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The dust has settled. Signatures have been gathered, lawsuits have been dismissed, and therefore the Medicaid expansion “question” will be placed on the November ballot. Now the real question, “is Medicaid expansion right for Nebraska”? The simple answer is no, and I would like to take this opportunity to explain why expanding Medicaid will do more harm than good for all Nebraskans.
The Medicaid expansion measure that you will be voting on in November would extend coverage out to those living at 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which amounts to an estimated 90,000 Nebraskans. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing, however the expansion will have an opposite effect on our State’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, namely the some low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Medicaid expansion will add 90,000 patients to an already overburdened Heritage Health system. Heritage Health is our State’s Medicaid program. The results will be our most vulnerable citizens will be “crowded out” for services. Currently, for traditional Medicaid the federal government reimburses physicians for patients at the rate of 53%. The remainder is paid for by the state. Under “expanded” Medicaid, the federal government reimburses physicians for those particular patients at 90%. The number of physicians who take Medicaid patients is rapidly falling. Medicaid patients cost physicians more because the program pays less than traditional health insurance. Having a Medicaid card in your wallet does not mean you’ll be able to actually have access to the healthcare you need. Case in point, my office has been working with an elderly a gentleman from Hastings to find a dentist that will accept Medicaid. The closest dentist accepting NEW Medicaid patients was in Grand Island. The situation will only get worse as we add more people to the Medicaid rolls.
Medicaid expansion always turns out to be more expensive than originally projected. The original cost for Medicaid expansion in Nebraska was projected to be $45 million per year, but that cost is more realistically projected to be $90 million. States that implement Medicaid expansion have found that it has been at least 50% more expensive than originally forecasted. For example, in Iowa the per-member Medicaid costs have nearly tripled.
One way costs have increased is by underestimating the number of new patients that were added to the system. In Nebraska the estimated number of 90,000 new Medicaid eligible patients may itself be low. Making eligibility for expanded Medicaid solely based on an income threshold could incentivize some individuals to quit their job or reduce their hours in order to quality for “free” healthcare. This could come at a time of historically low unemployment in Nebraska. As a state we are already challenged to fill work positons, why would we want to add another incentive not to work?
Additionally the 90% paid by the federal government for expanded Medicaid patients is not set in stone. Our country has a $21 trillion fiscal operating debt. We’re adding about $1 trillion to that every year. This debt, or at least the mounting interest on debt, has to be paid. The federal government, looking for ways to reduce expenditures, could easily decide to cut the rate for which they reimburse Medicaid expansion from 90% to the 53% level they now pay for traditional Medicaid patients. This is a potential nightmare situation for the state of Nebraska. If the expanded Medicaid is passed by the voters, the Legislature will already be challenged to find the funds to pay for our 10% portion by either raising taxes or making cuts to other crucial programs such as other services provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and K-12 funding and higher education. I shudder to think of the millions of extra dollars the state of Nebraska would have to come up with by either increasing taxes or diverting from other programs, if the federal government changes their reimbursement rates on expanded Medicaid.
If expanded Medicaid passes in November by the vote of the people, 1 in 5 Nebraskans will be part of the welfare system. The success of a government welfare program should not be measures measured by the number of people we can add but rather by the number of people who can become independent of welfare programs. As a state, expanded Medicaid is simply impractical, unsustainable and unaffordable.
During my last address I stated that I was encouraged that Speaker Scheer took control after hours of directionless debate on tax relief by directing the major sponsors’ of tax relief bills to meet with him in his office on Saturday to see if they find some common ground. Unfortunately, the talks broke down with no comprise being reached. Therefore Speaker was not willing to bring the tax relief bills to the floor on Monday for debate as promised.
I along with twelve other Senators feel that this outcome is simply unacceptable. The good people of Nebraska deserve property tax relief and they deserve it now! Therefore the thirteen Senators of a like-mind sent a letter to the Secretary of State requesting a Special Session for the sole purpose of addressing property tax relief. The Secretary of State will now send a letter to the remaining thirty-six Senators informing them of the request for a special session. If a Senator agrees with a need for a special session to address property tax relief, he or she, has ten days to respond to the Secretary of State. Senators who do not believe that we need a special session to address property tax relief, need not respond to the Secretary of State. If by the ten day deadline, the Secretary of State receives an additional twenty letters from the Senators in the affirmative for a special session, the Secretary of State will notify the Governor that the Legislature, by their vote of thirty-three plus, are requesting the call for a special session. The Governor, as required by statute, SHALL call for special session within five days. If a special session is called, we as a legislature would reconvene by the end of this month
The call for a special session to address property tax relief in no way minimizes my support for the property tax relief ballot initiative. I fully support the ballot initiative. I further encourage you to go to WWW.YESTOPROPERTYTAXRELIEF.COM , again that is WWW.YESTOPROPERTYTAXRELIEF.COM to learn more about the ballot initiative and how to volunteer to help with the petition drive.
We did however, pass legislation that will cause your property taxes to go up. Supported by the Bankers Associations, who reported record banking profits last year, LB496 – workforce housing bill allows Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to cover construction cost on residential housing. The bill was one of the few bills this session which survived a filibuster effort by property tax relief proponents. TIF, by statute, was intended to be limited to blighted and substandard properties that already exists, not for development of new properties. TIF in the past has been limited to shifting property tax dollars intended for schools and other local county taxing entities to pay for public costs of city infrastructure. LB496 will allow bankers and real estate speculators to recoup as much 30% of their cost over 15 years. When taxes paid by citizens living in TIF’ed housing are not going towards schools and public safety, you will pay more! The Governor could veto LB496 and stop this tax shift.
Although the session has essentially ended for the year, my work is just beginning for the next biennium session. During the interim session I will be working closely with my staff and visiting with constituents throughout District #33 to draft legislation for January. I encourage you to reach out to my staff with any suggestions you may have on possible legislation ideas. Additionally, I have been selected by the Chairman of the Executive Committee to serve on a special interim committee to study possible improvements and changes to the standing committee system. The results of this committee’s recommendations could have significant impact on the standing committees. These standing committees are committees that hear testimony from you the “Second House.” I look forward to lending my skills and knowledge to this special committee.
Following the Easter Holiday break, we started the four late night session press. Tuesday morning session was filled with continuing talk about the Title X funding provision in the budget bill LB944. After Senators were able to get their thoughts on the record, the bill was passed and sent to the Governor for his signature.
Following the vote on fixing the budget shortfall left from last year, we as a body shifted our focus to LB947 – the Governor’s tax relief plan. As anticipated, the debate was heated. In a rare event both Senator Erdman from the panhandle and Senator Morfeld from Lincoln agreed on a bill. They are both concerned that this bill does not truly address the tax imbalance issues in Nebraska. LB947 was filibustered. Given the vote to bracket the bill failed by only 25-9, clearly the proponents of LB947 do not have the 33 votes necessary to end the filibuster, I don’t see this bill being brought back to the floor this session.
What frustrates me most is that LB947 was the only tax relief bill that made it to the floor for debate this session. We have several bills dealing with tax relief that were stuck in various committees. If no property tax relief bill gets passed this session, I am confident that the good people of Nebraska will successfully reach the 80,000 petition signatures needed to get a property tax initiative on the ballot! The initiative proposed would provide a $1.1 billion in property tax reductions that would be distributed through a state income tax refund or credit equal to 50 percent of local school property taxes paid by Nebraska taxpayers.
Moving on to other bills addressed this week, LB902 from Sen. Bruce Bostelman from Brainard, exempts from the state’s public-records the registration of guns , the possession of guns or sale of guns. The bill advanced to select file with a 32-0 vote on Tuesday. I agree with Senator Bostelman who stated during debate that, the bill would keep gun owners from being targeted for fraud, harassment or abuse, and it would also prevent abuse victims who own firearms from having their personal information published. It does allow law enforcement agencies to access those records if needed.
On Thursday my priority bill LB1058 – Adopt the The Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act was brought to the floor for debate. Article V Convention of States was written into the United States Constitution by our Founding Fathers as a safeguard against an all-powerful Federal Government, as I expected, opponents to the faithful delegate bill focused more on the concept of an Article V Convention rather than the intent of the bill which was to prepare the State of Nebraska for a call of a Convention of States by U.S. Congress by laying out who should be our delegates and rules which they can operate under. Their concerns of a “runaway convention” are fear tactics that remind me of the Chicken Little story where a small acorn falls on the head of Chicken Little and therefore the chicken assumes that the sky is falling.
There are so many safeguards built into the process that even if a crazy proposed amendment, note the key word proposed, such as removing the nineteenth amendment which guaranteed the right of citizens of United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Any proposed amendment would still have to be ratified by 38 of 50 state legislatures. That would mean the 76 different houses of state government must all pass a motion to ratify out of each of those houses. To pass ratification those same 76 houses, by a 51% majority, that would take roughly 2,800 elected state legislators, across 38 different states who MUST VOTE YES to ratify a proposed amendment and make it part of the United States Constitution! I could cite example after example of how the procedural processes during a Convention of States and the ensuing ratification process would keep the sky from falling.
Rather, I will focus on the fact that LB1058 fell ONLY two votes short of passing. I firmly believe that a faithful delegate bill to a called Convention of States will be passed by the Nebraska Legislature in the next year or two. With our national debt at 21 trillion dollars, which is rising every day, paired with the fact that our current Congress, and past Congresses have shown an unwillingness to act to fix their runaway spending, the people will rise up and demand a change. That change will come in the form of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the United State Constitution through a called Convention of States. Currently, 28 of 34 States, including the State of Nebraska, required to force Congress to call a Convention of States have submitted applications. We are just 6 states away! Once a call has been made by Congress, states will need to act and that is when having a faithful delegate already on the books will come extremely useful to prepare and provide guidance to our state delegates.
Friday’s big topic was LB1103 introduced by Senator Friesen. The bill would require that the state government would pay 25% of the basic education costs of each local school district. Senator Tom Briese filed an amendment AM2808 which, in its essence, is his bill LB1084 that was stuck in the Reveune Committee which is chaired by Senator Smith who is pushing his own bill LB947. Senator Briese’s amendment is a complex set of tax changes including: Increasing the state’s sales tax, increasing the state’s cigarette tax, and removing other tax exemptions to help pay for K-12 education funding. At the time of this recording, the debate was at a stalemate.
I was encouraged that Speaker Scheer took control after hours of directionless debate by instructing all of the sponsors of the respective tax relief bills to meet with him in his office on Saturday morning to discuss these bills and see if they find some common ground. He further promised that he would put on the agenda for Monday all of the tax relief bill that have already made it to the floor for debate. Which allow each of them to have full debate.
This week was “Visit the State Capitol Week” for District #33, or at least that is the way it felt. Four different schools of fourth-graders came on four separate days. Fourth-graders from Juniata Elementary, St. Michael’s School in Hastings, Longfellow Elementary in Hastings, and our last group which visited on Friday, Centura Public Schools in Cairo. It is always a pleasure to visit with our future leaders.
I would like to thank the seventy plus people who came out and participated in our most recent town hall meeting at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. We had excellent exchange on issues that concern people in District #33.
Late Wednesday night we finally passed LB944 – the main budget bill onto Select File. After days and days of heated debate mostly surrounding the Title X language of the bill. I want to commend Senators Bolz, Harr, Hilgers, Howard, Watermeier, and Wishart for working diligently together over the past few days in drafting AM2750 which created a comprise on the Title X language in the bill. The amendment clarifies that referrals for abortion would be limited to emergencies in which a physician determines a pregnancy would cause death or serious impairment of the woman’s physical health.
Additionally, neutral, factual, nondirective information about prenatal care and delivery and pregnancy termination would not constitute a referral for abortion. The bill still has two more rounds of votes before it can become law. My hope is that these rounds of debate will go smoothly and we can focus on other important bills still to be addressed. With just eight session day remaining, we still have one hundred and seven priority bills that have not made it to the floor for full debate.
I was very pleased to see that LB1040 offered by Senator Joni Albrecht of Thurston advanced. LB1040 offers commemorative birth certificates to mothers who suffer miscarriages before the 20th week of pregnancy. Currently we have commemorative birth certificates for children who have died after twenty week of gestation in statute. So this bill would now completely cover a medically diagnosed pregnancy from conception to birth. Senator Albrecht summed up the purpose and need for this bill when she said on the floor the bill was meant to help grieving families. It’s for those mothers forced to say goodbye to a child they loved and longed for, before they got to say hello. One in four women experience a miscarriage, she said, the majority within the first three months. Every pregnancy loss is a tragedy that has a profound impact on women and entire families.
LB1009 would allow the Nebraska Department of Transportation to raise highway speed limits. Many constituents have contacted my office over concerns of raising the interstate speed limit to 80 mph. I have the same concerns. Senator Murante, the bill’s sponsor, agreed to remove the interstate speed limit increase from the bill, and I supported the remaining speed increases. There is no good reason why there are two or three different speed limits on rural highways. Consistency of speeds I believe will increase safety.
This week also marked the beginning of the debate on consent calendar bills. Consent calendar bills are relatively noncontroversial by nature and they were voted out of committee unanimously by those members present. These bill are considered and are quickly advanced to the next legislative stage. Usually, a bill on consent calendar can be debated for no more than 15 minutes. This process is a very efficient way to dispense with “clean up” bills that address laws already in statute or bills that help state agencies work more efficiently and effectively. In just two days we advanced thirty-two consent calendar bills.
On Thursday, Senator Lydia Brasch requested a pull-motion for her bill LB1069. A pull-motion is a legislative procedure to move a bill that is stuck in committee to the floor for debate. It takes a majority vote of the body to pull a bill from committee. LB1069 is an update to the provisions related to the Committee on Americanism. After more than two hours of lively debate, the question was called. The vote was 27 yea’s 13 no’s and 9 not voting to pull the bill from committee. I voted in the affirmative. We need to educate our youth on the history and civic processes that make this the greatest nation in world.
Next Monday we will be addressing the Governor’s tax relief bill LB947. I am supportive of any property tax relief. I do have some concerns about LB947. I don’t feel this bill does enough fast enough on property tax relief. However, I am willing to listen to both my constituents and the debate on floor before I make a final decision on how to vote on this bill.
Just a reminder that I will have my last “Coffee with the Senator” l for this year’s legislative session on Saturday, April 7th , at the Medina Street Vault in Cairo. I hope to see you there!
On March 15, LB44 which is bill designed to collect state sales taxes already owed on internet purchases fell victim to a filibuster in the Legislature. Introduced and prioritized by Syracuse Senator Dan Watermeier, LB44 was introduced last session in an attempt to require larger online retailers with no physical presence in Nebraska to collect and remit sales taxes for purchases by Nebraska customers. The bill aims to provide parity between online retailers and those with brick-and-mortar facilities. This bill had made passage to final reading. Senator Watermeier agreed to pull LB44 back to Select File to consider an amendment to the bill. After debate, the bill failed to obtain a cloture vote. The bill will not be heard again this session.
Two other bills that were hit by the filibuster were LB873 and LB921. LB873 is an Urban Affairs Committee omnibus bill. An omnibus bill is a bill consisting of several bills with similar content areas rolled into one. The bill stalled because of the land bank provision of the bill. The land bank provision dealt with allowing local governments to set up a land bank. A land bank is an organization set up by local governments that can acquire vacant, abandoned, dilapidated, or properties deemed important to the community. The properties are rehabilitated and then sold. The concerns raised by some members of the Legislature is that these land bank organizations have too much non-public control and create an unfair business climate against private developers.
LB921 introduced by Senator Lowe from Kearney. This bill would lessen the licensing requirement by not requiring employees who are constructing a farm building but are only handling the electrical wiring and wiring components to be licensed. Employees who are doing the actual installation would also not need to be licensed if under direct supervision of someone with the appropriate license. The impetus for this bill has to do with the lack of licensed professionals. Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell opposed the bill and read a letter he received from the state electrical board, which indicated that the bill creates “serious safety concerns.” Debate ended without a vote.
We are scheduled to have eleven late nights out of the sixteen days we have left in the session. These will be very busy and long days ahead. Wednesday’s debate focused on LB944 which the is main budget bill. The bill’s debate last week solely focused on the Title X funding language in the bill. The first portion of the day’s debate was on the amount of funding cuts to the University of Nebraska system. Senator Erdman proposed an amendment to LB944 which would have increased the budget cuts to the University system that were closer to those funding cuts suggested by the Governor.
I was in agreement with Senator Kuehn of Heartwell when he said that this is not a case of either you are with the University or you are against it. This issue is not that simple. What we are looking at is the overall budget and role the University has in the budget. You can support the University while at the same time examining the operational efficiencies of University. After several hours of debate the question was called, debate ceased, and the amendment failed on a vote of ten for, thirty-two against, and seven present not voting. Following the failed amendment by Senator Erdman, Senator Wishart proposed an amendment to once again address the Title X language in the bill. Title X funds are granted by the Federal Government to be disbursed to women’s healthcare services within the federal requirements that none of these funds can be used for abortion or for referrals to abortion clinics. After two hours of debate, Senator Stinner requested a cloture vote on the entire bill. The cloture vote failed, so debate ended and we moved onto the next bill on the agenda.
On Friday Speaker Scheer brought LB944 back to floor for debate based on the promises made by several filibustering Senators that they would vote for cloture after two hours. The two hours were consumed by further discussions on the Title X provision. At the two hour mark, the Speaker invoked cloture. The cloture vote failed by two votes. The Speaker, rightly so, in my opinion, then chastised those Senators who gave their word that he/she would vote for cloture and then instead voted no or not voting. When LB944 will be brought up again for debate is unclear, hopefully Monday. However, we as a Legislature must pass the budget in the next 12 days to avoid line-item vetoes by the governor that can’t be addressed. If the bill isn’t passed, the state would revert to the two-year budget approved in 2017. This could lead to a need to call for a special session towards the end of the fiscal year ending in June.
Late Wednesday night LB1081 which became an Education Committee omnibus bill did pass onto Select File. One bill that was rolled into this omnibus bill was the third grade reading proficiency bill LB651 by Senator Linehan. This particular bill was a hot topic at many of my town hall meetings last year. To alleviate some of those concerns raised, I can tell you that the bill was modified from its original language by removing the most controversial portion of the bill which dealt with the issue that if students by end of third grade were not deemed proficient in reading, those students would not be promoted to the fourth grade. With the removal of this portion of the bill, I feel this piece of legislation will help our schools focus on the importance of reading to overall student success in the classroom. We learn to read so we then can read to learn.
LB778 which would require voter approval for school district building levies introduced by Senator Groene from North Platte was a contentious bill. The bill would simply clarify that special tax/building fund could not be used to build a new school building or add additional footage to existing school buildings or purchase. The bill would give voters more say in the process by requiring a bond vote by the public. The bill did not have enough votes to invoke cloture, so the bill failed.
Just a reminder that I will have two “Coffee with the Senator” left in this year’s legislative session. The first town hall will be Saturday, March 31st at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings and the second meeting will be Saturday, April 7th at the Medina Street Vault in Cairo. Both meetings will start at 9:00 a.m. I hope to see you there!
We have already reached the 2/3 point of the session for this year. As this is my first short-session, I am finding out that these short-sessions are even more intense than the longer 90 day sessions. We have less time to address the important issues facing the Legislature. This is especially true when we have to deal with a budget shortfall during a short session. It is my fundamental belief that we as a state, just like you and I have to do at home, we must learn to live within our means. When revenues are down, we must find ways to reduce spending, while maintaining our priorities and planning for the future. It’s not an easy set of tasks, but it is necessary if we want a secure future for ourselves and the future generations of Nebraskans.
Making tough choices comes with the job of being a State Senator. LB998, which would create the Collaborative School Behavioral Mental Health Program is one such of those tough choices. The bill would create a program where each Educational Services Unit (ESU) would hire a social worker to train teachers, and school personnel to work with parents, schools and providers in the delivery and receipt of effective, family-centered services. On the surface this looks like a great idea to help and train teachers, parents, and school administrators about options to help students with certain needs. However, when you dig a little deeper, there are two concerns that I and many of my fellow Senators have with this bill.
First, we already have resource officers placed in every school. These new positions would amount to a duplication of services already available. The second concern dovetails with first concern because it would add additional FTE’s for the school boards. Yes, the bill does provide private funding for three years, but what happens after three years? Would additional private funding continue to provide funding? More likely, the burden for this program would fall on the shoulders of local school boards to fund this expense after three years. Once a program like this is started, rarely does it go away. So, while on the surface this bill appears to be a good thing, we as a legislature, need to examine what services are already in place as well as the impact a bill will have on our state in the future. The bill had three hours of debate and no action was taken on the bill. Therefore it is likely that this bill will be indefinitely postponed.
Tuesday was our first scheduled late night debate session and we took the full measure of that time by debating till almost midnight. The day was focused on the three budget bills. LB946 authorized the transfer of $100 million dollars from our “Rainy Day Fund” to the General Fund to help address the budget shortfall. This transfer will leave just $296 million dollars in this fund. Within just two years we have cut this fund in half! If we continue down this path, the fund will soon be empty. This is alarming to me. What happens if we are mandated to build more prisons because of lawsuit brought by the ACLU? Where will the $500 million dollars plus to build a new prison come from in our budget? It’s not “raining” right now, we should not be tapping the “Rainy Day Fund” at this time, and we as a legislature should be focusing on fair and balanced cuts to all state agencies.
LB945 authorizes the transfer of cash funds from state agencies to the General Fund. These are agency cash reserve funds and much like the “Rainy Day Fund” we will run out money from these funds as well. Therefore when agencies, for example, need to upgrade computers and software to better care for the people they serve they will not have the money. So instead of replacing and upgrading over time with the cash reserves they have on hand, they will be forced to request an appropriation from the General Fund over and above their operating budget. Both LB 946 and LB945 are short sided stop-gap measures to get us through the year. We, as a Legislature, need to be engaging in more long term planning.
The bulk of Tuesday afternoon and evening debate was on LB944, the main budget bill proposed by the Governor and modified by the Appropriation Committee. The majority of the debate focused on the section dealing with Title X funding for medical clinics. The bill would mandate “objective independence” for healthcare clinics that perform abortions as well as family planning healthcare services. Any clinic that performs abortions would have to show legal, physical and financial separation of abortion services with other services they offer. The reason for adding this provision bill is to ensure that the State of Nebraska will be in full compliance with the Federal Government’s requirement that no monies from Title X funding can be used for abortion services. The concern arose that we as State might be jeopardy of losing these Federal funds from an audit that Planned Parenthood used 6% of their allocated Title X funds for abortion services.
My office received impassioned correspondence, both for and against, the Title X provision of this bill. I believe a lot of mis-information is out there about how exactly this provision would effect healthcare services across the state. First, clinics that do not perform abortion services would be not effected at all. They would continue to receive their Title X funds as they have in past. Second, those clinics that do perform abortions can continue to receive Title X funds for those non-abortion related services they now perform. They just have to clearly demonstrate the legal, physical and financial separation of these services to guarantee that no Title X funds were used for abortion services as mandated by the Federal Government. This provision of the bill DOES NOT take away Title X funding from the state nor does it deny healthcare services.
With the six hours dedicated to debating this bill focused on the Title X provision, we as body were unable to discuss the across-the-board reductions to higher education and other state agencies before a cloture vote was taken. This leaves us just two more rounds of debate to address these very controversial aspects of the bill. The debate on the bill is far from over.
Working with good people from Cairo Nebraska, I have made arrangements to have a Coffee with the Senator at the Medina Street Vault for 9:00 a.m., Saturday, April 7th.
I have been very encouraged with the progress we as a Legislature have been making this week. We have kept filibustering to minimum, and that is a good thing. This is not to say that we have not had lively debate on some of the more controversial bills.
One such bill that effects all of Nebraska, but more so to the rural areas such as District 33, is LB98 which would extend certain levy authority for natural resources districts. This bill would allow local NRD’s to extend the maximum three cent levy authority for fully or over-appropriated districts until 2025-2026. The current law in statute which allows for this three cent override is set to sunset in 2019. The origin of the levy override was created to help NRD’s manage the water conservation issues that arose a little over a decade ago. It was part of Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act. The majority of local NRD’s have already met the goals they set before the 2019 sunset date. Therefore, the program did what it was supposed to do and it is no longer needed. If we extend the sunset date we are essentially allowing a tax increase. I am against any tax increase, especially one that is not needed.
Speaking of making sure we don’t increase taxes for Nebraskans, I voted to advance LB1090. LB 1090 would restore the $134 personal exemption credit that was effectively repealed by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The bill also establishes the Nebraska standard deduction at $6,750 for single taxpayers and $9,900 for head of household filers. The standard deductions for married, filing jointly returns, is double the standard deduction for single returns. By passing this bill, we will ensure that Nebraskans will keep more money in their pockets.
The debate of how to address the current budget shortfall should start to be addressed within the next week on the floor of the Legislature. LB944, which was proposed by the Governor and sponsored by the Chair of Revenue Committee, Senator Jim Smith of Papillion, has had several amendments added to the bill based on discussions with Senators and negotiations with the members of the Appropriation Committee. One area that has received a lot media attention and heavy handed lobbying by the University of Nebraska is the proposed budget cuts to the University of Nebraska system. I predict there will be lively debate on this issue. The question I have to ask to the University is, If you are not willing to take the proposed cuts of just 4 percent while other state agencies have already taken deeper cuts ranging from 5 to 8 percent during the biennium session last year, from what other state services would you suggest we make additional cuts over and above the cuts we are already requesting they take now? Does it come from Health and Human Services that provide a lot of the services to the most-vulnerable people in the state?
If we take more money from the State’s rainy day fund, which has around $296 million dollars, we will have less in our cash reserves, as a state, than the University currently holds in their own cash funds. So the University wants the state to use it’s cash reserves rather than tapping into their own cash reserves when times are tough. We have already dipped into our cash reserves to address the $900 million dollar budget shortfall last year. In June 2017, the state had cash reserves of $680 million dollars. So in just two years we have cut our cash reserves in half. I feel it’s time for the University of Nebraska to step up and do it’s part! Just as a point of reference, salaries for administrators within the University system have rose by 22 percent in just three years. Within the same time frame, other state agencies salaries have risen 8.1 percent.
On a lighter note, it was pleasure to host Pastor Eddie Goff from New Hope Baptist Church of Hastings. He gave the Friday morning Legislative prayer. My Assistant, Alex Gage, then gave the Pastor a tour of the State Capitol. I would like to personally thank Pastor Eddie Goff, Pastor Paul Warneke from Zion Lutheran Church in Hastings, and Reverend Greg Allen Pickett from First Presbyterian Church of Hastings, who generously offered their time and talents in delivering the morning prayer at the State Capitol this year. It was an honor to have them represent District 33.
Just a reminder that the last Coffee with the Senator for this session is scheduled for 9:00 a.m., Saturday, March 31st, at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. I hope to see you there!
On Monday we debated and passed onto select file a very important omnibus bill dealing with opiate prescriptions. Opiate addiction has become an epidemic situation across our great nation. I am proud to say that your Nebraska Legislature is taking a proactive approach in handling this serious issue. LB931 which would provide requirements for opiate and controlled substance prescriptions was originally introduced by Senator Howard from Omaha. This bill, through the committee process, was combined with similar legislation introduced by Senators Kuehn and Linstrom. This new version of the bill is truly a bipartisan effort.
LB931 would essentially prohibit healthcare practitioners prescribing more than a “seven-day supply” of opioid pain relievers to a patient younger than nineteen. A practitioner desiring to prescribe opioids to such a patient for the first time would also be required to discuss the reason for the prescription, and the risks associated with opioid use to the patient’s parent or guardian. The bill includes an exception from the seven-day supply limitation for patients suffering from chronic pain, a cancer diagnosis, or palliative care. Additionally, any healthcare practitioner would be required to discuss the following topics: risks of addiction and overdose, reasons why the practitioner deems the prescription necessary, and alternative treatments that may be available. Finally, the bill would require that persons receiving dispensed opiates would need to provide photographic identification. An exception is provided for patients, residents, and employees of licensed healthcare facilities so long as there are related identification procedures in place at the facility. I feel so strongly about what this bill will accomplish that I have signed on as a co-sponsor of bill.
The combining of bills is not an uncommon process. Often times Senators, working on their own during the interim session, will create very similar bills or have content that fits in with the themes of other bills. By combining these bills we can save a substantial amount of time on the floor by debating one bill rather than several individual bills. Often times these omnibus bills become committee priority bills. Which is a good thing because many of these necessary bills would not be debated on the floor of legislature because Senator’s have selected another bill as their one personal priority bill.
This is exactly what happened to one of my bills – LB366. LB366 would change and eliminate provisions relating to parole administration. The bill was a collaborative effort between my office and the Office of Parole Administration. The bill would allow the Office of Parole Administration to make the needed changes so they can operate more efficiently and effectively as an office. Not too glamourous of a bill, but a much needed one for the Office of Parole Administration. Now instead of this bill languishing in committee and most likely not seeing the light of day, LB366 was added to several bills addressing corrections and it will be brought to the floor and debated by the full legislature. A real win-win.
I have made LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act my priority bill for this session. The bill provides the Legislature with the rules and procedures necessary for the creation of a delegation and the guidelines for them to follow during any Article V convention called by Congress. With the Balanced Budget Amendment to United Stated Constitution having 28 states of the 34 required to call a Convention of States, we could see a Convention of States within the next few years. As a state we must be prepared to act when called. LB1058 would provide the framework for us as a state to effectively participate in any Convention of States Convention.
With the recent terrible events that have taken place at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, we in Nebraska need to address how we as State are going to better protect our most value resource, our children. I have charged my staff with researching options for making our schools a safer and more secure place of learning. One option, I am considering as possible legislation for the next biennium session is to allow teachers and administrators, with the approval of the school board, to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. The bill would require teachers and administrators to take special training by the State Patrol or other certified training groups before they could conceal carry weapons in a school. I would leave it up to the discretion of the local school boards to decide whether or not to allow vetted volunteer staff to be professionally trained to conceal carry to protect students and fellow staff members. I don’t expect any single piece of legislation will solve this complex issue of school shootings but I do believe that we should provide local school boards with options. Currently, Nebraska law only allows on-duty, uniformed law enforcement officers to carry firearms on school property and any concealed weapons are prohibited. In addition, law enforcement response time to a school shooting, no matter how fast they can arrive, it leaves precious minutes in which the active shooter can inflict bodily harm. A well trained conceal carry staff member can immediately engage someone intent on harming students and staff.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of hosting the members of Leadership Hastings group which is sponsored by the Hastings Chamber of Commerce. The Leadership Hastings is a vibrant group of young leaders from our community. I appreciated their visit to the Capitol. As always, please do not hesitate to contact our office. My staff, or I, can be reached at the office in Lincoln 402-471-2712 an visit my Facebook page – Senator Steve Halloran. Thank you for listening…..Have a Great Day in Nebraska!
This week we passed the half way point. Wednesday marked the 30th day of the session. I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. On Friday we are scheduled to vote on 15 bills for final reading. If all those bills pass, we will have passed a total 32 bills to date for this session. During an average short session we traditionally pass approximately two hundred bills. With hearings coming to a close next week, we will be on the floor all day debating, so the number of passed bills should increase dramatically. Priority bills by Senators, Committees, and the Speaker will receive first attention for bill debated on the floor. Bills that were not selected as a priority bills will most like not be brought to floor for debate and therefore the bill will be indefinitely postponed.
March will also usher in debate on how to address the looming two hundred million dollar budget shortfall. My office has received a large amount of correspondence expressing concerns about which programs and agencies, including the University of Nebraska, will have to deal with budget cuts in order to balance the State’s budget. Budget cuts are never easy, no one likes to see a decrease in funds appropriated.
Last session several programs and institutions were hit harder than others. So now, it would seem only fair that those not effected as much by cuts last year should bear more of the burden this year. Cuts need to be fair and balanced. We, as a legislature, will be working hard to minimize the impact of these cuts within the fiscal constraints we have to operate under. The other option to cuts is to raise revenue. The only mechanism the legislature has to raise revenue is to increase taxation, either through raising taxes or removing tax exceptions. When I ask the same people who do not want their budgets cut, what taxes should we raise, typically their first response is, “not mine.” Then it’s usually followed by “my taxes are too high already.” Something is going to have give in this argument.
A number of constituents have mentioned taxing internet sales in Nebraska. Senator Watermeier introduced such a bill last session – LB44. While I agree with this bill, similar bills in other states have been found to be unconstitutional by the districts courts. The Supreme Court of the United States is scheduled to take up this issue later this year. Unfortunately, until they rule on this matter, the collection of internet sales tax will not be an option for increasing revenue in our state.
Speaking of taxes, in March we will also be addressing the several tax reform bills drafted this year. Senator Erdman’s bill, LB829 appears to be destined to be decided by you – the Nebraska voters. The Revenue Committee has not acted to move the bill to the full legislature for debate. This week, petitioners began soliciting the signatures necessary to place the proposal on the November ballot. I encourage you to go the following website to learn more on this ballot initiative – yestopropertytaxrelief.com. I have also posted a link to this site on my Facebook page – Senator Steve Halloran.
Another tax reform bill receiving a lot of press in the media is the Governor’s plan, LB947, which is sponsored by the Chair of the Revenue Committee Senator Jim Smith. The bill has been a work in progress. Several amendments to the bill have been proposed to gain broader support by the public and the Legislature. Essentially, LB947 would convert the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund to provide refundable income tax credits for agricultural property owners as well as homeowners. Tax credits would begin at 12% with a cap of $280 for homeowners. The credits would increase by 2% every other year until they reached 30% in 2031. The residential caps would rise $50 with each increase. The 30% tax credit would mirror the percentage offered by Senator Erdman’s bill or the ballot initiative. However it would take thirteen years to reach that 30% level. I am sure that lively debate will ensue in coming days and weeks.
Just a reminder that the next Coffee with the Senator is scheduled for this upcoming Saturday, March 3rd, 9:00 a.m. at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. I hope to see you there!
The past two weeks have been very for me and my staff. Each week a bill I introduced had its hearing. Last week was LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act, and this week was the hearing for LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act. Both of these bills have received an immense about media coverage. Yes, they are controversial bills, most bills that are important are controversial.
I am very passionate about both of these bills. I believe that we must defend and protect the First Amendment right to free-speech. We may not like, agree with, or even feel disgusted by what a person says but we must defend their right to say what they think. For if we shut down their rights, we may find someday that someone will want take away our rights to voice our opinions. I have been working closely with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, otherwise known as (FIRE) to amend the bill to give institutions of higher learning the ability to create and enforce their own policies regarding free expression on campus while still holding their actions accountable. The amendment has taken a bit a longer that I would like, but I am very pleased with what we have created. The amendment was completed on Friday. As promised, I have sent a copy of the new amendment to those media outlets that requested a copy. You can read the new amendment for yourself by going to the Legislative website and search for LB718.
LB1058 – the faithful delegate act, was heard this Wednesday. The bill provides the Legislature with the rules and procedures necessary to create and guide a Nebraska delegation to any Article V convention called by Congress. The rationale for creating this bill came out of the debate last session on LR6 and the fact that we currently have a Convention of States call for a proposed Balanced Budget Amendment to United Stated Constitution. 28 states of the 34 required to call for a balanced budget amendment convention has been obtained. We could see a Convention of States within the next few years. As a state we must be prepared to act when called. LB1058 would provide the framework for us to effectively participate in any convention of states convention.
I want to thank everyone who came out in person to testify or sent in written testimony on LB718 and LB1058. I know traveling from District 33 to Lincoln during the work day can be a challenge. So, many choose to send it written testimony to be read into the official record. Please be aware that written testimony on any bill must be submitted to the Chair of the committee in which the bill is being heard by 5:00pm the previous day.
There has some been criticism that the Legislature has become too polarized and that we only vote along party lines. While it is true that there are clearly differences of opinion on how we as state should address taxes and entitlements, we can agree on a variety of other important issues. One bill I strongly support is LB1132 brought by Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks. LB1132 provides a procedure to set aside convictions of victims of sex trafficking and to expunge related records. I believe that victims of sex traffickers should not be further penalized by the justice system. In simple terms, the bill would make it possible to essentially remove any record of a conviction the victim of sex trafficking was found guilty of committing. For example, many victims are convicted of prostitution.
Often times I will post articles on my Facebook page without comments. Some have criticized me for not posting any comments. I do not comment this for a very specific reason. I want see what people, mostly from the district, have to say on a topic without being biased by my comments. This along with phone calls, emails, and town hall meetings aid me knowing the heartbeat of district 33 which that I have honor of serving.
Speaking of town hall meetings, the next Coffee with Senator is scheduled for 9:00am, March 3rd, at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings.
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