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The Legislature continues to take up a wide range of issues, but most of those topics were overshadowed by two complicated subjects this week – tax revenue and the budget. I say these bills are complicated because revenue includes all forms of taxation and yet greatly impacts school funding. Of course the budget is affected by the economic conditions of the state. And one factor influencing the economic condition of the state is – taxation.
Before looking into these, let me point out that the Legislature has only one constitutional requirement as far as passing bills in any session – it must appropriate funds for the expenses of the state government, and, the budget must be balanced. Of course, in every session many bills do become law and other important matters are addressed.
Coming back to the two main proposals brought to the floor this week, we have one set of bills that will be acted upon – those that make up the budget from the Appropriations Committee. The other main bill is less certain, LB 289 from the Revenue Committee.
The appropriation bills can be amended as we go through the stages of debate, but we will pass a budget in some form. The set of bills that comprise the budget are LBs: 293, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298 and 299. Of these, LB 294 is the mainline budget bill and is 268 pages long. All of these are on the Legislature’s website and linked to the home page (see site information at the end of this article).
Regarding the revenue bill, LB 289, the three hours of discussion we had were largely philosophical in nature and no specific details about collecting property, sales and income taxes, or how to fund education, were hammered out. Following the protocol set up by the Speaker, after three hours the bill’s sponsors must show him they have enough votes to invoke cloture (33 votes required) before the bill is put back on the agenda.
Nearly every senator points to property tax as a key concern. This has been a common theme for the past twenty years. As Senator Linehan, chairman of the Revenue Committee pointed out, if it was easy to fix the property tax issue, it would have been done by now. But that does not lessen the necessity to find a better and fairer solution for all tax payers. The problem is deciding on what is better and what is fair. For example, differences between populated versus less populated areas of the state, agricultural versus industrial areas, large schools versus small schools, and even political divisions all became evident during the debate on LB 289.
While there is some agreement on needing to reform the tax system in our state, the communication I receive in my office is also divided in supporting or opposing the elements in LB 289. No one wants to bear the brunt of higher taxes, but neither is anyone willing to suffer all the spending cuts – and understandably so. The senators on the Revenue Committee are working hard to find compromises that are acceptable which would stand up as amendments to the bill. We shall see if they are able to bring this issue back for debate.
There will be no letup in intensity in the coming week. Bills already scheduled for debate include LB 720, known as the “ImagiNE Act” concerning business incentives; and LB 670, the Opportunity Scholarship Act which would give tax breaks to those making scholarship contributions. LB 720 has a fiscal note of over $30 million in the biennial budget; and LB 670 could cost $ 22.5 mil in that same two-year time frame.
Also on the agenda will be LB 110, the Medical Cannabis Act. The bill’s sponsors have spent many hours with medical professionals and others and as a result the sponsor does have a lengthy amendment to add to the bill. This is an issue that could be important to have regulated by the state rather than let it happen by other means. I will be listening intently to the debate on this one.
All in all, it has been an interesting week, and promises to be the same next week. I encourage you to get on the website and look carefully through the budget yourself. As taxpayers we all need to be educated on where our dollars go and all the areas the state funds. You can find it at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Click (here) or on the page link for the Appropriations Committee Proposed Budget. Contact me directly at email@example.com or call 402-471-2620.
Successful over ride vote of the Governor’s veto of LB 472 on April 30.
Sen. Dorn greeting international journalists from across northern Africa and the Middle East; here to study freedom of the press and hosted by the Lincoln Council for International Affairs and District 30.
A recent University dinner for senators gave us the opportunity to meet basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, football coach Scott Frost, and women’s basketball coach Amy Williams.
4th graders from Wymore Southern visited the Capitol on April 24.
A very large flag visited the Capitol this week (usually our visitors are people!). A retired firefighter from New Jersey is taking the flag around to all the state capitols and enlists the help of local firefighters and veterans. A class of 4th graders from Norfolk also got to participate as they exited the building to get on their bus. The organizer hopes to take the flag to Normandy in time for D-Day commemorations in June. The flag display was right outside the District 30 office window.
It is field trip season at the Capitol! Visitors on April 16th included Stoddard Elementary, Beatrice; and Diller-Odell 4th graders.
Several state senators and staffers were our guests at a tour of BSDC on Friday, April 12. We walked the campus and met with residents and their families, care givers and administrators. The event was organized by the Family and Friends organization, the parents and guardians of residents at BSDC. Pictured above left: Monica Brettinger, leader of Family and Friends, Sen. Dorn, and Sen. Walz of Fremont. Picture above right: Sen. Dorn talks with parent Dee Valenti.
With only about three more weeks of committee hearings, many bills have now been sent to the floor for first round debate. This includes my bill, LB107, to update and modernize the statutes governing municipal plumbing boards. The bill would make a variety of clean-up changes to the existing law including: extending the term of office for plumbers serving on plumbing boards, eliminating the requirement that plumbing boards be appointed in August of each year, eliminating the requirement that plumbing boards meet every two weeks and requiring that plumbing boards meet at least once each year or within four weeks of a written request, allowing fees for plumbing licenses to be set by the city councils but not for more than the cost of the licensing program, increasing fine amounts for violations of the plumbing board statutes; and providing that municipalities may apply other applicable regulations, such as continuing education requirements, as part of plumbing licensing.
Another of my bills, LB 239, also advanced by being amended into LB 212. LB 191 was amended into the same bill. LB 239 just changes the five day notice requirement to four, so that county and state notice requirements are the same. The rest of LB 212 deals with additional open meeting topics. Packaging simple, non-controversial and like-topic bills into one bill is a common practice, which helps to streamline the legislative process.
Understanding the rules and procedures is an important matter. There are about 65 pages of rules which govern how we do things in the Legislature. One topic that gets a lot of attention is the cloture rule. A motion to invoke cloture is made when you want to stop debate, usually a filibuster, and take an immediate vote. The presiding officer (usually the Speaker or Lt. Governor) can rule the motion out of order if he/she determines there has not yet been full and fair debate on the issue, and that decision cannot be challenged.
If the Speaker allows the cloture motion, all debate ceases. The first vote taken is whether or not to invoke cloture and it needs a two-thirds vote (33) to pass. If it passes, the next vote is whether or not to advance the bill (or any amendments, in order, if they were offered). However, if the cloture vote fails by not getting the 33 votes, debate ends on the bill for the day. In recent years, it would also signal the end of debate on that bill for the entire session because there is rarely enough time for bills to be placed back on the agenda. As a result, cloture should be used as a last resort since it has come to determine the fate of a bill for the rest of the session.
A more common way to end debate is to “call the question” or “previous question” and if five members raise their hands in agreement when asked by the Speaker, debate can cease and a vote can be taken. Again, the Speaker or presiding officer can rule the motion out of order if he/she feels there has not been adequate debate on the issue. This ruling can be overruled by a motion to overrule the chair and a simple majority vote of the Legislature.
These rules are vital to keeping order and fairness in the business of the Unicameral. It also makes me appreciate organizations like FFA and 4-H that have parliamentary procedure competitions. Having this knowledge is an excellent skill set for everyone to develop.
I have a couple of bills up for committee hearings next week. On Tuesday the 12th, LB 666 will be heard in Appropriations. This bill provides funding for first responder simulation trucks used for training in rural areas.
LB 472 will go before the Revenue Committee next Wednesday the 13th. This bill would allow counties to levy a sales tax to help pay a federal judgment. It would be limited to the purpose and time needed just for that judgment.
The Legislature advanced LB284 this week which begins the process of collecting sales tax on internet sales. As it stands now, the sales tax would be due starting on April 1st. This will be a welcome addition to a very tight state budget.
Please share this update with others in the district and follow me on Facebook. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and 402-471-2620.
Sen. Dorn and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks were guest speakers at the State Chamber’s weekly meeting on March 27.
The State Historical Society Foundation hosted the senators on the 27th, with a display of Nebraska artifacts. Sen. Dorn is holding a cane presented to J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, on April 22, 1887. It is inscribed with the Latin phrase “Si Quaris Monumentum Circumspice” meaning “if you seek a monument, look around”.
Bob Lassen and Sandy Block were in the Capitol on Tuesday the 26th, to discuss issues of concern to AARP.
Public Health Solutions Staff visited the Legislature and attended public hearings on Monday the 25th. Senator Dorn and Sen. Tom Brandt met with them in the Rotunda. From left to right (front row): Sonya Williamson, Rhonda Theasmeyer, Layla Cabrera, Kate Lange (back row): Kelly Erikson, Jill Kuzelka, Laura Wooters, Kim Showalter, Megan Garcia, Carmen Chinchilla
Students from Beatrice and Tri County visited the Capitol on March 20 as part of the “No Limits” anti tobacco group. Great conversation with the students about smoking and vaping in the middle and high schools! Students included: Robert Wade, Breonna Wade, Ivy Parker, Jamie Bartels, Ema Ziegler and Hailey Holmer.
University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) “Simulation-in-Motion Nebraska” (SIM-NE) emergency training truck parked on the south side of the State Capitol for touring and inspection by state senators on March 12 in support of my bill to provide training for first responders and emergency medical technicians in rural communities across Nebraska.
Sen. Dorn visited with students and staff at Stoddard Elementary School in Beatrice on Friday, March 8.
At the annual NSEA banquet on March 5. Seated, left to right: Fran Martin, Beatrice; Sen. Dorn; Susan Wait, Beatrice. Standing, left to right: Gene Martin, Beatrice; Rich Wergin, Seward; Burke Brown, Palmyra; Ed Ankrom, Beatrice.
Kaylean Gentry and her four children Barrett, Liam, Annabelle and Nikolaus, visited the Capitol from Adams, NE.
With the beginning of March, we are already more than a third of the way through this session of the Legislature. The pace continues to be hectic with debate, hearings, meetings with constituents and district events. And, I had three bills heard in committee on Thursday.
LB 473 is my bill that would allow political subdivisions to acquire a loan from the state to pay federal judgments. Existing law already allows this for state court judgments, but not federal. My bill would add the federal judgment in cases where the subdivision has insufficient resources to pay, and establishes an interest rate of one half of one percent. Again, the bill had support from several testifiers and the senators on the Revenue Committee asked some good questions about how this would benefit Gage County and property tax payers.
The other two bills were heard by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. The first, LB 524, simply harmonizes dates to clarify when tax valuations on newly annexed properties take effect. The second bill, LB 525, would allow counties to transfer an interest in real estate in fee simple to another political subdivision.
The report from the state forecasting board made the work of the Appropriations Committee a little more complicated this week. Coming in with a revenue projection that was $80 million lower means as a committee, we will have to find more rigorous ways to balance the budget. This comes just as we began hearing from numerous state agencies and senators with bills seeking funding for various programs. There will be one more report from the forecasting board later in April after income tax receipts are estimated, and we hope to be in a better position at that time. But for now, more belt tightening will be required.
An interesting consequence of the growing use of alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles is that less money is going into the fund for roads in Nebraska. All of these vehicles still use the roadways while paying less gas tax. Sen. Bostelman introduced LB 366 to increase the fee required under the Motor Vehicle Registration Act from $75 to $125 in increments over a period of five years. The fee increase is to help make up for lost gas tax revenue as more vehicles utilize alternative fuels. The fee will continue to be credited to the Highway Trust Fund.
March 1st is Statehood Day and marks the 152nd anniversary of Nebraska becoming a state. I think of the changes that have occurred in those years, going from a mostly treeless prairie to a state with cutting edge agriculture, thriving towns and productive citizens. I strive to make my efforts here in the Legislature perpetuate the good things happening in our state.
Thank you to all who have contacted my office with your thoughts on issues and specific bills. I appreciate hearing from you. Contact me any time at email@example.com or 402-471-2620. Follow the Legislature by going to www.nebraskalegislature.gov where you can find bill information or link to a live feed of the proceedings.
In the Rotunda with Zoe Olson, Beatrice, Blue Rivers Area Agency on Aging.
Nebraska State AFL-CIO members visiting the office on February 26th: Sue Martin, Leonard Zeman and Steve Jones.
American Heart Association, American Lung Association & American Cancer Society representatives in the Capitol on Thursday the 21st, including Jill Duis from District 30.
Giving testimony at the Judiciary hearing on Thursday, Febr 21, for LB 474.
District 30 native Erica Johnson, with ESU 10 in Kearney, and Sen. Dorn at the Capitol on Thursday.
Extension educators from around the region met with senators in the Capitol on Wednesday the 13th.
Sen. Dorn and Dr. Brenda McNiff, administrator of Educational Service Unit 5 in Beatrice; ESUs from across the state displayed their latest educational programs for the senators.
In the Rotunda with Deb Albers, District 30 native and leader in the Nebraska American Legion Auxiliary.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com or call 402-471-2620.
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