A bill that on its face appears to be an innocuous proposal, has been far from that if you look at the history of the debate that has taken place so far. Anyone who has followed the legislature over the years would say that Senator Chambers usually will disagree with any attempt to raise fees that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission charges, especially park permits.
LB 745 would allow price increases for the numerous hunting, fishing licenses and state parks permits in Nebraska. The bill is scheduled for second-round debate in the next few days.
The debate has been carried out by Senator Ernie Chambers, who wants to remove the authority of the Game and Parks Commission to allow mountain lion hunting. He has continuously vowed to delay the implementation of the bill. And has. In the first round of debate, Chambers filed several motions to delay the vote to advance the bill. After six hours of debate, LB 745 was advanced 39-3. Seventeen more motions have already been filed by Chambers for the second round, which will take up approximately four more hours of what little time we have left in the session.
The Game and Parks Commission needs the Legislature’s approval to increase the fee range for hunting, fishing and park permits. To actually raise the cost of individual permits, the nine-member board of commissioners then would have to conduct public hearings and vote.
If the commission enacted all of the fee increases included under LB 745, an estimated $5 million in new annual revenue would be taken in. Sen John McCollister, who made the bill his priority for this session, said the agency has not raised the cost of most permits for at least seven years. Permit fees supply the majority of the commission’s annual budget. Senator Chambers argues that these fees are already too high and disproportionally effects lower income people that want to use the park facilities.
LB 745 would allow the commission to raise the state park entry fee from $25 to $35 for an annual permit and from $5 to $7 for a daily permit. Prices could only be increased at 6% per year average until the cap is reached. The proposal would allow increases in many other permits and fees as well.
Over the years, Senator Chambers has introduced bills and amendments that would take away the authority of the Game and Parks Commission to use hunting as a tool to manage mountain lions, and each time it has been voted down by the Legislature. He has vowed to bring up the topic again and again as debate continues on this bill and others during the lingering days of the session.
Senator Chambers has argued that it is wrong to hunt mountain lions in the state when its populations are relatively low. Game and Parks is currently conducting a more in-depth study to try and determine what the current population is and then determine if and when control may be needed. In the only hunting season for mountain lions so far, hunters have killed 14 big cats. Game and Parks will not have a hunting season until this study is completed. I firmly believe that the authority to manage all wild game should remain with Game and Parks biologists who have the expertise to make these decisions.
We are in the last days of the session and are debating bills on the floor from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm and you can tell that the body is getting tired and tempers can flare rather quickly. Any hint of a filibuster seems to bring compromise rather quickly. We will see what the last days of the session bring.
High profile incidents of police misconduct have recently generated intense media attention in the United States. Police departments and policy makers throughout the country have begun to use body cameras to create an objective record of interactions with the public. The mere presence of body cameras fundamentally changes the dynamics of law enforcement encounters for both police and the public. By creating an objective visual record, body cameras have the potential to protect the public from police officer misconduct, provide officers a defense to allegations of misconduct, assist in police training and help prosecutors secure convictions by supplying visual evidence.
LB 1000, introduced by Sen. Health Mello, would require the Nebraska Crime Commission to develop a model policy on body-worn cameras and make it available to law enforcement agencies. It would also require all law enforcement agencies that use body-worn cameras to either adopt the Crime Commission’s model policy or adopt their own policy. If a law enforcement agency adopts its own policy, it could go above and beyond the Crime Commission policy, but it must be consistent with the Crime Commission policy. The bill would also require law enforcement agencies to provide their policies, and annual updates to their policies, if any, to the Crime Commission.
Before 2015, only four states had enacted laws related to body cameras. But just last year, at least 37 states considered legislation on some aspect of body cameras for law enforcement officers and fifteen states enacted new laws. Altogether, 19 states and the District of Columbia have some kind of body camera law on the books. Instead of mandating body cameras, most of the legislation gives individual departments discretion over whether they will use them or not. However, if police do decide to use body cameras, most state laws, including the provisions of LB 1000, set up a policy framework that governs their use.
One of the roadblocks our state and local law enforcement agencies have encountered, is the cost. The Legislative Fiscal Note shows an expenditure of $48,000 for fiscal year 2016-17 and $108,000 for fiscal year 2017-18. That includes only the data storage costs for one year, based on 100 officers wearing cameras in FY 2017 and 200 in FY 2018. The 2018 costs also include retaining 25% of recordings longer than one year, which is the Nebraska State Patrol’s current retention policy. The agency also notes that if 400 officers were to be equipped with body worn cameras, the first year of data storage costs would total $192,000 and the second year would total $240,000. The Patrol notes that these are only storage costs and do not reflect the cost of purchasing body cameras, which are relatively expensive, and the training that must be done so that everyone understand the policies and regulations that must be met when using these cameras.
Body cameras over the next few years will change the nature of policing in unexpected ways. When implemented correctly, body cameras can help promote accountability and transparency, and they can be useful tools for improving training, preserving evidence, and documenting encounters with the public. Just the fact that an officer is wearing a camera could be a factor in de-escalating a confrontation between an officer and the subject. One thing we must remember is that there will be unintended consequences of using cameras. What happens when an officer is on a call and his camera fails to operate properly? Cameras can only capture what it is pointed at, not what may be happening behind the officer or off to the side or out of camera range. What happens if data is lost during transfer from camera to storage? Would there be a chance that embarrassing video taken of a subject that did not result in an arrest could be released to the public? As more and more departments begin using cameras we will begin to understand the consequences of adopting this technology.
LB 1000 has been designated a Speaker Priority bill and has been advanced to the first stage of debate for consideration by the full body of the Legislature. With a priority designation, we should see the bill on the agenda soon.
Have a wonderful Easter Holiday!
A subject that has been introduced three times, by Senator Bloomfield and by many Senators in prior legislative sessions, is the repeal of the mandatory motorcycle helmet law.
LB 900, introduced by Sen. Dave Bloomfield makes several changes to our current helmet law. It does the following:
The Motorcycle Safety and Brain Injury Trust Fund, as proposed by the Transportation Committee amendment, is a nine member body – three members from the following areas of medicine: general practice; neurological medicine and surgery; orthopedic surgery, or psychiatry, plus the members listed in LB 900 as introduced.
It is estimated by the Legislative Fiscal Office that the increased $19 registration fee will generate $1,056,550, based on 55,608 motorcycles registered in 2014.
The Fund is to be used for expenses related to meeting the needs of individuals with a brain injury, who are not eligible for the Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver program within the Department of Health and Human Services or do not meet the income guidelines for the program, motorcycle awareness and education programs and administrative expenses of the Motorcycle Safety and Brain Injury Trust Fund.
In order to apply for funds from the program, applicants must authorize Health and Human Service to provide Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver application materials to the brain injury services program. If a functional assessment for the Traumatic Brain Injury program has not been completed, then the brain injury program may contract with Health and Human Services for the assessment.
The fines which can be imposed when a person is found guilty of a traffic infraction due to violating requirements for a motorcycle license are increased from a range of $10 to $100 to a range of $50 to $150. Fines accrue to the county where the violation occurs.
The public hearing held by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee was on February 1, 2016. There were many testifiers on both sides of the issue. It was voted out of Committee on a vote of 6-1, and one not voting.
As I am writing this column the bill is being filibustered. A cloture vote was just taken and was three votes short of the thirty three required, so another bill dies by filibuster.
Riding a motorcycle is dangerous whether you wear a helmet or not. The number one reason for brain injuries is from falls. I didn’t like the creation of the brain injury trust fund and the creation of another board but these were the compromises that were made by Senator Bloomfield to try and get enough votes to invoke cloture.
Most supporters basically felt that wearing a helmet goes back to personal responsibility of individuals and freedom of choice. There are many dangerous recreational activities that people take part in. Is it the state’s responsibility to protect us from ourselves? Should we require all bicycle riders to wear helmets? Since all types of brain injuries will have access to the trust fund the amount of dollars collected in the trust fund will cover very little of the costs related to brain injuries. Arguments over the economic benefits of more riders coming through Nebraska on their way to Sturgis, better rider awareness of their surroundings and thus fewer accidents, versus the possible costs of higher medical care due to increased number of head injuries were debated for six hours.
I am sure in the future, another senator will try to repeal the motorcycle helmet law once more.
One of the more interesting proposals that takes us full circle in how we access our primary care physician will soon be debated by the Legislature.
LB 817, introduced by Sen. Merv Riepe, creates the Direct Primary Care Agreement Act. Direct Primary Care (DPC) is a medical care delivery contract between a patient and a primary care practitioner (physician or licensed nurse practitioner). The patient-practitioner relationship generally includes an agreement where a patient pays a monthly retainer for unlimited office visits and a set scope of practice that spells out what services are included. Direct Primary Care enhances the patient-practitioner relationship.
Direct Primary Care is an innovative health care reform model which can improve access to medical care, reduce the use of emergency departments for non-emergent primary care use and reduce health care costs. Since office visits are free, people tend to visit their doctor sooner when they start to feel sick and thus treatment is cheaper and less patients require hospitalization. It is in the doctor’s best interest to spend a little extra time with a patient so that the correct diagnosis is made so the patient does not return for another office visit.
DPC practices exist in 42 states and currently 13 other states are considering legislation. Passage of LB 817 is to guarantee in statute that DPC is not insurance and does not function as a health plan.
Some of the benefits of a Direct Primary Care system include:
A free-market option in health care;
Happier practitioners (better work-life balance; connection with patients; no insurance to bill; keeping seasoned practitioners from retiring too early out of frustration because of the excessive staff time and paper work that is required with insurance, Medicare and Medicaid; revitalizing primary care as being very important; and encouraging medical students and residents to become primary-care physicians);
Happier patients (focus on prevention; monitoring of chronic conditions; improved patient-practitioner relationship); and
Better health outcomes (a DPC provider in Washington State reported reductions of 14 percent in emergency room visits, 60 percent in inpatient stays and 14 percent in specialist visits, for an average saving of over 19 percent per patient).
Opponents say DPC will result in fewer practitioners available to the public because the model leads to a reduced patient panel size per doctor. In Nebraska, this is especially concerning given the shortage of primary-care practitioners. Practitioners are not indentured servants and may elect to retire earlier than desired because the bureaucracy in medicine has provided too many challenges. Panel sizes may be smaller, but if DPC practitioners are able to improve their work-life balance, the net gain could be more practitioners available to serve for additional years.
LB 817 enables, not mandates, DPC. This will establish DPC in statute to ensure its long-term viability and provide consumer protection language. The legislation will seek to minimize regulation and be at no cost to the state.
I attended a presentation that a physician from Colorado gave this last December. With his practice he had around 50% of his patients on direct primary care contracts and the balance were traditional patients. His price for DPC was around $75 a month and included a tele-health option where he could, because of the personal relationship with his patients, diagnose and prescribe medicine using a smartphone while they were traveling anywhere in the world. Because he does not file any insurance claims on DPC patients he requires less staff time and doesn’t have to wait months for insurance claims to be settled. The patients are happy because they can always consult with the same caregivers. This could be a program for small businesses who want to offer an extra benefit to employees who may have extremely high out-of-pocket costs on their traditional insurance plans.
Now that the deadline for designation of priority bills has passed, we can start looking ahead to the bills that we will be addressing the last half of our short session. One of the bills that has already drawn some attention from the press is a bill that would require the University of Nebraska to publicly release just one finalist for top leadership jobs. This bill was advanced from the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and was designated a priority by Senator Burke Harr of Omaha.
LB 1109 updates the current search process used by the Board of Regents regarding the University of Nebraska President or campus Chancellor positions. It also accomplishes the following:
The bill would specifically exempt the University from current public records law, which requires that four finalists be named. Only a single priority candidate, and his or her application, resume and other documents, would be announced under the provisions of LB 1109.
Proponents of LB 1109, including University President Hank Bounds, feel the bill balances solving a problem the University faces in attracting the best candidates while maintaining an open selection process. During the public hearing, President Bounds said the candidate pool of applicants for replacing University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman, was a fraction of the size of what he expected, and blamed the low number on the public process. The bill’s introducer, Sen. John Murante said numerous candidates won’t even apply for leadership positions because they would be outed as a finalist, putting their current jobs at risk.
Opponents, including Sen. Beau McCoy, a member of the Government Committee who voted against advancing the bill, said he takes issue with naming just one finalist because that doesn’t allow Nebraskans to compare the candidates. That breeds secrecy, he said.
Sen. Mike Groene, also a member of the Committee has vowed to fight LB 1109, arguing that the proposal goes in the opposite direction of the public’s increasing demand for more government openness. He said, transparency in government is never a wrong choice.
I think we need to look at the entire hiring process when looking at the merits of this bill. Currently we elect our Board of Regents, whose job is to oversee our university system, in a very public election. Should we not trust this group plus the many others involved in the selection process? Maybe we need to look at the makeup of the current committee that does the selection, but I do believe we should trust this group to make the initial selection.
One of the main issues is whether we are attracting the best qualified candidates. If I was currently happily working at a great company but felt that I could no longer grow my career and I applied at another firm but I did not get that position, would I want my old company to know that I was thinking of leaving? I really think that we could attract more qualified candidates if we didn’t disclose the names of those who come in second. Making the names public subjects them to the possibility of losing their current job when they may be perfectly content to stay and only thought of leaving because it would have been the opportunity of a lifetime or a chance to really grow their career.
An issue that will soon be debated on the legislative floor is one that would call for a convention of the states to propose constitutional limits on the power of the federal government.
Legislative Resolution (LR 35) was introduced by Sen. Laura Ebke last session and designated as her priority bill this year. LR 35 would limit the convention’s agenda to constitutional amendments to impose fiscal restraints, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and require federal term limits.
LR35 calls for Nebraska to join other states in passing an application that calls for an interstate convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution. State legislatures are granted this power under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The language of LR35 is verbatim to applications that have been filed in other states, as any interstate convention must have a foregoing, agreed upon scope and subject for which the convention is called.
The convention will only occur after two-thirds of the states (34 states) pass the same application. Currently, five state legislatures have approved a similar measure. Once the requisite 34 states have passed the same application, Congress shall call the convention. After the convention is called, delegates (officially called commissioners) are chosen by the states – the process for choosing delegates is decided by the legislature in each state. Each state legislature may send as many delegates to the convention as it chooses, but each state is allowed only one vote at the convention. The delegates may be given instructions on how to vote by their state legislature and are legally bound to adhere to them.
Since the convention only has the power to propose amendments, ratification takes place following the convention. While at the convention, any amendments proposed and/or passed must fall within the preordained scope specified in the 34 matching applications passed by the state legislatures. In the case of LR35, the scope is to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.
In order for a valid amendment to emerge from the convention, it must pass with a simple majority vote. After passing the convention, the amendments – before becoming part of the U.S. Constitution – must still be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states (38 states). Multiple legal safeguards are in place to prevent the ratification of any amendment that deviates from the scope of the convention.
Reports acknowledge a number of well-established facts about the operation of Article V’s Convention mechanism, including:
The founders of the Constitution included this process as a way for the states to bypass Congress in getting needed amendments passed;
The process is an alternative to federal deadlock;
Congress has a no authority to veto amendments proposed at an Article V Convention; and
The President plays no role in the process.
Opponents of this measure warn of the possibility for a runaway convention that exceeds its initial scope and even endangers components of the Bill of Rights, like the Second Amendment…but it only takes 13 states to block any amendment that would be proposed from the convention and state legislatures could control who represents them.
I, along with many of you are very concerned with what has been happening at the federal level. If you look at what’s been happening over the last fifty years many of us are unhappy with the direction we are headed. We have burdened our children and grandchildren with a $19 trillion (and growing) national debt crisis that if not addressed will consume our federal budget. We have regulatory agencies that seem to write rules and regulations without regard to the will of the legislative branch, and a judicial branch and executive branch that continually over reaches their authority. It’s time for the states to take back some of the power they have ceded to the federal government.
One last note…on Friday, February 26th I will be in Central City at the Venture Center, 1532 17th Avenue, from 7:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m., for a Town Hall meeting sponsored by the Merrick County Farm Bureau and the Central City Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s an opportunity for you to stop by to voice your concerns about state issues and to hear updates on legislation.
As we approach the midpoint of this short session, I thought it was time for me to let you know about the bills I’ve introduced. They are:
LB 735 – allows rapid transit buses operated by Omaha’s Metropolitan Authority to exceed the current 40 foot length limit to 65 feet. These buses are designed for improved speed, convenience, and a benefit to passengers traveling to some of Omaha’s most congested areas.
LB 736 – amends the Community-Based Energy Development (C-BED) Act to allow all Nebraska electric utilities the option of negotiating a contract for energy from a C-BED project, by removing the limited definition of electric utility and using the term electric supplier.
LB 737 – expands eligible funded activities for public entities seeking low-interest loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The funded activities are for the purposes of constructing wastewater treatment facilities and sanitary sewer collection systems to alleviate public health and environmental problems and would also increase loan terms from 20 years to a maximum of 30 years or the useful life of the project, whichever is less.
LB 784 – harmonizes language in the County Budget Act and the Nebraska Budget Act. Currently both acts proportionally limit expenditures from each budgeted fund between July 1 and the adoption of the budget in September. The Nebraska Budget Act also provides a mechanism to exceed such proportional expenditures upon a finding of the governing body that the expenditures are necessary to meet statutory duties and responsibilities. LB 784 would add this concept to the County Budget Act. The bill would make it clear that counties can use the resources available for roads during the late summer – prime time to build and maintain roads – rather than being limited to a proportion of their road budget during this time.
LB 785 – authorizes the Department of Motor Vehicles to move to an alternate method of issuing motor vehicle operator’s licenses. This enabling legislation will address the three main complaints from the public regarding driver licensing services: 1) very long wait times in their busiest offices; 2) not being open past “normal” business hours; and 3) why not all services are provided at all offices, i.e., CDL tests, motorcycle tests, and drive tests.
LB 814 – eliminates the requirement that an applicant for a school permit must live at least 1.5 miles or more from school to be eligible for a permit. Applicants still must reside or attend school outside a metropolitan, primary or first class city. I introduced this bill on behalf of a constituent who asked to have the mileage lowered. After studying this issue I decided that to change any mileage amount would just invite other requests, so I just eliminated it altogether.
LB 996 – excludes a manufacturer who owns or operates two or fewer dealer or dealership locations within the state, who owned or operated a warranty repair or service facility as of January 1, 2016, and who is engaged in the manufacturer of engines installed in motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rate of more than 16,000 pounds, from the prohibitions placed upon manufacturers under the Nebraska Motor Vehicle Industry Licensing Act. LB 996 was introduced to allow Cummins Inc., to operate just as they do today.
LB 1042 – gives another layer of approval to tax-increment financing (TIF) projects. Before approval is made by the governing body of a TIF project, LB 1042 requires the county board of equalization of the county directly affected by the financing project, to approve the plan if it meets all statutory requirements for TIF imposed under the Community Development law. LB 1042 also changes the property valuation information certified by the Property Tax Administrator to the State Department of Education, which is used to determine the adjusted valuation of school districts for purposes of allocating state aide through the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act. The bill requires that excess valuation for properties that qualify for TIF will be included in the assessed valuation of school districts for state aide purposes.
A bill that would remove several requirements in the approval process for privately-owned renewable energy projects to encourage more investment in Nebraska was heard before the Natural Resources Committee last week. We had a full house of testifiers including proponents, opponents and a record number of neutral testimony.
LB 824 would be a significant policy shift for Nebraska as it would allow the development of privately-owned renewable electricity generation facilities without the barriers and protections placed in the “wind for export” bill passed in 2010. As a member of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) we do not control which type of power will supply the grid. The SPP chooses the cheapest source that is capable of filling the need at that particular time. Wind power which has a federal tax credit would be the cheapest energy available because of the tax credit.
LB 1048, passed in 2010, created a new regulatory approval process for renewable generation facilities producing energy to be exported out of Nebraska. The bill was the result of work between developers, the Power Review Board, and our public power entities to allow the development of wind energy in the state while protecting public power interests. While LB 1048 provided the opportunity, the public power protections kept private developers from building large-scale renewable projects in Nebraska.
In 2014, the Legislature passed LB 1115, which provided for a study to identify opportunities and challenges that impact the capacity and desirability of developing 5,000 to 10,000 megawatts of renewable generation capacity in Nebraska for export. The report gave policy options for the Legislature to consider to overcome challenges towards increasing private renewable energy investment. LB 824 would make some of those policy changes.
Specifically, LB 824 would accomplish the following:
Remove current anti-competitive statutes covering the Nebraska Power Review Board process for private renewable energy development, which are not applicable in states neighboring Nebraska and are a costly barrier for companies seeking to do business in this state. The main obstacle would be the current requirement to have a power purchase agreement in place before you can begin a project.
Maintain the notification and registration of all renewable energy development projects by the Nebraska Power Review Board and would not remove the requirement to comply with the 52 existing governmental permits from 15 separate federal agencies;
Would not impact any existing local control by counties which have zoning ordinances or oversight processes or mechanisms to either approve or deny renewable energy projects. There are however, numerous counties that do not have zoning laws and would not have the local control to regulate where these turbines would be located.
Would not allow privately developed and other renewable electric power generation facilities to provide direct electric service to retail or wholesale end use customers.
Allowing wind development could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and would help reduce property taxes in those areas that are suitable for development.
There are several concerns I have with this bill dealing with the short and long term consequences of this major policy change. Currently we have around 25% surplus generation capacity and the Southwest Power Pool also has surplus capacity. As with corn when you have a surplus you have low prices, with surplus energy you have low priced electricity on the market. If we add large amounts of wind generation we put more cheap energy, because of the production tax credit, on the market thus lowering the price of energy even further. If our publicly owned generation facilities are losing revue because coal plants are running at minimum capacity they will need to pass those costs on in their transmission rates and thus the consumer may end up paying more for power in the long run. This is an extremely complex issue that will have long term implications and we need to get it right. Any power generated would be directly competing with our publicly owned facilities.
Also, the Aurora Chamber of Commerce and I will be hosting a Town Hall Meeting, February 15 at 4:00 p.m. at the Senior Center, located at 1205 11th St., in Aurora. It will be an opportunity for me to visit with you about your concerns and to provide an update on legislative issues. The meeting is open to the public and anyone wishing to attend is invited.
A bill that has generated many emails and telephone calls to my office is LB 176.
LB 176 narrows a restriction under the Competitive Livestock Markets Act that prohibits livestock packers from directly or indirectly owning or feeding livestock. The bill, in effect, would remove the restriction on packers owning hogs during the production stages.
The bill was prioritized last year by Sen. Schilz, but a filibuster leading up to a cloture motion failed to get the needed 33 votes to succeed. So, LB 176 was taken off the agenda for the rest of the legislative session. I supported LB176 last year and continue to do so this year.
During the interim, Sen. Schilz sought an Attorney General’s Opinion on the aspects of LB 176. When the opinion was received in October it stated three main points:
1) Packers that currently have no processing facilities within the borders of Nebraska can engage in production contracts under current law, even without the passage of LB 176;
2) Packers that currently have facilities in Nebraska can take advantage of current law by shuttering their Nebraska processing plants, and moving that production across the border to neighboring states allowing them to access Nebraska producers for vertical integration. It should be noted that if all three of the current packers in the state were to close down their facilities, Nebraska would stand to lose approximately 10,000 jobs. Beyond the job loss, the shuttering of processing facilities will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost property tax revenue and would raise shipping costs for producers thus driving even more producers out of business.
3) Passage of LB 176 would serve to not only help keep these packers and their facilities in Nebraska, it would allow the state to put certain contract protections into place for producers, and would allow both Nebraska producers and Nebraska packers to grow their businesses, creating new valuation and stimulating job creation.
Sen. Schilz feels that, essentially, under current law we are preventing business from coming into the state and contributing to the growth and prosperity of our state. And by passing LB 176, we are fixing this unleveled playing field and encouraging these packers to remain and invest in upgrades in their ageing facilities in Nebraska.
Thus, Sen. Schilz elected to make LB 176 his priority bill for 2016 also.
As someone who was raised on a farm where we milked cows, raised hogs and chickens and grew corn I can’t say that I especially like this bill, but we had seen declining pork production in this state long before this bill was introduced and we will continue to lose producers in the future if we do nothing. LB 176 gives someone the option of contracting with a packer that is located in this state. Currently, packers that are located outside this state, can contract production in this state. Packers located in the state cannot directly own hogs in this state. No packers are allowed to own the land or facilities used to raise hogs. We currently have the capacity to slaughter more hogs than are raised in Nebraska so we currently send feeder pigs out-of-state to be fed and then ship them back into the state to be slaughtered. We have large privately-held companies located in other states that already operate in this state that contract with local producers to feed hogs. In return, they could be under contract with packers to supply hogs thus skirting our current laws on packer ownership and sending profits out-of-state. What packers want is a hog that is exactly the same weight, length and shape as the next. They are supplying a consumer that wants each piece of pork they buy to be exactly the same as the last one they purchased, so some of this vertical integration is consumer driven.
On another note, as of the beginning of 2016, Nebraska is the only state in the United States to prohibit this type of vertical integration. Processors are looking at the cost of major upgrades to their aging facilities in Nebraska or building new facilities where pork production is expanding. Not passing LB 176, effectively keeps Nebraska at a competitive disadvantage in pork production.
With a year of experience, and no longer a true freshman with the appointment of Nicole Fox replacing Senator Nordquist, I am feeling better prepared and ready to get this session underway. Summer seemed so short. Since this is the second session of the 104th Legislature, all of the ceremonial procedures such as electing chairpersons carry over from last year, except because of the resignation of Sen. Jeremy Nordquist who chaired the Retirement Committee an election was held and Sen. Mark Kolterman was elected to chair that committee.
Before the session even started, Speaker Hadley sent us a memo with some new procedures and outlined the first ten days of the session. As speaker, he ruled that “full and fair” debate under the cloture rule would be met after 6 hours of debate during the first round. This is a change from the current precedence of requiring 8 hours of debate. His reasoning was that with only 60 days to pass bills, getting hung up on filibusters would not get them very far. It seems we use this process more often than in the past, but that could also be because of term limits and the push from senators that are leaving after this session.
He also said that he would not allow any Speaker Priority Bill, to be amended unless he has agreed to it prior to its adoption. In the past Senators have tried to amend their bills into another Senator’s bill in order to get it through without a priority designation. The Speaker has promised to make sure all priority bills will be dealt with this session.
The first few days consisted of bill introduction, and debate on the rules that govern how the Legislature operates. Another attempt by Sen. Bill Kintner to do away with a secret ballot for election of speaker and committee chairs was turned down. Sen. Kintner tried and failed twice last session to get a roll call vote for election of committee chairs. He said it was a matter of transparency. The legislature operated under the open vote method until the early seventies when the secret ballot was initiated.
Debate began on 2015 priority bills left incomplete last session due to time constraints – LB 47 requires a person to indicate whether or not they wish to be an organ donor when applying for a state driver license or ID card. After six hours of debate the bill was advanced to the second stage of debate. LB 619 authorizes licensing for two types of poker games – draw and community card games. As this is being written we are still debating this bill. Bill introduction lasts for 10 days and hearings will start on the Tuesday the 19th. Some of the issues that I’m sure will be debated this year include cleanup issues on prison reform, mental health treatment, Medicaid expansion, and hopefully a number of bills dealing with property tax relief. The recent one hundred thirty million dollar shortfall in revenue projections will be a major factor in how we deal with any spending bills being considered.
As a member of the transportation committee one of the major issues that we will be looking at is how we can speed up the start time on road construction projects. The Governor has proposed an infrastructure bank that would be funded with money from the cash reserve and new ways to proceed with how we handle the design and bidding process on new road construction. I will follow up in a future column with the specifics on this bill. Bills I have introduced include LB814 which removes the one and one half mile restriction on obtaining a school permit, LB 785 which would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to make changes that will provide cost savings and streamline functions of the department, and LB 735 which would allow for articulated buses to be operated by a transit authority.
The Governor gave his State of the State address on Thursday outlining his plan to address the approximately one hundred forty million dollar shortfall in the budget this year while still finding some dollars to add some beds to the Lincoln Correctional Facility. While not having much time to study his proposal I do think his approach to balancing the budget by transferring unspent department funds, cutting some spending and not needing to transfer large sums from the cash reserve is a solid plan. We will have another revenue projection by the end of February that could change things if revenue projections fall even further as I suspect they will. Any bills with a fiscal impact will wait for final approval until this projection is in.
My number one priority is to find a solution to lower property taxes across the state and especially to those who own agricultural land. Several proposals have been introduced using many different approaches. The Governor has worked with Senator Sullivan and Senator Gloor on proposals that will hopefully be coming out of the Revenue and Education Commitee’s. The long range goal of changing how we fund K-12 education hopefully can be addressed through other bills that are still being introduced. Hopefully by combining some of these proposals we can gather enough votes to get something done.