NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Myron Dorn

Sen. Myron Dorn

District 30

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at mdorn@leg.ne.gov

District 30 Update
February 25th, 2022

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.

Please contact my office at any time at mdorn@leg.ne.gov; call 402-471-2620; send mail to PO Box 94604, Lincoln, 68509-4604; and check out the website at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Thank you.

 

Feb 18 Weekly Update
February 18th, 2022

We are very close to the mid point of the session, but we certainly are not ‘half done’ with debate on the floor. If you have watched any of the session it might appear that we are not progressing through the agenda very quickly. (Note: you can watch live if your cable station carries it, or you can find a link to watch via the internet on Nebraska Public Media. Click on their blue logo on the right side of the Legislature’s website at www.nebraskalegislature.gov)

As you know, we have already discussed some big issues. There are good reasons not to rush through complicated bills with far reaching effects. A “filibuster”, which can consume eight hours of debate on the first round, is actually when much of the hard work is done. Many times that is when side conversations take place and explanations are made more clear. There are often negotiations and adjustments, resulting in amendments. And that can be the difference between a bill passing or not.

The Appropriations Committee on which I serve, is working through the regular general fund budget adjustments as well as the federal funding requests from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The general budget adjustments are due to be reported out from our committee on day 40. The adjustments to this second year of the budget will rely on the analysis from the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board, which meets on February 28th.  We will also use those projections for the budget that impacts our next fiscal year, which starts on July 1st. 

The nearly 100 bills requesting ARPA funds are taking a lot of time to work through. The chairman has grouped similar bills together in hearings, for example Thursday was University of Nebraska day as eight ARPA bills were heard in committee.

I presented several bills in committee again this week. The first was LB 761, heard by the Transportation and Telecommunication Committee, which handles broadband legislation. The bill creates the Precision Agriculture Infrastructure Act, funded by ARPA dollars, to help set up points for wireless infrastructure in rural areas that lack good broadband coverage. Grants would go to broadband providers offering on-farm structures and devices; and to producers, cooperatives, or agronomists to help with practical uses. Today’s farm and irrigation equipment is increasingly dependent on digital applications that require a real-time source of connectivity. We also know this technology will keep expanding in years to come and we need to be ahead of the curve.

LB 968 was brought to me by several non-profit organizations to use ARPA funds to develop affordable housing including accommodations for vulnerable populations like refugees and immigrants. LB 968 also includes funds for job training for refugees. The state of Nebraska has already taken in 5000 people from Afghanistan, who have 90 days to get established, get an address and so on. 

We had a gentleman from Afghanistan testify in support of LB 968 who had worked as an interpreter for the US military there, was in danger because of that, and was removed to the US for the safety of him and his family. We also had two gentlemen come in from Somalia who fled the wars there and resettled in Nebraska.  These people represent the huge need, but also a great opportunity for Nebraska businesses who are really struggling to find employees.

You may remember that just one year ago, we had the coldest temperatures of the season, falling to 30 below. I introduced LB 969 to get ARPA funds to support and improve the reliability and resiliency of the electric grid in Nebraska. Public power agencies across the state are asking for help with maintenance and improvements they haven’t been able to do because of the pandemic and severe weather events, with the hope of preventing failures and “rolling blackouts” in the future. 

The Appropriations committee heard my LB 904 on Thursday as part of that slate of bills related to the University of Nebraska statewide system. LB 904 deals with cybersecurity and  would create a national complex for digital dependability. In the past couple of years we have seen hackers disrupt meat packing and ag cooperatives, schools, hospitals and even the city of Beatrice. We need to be prepared in Nebraska with a facility and experts to get us ahead in cybersecurity; we are all too aware this will continue to become more and more of an issue. 

On the floor this week, I voted to advance LB 906, introduced by Sen. Ben Hansen. The bill would create a way for people to claim a religious or medical exemption for coronavirus vaccinations. I visited extensively with people in the medical field, and heard from many constituents in District 30. The views on this issue are quite divided. As an example, I heard from one parent who said their children would not attend a school with a mandate, and another parent who was happy a mandate was in place or they would not have sent their children to school there. This bill does give people some options. 

We will continue to discuss LB 939, as introduced by Sen. Linehan in the coming week. This measure would reduce the state Income tax top rate from 6.84 percent to 5.84 percent over 3 years. In general, I agree a tax cut will spur economic activity – when people have money to spend, they will spend it. Sitting on Appropriations, I know the “rainy day fund” has never been higher and the state is in the best financial shape we have been in for years. But I have to ask if we will be in the same positive situation in three to five years when the revenue reductions kick in and the federal money dries up and the economy changes, as it always does. These are crucial considerations and I am listening to the debate and studying this issue. 

Your communication is as important as ever as we go through the session. Please reach out at:  402-471-2620 or mdorn@leg.ne.gov.  Thank you.

 

Weekly Update
February 11th, 2022

The Legislature continued this week with a schedule of morning debate on the floor, and afternoon committee hearings. I had three bills heard in committee this week, LB 759, LB 1090 and LB 1091.

LB 759 addresses the microenterprise loan program, which is part of the Business Innovation Act (BIA).  This program began in 2011 to award loans to small businesses. The original amount back then was $50,000; it was raised to $100,000 in 2015.  My bill would raise that cap to $150,000 in an effort to account for cost of living changes, the current business climate and inflation and get those funds out to the people who really need it and can use it to contribute to our local economy.  This program works well for those who might not fit a typical bank loan. The entrepreneurs and start ups in the program have nearly always been turned down by traditional lenders, and this can fill a financing gap in the community. BIA also provides technical assistance and helps these innovators develop the credit history they will need to become bankable going forward. 

I also introduced LB 1090 to resolve an issue in a positive way with the Business Innovation Act (BIA). This bill increases the annual cap of the amount of funds to be awarded for microlending and technical assistance. Last year, the Legislature passed LB 380 which capped small business investment at 20% of the BIA budget appropriation, amounting to about $2 million for microlending. That created a ‘math problem’ that needs to be remedied. With an appropriation of $13.7 M this year, and $14.7 M for FY 22-23, a cap of just two million dollars would prohibit full use of the intended 20% for small businesses. Increasing the cap from $2M to $3M allows BIA, through the Department of Economic Development, to fully fund small business investment and assistance.

The third bill, LB 1091, was heard by the Health and Human Services Committee. This bill was brought to me by Nebraska nurses and hospitals, as part of a group of bills designed to help with the healthcare staffing crisis in our state. A study done last year shows we will have a shortage of over 5,000 nurses in just three years. We all know how important high quality and readily available health care can be for a community. This bill would allocate $5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to provide scholarships for nursing students. The requirements include being a resident of Nebraska, enrolling in an approved program, and the intent to work in nursing for two years in our state when education is complete. My hope is to keep our healthcare workforce as strong as possible going forward.

Much of the debate on the floor this week has centered around school finance, with a measure to cap spending in LB 986 by Sen. Briese, modifying state school financing in LB 890 introduced by Sen. Walz, and a separate  companion funding bill from Sen. Lindstrom, LB 891.  

Like a similar measure for a 3% cap on school spending in last year’s session, LB 986 didn’t get enough votes for cloture, so will not proceed. While discussion did go the full eight hours allotted, I did appreciate the explanations of how it would affect schools, property tax, and the reasons for the bill. Many of our school districts are controlling spending and those local school boards are doing their job well. That bill had a cap of 2.5% and we have many schools below that.  Generally speaking when a school has a high increase in spending, there is a reason why.  Lincoln Public Schools over the last five years has had a 7% increase in spending; but they also have new school buildings to staff and a growth in student population.

In Nebraska, we have strong support for local control: we have local schools boards and there are local elections for those boards. You have an opportunity at your local level to get involved, to see what is going on. You can ask your elected officials at the local level why they voted a certain way. So right there we have an opportunity to help control spending. I did vote against LB 986. My vote was based on my experience of sitting on the county board. A cap can have an inverse effect, it can actually encourage a board to go up to the maximum allowed by a cap so they don’t risk losing money in future years. Generally, the cap doesn’t do what you want. It rewards those who have spent too much, as they are now starting at a higher level. Those who spend less start at a lower level and lose out. The result is that a cap can have a negative impact on the intent of keeping taxes lower; and in LB 986 it could have increased spending in some school districts.

Taxes and K-12 school funding debate continued when we took up LB 890. The funding arm to implement this is addressed in LB 891. One good aspect of separating the matter into two bills:  it allowed one to be heard by the Education Committee and the other by the Revenue Committee.  At this time, I cannot support LB 890, there are too many winners and losers without guarantees for the funding of all schools across the state. Since long hours had been spent on this without any consensus, Speaker Hilgers used his authority to put a ‘speaker hold’ on the bill and debate has stopped for the present time. 

In the meantime, make sure you get credit for your property taxes. Under LB 1107 passed last year, property tax payers are eligible for the income tax credit refund for school property tax paid. This year the level is 25.3% of the school property taxes you paid in 2021, so be sure to file for that and get that refund. Last year it didn’t all get used, so be sure to apply that on your income tax return.

Please continue to contact my office if you have any concerns or questions. mdorn@leg.ne.gov  402-471-2620. Send mail to District 30, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509-4604. These are the best ways to contact me, and I appreciate hearing from you.

Weekly Update
February 4th, 2022

Another legislative week is in the books and we are now finished with one-third of the session. Two of my bills were heard in committee on Monday. 

I introduced LB 762 in the Appropriations Committee, to increase provider rates in behavioral health, developmental disabilities, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Over the last decade, these provider areas have had minimal increases and the bill asks for an increase of 10%. Funding would come from around $9 million in general funds which would be supplemented by an additional $15 million in federal funds. 

With the current labor shortage there is a significant challenge to keep, or hire, qualified personnel. Several people from District 30 testified in support of LB 762 including Blue Valley Behavioral Health, with data to show both the increase in clients and escalating need for service. Some of the increase can be directly traced to the pandemic, but many of these needs were already there.

In my fourth year at the legislature, I can confirm it isn’t always possible to predict what will happen with a vote. There is certainly recognition of the need for higher provider rates, and there are several other bills like LB 762 that address similar issues . For example, Appropriations Chairman Stinner has a bill concerning long term care providers.  In addition, the Department of Corrections implemented an increase in wages a few months ago to attract and retain the workforce they clearly need. So far, the move has been effective. But it revealed the importance of looking ahead with a long term vision, taking into consideration the current state of the economy.

As another example of that need for forward thinking, we heard a report this week from the Capitol Commission about the amazing structure we have here in Nebraska, our 90 plus year old Capitol building. In a building of this size and age, there are maintenance costs all the time. The problems do not go away, and we must plan ahead. In the current HVAC project, costs on phases 1 and 2 were on target but the expense of Phases 3-5 has increased greatly due to supply issues and pandemic related obstacles. None of this comes as any surprise, we have all dealt with comparable shortages and rising prices over the past couple of years.

The second bill I had this week was LB 811. This concern was brought to me by the association of county officials and deals with auctioneers from other states. The bill amends our state statutes to reaffirm that auctioneers of any state shall comply with the requirements of the Nebraska Real Estate License Act before conducting a sale of real estate in this state. Even if neighboring states, for example, have a slightly different process, they must meet the requirements in Nebraska.  There was no opposition and this bill was unanimously supported by the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. As a result, the bill is eligible for the Consent Calendar, which is a slate of non-controversial bills grouped together for brief debate and advancement.

Discussion on LB 986, brought by Sen. Briese of Albion, consumed a couple of days of floor debate this week. The bill would prohibit school districts from raising property taxes beyond: the greatest of 2.5%, Consumer Price Index inflation, 40% of student enrollment growth, 25% of LEP student growth, or, 25% of poverty student growth. Property tax requests would have to decrease commensurate with increases in state funding, and could increase commensurate with decreases in state funding. A school board could act to exceed the limit, and alternatively, carry forward unused tax increase authority, with some restrictions. 

The larger schools in District 30 (Beatrice, Norris and LPS) are opposed to this.  Charts distributed on the floor during the debate showed many schools that kept their property tax rates down and I want to commend those districts. There was also a list of schools that had an increase of 7 or 8%. The perception is that every district is at a high rate, but many schools are doing a good job. Those with increases may have had a new building or large growth in student population, and so on. When you see that magnitude of increase it doesn’t mean strictly school operations, it could have been due to extenuating circumstances. When you have served several years in the Legislature, it becomes apparent that crafting a bill which treats every school district In Nebraska fairly, just isn’t that easy but we will not give up. 

Another major school funding measure is LB 890, which Sen. Walz of Fremont, chair of the Education Committee, has prioritized. In its current form, it will have challenges. There are several amendments being discussed, which might give it some traction. Parts of her bill have merit; but it needs LB 891, heard by the Revenue Committee, to have funding; so we will need to see how all that flows together. We must protect the property tax credit enacted in past years, and these two companion bills do not have the protection I want to see yet.  

Starting next week, the Appropriations committee will meet over the noon hour to discuss funding bills, agency requests and the bills we will need to bring to the floor for the general fund budget. We will also be briefed by the Attorney General about the Perkins County canal and water disputes with the state of Colorado; and also get more information about the proposed “Star Wars” lake between Lincoln and Omaha.  We will be doing our homework before we finalize the budget and submit it to the full legislative body for debate.

As always, my email and phone are available 24 hours a day. mdorn@leg.ne.gov  402-471-2620. Send mail to District 30, State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604. Website:  www.nebraskalegislature.gov

 

 

 

January 28, 2022 Update
January 28th, 2022

We are a quarter of the way through this short session, but the days have been long.  Mornings are used for floor debate and afternoons for committee hearings. Since our first day of floor debate, we have focused on priority bills, some carried over from last year, and some newly designated by senators as their 2022 priorities. While most of our conversations have been lengthy, they have been mainly cordial, and I hope to see it stay that way.

Committee hearings have generated a lot of interest and testimony. The Judiciary Committee typically has the most bills and that has not changed in this session, with increased urgency to act on Corrections issues.  This session, due to the federal funds known as the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA), the Appropriations Committee has followed suit with a large number of bills. 

The Legislative Fiscal Office released a list of the 86 bills requesting ARPA funds, along with 14 requests sent to other committees. A quick toting up of those 100 bills shows just over $3.7 billion in requests, out of the $1.4 billion available. Some of the larger bills include one by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, which would direct $520M to go out in debit cards to people in the state of Nebraska.  Senators Wayne and McKinney have proposed around $420M for north Omaha neighborhoods which really struggled during covid. Sen. McDonnell’s “shovel ready” bill would grow with $100M in assistance in the Governor’s ARPA’s proposal. One item that caught my eye in the Governor’s plan was to fund the law enforcement training facilities in Grand Island with $47.7M. I have heard from a few of the local law enforcement agencies regarding the difficulty in hiring officers only to see delays in their ability to receive training at the training facilities.

Which brings me to a couple of important considerations as we look at ways to distribute ARPA funds.  There are strict guidelines for how the money is to be spent. Use of the funds must be related to Covid-19 prevention and mitigation of its effects, medical services, behavioral health care, and preventing and responding to violence.  Some of the entities which can be considered include households, small businesses with less than 500 employees, non profits, impacted industries such as travel, tourism, hospitality and similar industries, and public sector capacity  –  broadband and internet access, and vital services such as water and sewer projects. 

There are also some budgetary stipulations. First, the dollars have to be allocated by the end of 2024; and they must be used by the end of 2026. Secondly, if the federal government questions the proper and timely use of the funds, they must be repaid within 120 days and then an appeals process can take place. 

The Appropriations Committee heard nearly eight hours of testimony on Tuesday on just one bill, LB 1014, the Governor’s proposals for the ARPA money. More than 80 people testified and we finished up about 9:30 pm that night. We haven’t even started putting the puzzle together yet. Eventually, when the remaining hearings are finished, things will start to fall into place. Some issues will rise to the top. Others will be weeded out.

Two important bills were heard by the Education and Revenue Committees this week. LB 890 and LB 891, introduced by Senators Walz and Lindstrom respectively, which work hand in hand to make changes to public school funding. There was significant support from the schools for the formula portion of the bill. However the superintendent for Omaha Public Schools testified in opposition to both bills. I have been in conversation with senators on both the Education and Revenue committees to learn more. If the bills stay in current form, they will face challenges to get out of committee or to go on to have success on the floor. However, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, as with most higher level bills like this. It will be interesting to see what amendments or changes come out in the future on this major and recurring issue.

I encourage you to read through the funding bills or any other topics of legislation that concern you. You can contact me at mdorn@leg.ne.gov, call 402-471-2620, or send mail to District 30, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509-4604.  The text of all bills and a complete schedule can be found at www.nebraskalegislature.gov

January 21, 2022 Weekly Update
January 21st, 2022

Bill introduction is complete, and public hearings have begun at the Legislature. The total number of bills introduced from the previous session and this current one (which comprise one biennium) is 1277. Each bill will be heard by a committee. However, with our limited time in this 60 day session, I predict that only the easiest bills with minimal impact, and the biggest bills which affect the most people or the budget, will make it to the floor for debate.

There are quite a few “big” issues before us, and I admire and appreciate the passion and support constituents have, both pro and con. I would like to suggest a few tips for communicating your views to senators and staff, and perhaps anyone with whom you interact on a “hot topic” for that matter.  I know we can all benefit from these ideas, myself included.

First, tell your personal story and try to avoid form letters, forwarded emails, or pre-printed postcards.  Secondly, while frustration is normal, try to discuss the matter at hand and remember it is just another human being taking your call, reading your letter, or listening to your committee presentation.  Be calm. Be honest, share as many facts as you can. And be as patient as possible, because sometimes the wheels turn slow, whether we like it or not. For our part, my staff and I will listen and read and respond to the best of our abilities.

The Appropriations Committee on which I serve, has already begun the process of reviewing agency budgets and requests for adjustments. The main budget was passed last year, so this second year of a session is typically for small modifications.  Of course, all of that went out the door with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds coming into Nebraska.  Nearly every bill that requests assistance from this fund will pass through the Appropriations Committee process, including the Governor’s plan. We will begin hearing those bills on the 24th and continue to mid February.

One of my own bills had a public hearing on Friday before the Judiciary committee. LB 763 would add private airstrips or runways and noncommercial aviation activities to the protections provided under the recreation liability statutes. The next step will be for the committee to decide whether to send the bill to the floor for first round debate, hold it, or indefinitely postpone (kill) the bill.

Another of my bills, LB 1091 is The Nebraska Nursing Incentive Act bill. Our state’s hospitals struggle to attract and retain healthcare professionals, which affects both our physical and economic health.  Lack of care ripples out through communities across the state as they work to draw and retain residents and the businesses that employ them. As we all know, this issue has only become more crucial during the pandemic. LB 1091 appropriates $5 million from ARPA for scholarships to public or private postsecondary institutions for approved nursing programs.

So far, our morning debates on the floor have focused on just a few bills. LR 14, introduced by Sen. Halloran, would include Nebraska in a constitutional convention. In the second round debate this bill was amended to sunset by 2027 and I support this bill.  LB 496, brought by Sen. Hilkeman, allows for collection of DNA when someone is placed under arrest for certain felonies. I support this bill as well. LB 310 is carried by Sen. Clements and makes adjustments to the categories and amount of the inheritance tax. My position is that these are tax dollars that go directly to counties, and are not the state’s tax dollars in the first place. I also know from my time on the county board how important these funds can be to a county. For those reasons, I did not support the bill in the first round; however it has advanced to final reading. I would support any elimination of the inheritance tax if the state would replace the funding. 

For hearing and debate schedules, text and status of all bills and contact information for all senators, go to www.nebraskalegislature.gov.  Contact me directly at 402-471-2620  mdorn@leg.ne.gov  District 30, State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE  68509-4606

January 13, 2022 Update
January 13th, 2022

The second session of the 107th Legislature is off and running. This is the “short” 60 day session and the second half of a two-year biennium. The first ten days are used for new bill introduction, and all of those bills will have a public hearing in coming weeks. But we also began right away debating bills that were carried over from the first session in 2021. 

Earlier this week, discussion was held on LR 14 by Sen. Halloran, which would include Nebraska in a convention of the states. That bill advanced to the second round of debate.  We also took up Sen. Linehan’s bill LB364 to give tax credits for charitable contributions to private school scholarships. That bill did not advance. LB364 was taken to eight hours of debate and consumed a good part of the week.

The Legislature will convene in the mornings starting on the 18th for floor debate; and will hold committee hearings on new bills each afternoon. We will continue with the bill introduction until the 20th.

At this point, I have a couple of bills that carried over from last year, and have introduced several new bills.  My carry over legislation includes LB102, which would provide for the transfer of duties of clerks of the district court to clerk magistrates to streamline this part of the court system as well as save some money.

Another carry over bill is LB361 which deals with funding for our Educational Service Units. In the past ten years, funding for ESUs has decreased. The bill attempts to restore core service funds to the ESUs.

Many of my new proposals deal with the way we allocate the federal funds known as ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) available to Nebrakans as a result of the pandemic. A couple of other bills make minor changes to existing law to allow full access to appropriated grant fund dollars. We need to take advantage of this one-time influx of cash to our state, and stretch those dollars as far as possible, for as many as possible.

I introduced LB759 to change a limitation relating to microloans under the Business Innovation Act. The cap was last raised in 2015. With inflation, the cap should be closer to $150,000. LB760 requests $5 million in ARPA funds for grants to licensed emergency medical services programs to replace old ambulances and medical equipment. This concept is also a part of the Governor’s proposal.

My bill, LB761 would create the Precision Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Act with $10 million in ARPA funds to provide broadband to ag producers for precision agriculture connectivity, sustainability, traceability and autonomy to accelerate rural economic development.

Provider rates are always of concern in District 30, and I introduced LB762 to appropriate funds for a 10% provider rate increase for behavioral health services through the Department of Health and Human Services. 

A couple of my bills deal with liability and licensing. LB763 would place private airstrips or runways and noncommercial aviation activities under the protection of the recreational liability act.  LB811 would require  out-of-state auctioneers to comply with the Nebraska Real Estate License Act before selling property here in our state.

We have all seen the increase in threats to the grids and networks we rely on. I introduced LB904 to use ARPA funds for an artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity and computer center facility, with a focus on agriculture.  My bill LB969 asks for ARPA funds for the Department of Environment and Energy to improve reliability and resiliency of the electric grid.

Another ARPA fund request is in my bill LB968, allocating federal funds to the Department of Economic Development for affordable housing and job training including housing for refugees, and $2 million for job training. The Governor also has workforce housing development and job training in his proposed budget package.

LB996 is my bill to send federal funds to the Department of Health and Human Services for assisted-living facilities impacted by COVID, incentives for staff recruitment and retention, and assistance with cost of supplies and equipment.

I have two more bills which I will introduce next week (bill numbers have not yet been assigned). The first would direct $5 million in ARPA for scholarships to students entering into nursing programs because of severe nursing shortages now and into the future; and the second one would change the cap in the existing microenterprise program from the current $2 million dollar cap to $3 million and allow access to funds already there.

This will be an extremely busy session, thanks in large part to those federal funds. As a result, I have introduced more bills than I had anticipated. But as I said, we need to take advantage of this significant and rare opportunity, nearly all of them will have a beneficial multiplier effect on our local economy.

The text of every bill introduced, a schedule for hearings, and a means to submit your own written testimony, can all be found at the Legislature’s website:  nebraskalegislature.gov.  I encourage you to weigh in on any issue that concerns you as we progress through the session.  mdorn@leg.ne.gov  402-471-2620 District 30, PO Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509-4604

December 2021 Update
December 9th, 2021

The holiday season always seems to be the busiest time of year. When you add in a legislative session that begins in about three weeks, the calendar fills up even faster.  The past couple of months I have been meeting with constituents and organizations about their requests and suggestions for bills. 

To be honest, having money in the budget and extra federal money coming into Nebraska, makes things far more complicated. The key is to remember that robust state revenues are always on a cycle, and an infusion of cash from federal sources often comes with restrictions. That means we need to be extremely thoughtful and cautious about our spending in the coming session.

Meetings in the past month have included several health organizations and health care provider groups. The pandemic has placed additional stress on scarce resources and understaffed institutions, and I will be working with other senators to find solutions.  I continue to meet with the Courts and our counties to find a way to streamline services, making them more cost efficient without sacrificing jobs or accessibility to the public. 

As a member of the school funding interim study committee, I have attended several briefings and brainstorming sessions. Once again, we find there is no simple answer to the linkage between school funding and taxation. Added to that is the vast difference between school districts across our state, even within our own legislative district. Remembering the phrase “if it was easy, it would be done by now”, I anticipate much debate on this issue again on the floor of the Legislature, but hold out hope that we can find a good solution.

I toured some of the correctional facilities in Lincoln this past month, and will visit some sites in Omaha yet before the end of December. The recent wage increase is showing some promise in alleviating the staffing crisis, but facility ages and conditions are also a concern. This too will be a ‘hot topic’ when we convene in January.

Small business and local economic development continue to be crucial in every city and town in District 30. I have met with a couple of groups who have proposals to boost opportunities and will be supporting their efforts with legislation. The power grid and state infrastructure will also be addressed during the session. The University of Nebraska system has some proposed legislation dealing with cyber security and its importance in profitability for agriculture that I believe will be very beneficial. I continue to monitor the ‘right-to-repair’ topic regarding agricultural machinery and technology and expect some work to be done there as well.

Again, nearly everything my staff and I are working on will come down to funding. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I know our work will be more intense this coming year than ever before. Putting together a budget in a lean year is sometimes easier than having resources where everyone wants a portion.  The main budget work was done last year, which was the first half of this biennium (two year) legislative session. So technically, we will be working on “adjustments”. I anticipate there to be several adjustments. 

In the midst of the hustle and bustle, may you find moments of real peace and joy as we celebrate Christmas. Wishing you all good health and happiness, and all the best in the new year ahead.

Please contact me at any time at mdorn@leg.ne.gov, 402-471-2620. Follow me on Facebook at Senator Myron Dorn, and check my state website at http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist30/

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Special Session Wrap Up
September 30th, 2021

The special session for redistricting wrapped up on Thursday with final reading. After a slow start, and many discussions and negotiations, the districts were redrawn as required by the state constitution. As is always the case, not everyone is totally happy with the results – but that probably indicates that the necessary give-and-take played a role in getting the work done.

The six district maps included the Public Service Commission, Supreme Court judicial districts, State Board of Education, Board of Regents for the University of Nebraska System, Congress and the Legislature.  Those last two on the list generated the most debate. 

As far as electing members of Congress, our area is split between congressional districts 1 and 3. The third district includes most of the entire state outside of Lincoln or Omaha and encompasses 80 of the state’s 93 counties. Much of the discussion on this bill focused on splitting Sarpy County or Douglas County. 

There are good arguments for keeping counties whole; likewise, there are good reasons for splitting counties to achieve the correct population in each district. The ideal congressional district, based on the state population from the 2020 census, divided by three, is 653,835 people. Due to the shift in population from west to eastern areas, the third district needed an additional 53,000 people to meet the ideal number. Lancaster County did remain in the first district, and Gage County remained in the third district.

The legislative map was by far the most complicated with 49 districts. District 30 had grown to be the fifth largest district with over 43,000 people, and had to be redrawn to bring the number down closer to the ideal of 40,031 people. The new map includes all of Gage County, a small portion of southeast Lancaster County and a narrow part of Lincoln. Regrettably, the Bennet area had to be moved into District 25; and the Firth area moved into District 32.  A verbal description of the district is really difficult to follow, so I would recommend viewing the map online:  http://news.legislature.ne.gov/red/  

Once the new maps are completed and in force, and posted to the Legislature’s website, you can always use the “find your senator” feature along the right side of the home page. Simply enter your street address.

The other four maps referenced above range from having just five to eight districts, so most of those have at least one district with a vast territory in the western half of the state. The truth of the matter is that once you get past Grand Island, the population totals drop off rapidly. One good point brought up repeatedly in our debates was the need to focus on and fund the sections of rural Nebraska that are losing population. We also need to be aware of the needs in our urban areas. Nebraska works best when all our citizens are given attention.

As our focus turns to the coming session in January, I urge you to be in contact with my office about your concerns and with your ideas. mdorn@leg.ne.gov  402.471-2620  P.O Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509. Remember to watch out for harvest equipment moving slowly through the area these next few weeks and stay safe.

 

Special Session Update
September 17th, 2021

Most of this first week of special session was taken up by legislative procedures for redistricting, introducing bills and holding hearings, and talking with fellow senators and residents of District 30.  The only topics allowed in this session are the specifics of drawing the lines that will delineate six entities:  Congressional districts, the Legislature, Public Service Commission, Nebraska Board of Education, the Supreme Court and the Board of Regents. 

The Redistricting Committee, which drew the first set of maps, had to have three members representing each congressional district; as well as a balance of Republicans and Democrats. The 3rd congressional district, which includes District 30, has 17 senators and all of them are Republicans. This resulted in three members from Lincoln and three from Omaha, each sending one Republican and two Democrats.  The committee elected Sen. Linehan, a Republican, as Chair, and Sen. Wayne, a Democrat, as Vice Chair.

The base plans for all six maps can be found here:/http://news.legislature.ne.gov/red/proposed-base-plans/ 

The maps on the website above are the proposals developed by the redistricting committee. After the last census, a legislative district represented about 36,800 people. With the 2020 census, the ideal number in a district is now 40,031 people (the total state population divided by 49). District 30 was the 5th largest in growth. 

We have to be within 5% above or below the 40,031, a range roughly of 38,000 to 42,000. All legislative districts have to be within that range to avoid a possible court challenge. So District 30, standing right now at a population of 43,804, is 9.4% over and will have to be redrawn to get closer to that ideal number. 

It is important to know that any map has to be drawn using “census blocks”, and not precincts. In working on our own maps of District 30, we found that a census block can vary in population from four people to several hundred. This sometimes results in unusual boundaries and not the nice clean lines we would prefer.

Because quite a few senators, including myself, are working on maps, there are lots of alternative plans floating around which can be offered as amendments to the committee’s bills. The “Linehan” map keeps District 30 mostly intact, but does move sections of southern Gage county into District 32. The “Wayne” map leaves Gage county whole but moves the city of HIckman into District 32.

On most maps I have seen, Gage county is divided, with one even dividing Beatrice down highway 77. My staff worked with Senators Brandt and Kolterman, as well as the Lincoln delegation, to develop a map of District 30 that keeps the county whole and simply drops our northern boundary down to compensate for the explosive growth in southern areas of Lincoln. 

Any map you draw has to take all 49 districts into account. As an example, three districts within the city of Omaha have grown to a population well over 50,000. All of those lines have to be redrawn, with a definite domino effect on the remaining districts. It is interesting to note that those three districts have enough growth in population to create one whole new district. To deal with that, either a rural district “disappears” or a variation of  cutting up neighboring districts must be done in order to not “lose” a rural district. 

Another alternative was presented in a bill by Sen. Kolterman, to add a 50th district as allowable under the Constitution, put it in Omaha, and make only small adjustments to remaining districts. An opinion by the Attorney General indicated this bill was not germane to the existing call of the special session. It is possible to expand the call, but I do not see that happening. I do believe the idea of a 50th senator might be offered again in January as a new bill. 

I do not know how many amendments will be offered, who will submit them, or even what the attitude of working together will be. I sincerely do not want to see Gage county split, but in the end, due to the loss of population in the western part of the state and the shift toward Omaha, the probability is greater than it was 10 years ago. 

Despite the focused attention on redistricting, being in session in Lincoln has resulted in some good opportunities to talk with quite a few organizations and constituents about other issues. I have been able to discuss school finance and tax policy, rural broadband, agricultural concerns and federal funding, as well as early childhood, public power and public health. These conversations are really valuable as this is the time of year we begin to put together legislation for next year. 

Please let me know your thoughts and concerns as we go forward with special session, and as we form bills to introduce next January.  You can contact me at mdorn@leg.ne.gov, 402-471-2620, or send mail to PO Box  94604, Lincoln, NE 68509-4604.

 

Sen. Myron Dorn

District 30
Room 1208
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2620
Email: mdorn@leg.ne.gov
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