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Raymond Aguilar

Sen. Raymond Aguilar

District 35

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Column, June 3rd, 2021
June 10th, 2021

These past weeks have been an incredibly busy time in the Legislature. As of May 27, we have adjourned Sine Die. The Legislature will reconvene at a time later this year, yet to be determined, for the purpose of redrawing the district lines using 2020 Census data. This redistricting effort traditionally occurs during the main session of the year, but was subject to postponement due to the delay of the release of 2020 Census data, attributable to COVID-related issues. Due to the size of Grand Island, in respect to the entirety of Hall County, I don’t anticipate there being many changes to District 35 besides minor adjustments to the border to accommodate changing population requirements.

In the next few weeks, I will publish a list of legislative highlights from the past year. The Legislature passed 197 pieces of legislation, not including the three bills, and their three respective appropriations bills, vetoed by the governor and overridden this past session. Comparatively, this has been a lighter year than others, largely driven by Speaker Mike Hilgers’ request to limit our bill introduction and his efficiency in leading the Legislature. For comparison, in 2019, the 106th Legislature, First Session passed a total of 294 bills. Some might contend that the less legislation we pass, the better; but, going forward, I suspect the total number of bills passed will return to its normal level.

My office, in conjunction with the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, will be conducting an interim study into the status of the Central Nebraska Veterans’ Home to identify ways the Legislature could help assure this facility is able to meet the needs of Nebraska’s veterans. At first impression, any perceived issues seem to be largely “growing pains” associated with the relocation of the facility. I believe the Legislature to be able to assist with these issues, albeit in order to do so, we need a detailed and informed perspective. Nebraska’s veterans deserve the best, and we need to make sure the Kearney facility is fully supported and able to live up to our high standard.

I am currently planning to host office hours in Grand Island throughout the interim, wherein one of my staffers will be available at a location in town a few times a month. Although Gerald and Amanda are regularly available to you in my Lincoln office, I believe it to be important that they are more immediately accessible to us in Grand Island over the legislative interim. I will publish notice of when we anticipate these hours to be and where they will be located. If you would like to schedule a meeting in Grand Island, please reach out to my Lincoln office.

It’s been a joy to return to the Legislature. While the procedures remain the same, the people around me have changed. I have enjoyed reconnecting with advocates and former senators from my first tenure in the Legislature and meeting the new senators and advocates helping to sculpt policy for the state of Nebraska. I look forward to the following years working with my new colleagues and those who will come after them.

As always, please contact me with your support, opposition or questions on any legislative bill or issue. My legislative aide, Gerald Fraas, and administrative assistant, Amanda Johnson, are also available to assist you with matters related to the state of Nebraska and the Legislature. You can follow along with the Nebraska Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Published in the Grand Island Independent 6/3/2021

Column, April 29, 2021
April 29th, 2021

These past weeks have been an exciting time in Grand Island. We’ve finally gotten past the cold of winter and had the announcement for Fonner Park’s casino partner. In Lincoln, we are on the home-stretch of the legislative session.

This Monday marked day 67 of the 90-day legislative session and, assuming everything remains consistent, we should be finished with the session on our scheduled date of June 10. We’ve approved the budget and begun to focus our attention on legislation with taxing implications, including legislation limiting property tax levies and reducing the tax burden on Nebraska retirees.

LB371, my bill allowing casino facilities to consider operating when a nearby fair is ongoing, has passed and been signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. I appreciate the governor’s affirmation of this bill and the work that went into its passage, especially the help of Chris Kotulak and Mark Landis. LB371 will come into effect after the 2021 State Fair, so we will be able to fully preclude the implications of the old statutory language once the new casino facility is built.

On that note, I’d like to congratulate Fonner Park on the successful announcement of their casino partnership with Elite Casino Resorts of Iowa. The act of identifying the best possible partner for Grand Island and Fonner Park was a timely and involved process, and it’s abundantly clear that the leadership at Fonner rose to the challenge and made a great choice for their casino partner. Casinos are an international business and are within an industry filed with multinational corporations that are prepared to open another formulaic facility whenever the opportunity arises. These casinos are by no means subpar facilities, but when it comes to Grand Island, a company that knows Nebraska and is prepared to fully engage with the community is obviously preferable. Elite Casino Resorts is that locally-oriented company, and I am excited to see how their operations in Grand Island flourish over the next few years. Furthermore, we should be proud of the fact that the architect who designed the casino, Nathan Casteel, is originally from Grand Island.

LB224, my other bill that has progressed through the full Legislature, was also signed by Gov. Ricketts. LB224 is my bill that removes the requirement that an appointed county surveyor, should one not be elected, must reside outside of the county they serve. LB224 was an intuitive change and is another step toward clearing the way for counties to make the best choices for their own operations.

As we approach the end of the 2021 legislative session, my staff and I are turning our attention to interim studies and 2022 legislation. If you have a recommendation for an interim study, a research project that typically looks into an aspect of state government or state statute and how it can be improved, please reach out to my office. We only have a limited window for the introduction of interim studies, May 19 being the deadline, so any suggestions should be made within the next week or two. Please also reach out if you have proposals for 2022 legislation.

As always, contact me with your support, opposition or questions on any legislative bill or issue. My legislative aide, Gerald Fraas, and administrative assistant, Amanda Johnson, are also available to assist you with matters related to the state of Nebraska and the Legislature. You can follow along with the Nebraska Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Published in the Grand Island Independent 4/29/2021

Column, April 10, 2021
April 29th, 2021

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter and has been enjoying the warmer temperatures the past few weeks have brought us. Over these past few weeks, I had the pleasure of speaking at an event hosted by the Nebraska Catholic Conference at St. Mary’s Cathedral and of attending the ribbon cutting for the new Center for Health and Technical Sciences Building at Central Community College. Although it seems as though life may still be at a standstill, Grand Island is prepared to thrive as our economy recovers. In Lincoln, the Legislature is busy processing through bills released from committee and debating the FY2022-2023 budget.

Two of my bills, LB371 and LB224, were advanced on Tuesday. LB371, my bill addressing an issue with statute that would prohibit casino operations within 660 feet of an ongoing fair, was advanced from Select File to the Enrollment and Review Committee (E&R) for Engrossing. Upon being released from E&R, it will be placed onto “Final Reading” where it will require one more round of debate and voting before being delivered to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his approval. LB224, my bill addressing an issue with the statutes governing county officials, namely surveyors, was advanced on the consent calendar to Select File. I expect that both of these bills will pass, albeit with some additional debate.

I’ve continued to be outspoken on the legislative floor for the interests of Grand Island and an advocate for the legislation I co-signed and supported. I appreciate the candor of my colleagues who so skillfully convert a seemingly simple discussion on an issue into a nuanced debate that draws on for the duration of the morning, afternoon or entire day. We vote at the end, regardless of how the debate proceeds, so nearly every minute of that discussion is valuable.

Lastly, I encourage each person who can to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Our coordinated measures have controlled the spread, but it remains vital that our community at large be vaccinated for the purpose of, hopefully, reducing or suppressing the presence of COVID-19 in our lives. If you are not sure the vaccine is appropriate for yourself, or have questions, I encourage you to reach out to a licensed medical practitioner to discuss your concerns.

As always, please contact me with your support, opposition or questions on any legislative bill or issue.

My legislative aide, Gerald Fraas, and administrative assistant, Amanda Johnson, are also available to assist you with matters related to the state of Nebraska and the Legislature. You can follow along with the Nebraska Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Published in the Grand Island Independent 4/10/2021

Column, March 20, 2021
March 24th, 2021

I hope everyone has weathered the storms this past week and is looking forward to the spring weather we should, hopefully, be blessed with in the near future. This week, my priority bill, LB371, was heard and advanced on the floor. It wasn’t an uncontested discussion, but did conclude with a vote of 38 senators in support, five in opposition, and five abstentions.

LB371 is legislation that would exempt games of chance pursuant to the Nebraska Racetrack Gaming Act from the list of activities prohibited within the proximity of an ongoing fair. For Grand Island, changing this law is a critical need. Fonner Park is defined in state law as the place where the State Fair must occur. Should Fonner Park choose to construct a casino, which is almost certainly a given, the forced closure that the pre-existing law mandates would be to Grand Island’s economic detriment. We expect that any casino facility would create jobs and drive tourism, and the sudden forced closure of that facility could have an impact on tourism levels and on those who work at the facility. We need to ensure that Grand Island is able to reap the full economic benefit of the Racetrack Gaming Act on a consistent basis.

I do recognize and respect the opposition to our bill. Those who are averse to gambling on moral or religious grounds are entitled to their voice and their vote. One of the most vocal concerns was what the healthy separation of gaming and a fair would look like, and if having games-of-chance near a fair would result in parents leaving their children at the midway in order to gamble. Other senators quickly responded that said action is already a possibility at the fair, with bingo or the beer garden, and that we could ponder the “what-ifs” of this situation for hours. In my conversations with Fonner Park, it has been made abundantly clear that there will exist a strong separation between the gaming operations and the State Fair. The fair will remain the fair, and the casino will be the casino.

We did see senators who traditionally oppose efforts related to gambling stand in support of LB371, and I appreciate their being vocal during the debate. LB371 was lauded as being a necessity given the overwhelming support by the voters of Racetrack Gaming Act. I agree, not only for Grand Island, but for Columbus and Hastings and other communities that may fit the criteria in the future.

LB371 will have two more rounds of consideration by the Legislature. I will continue working forward on this bill and look forward to seeing its eventual final passage.

Changing focus, I’d like to congratulate Mr. Brody Arrants of Grand Island Senior High School on his state wrestling championship, and the Grand Island Central Catholic boys basketball team on their state championship. I’m incredibly proud of the athletic accomplishments of our young athletes and also their academic accomplishments.

As always, please contact me with your support, opposition or questions on any legislative bill or issue. My legislative aide, Gerald Fraas, and administrative assistant, Amanda Johnson, are also available to assist you with matters related to the state of Nebraska and Legislature. You can follow along with the Nebraska Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Published in the Grand Island Independent 3/20/2021

Column, March 8, 2021
March 8th, 2021

Since I last wrote, things have quieted in Lincoln, but only temporarily. Our committee meetings are quickly coming to an end, and we’ll soon begin daylong floor debate for the remainder of the 2021 session. My last committee hearing of 2021 concluded Thursday afternoon and my last bill (LB603) was heard on Feb. 25. My team and I are now turning our attention to the floor debate, both for my legislation and for the purpose of being vocal in support or opposition of others’ legislation.

Although we may not agree with each other on every issue, I do believe that my fellow legislators have the well-being of their district in mind as they participate in the floor debate. However, no matter how earnest the debate is, I must be mindful that not all legislation is good legislation, and each bill must be weighed by the virtues of its intent and methods. The unicameral system has enabled us to be efficient in our legislative process, which in turn has made it important for each and every legislator to be engaged with the debate process. It also makes it expressly important for citizens to be engaged with the process and vocal with their reasons for opposition or support.

I encourage you to keep an eye on the Legislature and to express your support or opposition to legislation as you see fit. With 37,000+ individuals living within District 35 alone, it can be difficult to be aware of every issue that is facing the community, or fully realize the potential of legislation for the community, unless someone reaches out. I do appreciate hearing from you, and appreciate the insight you can provide to help sculpt the decisions I am tasked with making. I’d also encourage you to keep our federal representatives in mind when advocating on policy matters.

It’s been a pleasure to meet and connect (and oftentimes, re-connect) with individuals, organizations, and businesses from Grand Island and across the state over the past two months. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to speak with our students, teachers, business owners, young leaders, political leadership, economic developers and community advocates on a wide variety of issues. I look forward to the opportunity to continue to work with these groups to identify and propose legislation that will move Grand Island forward.

As always, please contact me with your support, opposition or questions on any legislative bill or issue. My staff are also available to assist you with matters related to the state of Nebraska and the Legislature. You can follow along with the Nebraska Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege to represent you in the Unicameral.

Published in the Grand Island Independent 3/8/2021

Column, February 18, 2021
February 23rd, 2021

It has been a busy few weeks in Lincoln. We’ve been using our past few days of the legislative session to hold hearings in both the morning and the afternoon to minimize the potential disruption the legislative process would have if the Legislature had to temporarily suspend session due to a COVID-19 outbreak. It’s unusual, given that we would typically have session in the morning and hearings in the afternoon, but it’s the best tool we have for making sure that all bills have their required public hearing and get adequate time to be considered on the legislative floor.

Co-sponsoring a bill is one of the best tools we have in the Legislature to offer support and legitimacy to other pieces of legislation. I consider each offer to co-sponsor carefully, and exercise my right to decline more than I agree to sign. So far, I’ve co-sponsored 15 bills in the 107th Legislature, and I’d like to highlight a few that you may find interesting.

LB241, introduced by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, would create a set of COVID-19 standards for meatpacking plants in Nebraska to implement, including social distancing, screenings and cleaning. We’ve seen our meatpacking plants make significant strides to protect their workers since the pandemic began, but I believe it’s important that we standardize what those precautionary measures are and how they are implemented. We must be mindful that the well-being of our local meatpackers is in the interest of our whole community.

LB4, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, increases the tuition credit provided to enlisted members of the Selected Reserves and partially removes stipulations restricting when an enlisted member may utilize the credit. Our troops in the Selected Reserves deserve our support when it comes to education, much in the same way we support education in the National Guard.

LB283, also introduced by Sen. Briese, would shift Nebraska to year-round daylight saving time, should we be joined in an agreement by enough neighboring states. The time changes we currently experience were predicated by a wartime need to save fuel and written into the law later for the sake of standardizing the time for the transportation industry. The benefits of the time changes are no longer obvious or relevant, and I believe LB283 is an effective way for Nebraska to stop the time changes without significant economic consequence.

LB417, introduced by Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, would permit off-duty police officers to carry a firearm on school property. We put our police officers through a rigorous firearm training process and that training doesn’t disappear when they go off-duty. By allowing our off-duty officers to carry their firearms on school properties, we create one more potential barrier for those seeking to harm to our children and our community.

Lastly, I’d like to highlight my ability to introduce commemorative resolutions as a form of recognition for major accomplishments and achievements. Should you be aware of anything you believe would be worthy of recognition in the Grand Island area, please reach out to my office and let my staff or me know. These typically commemorate sports championships, major scholarships, major anniversaries, fellowship acceptances or other significant accomplishments. It’s an honor to be able to recognize Grand Islanders before the entirety of the Legislature, and I would appreciate any recommendations you are able to provide.

As always, contact me with your support, opposition or questions on any legislative bill or issue. My legislative aide, Gerald Fraas, and administrative assistant, Amanda Johnson, are also available to assist you with matters related to the state of Nebraska and the Legislature. You can follow along with the Nebraska Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Published in the Grand Island Independent, 2/18/2021

Column, January 28, 2021
January 29th, 2021

It has been 12 years since I last served in the Legislature, and it’s an honor, once again, to serve as your representative. Much has changed in the nation, state and district since I last served in the body: three presidents, a new governor, 9,694 pieces of introduced legislation, a new hospital, and the State Fair now being held at Fonner Park. The world around us has changed, and so, too, have the dynamics of legislating. I’m working hard to adjust to these new realities and to best represent your needs.

This session, I was named to the Natural Resources Committee, led by Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, and the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee, led by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg. I look forward to working with these committees to further the interests of Grand Island and Nebraska.

A total of 684 bills have been introduced this year. I have introduced four pieces of legislation, all of which were brought to my attention by individuals or groups from, or related to, Grand Island:

— LB224, an act that will remove a restriction preventing the appointment of a county surveyor, should one not be elected, who resides within the county itself. Currently, counties in which nobody runs for the office of county surveyor, or which have a vacancy, must appoint a licensed surveyor who does not reside within the county. What was once seen as a law that maintained the integrity of the political process for electing county surveyors has now become a burden on the county itself, both financially and logistically. My legislation would remove the requirement that the surveyor be from outside of the county and allow county governments to recruit an appointed county surveyor locally.

— LB371, an act that will add “games of chance” to the list of permitted activities at a racetrack where a fair (county or the State Fair) is occurring. The current language could require that, should Fonner Park construct a casino, said casino would need to close down during the duration of the State Fair. The racetracks in Hastings and Columbus find themselves in similar situations, serving as the venue for the Adams County Fairfest and Platte County Fair, respectively. We want to be sure that Grand Islanders are able to continue working without interruption and that fairgoers are able to enjoy all that Grand Island has to offer.

— LB536, an act that makes changes to a fund derived from a portion of pari-mutuel bets placed at Nebraska racetracks. The fund was designed to promote horse breeding, agriculture and horse racing in Nebraska, but has statutory limitations dictating that these funds can only be spent at the racetrack where they were derived. LB536 would require racetracks to remit those funds to the State Racing Commission and removes the stipulation on where the funds can be spent so that smaller racetracks will be able to benefit from these funds equitably.

— LB603, an act that will require online marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay, to collect identifying information of all Nebraska high-volume sellers using their platform, and make that information available publicly. There is a rising trend among thieves and crime syndicates of selling stolen goods with relative anonymity online, and it’s important that our prosecutors have the tools needed to investigate and prosecute these individuals. We need to assure that online sellers follow the same laws as Nebraska brick-and-mortar retail sellers.

All of these bills will have a public committee hearing. I intend to keep you updated as they progress through the legislative process.

As always, please contact me with your support, opposition or questions on any legislative bill or issue. My legislative aide, Gerald Fraas, and administrative assistant, Amanda Johnson, are also available to assist you with matters related to the state of Nebraska and the Legislature. You can follow along with the Nebraska Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege to represent you in the Unicameral.

Published in the Grand Island Independent, 1/28/2021

Welcome
January 6th, 2021

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 35th 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.

Sincerely,
Sen. Raymond Aguilar

Sen. Raymond Aguilar

District 35
Room 1118
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2617
Email: raguilar@leg.ne.gov
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