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 10

March 30th, 2015

Nebraska’s livestock industry is a vibrant and significant piece of the state’s agriculture sector and overall economy. Producing approximately $10 billion a year, livestock production represents almost half of all agriculture receipts in Nebraska. As a cattle producer, I understand firsthand the vital role the livestock industry has in this state.

Sustainably growing the livestock industry is important to me, my family, and Nebraska. As I advocate for growth in livestock production, I am cognizant of the economic, infrastructural, environmental, and community issues that surround livestock confinement facilities.

LB 106 seeks to create and adopt the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act. As proposed, the bill directs the development of a matrix to be used by all counties when evaluating zoning applications for livestock confinement facilities. The matrix would be developed through the Department of Agriculture. It also establishes a bureaucratic process by which state authority can override the decision of local county officials who deny a zoning permit. In effect, the bill grants the State control over livestock zoning.

County zoning was first authorized in Nebraska in 1967. Since that time, there have been numerous legislative and judicial modifications addressing zoning issues at both the state and local levels. This is not the first, and it likely will not be the last, attempt to weaken county zoning control in favor of giving increased authority to the state.

From the first day of my campaign in December 2013, I pledged to ensure control over zoning and planning remains at the county level. I strongly believe county planners, commissioners, and community leaders are the best leaders to recognize and assess how a proposed livestock confinement operation may affect their communities and resources. They alone are in a position to know their local community and assist livestock producers in the siting process that protects the livestock producer, brings maximum benefit to the community, and builds community support for livestock production. Nebraska is a diverse state with wide-ranging geographic and economic differences. Even District 38 varies in its local needs. Zoning practices that are appropriate in Clay County may not apply to Phelps County.

Zoning issues can be challenging for both livestock producers and community leaders. I’ve attended many meetings where emotions run high. I fully support the development of clear guidelines and criteria for evaluating zoning applications of all kinds to remove emotion from the discussion and provide clarity to livestock producers and community leaders using current scientific knowledge and accepted evidence based practices. There currently exists no barrier for counties to do so. Several already have. I encourage livestock industry groups and county officials to cooperatively develop such guidelines and include them in their county plans.

I do not, however, believe it is the best interest of livestock producers or local communities to grant the state the authority to force all counties to use a single matrix, overriding the will of local elected and appointed officials.

Over the years, my bull has jumped the fence into the neighbors pasture, my cows have gotten out onto a public roadway, and neighbors have had to wait patiently while I move a herd of cattle across the highway. Despite the inconvenience, we work together, understanding the give-and-take of living in an agricultural community. My goal is to help counties and producers have the tools to promote the dialogue and communication that is the core value of our communities.

This week, the Unicameral will debate LB 106. I look forward to constructive deliberation on the issue, as a number of amendments have already been filed to the original bill. The language of the bill will likely be fluid throughout the process, and I will endeavor to promote livestock development while protecting the local control of our counties and communities.

As always, I appreciate your input on LB 106 and any issue before the Legislature. To contact my office, please call 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District – Week 9

March 20th, 2015

Over the next 40 legislative days, a number of controversial and complicated issues will come to the floor of the Nebraska Legislature. From gas taxes to the death penalty, extended debate is anticipated to take place when each comes to the floor for deliberation. Polarizing topics, many of the bills will elicit strong opinions and feeling in support and in opposition. To each issue, every individual brings their own life experiences, religious perspective, and political ideology. I have already heard from many of you in District 38 regarding a number of the upcoming issues, in both strong support and equally strong opposition.

LB 610 would add 1.5 cents per gallon to the current gas tax annually over a four year period, to a total of 6 cents per gallon. The revenue would be directed to infrastructure improvements in roads and bridges. While I am certainly not in favor of increased taxes, the overwhelming need to repair aging bridges and other transportation infrastructure is a real and pressing need in rural Nebraska. As agriculture equipment continues to increase in size, the need is greater than ever to update our transportation infrastructure. Balancing the needs with the costs is the legislative challenge.

LB 268, which would repeal the death penalty, has advanced from the Judiciary Committee and has been prioritized by Senator Chambers. While I certainly feel the ultimate penalty should remain for the most heinous of crimes, the practical reality is that Nebraska does not have a legal death penalty in place now. Given that we have not executed a death row inmate since 1997, the penalty is not an effective deterrent. The costs associated with maintaining death row inmates for decades without a legal means of execution available is a significant use of taxpayer dollars.

LB 106 would remove local control of livestock facility siting. LB 472 would expand the Medicaid program in Nebraska. LB 586 would extends workplace protection to LGBT individuals. LB 623 would enable children of DACA status to obtain driver’s licenses and state identification cards. LB 599, which I prioritized, allows an exception to the increased minimum wage for high school students.

None of these are simple issues. I have spent, and will continue to spend, many hours exploring and reflecting on each of these issues. My faith and my values are at the forefront of my meditations. My work on the Appropriations Committee has given me a new perspective on the costs associated with decisions made by state government, and their impact in both the short and long term on Nebraska taxpayers.

It is easy to have a strong, inflexible position on a controversial issue as a private individual. However, when I press the button on my desk and cast my vote, I am well aware of the implications and responsibility. My votes have real costs to Nebraska families. They impact the jobs and working conditions of my constituents. It may even be the difference between life and death.

Whether you agree or disagree with my votes on upcoming issues, please know two things. First, I have listened to your concerns and taken the opinions of all of my constituents on both sides of an issue into account during my deliberations. Second, I do not cast my votes on the amendments, procedures, and underlying bills without deliberate thought, research, prayer, and reflection.

Many difficult decisions on spending, policy, and social issues lie ahead. I appreciate your input on all issues before the Legislature. To contact my office, please call 402-471-2732 or email at jkuehn@leg.ne.gov. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.

Senator John Kuehn, District 38

Letter to the District – Week 8

March 13th, 2015

Each year senators are allowed to designate one bill as their “priority bill”. Priority bill designation guarantees a bill will be scheduled for debate on the legislature. With the session half over, the debate on the biennial budget, and priority bills designated by senators, committees, and Speaker Hadley will make up the majority of this year’s remaining agenda.

Components of my bill, LB 389, are being combined as an amendment to LB 360, which has been prioritized by the Agriculture Committee. For my priority designation, I looked for bills which have advanced out of committee and will make a significant impact in District 38. To that end, I have designated LB 599 as my priority bill. LB 599, which I cosigned, establishes a new definition of a Young Student Worker as an individual who is 18 years of age or younger and is attending either a public or private high school. High school students are frequently employed in entry-level positions that provide valuable work experience. They also serve a critical role as part-time workers in small businesses.

LB 599 would support employers who provide these critical jobs for high school students by allowing them to offer a wage at $7.25 per hour. A committee amendment would raise that to $8 per hour. I have heard from many small business owners and employers from the district in strong support of LB 599. This bill enables small businesses to continue to hire and employ high school students and maintain those jobs that play such a vital role in our rural communities across District 38 and Nebraska. I anticipate a robust debate of the issue on the floor of the legislature.

This past Wednesday, I introduced LB 318 to the Appropriations Committee. The bill distributes funding to Nebraska’s eight Economic Development Districts, which provide vital services in the areas of community planning and housing development. Communities throughout District 38 know well the value provided by South Central Economic Development District, which serves the region. I am excited to help provide additional resources to continue the development of our rural communities through this highly successful model. Many constituencies in the district provided support on the record for LB 318. I am grateful for the support.

As always, I welcome your questions or concerns and I truly value your input regarding pending legislation or any particular issue. 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 7

March 9th, 2015

We are closing in on the halfway point of the first session of the 104th Legislature. Senators forge ahead on schedule with floor debate in the morning and committee hearings in the afternoon. Over the next few weeks, the bulk of the remaining of public hearings will conclude and the body will begin meeting in session all day on the floor.

During the last two weeks of floor debate, senators have debated a wide array of proposed legislation. Several bills have led to extensive debate among senators, resulting in close votes by the Unicameral. LB 10 would abandon Nebraska’s unique system of splitting electoral votes adopted in 1991 and return to the national standard of a winner-take-all. The bill was advanced to the next step in the legislative process after a cloture vote to end a filibuster succeeded with only the minimum 33 required votes. LB 10 will come up again for debate in Select File.

Following the presentation of the preliminary budget to the Legislature, the Appropriations Committee has begun public hearings with agencies and on specific appropriations bills. We recently heard a number of proposals related to increase funding of the Property Tax Relief Credit Fund through either the General Fund or the Cash Reserve Fund. We have outlined a variation of those proposals in our preliminary budget, adding an additional $45 million to the fund.

Last week I presented two bills in the Appropriations Committee that centered around post-secondary education in Nebraska. LB 565 aims to provide critical funding to institutions providing programming and training in fields designated as “high-need” and integral to the workforce demands and future economic well-being of Nebraska. LB 496 establishes the Yeutter Institute for International Trade and Finance at the University of Nebraska. Honoring former United States Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter, the institute would be a public-private partnership would enhance Nebraska’s role as a leader in agriculture, business, and law. Among those writing letters of support for the Yeutter Institute were former President George H.W. Bush and former U.S. Senator Ben Nelson.

This upcoming week, I will have a hearing on LB 318, which provides needed economic development funding in regions across Nebraska. I have had the honor of receiving support from a number of municipalities in District 38 and I look forward to those who will be advocating for my bill at the hearing.

A number of constituents from the district stopped by for visits to the Capitol and to participate in committee hearings. I always encourage constituents to give testimony, make their voice heard, and be a part of what makes Nebraska’s system of governing so unique. The people of this state truly are the second house of our legislative branch.

As always, I welcome your questions or concerns and I truly value your input regarding pending legislation or any particular issue. 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 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