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The Beatrice Library presented Sharon Katas with their volunteer of the year award on Nebraska Library Association’s Advocacy Day.
Bennet Elementary student Annabelle Bogle (and mom Amber) made their annual visit to the Nebraska Legislature.
NSEA dinner in Lincoln, gave me a chance to talk with Rich Wergin about education issues.
The session is now half done. Committee hearings are finished and we are returning to full day debate on the legislative floor. While it seems like that would help move things along, there are about 35 priority bills still sitting in committee, waiting to be voted out to the floor. Other major issues that are waiting for debate before the legislature e the budget, property tax, business tax incentives, the UNMC NeXT program and prison overcrowding. Some days we can get a lot accomplished and other days we get sidetracked in our discussion and move very few bills forward. So at this point in the session, there is only a small chance of discussing a bill if it has not been made a priority.
I am pleased that my own priority bill has already moved to the second stage of debate. I chose LB 1014 as my priority bill even though it was introduced by Sen. Lindstrom. The purpose of LB 1014 is to amend the Multiemployer Welfare Arrangement (“MEWA”) Act to allow self-employed individuals who are members of associations to participate in a multiemployer welfare arrangement in Nebraska. The practical result of this change allows farmers to obtain health insurance through entities such as their local cooperative at a lower cost than has been available to them in the market place.
A little history on this issue and LB 1014: Land O’ Lakes is a large farmer-owned cooperative and they offered farmers another avenue for health insurance. It was a group plan and so would be cheaper than what a farmer could find on the open market as an individual. Land O’ Lakes had a little over 1,000 people in the program. Late last fall, there was a federal ruling which said Nebraska was missing specific statutory language to allow this type of program. While the plan was able to remain in effect until the end of 2019, the Nebraska Department of Insurance has no independent state statutory authority to approve a MEWA for self-employed individuals so the cooperative farmer health plan could not be offered to Nebraska farmers in 2020. Hence the need for LB 1014. Senators Kolterman, Williams, La Grone and Lindstrom worked on language to address concerns raised at the bill’s public hearing and the bill advanced to Select File with 42 yes votes and 6 present and not voting.
One of the issues that was debated at length on the floor this past week was land banks. This allows government to revitalize properties that private investors do not want to tackle, because there is no financial gain for them. So land banks take these properties, fix them up and get them back on the tax rolls. Representatives from Hickman have talked to me about how this may help them clean up some of the more neglected homes in this city in our district.
There was also considerable discussion about “Pay for Play”. Senator Hunt introduced this bill to allow students to use their image to make money. The college or university would not be paying these players but players could capitalize on their ‘fame’. They would have to disclose to the school who they are working with, and it would be counted as income. Sen. Hunt believes that the federal government will step in and pass something so there would be uniformity in the law. If a national law is passed, then Nebraska law would be void. If passed, Hunt’s bill would not take effect until January of 2023.
Thank you for your calls and emails –keep them coming! You can reach me at email@example.com or call my office at 402-471-2620.
This week we began debate on a long awaited bill dealing with property taxes and school funding. The two issues are tied together since the state does not collect property tax; only counties, schools and other local entities collect property tax. The state only collects sales tax and income tax. So any bill that reduces the amount schools can bring in from property tax, must also address how the state will supplement school funding.
The property tax bill, LB 974, as introduced by the Revenue Committee has a couple of aspects that I like. One is adjusting the valuation of agricultural land from 75% to 65% to 55% over the course of three years. This change would only apply to the valuation for the purpose of school funding, and not the county or other local subdivisions. Residential valuations would drop to about 87% by the third year, for the same purpose, school funding only. I like the idea that we have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been addressed for decades, and that is to change how valuations are used for taxing purposes.
Nearly every school in District 30 has contacted me with their concerns about how LB 974 will affect them. The premise of the bill is that foundation aid will replace revenue lost by the schools with the lower ag land and residential valuations. The question is whether state revenue streams and revenue growth will be sufficient and grow into future years. If it does not, how will the state fund their obligation; and how will tax rates and bases be adjusted if they become locked in under the provisions of LB 974? Another area of concern is the use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the bill, which correlates to the overall economy but has less relationship to the main expense incurred by school districts – personnel and wages. I agree that other economic indices might be a better fit.
The proponents of LB 974 support it for the property tax relief it is intended to provide. Opponents, mainly school systems, are left wondering how the funding shifts in the bill will affect their budgets. The Legislature’s Fiscal Office calculated the projected effect on each school and the state funding required. Their report showed 63 schools will be short about $56 million in funding by the end of three years. When you look at those numbers, you understand the school’s concerns.
As LB 974 stands right now, after three hours of debate and no consensus, the sponsors must show the Speaker they have at least 33 votes to continue debate. A compromise is needed in order to do this. Property taxes have become a significant expense for many families, farmers and businesses. As I visit with constituents in District 30 and other areas of the state, it is the number one concern they have. Property taxes are affecting our economic growth, especially agriculture. We need property tax relief. I am generally optimistic but we are not there yet. The issue is on hold until more agreement can be developed.
An important bill that did pass through to the next round of debate was LB 996, Sen. Tom Brandt’s priority bill. This bill will enable the Public Service Commission to accurately report broadband coverage in Nebraska in order to obtain some federal grant dollars to expand service. In what turned out to be a beneficial coincidence, the public Wi-Fi went down in the Capitol recently, and many senators were unable to access things on line. This was a good demonstration of what it is like in many rural areas of Nebraska, all the time. The importance of good broadband for economic development and education was discussed as well. I would also point out that I have talked with residents in District 30 who live within about ten miles of Lincoln and do not have good broadband or cell phone coverage. So this is not strictly a “rural” issue as most think of it, and the state could benefit from those federal grant monies. LB 996 passed first round debate on a 37-0-11 vote.
My office has received many calls and emails about a couple of “hot button” issues – motor cycle helmets and fire arms. Because of the short session and other big issues, bills that deal with these matters have a very small chance of making it to the floor for debate because they have not been designated as a priority bill (each senator can designate a priority bill and then the Speaker puts that bill on the agenda for debate ahead of non-prioritized bills.) LB 378 would repeal the motorcycle helmet requirement, but Sen. Ben Hansen did not make it his priority; he did indicate that he will introduce the measure again next year. LB 58, known as the Red Flag Law, was introduced by Sen. Morfeld. I do not support this bill – but again, it is not a priority bill so is not likely to be debated. LB 816 had a public hearing late in the week; and also has amendments to make it more neutral. However, it remains to be seen if that bill even comes out of committee. Again, it would have to be made a priority to get to first round debate, if the committee advances it.
As my own priority bill, I have adopted LB 1014. This bill was brought to the Banking and Insurance Committee. It would allow organizations, such as the Land O Lakes Cooperative, to offer health insurance to their farmer members. I will expand on the merits of this legislation next week.
In the meantime, please continue to contact me with any questions or concerns. Your opinions and insights are valuable to me as I listen to the debate on bills before the Legislature. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620
(Story and photos provided by First Five Nebraska)
While the Legislature was in recess last week, Senator Dorn took the opportunity to visit Gold Crest Retirement Center in Adams. The visit coincided with an interview for First Five Nebraska, a nonprofit that works to elevate the public conversation around quality early childhood programs. First Five Nebraska interviewed Senator Dorn and Gold Crest staff for an upcoming video highlighting intergenerational elder and child care facilities in Nebraska.
Gold Crest has served as a vibrant community hub for residents of Adams and Gage County since its founding in 1990. The facility offers independent living, assisted living and memory care for older adults, alongside a child care facility and preschool serving children from ages 6 weeks to 12 years. By combining nursing and child care, Gold Crest can take advantage of operational efficiencies while enhancing quality of life for children and residents through intergenerational activities. As children and residents interact, the “adopted grandparents” experience joy and enhanced well-being while the children build relationships with differently abled people.
“My father-in-law is an elder here and when the kids come by, it’s great to see all those young, energetic, vibrant and full-of-energy kids come around. You see the smiles on the faces of the elderly,” Dorn said.
Gold Crest was one of the first intergenerational facilities in the state, and the model may be one solution to help rural communities serve a growing older adult population while bringing in much needed child care programs. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee recently held a public hearing for LB1051, which would create a cash fund for one-time startup costs for nursing facilities interested in adding child care in their space.
In Adams, the intergenerational model has been a big win for the community.
“The program they have here and offer to everybody – the residents, the employees, the people of town and the surrounding communities – has just been a tremendous blessing to have.”
Senator Dorn looks forward to continuing to work to support his constituents in District 30 through fiscally responsible solutions around elder care, quality early childhood programs and community development.
L-R in the group photo: Janie Jantzen, Director of Child Care Services at Gold Crest; Senator Dorn; Jeff Fritzen, Executive Director of Gold Crest
Cold weather returned to Nebraska this week but spring is just around the corner. This time of year, we get questions about Daylight Saving Time (DST) and there is almost always a bill in the legislature addressing it. This year, Sen. Briese introduced LB1015, which would implement year-round Daylight Saving Time in Nebraska. As written, it would not take effect until both the Federal Government allows states to do so, and until two neighboring states adopt similar year-round time legislation. Congress controls DST and under current regulations, a state can opt out of switching to DST but cannot stay on it year round. It is also important to note that if DST were in effect in mid-January, for example, the sun would not rise until 8:20 am. That bill was heard in committee this week and no action has been taken as of yet.
This week the Legislature advanced LB126 with amendments. This bill would give a landowner the opportunity, if they desire, to purchase a deer hunting permit if they own a minimum of 80 acres. They could obtain up to four permits for their immediate family, but two must be for persons 18 and younger, and the other two for 19 and older. The permit is for only three days, the Saturday through Monday immediately preceding opening day of firearms season. The intent was to find a small way to reimburse the landowner for feeding the deer from his crop production. Not every farmer is a hunter, so I am not sure of the impact from this bill. There is one more round of voting before this bill is passed.
LB 58, known as the Red Flag law, and LB 816, deal with mental health, domestic violence and fire arms issues. As a Second Amendment rights supporter, I am opposed to these bills as I believe we already have laws in place to deal with these important matters. I will note that law enforcement personnel in our larger cities spoke as proponents of the bill when it was heard in committee, as they obviously deal with many more applicable cases.
We will begin debate this next week on LB 996, a bill to create the Broadband Data Improvement Program (BDIP). It will ensure that the State of Nebraska is accurately represented in federal broadband grant programs, including grants from the federal Universal Service Fund. The BDIP would be administered by the Public Service Commission.
LB 974, the property tax relief bill, has been voted out of committee with an amendment, and that amendment becomes the bill. It will be taken up in debate on the floor in coming days. This bill is not yet in its final form, we know there will be other amendments offered. There are concerns about restricting school district expenditures and tying increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). I do not feel we can say we have certainty about the stability and predictability of revenue flow in future years. I will be working to see how we can find genuine property tax relief but still fund our public schools and county entities at an acceptable level.
Regarding legislation I have introduced: LB 106 is a simple bill to harmonize state laws about DNA testing with federal law, and it advanced quickly to second round. LB 107 was signed into law by the Governor this week. I introduced LB 762 in front of the Appropriations Committee this week, which appropriates $10,000 from the General Fund to the Hall of Fame Trust Fund each year to be used to pay for the Nebraska Hall of Fame designee’s sculpture and pedestal. Since nominees to the Hall must be deceased for 35 years before induction, the burden of the expensive bronze sculpture falls on descendants who may be unable to bear that cost. Members of the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission and the CEO of the state historical society spoke in support.
As bills come to the floor for debate, I welcome your input and opinions about the issues that are important to you. Please contact me via email at email@example.com or call my office at 402-471-2620. Thank you.
Representatives from the city of Hickman met with Sen. Dorn at the Nebraska League of Municipalities conference on February 25th. Mayor Doug Hansen, Sen. Dorn, City Administrator Silas Clarke, Council Chairman Phil Goering, and Assistant City Administrator Kelly Oelke.
After the Civil War, the Grand Army of the Republic was formed as the first-ever fraternal organization for veterans. In 1881 the Grand Army of the Republic created the Sons of Union Veterans to carry on the memory and traditions of the G.A.R. after the last G.A.R. members were gone. Today, the Sons of Union Veterans are recognized by Congress as a Veteran’s organization, charged with keeping alive the memory of those who served our country during the Civil War, 1861 to 1865. In addition to their Presentation of Colors today in the legislative chamber, the Sons of Union Veterans have an honor guard posted at the Lincoln Statue at the west entrance.
One third of the session is behind us. Public hearings continue in our committees and we are deciding which bills should be advanced to the floor for debate. As individual senators, we are in the process of evaluating which bills should be designated as a priority. I have a couple of issues in mind and will be making that selection in the next few days.
During morning debate on the floor of the Legislature this week, we spent several hours discussing a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow future legislatures to increase the number of state senators up to 55. A bit of history: Nebraska went from a two-house system like Congress and the other 49 states have, to a Unicameral one-house system in 1937. At that time there were 43 state senators who each represented about 27,000 constituents. Today there are 49 state senators, and with our current population, each one represents close to 40,000 people. The discussion included the geographical size of districts, the number of rural and urban senators, technology that allows for easier communication, and the cost of adding more senators and staff. After three hours of debate, no vote was taken. Because it is a proposed amendment to the constitution, it requires 30 votes to pass and be placed on the November ballot.
I did not introduce a bill asking for state help in paying the “Beatrice 6” judgment this session. In last year’s session I had LB 474 which was similar to a bill brought by Sen. Baker before me, allowing for the claim to be paid by the state, through the state claims process. It was not advanced by the committee and based on my communications with the chairman, it will not be, which effectively kills the bill. I continue to have conversations with the Gage County Board and with senators here at the Capitol about funding the judgement. Some senators have indicated support, some senators have commented that they will not support any help from the state in paying the judgement. The state has seen an increase in revenue the past year. There are many requests for those funds and bills introduced for that purpose; the biggest ones being property tax relief (LB 974), economic incentives (LB 720), school funding and other needs. While we all want to see immediate assistance and relief of this issue for Gage County, it is a process that requires educating fellow senators while building relationships and trust.
LB 1033 was heard in the Revenue Committee this week, a measure which would assess state sales tax on the sale or lease of aircraft and use those funds to maintain Nebraska’s airports. The bill would create a capital improvement fund to be administered by the state Department of Transportation. The estimated revenue would be $1.3 million in the first year with small increases in future years. The fund would help smaller airports to access matching federal grant funds without having to borrow or bond to make improvements to their local airfields. That bill is still in committee.
LB 1152 was another bill in committee this week, it would streamline the process for hemp growers in Nebraska as far as licenses and consistency with the federal guidelines. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture supports the bill, and hopes to make the program self-supporting. February 3rd was the start date to sign up online for the program.
LB 857 was introduced to require periodical review of any new state rules and regulations, to make sure they are achieving what they were intended to do. A report would have to be filed 10 years after the effective date, beginning in 2021. The idea behind the bill is that with changes in staff or the composition of the Legislature, a law can drift from its original intent. There were two organizations in support of the issue and one against. This bill is also still in committee.
Remember that you can look up the status of any bill on the website, www.nebraskalegislature.gov. The website has contact information for all senators and committees as well as the legislative calendar. You can email or call me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620
This week the Legislature has continued with morning debate on the floor and afternoon committee hearings. We will stay with this schedule until committee hearings are completed at the end of February. Morning debate has focused on bills that carried over from last year’s session as we wait for Committees to act on new bills. There are important matters that have waited over the interim months for a chance to be discussed by the Unicameral, even though we know the bigger issues lie ahead of us.
With that thought in mind, LB 974 is still sitting in the Revenue Committee while additional information is being gathered and possible amendments are being drawn up. Conversation is taking place between senators, and between senators and stake holders such as land and home owners and school administrators. One primary concern is the effect that LB 974 will have, especially out three to four years. That time frame is the hardest to get a good set of numbers on, because you have to use assumptions about future revenue, the economy and so on. We are dealing with a wide variety of topics right now, but property tax relief is still the main theme.
I introduced LB 761 dealing with funding for the Simulation In Motion (SIMS NE) project used to train rural EMTs and hospital personnel, primarily in rural areas. The bill was heard by the Transportation Committee this week and we had excellent representation from UNMC staff who run the program, and first responders from the western to eastern borders of the state. Ten people testified in support of the bill, with many more in the audience to register their official support. There were also 25 letters submitted as part of the official record as proponents of the bill. There were four opponents, and while they acknowledge the value and importance of the program, did not want to see another fifty cents per year fee on a motor vehicle registration.
The fifty cents per year for SIMS would generate $1.2 million. It would sustain the program and staff, maintain the four semi-trailers which house the high tech mannequins and equipment that simulate real life emergency trauma, and keep the program free of charge to rural communities’ EMTs, first responders and critical access hospital staff. The SIMS NE trucks allow rural volunteers to stay home for training; otherwise they leave their communities with no EMT service while they are traveling to educational sites. In areas of our state far from large hospitals or city paramedic services, the volunteer EMTs and first responders are often the difference between life and death.
Another safety issue I have my eye on is LB 789 which seeks to crack down on drivers who do not obey school bus stop arms. It only takes a few minutes to wait while children board a bus, and only a few seconds for a terrible tragedy to occur by not stopping. LB 870 is also of interest in view of last year’s flooding. This bill would allow cities to borrow money to recover from disaster; right now only counties are able to do this.
I am also watching a package of bills which includes LB 147, LB 920 and LB 998. LB998 would provide training to school personnel on recognizing signs of potential problems, de-escalation techniques and training for appropriate restraint of students who might harm themselves or others. LB 920 would use $1.9 million from state lottery funds to reimburse schools at least $2000 for this training. These bills were brought forward in response to last year’s LB 147 which focuses on these situations in our schools.
As I mentioned, there are important issues to consider, encompassing a very wide range of subjects. I will continue to keep budget issues and tax concerns at the top of the list. Whatever matters of concern you have, I hope you will contact me. email@example.com 402-471-2620.
Eleven days of the session are in the books, which means bill introduction is over, and public hearings have begun. There were 482 new bills introduced for a total of 1221 for this session, which spans 2019-2020. A large number of bills address taxation and spending; some offer new ideas to increase revenue or distribute funds, and some have been written as back up to pending legislation.
During bill introduction, I read through the one-liners (a brief one sentence explanation of a bill or constitutional amendment). As varied as the ideas are, my reactions to some are just as varied – from a nod of my head and thinking that sounds like a good idea, to why do we as a state need this bill? Then I put it into perspective. There is usually a constituent or a group of people who have asked for a bill to fix a problem, or it springs from an idea a senator has. A senator decides if the issue needs a bill or can be handled some other way. It may be as simple as giving that constituent or group a chance to present their issue; or the other extreme where a situation is dire and needs legislative attention. Almost every bill has someone behind the scenes believing the issue is important.
The legislative process allows for all of those ideas to be presented to the committee at a public hearing, a process very unique to Nebraska, whereby the committee members have the opportunity to hear proponents, opponents and neutral testimony. If the majority of committee members agree the bill has merit, it will be advanced to our first stage of floor debate. A committee can also hold a bill for further discussion by committee members or hold it for other reasons. The committee can also indefinitely postpone a bill, which kills the bill for that session.
With that said, here are some of the bills being heard by committees this past week:
The main property tax bill, as introduced by the Revenue Committee, is LB 974. The bill had a hearing on Wednesday with good representation from the school districts, agriculture and property owners from across the state. The basic framework reduces reliance on property taxes for school funding, and has a projected cost to the state of $520 million over three years, which will go directly to property tax relief. A cap would be placed on school budget growth, tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). As with any bill, there will be an opportunity to offer amendments and continued work on the details. The Revenue Committee will have to keep working to build consensus to get this moved through the legislative process, but it is a start.
Senator Jim Scheer, the Speaker of the Legislature, has introduced a constitutional amendment to increase the number of senators from 50 to 55. Currently the legislature has 49 senators but we could add one more with the existing constitutional language. Senator Scheer’s LR 279CA would ask the voters to consider increasing the number to 55 senators. Every senator’s district is based on population. Scheer said the change would decrease the number of constituents in each legislative district and hopefully keep the some of the rural districts that cover hundreds of miles, from growing even larger.
One of the bills I introduced had a quick and efficient public hearing this week. LB 763 would add townships to the list of entities that can access their funds on a regular basis from the county treasurer without cumbersome paper work. The bill simply corrects the oversight of including townships when the county fund disbursement legislation was enacted many years ago.
The Health and Human Services Committee held a briefing Wednesday morning on the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC). They detailed what has happened the last six months with the Geneva, Kearney, and now Lincoln facilities. The Committee listed 14 recommendations for improvements and guidelines with the state’s YRTC institutions. Out of this report and those recommendations, the Committee introduced six new bills to help with the problems. We will have opportunities to have public hearings and discussion on this important issue.
The Appropriations Committee also began meeting this week. At this time we are reviewing state agency budget reports and will work through those before holding hearings on new bills. As you can imagine, there are a large number of requests for funding with the last year of revenue coming in above projections.
Last week the Governor gave the executive branch report to the Legislature in his State of the State address. The Governor outlined key issues of property tax relief, LB720 which is a business tax incentive package, funding for last year’s flooding concerns, and an income tax credit for military retirement benefits.
This week we heard from the judicial branch of government. Chief Justice Mike Heavican reported on activities of the Supreme Court to be accessible to everyone in the state while building confidence in the system. New initiatives put in place across Nebraska by the court system include ways to reach all races, genders, income levels and languages.
As you can see from this report, which covers just a few days, many important topics come to my attention. Let me assure you, your concerns are just as important and I encourage you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402–471-2620.
In the first seven days of the session, bills that address the major issues facing our state have been introduced. These include property tax, corrections, Medicaid and underlying all of this – the state’s budget. We have three more working days for bill introduction, and hearings on new bills begin on Tuesday the 21st.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I get a first-hand look at the income and expenditures of our state. Many excellent ideas and projects are proposed each session but the reality is that they must fit within the budget or be self-funded. One program that I strongly support is SIMS-NE, the Simulation in Motion educational trucks which are used to train rural EMTs and hospital personnel. My bill, LB 761, proposes an addition to the “Fifty Cents for Life” initiative to insure the SIMS program will continue and that their equipment will remain up to date. As an EMT for over 30 years, I know from experience how important it is to have realistic training and the impact of having a rescue squad in a rural area that knows what it is doing.
I introduced two other bills, LB 762 and 763. LB 762 provides funding for the Nebraska Hall of Fame. Basically, the bill helps with the cost of placing a family member into the Hall and removes that financial burden from the descendants.
LB 763 simply includes townships in the current method of distributing funds which are collected by the county. Entities which receive these funds include villages and cities, school districts, ag societies, rural fire districts, ESUs and so on; but townships had not been included on the list resulting in a cumbersome process for the county treasurer and the townships. The bill takes care of that. Improving and streamlining our government is part of the legislative process, and I appreciate when these proposals are brought to my attention.
The beginning of the session is a good time to review “how a bill becomes a law” and how you can get involved. Every bill goes through a long process before being enacted, and often undergoes many changes along the way. In Nebraska, every bill has a public hearing and testimony is open to the public. After the hearing, the committee votes to advance, hold or kill the bill. As a citizen, you can testify in person, send a letter of support or opposition, and send letters or emails to the committee members.
If the bill is advanced out of committee to the full legislature, it goes through two rounds of debate and voting (General File and Select File) before one last vote on Final Reading. Sometimes the bills will have amendments recommended by the committee which had the hearing; and other times, senators will propose amendments to the bill during the debate stages. This is a good time to contact your own senator with your opinions. You can also send your communication to every senator. Information about the progress of every bill, and contact information for all senators can be found at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Due to the Capital HVAC project, my office has moved into the tower for the current session, so you will need to call ahead to arrange any visits. You are always welcome and encouraged to contact me. email@example.com 402-471-2620