Sen. Tom Carlson
District 38


January 8th, 2014

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.

Sen. Tom Carlson

Legislative Newsletter

April 14th, 2014

Legislative Newsletter
Senator Tom Carlson-District 38
April 10, 2014

On this 59th legislative day, this is my 8th and last regular Legislative Session. It has been a time of joy, education, hard work, good friends, and doing my best to represent my constituents. I have learned so much about our great state and its people.

Today was the passage of what I consider my most important bill of these eight years. While I consider water to be the theme of my tenure, LB 1098 will be remembered as a bill that helped make possible water sustainability for generations to come.

LB 1098 will change the membership of and provide powers and duties for the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission and make possible the distribution of money from the Water Sustainability Fund. The Natural Resources Commission will form rules and regulations to proceed in a process of considering appropriate research on water issues and evaluating proposed projects which contribute to attaining and maintaining a position of water sustainability across the state of Nebraska.

We have challenges of addressing water scarcity, water surplus, and water quality. LB 1098 provides the framework to deal with and solve these challenges.

In my view, we are water sustainable when, on average, we are not using any more water than what our supply provides. We must focus on growing more with less water, but we should also work to increase our supply of usable water. It is generally accepted that one million acre feet of water flows into the state every year while eight million acre feet flows out.

Appropriate amounts from the Water Sustainability Fund should be used to better hold back, or capture, water flowing into the state during wet years, to be used in dry years. We also need to address critical infrastructure to better guard against damaging floods.

Water is Life. LB 1098 is landmark legislation. I am thankful to those who served on the Water Sustainability Task Force last year. I also thank the Senators who served as advisory members on the Task Force, for the members of the Natural Resources Committee, and the members of the Legislature for their overwhelming support of LB 1098.

I appreciate Senator Lathrop for his contribution and the significant work of the Appropriations Committee for including the funding in the budget. Their support was critical.

We are near the end of this session. The past eight years, serving in the Legislature, have been one of the most interesting and satisfying experiences of my life. I am thankful for the support of you, my constituents, as well as my wife, Margo, and the legislative staff members who have been at my side each legislative day. I have the best staff in the Capitol. Thank you for allowing me this privilege.

Legislative Newsletter

March 27th, 2014

Legislative Newsletter
Senator Tom Carlson – District 38
March 27, 2014

As I have said before, the legislature is at the “heavy lifting” point now that we have nine days until we adjourn for another year. The “off- year” state budget, which adjusts the biennial budget passed during the long session, was advanced to the governor with important funding. The governor has five days to approve or reject individual funding requests on a line item basis.

The nearly $8 billion budget includes $25 million additional to the Property Tax Credit Fund and $31 million for one time money and ongoing funding for water initiatives, including research. I am pleased that my colleagues agreed with me that water is our most important resource and we must fund water sustainability.

To that end, the editorial page editor of the Lincoln Journal Star interviewed me this week and wrote a complimentary top story in his paper the next day. He focused on LB 1098, my priority bill for this session. That bill would restructure the Natural Resources Commission by expanding it to 27 members. The governor would appoint the 11 additional members. The new commission would recommend which projects would be funded by the Water Sustainability Fund to ensure all Nebraskans benefit from state tax dollars. LB 1098 will be debated next week.

Yesterday the legislature debated two prison reform bills aimed at easing perpetual overcrowding in our state institutions. Both advanced to Select File. LB 907 would provide more intensive supervised release to help inmates earn part of the cost of their sentence.

We also must better prepare inmates for their release to substantially reduce recidivism. Every prisoner should be exposed to an influence that could help develop a ray of hope in their lives. Without help, a person has nothing to head them in a positive direction.

LB 999 was also approved on first round debate. This legislation will help inmates successfully cope with and prepare for eventual release by providing treatment for mental health issues and drug and alcohol addictions. I believe that violent offenders should serve out their full prison terms. However, as with non-violent offenders, an opportunity for hope should be available for every inmate. Churches and other charitable groups need to step up and offer help in this regard. Our corrections system must be open for their assistance.

On Final Reading this morning were several bills aimed at tax reductions for Nebraskans. LB 96 will exempt repair or replacement parts for agricultural machinery and equipment from sales and use tax. Nebraska is one of eight states still imposing this tax.

LB 986e will change homestead exemption income limitations and provide an exemption for individuals with developmental disabilities. That bill will become effective upon the governor’s signature.

LB 987 will adjust individual income tax brackets for inflation and exempt social security and military retirement benefits from income taxation in certain circumstances such as maximum total income. These bills were the result of the work done by the Tax Modernization Committee that met last summer and fall.

Legislative Newsletter

March 18th, 2014

Legislative Newsletter

Senator Tom Carlson-District 38

March 13, 2014

The Legislature is in the midst of the session count down on this 43rd working day. The budget bills were presented this week and many of the personal and speaker priority bills are waiting for debate.

The two year state budget is passed every other year during the long 90-day session.  It is updated during the following 60-day session to incorporate changes in the economy and other circumstances unknown the previous year.  The $7.8 billion two year budget will cover the period ending June 30, 2015.

We gave first round approval to the budget, which includes increased property tax credits. More money is allocated for water projects, parks maintenance, job training, early childhood education, and additional services for people with developmental disabilities.

One of my main objectives this session was to obtain more state funds for water projects.  To that end, I introduced LB 1047 in front of the Appropriations Committee.  I am pleased to report that water related funding is one of the largest amounts included in this year’s amended budget package.

LB 1047 created the Water Sustainability Fund in the Dept of Natural Resources.  An appropriation of $21 million of General Funds would be transferred to the Fund for fiscal year 2014-15. An additional $11 million would be transferred to the fund in each fiscal year, beginning 2015-16.

LB 1098, my priority bill, would establish the new Natural Resources Commission. The 27 members would evaluate and recommend new water research and projects to put us on the path to water sustainability across the entire state of Nebraska. I believe this is one of the most important considerations in my eight years in the Legislature. 

The property tax credit program, started in 2007, provides a state funded discount on a local homeowner or landowner’s property tax bill.  The proposed budget adds $25 million to the fund. An amendment to make the amount $45 million did not pass. Most property owners will see a savings of $74 per $100,000 property valuation. The present savings is $66 per $100,000 valuation.

Tuesday’s vote was the first of three required to pass the budget and present it to the Governor by March 26, the 50th Legislative Day.  This budget includes the increased commitment to water sustainability.

Many of my constituents contact my office concerning income tax cuts, especially for military and social security payments to retirees.  The Revenue Committee introduced LB 987 and the body advanced it to the second round of debate. The bill would adjust individual income tax brackets for inflation and exempt Social Security income, up to a certain amount, from taxation. If passed in present form, the new rates would take effect for tax years beginning January 1, 2015. I support LB 987 and would also support a bill to reduce state income tax rates.

Legislative Newsletter

February 27th, 2014

Legislative Newsletter
Senator Tom Carlson-District 38
February 27, 2014

This is the 34th day of the 60 day, short session. Standing committee hearings will be completed this week. Monday is a recess day, meaning the legislature is not in session to allow time for senators to return to their home districts. All day debate begins on Tuesday, March 4th.

As various news outlets have reported, the big issues to be solved will be on the agenda. This is not unusual as it takes time for bills to go through the hearing process and then often rewritten to reflect the needs of our citizens. My water resources bills stand right up there with those big issues, as well as medicaid expansion, tax reform, school funding, and prison reform.

The Natural Resources Committee, which I chair, heard one of my water bills, LB 1098, yesterday. That bill would change membership and powers and duties of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission. It is very important to help us reach water sustainability in the state.

The Revenue Committee has begun to advance bills to address Nebraska tax reform possibilities. One of those bills, LB 987, would adjust individual income tax brackets for inflation and exempt Social Security payments up to a certain amount. These are issues that have frequently come to my attention and that I feel could aid in economic development and keep more retirees in our state. But we must remember that all bills are usually amended before they are passed.

I introduced LB 960, before the Revenue Committee on February 20th. My bill would adjust down inheritance tax rates for lineal descendants from 13% to 7% and in the case of all others, from 18% to 9%. I will be surprised if any bill concerning county inheritance tax advances out of committee. However, I still believe the top brackets are too high and should be lowered.

The budget is always a major bill in any session. The main budget for the two year cycle passes during the long, 90 day, session. It is amended during the short session. The Appropriations Committee must advance their final budget to the floor by March 10, which is Day 40. It must be passed and presented to the Governor by the 50th legislative day.

The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board will meet tomorrow. This board was created in 1984 to advise the governor and the legislature for state general fund revenue projections. Consisting of nine members, the board develops a consensus projection of the state’s economic activity as it relates to the general fund revenue derived for existing state tax rates. Members must demonstrate expertise in tax policy, economics, or economic forecasting. They meet three times a year in odd-numbered years and twice in even-numbered year.

We have debated LB 1016 for two days. Introduced by Senator Krist of Omaha, the bill would authorize the purchase of a new state aircraft, to be used only for state business. A new Beechcraft King Air would cost $3.6 million. Senator Krist’s research shows that 37 states operate this particular aircraft. The bill also calls for the state to sell an older plane that is now used. The bill advanced to the second round of debate.

Legislative Newsletter

February 13th, 2014

Legislative Newsletter
Senator Tom Carlson-District 38
February 13, 2014

The Legislature hit a speed bump the past week while we debated LB 393, a bill to allow those riding motorcycles to do so without protective eye and head gear. This bill has been introduced numerous times in previous sessions. Most of the filibuster centered on the costs to the state to shoulder the medical treatment costs of those injured versus personal freedom. I have heard from several constituent groups and had visitors to my office in favor of this bill. While I do not like expanded government regulations, I had to stay with my original vote on this issue and agree that helmets are necessary for motorcycle riders in our state. The debate ended when a vote for cloture failed to garner the required 33 votes. It is doubtful the bill will be placed on the agenda again and it will die at the end of the session.

Priority bill designation has begun. Senators may choose one bill as a priority. It does not have to be a bill that they personally introduced. Standing committees may each select two bills as priority legislation. The Speaker of the Legislature may designate up to 25 bills as his priority. Floor debate will focus on priority bills for the remainder of the Session.

The three bills introduced to carry out the mission of the Water Funding Task Force are scheduled for hearings. LBs 940 and 1046 will be introduced to the Appropriations Committee on February 18th. My priority bill, LB 1098, will be heard by the Natural Resources Committee on February 26th.

LB 1098 would restructure the Natural Resources Commission. The Commission is presently responsible for the management of state funding programs administered by the Department of Natural Resources. Three of the 16 members are appointed by the Governor to represent the specific interests of: municipal water users, surface water irrigators, and public power. The remaining thirteen members are selected for four-year terms at caucuses of the Natural Resources Districts directors in Nebraska’s river basins.

LB 1098 would retain the original 16 members. In addition, 11 new members would be appointed by the Governor. With water being such a state priority after recent drought years, more groups in our state are concerned about and should be involved in implementing a sustainable water policy.

The two appropriation bills will ask for funding for the new Water Sustainability Fund. Senator Schilz’s bill, LB 940, requests a one time appropriation of $50 million from the state cash reserve fund for approved water projects.

Also on February 18th the appropriations committee will hear LB 1046, which I introduced. It asks for an annual appropriation, beginning in 2015, of $50 million per year to go into the Water Sustainability Fund.

The passage of these bills will enable us, as a state, to reach water sustainability in a reasonable period of time. I believe the water legislation, this session, is the most important we have debated the last eight years. Water is life.

Legislative Newsletter

February 6th, 2014

Legislative Newsletter

Senator Tom Carlson-District 38

February 6, 2014

We are more than one-third done with the days available to complete the lawmaking for this year.  Hearings will be held for another month, at which time we will begin all day debate.

I digress a bit from my usual legislative news to comment an an article in the business section of last week’s state’s newspapers. The citizens of Norfolk, and the Norfolk and State of Nebraska economic development corporations are to be commended on the decision of Tejas Tubular Products, Inc., to build a manufacturing plant in Norfolk.  It is estimated the plant will employ 200 workers. This decision came about, not because the people of Norfolk and Madison County were entitled to it, but because they earned it. Hard work and community promotion pays off. Nucor Steel, a long time successful Norfolk industry, was also a factor in the decision.

The construction of a new business in a Nebraska community brings more private sector jobs, which are absolutely essential for a growing economy. We need more of these announcements across the state to keep our rural towns from declining population. 

One important factor that companies look at when deciding when to build a new facility, besides schools, churches, available work force, and crime rates, is recreational possibilities.  The state Game & Parks Commission is the agency charged with keeping our many state parks ready for Nebraskans and those visiting our state. It is estimated that tourism brings in over $4 billion to Nebraska annually and many of those visitors use our state parks.  Nebraska has a wonderful variety of natural resources, east to west and north to south.

Unfortunately, our parks are suffering from deferred maintenance issues and many have had to reduce hours or services so that personnel can be directed to other parks needing repair.  Senator Bill Avery of Lincoln has been a champion of parks for at least two sessions. He recently introduced LB 814, which would dedicate the state sales tax revenue from the sale or lease of motorboats and personal watercraft for state park infrastructure maintenance projects.

Current sales tax revenue is directed to the state General Fund, the state Highway Capital Improvement Fund, and the Highway Allocation Fund.  Senator Avery’s bill would create the Game and Parks Commission Capital Maintenance Fund.

Other bills of interest to be debated this session include doing away with the mountain lion season in Nebraska, repeal of the motorcycle helmet law, and prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Discussion will heat up on these and other issues in the days and weeks ahead.

Legislative Newsletter

February 6th, 2014

Legislative Newsletter
Senator Tom Carlson-District 38
January 28, 2014

It is difficult to imagine that this is my last Legislative Session in the Nebraska Unicameral. The years have passed more quickly than anyone who has served in this position could ever anticipate.

This year is the One Hundred Third Legislature, Second Session, which meets for 60 working days. There were 460 new bills introduced during the allotted time of 10 days, which join the 406 remaining from last year. Each new bill will have a public hearing. I remain Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, which meets Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I also serve on the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee, which meets on Monday and Tuesday.

The Water Funding Task Force, created last session by LB 517 and prioritized by me, may be the most important piece of legislation I have introduced. The group took on a vigorous schedule of 20 full day meetings in various communities throughout the state between June and December. The resulting legislation consists of the following bills:

LB 1098 would restructure the Natural Resources Commission as recommended by the task force. The current 16 members of the Natural Resources Commission are retained. An additional 11 members would be appointed by the Governor under LB 1098. The effect of expanding the membership is that more groups in the state, with keen interests in water policy, would be represented in discussions and decision making concerning water issues and water policy.

A second bill, LB 940, introduced by Senator Schilz, requests a one time $50 million transfer from the state’s cash reserve fund to the new Water Sustainability Fund. The third bill, LB 1046, which I introduced, requests an annual appropriation of $50 million from the state’s General Fund, also to the Water Sustainability Fund.

I have always believed that water funding is a state wide issue. It is the life blood of our agricultural based economy. As I have stated on the floor of the legislature, we can find new energy sources to provide heat and electricity as our nation goes forward. However, we cannot make artificial water and without it, we can not live. It is estimated that, on average, one can live 33 years without medical treatment, 33 days without food, but only three days without water.

There will be serious discussions on several important issues as bills are forwarded from committees for debate by the entire legislature. Medicaid expansion will be such an issue.
Tax policy is also sure to take importance. In my view, our tax policy must be both fair and competitive.

Finally, a first round General File vote was taken last week on LB 96. Senator Annette Dubas introduced the bill to exempt from sales tax repair or replacement parts for agricultural machinery and equipment. The bill moved to Select File on a vote of 44-0.

Legislative Newsletter

June 6th, 2013


Legislative Newsletter

Senator Tom Carlson-District 38

Sine Die 2013

This is the last day of our long 90-day session. We will adjourn today Sine Die, meaning with no future date to convene.  We will convene next January, but today we leave with no mention of that date.

I am pleased that the water legislation I prioritized for this session was passed by the legislature with a vote of 45-0. The Governor signed the bill yesterday.

LB 517 creates the Water Funding Task Force. The companion bill, 517 A, allocates $1 million for research, data collection, and production of a final report to be submitted to the Legislature by December 31. The task force shall consist of the members of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission and 11 additional members appointed by the Governor.

The Director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, I, as Chair of the legislative Natural Resources Committee, and Senators Christensen, Davis, Watermeier, Schilz, and Kolowski, appointed by the Legislature’s Executive Board, shall serve as non-voting members of the task force. 

Governor Heineman will appoint members of the task force in the next 30 days, which will be housed in the Dept of Natural Resources. The task force shall identify water resources programs, projects, and activities in need of funding to meet the long-term statewide goals of water sustainability, efficiency, and productivity.

The final report shall include recommendations and ways to identify, assist, and carry out programs, projects, and activities in need of funding. Recommendations for legislation to carry out specific targets in the bill may be included.

Water sustainability involves the concept of, on average, using no more water than our annual average supply provides. In my view, water sustainability over the entire state is the most important consideration we can address. When we attain water sustainability we will have secured financial sustainability as well.

Another piece of legislation affecting all Nebraskans is the Tax Modernization committee, which will review and recommend updates to the state’s tax code. The committee’s focus will be on gathering information, not changing the code. Fairness, competitiveness, simplicity, stability, and adequacy are some of the items to be evaluated. This committee’s first report must be delivered to the Legislature and the Governor by December 15th and a final report is due by November, 2014.

Margo and I look forward to our annual visits to the District 38 communities. We enjoy senior center lunches, parades, and other activities highlighting the diversity and good work of our constituents.  This will be my last regular newsletter for the session but I will report to you from time to time as the Water Funding Task Force meets and on other legislative news.

Legislative Newsletter

May 24th, 2013

Legislative Newsletter
Senator Tom Carlson-District 38
May 23, 2013

On this 83rd day of the 90 day long session, debate continues on senator and committee priority bills now that the $7.8 billion two year budget has been sent to Governor Heineman. The budget is the only thing required of the legislature by the state constitution. Once the appropriation bills are passed and sent to the Governor, he has five calendar days, excluding Sunday, to sign, not sign (but the bill takes effect), veto in total, or line-item veto specific appropriations of the budget.

A bill that created a lot of concern among District 38 communities became an amendment to other bills after the original bill became stuck in committee. LB 266, to strike the authority for cities to allow citizens to vote to raise local sales taxes above the state imposed limit, was originally introduced by Senator Chambers. He failed once to add it to a bill under consideration.

I offered another amendment as a compromise. Mine stated that any community, other than Omaha, could raise the sales tax rate by ½ cent with a super majority vote of the city council of the city after a resolution by the governing body. It also requires a vote of the people of the city. Since the bill passed last year over the Governor’s veto, three communities, including Alma, have increased their sales tax levy by ½ cent for economic development.

While my amendment ran out of time on General File, it was then offered by Senator Chambers on another unrelated bill. Since his focus is on Omaha, he gave up his efforts to preclude the entire state from enacting the possibility of a ½ cent sales tax increase as long as Omaha is excluded from the tax increase. The body agreed and voted to move the bill to Select File.
The rules of the legislature allow bills to be offered as amendments to another bill if the subject matter is considered germane.

Senator Cathy Campbell of Lincoln, chair of the Health & Human Services Committee, introduced LB 305, which is now on Final Reading. LB 305 would allow parents to qualify for child care subsidies at incomes up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level. The increase from 120 percent would be phased in over two years.

The income limit for child care subsidies has not been changed since 2002, when the state was in the midst of budget problems. Under LB 305, programs receiving at least $250,000 a year in subsidies would be required to participate in a new quality rating system. The state also would provide scholarships for child care staff to improve their education.

Senator Schumacher, in supporting the bill, described it as a business subsidy. Employees would have access to affordable, reliable child care, which in turn would enable them to work, earn, and provide for themselves.