of $30 million. LB 474 which I introduced will be up for hearing on Thursday the 21st. This bill would add language to address the state claims process for paying judgments like this. We need to keep up the effort to insure this issue is on the radar of all state senators as we work to find funding solutions.
Even if you cannot come to the Capitol in person, anyone with internet access can watch public hearings through the NET website. Go to www.nebraskalegislature.gov, click on the NET logo on the right side of the page, then select the hearing you want to stream. You can also watch the Legislature in session, mornings now, and full days later in the session. Please continue to contact me at email@example.com or call 402-471-2620 any time!
Every day in the Nebraska Legislature is a learning experience for senators but especially the incoming class. This week there were days spent entirely on just one bill and days when we debated many bills in just a few hours. It was enlightening to see how a bill can be advanced and how another can be defeated, after a lot of discussion back and forth from different points of view. I am appreciating the process and acquiring as much information as I can in these early days of the session.
Two of my bills were heard in committee this week. LB 107 went before the Urban Affairs Committee and deals with plumbing board issues. This bill would change terms on the board from three years to four; eliminate the requirement that the board meet every two weeks and make it easier to meet when needed; bring fees, fines and licensing requirements up to date and clarify city jurisdiction lines. The bill was brought to me by the city of Beatrice and is supported by the Nebraska League of Municipalities as well.
LB 239 is a simple bill to bring county public hearing notices into line with state requirements. This bill was heard by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee and is similar to a couple of other initiatives to clean up state statutes and put everyone on the same reporting deadlines.
Among bills presented in committee by my fellow senators this week was a constitutional amendment to increase the pay of state senators to one half of the median household income of Nebraskans as reported in the most recent Census. The last time the salary for senators was raised, to a thousand dollars per month, was in 1989. Senator Vargas, who introduced this resolution, pointed out the low level of compensation keeps many qualified people from serving because they simply cannot afford it. A higher pay level would allow more individuals to participate in our citizen legislature but certainly would not be enough to encourage anyone to become a “career politician”, especially with term limits. This issue, if approved by the Legislature, would go before the voters in the November 2020 election.
Three bills in the Revenue Committee this week focused on collecting sales tax from internet retailers. Even though the Supreme Court ruled that states can collect, the laws of Nebraska need to be updated before this can happen. Both LB 284 and LB 291 require online retailers with sales greater than $100,000 or at least 200 transactions to remit sale tax to the state. LB 18 would direct that money to the state’s property tax credit fund.
LB 284 and LB 291 would also require that the tax would be collected by marketplace facilitators – meaning sites such as Amazon and Ebay would need to remit tax from all their suppliers, often referred to as third party sellers. The Nebraska Retail Federation and Grocery Association both supported these bills and say they would protect local brick and mortar retailers and help them to compete.
The state tax commissioner, Tony Fulton, cautioned that the estimate of the collection of an additional $19 million could not necessarily be anticipated, and was already taken into account by the Economic Forecasting Board. Other projections have the collection amount coming in much higher.
My work with the Appropriations Committee continues on a daily basis. We keep in mind the forecasts from the advisory board as we review the various proposals, which this week included the Governor’s budget.
Thank you to all who have contacted my office with your concerns and opinions. I also appreciate all who have requested to be added to my weekly email newsletter list. Reach out at any time to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2620.
February has arrived – it is amazing how quickly January and the first 16 days of the Legislature have gone. All senators must hit the ground running, whether just elected or in the middle of a first or second term. Nearly every day of the early part of the session there are breakfast, lunch and dinner hour meetings. This is the time of year when most organizations and interest groups try to see the senators and present their concerns about upcoming bills. I have learned a great deal from these meetings and have also enjoyed seeing many residents of District 30 who are involved in these associations.
Our legislative schedule right now is to be on the floor for debating and voting on bills every morning, and in committee hearings every afternoon. In the Appropriations Committee, where I serve, we continue to review budget reports daily on every agency and program that receives state funding.
Two of the bills I introduced have been scheduled for hearings. LB 107, dealing with city and village plumbing boards, will be heard by the Urban Affairs committee on Tuesday, February 5th. LB 239 which changes the notice requirements for county budget hearings, goes before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday, February 6th. We are waiting for confirmation of a hearing date on the bills dealing with funding solutions for the federal judgement in Gage County. Committees do try to schedule bills of similar topics on the same day, so those who wish to testify at those hearings can make just one trip to the Capitol.
Heard in committee on Thursday was LB 373 introduced by Senator Brewer who represents the Sandhills area of Nebraska. The bill would provide setback and zoning requirements for wind energy projects and require any county wishing to have wind energy facilities to address setbacks, noise and decommissioning. Gage and Lancaster counties already have these requirements in place and Sen. Brewer said his legislation would not supersede existing county zoning regulations; and would only apply in counties that do not have the wind farm regulations. Gage County was well represented at the hearing by Lisa Wiegand who shared the board’s concerns that the county’s existing plans, which are specific to the needs of Gage County, be unchanged by this bill. Lancaster County representatives expressed similar concerns.
Another hearing in recent days which generated hours of testimony from both sides of the issue was LB 110, which would allow the use of medical marijuana. There are a number of restrictions and fees in the bill covering producers, processors and dispensaries; and lengthy directives as to who can write or obtain a prescription. There are several provisions in this bill that I am watching, and I will wait to see what action the committee might take on this legislation.
LB 497 introduced by Senator Friesen is one of several bills addressing property taxes and school funding. Like similar bills, a combination of revenue and spending issues are included: cigarette and alcohol taxes; the valuation of agricultural land and horticultural land for school district taxation purposes; some tax exemptions, sales and use tax additions, and levy limit changes. No hearing has been scheduled yet on this bill.
A great deal of effort is going into crafting property tax legislation. I have been meeting with numerous senators and multiple interest groups about some of the property tax proposals that have been introduced.
I appreciate the emails and phone calls received so far at the office. Your opinions and comments matter to me. Contact me any time at email@example.com or call 402-471-2620.
A dozen legislative days are already in the books and all bills for the session have been introduced. The total for this session is 739, above average for the past few 90-day sessions. Each and every bill gets a public hearing in Nebraska – only a few states in the country grant this – making our citizens the “second house” of our unicameral legislature.
I introduced nine bills for this session, have signed on as a co-sponsor for several and am considering a few more. Three of my bills deal with funding solutions for Gage County and the federal judgement. Those are LB 472, LB 473 and LB 474.
LB 472 would adopt the Qualified Judgment Payment Act and authorize a sales and use tax to pay for federal judgments. This would be a short term, specific and limited tool to allow political subdivisions like Gage County to broaden the base for paying off an otherwise insurmountable judgment more fairly. A sales tax, for example, would even garner some funding from sales tax paid in Gage County by those simply traveling through. The sales tax would end when the judgement is paid. This bill has the support of the Gage County Board which continues to look for ways to pay the judgment.
LB 473 would be a different avenue towards paying federal judgments, and would make it possible to obtain a low interest loan from the state. LB 474, the last of this group of bills, would change the way wrongful incarceration and convictions claims are handled and paid by the state. The road ahead for these bills will be a long one, given the pressing issues of property tax relief and the state budget.
I have three bills that will be heard by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Those include LB 239 which changes the requirements for giving notice on county budget hearings; LB 524 relating to annexations under the Nebraska Budget Act; and LB 525, regarding the sale of county land in fee simple.
One of my bills, LB 106, deals with the disclosure of DNA records under the DNA Identification Information Act. I have reintroduced a bill, now under LB 107, first brought by my predecessor which would clean up some language regarding city and village plumbing boards.
My final bill, LB 666, provides for the transfer of a program to train first responders and EMTs in rural areas to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. This bill will go before the Appropriations Committee because it involves the Nebraska Health Care Cash Fund.
And speaking of the Appropriations Committee, that’s the committee seat I wanted and got – so now I am working hard to come up to speed as quickly as possible on this important duty. All my afternoons are spent in Appropriations, this being my only committee assignment because it meets five days a week.
Right now we (in the Appropriations Committee) are getting reports from the Legislature’s Fiscal Office. We will review the state budget three separate times over the course of the next few months and the first step is hearing from the Fiscal Office. Each fiscal analyst provides an overview of budgets for agencies, boards, and commissions.
After this first ‘run-through’ of the budget, public hearings are held. At this stage, the committee hears from state agencies regarding their budget requests along with other legislative bills seeking funding through the budget process.
Once the public hearings are done, the committee again sits down and reviews agency requests and bills asking for state dollars, which are debated and reviewed. This is when the real work begins. The nine of us on the committee will hammer out what will be in the budget and what will be out.
The committee must present a balanced budget to the legislature by the 70th day. The committee tries to leave some General Funds available for bills that went to other committees which may have a fiscal impact (known as an “A” Bill). The budget is voted on and passed first before any of these other funding requests. After the passage of the budget, the legislature knows how much additional funding is available for those remaining requests. As in the past couple of years, I expect this amount to be limited.
As bills are scheduled for hearings, I encourage you to come to the Capitol and testify on any of the issues that concern you. Each public hearing is scheduled with at least seven days’ notice, and can be found on the legislative website: www.nebraskalegislature.gov. If you have any questions or comments, or if we can help guide you through any of the legislative processes, please contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2620.
Greetings from the State Capitol in Lincoln. It was my honor to be sworn into the Nebraska Legislature on January 9th, 2019. I will do my best to represent you, the people of District 30, and work for the betterment of our district and our entire state.
I had the opportunity to meet many of you during the campaign, so you may already know my background in local government, community service and agricultural production. For the past three years, I served as chairman of the Gage county board, having been elected a member from 2010-2018. I also served on the Firth Coop and Dorchester Coop boards of directors. I am an EMT, and have been part of the Adams Rescue Squad since 1986; and have served on the council of the American Lutheran Church of Adams.
Being a native of Gage County and a graduate from (then) Adams High School, I got my B.Sc. degree in Animal Science at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Along with my son Kyle, I am a farmer and livestock producer. My memberships include Nebraska Farm Bureau; Nebraska Farmers Union; Nebraska Cattlemen; Nebraska Soybean Association; and Nebraska Corn Growers Association.
My wife Julie is a medical technician, and we are parents to Kyle and Erin. Kyle and his wife Andrea, who is a photographer, have a son and a daughter. Erin is a Physician’s Assistant at the Beatrice Community Hospital.
There are several ways to follow the Nebraska Legislature and contact me. My office is located on the first floor of the Capitol, room 1208. The phone number is 402-471-2620, and my email is email@example.com. You can sign up to receive an email newsletter, follow on Facebook and view my website at nebraskalegislature.gov by going to the Senator’s pages. Whenever you need to contact my office you can call and talk to my staff, Janet or Barb, who will ensure I receive the information; or send an email.
On the nebraskalegislature.gov website, you can track all legislation through the 90 day session, search for and read every bill that is introduced and see where it is in the process. By clicking on the Nebraska Educational Television (NET) logo, you can watch the Legislature and selected committee hearings live.
I have several goals for the upcoming legislative session. My top priorities are reducing property taxes and creating a funding solution for the federal judgement handed down to Gage County. With plans to introduce between six and ten bills of my own, I have also signed on as a co-sponsor to a few bills with fellow state senators to address specific issues that affect residents of the district. A complete listing of my bills can be found on the legislative website.
I really look forward to communicating with the constituents of District 30 and encourage you to email or call the office at any time – either staff, computers or answering machines are constantly on duty and replies can always be expected. Thank you for electing me to represent you in the Nebraska Legislature.
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