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Sen. Curt Friesen

Sen. Curt Friesen

District 34

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Weekly Column

April 18th, 2017

Two bills that garnered a lot of interest last week were LB44 dealing with collection of sales taxes for online purchases and LR6 a legislative resolution calling for a convention of the states.

Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse introduced LB44 which would require that online retailers without a physical presence in the state report the names of customers and the amounts of purchases sent to Nebraska if their gross sales revenue in the state is over $100,000 or they make more than 200 separate transactions in the state that year. It is estimated this would bring in an additional $30-$40 million per year in sales tax revenue.  Currently, based on a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a business must have a physical presence in the state before it can be required to collect state sales taxes.

The bill received enough support to advance to select file although some senators expressed concern that it would be struck down as unconstitutional.  I voted for the bill because I think it would help small retailers in the state who are disadvantaged by having to charge sales taxes when online retailers don’t.  In fact under current law, Nebraskans are required to self-report online purchases and remit sales taxes on those purchases when they file their state income tax returns but very few people actually do this.

LR6 introduced by Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete calls for holding a convention of the states as authorized under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.  The convention would be able to propose amendments to the constitution that would impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and implement term limits for members of Congress and federal officials.  It would not be authorized to take any additional action.

It is highly unlikely a convention will take place and even if it does chances are slim it would come up with an acceptable amendment. The framers of the constitution purposely made it difficult to amend the constitution – a two-thirds majority – 34 states – must pass identical resolutions and any proposed amendment would then have to be ratified by a three-fourths majority – 38 states.

The resolution is still being debated but I will support it if it comes to a vote. I strongly believe something needs to be done to address the growing federal debt and curb the overreach of the federal government stemming from the countless rules and regulations drafted by Washington bureaucrats.

After the Easter recess the legislature will begin debate on the Revenue Committee’s proposed tax package. LB461 as amended by AM954 is an omnibus bill containing provisions from LB337 (Smith) and LB452 (Lindstrom) relating to changes in the structure and rates of personal and corporate income taxes, LB129 (Morfeld) increasing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and LB338 (Brasch) changing how ag land in the state is valued for tax purposes.

The bill would eliminate the lowest personal income tax bracket and collapse the four current brackets into three.  The highest individual income tax rate will decrease by approximately 0.1 percent per year from 2020 to 2027 thereby dropping the state’s top individual income tax rate from 6.84 percent to 5.99 percent.  If the projected rate of growth in revenue is less than 3.5 percent, the tax rate cut would be deferred and the deferral would remain in effect until the expected rate of growth exceeds 4.2 percent.

The bill lowers the top corporate income tax rate of 7.58 percent on income over $100,000. The rate will be incrementally reduced until it reaches 5.99 percent.  Reductions in the corporate tax rate would be subject to the same revenue growth rate triggers as those for personal income taxes except a 4 percent growth rate would be required.

While the majority of Nebraskans should see income tax relief, some individuals at lower income levels might not. In order to prevent any detrimental impacts on these individuals the bill will increase Nebraska’s EITC from 10 percent of the federal credit to 11 percent in 2018 and to 12 percent in 2019.

The bill will make significant changes in how ag land is valued for tax purposes and mandates that the aggregate value across all classes of land will increase by no more than 3.5 percent from the prior year.

Rather than basing valuation on the land’s market value, the new system would use an income-based valuation taking into account land’s projected income producing potential.  The new valuation would be between 55 and 65 percent of actual value for each class of land as determined by the state property tax administrator.  Valuation rate decreases will trigger increases in state TEEOSA funding.

Overall I think this is a good bill that begins the process of overhauling taxes in the state.  While my primary focus will continue to be achieving a significant reduction in property taxes on agricultural land and a more equitable approach to school funding for everyone, this is a step in the right direction. No doubt there will be a great deal of discussion and possible amendments as the bill is debated on the floor which will set the stage for tackling the budget, the next big challenge looming on the horizon.

Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss.  My email address is and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.

Weekly Column

April 10th, 2017

The legislature made good progress last week advancing a number of bills from both general and select files.

The “Choose Life” license plate bill (LB46) that has consumed hours of debate time over the past few weeks passed on final reading with a vote of 38-0. The bill was signed into law on April 5th by Gov. Pete Ricketts during a special signing ceremony.

The Revenue Committee completed work on its tax reform package and sent two bills (LB481 and LB640) to the floor. It is likely to be several weeks before the bills are debated.

I think both bills will make positive and much needed changes to the tax structure in the state.  This week I am focusing on LB640 which deals with property taxes and school funding and next week I will take up LB481 which deals with a range of tax  issues including income tax rates, how property taxes are assessed, and changes to the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit.

LB640 was introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene and I selected it as my personal priority bill. The intent of LB640 is to reduce the amount of property taxes going to school funding potentially reducing property tax bills, especially in areas where the property tax base is mostly agricultural land.

It is an understatement to say that the way we figure school funding in this state is complicated, confusing and hard to understand; trying to explain LB640 is much the same.  If implemented in its current form the bill would make three major changes: capping the amount of property taxes used to fund schools; lowering the maximum school district levy; and redirecting money from the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund to make up the difference and provide property tax relief.

Property taxes have always been the primary source of funding for Nebraska’s schools. Today property taxes make up between 32 percent and 80 percent of total revenue depending on the school district.  The goal is to eventually cap the property tax portion at 40 percent.

LB640 takes a step in that direction and would place a 55 percent cap on the amount that property taxes contribute to school funding. The difference between the total amount of revenue now collected and the 55 percent cap, the “property tax gap,” will be split between the state and individual school districts.

The state will contribute 75 percent of the amount needed to close the gap with money taken from the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund.  If the balance in the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund is less than the amount needed for school district relief aid, individual school district aid will be reduced proportionately.

School districts receiving aid must reduce their spending by an amount equal to 25 percent of the property tax gap unless the school board, after holding a public hearing, overrides the reduction by a two-thirds majority vote.  The 159 unequalized districts along with 26 districts that receive minimal equalization will see the biggest impacts.

Next, the bill would lower the maximum school district property tax levy from $1.05 per $100 of property value to $.987 per $100 of property value which in turn lowers the local effort rate in the TEEOSA formula.  The difference will be offset with money from the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund paid in the form of property tax relief aid to citizens in equalized districts.

The Property Tax Credit Cash Fund was established in 2007 to provide property tax relief to real property owners across the state in the form of a property tax credit and today it contains $221 million. This bill will significantly impact the fund because the money to pay for LB640 will come from redirection of those dollars.

If LB640 is implemented both urban and rural areas will feel the effects. Rural areas will pay slightly less toward school funding and receive increased state aid to make up the difference.  Urban areas will receive less in property tax credits.  While it is easy to frame changes like this in terms of winners and losers if you think about the system we have now we already have winners and losers. LB640 is not intended to benefit one area at the expense of the other, it is intended to make the system fairer for everybody while still adequately funding our public schools.

Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss.  My email address is and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.

Senator Friesen will be holding a Town Hall Meeting in conjunction with the Central City Chamber of Commerce Civic Breakfast

When:          Monday, March 27, 2017                                           7:30 – 8:30 a.m.

Where:         Venture Center    —  1532 17th Avenue, Central City, Nebraska

Town Hall Meeting with Senator Curt Friesen

When:            Friday, March 24, 2017                                   7:30 – 8:30 a.m.   

Where:          Aurora Town Hall   —   1604 “L” Street, Aurora, Nebraska


Weekly Column

March 20th, 2017

This week in the legislature two school-related bills garnered a lot of attention and sparked some intense debate.

On Tuesday, March 14, the Education Committee held a public hearing on a bill introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill that would allow creation of independent public schools, also known as charter schools.

LB 630, the Independent Public Schools Act, would permit nonprofit organizations and certain other entities to establish independent schools in any school district with a school the State Board of Education has identified as significantly underperforming.  Level of performance is determined by evaluating several factors including graduation rates and test scores.

The bill would create an eight-member commission to grant and oversee charter school compacts.  The bill would also authorize school districts to grant and administer compacts for charter schools to operate within their boundaries.

The schools would be independent of any school board and would be managed by a board of trustees.  Each charter school would receive state aid equal to the number of enrolled students multiplied by the statewide average funding per formula student amount.  They would be open to all students through a lottery system.

The debate over whether or not to permit charter schools elicits strong emotions on both sides of the issue.  At its core though, no matter which side you come down on, is the belief that every child in Nebraska must receive a high quality education that will prepare them to become successful adults and equip them with the skills they need to get good jobs and be productive members of society.

Personally, I am a strong supporter of the education provided in the state’s public schools.  This is not to say that all public schools are excelling, clearly there are some that are not. But overall our public schools do a good job and I think it’s important that we give them credit for the work they do.

I have introduced several bills this session that call for significantly changing the way we fund public education by reducing the current heavy reliance on property taxes. This is in no way a reflection on the quality of public education in the state. I am not trying to take money away from the public schools.  I am simply hoping we can come up with a different funding mechanism that will still adequately support our schools while sharing the economic burden more fairly.

Very soon the Revenue Committee, of which I am Vice Chair, will be putting out its proposed tax package and I’m sure I will have some additional comments on education funding at that time.

LB 62 introduced by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk was filibustered for a second time by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers.  The bill would repeal a law prohibiting public school teachers from wearing religious garb at school.  The prohibition was passed by Nebraska in 1919 and requires school boards to suspend a teacher for one year for a first violation and terminate their employment upon a second violation.

Sen. Chambers also staged a filibuster against the bill on General File.  First round debate was ended by a cloture vote on Feb. 22 after two days of protracted discussion.  Senators then voted 36-1 to advance the bill to Select File.  The second round filibuster was ended by another successful cloture vote and the bill was advanced to Final Reading on a vote of 41-1.  It is likely Sen. Chambers will again waste a significant amount of time with a filibuster against the bill on Final Reading.

Having passed the halfway point in this legislative session with only 14 bills being sent to the governor, there is a significant backlog of legislation to get to and time is rapidly winding down.  In addition, we still need to pass a budget and with the revenue shortfall and anticipated budget cuts, this promises to be no easy task.  The Appropriations Committee has until April 24 (the 70th legislative day) to place the appropriations bills on General File.  The legislature is required to pass all appropriations bills by the 80th legislative day which is  May 10 this year.

Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss.  My email address is and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.

Weekly Column

March 13th, 2017

In the legislature this week several hours of debate were devoted to a proposal to change Nebraska’s mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws require judges to give fixed prison terms to persons convicted of specific crimes, most often drug offenses.

A bill introduced by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, would have eliminated the mandatory minimum sentences for Class IC and Class ID felonies.

Currently a person convicted of a Class IC felony is subject to a sentence ranging from five to 50 years in prison. Class IC felonies include robbery, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, and possession of certain amounts of illegal substances. Conviction for a Class ID felony, examples of which include possession of certain amounts of illegal substances and assault on a police officer or health care professional, carries a sentence of between three and 50 years.

Unlike some of the other bills the legislature has taken up this session that have consumed entire days with little to show, this bill prompted good debate.

Supporters of the legislation argued that inflexible sentencing laws are unfair, preventing judges from fitting the punishment to the individual and the circumstances of their offense.  Further that they have resulted in significant prison overcrowding and increased costs to taxpayers. In addition, incarcerated individuals are more likely to behave badly because they are not eligible to have their sentences shortened for good behavior.

Opponents of the bill contended that removing sentencing discretion from judges actually ensures fairness because it results in greater consistency for individuals convicted of the same crime. Mandatory minimum sentences also serve as a deterrent to crime as individuals are more likely to consider the potential consequences of their actions. Finally, mandatory minimum sentences improve public safety as longer sentences keep criminals off the streets.

In the end, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn offered an amendment to the bill eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for Class IC and ID drug offenses only, specifically for manufacturing between 28 and 139 grams of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

The amendment was adopted on a vote of 29-9 and the bill then advanced to select file 25-22. It still faces two more rounds of voting plus surmounting a possible gubernatorial veto before it can become law.

I am personally in opposition to the bill. At the end of the day these individuals have been convicted of serious crimes and should bear the associated consequences. Judges continue to have a wide range of sentencing options that take into account the individual circumstances of the convicted offender.

March 9 was the deadline for senators and committees to identify their priority bills.  Bills with priority status are generally scheduled for debate ahead of other bills. Each senator may select one priority bill, each committee may select two priority bills, and the Speaker may select up to 25 priority bills.

I designated LB 640, introduced by Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, as my priority bill. The bill caps the property tax contribution for school funding at 60% and provides tax relief in equalized school districts by lowering the maximum levy from 1.05 to 1.00.

Four of my bills have been designated as priority bills. Three bills, LB 144 which changes valuation of agricultural and horticultural land for calculating state aid to schools, LB 161 changing provisions of the Nebraska Advantage Act, and LB 265 which provides for a minimum amount of state aid based on the number of students in a local school system were designated as priorities by other senators. The Transportation & Telecommunications Committee prioritized LB 339 which creates a Department of Transportation by merging the Department of Aeronautics into the Department of Roads. Additional bills may receive priority status as the Speaker priority bills have yet to be announced.

Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss.  My email address is and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.


January 3rd, 2017

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 34th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sen. Curt Friesen

Weekly Column

April 15th, 2016

By the time you read this column, the Legislature will have already adjourned for the year.

If you’ve been keeping up with legislation that has been discussed here in Lincoln, I probably don’t need to tell you how they ended up because of all the media coverage.  So what I thought I’d do is to let you know how the bills I introduced or prioritized fared this year.

I designated LB 897 as my priority.  It was introduced by Sen. Brett Lindstrom and allowed certain public power agencies to hedge fuel costs or generated electricity.

A bill I introduced last year had since been held over in the Judiciary Committee. LB 275 clarified existing statutory language that created loopholes in our license revocation law.  In fact, it was the Merrick County Attorney who recognized the problem and asked me to introduce it.

Many times, Senators are asked to introduce particular bills because of the committee they are members of.  LB’s 735, 785, 814, and 996 are examples of that. Those bills all dealt with issues under the jurisdiction of the Transportation and Telecommunication Committee, where I am a member.

LB 735 allowed the articulated buses operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Omaha to exceed the current forty-foot length limit to sixty-five feet. LB 785 was brought to me by the Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, and is an attempt to address complaints and to find better ways of streamlining the department statewide.  LB 785 was amended into LB 311, another transportation bill that was further along in the legislative process. I introduced LB 814 because a constituent came to me and asked if I would consider changing the mileage requirement for School Permits.  After some consideration, instead of changing the mileage requirement of living more than 1.5 miles from school, I just eliminated it.  A representative of the Cummins Engine Company asked if I would introduce LB 996.  The bill corrects a technicality when dealer statutes were put in place in 2009.  LB 996 will allow Cummins to continue to operate just as they do now with two locations in Kearney and Omaha.

I also serve as a member of the Natural Resources Committee, for that reason, I was asked to introduce LBs 736 and LB 737LB 736 clarifies a definition in the Community-Based Energy Development Act (C-BED) to ensure all Nebraska electric utilities have the option of negotiating a contract for energy output from a C-BED project.  LB 737 expands eligible funded activities for public entities seeking low-interest loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.  It also increases loan terms from 20 to 30 years.

The Executive Director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials asked if I would consider introducing LB 784, which was heard before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.  While I am not a member of that committee, a county official from Hall County had recommended this change to the association.  LB 784 allows counties to use the tax dollars that are currently being budgeted for and generated at a more appropriate time.  The bill makes 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.

All of the above bills were successfully passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

In order to try and add another layer of oversight to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) projects, I introduced LB 1042LB 1042 would have additionally required approval by the County Board of Equalization of the county affected by the TIF project before approval of the governing board of the municipality.   Also, LB 1042 would have required the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) to use the full value of all property.  By using the full value of these projects verses the base value (which they use now), there would have been a $21,000,000 savings in equalization money needed in the next fiscal year.  However, the committee indefinitely postponed the bill.

The 2016 session has ended, but my Lincoln office will continue to be open.   Please contact me or my staff if you have concerns or questions about state issues.  My email is and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.






Weekly Column

April 8th, 2016

A bill that would have legalized medical cannabis was defeated last week.  LB 643 was sponsored by Sen. Tommy Garrett with an amendment from Senator Howard and made his priority both last year and this year. The bill was filibustered on the second round of consideration and failed to get the required 33 votes needed to end the extended debate.  The measure will not be considered again this session.  Sen. Garrett is not sure if he will bring it back next year.

Under LB 643 as amended, it still only allowed medical cannabis in a pill, oil or liquid form and smoking medical cannabis is still strictly prohibited.  The intent of medical cannabis is to provide relief for those who are suffering and who have not been helped by conventional medicine.

The range of qualifying conditions is limited.  For example, if a patient’s qualifying condition is cancer, they must exhibit severe chronic pain, severe nausea and wasting, known as cachexia, in order to be a candidate to participate under the Medical Cannabis Act.  Other examples of conditions include, ALS, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease and only a medical provider can certify a qualifying condition.

As amended, LB 643 requires the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to create a patient registry.  Patients must apply for enrollment by providing proof of a qualifying medical condition from a medical doctor along with proof of informed consent and signed disclosures regarding liability.  For patients with physical or developmental disabilities who are unable to self-administer, registered caregivers are allowed.  These caregivers would also go through a registry process with the DHHS.  They must be at least 21 years of age and pass a criminal background check.    All data collected on patients are considered medical records and therefore HIPAA protected.

Manufacturing and dispensing of medical cannabis will be highly regulated.  Manufacturers must apply and be registered through the DHHS.  One manufacturer is allowed per congressional district and each manufacturer may only operate one location. Products would be sent to a third party lab contracted by the manufacturer to test the product for labeled content and any contamination. The product would then be sent to a licensed dispensary that would not be affiliated with the manufacturer.

Sen. Garrett has insisted he was trying to be an advocate for families, children and veterans that wanted the opportunity to have the treatment they thought was right for them.  He believed the majority of Nebraskans think the bill is a good idea.  Sen. Sara Howard said it’s just there to alleviate human suffering.

Opponents were firm in their position that marijuana-derived medicines should go through the same federal approval process as other pharmaceutical drugs. Senator Chambers when asked responded that as far as he knew the Legislature had never in his memory approved a specific drug for use by people. Others opponents feared that a push for recreational marijuana wouldn’t be far behind if they voted to allow the drug to be used as a medicine.  Attorney General Doug Peterson, Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Medical Association were among those also opposed.

Last year, Senator Sue Crawford, was successful in getting her bill, LB390 passed that required the University of Nebraska Medical Center to create the Medical Cannabidiol Pilot Study on the efficacy of cannabidiol to treat patients with intractable seizures and treatment resistant seizures. The study is to include at least two neurologists, one of which is to be a pediatric neurologist.   Sen Crawford, has indicated that UNMC has recently received the permits needed for their drug testing trials that will be conducted at UNMC regarding the effects of these drugs on patients. We should see results from this by next year.

To me, LB 643 is beyond the scope and ability of what the Legislature should be doing. We are not qualified to determine the quality, safety or effectiveness of a product that would be given to adults and children and I could not support approval of a product that has not passed the channels of approval all other drugs must go through.

Weekly Column

April 1st, 2016

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.

Sen. Curt Friesen

District 34
Room #1308
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2630
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