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Today marks the beginning of the 106th Legislature–First Session, and I am just as honored and humbled to serve the people of Grand Island as your state senator as I was when I took the oath of office two years ago to represent District 35 in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
Since then, I have been fortunate to grow and learn many valuable lessons with the help of my fellow senators and with the help of constituents who have taken the time to reach out and share their views with me.
In my two years in the Legislature, I have learned about a lot of issues affecting the lives of Nebraskans, and I have worked to address a broad range of topics, such as the state budget, child welfare, water rights, and public power.
I have also learned the importance of working together. The Unicameral is unique as a nonpartisan body, and I firmly believe that our top priority as legislators is not to serve the partisan interests of one political party over another, but rather to serve the hardworking people of the state. Although we may not agree on every issue, it is essential that we remain willing to listen, to learn, and to keep an open mind.
If not, we won’t be able to address pressing issues, such as finding realistic and effective ways to address property tax relief, to support public education, to improve child welfare and access to healthcare, to provide support for working families, and to encourage job growth in Nebraska, in addition to many other important policy issues.
This session, I plan on introducing legislation to address abandoned properties that have plagued communities across Nebraska by enabling them to create land banks. Over the summer, the Urban Affairs Committee heard testimony in support of land banks, which are a common sense solution to fix abandoned and dilapidated properties in the state. Land banks can help make properties and neighborhoods safer, and they are an important tool to increase affordable and workforce housing. During the hearings, we heard about Habitat for Humanity’s support to expand land banks, and I have also met with private developers, such as the Central Nebraska Home Builders Association, to discuss this legislation.
I also will be working this session to address the current lack of quality early childhood education programs. In addition to providing children with important opportunities to grow in social and intellectual development, early childhood education programs give working families a safe and trusted place to take their children.
Finally, recent reports and news articles have made it clear that there is a troubling rise in youth usage of e-cigarette and vapor products, including within our schools. I plan to introduce a bill that will work to limit the availability of these products to youth.
The start of the new year and the new session is a great opportunity to reflect on goals for the future and ways in which Nebraska’s state senators can collaborate to pursue practical and innovative solutions to the challenges the state faces. I begin this session feeling confident and hopeful for what’s in store for the future. I hope you will reach out to me or my staff and share your thoughts this session as we work together to help Nebraska.
Note: This opinion was also published in The Grand Island Independent on January 9, 2019.
I have just completed my first session in the Nebraska Legislature and I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts and impressions of this year. As slow moving as it may have seemed for most of you it went by extremely fast for me. We witnessed a divided legislature to begin the session resulting in a battle over the rules for the first 30 days. Near the end of the session we experienced almost the same division when we voted to override the Governor’s veto on the budget. There were 667 bills introduced this year and we worked together to pass more than 170. We worked through a major budget shortfall and passed a balanced budget for the next 2 years.
Each Senator has his or her motive for supporting or opposing a bill and I understand that it is next to impossible to please everyone. Before voting on a bill I would make sure I understood how the bill would affect my constituents and all Nebraskans for that matter and then come to a decision on whether to support or oppose it. When asked about my position I was honest with my response in explaining my decision. The experience I gained this first session was invaluable and I have enjoyed my time working in Legislature even though there were times I was disappointed in how a vote would turn out. I would say the most disappointing moment for me was near the end of session when we voted to override the Governor’s veto on the budget. Even though several of us voiced our concerns and shared our personal stories we could not muster up the votes to override the veto. This was a cut to provider rates for facilities that provide care to people with behavioral health issues, those with disabilities and for the elderly. The Appropriations Committee did an excellent job of putting a budget together that was balanced and took care not to cut needed services too deeply so Nebraskans would not be harmed. I put my trust in them and I wish others had as well.
When I was going door to door before the election many of you expressed the need for property tax relief. LB461 was brought to the floor during the session, but it didn’t offer true property tax relief and it came at a time when we were dealing with a $1.1 billion-dollar shortfall. This bill gave income tax relief and changed the formula for agricultural land from property value to more of an income value based tax. There would be no property tax relief for those living in urban areas. The income tax portion provided tax relief to corporations and higher wage earners and provided little to no tax relief for working families. Another problem is that schools, municipalities, counties, and many other local boards rely on property tax revenue for their budgets. If we are going to reduce revenue we need to make sure we have revenue from somewhere else to help fund them.
I know it has nothing to do with legislation, but on several occasions, I had the opportunity to visit with 4th grade classes who had traveled to the Capitol for their field trip. They were all very polite and I even had the opportunity to answer some of their questions and have my picture taken with them. I enjoyed speaking to the children and I want to thank you for letting me visit with you and those students.
On the bright side, I did have two of my bills pass this year. One is LB383 which allows for a member of planning commission hold another office within a community of the first class, second class or village if they do not already serve as mayor, on a city council or village board, as a member of any community redevelopment authority, or a citizen advisory review committee. This would solve a problem in some smaller communities where elected positions go unfilled because there are not enough people interested in holding those positions.
The second bill is LB455 which updates the minimum standards set forth in the National Electrical Code issued and adopted by the National Fire Protection Association which govern the State Electrical Board. It allows the State Electrical Board to continue to have the power to adopt, promulgate, and revise the rules and regulations necessary to enable it to carry into effect the State Electrical Act.
I still have three other bills on general file awaiting debate during the next session which begins in January 2018.
I introduced LR164 to request an interim study which will examine the need for restoration, development, and capital improvement of sites that attract tourists to Nebraska. During the summer and fall I will be involved with several interim studies through the committees I serve on. Some will have hearings in Lincoln and others in out-state Nebraska including Grand Island. Interim studies are open to the public and there will be notification of a location and time for all hearings.
I recently made a trip along with Senator Lynn Walz to Washington D.C. to speak with Nebraska’s Congressmen and Senators. Senator Walz and I were appointed as the legislative commissioners to the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission or MIPRC. There are 11 states included in the Midwest region with 9 states having active membership. The membership states are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Iowa and Ohio are the two states not represented. There is intercity passenger rail as well as long distance which would be Amtrak that runs through Nebraska. In Nebraska in 2016 there were 54,593 passengers who used Amtrak with the most riders traveling from Omaha to Chicago and Omaha to Denver. Another 118,692 passengers traveled by Amtrak through our state with some de-training here in Nebraska. President Trump’s current budget proposal would cut funding for long distance passenger rail which means no funding for Amtrak in Nebraska. We were visiting our representatives in Washington D.C. to express our concerns and educate them on the importance of Amtrak to our state and to find out what their feelings were on the President’s plan. Other issues discussed were frequency of service in Nebraska and how in the future there are plans for a separate line running through Iowa from Chicago to Omaha to increase daily service and ridership. Another possible plan for the future is a line that runs from Kansas City to Omaha, but that may be further down the road.
Also, this summer and fall my plans include participating in interim studies. I will be working on bills for next year, attending local events, talking with constituents through meetings and even going door to door to get your input.
Please feel free to contact my office if you have an issue or would like to schedule a meeting and visit my face book page at State Senator Dan Quick
The legislative session is over halfway through and I have seen the Legislature begin to work together on issues important to Nebraskans. We passed the permanent rules, which was important so we could move on to more pressing issues. I have found it very interesting to watch and participate in floor debate. There have been a few bills that you may have an opinion on, but after hearing debate begin to wonder if it may or may not be the best thing for everyone. We have been able to get a lot of good work done on the floor in the last couple of weeks and with committee hearings being over, we have moved on to full-day debate. I have signed on as co-sponsor for nine bills, am included on five committee bills, and have five of my own.
My priority bill for this year was LB181 which was a workers compensation bill. It would allow for a second opinion examination paid for by the employer only if the first examination was done by a doctor chosen by the employer. In current law an employee can go to their own physician when injured on the job and the employer is obligated to inform them of this right. The reason this law is important is because there is nothing in the current law to hold the employer accountable if they do not notify the employee of their right to seek an exam or treatment from their own physician on an initial visit.
This law would not create more expense to an employer if the employee goes to their own physician and would help the employee feel more at ease by being treated by someone they know. I decided to bracket LB181 until next year so I would have time to work with employers on some of the issues they have. This bill is important as it will create a more equitable system that will benefit both the employer and employee.
There have been several bills introduced and debated on the floor since my last article and I feel that we have been able to make significant progress. There have also been a few bills that have had some opposition and have taken several hours to debate.
One of those bills is LB335, which proposes to eliminate the rate changes for child care providers in 2017. I oppose this bill because I believe it will have an adverse effect on working families by reducing the subsidies for children needing child care who are below the poverty level. This could have consequences for parents who must make the choice of whether they can afford to work a job that pays them less than the cost of child care. We want people to stay employed and better their situation instead of pushing them back on to welfare. There are no easy solutions as we need to reduce the budget deficit for the state and yet still provide programs and services to those in need.
LB632 is the bill that I have received the most emails and phone calls about so far. This bill would affect the craft brewers and change the way they way do business and may prevent them from expanding. We have not met in executive session to move this bill out of committee and I’m not sure when that will happen. I cannot support this bill as it is currently written and although I have not seen them yet, I hear there are amendments.
LB72 is another bill I am opposed to and it could be an issue for employees as well as citizens of a community or municipality. The bill proposes to place bond holders to be paid first in the event a community or municipality files for bankruptcy. This would place bond holders over citizens who rely on city services as well as employee wages, benefits and pensions.
Although it has never happened, under current law it would be decided by a judge on how the process would be carried out and who and how much would be received. My suggestion was that if there needs to be an order, that we place services first, employees second and bond holders third. The bill has not passed first reading at this time, but has had a few hours of floor debate so far.
As we move into the final 30 days of this session, we will continue to debate the various priority bills. Several of these measures promise lengthy debate. We will also have extended debate on our state budget. We are required to pass a balanced budget and this year is going to be difficult due to the large shortfall we are facing. Tough choices will have to be made on what programs and services will be cut, reduced, or spared. April 24 is the day the budget will be due to us, but I suspect it may come out a few days earlier so we have some time to look at the numbers.
At this time I intend to have a wrap-up article prepared at the end of the session to highlight what we have accomplished. I also want to schedule a few meet and greet coffee get-togethers. In the meantime, please feel free to continue to contact my office on issues that are of concern to you. Also, go to my website at news.legislature.ne.gov/dist35/ or see me on Facebook.
Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island represents District 35 in the Nebraska Legislature. Contact him online at news.legislature.ne.gov/dst35/
Thank you to the voters of District 35 for electing me to the Legislature. I am both humbled and honored to serve you. After my election and before the session started, I hired my office staff. My administrative assistant, Katie Chatters, and my legislative aide, Craig Breunig, have several years of experience serving in our state Capitol. Their knowledge and insight are proving to be invaluable to this freshman senator. I also received some great advice from two former senators, Annette Dubas and Mike Gloor. One piece of advice was “listen and learn.” The other was when speaking, “less is more.” I greatly appreciate their advice and their service to Nebraska.
I find my first year in the Legislature to be historic for Nebraska as we celebrate 150 years of statehood. But this year, history is also being made within the Legislature with the push to create partisanship. I have been discouraged by these actions as I have always believed that our Unicameral is unique by being a nonpartisan body. As I went door to door during my campaign, people would ask me which political party I belonged to. I would reply that the race is nonpartisan, tell them my party affiliation, then say that it should be more about the person and less about the party. This is something that I feel strongly about. We have seen it happen way too much, especially in Washington, D.C., where party lines are drawn and nothing gets done.
It would be great to see elected officials working together to solve problems in America and the state of Nebraska instead of letting party politics control their vote. I understand we all have our issues we are passionate about and that sometimes divides us, but I also believe that we can come together to reach solutions to the problems we face. I have met and talked with many senators and I have confidence that eventually we will start working together, just as the Legislature has done in previous years.
I have been appointed to serve on three committees: Natural Resources, Urban Affairs and General Affairs. We have had hearings on several bills and have already sent most on to general file. I am excited for the opportunity to serve on Natural Resources as I have worked in public power for 28 years and understand how it plays an important role in our state and to its customers. With Grand Island being an urban district, Urban Affairs will also be a committee that I will be able to provide knowledge of the issues we face in our district. On General Affairs, we will be dealing with issues covering a broad range of topics. I know that my life experiences will provide me with the knowledge and insight it takes to be a productive member on these committees.
With the help of my staff, I have introduced five bills and have signed on as a co-sponsor to several others. As a freshman senator, I decided to introduce bills that pertain to areas that I have knowledge and interest in.
Although my bills are important to me, the budget deficit and problems within corrections will be two of the biggest issues we face this year and in my opinion take precedence over everything else. With the deficit problem, I know there will be some programs that must make cuts, but I want to make sure the cuts aren’t so deep that those needing the services are harmed, including the disabled and children. Our children are our future and I want to ensure we have quality programs in place for them, whether that be for education or child welfare.
As state senators, it is our responsibility to work together and have debate from all sides to put together a budget that works for all Nebraskans. We may address tax reform, but I cannot guarantee that we will be able to make any changes this year because of the budget shortfall. I have already received calls and emails about issues you are passionate about and I will do my best to address your concerns. I do not take my vote lightly and I understand, as I hope you do, that there are people on both sides of every issue.
Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island has begun his first term in the Nebraska Legislature, representing District 35.
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