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Tom Brandt

Sen. Tom Brandt

District 32

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From WNAX radio coverage:

Nebraska State Senator Tom Brandt’s Farm To School Bill goes into law on Friday. The measure connects schools across the state with local farmers and ranchers and helps those schools get locally produced food. Brandt says the bill makes sense because currently, 90 percent of the food dollars spent in Nebraska school cafeterias goes out of state., and this measure will help correct that.

He says not only is this law beneficial for students by getting them good and nutritious food it also benefits the state’s producers.

Brandt’s legislation also creates a full time position within the Nebraska Department of Education to coordinate efforts to connect schools with local producers.

Brandt says there’s even an elementary school program in Omaha where students have their own garden and grow radishes which helps them learn more about where their food comes from.

Click on the link above to hear interview snippets.

‘Farm to School’ bill goes into law this Friday

Nebraska state senator: “What we’re trying to do is keep those dollars, or as many as we can, in state.”

According to Sen. Tom Brandt, 90% of the food dollars spent for Nebraska school cafeterias go out of state.

He hopes his new bill, LB396, which goes into law this Friday, will help change that.

“What we’re trying to do is keep those dollars, or as many as we can, in state,” Brandt said.

The reason Nebraska has imported so much food from other states is because it is cheaper to do so.

LB396 will create a full-time position within the Nebraska Department of Education that will help coordinate and stimulate additional efforts to connect schools across the state to local producers. In other words, it will give Nebraska producers an opportunity to see which schools are interested in their food products, and schools the opportunity to see which in-state producers they can get food from.

For more on this KLKN story and to watch the video coverage, go here.

At the end of this week, most of the bills that passed in the 107th Legislature, First Session go into effect, as happens 3 calendar months after the Legislature adjourns for the session.  That includes two of my bills: LB324, which creates an animal share program, and LB396, which creates a statewide farm to school network. More bills being put into law are highlighted in this Lincoln Journal Star article.


The Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability, or STAR WARS, Committee, of which I am a member, continues its interim study work and last week our hearing in Ogallala on growth around Lake McConaughy was covered by News Channel Nebraska and you can read about and watch it here.

The 2020 census data has finally been released and the Legislative Research Office is hard at work analyzing it and preparing draft maps for the Special Session of the Legislature that is set to commence on Monday September 13th. In the meantime, David Drozd, Research Coordinator of UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research, has compiled and presented some findings and numbers to keep in mind before we return to Lincoln.

Of Nebraska’s 93 counties, 25% had population growth last decade. It comes as no surprise that Nebraska’s “Big 3” most populated counties of Douglas, Sarpy, and Lancaster rank as the fastest growing and now contain 56% of the state’s population. This suggests the “Big 3” counties could hold 27 of 49 seats in Unicameral after redistricting and that is what we in the Legislature will be debating and deciding in September.

Nebraska’s 49 Legislative Districts (LD) have an average size of 40,031. Redrawn districts cannot vary by more than 10%. The most populated LD is 39 (Elkhorn) with 59,542 people and the least populated LD is 47 (Panhandle) with 33,841 people. Other LDs that gained a lot of residents include 49 (Gretna & LaVista), 10 (NW Omaha/Douglas Co) and 21 (NW Lincoln/Lancaster Co). Other LDs that lost a lot of residents include 42 (North Platte/Lincoln Co), 44 (SW Nebraska) and 43 (Sandhills). 

As for LD 32, which I represent, we fell somewhere in the middle, with .8% growth or 290 residents. Fillmore County’s population dropped 5.8% over the last decade to 5,551, Jefferson County dropped 4.1% from 7,547 to 7,240, and Thayer County lost 3.7% to end up with 5,034. During the same ten year period, Saline County gained 92 residents to push its population to 14,292. The remaining 198 new residents to LD32 came in the portion of southwest Lancaster County that I represent. If you would like to examine the data for yourself, you can go to: 

Finally, the Nebraska Department of Transportation is challenging you to “Buckle Up Phone Down”. They have set out a challenge for schools and businesses to accept whether it is down the street or across the country because buckling up and putting your phone down are two of the most impactful actions a driver can take to prevent collisions and reduce injuries in the event of one. Accept the Buckle Up Phone Down Challenge today to protect not only yourself, but your family and community as well. For more information, go to:

The summer is a time for legislators to get out of their normal routine of being in Lincoln to debate bills and pass laws. One major focus of the interim is special committees and task forces. Some of these were formed out of legislative resolutions that were passed in May before adjournment. Others, such as the Building Maintenance committee, which I am a member of, only meet during the interim. 

The Building Maintenance Committee is chaired by Sen. Erdman and exercises oversight of the deferred and preventive maintenance activities required in the Deferred Building Renewal Act. The committee is responsible for making investments in state building infrastructure for deferred repair, fire and life safety systems, access for the disabled, and energy conservation. The committee allocates approximately $20 million on an annual basis in building upgrades.

I had the pleasure of being appointed to all three of the committees I submitted my name for in the spring, which include: the School Finance Review Task Force, the Statewide Tourism And Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability (STAR WARS) special committee, and the Mental Health Crisis Hotline Task Force. 

The Mental Health Crisis Hotline Task Force came out of LB247, and will implement a plan for Nebraska to integrate and utilize the 988 mental health crisis hotline. The task force will ensure that anyone who accesses a local mental health crisis hotline is connected to a qualified mental or behavioral health professional regardless of the time, date, or number of individuals trying to simultaneously access a local mental health crisis hotline. We have a shortage of mental health services in my district so this task force is an opportunity to get my constituents the help they need.

The STAR WARS committee, which came out of LB406, is an opportunity to improve the use of waterways and to increase tourism and economic development in Nebraska, and is chaired by Speaker Mike Hilgers. The task force will study potential flood-control infrastructure projects along the river basin of the lower Platte River and gather data and information to compile an analysis. 

I am also a member of the School Finance Study Committee, which came out of LR141, and is conducting an in-depth study of the financing of the public schools in the state. The study is examining methods of financing, including methods used in other states, which would provide equitable educational opportunities across the state and offer alternatives to a heavy reliance on property tax. We are also looking at the option of using a measure of income as a component in the school funding and financing issues as they relate to the quality and performance of schools. As many of you know, this is one of the issues that I ran for office on and am still working hard to obtain equalization funds for all of the schools in my district and the state.

All of these committees and task forces give me the opportunity to work with different colleagues and build on relationships I have made at the Capitol as well as offer a chance to travel our beautiful state to help address issues on the ground.


Nebraska Cattlemen president, William H. Rhea III, attended an event with USDA Secretary Vilsack in Council Bluffs today. The primary focus of the event was to announce $500 million in new funding for loans and grants to help expand regional processing capacity, among other Biden administration efforts.

USDA’s intent is to invest $500 million in American Rescue Plan funds to expand meat and poultry processing capacity so that farmers, ranchers, and consumers have more choices in the marketplace. USDA also announced more than $150 million for existing small and very small processing facilities to help them weather COVID, compete in the marketplace and get the support they need to reach more customers.

“Increasing processing capacity is a priority issue for Nebraska Cattlemen.” Said William H. Rhea III “From the work completed with Senator Brandt in the Nebraska Legislature to create a framework to access grant funds through the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, to increasing levels of funding and capital from USDA – the opportunity for small and medium sized processors to expand has never been greater.”

Additional resources from USDA regarding small processor funding are available through the creation of competitive grant funding opportunities for small, regional, and independent meat processors in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which placed $55.2 million towards the critical need for greater beef processing capacity. This competitive grant funding will be available through the new Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant (MPIRG) program. The funds will support small beef processing facilities making the improvements necessary to achieve a Federal Grant of Inspection, or to operate under their state’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment program. Applications for funding must be submitted online at by 11:59 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 2.
The supply of cattle and the demand for U.S. beef are both strong, but the bottleneck in the middle caused by a lack of hook space has stifled producer profitability and created unsustainable market dynamics. On an agriculture industry call earlier this month, Secretary Vilsack emphasized greater processing capacity as a key component of USDA’s $4 billion Build Back Better Initiative, which underscores the need to bring federal inspection within reach for more facilities.
For more information on the new and existing USDA grant and funding programs, click HERE.
For more information regarding USDA Grants to Increase Capacity and Expand Access in Meat and Poultry Inspection Operations click HERE.
Interim study resolutions
July 1st, 2021

The summer is a time for legislators to spend some time away from the office in Lincoln, and for me, that means in my district and on my farm. It has been quite a dry summer so far so there has been a lot of work with irrigation as you can imagine. There is still legislative work to be done however, and my office and I are hard at work on a couple of interim studies that I introduced.

One of them is LR185, which will look at the feasibility of an ag high school or educational center in Nebraska. Agriculture is the primary economic driver in Nebraska and the backbone of the economy. Twenty-first century career opportunities in food systems, technology, research, environmental conservation and sustainability, international trade and policy, and finance require a highly technical educational curriculum in order for students to succeed. However, there is a lack of focus in the education system, especially for students in urban areas, about where food comes from and the skills and knowledge needed for careers in agriculture. An agricultural educational center or magnet school could provide a solution to the brain drain problem that has long siphoned young professionals away from our state in search of jobs elsewhere. Moreover, because of this state’s unique geographic and historic connection to agriculture, providing educational opportunities in support of food systems will prepare students for careers right here in Nebraska. 

The other study I introduced is LR186. The economic survival of many towns in Nebraska is dependent on features that encourage residents to continue living there. For some towns, a nonprofit movie theatre is one such feature. However, nonprofit movie theaters in certain jurisdictions in this state have been granted an exemption from state taxes, while others have not. This resolution and study came out of conversations I have had with the Bonham Theatre in Fairbury and their participation is greatly appreciated.

There are other bills and studies that I will be looking at over the interim as well. I co-sponsored LR196 which is a study on the potential applications for blockchain technology in agricultural operations such as for use in inventory control and maintenance of records. I’ll also be looking at ways to strengthen harassment protection orders in LB118

My legislative staff is in the office over the interim if you have questions or feedback to share about these interim studies or others. 

Omaha Public Power District The Wire‘s coverage of LB306:

More Nebraskans to be eligible for heating assistance

More Nebraskans in need will be eligible for energy assistance thanks to passage of a bill to provide expanded access to federal funds.
LB 306, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt (District 32), raises the income limit for receiving assistance to 150% of the federal poverty level, up from 130%. Funding for the assistance comes from Nebraska’s federal aid. The new law also increases the amount of money going to the state’s weatherization program.
Brandt said the bill makes the program more efficient. Currently, he said, LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is funded through a federal block grant, and funds left over at the end of the year must be returned to the federal government. To avoid this, the Department of Health and Human Services allocates supplemental payments to homeowners, he said.

“LB 306 will make the program more efficient by eliminating the supplemental payments away from those customers who do not need them and reallocating the funds to more people who actually need assistance,” Brandt said.

The bill had an interesting path to enactment. It was passed by the legislature, vetoed by the Governor, and overriden on a 32-15 vote.

“It’s a good change for the state and those who are in need,” said Britton Gabel, senior product specialist at OPPD. “Estimations show it could increase access to more than 8,000 households.”

Gabel said the funding is now in place. He added that it will positively impact the lives of those families struggling to make ends meet.

Anyone wishing to apply for assistance from LIHEAP can do so by phone, or through electronic or paper application. They can apply by filling out an application via the ACCESSNebraska website, or by calling 800-383-4278.

Heating assistance season runs from Oct. 1 to March 31. Cooling assistance runs from June 1 to Aug. 31.

Legislative Update
June 10th, 2021

The first session of the 107th Legislature has come to an end. Senators have adjourned until September when we will reconvene for a special session to work out the new redistricting map for the next ten years. Census data was delayed getting to us because of covid-19. Shifts in population and a vastly-growing Sarpy County mean that it is possible that the Legislature may lose one rural seat and add one urban seat, which is what will be debated when we return.

There were some developments on my bills during the closing days of the session. LB306 (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) was vetoed by the Governor but my colleagues and I voted to override the veto on a vote of 32-15. The new law will address federal funding and utility customer payment issues by allowing more people to get help that need it while less people will receive extra payments that they don’t need. It will also provide more funding to community action partnerships such as Blue Valley to weatherize homes. Two of my other bills LB324 (animal share program and processor’s assistance fund) and LB396 (farm to school network) were signed by the Governor into law. 

In covid news, covid-19 rates continue to drop as more people choose to get vaccinated. Nebraska has one of the nation’s lowest per capita COVID-19 rates, second only to Oklahoma, who we should strive to beat at everything. Over the past four weeks, no state has seen a steeper percentage drop in cases than the Cornhusker state so kudos to everyone doing their part by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and social distancing. Governor Ricketts proclaimed an end to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, declaring it time to “return to normalcy” which means we will see restaurants and venues operating at full capacity again. However, vaccination rates still need to increase to at least 70% of the population to reach herd immunity. A covid vaccine is now available to everyone aged 12 and older that wants one. I encourage you to get one if you haven’t already so we don’t have a resurgence in the fall and can finally move past this disease. Getting back to normal is as important for our economy as it is for our health.

Sen. Tom Brandt

District 32
Room 1528
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2711
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