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I hope that you had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
In staff news, my Legislative Aide Matthew Gregory, who has served Legislative District 32 (LD32) for two years, will be moving on. I wish Matt well in his new position and thank him for all his hard work and help that he has given the constituents of LD32 and my office. We welcome our new Legislative Aide, Travis Waldron, who is from LD32 having grown up in Geneva and graduated from Fillmore Central High School. Travis previously worked for Nebraska Farmers Union where he focused on policy affecting rural Nebraska. We are very excited to have a Legislative Aide from our district, which is a rare thing among senators’ offices.
The 108th Legislative Session begins on Wednesday, January 4th, and will run until early June. The first two weeks of the session are devoted to bill introduction and I plan to introduce 12 bills this session. A few of them include:
In future columns I will go into further explanation of these bills as I introduce them and the hearings get scheduled.
If you have questions or concerns about these bills or others, feel free to contact me or my legislative staff. You can also stay up to speed on bills by subscribing to the Unicameral Update by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 402-471-2788. The Unicameral Update is free of charge.
Thank you for choosing me to represent you in your Nebraska State Legislature and I look forward to hearing your views on legislation this session.
According to a letter from the Nebraska Auditor’s Office, DHHS was awarded $41,180,965 in Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) funds through the American Rescue Plan Act.
Sen. Tom Brandt, who sponsored a bill in the legislature to change the State’s LIHEAP program, told KETV it’s an amount additional to and similar in size to what Nebraska gets for an entire year.
“Ten percent of that, under the new law, was to go toward the weatherization program,” Brandt said.
“Disappointed,” Brandt said when he found out about the auditor’s report. “Not surprised, but disappointed that our state agencies can’t get this funding that was intended to help people in weatherization.”
“When you have a state agency that just uses its power to move the monies where it wants to move the monies to, that’s not what should’ve happened here folks,” Brandt said.
While Brandt re-emphasized his disappointment, he said he’s not sure if any more can be done at the state level to ensure funds are properly spent.
“The intent of the new LIHEAP bill is very clear,” he said. “Ninety percent is to be used for LIHEAP, 10% for weatherization. I don’t know how you can get more clear than that.”
Santa has been good to Legislative District 32 this year. Santa’s gift came early this year in the form of the South Beltway in Lincoln opening six months ahead of schedule. Construction started in May 2020 and was supposed to be completed in May 2023 but the weather and the way the road was financed allowed it to be finished earlier. I had the opportunity to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony last Wednesday for the beltway which is an absolute game-changer for traffic in and around Lincoln, and is the largest project ever undertaken by Nebraska’s Department of Transportation, clocking in at $352 million.
The entire project includes the paving of 60 lane miles of roadway and the construction of 21 bridges, 39 box culverts and five roundabouts. The western entrance to the new beltway is on US 77 near Saltillo Road and is located in LD32. The entire 4-lane beltway goes for 11 miles from US 77 and connects back to Highway 2 around 120th Street. The streets that formally encompassed Highway 2 through Lincoln have been renamed Nebraska Parkway. More construction work still needs to be done, including the 27th and 84th streets exits which are expected to be completed by May 2024. I want to thank the workers, engineers, planners, Hawkins Construction, subcontractors and fellow senators that made the South Beltway happen.
Beyond Santa’s kindness, the South Beltway also received a $25-million federal grant obtained by U.S. Senator Deb Fischer as well as $50 million in funding from the City of Lincoln. Also, in 2019, the Legislature passed a bill that allowed the state to pay off the cost of the Lincoln South Beltway project over eight years, rather than all at once. In 2021, I introduced a similar bill that would allow counties to pay for bridges in installment payments. Unfortunately that bill did not garner the same support, but I plan to re-introduce a version in January.
In broadband news, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released an initial draft of a national map showing in greater detail what locations in the country have broadband service. The prior map was used to distribute federal dollars and has been criticized because of its lack of detail about service availability. Because of that, in 2020 Congress ordered the FCC to take a more granular approach. The new map attempts to show whether or not every location in the country has service. The Commerce Department is planning to allocate $42 billion from the federal infrastructure law’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program to states on June 30.
States, localities, and the general public have until January 13th to challenge the map’s accuracy with the FCC before the billions in broadband funding are divided up between states based on what percentage of residents lack high-speed internet. Anyone (that means you!) can check their address and see if it accurately shows whether they have broadband service. If the map is incorrect, you can file a challenge. Nebraskans are now going to be able to raise their hands and say whether or not they have access. Please visit https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home to make sure your address is accurately represented.
Another chapter in the former site of the Girls Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Center in Geneva.
It’s now on the auction block.
That’s less than half of what taxpayers spent just three years ago to fix it up.
“I’m disappointed especially since the state has so many behavioral health needs and someday, we may require a campus,” said State Sen. Tom Brandt. He represents the district that Geneva is in.
Geneva’s outgoing mayor Eric Kamler said it was a disappointment a deal couldn’t be worked out.
“This issue is one of the biggest disappointments of my time as mayor of Geneva. The city council voted unanimously in May 2022 to decline the DAS offer to obtain the campus. I am hopeful that Mayor-elect Lightwine and the Geneva City Council will work with DHHS on finding a new home for their Geneva Call Center to keep the jobs in Geneva where they belong,” Kamler said.
Brandt echoed that hope.
“We want to make sure that all 35 of those jobs stay in the community of Geneva because now they are selling the office building that these people work in and they are being forced to relocate to other quarters,” Brandt said.
From the Fairbury Journal-News:
Broadband expansion in Nebraska, particularly in rural, under-served areas, continues to be a priority for government officials both locally and statewide. On Tuesday, November 15, 2022, Senator Tom Brandt, District 32, met with Jefferson County Commissioners to discuss plans for the upcoming legislative session. Brandt said, “We will reintroduce (Legislative Bill) 460 that removes the restrictions on public power in the state of Nebraska. I think that’ll move forward.” Brandt sponsored LB 460, which was intended to authorize leasing of dark fiber and eliminate certain powers of the Public Service Commission.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week enjoying time together with family, delicious food, and football. I was thankful for all our blessings and how much God has given us. In the spirit of giving thanks, I would like to spend this column honoring our fallen heroes.
Earlier this month on Veteran’s Day, the Nebraska Capitol Commission and the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs celebrated the centennial of Armistice Day and of the laying of the cornerstone of the Nebraska State Capitol. In 1918, an armistice was signed to end combat in World War I, where hundreds of Nebraskans had fallen. One hundred years ago in 1922, thousands of Nebraskans gathered at the Capitol site for the cornerstone dedication, including veterans of the Civil War all the way up to the Great War, as World War I was known then. The memory of those who fell in the service of their country is engraved in the cornerstone. There are directions to view the cornerstone at the ground floor north door of the Capitol.
The Global War on Terror took the lives of many of our military servicemembers who fought to uphold our freedom. Right now in the State Capitol is the exhibit Remembering Our Fallen that brings awareness to fallen soldiers of the War on Terror. The memorial includes post-9/11 fallen heroes who called Nebraska home. Those who died in training, in combat zones and from PTSD later at home are all included, and more additions to Fallen can be made as family members provide information. I was moved viewing the Capitol exhibit and reflected on the freedoms I enjoy from the ultimate sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Some of the Fallen from LD32 and surrounding communities include:
To add a name or make a donation, you can go to RememberingOurFallen.org. Man does not die until he is forgotten.
There is also a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of the exhibit at the Capitol. In Arlington Cemetery, there are Tombs of the Unknown Soldier for World Wars I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The tomb in the Capitol is a half-size replica, an above ground stone coffin with engravings and sculptures and is decorated with wreaths and flags. The tomb states: Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.
I strongly encourage you to come to the Capitol to view the exhibit, which is in the center of the ground floor until Friday December 9th, and spend some time remembering our fallen.
Last Wednesday, 10/11 NOW reached out to state senators to find out what the next steps for the new voter ID law will look like.
State Senator Tom Brandt, who represents Jefferson, Saline, Thayer and Fillmore counties along with a portion of Lancaster County, said there are many things to consider before the law goes into effect like the types of ID’s that will be accepted and if there will be any impacts to early voting.
State Senator Tom Brandt has been re-elected by the voters of Legislative District 32 to serve a second four-year term in the Nebraska Legislature. “I want to thank the 11,150 people of District 32 who voted for me in the general election, and all of my supporters. I look forward to continuing to represent you in the Legislature,” Brandt said. “We have accomplished a lot in four years, including historic tax cuts, the elimination of taxes on social security, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars for rural broadband, creating a statewide farm to school system and providing grants for small meat processors, but there is still a lot of work to do. Over the next legislative session and four years, I look forward to working with Governor-elect Jim Pillen to further lower property taxes and to address the school funding crisis that leaves too many of our rural school districts without state aid.”
To further his focus on rural broadband and improving the infrastructure of the district and state, Senator Brandt has announced that he is running for Chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. “With term-limits, Chair Curt Friesen will not be in the Legislature next year and he will be missed. I am stepping up my service to run for a committee that is a natural fit to my areas of expertise and interest, particularly rural broadband and fixing our roads,” Senator Brandt remarked. The vote for committee chairmanships is the first day of the new session, Wednesday January 4th.
First elected to the Legislature in 2018, Brandt advanced from the 2022 primary unopposed. “I will continue working hard for the state of Nebraska,” Brandt stated. “Since being elected, I have met with and listened to the people of LD 32, passed legislation and provided constituent services, and I will continue to do that as your Senator for the next four years in your Nebraska Legislature.”
It has been a tough couple of weeks coming to grips with the grass and cropland fires in and near LD32. There were fires in southern Lancaster County, including Firth and Hallam, Saline County at Swanton, Jefferson County near Fairbury, and neighboring Gage and Nuckolls counties. What we know is that a fire started in Gage County and burned its way to the Olive Creek State Recreation Area in Lancaster County on the afternoon of October 23rd. According to the State Fire Marshal Agency, the fire was accidental, caused by a farmer operating a shredder near Southwest 86th Street and West Apple Road. The fire spread north into Lancaster County where it burned parts of a 6-square-mile area between Southwest 86th and Southwest 100th streets from Gage Road to Panama Road west of Hallam.
The fire injured two Crete volunteer firefighters – one seriously – and destroyed three homes in southern Lancaster County. Many were evacuated and could not return home until the following morning. One of the firefighters, Doane University professor Brad Elder, was injured with third degree burns after he tripped over something, Crete Fire Chief Tod Allen said. He suffered burns on 20% of his body and will remain hospitalized for at least a month. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brad and his family. If you would like to help cover his medical expenses, you can contribute to his Go Fund Me page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/5uc2q5-brads-medical-expenses.
It was an unfortunate perfect storm that fueled the fires: drought conditions, unseasonably warm temperatures, low humidity and a continuous wind with gusts from the south as high as 55 mph, according to the National Weather Service. While the damage is heartbreaking, it could have been a lot worse without the quick reaction of over 30 fire departments and countless farmers. Farmers got their discs out and created firebreaks around residences, while turning on available pivots to wet down the fields.
Thankfully, the Norris Public Schools campus was spared damage and students returned the following Monday after a late start. Superintendent Brian Maschmann said some staff members and students had to leave their homes because evacuation orders were issued. Luckily the fires did not get close to the Norris campus, Maschmann said. Fire did come within a few miles of the Monolith Carbon Black Plant who immediately initiated their incident command team and have since held a town hall in Hallam on ways to support recovery.
I want to extend my appreciation and eternal gratitude to everybody that came together to fight the fires and help their community. That includes the volunteer firefighters, law enforcement agencies, emergency managers, farmers, school staff and neighbors helping neighbors. I’m proud of you and fortunate to live among you. The generous spirit of LD32 never ceases to amaze me. In the days and weeks ahead there will be damage to assess and pieces to pick up. Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything I can do to help you or someone you know, or help you get in touch with the people or department that can. Together, we will stay Nebraska Strong.
Please keep the residents, homeowners, farmers, firefighters and other emergency responders of Southern Lancaster and Northern Gage counties in your thoughts and prayers today as they deal with the aftermath of yesterday’s fires, especially the injured firefighters. Thank you to all the firefighters and the farmers who turned on their center pivots and used farm equipment to assist in fighting the blaze. You will hear more from me in the coming days as the situation becomes clearer and more details are released. In the meantime, stay Nebraska strong!
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