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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).
Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt offered an amendment, adopted 40-0, to include provisions of his LB1009. The amendment would create a nine-member Domestic Abuse Death Review Team appointed by the Nebraska attorney general. The team would 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.
Brandt said Nebraska is one of only nine states without such a review team.
“The purpose of the team is to prevent future domestic abuse deaths,” Brandt said. “Domestic abuse related deaths are devastatingly common and we can best honor the lives of victims and their families by learning from these experiences.”
I would like to thank the team at Monolith for the presentation and tour of their facilities in Hallam on Monday, and for all the senators and staff that took the time to attend the tour and presentation. We learned how carbon black is made and the cleaner, decarbonized process that Monolith uses. I am grateful to have job creators like Monolith in LD32 that attract new talent to Nebraska as well as bring locals back home to work.
Last week we heard debate on some of the budget bills, including LB1011 – the budget adjustment bill, LB1012 – the funds transfer bill, and LB1013 – the cash reserve transfer bill, all of them introduced by Speaker Mike Hilgers, at the request of Governor Ricketts. Short sessions are generally considered an easier budgeting year because the heavy lifting of setting the two-year budget has been completed in the prior long session, but that was not the case this year with hours of debate from filed amendments that elicited discussion on changes to the budget and the corrections and inmate overcrowding crisis, led by retiring Judiciary Committee Chair Steve Lathrop.
For their 2022 budget adjustments, the Appropriations committee was dealing with a net $775 million increase in available funds for this biennium. The Appropriations Committee proposed budget adjustment then utilizes $349.3 million of this net amount, leaving $453.6 million above the 3% minimum reserve. This amount, the $453.6 million, is what is available for legislative bills or revenue reduction, i.e., what is available for the Legislature to put toward enactment of legislation with a revenue impact.
Approximately $1.035 billion will be credited to the Cash Reserve Fund as the result of the increased revenue collections and forecasts bringing the unobligated balance in that fund to $1.842 billion. The Appropriations Committee proposed budget utilizes $513 million, leaving an unobligated balance of $1.329 billion.
Since the Legislature adjourned in 2021 more than $2 billion in additional revenues have been received or projected over the three years that impact the current biennium budget and that does not include the additional $1.04 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to allocate this year as well, which will be debated this week as LB1014. My request for $10 million for small and medium meat processors was included in the Governor’s ARPA proposal and now LB1014.
We still have at least one week of debate on all of the above mentioned fiscal bills and we will be debating tax reduction bills this week. Tax reduction would be the right course to take with all the extra funds available this year. The extra money needs to be returned to the people and an appropriate cushion needs to be maintained in the state’s rainy day fund for when times are lean.
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