Sen. John Kuehn
District 38

Welcome

January 7th, 2015

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 38th 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. John Kuehn

Letter to the District – Week 6

March 3rd, 2015

Over the past year a number of significant problems in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services have come to light. Premature release of of inmates due to miscalculated sentences, facilities such as the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center dramatically overcrowded at 300% of design capacity, and a lack of needed programming for mental health and substance abuse services rank among the many challenges facing the corrections system in Nebraska. Several Interim Committees have explored these issues in depth. Addressing these problems is a top priority of the Legislature this year.

The Appropriations Committee had the opportunity to meet with recently-appointed Director of Corrections Scott Frakes. While serving in his previous role in Washington state, Director Frakes successfully addressed problems similar to those that we have here in Nebraska. I was impressed by the Director’s candor and thoughtful approach to addressing Nebraska’s broken system.

A number of proposals to begin the long path toward fixing the system are before the Nebraska Legislature this session. It is clear that expanded legislative oversight will be a significant part of reform.

Senator Mello has introduced LB 605, which is based upon recommendations from the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The CSGJC used a data-driven analysis to develop a proposed strategy to reduce recidivism, increase public safety, slow the rate of prison population growth, and reduce corrections spending.

Late in 2014, the NDCS called for a plan to add 1,100 new prison beds to bring the prison population down to 128 percent of design capacity by 2019. However, this would come at a cost of $262 million. Senator Coash’s LB 237 mirrors this plan.

LB 654, introduced by Senator Les Seiler, would construct a mental-health focused corrections facility in Hastings, addressing both space and programming problems.

LB 172 eliminates certain mandatory minimum penalties with the purpose of reducing state’s prison population by enabling prisoners to reach their parole eligibility earlier. LB 173 changes provisions relating to the application for non-violent crimes under the “three strikes and you’re out” laws. LB 592 would require prison officials to evaluate inmates before their release to determine their capacity to return to society. LB 499 would re-establish needed behavioral and mental health programs in collaboration with DCS, Office of Probation Administration, and the Office of Juvenile Services.

As each of these proposals makes its way through the committee process, they will be refined and improved before coming before the full Legislature. The Judiciary and Appropriations Committee processes are both focussed on addressing the challenges in a way that places public safety at the greatest priority. I look forward to working with my fellow Senators and Director Frakes to reform the corrections system in Nebraska.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding the corrections system or any other legislation, please do not hesitate to contact my office by e-mail at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov or phone at 402-471-2732. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District – Week 5

February 23rd, 2015

The Nebraska Legislature has a constitutional requirement that prohibits general operating debt: effectively requiring a balanced budget. Operational expenditures must not exceed revenue generated in a biennium, the two year budget cycle of state government. The entire budget of Nebraska draws from a number of funds, including General Funds, Cash Funds, Federal Funds, Revolving Funds, and the Cash Reserve. Cash Funds are derived from specific sources, often fees, and are designated to fund a specific program on a cost reimbursement basis. Revolving Funds are how one state agency bills another agency for costs incurred. Federal Funds include the federal share match for programs such as Medicaid, highway construction, and education through federal grants and contracts. The Cash Reserve is often called the “rainy day fund”, which most frequently is funded when revenue received exceeds projected estimates.

Of the roughly $8 billion the the State of Nebraska will appropriate in the coming biennium, approximately $4 billion is in the “General Fund”, which is primarily derived from sales and income tax revenue. When most of us refer to “the budget” we are making reference to the General Fund. The largest components of the General Fund budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 include state aid to K-12 Education (TEEOSA) at 22.3% of the total, followed by Medicaid at 18.9% of the total, and the University of Nebraska and State Colleges at 14.4% of the total. Collectively, these three areas make of 55.6% of the budget in the current fiscal year.

The Appropriations Committee, composed of 9 senators representing each of the three congressional districts, develops the budget proposal which will be presented to the Legislature as a whole. I serve on this committee. Over the past 30 legislative days, the committee has reviewed the budget requests from each department and the budget proposed by the Governor. On Monday, the 23rd of February, the Appropriations Committee will begin public hearings with agencies and sponsors of appropriations bills.

As we move into hearings, I am ever cognizant of my responsibility to taxpayers to appropriate General Fund dollars wisely. Each General Fund dollar appropriated represents roughly 52 cents from individual income tax and 36 cents from state sales tax–dollars directly from Nebraska’s working families. Balancing the needs for services, strategic investment in state programs, and meeting the state’s duties in public safety, education, and infrastructure with the burden to taxpayers is no simple task.

You will note that none of the appropriations from the state General Fund are derived from Property Taxes. Spending authority for Property Tax revenues lies with the local agencies that establish the levy.

I encourage you to check www.nebraskalegislature.gov for hearing schedules and, as always, feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns by phone at (402)-471-2732 or email jkuehn@ne.leg.gov.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District – Week 4

February 13th, 2015

Floor debate has begun as bills move out of committee and make their way through the legislative process. Early work has focused on Revisor Bills that have passed Final Reading, as well as several that have advanced from General to Select File.

A bill introduced by Senator Crawford, LB 107, which I co-signed and advocated for during debate, advanced to Select File. LB 107 allows for increased access to quality medical care for the citizens of Nebraska’s rural communities. This is achieved by eliminating a practice agreement between nurse practitioners (NPs) and physicians. My sister-in-law, Shannon Kuehn, is a nurse practitioner at Kearney County Health Services in District 38. I know first-hand the proven standard of care and access to services NPs provide to their patients. This legislation will grant NPs the incentive to expand accessibility of primary medical service for our rural citizens by removing the requirement of a restrictive financial agreement.

Additionally, Director of Agriculture Greg Ibach was confirmed by the Unicameral last week. Director Ibach has done an admirable job during the ten years he has overseen the Department of Agriculture. While there were concerns over the operation of the Commercial Dog and Cat Operators Inspection Program, Director Ibach has been honest and direct in his commitment to protecting our companion animals. I am confident he will continue his exceptional record as the Director of Agriculture in the coming years. His dedication to the support and promotion of Nebraska’s largest industry is valuable to Nebraska agriculture.

With regard to the Commercial Dog and Cat Operators Inspection Program, I will have a hearing in front of the Agriculture Committee for LB 389 on Tuesday, February 17th. This bill seeks to provide the resources necessary to ensure the program is adequately supported by revising the license and re-inspection fees for large scale breeders. As a veterinarian, I am committed to advocating for the care and well-being of animals, and LB 389 addresses resource issues with regard to the inspection program.

As always, I welcome your questions or concerns regarding pending legislation or any particular issue. I have already received a number of e-mails, calls, and letters from the people of District 38 and I encourage you to continue to provide your input. My office can be reached at 402-471-2732 or jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District – Week 3

February 9th, 2015

During my campaign for Legislature, a primary concern expressed by voters of District 38 was the overwhelming burden presented by property taxes. Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have seen property taxes increase by 162 percent over the past decade, with businesses and homeowners seeing an increase of 40 percent. In fact, according to a 2011 NEDED study, property taxes levied on Nebraska’s agricultural land are greater than Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana combined.

I recognize the troubling tax environment and am committed to addressing the situation. It will not be an overnight fix. The increases in property taxes have been incremental over time, and solutions will take time to develop and implement. This session, there have been several bills proposed and referred to the Legislature’s Revenue Committee with the objective of reducing the tax burden across Nebraska.

Some of the highlights of the legislation introduced with the aim of reducing property taxes include:

LB 350, introduced by Sen. Lydia Brasch, and which I co-signed, reduces the assessed value of ag land from 75% to 65% for all tax purposes. LB 351, also introduced by Sen. Brasch, reestablishes the intended level of income tax funding to the state education aid formula.

LB 178, introduced by Sen. Dan Watermeier, would gradually reduce the valuation of agricultural land from 75 percent to 55 percent of its actual value for the sole purpose K-12 school district taxation.

LB 280, introduced by Sen. Al Davis, creates a local income tax tied to a reduction in property taxes, reduces agricultural land valuation from 75 percent to 65 percent for K-12 education funding, and establishes a per-pupil amount to go to every district to restore aid to the 159 school districts that have lost equalization funding.

LB 259, introduced by Sen. Mike Gloor, exempts the first $25,000 worth of personal property value for each personal property tax return.

In addition, a number of bills introduced include the transfer funds from the state’s “rainy day fund” into the Property Tax Credit Fund. These amounts vary from fifty million dollars to one hundred and fifty million dollars over the next two years.

As I keep an eye on the situation in the Revenue Committee and these ideas advance to the floor, my top priority is ensuring that we implement a long-term solution to the burden imposed by property taxes. I hope to avoid simply “kicking the can down the road”.

It may take longer than one year to achieve structural reform, but I look forward to working with my fellow colleagues to discuss and develop comprehensive reforms that will benefit the taxpayers of District 38 and all residents of Nebraska.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District – Week 2

February 3rd, 2015

The legislative process is well underway during the third week of this 90 day session of the 104th Legislature. The ten day window for bill introduction at the beginning of the session has closed and the legislature has begun the process of consideration for each.

Each of the 663 new bills brought forth will be referenced to one of the 14 standing committees to have a public hearing. The Reference Committee, made up by members of the Legislature’s Executive Committee, makes the ultimate decision regarding the assignment of a bill to a specific committee. A bill’s time in the committee brings a great deal of depth to the conversation, providing an opportunity for supporters and opposition to present testimony to the committee. Amendments can be made at this time to the bill. Public are welcome to provide their testimony on specific bills during committee hearings. The committee hearing schedule is published and available on the Legislature’s website.

Committee members meet in executive session to consider and then vote on each bill. If a bill advances to General File, it is then presented to the legislature where every member has a chance for floor debate on the particular piece of legislation. This is often considered to be the most crucial stage of the process. During this time, amendments can continue to be added. Each bill advanced will be debated again on Select File, voted to advance to Final Reading, and heard a third time before final passage.

Over the coming weeks, my colleagues and I will spend the majority of our mornings debating the bills that have advanced to the floor and our afternoons in committee hearings to continue to listen to the concerns of the people of Nebraska on each piece of legislation.

In Appropriations, the committee on which I serve, the process operates on a slightly different schedule. A week ago, we began working through the proposals from each state agency as they present their piece of the budget for consideration. In two weeks, we will complete the agency budget reviews and begin hearings with each agency. My time and work in Appropriations has been educational and instructive in the operations of all aspects of state government.

In addition to my placement on the Appropriations committee, I was recently named to the Performance Audit Committee, where I will serve as Vice Chair, and the Homeland Security Policy Group.

It has been an honor to serve you this far and if you have any questions on the legislative process, bills before the Legislature, or the Appropriations process, I urge you to check out nebraskalegislature.gov or call my office at 402-471-2732. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District – Week 1

January 28th, 2015

This is my first “Letter to the District”, a series I hope to share with you weekly to keep you up to date with the events of the first session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature in Lincoln.

My initial two weeks have been a busy time at the Capitol. The first ten days of the session served as the period of bill introduction. I introduced five separate bills during this time:

•   LB 318 aims to fund economic development districts, providing critical support for our rural communities

•   LB 332 allocates the funding for a much-needed statewide drug disposal program with the purpose of keeping controlled substances out of the wrong hands

•   LB389 changes licensing and re-inspection fees to adequately support the state’s Commercial Dog and Cat Operator Inspection Program

•   LB496 funds the Yuetter Institute, a joint public/private initiative that focuses on international trade and finance education in the agriculture sector to give our students an industry advantage in the global marketplace

•   LB564 provides funds for higher education in high needs occupations

I have been assigned to the Appropriations Committee.  The coming weeks will be vital to the committee as we hear from each of the agencies of Nebraska and begin the important process of allocating your tax dollars to best serve the citizens of the state.  Governor Ricketts announced his budget and fiscal priorities during the State of the State Address, which will be a significant focus of our work in Appropriations.

There are two priorities that face the entire legislative body this session: property taxes and issues in Corrections. During my time on the campaign trail, the complaint I heard most often was the significant burden property taxes place on the people of District 38 and Nebraska. There have been a number of ideas introduced by my colleagues and I am in the process of analyzing the benefits and consequences of each of their proposals. In my opinion, it is imperative that we distinguish between tax relief and beginning the task of structural tax reform during this session. A long term solution is critical at this time.

As the session continues, I will continue to update you on the property tax situation, major bills on the floor of the legislature, as well as my committee’s process of building the state budget. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732. I am honored to be your representative and I look forward to being as accessible as possible for the people of District 38.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Welcome Letter

January 20th, 2015

As the 104th Nebraska Legislature convened this past week, I want to take the opportunity to thank you again for electing me to serve District 38 in the Nebraska Legislature. Since the election, I have been busy working with my colleagues and examining issues critical to south central Nebraska. I have had the opportunity to sit down with many constituents and fellow Senators who are passionate about Nebraska. I look forward to working with them in order to make the state better for our residents, children, and future generations.

I was fortunate to be assigned to the important Appropriations Committee for this session. On this committee, myself and the other eight members will dive in to each line of the state budget to find the best possible way to allocate your tax dollars. It is a challenging task, and one that will provide me an opportunity to understand all aspects of state government.

For my staff, I have hired Barb DeRiese as my Administrative Assistant and Nick Knihnisky as my Legislative Assistant. Having been in the Capitol with the district for 11 years, Barb will provide my office with her extensive knowledge of the building, district, and its people. She can be contacted at bderiese@leg.ne.gov. Nick will assist with the research of legislation, consulting on introduced bills, as well as any legislative concerns you may have. He can be contacted at nknihnisky@leg.ne.gov.

I am in office 1117 at the Capitol and my door will be open Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm. If you can not make it to the office, please give me a call at 402-471-2732. I hope to be as accessible as possible to you and District 38. Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff with any question, concern, or comment.