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The summer interim is always an excellent time for learning about issues, meeting people in the district and working on legislative studies at the office. I am also enjoying our many community celebrations and parades, which allows me to talk in person with so many of you!
The calendar has been full and varied since the session ended, which all helps as we contemplate legislation for next year. I was able to participate with Mosaic via zoom on their annual update, and be part of a panel discussion at UNL on the political process. Additional meetings were held on workforce and low income housing, public health departments and the state chambers of commerce. A large group of educators met with me in my office to discuss teacher shortages in key areas.
As a member of the Building and Maintenance Committee of the Legislature, I have traveled to several state owned facilities around Nebraska. It is always enlightening to see the management of existing infrastructure and look at future needs. A tour of the Department of Corrections Treatment Center in west Lincoln was also on my schedule; as was a meeting with the Department of Transportation about routes through the city of Beatrice.
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as Sen. Arch and Sen. Brandt, attended a meeting and tour at the Beatrice State Developmental Center. I appreciate hosting these meetings in an effort to educate my fellow senators about the services provided by BSDC and Mosaic in Beatrice.
A couple of speaking engagements allowed me to encourage citizen participation in our legislative process; at Leadership Beatrice and the OLLI program sponsored by the University of Nebraska. An additional opportunity, sponsored by Open Sky, was shared with Sen. Brandt via zoom, educating non profit organizations about how to engage with the legislature and make all voices heard.
The SIMS (Simulation in Motion – Nebraska) program, which brings emergency medical education to rural areas by delivering high-tech training to hospital ERs, EMS and ambulance services across the entire state, was in Adams in early June. I have supported this project with legislation in the past and will continue to look for ways to enhance this important teaching tool and the numerous benefits to our small town EMS providers.
I have met with some of our Congressional delegation about issues affecting District 30, and attended city council meetings in Beatrice and Hickman. I have also talked with Lincoln Public School officials about their upcoming school year and needs at LPS. Other meetings have covered wind turbines, extraterritorial jurisdictions, and judicial issues in southeast Nebraska. Finally, I met with new state Sen. Kauth, who was appointed to fill the seat of late Sen. Pahls. I will look forward to meeting with yet one more appointee, when the legislative seat held by Sen. Flood is filled.
In coming weeks, I will be attending interim hearings and meetings for LR 374, a study of local school aid. This is an important piece of the funding mechanism known as TEEOSA and concerns how property tax goes to fund education. Also on the calendar: the plan for improving the 14th and Old Cheney intersection, the Gage county board, Main Street Beatrice and continued meetings with newly elected officials. Of course, we are waiting to hear about a possible special session to be called in wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade.
Remember, my office is always available to receive your emails and calls. email@example.com, 402-471-2620. PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604. I look forward to hearing from you.
The members of the Legislature said their goodbyes this week, as the session adjourned on Wednesday. Foremost among the farewells was a memorial service and tribute to former state senator Dennis Byars of Beatrice, who represented District 30 longer than any other to date. He was laid to rest on Tuesday, and I was privileged to serve as an honorary pallbearer. We are so grateful for his unwavering support of those with developmental disabilities and his dedicated service at many levels of local and state government.
The final day of session was largely ceremonial in nature, with an opportunity to congratulate outgoing senators and hear from the Governor. I was gratified to get a number of measures enacted by the Legislature in this extremely busy short session.
My priority bill, LB 1261e, was signed into law by the Governor during a ceremony on Tuesday afternoon. The bill amends the Nebraska Advantage Rural Development Act with the goal of promoting investment in Nebraska agriculture through livestock modernization or expansion and to encourage businesses to locate in rural Nebraska. This Act, administered by the Nebraska Department of Revenue, provides a refundable credit against taxes for investments in livestock production. These are awarded through an application process. LB 1261e also includes provisions from LB 596 to provide tax credits to fuel retailers selling E15 or higher blends of ethanol. The “e” clause means the bill went into effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature on Tuesday.
Another of my bills, LB 761, the Precision Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Act was amended into a Transportation Committee bill, LB 1144. The goal is to obtain better connectivity with specific download and upload speeds, especially in unserved agricultural areas of the state. Uses of improved connectivity include on-farm traceability solutions; products that improve soil health, water management tools, and seeds that lower water, carbon, and nitrate footprint; and products using autonomous solutions (self driving) in agricultural equipment.
LB 707 was a bill I introduced to clean up statutes relating to out-of-state auctioneers selling real estate in Nebraska, and was included in the Banking Committee bill, LB 811. That bill was passed in mid April.
Some of the bills I introduced this session were amended into LB 1014, which distributed the $1.04 billion coming into Nebraska through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for Covid related expenditures. This measure included four of my bills: LB 760, grants to EMS programs; LB 968 for affordable housing; LB 996 for assisted living facilities; and LB 1091 for scholarships to college students in nursing.
I had three bills incorporated into the budget bills which were moved out of the Appropriations Committee. Budget bill LB 1011 was the vehicle for my LB 762, providing funding for behavioral health. Budget bill LB 1012 included LB 759 and LB 1090, dealing with loans and grants for small business.
Looking back over the session, I would say the biggest accomplishment was on the revenue side, through the tax rate reductions in LB 873. What this will ultimately do for many people in the State of Nebraska is give back some taxes, not only on Social Security and income tax but also through property tax credits paid on community colleges. This will help a broad segment of the people in our state. It took a lot of work to get this done. Three different tries on three different bills, but long-term it will have a huge impact.
As for a disappointment, I would have to say it was the failure to enact justice reforms (LB 920) as a part of reducing Nebraska’s serious prison overcrowding problem. From an interim study, we had twenty one recommendations and seventeen of those were generally agreed upon by all of the senators. There were four issues that were an obstacle.
Both sides visited about LB 920 multiple times, including senators, the Speaker and the Governor. I estimate we had probably forty hours of discussion on the sentencing reforms on the floor and the bill failed to advance. If or when the state builds a new prison, without justice reforms the state is likely to be right back at that 150% of capacity level. Not to have something meaningful come out of all that, for me, was disappointing.
Looking ahead, the “interim” months between now and January offer many opportunities to study the issues, learn about new ones and evaluate what is most important going forward. Each year has challenges and chances to make things better for our District and the entire state.
I encourage you to contact me through my office, which is staffed all year. We will work to help with any questions regarding the state government or concerns you may have. We also welcome your ideas and suggestions for future legislation. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620 District 30, State Capitol, PO Box 94604 Lincoln NE 68509-8604 Thank you!
The Nebraska Unicameral has completed 59 of the 60 days of the session, the last part of a two year biennium. This final week of work was mainly focused on final reading and passage of bills.
We will now be in recess for the next five days. This allows the Governor the time allotted by law to sign or veto any of the bills passed and sent to his desk. Should he veto a bill, that leaves one last day for a senator to move to override the veto. If that happens, we will take up those motions on our 60th day, which is April 20.
Major legislation in this 107th Legislature included a tax rate reduction / tax credit package, distribution of the unprecedented $1.04 billion in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and passing a budget that has had to account for a variety of factors.
My position on the Appropriations Committee the past four years made me keenly aware of the need to balance the needs and wants of our citizens. It is safe to say we all have recommendations for what the state should provide to us as tax paying citizens, while at the same time wanting our taxes to be as low as possible. I am firmly in that camp as well. It really is a balancing act to produce a balanced budget, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my work on the Committee.
As I have covered in this update in recent weeks, it took multiple efforts to get a tax package across the finish line. LB 873 became the vehicle for reducing income tax rates. This will occur over several years, and will reduce the top individual rate from 6.84% to 5.84% by tax year 2027. This bill also included provisions to eliminate state tax on social security and insure a refundable state income tax credit does not fall below its current amount of $548 million, first enacted in 2020. On the revenue side of this issue, the state general fund will be reduced by $115.5 million in the next fiscal year, and that amount is estimated to reach a reduction of $948 million by FY2027-28. This bill was signed into law on Wednesday by the Governor.
The ARPA funds coming into Nebraska were distributed through LB1014. Federal guidelines for these dollars included use for mitigating the effects of the pandemic, providing premium pay for essential works, and funding water, sewer, broadband and infrastructure projects. Physical and mental health services, care providers for those with developmental disabilities and non profits working with food assistance are some of the recipients. Workforce housing and shovel ready construction projects will also benefit from this federal program.
Some high profile legislation dealt with the proposed lake between Lincoln and Omaha, and the canal project to insure water flow into Nebraska from Colorado. Another measure will devote federal funds to qualified census tracts where poverty has become critical. This same bill also supports innovation hubs, airport business parks, affordable housing and some tourism projects, all designed to improve economic conditions.
Looking back at the work done by the Legislature since convening in January, there have been a number of very important issues discussed on the floor. Some were passed into law and others failed to advance. Such has been the case in every Legislature since 1867. We have to remember that every measure can be adjusted, if it doesn’t work out as well as we hoped; and any bill can be reintroduced if it didn’t succeed the first time. Or a second time, or more for that matter.
With that in mind, I commend the senators who have completed their terms in service to the state and will not return to the Legislature next year. They are: Sen. Friesen, Henderson; Sen. Gragert, Creighton; Sen. Matt Hansen, Lincoln; Sen. Hilkemann, Omaha; Sen. Hughes, Venango; Sen. Kolterman, Seward; Sen. Lindstrom, Omaha; Sen. McCollister, Omaha; Sen. Morfeld, Lincoln; Sen. Pansing Brooks, Lincoln; Sen. Stinner, Gering; and Sen. Williams, Gothenburg. Of these thirteen senators, eight of them chaired a committee. They will be missed for their valuable ‘institutional knowledge’.
I count it an honor to represent you in the Nebraska Legislature. If you have concerns, ideas for legislation, or questions about bills and laws, please contact me. The office is always available throughout the interim. email@example.com 402 471-2620 www.nebraskalegislature.gov PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2620.
The main concern you hear from people as an elected official, especially as a state senator, is taxes. It took three bills, several amendments and some late evening sessions, but the Legislature has advanced a measure to address income and property taxes.
LB 873 was debated on the floor by “dividing the question”, so five sections of the bill were discussed in turn. The first piece dealt with individual income tax rates. After much debate, the amendment was approved that would cut Nebraska’s top individual income tax rate in several steps from the current 6.84 percent to 5.84 percent by tax year 2027.
The second portion of the bill focused on corporate income tax. This portion of LB 873 would continue the phased-in reduction of the state’s top corporate income tax rate, which applies to income in excess of $100,000, approved by the Legislature last year. The committee amendment would cut the rate from the current 7.5 percent to 5.84 percent by 2027.
Next was a section to offset property tax paid towards community colleges. Similar to the existing credit for K-12 school property tax, it would create a refundable tax credit under the Nebraska Property Tax Incentive Act (NPTIA) based on the amount of property taxes paid to a community college.
That property tax credit fund was addressed in the fourth component, to ensure the refundable state income tax credit does not fall below its current amount of $548 million. NPTIA was first created by the Legislature in 2020.
Finally, a phase out of income tax on Social Security benefits was amended into the bill. This amendment included the provisions of LB825, introduced by Sen. Brett Lindstrom, to exempt Social Security from state income taxation by tax year 2025.
The comprehensive tax bill, LB 873, now moves to second round debate. The goal of the tax package is to benefit both individuals and businesses, encourage all to stay in Nebraska and increase economic growth. I do have some concerns about how the state budget will look a few years down the road, when we are no longer experiencing the influx of federal pandemic dollars like we are right now. But it is crucial to lower tax rates and guarantee property tax credits remain in place.
Another major piece of legislation is pending in LB 920. This bill from Judiciary Committee Chair Steve Lathrop looks at the way we impose sentencing on those convicted of crimes, and how we deal with their eventual release and parole.
A discussion of LB 920 also involves the Governor’s plan to construct a new facility to handle current overcrowding. Nebraska presently ranks among the nation’s most overpopulated prison systems. Several senators and other state officials worked with the Crime and Justice Institute last year to look for ways to deal with the problems in Corrections.
The study showed that while fewer inmates did enter the system in recent years, they had longer sentences and lengthy release processing. This complicates the problems of high prison population and low staffing numbers.
As I have mentioned before, in order to achieve genuine improvement in our Corrections system, there needs to be attention given to both improving our physical capacity and enhancing our training and programming. Incarceration is expensive on many levels. Restoring previous offenders to meaningful, successful and productive lives is just so much better overall for our state and everyone involved.
Debate on LB 920 will resume next week but will also be competing for time with other key issues as we enter our final seven working days of the session. The Legislature will be taking up a motion to override the veto of the Governor on federal rental assistance funding, as well as finalizing the South Platte canal project, the recreational lake between Lincoln and Omaha, and the nearly $1 billion package of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal fund expenditures. Also waiting to be finished up are bills on rural housing, broadband and LB 933 which would ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Nearly all of our time the past two weeks has been taken up by either revenue or budget bills, and at the same time, discussion has covered a vast range of topics. Early in the week, we took up LB 939. Sen. Linehan proposed this bill to lower the income tax rate over a number of years. It passed the first round and was on second round debate; amendments were added to incorporate parts of Sen. Briese’s LB 723 to guarantee the fund for future property tax credits to around $560M; another one was to phase in credits for property taxes paid for community colleges over the next few years. Opponents of the bill mounted a filibuster, which would have eliminated the chance to vote on adding these amendments.
Sen. Linehan chose to pull LB 939 and planned to use a different bill, LB 919, which would incorporate the provisions noted above. The only issue was that this bill had to start over on first round debate. As an alternative Friday morning on the floor, elements of LB 939 were amended on to Sen. Brett Lindstrom’s LB 825, which would phase out taxes on state Social Security benefits, and was already on second round debate. After four hours, a vote for cloture failed. At this time, LB 825 and the accompanying amendments are off the agenda.
The analogy of a three-legged stool is often used in tax conversations. This concept began under Gov. Norbert Tiemann back in the 60’s. But the balance of the “stool” eroded over time as property values rose, and other taxes fell due to various changes in the economy, resulting in a shift of more of the burden on to property taxes. This year you can get 25% of school property taxes paid (excluding school bonds) as a credit on your income tax. You must apply for that, but the process has been made easier on tax forms this year, a little more user friendly.
Turning from revenue to appropriations, we passed the three budget bills in the first round debate last week. All three, LB 1011, 1012 and 1013, were filibustered for eight hours. On Thursday, we took them up for the second round. This includes the cash reserve or “rainy day fund”, addressed in LB 1013. I would like to see at least $950 million maintained in that fund to give us a reserve and a cushion for the next couple of years as we wait to see what effect inflation and international events will have on our economy.
LB 1013 would use $513 million from the cash reserve to pay for $53.5 million towards the Perkins Canal project to secure water rights in the South Platte River coming into Nebraska from Colorado and $50 million for surface water irrigation improvements, which after over 50 years, need some upkeep; the “Star Wars” lake between Lincoln and Omaha, as well as upgrades and maintenance at locations such as Lewis & Clark and Lake McConaughy; economic development, rural projects, workforce housing, military base development and funds for the Youth Rehab and Treatment Center (YRTC) in Kearney.
Some of the floor debate focused on money set aside from the cash reserve for a new prison, $175 million, sitting in a fund for use if, or when, the Legislature would decide to proceed with that construction. Based on a study of prison reform conducted last year, Sen. Lathrop introduced LB 920 and he asserts that without these changes in sentencing, we will always be behind in trying to build enough capacity for all the inmates and we will not catch up.
Every year approximately 2000 of our 5500 prisoners are released, and we need programming and training to keep those people from offending again and getting sent back into the prison system. Instead, we need to help them become productive members of society. Sentencing guidelines, staffing, parole supervision and programming are some of our challenging issues.
I supported LB 1073 which would have required the Governor to apply for additional rental assistance from the federal government. Nebraska is one of just two states that has not taken advantage of these federal funds. The Governor had said it was not necessary and that he would not apply for those funds. I believe these funds help fellow Nebraskans whose jobs were impacted by Covid and are struggling financially to make up lost ground. In addition the rental assistance goes to the landlords who are trying to keep their rental properties viable.
LB 1073 passed the first and second rounds with enough of a margin to advance. However, this week, the bill only passed on Final Reading with a vote of 26. The bill had an “emergency clause” which required a vote of 33. The bottom line is without 33 votes, LB 1073 would not take effect until long after the federal deadline passes for the application. The only way to get the funds into Nebraska would be for the Governor to apply on his own. Most likely the state will not be getting these funds unless the federal government extends the deadline.
A separate budget bill, LB 1014, deals with the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money allocated to Nebraska, $1.04 billion. Designated a “super priority” bill by the Legislature’s Executive Board, it allowed the Speaker to have some flexibility in scheduling amendments and the amount of time taken on each. We were able to take a vote on the bill by 6:30 pm on Wednesday. For a senator who wanted to get funding for a proposal not included in the original bill, amendments had to specify a program or project to reduce or eliminate, and move those dollars from one program to another. One successful amendment was offered by Sen. Brandt, allowing small livestock processing facilities to access funding for expansion. That should be a tremendous help to any smaller meat processors we have in District 30.
ARPA is a time restricted, finite amount of money, so it has generated a lot of interest among the 49 legislative districts. I am committed to being fiscally responsible and sound going forward these next few years when ARPA and other federal funding is no longer available. We cannot spend so much in the near term and then find ourselves without that revenue in the years ahead. The result could be we would then have to make painful budget cuts. We need to analyze these ARPA proposals for their value as long term investments that will help the people of Nebraska.
Action on the main budget bills needs to be completed by the 50th day of the session, which is March 29. I expect more time to be spent on extended debate, including on a ‘pull motion’ for a pro-life bill which I co-sponsored. In many ways we are running out of time to move these measures forward, but we are working late into the evenings to accomplish as much as we can.
Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns at email@example.com, 402-471-2620. Thank you.
The Legislature has completed 44 of the 60 days allotted for this session. With so many pressing issues, it could be argued we couldn’t afford to lose an hour of debate time. So quite appropriately, we began the week by taking up a bill concerning Daylight Saving Time (DST). When I was first elected, my wife indicated I should do something about this issue. She is not alone in this; changing the clock twice a year generates a great deal of communication to all the senators, from all sides of the issue. Sometimes the ‘internal clock’ doesn’t change as easily as the one on the wall. Younger people adapt more quickly, those older or with a more rigid routine may adapt less easily.
Sen. Briese of Albion has introduced bills every year on DST, and this year made it his priority. During a brief discussion on the floor, Sen. Erdman, from the Panhandle area, suggested keeping standard time all year as well as combining all of Nebraska into one time zone. However, the bill advanced to the next round of debate by a wide margin without amendments. Then surprisingly the next day, the U.S. Senate passed a measure to maintain DST all year by unanimous vote, a rare occurrence. So in the end, Congress may end up doing the heavy lifting on this bill and it could come about quicker than we thought.
After that fast start to the week, the process slowed down to talk through the budget. You can find the entire budget document on the homepage of the legislative website, under “recent legislative information”, about fourth in the list. www.nebraskalegislature.gov
In the first year of our two-year biennium, seven bills were used to complete the budget. In this second year, we have just three bills, to make adjustments to that main budget passed last year. LB 1011 modifies appropriations from last year for specific programs and agencies.
LB 1012 takes care of fund transfers and includes some of the big proposals such as the “Star Wars” water and tourism bill, the “Perkins County canal”, and so on. This bill was filibustered by Sen. Lathrop and some other senators who want criminal justice reform, or because they do not see the need for a new prison. LB 1012 sets aside $175 million for building a prison, but would need future authorization for these funds to be used. We need to wait on that until more information about prison sentencing reforms, construction projections and location comes in, which may not be available until August.
The third budget bill, LB 1013, makes changes to the cash reserve (or “rainy day”) fund. Last year the amount in reserve was $700 million to $800 million. This year we started at $998 million, and now with our strong economy and the federal funding flowing into Nebraska, we sit right at $1.7 billion. A previously unheard of number. Some of these funds will be expended for specific projects.
After approving the budget bills, about $450 million will remain available for bills pending on the floor. Every day, the legislative fiscal office puts together a running total of how much of that has been “spent”. The funds might be allocated to an actual program, or it can mean the amount is decreased by tax cuts, which lower the amount of available revenue to the state. Either way, I firmly support leaving that cash fund in a strong position going forward when changes in the economy inevitably occur.
As I mentioned, Sen. Lathrop of Ralston led the discussion on criminal justice reforms in sentencing, parole, and so on. A judicial study completed last year produced more than 20 recommendations and some of those were included in his bill, LB 920. Sen. Wayne of Omaha argued the state should be investing in areas like census tracts in North Omaha, especially if there were funds for prisons, recreational lakes and other proposals.
As a member of the Appropriations committee, I heard the testimony on all of these funding requests. Our task was then to decide on the best use of both state and federal money and the merits of projects all across the state. We had more full day hearings than ever before and listened to a vast range of needs and reasonings for a share of the dollars. We had to look at the big statewide picture and how that would play out over time. We will find out over the next five years if it was done well, and what needs still exist.
I also want to emphasize the difference between the state’s general budget and the bill we will debate next week on American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) requests. From the 84 bills asking for one time federal ARPA funding, the Appropriations committee combined about 40 of those together in one bill. That ARPA package has been unanimously designated a speaker super priority by the Executive Board of the Legislature, giving the Speaker the ability to control the order of amendments taken up, and the amount of time spent on each amendment.
Please continue to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2620. I look forward to hearing from you and discussing your concerns. Thank you.
All day debate has begun in the Legislature, and several high profile bills were discussed on the floor, one of which was LB 773 about concealed carry requirements. The first step in taking up this bill, introduced by Sen. Brewer, who chairs the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee, was to pass a motion to pull it from committee. After about an hour of discussion on Tuesday, the motion passed. Debate on the actual bill began on Thursday. LB 773 would prohibit cities, counties and villages from regulating the ownership, possession and transportation of concealed handguns. Individuals who are already prohibited from possession of a gun would still be barred under this bill; as would carrying while under the influence, carrying in schools and certain government premises, and private businesses that have such rules in place.
When the bill was heard in committee, both Lincoln and Omaha Police Departments opposed the bill. Since then, OPD worked with Senator Brewer who has offered an amendment which made it more workable for them. After eight hours of debate, there were 36 votes to invoke cloture (meaning all debate ceases). The vote to advance the bill to the next round of debate was 35 for, nine against, four not voting. I am a co sponsor of LB 773 and voted in favor of advancement.
The Appropriations Committee has completed work on the general fund budget, which will be printed and distributed for senators to review in preparation for debate next week by the full legislature. As a committee, we will continue to meet in executive session over the noon hours again next week; this time to work on the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding coming into Nebraska.
One major recurring budget item is corrections. The overall goal in our prison system is to rehabilitate the people coming into the system so they can be released. Nearly 95% of all people incarcerated will return to society. LB 896 was introduced by Sen. Lathrop to require an evaluation of programming and treatment in our prisons. The study, conducted by an educational institution, would give the Legislature a better understanding of how the state is doing with persistent overcrowding, provide a cost-benefit analysis and rate the effectiveness of existing programs. As we know, both the pandemic and staffing issues have really been challenging in the past couple of years. Helping inmates get necessary programming, training and education, visitation and so on, is key to reducing recidivism, and establishes a solid foundation for a ‘second chance’ after being released.
A new prison is part of the Governor’s budget proposal. The Appropriations committee did set aside another $175 million for this purpose. Along with the $65 million we put aside last year, there is funding sitting in an account – but without the specific authority to build, which would still need approval by the Legislature. If the decision is made, the funding is there. As Senator Stinner points out, just constructing a new prison facility does not solve the significant overcrowding problem in Nebraska. You cannot build your way out of overcrowding, you have to look at the complete package of sentencing reform and programming for inmates as well.
About six to eight years ago, some reforms were passed, with the idea of reducing the number of inmates; however it only stabilized numbers of those incarcerated. Sometimes the best intentions of enacting strict sentences do not have the desired effect and result in more prison overcrowding. I believe we need to work in tandem on these two: site construction and responsible sentencing reform. I do not see successful passage of either measure without tackling both in the same time frame.
Another bill which advanced out of the Health and Human Services committee would look at ways we can improve our child welfare system. This would include bids, the appeals process, contracting and delivery of services; and how various branches of government work together to help families, children and providers within the program. We know there is much we can do to make this better for the children who need this system and the support.
To find the details on every legislative bill, the calendar and contact information, go to www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Contact me directly at 402-471-2620, email@example.com. You can also follow me on Facebook, and listen to my weekly report on Friday mornings at 8:30 am on KWBE radio.
This week at the Capitol, we held the last of the committee hearings on new bills introduced in January. Committee work will continue in executive sessions until a decision on each bill is made. The options are to move a bill to the floor for debate, hold it in committee or kill it. At this point, only those bills which have been prioritized stand a chance of being discussed by the full legislature, but the committees will still finish their duties.
The Appropriations Committee will be working on the final budget proposal for the General Fund, to get that out to the floor by Day 40 (Friday, March 11). Then we will have a few more days as a committee to finish up our recommendations for using the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds. These two packages are prioritized and will no doubt generate substantial debate on the floor.
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board (NEFAB) met on Monday and released their projections of where revenue will be in the next four months, taking us to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2022. Their analysis was based on what we have seen the past six to 12 months, as well as prior years, and once again, the forecast was higher. The increase in the FY 2021-22 forecast is considered “above certified” and will be transferred to the Cash Reserve Fund, or “rainy day fund”, bringing the projected balance to $1.713 billion based on the Appropriations Committee preliminary budget.
There are some revenue measures, bills passed on the floor and other appropriations which will reduce that $1.713 billion figure, but for purposes of comparison, the rainy day fund had never before been above $760 million. When I first took office in 2019 it was in the range of $300 million. This is one indicator of how much federal funding has affected the state, and the strength of Nebraska’s economy. Almost $24.1 billion non-traditional federal dollars came into Nebraska dealing with the covid situation, which is 22% of 2021 total state personal income.
In other words, around one-fifth of our personal income in the report could be attributed to the federal funds allocated due to Covid-19. While this helps explain some of the high state revenue growth, it also reminds us that over time the federal money disappears.
In the Appropriations Committee, we continue to deliberate about how quickly income and revenue might decline in the future or if levels will remain steady for a period of time. Of particular concern is the fact that FY21 and FY22 show the highest and third highest adjusted revenue growth since 1982; yet the low revenue growth years which have always followed the peaks are not yet known. The forecasting board will meet again in the summer and fall, and those projections will be used to create a new biennial budget in January of 2023.
During morning sessions, we moved a fair number of bills along in the process in the past few days. Most of these were non controversial issues with simple amendments. All of that will change next week as we discuss more high profile issues, including LB 773, a concealed carry bill introduced by Sen. Brewer, the “Star Wars” bill which concerns water projects, and the Perkins Canal proposal by the Governor.
A constitutional amendment was one of the issues voted to the next round of debate, LR 282CA. This measure would be especially beneficial to small and medium sized airports in the state, and allow use of revenue to develop or expand regular commercial air service, including LNK, Lincoln’s airport. Most states do allow this, and several senators commented on how important this is to economic growth and attracting both new business and new residents to our state.
One of the bills we advanced this week could affect both District 30 and District 32. The bill would allow Nebraska to compete for selection as one of four regional sites for a “clean hydrogen hub”, resulting in jobs, economic development and potentially some spin-off business. As introduced to the Natural Resources Committee, the bill cites our state as a prime location, thanks to our electric generating capacity and transportation infrastructure. Monolith, located near Hallam, already has an established presence in this industry and is looking to expand.
Speaking of neighboring District 32, after the filing deadline on Tuesday, only two legislative seats are uncontested among the 24 up for election – Sen. Tom Brandt’s of Plymouth, and mine. It is humbling and gratifying to think the people of District 30 feel I am helping in some way; and I am very thankful for that. I look forward to seeing what more can be accomplished in the next four years. I always appreciate hearing from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2620.
The last full week of February was definitely a full week of legislative business, and marked the halfway point of the session. We welcomed a new member of the Legislature, Mike Jacobson of North Platte, who was appointed to represent District 42 upon the resignation of Mike Groene. Sen. Jacobson grew up on a farm in south central Nebraska and is in the banking industry. It is important to have a voice for every legislative district in our one-house Unicameral, so it was essential that the Governor act quickly with his appointment.
We have a policy and process to handle informal and formal complaints in the Legislature. The chair of the Executive Board, Sen. Hughes, has appointed three senators to oversee the issue regarding former Sen. Groene: Sen. Arch of Omaha, Sen. Briese of Albion, and Sen. Wishart of Lincoln with the authority to hire outside legal counsel.. The State Attorney General and the Nebraska State Patrol will also investigate.
My final two bills had their hearings this week, LB 996 and LB 760, both in front of the Appropriations Committee. LB 996 was brought on behalf of assisted living and nursing homes, to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds to help catch up just a bit with costs incurred during the pandemic. It would direct just over $5M, or $400 per licensed bed, to these types of facilities for recruitment, retention or pay for staff, or go towards the supplies and equipment needed for disease control. Practically every nursing home in the state was greatly impacted by Covid-19. In talking with Jeff Fritzen at Gold Crest in Adams, you find out just what they had to do to comply with federal covid protocols and the extra costs that created, while receiving no rate increase from medicaid during that time. Some of our elder care facilities are struggling to stay afloat and we know some have recently closed. Hopefully this bill can become part of a package of ARPA funds and help in getting past these problems.
LB 760 allocates $5M in ARPA funding to Emergency Medical Services (EMS) programs across the state, for ambulances and life saving equipment. The Governor also had $35M specifically for ambulance purchases for rural squads in his ARPA proposal. Just like nursing homes, these volunteer units in our small towns were greatly impacted by covid, with an increase in calls and strict protocols that had to be followed. We heard testimony from several rural crews who serve stretches of the interstate or state recreation areas. So the impact is not just rural, it is for anyone in the area at the time who needs emergency services. As you probably know, I’ve been a volunteer on the rescue squad at Adams for over 35 years and saw first hand the challenges with the pandemic. I will work to secure some level of funding to help out these vital services in our communities.
This week was our deadline to designate a priority bill. Each senator can name one, each committee can select two, and the Speaker can list up to 25. I chose LB 1261, which was introduced by Sen. Murman, who represents the southern tier of counties in the south central part of the state. This bill amends the existing Nebraska Advantage Rural Development Act, to raise the ceiling of credits from approved projects to $25M a year. The refundable credit against taxes would promote investment in livestock facility modernization or expansion. It would have a definite impact in rural areas, and help create opportunities for more young people to stay on the farm. This request came from the dairy industry, along with the beef, pork and poultry industries.
We often talk about how crucial it is to keep people in Nebraska, enhance our workforce and energize our small communities and rural areas. We also know the agricultural industry is related to one of every four jobs across our state. It is my hope this measure can help young producers have the chance to expand their operations, and make their farms and ranches profitable and desirable places to raise a family. I want to see viable farms continue to fuel employment. This issue is very important to me, and to the vitality of our state’s economy, so I made it my priority bill. It will be the last bill to be heard by the Revenue Committee for the year, and it is not yet voted out of committee. I looked at several bills that affected rural Nebraska, but this one rose to the top.
After spending most of our floor debate this week on LB 939, the bill did advance. It would reduce the top individual state income tax rate from 6.84% to 5.84% by 2025. We had a good discussion and stayed on topic for the most part, and were able to hash out some changes that could improve the bill. I am not ready to comment on that until I see the wording of possible amendments; but there were many side conversations about how to make this bill better and the other tax issues that might be included in this bill.
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