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We enjoyed a typical July in Nebraska – temperatures hovering near 100, kids on detassling crews and other summer jobs, community celebrations and county fair activities. At the Capitol, we used this time to take a close look at the issues, find new solutions and prepare for next year’s session. That includes everything from attending national conferences to small group meetings in the office.
In late June I traveled to Washington DC to a Budget and Tax Academy, sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). This was an intense program with many good speakers; and state senators and representatives from across the country. It was interesting to find that many states are encountering the same problems that we have in Nebraska. Property taxes are a common issue – even in states with lower rates than we have here. Many states are dealing with expanded Medicaid. In the case of medical marijuana and gambling, some states have seen a degree of success while others seem to wish they had not taken a similar route. I appreciated the opportunity to learn as much as I could from the presenters and meet fellow legislators from across the nation.
Also in June I toured the Sheldon power plant at Hallam along with Sen. Brandt of District 32. Just to the south of the Sheldon plant, the new Monolith facility is under construction, which will be making carbon black. Senator Brandt and I were given an overview of the progress and a timeline for starting operations.
I had the privilege of attending a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens at the Homestead National Monument in June. In addition, I have written in support of changing the name of this fine landmark to simply Homestead National Park, which more clearly represents the park’s attractions.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Nebraska Investment Council. Two of my fellow Appropriations Committee members were there, as well as the chair of the Retirement Committee. The program was enlightening and educational regarding the state’s investment funds, how they invest and the financial condition of the state program.
Along with Sen. DeBoer of Omaha, I participated in a listening session in Lincoln to gather input on taxation and spending. Many discussions and meetings are taking place concerning property taxes during these interim months between sessions. We will meet next week to summarize what we learned and talk about any possible legislation that could be developed as a result.
My staff and I have met with several individuals who have concerns about distracted driving and recent motor vehicle accidents in the district. As many of you are aware, distracted driving has increased as cell phone use has increased. There are several bills that will carry over to next year’s session which could help address this matter.
While on the topic of transportation, I was able to meet with our area district engineer Tom Goodbarn, and Erich Strach from the state Department of Transportation office recently in Adams. We looked at ongoing and future projects and discussed the roads and bridges in District 30, including the south beltway project.
On June 17th, the Governor held his annual economic development conference in Lincoln. The main speaker was Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton. Many state senators were there and the speakers focused on being economically successful. The Governor also talked about Nebraska’s success the past several years, noting that the state has been awarded the national Governor’s Cup for the most economic development projects per capita of any state for three years in a row.
Mike Boehm, vice chancellor of the University’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR), met me in Adams for lunch late in July. We discussed ways the ag college impacts our state, not just in District 30 but from border to border. This week I met with interim university president Dr. Susan Fritz. It was good to get her take on the overall status of the university system, and the search for a new president.
Another important meeting was held with Tom Bliss of the Southeast Nebraska Development District (SENDD). This organization is working hard to connect needs with the right resources for the good of our part of the state.
County fair season is in full swing in the area and I enjoyed the annual agriculture appreciation barbecue at the Gage County fair in July and the chance to talk with so many acquaintances and fellow local producers. I attended a luncheon this week at the Lancaster County fair to learn more about the Event Center and Ag Society, and observed some of the exhibits designed to connect urban and rural residents in the county.
This month I will convene a working group studying ways to improve the funding stream for the SIM-NE program. This is the educational equipment and staff that travels from the University’s med center, UNMC, out to local EMTs and emergency rooms in small hospitals, providing hands-on realistic training. As an EMT myself, I consider this a vital program for health and quality of life in rural areas.
I have invited several Omaha area senators to visit in the next couple of months. Learning more about the similarities and the differences between our districts will go a long way in the coming session. We have a lot to show them in District 30!
Contact me through the same channels as during the legislative session – by email or phone. email@example.com or 402-471-2620.
Rather than being at the Capitol this week, I have been able to spend a little more time at the farm with my family. It comes as a welcome break after the 12-14 hour days of the session – even though farming usually means even longer days!
We did adjourn “sine die” on May 31st, which means we will not meet again until next January, barring any need for a special session. But it would be accurate to say our work is not done on many issues.
Those bills that were passed and signed by the Governor into law in this session will take effect on September 1st. The exceptions would be bills which had an “e-clause” meaning they take effect immediately upon being signed, or those with an effective date which stipulates a specific time.
The bills that were waiting to be debated when we adjourned will stay there, waiting for a turn on the agenda next January. When we convene in 2020, we will have ten days for new bill introduction as we did in this session, but since we already have things ‘in the hopper’, floor debate can begin right away.
These months between the long and short sessions are called the interim. While I do not intend to be in the office at the Capitol every day, my staff will be there and I will come in for meetings and conferences as scheduled. We will use this time to study several topics in depth and look at proposals for new legislation. The time is also valuable for meeting with fellow senators and fine tuning the existing bills or writing new ones. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will be attending some budget briefings and workshops as the nine members of the committee continue to look into state spending.
Interim Studies, introduced as legislative resolutions, LRs, have been assigned to committees for work over the summer. Some of these require public hearings and those generally begin about the same time as school starts, although some may be sooner. All hearings will be listed on the Unicameral website at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
I introduced LR 181, to examine new funding streams for financial stability of the simulation-in-motion Nebraska program which trains local EMTs. We will meet with various stakeholders over the summer to figure out the best way to insure the continued success of this vital service to rural areas. A hearing for this study will be held on September 27th at the Capitol.
The Nebraska Legislature is a member of several national organizations of state representatives. I have been chosen to represent District 30 and Nebraska at a Budget and Tax Academy in Washington DC, and was named to the Agriculture Committee of the Midwestern Conference of CSG, the Council of State Governments. I was also honored to be recommended by my colleagues to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and was selected as a Fellow in BILLD, the Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development.
The summer and fall months will give me additional time to travel through the district. My plan is to attend some town board meetings and drop in at local coffee shops to talk directly with fellow residents in Lancaster and Gage counties. I will also be scheduling some community conversations so be watching for announcements about dates and locations over the next few months.
As I mentioned, my staff works year round, so unless they are attending an event in the district where you can talk with them in person, feel free to contact the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call in at 402-471-2620. I welcome your comments and concerns and ideas about how to improve our state government. Here’s to a productive summer for everyone in District 30!
At the end of a school year we have term papers, final exams, and that last report card. At the end of a legislative session we finish up debate and vote on bills, act on any of the Governor’s vetoes, extend some issues into next year’s agenda, and make plans about what to work on over the summer and fall “interim” months.
Similar to work in the classroom, some subjects are just harder than others. Grading the work of the Legislature these past few months, the marks easily run from an A to a D depending on the topic. Some would say a few issues scored even below that.
Passing Grade – On the plus side, I am glad my colleagues saw fit to pass, and then override the veto, of LB 472 which will allow Gage County to pay the pending federal judgment in a shorter time frame. I was also pleased to introduce and pass into law LB 239, 524 and 525; all dealing with streamlining the business side of local governments.
Keep Studying – Because one of my bills for educating area EMTs is still sitting in committee, I introduced a study resolution, LR 181, to look at new funding streams for the financial stability of the simulation-in-motion Nebraska (SIM-NE) program. SIMs are mobile trucks that provide hands-on training with high-fidelity, life-like mannequins. These trucks travel across the state and provide invaluable training to emergency care providers, including doctors, emergency medical responders, emergency medical technicians, nurses, paramedics, and other emergency health care personnel. We will look at the Health Care Cash Fund and other ways to provide this vital instruction to small towns and rural areas.
Needs Improvement – Along with many Nebraskans and residents of District 30, I was disappointed to see no real resolution to the property tax dilemma happen in this session. There was some property tax credit provided in the budget, but what we really need is a major change in our tax system. However, as I have mentioned previously, do not give up hope. The issue is still front and center for a number of senators, especially those who represent districts similar to ours – where agriculture is one of the primary economic drivers. This topic, as well as business incentives, will definitely be studied and refined before we reconvene next January; and I will be involved in those discussions.
As a freshman senator, I feel my past service on various boards and organizations prepared me well for the Legislature. There are many people and resources available here to help you learn the procedures and navigate the rules. This summer I will represent the Unicameral at a couple of regional workshops dealing with state budgets, leadership and agriculture and I look forward to expanding my knowledge base and experience for the benefit of the District.
Please contact me at any time at email@example.com. Or call 402-471-2620. You can follow me on Facebook, look for Senator Myron Dorn, and access my official web page at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
As expected, long hours and lengthy conversations characterized the past week in the Legislature. We are the point in the session where some big issues are on the agenda. When much is at stake, the different needs between the legislative districts become more evident, leading to extended debate. On two days we stayed in session well into the evening hours. By statute, the legislative day must end by 11:59 pm. We came very close to that mark on Wednesday, adjourning at 11:36 pm.
Final reading was held on Thursday for the 30 bills on Consent Calendar. The Consent Calendar is a way for the legislature to move bills through the process that are fairly straight forward. For a bill to be placed on the Legislature’s Consent Calendar, the sponsor of the bill submits a letter to the Speaker. Only bills which had no opposition at the hearing can be submitted to the Speaker; or if there was opposition, any concerns must be addressed. Also the bill had to have advanced from committee with no dissenting votes from committee members – only then can a bill be considered for Consent Calendar. After the letter is submitted to the Speaker, his office reviews all requests. The Speaker decides which bills will be on Consent Calendar and then the list is printed for all the senators and the public to see.
I wanted to explain this process in relation to LB 533 which was on Consent Calendar, to indicate at no time was this bill ‘slipped in’ or ‘rushed through’ but was offered honestly and within all the rules of the legislature. It had a public hearing, it had General File and Select File debate. Senators, staff, lobbyists, organizations, constituents and even the executive branch, have the opportunity to review all bills and amendments that are introduced.
I had not heard from anyone who was in opposition to LB 533 until late Thursday, after floor action on the bill. The bill had a public hearing on February 21st before the Judiciary Committee. The day of the hearing, no one spoke in opposition to this bill and all eight senators who serve on this committee voted to advance the bill out of committee. LB 533 did pass on Friday morning. Another bill on the Consent Calendar, LB 427, relates to the legitimacy of children born to parties in a marriage. LB 427 strikes the words, “the wife” and replaces it with “either spouse.” This bill was passed on Final Reading earlier on Thursday with 40 senators in support.
Some communication to my office said that Federal law states a marriage is between a man and a woman. However, in June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision making gay marriage legal in all 50 states. Our personal opinions aside, this is now the law to which states must adhere.
The debate about property tax became linked to business incentives this week as we took up LB 720 and LB 183 on the floor. LB 289 is continuing to be discussed among senators but does not have the 33 votes to proceed. I saw an editorial that said there were a lot of wheels spinning, but none getting any traction. That is a good description of the problem when it comes to finding property tax solutions. For example when one suggestion to lower land valuations to 50% for taxing purposes was amended out of LB 183, a number of senators would no longer support that bill. Another idea to remove sales tax exemptions on certain products and services was rejected by several others. Opinions differ on how, and how much, to cap spending and to cap tax credits, causing some to say they can’t support a bill on those grounds. We have senators digging in their heels on revenue and spending, some because they feel it represents their views and their constituents, and some for political reasons. I am not saying any of these reasons are right or wrong, but the result is a lack of consensus it takes to move a solution forward.
This has been a trying process and certainly reinforces the comment that if reforming the tax code was easy, it would be done by now. However, it is important to note that none of these proposals are dead. I will help work on these over the summer interim, and any bills held over to next year can be taken up for debate right where they were left when we reconvene next January. Remember also that new bills can be introduced to correct things that aren’t working in the laws that do get passed in this session. All this to say – don’t give up hope.
As we recess for Memorial Day, I am grateful for all who have served in the armed forces. We have just a few days left in the session – whether we adjourn early or stay until day 90. Please continue to contact me with your concerns. My office is open year round, and the answering machine is always on. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620.
In this first session for me as a state senator, I have learned so much. Looking at how the legislature works and what the rules are, to the long and varied list of topics addressed in the bills – there is a lot to learn. We are now at the point in the calendar where nearly every bill is a key one.
After a late night session on Wednesday of this week, the budget bills have finally advanced to Final Reading, which is the last stage for a bill. On Tuesday, the main budget bill got several hours of debate and failed to advance. At issue was the funding of a study about future needs for nursing home care in the state. The amount of funding needed for the study is small in comparison to other budget items, and even draws in some federal dollars to help with it. So the discussion was not just about funding a study but also about the responsibilities and duties of state agencies and different senator’s views on spending. Eventually on Wednesday evening, the bill did advance with the study included.
There will likely be more floor debate and proposed amendments to the budget bills prior to a final vote; and then I anticipate some line item vetoes from the Governor. The Legislature will take up those vetoes during the final week of May.
Another of the big bills before us right now is LB 720. This bill, introduced by Sen. Kolterman, gives incentives such as wage and tax credits, and some tax refunds and exemptions based on investment levels and hiring of employees. Sen. Kolterman had an amendment to require these businesses to provide health insurance. Several senators wanted to amend the bill with provisions for job training, more direct oversight by the Legislature and caps on the amount this bill would cost the state in lost revenue.
I believe a good addition to LB 720 would be a requirement for incentivized business to contribute to scholarships in areas where Nebraska needs to train and retain workers in certain professions. However, the bottom line for me is that the first thing our state needs is property tax relief and reform. Until that happens, I find it difficult to whole heartedly support this bill.
The bill that would achieve at least some degree of property tax relief is LB 289. Because we spent three hours debating this bill last week, the Speaker wants to see that the sponsors have 33 votes on the bill before he places it back on the agenda. Senator Linehan and Revenue committee members, as well as myself, continue to talk to fellow senators and work on amendments to address concerns about the bill – but I do not believe the necessary votes are there yet.
Some of the primary concerns I am hearing as I talk to citizens in the district and my fellow senators are about the education funding portion of LB 289. There is a definite division between the larger schools in Lincoln and Omaha, and smaller schools in the rest of the state. Others do not wish to see any increase in sales tax. The mechanics of the property tax credit fund and dispersion of funds to schools trouble a few senators, and some simply do not want to go against the wishes of the Governor and won’t support the bill.
Late on Wednesday we took up LB 110 which addresses the use of medical marijuana. We had a three hour debate about the legal aspects, the medical benefits, and good debate by senators both for and against this issue. I felt the talk remained on track and brought out some important points. Sen. Wishart worked with many interests to amend the bill into a form I felt was better than as originally introduced. However, she does not think she has the 33 votes to show the Speaker to bring it back. As a result, proponents could mount a petition drive this summer to put medical marijuana use on the ballot in 2020.
The plan by the Speaker at this time is to adjourn for the year on May 31st. That would be a week earlier than initially shown on the calendar, since May 31st would be the 86th day of the 90 day session. Even though adjourning early saves the state a small amount of money and allows senators to return to their jobs in the districts, there are still some senators with pending priority bills who would like to see us work through that first week in June. I have been fortunate in moving nearly all of my bills through the process already and into law.
Your calls and emails are as important now as at the beginning of session. Contact me at email@example.com or 402-471.2620.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2620.
This is field trip season when fourth graders from across Nebraska come to visit their state capitol. I have really enjoyed meeting many young residents from District 30, their teachers and the brave parents who accompany them. But this week, we had a group in the building from much farther away. The city of Lincoln, in cooperation with the U.S. State Department, brought several journalists from northern Africa and the Middle East to the Capitol to study freedom of the press. While here, they met with the Governor and Secretary of State. Then they spent some time observing our debate. As the host senator for the legislative part of their visit, I was able to greet them and welcome them to Nebraska.
On Tuesday of this past week, the Legislature took up my motion to override the veto of LB 472. As you know, the bill would give counties the option to collect a sales tax for the express purpose of paying a federal judgment of $25 million or more, as long as property tax is also being collected for the payment, for just the time needed to make the payment.
For an override motion, each senator is allowed to speak as they would on any legislation. However, no amendments can be made and when debate is finished, a simple yes or no vote is taken. Thirty votes are required for an override, a greater number than the 25 needed to pass a bill.
The override vote for my bill was 41-8. I appreciate the support and understanding of my fellow senators in providing another tool that Gage County can use to pay off the judgement. This was not a vote against the governor, this was a vote for the bill.
And as I said in my statement on the floor, I pray this state never has a situation happen like the Beatrice 6 again. I pray no person ever has to go through what the Beatrice 6 went through. I pray a county never goes through anything like this again. This bill cannot correct all of those things. It can help pay off the judgment with something besides property taxes.
Two major committees sent out the results of several months’ work this week – the revenue package and the budget bill. Being a member of the Appropriations Committee, I can tell you that we have looked at every spending request and budget item before the Legislature. Balancing a budget of around $4.5 billion is no small task.
On the other hand, reforming our state’s tax structure is equally difficult for the Revenue Committee. I anticipate there will be a lot of changes in the revenue package before any final votes are taken. Obviously any proposed amendments regarding taxes will affect the state budget. So passage of these two major bills is a delicate balance and needs to be very deliberate.
What I want to see in any new tax package are safeguards that we will not end up in the same situation a few years down the road. I hope to see a more fair and equitable revenue system that meets the needs of the entire state, and one that is sustainable. We are scheduled to begin discussion on the revenue bill, LB 289, on Tuesday. We will begin debate on the budget the next day.
I mentioned the school students and international journalists who visited recently. It proves you are never too young or too old (or apparently, too far away) for a field trip to our state Capitol. Let me know if you are in the building, and please continue to contact me at email@example.com or 402-471-2620.
This week in the Legislature showed the importance of all those civics classes in high school about “how a bill becomes a law”. For the first time this session, the Governor returned a bill with his veto, and it was mine, LB 472.
LB 472 would allow a county board to enact a one half of one percent sales tax, to be used only for the payment of a federal judgment of $25 million or more, and would sunset in 2027 or when the judgment was paid, which ever came first. Property tax would still have to be collected at the maximum fifty cent levy limit, but adding sales tax revenue would help pay off the judgment faster and end that property tax sooner.
A bill needs 25 votes to advance. LB 472 was passed by the Legislature with 43 affirmative votes on April 18, and presented to the Governor. The Governor then has five days and can either sign the bill into law, veto the bill, or let the bill become law without his signature.
LB 472 was returned with a veto on Wednesday. On Thursday, I filed a motion to override the veto. The motion will require 30 yes votes to achieve the override, and I expect it to be taken up early in the week. In the meantime, I will continue discussing the issue and an override vote with my fellow senators.
A potential tax package showed the need for another legislative procedure this week. Because an amendment to LB 289, heard by the Revenue Committee, contained substantially new material, a public hearing was held even though hearings ended some weeks ago. The hearing was also unique as it combined the Revenue, Education, and Retirement Committee members. Nearly seven hours of testimony was given on a revenue package addressing property and sales tax and school funding, with nearly all of those speaking in opposition to the bill. The Revenue Committee will now have to come to a decision on a tax reform package before sending it to the floor for debate.
Another rule of the Legislature concerns the state budget, which must be presented by the Appropriations Committee to the full body by the 70th day of the first session. That day is May 2nd. Serving on Appropriations has meant meeting in executive session nearly every lunch hour and after adjournment several days per week as we put together our recommendations.
One of the final pieces we needed to finalize the state budget fell into place with a Thursday meeting of the State Economic Forecasting Board. The board members look at where we are today and project where they think the state will be financially in the future. Their forecast was $45 million higher for the current fiscal year than their previous projection; and $10 million higher for the next fiscal year (2019/2020).
The increased revenues in the forecast will, by law, go into the cash reserve (known as the rainy day fund) putting the fund by year’s end at $372 million. It’s important to know that the cash reserve/rainy day fund is not like a savings account for future wants. Funds in the cash reserve have been and can be diverted to general fund uses.
And while $45 million is substantial and encouraging, it comes nowhere near meeting all the budget requests from departments, legislative bills and the Governor, especially after cuts made in previous years and projects put on hold. Critical areas include corrections, roads, education and health and medical needs; but we must also consider every state agency, board and commission as well as cash reserve requirements and express obligations of the state.
While property tax relief is not under the purview of the Appropriations Committee, any relief in recent years has been achieved in the budget by use of credits, not through tax revenue. It is my hope that we will make real headway on tax reform with a Revenue Committee bill in this session.
If you would like more in depth information on any bill or topic, I encourage you to contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org, 402-471-2620. The legislative website is also an excellent source, specifically the Unicameral Update publication at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
A blessed Easter to everyone! The Legislature is in recess until Tuesday the 23rd and the four day weekend is welcomed by those not able to get home on a regular basis from the Capitol to their home districts across the state. It is also welcomed by those of us involved in agriculture as we try to catch up on field work and working livestock after a very long winter and late spring.
Two of my bills were passed into law this week. LB 239, as amended into LB 212, and LB 472. Looking back on the weeks since I took office, I see how much work went into these issues and the effort required to move a bill through the legislative process. Representing you and the varied concerns of District 30 is definitely a full time job, which I have enjoyed very much.
The Revenue Committee has released a tax reform bill in an effort to revise school funding and address property taxes. Because this is an amendment to LB 289 and has new components, a public hearing will be held on Wednesday the 24th at 4pm.
This bill has a large number of moving parts, none of which are set in stone at this point. I will give you a summary of the basics of the bill. Dealing with state aid to schools will help provide property tax relief. This would be accomplished by moving revenue generated by a state sales tax increase directly into a property tax credit fund and into school aid. Every school district would get a third of its funding from state aid.
The proposed state sales tax increase, the first one since 2002, would be three-quarters of a cent. In addition, some exemptions would be removed, meaning we would pay on items previously excluded from sales tax such as pop, candy and a few services. The tax on cigarettes would rise to $1 per pack.
The Revenue Committee calculates that property owners would receive a ten percent reduction in valuation, with the average decrease in property taxes at 20%. Eventually these measures would result in $540 million in property tax relief, although not right away. The bill includes provisions for year one and year two to phase in the changes.
LB 289 would put a lid on spending based on the consumer price index (CPI), but also allow for student growth in a school district. As I mentioned, the state would contribute at least 33% of school district funding.
To say this is a complicated issue would be an understatement. There are eight members on the Revenue Committee and there is not consensus among the members on how property tax relief should be accomplished. However, they do agree that something must be done in a state that has some of the highest property tax in the country. To that end, I will be studying the bill, watching the public hearing on the 24th, and look forward to the debate on the floor.
Please send your comments and concerns to my email at email@example.com or call 402-471-2620. Thank you.
After extended discussions on the floor over the course of several days, the Legislature has again been able to progress forward, moving bills through the stages of debate. Two of my bills have advanced to Select File, which is the second of three steps every bill must go through.
I introduced LB 239, a simple bill to harmonize county and state laws concerning the notice of hearing dates. Because my bill was similar to others brought to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee, one bill was broadened to include several of these senator’s concepts. As a result, my LB 239, which was amended into LB 212 by the Committee and then the Legislature without dissent, has moved on to Select File.
My bill to address the federal judgment due in Gage County was taken up on the floor on Thursday. LB 472 would allow a county to collect a sales tax, in the amount of one half of one percent, to pay only federal judgements, and then the tax would end. In my opening remarks about LB 472, I emphasized that imposing an additional tax on citizens in the county was not anything an elected official, at the state or county level, would wish to do. However, the judgment is due and must be paid. The options have been exhausted. This is not a “want” or a “need”, it is a federal court ordered mandate.
Consequently, the best way to meet the obligation is to pay it off as quickly as possible, in a manner that is fair to the claimants and all the citizens of Gage County. My fellow senators agreed. I had two amendments to the bill to add clarifications to the use and duration of the sales tax collection. After brief discussion, the body voted overwhelmingly to accept my two amendments and advance the bill.
I mentioned the lengthy and somewhat contentious debate that occurred earlier this week. Let me address some of the procedures that made that happen. The Speaker of the Legislature has held to the practice of allowing three hours of debate on a bill, and then moving on to other bills until the introducer can show there is enough support among the members to end a filibuster. If that can be shown, the Speaker will put that bill back on the agenda, where it can have another three hours of debate and then go to a cloture vote.
A cloture vote to end a filibuster, which requires 33 yes votes, is a taken in order to stop debate; then a vote on the actual bill is taken with no further discussion allowed. Historically, some senators have been known to never vote for cloture for philosophical reasons, believing that debate should continue for as long as it takes. Other senators always vote for cloture, thinking that several hours of talk is enough and minds are not going to change. Of course, actual circumstances will vary according to the subject matter of a bill any time cloture is invoked.
Last week, a bill on the floor was debated up to the three hour time limit and no vote was taken, despite assurances that the discussion was not meant to be a filibuster. This sparked a heated exchange among several senators, which grew to include a number of different bills and issues. Two recess days and a long weekend did little to diminish the sentiment on these issues. The dialogue continued when the Legislature reconvened on Tuesday, with several senators placing amendments on bills that were on the agenda.
The process of making motions and placing amendments is sometimes used as a way to get time to speak on the floor. This is fully within the rules of the Legislature and can be a useful tool. Priority Motions jump ahead of any other amendments or discussion on a bill; and this resulted in the previous week’s conversation continuing throughout the session on Tuesday. However, the remainder of the week progressed a little more smoothly and we were able to act on a fair number of bills.
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