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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.
From Nebraska Examiner coverage:
State lawmakers [gave] 43-0 first-round approval to a bill that would set up a working group to seek Nebraska’s designation as one of four “regional clean hydrogen hubs” in the U.S. working to expand use of the green fuel.
The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act set aside $8 billion to create four national hydrogen hubs to link up producers of hydrogen with industrial users and expand the use of hydrogen to generate power or fuel planes and vehicles.
State Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, who sponsored Legislative Bill 1099, called Nebraska a “prime candidate” to become one of the hubs, in large part due to the large-scale production of clean hydrogen by Monolith Materials and because of the state’s central location.
That company, which moved from California to Nebraska in 2018, produces clean hydrogen and carbon black using natural gas. Carbon black has a variety of uses, including in tires and other rubber products. But Bostelman said carbon black has traditionally been produced using oil, which is a much dirtier process than using natural gas.
Monolith plans to use most of its hydrogen to produce anhydrous ammonia fertilizer as part of a $1 billion expansion of its Hallam, Nebraska, plant later this year. It would become the state’s largest user of electricity, officials said.
Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, who is a farmer, praised the Monolith project, which is in his legislative district. Not only has the company created 90 good-paying, “clean energy” jobs and invested $100 million in its existing plant, he said, but it will create another 200 jobs with its expansion.
“It’s an economic success story for the State of Nebraska,” Brandt said.
Brandt said that will benefit farmers, who have seen costs of the fertilizer rise from $400 a ton to $1,500 a ton. The U.S. is the largest importer of anhydrous ammonia in the world.
Early childhood education programs are included in the Nebraska farm-to-school program under a bill given final approval Feb. 28.
Lawmakers created the program in 2021 with passage of a bill sponsored by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt that requires the state Department of Education to administer a program to help provide locally grown and minimally processed food to elementary and secondary school students in Nebraska.
LB758, introduced by Brandt this session, expands the law to include early childhood education programs licensed under the state’s Child Care Licensing Act.
Senators passed the bill on a 46-0 vote.
Sen. Tom Brandt hopes to form a domestic abuse review team to see what more can be done to prevent [deaths due to domestic abuse].
Family members who have had loved ones killed in this horrible way spoke out.
“My mom was shot to death in her own home by a person she worked so hard to protect herself from,” Andie Koch said. “Because of these real-life experiences, I strongly believe Nebraska needs more laws surrounding domestic violence and protection orders.”
Koch lived a nightmare as she watched her mom deal with domestic violence, and ultimately lose her life to it.
She and others shared their stories to help others.
“Doing what we are doing right now is I think what our mom would want us to do: to help save other women from domestic assault relationships or even murders,” Koch said. “It means a lot to a lot of families, I think.”
Chad Christiansen said, “For me and my family, it’s just the ability to know that my sister’s death isn’t in vain and that we are trying to fix a system that’s broken and that failed her, so that it doesn’t fail future families.”
The domestic abuse review team would evaluate domestic abuse cases to see where law enforcement, the government or nonprofits could step in and do more to prevent deaths.
The bill would also give smaller communities more help to fight this problem.
“Three of my four counties, the sheriff is the law enforcement for the entire county, and they are stretched very thin,” Brandt said. “Anything that we can do to enhance their ability to stop domestic violence and stop domestic violence from escalating to death, we are more than willing to look at.”
Nebraska is one of only nine states that do not have something like this already in place. The other 41 states are seeing success with their programs.
“Oftentimes, the victim of the domestic violence has a protection order, or a PO, out there, and it’s a piece of paper. A piece of paper often doesn’t stop someone from walking through the piece of paper and doing some serious harm to the victim,” Brandt said. “Can we as a state do some things to calm things down and keep people apart until calmer heads prevail? That is what the intent of this bill is.”
We are getting towards the end of hearings on bills introduced in the 2022 session, with the last day of hearings being March 3rd, after which the Legislature will turn to all-day debate, including late nights. This also means that winter is almost over and we are headed towards spring! I would like to highlight two of my bills that have had hearings recently with powerful testimony.
The first is LB756, which had its hearing on February 17th in the Health and Human Services Committee. The bill eliminates reference to “clandestine drug lab” and replaces it with the language “contaminated property” and changes meth reporting procedures and enforcement to include public health authorities. The bill came from our office working with Peggy Galloway, Director of Jefferson County Diversion Services, and Mark Shroenrock, Chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, who both testified along with Jefferson County Attorney Joe Casson about the dangers of meth, particularly the effects on innocent children living in contaminated residences. We need to make sure these contaminated properties are properly cleaned before they are being rented or sold again.
The number one drug threat over the last 20 years in rural and urban communities in Nebraska is methamphetamine, and it has gotten more accessible and cheaper over that time. The amount of meth seized in Nebraska has surged almost 300% in the last five years with law enforcement agencies confiscating 768 pounds in 2021, including meth spiked with fentanyl which renders it more potent and deadly. According to Acting U.S. Attorney Jan Sharp, meth is now found in Nebraska’s biggest cities, smallest towns and within the state’s tribal reservations, so I am going to do what I can to address this.
The other bill is LB 1009, which would adopt the Domestic Abuse Death Review Act, and had its hearing last Friday. LB 1009 creates a Domestic Abuse Review Team to be appointed by the Attorney General, whose office we have been working with on the bill and who testified in support at the hearing. We also heard heart-wrenching testimonies from the families of domestic abuse victims and the need to do everything we can to prevent these kinds of deaths from happening to anyone else. The bill seeks to prevent future domestic abuse deaths by analyzing the incidence, causes, and contributing factors of domestic abuse deaths in this state and developing recommendations through an annual report. Nebraska is one of only nine states that does not have such a death review team.
When a software aspect of a piece of farm equipment fails, someone from the dealership needs to come out and fix it, which can turn into an expensive repair.
LB 543 would take out the need for a dealership representative from having to come fix it.
State Senator Tom Brandt … says that as a farmer, if he broke a piece of steel on a tractor or combine he could it himself, but if it was a software issue it was another story. Brandt says even though this is new to farm equipment, the legislation is not.
“When you go through small-town Nebraska, any town Nebraska, the reason you have independent mechanics still fixing modern cars and trucks is because they had the same thing happen in 2012,” Brandt said.
Farmers and ranchers have also spoken out against the regulations, with one saying the whole process is frustrating.
“We’re isolated where we live an hour in good time to get to town for the technician to get out here, and then getting satellite service to download the information while they’re out here is almost impossible so all-in-all it’s really frustrating,” rancher Scott Potmesil said.
Nebraska could be the first state to give farmers the right to repair their own equipment.
Farmer Doug Bartek grows corn and soybeans near Lincoln and says dealerships are unfairly passing the burden of fixing equipment onto producers. “The price of repairs at our local dealerships is getting just astronomical.”
State Senator Tom Brandt, a farmer and Republican from Plymouth, has introduced legislation that would require dealerships to provide access to digital repairs. “They really don’t want to see this so it can be business as usual. It’s been a good revenue stream to send a mechanic or technician with the laptop computer. They come to your farm, plug it in and reset your system.”
He says although several states have previously introduced similar legislation, measures stalled.
Brandt tells Brownfield that’s where farmers pay the price. “A modern machine will not start until it’s been recent. They usually charge a mechanic’s wage for that guy to come out. That might be $140 an hour for him to come out, plug the computer in, resent your machine so your machine will start that you made the repair to and the clock doesn’t stop until the guy gets back to the dealership.”
Brandt says he hopes this puts pressure on the major dealerships to sign a national memorandum of understanding that would create a platform for owners and third-party mechanics to have access to digital repairs.