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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 31st legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Rick Kolowski
Last week three Legislative Committees held a joint hearing on LB 289. The Revenue Committee, the Education Committee and the Retirement Committee all participated in this hearing that lasted from 4 p.m. to 10:50 p.m. It was a long one. I am on all three of these Committees.
LB 289 is an attempt to provide property tax relief and restructure how schools are funded without changing the current “needs” formula. Senator LouAnn Linehan filed AM 1381 that becomes the bill so the hearing addressed both. There were a four proponents in favor of the bill and many opponents.
After the hearing a revised version, AM 1572, was filed. AM 1572 to LB 289 proposes to raise the state sales tax rate from 5.5% to 6%. It raises the cigarette tax from 64 cents per pack to $1.00 per pack. (There has been attempted almost every year for the last decade to raise the cigarette tax.) The increased revenue from these proposed rate increases will be credited to the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund. The proposed operative date is July 1, 2019.
The amendment repeals the Personal Property Tax Exemption beginning in tax year 2020. AM 1572 also proposes to repeal the sales tax exemption for a number of services. The most harmful items are car repairs and home repairs. Beginning tax year 2020, the amendment proposes to reduce taxable value for residential and commercial/industrial from 100% of market value to 90% of market value. Agricultural and horticultural taxable value would be reduce from the current 75% of market value to 65% of market value. The proposed reduction in the taxable value for residential and commercial/industrial land reduces the acceptable range for valuing the property to 82% to 90%, instead of the current 92% to 100%. The acceptable range for agricultural land would reduce to 59% to 65% of actual value from the current 69% to 75%.
The amendment also changes allowable levy rates for school funding and creates a “basic” funding mechanism similar to what we used to call foundation aide so that the state aid to schools would actually increase and school districts would have less dependency on property tax. There are many other details in the bill – too numerous to explain in this article. The Committee has now advanced the bill to General File with AM 1572. Debate on it will begin next Tuesday, May 7, at 1:30p.m. I will be analyzing the bill and consulting with constituents over the weekend.
I commend the effort to find property tax relief and to fully fund schools. It’s a tall order and no one knows yet if this is the right combination to pass the Legislature. More information and all things related to the Nebraska Legislature can be found at nebraskalegislature.gov. The Unicameral Update newsletter is found in the “For Citizens” menu on the left side of the home page under “Legislative Publications.” As always you can contact me via email at email@example.com and by phone at 402-471-2327.
Legislative Update March 18-22:
Constitutes of District 31,
We have seen severe flooding with people across the state dealing with devastating losses. Governor Pete Ricketts and Vice-President Mike Pence will be surveying the damage done by the waters. In addition, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) will be meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Lincoln to work out an expedited declaration of emergency to the White House.
Recovery is beginning already. NEMA has answers many questions you may have about what can be done to assist Nebraskans affected by flooding. You can access that information on their website at https://nema.nebraska.gov/ and can call at (402) 817-1551. For information about debris removal, call the Crisis Cleanup Hotline at (402) 556-2476. If you or someone you know is looking for information about livestock recovery, the Farm Service Agency office website (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/Nebraska/index) will answer any questions.
In legislative news, Tuesday (3/19) was the deadline to designate bills as a priority. Each Senator picks one of the bills they feel is most important and designate that bill as a priority. A Senator picks one, any committee can select two, and the Speaker can designate up to twenty-five bills. Priority bills are generally considered before other bills. A bill with this designation is almost guaranteed debate once moved out of committee.
As listed previously, Senator Kolowski has chosen LB 619 with AM 287 as his priority. This bill looks to assure insurance coverage of mental health services provided by a credentialed mental health professional in a school setting. This will help many Nebraska students and their families and reduce the time a student is out of the school day for such services. Students that receive these services are still entitled to their education in the least restrictive environment, and this bill will help Nebraska students get their needs met. LB 619 with amendment 287 were advanced to the second round of debate, known as Select File, on Monday, March 18th. From here the bill has 2 more opportunities for debate before a final vote.
Also on Monday, LB 409, my bill to update design and construction codes for health care facilities was advanced from General File, or first round of debate, to Select File and is now in line for the second round of debate.
On Wednesday, March 20th, I will be speaking to the UNL President’s Advisory Council. This group is an invitation only group who serves in an advisory capacity to the University of Nebraska president. There are around 100 members that represent each of Nebraska’s forty-nine legislative districts. Members serve as advisors for the president on issues that impact them as students. I will be giving these students an overview on the legislature; a look at our members, some procedures for how it runs, a brief look at a few bills, and information on my committee assignments.
You can read all about the happenings at the Unicameral at the Legislature’s website at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. It has a wealth of information about every bill, Senator and news of what is going on it the Legislature. Unicameral Update is a weekly newsletter you can subscribe to or read on the website. Each debate and hearing are streamed through NET on their local channel or through a link on the Nebraska Legislature’s web site.
I am proud to serve as your state Senator! I and my staff will continue to serve District 31 as best we can. If you have any concerns about upcoming legislation or just want to give your input, you can reach us at (402) 471-2327 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weekly Update: March 4-8
Hello from Lincoln! We are working hard to continue to pass our introduced bills. Two of our bills had hearings this week, LB 619 and LB 620. I have designated LB 619 (Requires health care plans to pay for mental health services provided in schools) as my priority bill with AM 287. I am looking forward to working with my fellow senators on getting this important legislation and many others passed in the coming weeks.
This past week, I was fortunate to hear constituent concerns through the Black and Brown Legislative day event put on by the Urban League of Nebraska. This program aims to help communities of color to bring their concerns about legislation that affects them to Nebraska Senators. It was great to hear their concerns and how I can help their communities continue to prosper.
On Wednesday, I also attended the Economic Development Task Force lunch and learn, “Overview of Tax Incentive Programs in Nebraska.” This presentation gave me and other senators in attendance an overview of tax incentive principles. Presenters included Josh Goodman of the Pew Charitable Trusts, Anthony Circo of the Legislature’s Performance Audit Committee and Renee Fry of Open Sky.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Senator! I and my staff will continue working hard to serve the people of District 31. If you have any concerns about upcoming legislation or just want to give us your input, you can reach us at (402) 471-2327 or by email at email@example.com.
This session, I have introduced seven bills. The following gives the statement of intent for each bill and a brief explanation of its purpose.
January again saw the beginning of the Legislature for 2019. New Senators were sworn in on the first day and voting for Committee chairs took place. Changes in seniority and committee chairs creates many changes in room assignments. In addition, the replacement of the heating and air conditioning system has one quarter of the building under renovation. Senators who would normally be on the first and second floors are temporarily moved into some of the upper floors of the tower. Before you come to visit your Senator it’s a good idea to visit our website or call to confirm the room number.
This year, 739 bills have been introduced, only seven of which I’ve introduced. The topics of my bills include banning tanning for persons under 19, design and construction standards for health care facilities, a sales tax holiday for back to school clothing shopping, texting while driving, solar panels and accessibility for voters. I will write about each one of these bills in future posts.
This year, I sit on two standing committees – Education Committee and Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. I have also been reappointed to the Midwestern Higher Education Commission. Committee hearings have started and will continue through March. In April we will go to full days of floor debate on bills and the state budget.
The Nebraska Unicameral is unique because, not only is it the only Unicameral with one house but because every bill introduced gets a hearing. In other states with a House of Representatives and a Senate, not every bill gets a public hearing. The Unicameral provides citizens the chance to weigh in continually from the beginning “idea” stages to the final product in the third round of floor debate. When the Legislature is not in session, Senators and citizens are working on gathering information on topics of interest and preparing for the next year.
In encourage you to contact me about any legislative bill or governmental concern you may have. Much information is available at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. You can search bills, look up information on Senators, find Committee reports and if you don’t know who your Senator is, there is a “Find your Senator” function. Please take advantage of this great resource. If you are reading this post on the Legislature’s website, you will also find many useful links on the right side of this web page. Thank you for allowing me to represent you in the Unicameral.
Legislature makes history and passes the repeal of the death penalty, LB 268
Today the Legislature debated and advanced LB 268, a bill to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. LB 268 faced a filibuster during its third round of debate on final reading. By legislative rule, it takes 33 votes to invoke cloture and cease debate. If a bill fails to gain enough votes for cloture, the bill is dead for the year. The Legislature voted 34-14 to cease debate and invoke cloture on LB 268. The bill passed Final Reading with 32 votes. I joined my colleagues in supporting the motion to invoke cloture and to pass the bill. Now we wait for the Governor’s response.
LB 599 Defeated on Final Reading
On Friday, the Legislature debated LB 599 on Final Reading. LB 599 would have allowed employers to pay young workers under the age of 18 a lower minimum wage than other workers. Because LB 599 amends a ballot initiative, it required 33 votes for passage. LB 599 did not acquire the needed 33 votes and therefore is dead for the year. I opposed LB 599 because it subverted the will of the people who spoke clearly on this issue in November when they overwhelmingly approved a higher minimum wage for all workers.
Bill to Grant Driver’s Licenses to DREAMers Advances to Second Round of Debate
On Thursday morning, the Legislature advanced LB 623, a bill to allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) youth, often referred to as DREAMers to receive Nebraska driver’s licenses. Currently, Nebraska is the only state in the country that does not allow DREAMers to obtain a driver’s license. DACA youth must have entered the United States before they were the age of 16 and prior to June 15, 2012. They must also be currently enrolled in school, received a high school diploma or an honorable discharge from the US Coast Guard or Armed Forces and cannot be convicted of a felony or pose a threat to national security or public safety.
LB 623 is supported by a broad coalition including Nebraska Cattlemen Association, Nebraska Restaurant Association, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Heartland Workers Center, and the League of Women Voters of Lincoln/Lancaster County. I joined 38 other senators in supporting the bill to allow these young Nebraskans, many of whom have spent a majority of their lives in Nebraska, to contribute to our economy and our communities.
LB 605 Advances with Additional Provisions for Counties
On Tuesday, the Legislature advanced LB 605 to Final Reading. As I mentioned in previous updates, LB 605 makes important changes to our criminal justice statutes based on the recommendations of the Council of State Governments and the Nebraska Justice Reinvestment working group. This working group consisted of members from the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
Since the bill was heard on General File in mid-April, I have worked extensively with Senator Mello, the bill’s introducer, and other senators involved in the working group to reduce the fiscal impact of LB 605 on counties. AM 1610 represented some of this work. The amendment clarifies that the special investigative committee created under the bill will also examine county costs as part of its charge. It also corrects some language Sarpy, Douglas and Lancaster counties have found problematic based on their experiences with recent juvenile justice reforms. I appreciate Senator Mello’s leadership on this issue and his willingness to work with me on behalf of Sarpy County and other counties across the state. I support LB 605 and look forward to voting for the bill when it comes up again on Final Reading.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers would ensure the state recognizes civil rulings made by American Indian tribal courts under a bill prompted by a dispute about whether an athlete could participate in a high school wrestling program.
The wrestling disagreement was resolved, but supporters of the legislation said it pointed out the need to make clear that tribal rulings should be enforced as other rulings would in Nebraska.
“It’s about the tribal laws and state laws, and how they coordinate so that there’s not a difficulty that would trip a family up and ruin a season or a competition,” said State Senator Rick Kolowski, of Omaha, who proposed the bill.
The matter began in 2007 when John Keen tried to enroll his son, Taylor, in a Nebraska high school wrestling program.
Keen, 43, was given legal custody of his son Taylor after he and his wife divorced in 1992. All of the proceedings took place in a Cherokee Nation tribal court in their native Oklahoma. But Keen, who is part-Cherokee and part-Omaha, said he encountered problems after his son returned to live with him in the Omaha area for his senior year.
He enrolled Taylor at Elkhorn High School in 2007 after he moved from his mother’s home in Oklahoma, where he had lived for the last year. John Keen said he presented school athletics officials with a tribal court order to show that he had legal custody of his son, Taylor.
“They said, ‘This isn’t a court,'” Keen said. “I said, ‘Well sure it is.’ That’s where I was born and raised. It’s where my son was born, and it’s where his mother and I divorced. Everything we did had to stay with that court.”
Keen and his attorney said his son was rejected because of NSAA rules that generally require student athletes to live with a custodial parent. The rules are designed to keep students from “school-shopping” for a particular athletic program.
The matter eventually was resolved, but Keens said it cost him more than $10,000 in legal fees.
Keen said a friend from the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska called him recently and asked for money to help address a similar problem. Frustrated, Keen said he reached out to his attorney and Kolowski, who represents him in the Legislature.
Kolowski said he proposed the legislation is modeled after a state law in Iowa that recognizes civil judgments in tribal courts and allows the state to enforce them.
Taylor Keen was eventually allowed to wrestle once his father showed that he had legal custody of his son and that the two were living together. Velder said the association has recognized tribal-court rulings for decades, but officials weren’t able to confirm right away that Taylor Keen met the eligibility requirements. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality rules.
“In Nebraska, we would accept the tribal court as a court of competent jurisdiction,” she said. “I’ve been here for 33 years, and that’s always how it’s been.”
John Keen’s attorney, Ben Thompson, said the association initially refused to recognize the order but did so “after a lot of convincing” in a meeting with the group’s attorneys.
Thompson said the Nebraska bill includes several procedural safeguards to ensure that litigants in tribal court are given due process, and that the court was the proper authority to hear a case.
“Here in Nebraska, I think we’re a bit behind the curve on these issues,” Thompson said. “I’m hoping we can catch up and join the 21st century.”
Judi M. gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, said the proposal represents an important step in ensuring tribal courts are acknowledged by the state.
The courts have gained recognition in recent year, “but it’s a really slow battle,” gaiashkibos said. “The status quo wants to remain the status quo.”
It has been a year since the devastating school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Across the nation, lawmakers have spent the year devising ways to prevent a similar tragedy, but only a fraction of the laws proposed in the immediate aftermath of the school shootings have been enacted.
Families and schools across Nebraska are looking to their lawmakers for leadership. We need to show our commitment to keeping our students and their schools safe. As an educator for over 40 years and the founding principal of Millard West High School, I know what kind of security it takes to run a school, especially a school of over 2,000 students. That number of students exceeds the population of many towns in Nebraska. Just this year alone, Millard spent over $20 million on school security improvements.
When I talk about school security, I am referring to: infrastructure (doors, locks, cameras, walls); security staff (school resource officers, guidance counselors, mediators); and school culture (anti-bullying resources, positive behavior models for teachers, reduced class sizes, and conflict resolution programs). All of these measures require funding and they are crucial to maintaining a safe school that is free of violence, abuse and fear.
These expenses and experiences are not unique to Millard. Regardless of geography or size, superintendents across Nebraska are facing the same dilemma of keeping students, educators and parents safe, without taking resources away from their student’s education, teachers’ salaries, or maintenance of their buildings.
So what can we do in Nebraska to improve our school security? Last session I introduced legislation (LB 346) to allow school boards, with a 2/3 super majority vote, to raise their maximum levy 1 cent to use for school security improvements. This legislation is at the moment stalled in the Revenue Committee with 4 yes votes, 3 no votes and 1 undecided.
This interim, I have been working on resolution (LR 208) to further explore the need for funding school security improvements, and see if there is a way to do so through the Education Committee. I believe one immediate option would be to create a state grant program in which schools could apply and receive funding for school security improvements. Long term, the Legislature may want to consider a school security adjustment to the state aid to schools formula.
The first step is to have the Nebraska Department of Education conduct a statewide assessment of school security – needs as well as costs. This would be used to create a state minimum standard of school security and help us target money to schools that need the most help. I plan to introduce legislation this year that will require us to take this first step.
I will continue to put pressure on the Revenue Committee to advance my school security bill (LB 346) out of committee. I ask that you help me by reaching out to the four Senators who refuse to advance this important and timely piece of legislation: Senators Charlie Janssen, Beau McCoy, Paul Schumacher and Pete Pirsch. Tell them to let us debate this legislation with the full legislature.
If the lawmakers in this state don’t do anything, and God forbid we have more school violence and tragedies, then all eyes will be on us for not taking bigger steps to protect Nebraska’s youth.