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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 32nd 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. Tom Brandt
A big congratulations to Anna Zeleny, who testified in support of my bills LB324 and LB755, the recipient of the Center for Rural Affairs’ 2021 Citizenship Award. It is well-deserved and anyone who has heard Anna testify knows that she passionately and articulately explains the situation for meat lockers in Nebraska. Read more about Anna and the award from the Center’s full coverage. Here is a snippet:
“Not only were we educating the public, but we were educating lawmakers,” Anna said. “Not everybody understands what we are going through.”
LB 324, which created the Independent Processor Assistance Program (IPAP), and made it easier for consumers to buy meat directly from producers or processors, was unanimously approved by the Legislature in 2021.
Earlier this year, Anna returned to Lincoln to join other processors to testify before the Appropriations Committee in support of a bill to provide $10 million to IPAP from the state’s allotment of funds from the American Recovery Program Act.
Having spent days writing her testimony the first time around, Anna said she decided that this year, it was best to leave the statistics to others and just speak from her heart.
“My role was advocating for us on a personal level,” she said. “I didn’t even write my testimony on a piece of paper. It was how I was feeling and what we are personally experiencing. I told myself, ‘Anna, nobody knows what you are going through and this is the only way to show them right now.’”
She also brought a new perspective to the discussion, one that could be beneficial as longtime owners look to retire.
“So many lockers have closed down lately because nobody will take them over,” she said. “To be able to be a female advocate and also bring the youth and family aspect of it was important.”
Many constituents have contacted my office regarding vehicle collisions on Highway 103 by Tri-County schools and we have been working with the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) and Tri-County Superintendent Randy Schlueter to address the conditions which become even more concerning when the weather is foggy. I know there was a recent accident at the school, but fortunately the injuries were minor. I am happy to report that new lights have been installed and are now operational to bring attention to the lower speed limit along Hwy 103 by the school. I want to thank NDOT, Superintendent Schlueter and the Jefferson and Gage county boards for working together, and the patience and perseverance of the community and NDOT for being willing to work with the school and counties to install the safety equipment. Tri-County will continue to educate students on driving safety, including having assemblies that remind students about driving safety.
A couple of weeks ago, southeast Nebraska, particularly Fillmore and Thayer counties, were pounded by severe thunderstorms and strong winds. Eighty electric poles snapped and hundreds of center-pivots overturned. Up to 3,000 customers lost power at the height of the storm due to the damage to the power network between Geneva and Hebron. There was also scattered property damage with damage estimates in the tens of millions. I want to commend the work of the NPPD, Norris, and Perennial public power crews who worked around the clock to restore power as well as the city utilities staff that worked overnight and over the weekend to provide services, information and relief to residents awaiting their power to return. And after all that work, NPPD was still able to put on an Arbor Day celebration at Fillmore Central high. Thanks guys!
It’s the spring which other than severe weather and much needed rain means it is graduation time. I want to extend a heartfelt congratulations to the 578 graduating seniors this year. There were 4 from Bruning-Davenport, 136 from Crete, 14 from Deshler, 11 from Dorchester, 12 from Exeter-Milligan, 48 from Fairbury, 37 from Fillmore Central, 8 from Friend, 17 from Meridian, 179 from Norris, 10 from Shickley, 28 from Thayer Central, 33 from Tri County, and 41 from Wilber. Keep your eye on the mail and enjoy your summer!
From KLKN coverage:
Sen. Tom Brandt: “This was a 60-day session that I would have swore was 90 days for all the stuff that we got done,” he said.
Some big decisions are up to the next legislative body, including criminal justice reform.
“That was probably the one large item that was left on the table, and it will probably come back in bits and pieces so that we can get many bites of the apple and one large bite at the apple,” Brandt said. “I think that is going to go hand and hand with building the new prison.”
Eleven senators are running for reelection, and others are seeking other offices, so depending on the outcome of those races, the Legislature could have “a fairly large class” of new members, Brandt said.
“Once we get past the primary, we will know a lot more about where everything is headed,” he said.
The second session of the 107th Legislature has adjourned for the year. It was the shorter 60-day session but a lot was accomplished and it was historic for the state of Nebraska. Four of the seven bills I introduced this session were signed into law as well as one from last session.
LB91 is a bill that I have been working on for three years to change the duration for native seed testing that finally crossed the finish line. In 2020, the bill was derailed due to the covid-19 interruption and last session we ran out of time before getting to it. LB755, a bill to appropriate funds to the Independent Processor Assistance Program that was created in my bill LB324 from last session, was amended into LB1014, the $1 billion ARPA funding Appropriations Committee bill. In the end, $9,875,000 will go to small meat processors to help expand their operations and strengthen our meat supply chain. LB758 added early childhood education such as pre-schools to the popular Nebraska Farm to School statewide program overseen by the NE Department of Education. LB807 changes provisions relating to a tax levy and county funding for a nonprofit county historical association or society. The bill was brought to me by former senator Russ Karpisek who is the legislative liaison for the Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts and will be retiring soon. Happy retirement Karpi! LB1009, amended into LB741, creates a domestic abuse death review team in the Attorney General’s office to review and study deaths linked to domestic violence in order to make recommendations to prevent future deaths.
My priority bill LB543 on right to repair fell victim to scheduling, running out of time and extended debate. While I am disappointed that the bill did not get to a vote and advance, I thought we had an important discussion on right to repair that included the increased computerization of farm equipment, data and privacy rights of equipment owners, consolidation of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), and our hope that this issue can be resolved on the national level through a Memorandum of Understanding between the OEMs and American Farm Bureau Federation. In the meantime, I will continue to advocate for the right of allowing farmers and third party mechanics access to the digital tools and software they need to repair ag equipment.
I also had the opportunity to participate in bill signings with the Governor for legislation that I was involved in and co-sponsored this session, including:
My legislative staff will be working hard during the interim if you have questions or concerns to be addressed.
On Tuesday April 19th, Senator Brandt attended the bill signing ceremony for LB1261 (Adopt the Nebraska Higher Blend Tax Credit Act and change provisions of the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, the Nebraska Advantage Rural Development Act, and the Urban Redevelopment Act). Sen. Brandt was a co-sponsor of LB1261. It had an emergency clause attached so it goes into effect immediately.
Pictured L to R: Sen. Myron Dorn, Sen. Tom Brandt, Mike Guenther (NE Dairy Association), Randy Gard (NE Ethanol Board), Gov. Pete Ricketts, Sen. Dave Murman, Sen. Joni Albrecht
A bill intended to address methamphetamine contamination will not make it out of the legislature this year. That is according to Mark Schoenrock, Chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, who has been a strong supporter of the bill and testified in front of the legislature on behalf of the bill in February of this year.
LB (Legislative Bill) 756, introduced by Nebraska Senator Tom Brandt, District 32, would change provisions in current law relating to properties contaminated by methamphetamine.
Despite the bill not moving forward at this time, commissioner Schoenrock remains optimistic that the bill will eventually become law, “We’re going to hit it again.”
Fairbury Mayor Spencer Brown has also expressed regret that the bill will not go through, “LB756 is a critical bill, not only for Fairbury, but any small town where meth is a problem. We need to hold landlords accountable to provide safe, quality and clean housing for families.
Pairing LB756 along with other redevelopment projects within Fairbury are critical to its image and success going forward.”
Senators made a number of changes to family law in Nebraska under a bill passed April 12.
LB741 includes provisions of three additional bills, including LB1009, introduced by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, which creates a Domestic Abuse Death Review Team appointed by the Nebraska attorney general. The team will investigate domestic abuse deaths to determine causes and contributing factors that led to an individual dying by homicide or suicide as the result of domestic violence.
Senators passed LB741 on a 46-0 vote.
LB543, as introduced last session by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, would require original equipment manufacturers to make available, on fair and reasonable terms, the documentation, parts and tools needed to diagnose, maintain or repair electronics-enabled agricultural equipment to independent mechanics or the equipment’s owner.
Modern farm equipment is computer-driven, Brandt said, which means that farmers must wait for dealers to have an available technician to diagnose and repair machinery — time that farmers don’t have. Repair manuals are available, he said, but they often are outdated unless one pays to automatically receive updates.
“Historically, in Nebraska … a good mechanic is worth more than a good doctor,” Brandt said. “As a farmer, I just want the damn thing to work.”
The legislature adjourned for the day before taking any action on LB543. It is unlikely to be debated again this session.
“In January of 2020, I asked the representative of a major equipment manufacturer when farmers and third-party mechanics would be able to fully repair their own ag equipment,” Brandt said in his opening statement about LB 543.
“They responded that the industry was working to have a right to repair available across the country by January of 2021. As of January 2021, nothing had been done. For the past year, American Farm Bureau Federation and the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have been working on a memorandum of understanding that would create a nationwide right-to-repair policy. Today, not much has been forthcoming.”
“The goal of this bill is to protect competition, not prevent it as is happening today,” Brandt said.
“Profiteering by OEMs not only affects farmers, but also local ag equipment repair shops that are not affiliated with dealers, often known as third-party mechanics,” Brandt said. “Today, these shops are effectively locked out from completing repairs. They’re qualified to perform repairs they can complete when they are provided with the appropriate manufacturer resources. This creates a monopoly where only dealers fix the equipment they sell, and farmers and local repair shops have no competitive resources.”
The 107th Legislature, Second Session is drawing to a close and last week brought passage of many big ticket items and transformational bills that were debated this session.
The biggest of those is the comprehensive tax cut package, which I was a strong supporter of. Senator Friesen’s LB873 had many different bills and proposals amended into it. LB873 will lower the state’s top income tax rate of 6.84% to 5.84% over five years and cut the state’s top corporate income tax rate to 5.84% from 7.81% by tax year 2027. LB873 also completely phases out state income taxes on Social Security by tax year 2025, adds a new refundable income tax credit for property taxes paid to community colleges starting in tax year 2022. And LB873 will avoid a $200 million drop in state income tax credits for property taxes paid for K-12 schools from the property tax fund created in 2020’s LB1107. When fully implemented, LB873 would cut state taxes by $900 million at the end of five years. This is a big win for the state of Nebraska, especially for our seniors with the elimination of social security taxes. It will also make Nebraska’s tax climate more competitive with our neighboring states.
Last week all of the budget bills were signed into law, including LB1011 – the budget adjustment bill, LB1012 – the funds transfer bill, and LB1013 – the cash reserve transfer bill. We passed a record-setting $9.8 billion budget package that incorporates some of the Governor’s priorities, including money to start work on a canal and reservoir system in western Nebraska and a possible lake between Omaha and Lincoln. It also will boost pay to private providers caring for those in nursing homes and foster care. The budget package will draw from a record-high cash reserve fund to pay for nearly $500 million worth of building and infrastructure projects. Even after those projects, the cash reserve is expected to hit a record-high $1.3 billion by June 2023. Also included are funds for improvements at Lake McConaughy in Keith County and Niobrara State Park along with Lewis and Clark Lake. The package also includes funding to take the next steps toward creating a 7-mile lake along the Platte River between Lincoln and Omaha. The legislature voted to override the Governor’s line-item vetoes on the budget to secure funding for a hike in provider rates, community corrections programs, urban housing and completion of a bike-hike trail.
The last big piece of legislation I want to mention is LB1014, the Nebraska allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds bill that passed Final Reading last week and awaits the Governor’s signature at the time of writing. When signed, the bill will go into effect immediately. The state has received $520 million and an additional $520 million is anticipated by May 2022. The bill’s expenditures support COVID-19 mitigation efforts, respond to negative economic impacts of the pandemic, replace lost revenue, provide premium pay for essential workers and fund water, sewer and broadband infrastructure projects. Among the appropriations are for shovel-ready projects (at least three in district 32) for qualifying sports complexes and nonprofits, workforce housing and for water transportation infrastructure grants. The bill also contains provisions of more than 20 proposals introduced this session, including my request for almost $10 million for grants to small meat processors.
Since he joined the Legislature, Nebraska Sen. Tom Brandt has been eager to find ways of providing Nebraska children with more opportunities to access and enjoy the foods grown right in their home-state communities.
A good place to start, he says, was the nation’s largest “restaurant chain” — K-12 school lunch programs.
And Brandt’s vision for a more robust farm-to-school program in his home state appears to be becoming a reality.
One year after the passage of LB 396 (it received unanimous legislative approval), local producers were being offered state-led training sessions on the process of selling to schools. Likewise, leaders from select Nebraska schools had participated in virtual Farm To School institutes, where plans were developed on how to bring locally grown foods to their cafeterias.
“The economic benefits of farm to-school percolate throughout our local communities,” says Brandt, whose background includes work as a food system engineer and farmer. “By providing a stable, reliable market for local produce, it enables Nebraska communities to start recapturing a portion of the 90 percent of our school food dollars that are currently leaving the state.”
Brandt also believes that by raising awareness among young people about Nebraska agriculture and how food is made, LB 396 can help build the state’s future workforce in this sector of the state’s economy.
One provision in the new law, for example, says the farm-to-school program “may include activities that provide students with hands on learning opportunities, including, but not limited to, farm visits, cooking demonstrations, and school gardening and composting programs.”
“If [it] encourages some young people to get involved in agriculture and food, and provides an opening for those young people to farm, it’s a winning proposition,” says Brandt, who this year has proposed expanding to include early-childhood education programs (LB 758).