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The second session of the 104th Legislature convened on Wednesday, January 6. Within the first few days of bill introduction, several significant issues have been proposed for consideration. I have introduced three pieces of legislation. LR378CA is a proposed amendment to the Nebraska Constitution protecting the Right to Farm and Ranch in Nebraska. If passed, the amendment would be placed on the general election ballot in November. LB 720 protects privacy from capture of images from unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, without permission. LB 792 is a “revolving door” bill mirroring federal guidelines that prohibits elected officials and policy-making staff from serving as lobbyists for a specified amount of time following the conclusion of their service. I look forward to working with my colleagues on these pieces of legislation.
The issue of greatest urgency facing my work as a member of the Appropriations Committee this session is the currently-projected $110 million decrease in revenue. The Nebraska Constitution requires a balanced budget, so the disparity between revenue projections and the budget passed last session must be addressed. While there are several potential ways to address the projected shortfall, a number of factors influence my approach to the issue.
First, agriculture commodity prices continue to remain below the highs of the recent years and some areas of livestock production continue to fall. Decreased farm income, and the resulting ripple effects through the economies of our local rural communities, represents more than a mere hiccup or blip. Agriculture is by its nature cyclical, and all indicators point toward a downward trend in the cycle. To that end, I am hesitant to simply fill the revenue gaps with Cash Reserve funds or other temporary fixes. Until the ag economy begins to improve, I expect revenue projections will likely continue to drop.
Second, it is my belief that state government should reflect the values of the voters and constituents who empower it. Families in District 38 have already been tightening their belts and restricting their spending as farm incomes fall. Just as taxpayers are prioritizing their spending and making difficult choices, lawmakers should do the same. Although it is always a challenge, lawmakers need to make strategic reductions now to avoid drastic and draconian cuts in future years should revenues continue to decrease.
Thus, I will be working with my colleagues to find reasonable, measured, and strategic reductions in spending to match the General Fund budget to meet the most current revenue projections. The shortfall, while significant, is certainly within our reach to address responsibility without negative effects on any single program or constituency. The Revenue Forecasting Board will meet again at the end of February with the potential to again revise the revenue projections. Their conclusions could require additional adjustments during the session.
A new voice will be answering the phone in my office this session, as John DeWaard joins my staff as Administrative Assistant. Nick Knihnisky will be available to assist with constituent services and policy questions as my Legislative Assistant. If you should have any questions, do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38
The Second Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature will convene on Wednesday, January 6, 2016. Known as the “short session”, the second session consists of 60 legislative days and is currently scheduled to adjourn on April 20. Legislation introduced last session remains on the worksheet for consideration this session, as well as new bills introduced during the first ten legislative days.
A significant portion of my work this session as a member of the Appropriations Committee will be addressing the $110 million revenue shortfall projected by the Revenue Forecasting Board in November. Although the budget for the 2015-2017 biennium was passed last session, the anticipated decrease in revenue will require adjustments to that budget to meet Nebraska’s constitutional requirement of a balanced budget. The Revenue Forecasting Board will meet again in February, potentially reducing or increasing revenue projections once again. The legislature will also need to address deficit spending requests from the Department of Corrections for higher than anticipated costs for inmate medical care, a federal fine assessed to the Department of Health and Human Services, and a request for additional funds to address deferred maintenance of facilities at the University of Nebraska.
The property tax crisis will play a central role this session as well, as lawmakers seek to address the imbalances in local funding for education and increased spending by local political subdivisions. Specific proposals and initiatives will be more clear at the conclusion of bill introduction.
Given the short time of the session and the number of important issues for the Legislature to consider, the designation of a bill as a “priority” will be critical. Each senator can prioritize one bill, standing committees can prioritize two bills, and the Speaker can prioritize up to twenty-five bills. It is not likely that bills without a priority designation will be considered on the floor by the entire body. Bills not acted upon by the legislature will effectively “die” upon adjournment of the 104th Legislature in April.
During the coming few weeks I will outline the bills I will be introducing this session, as well as keep District 38 constituents up to date on the issues that emerge. If you should have any questions, do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or email at email@example.com. For daily updates during the session, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38
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