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I think that it’s safe to say that concerns about the property tax crisis that we are facing has become the topic of many conversations. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I were not able to achieve a consensus about how to provide property tax relief to Nebraska property owners this past session. As we slowly approach the upcoming session in January, I thought I’d share a few thoughts.
I believe that LB 289, a comprehensive bill that would have provided full and fair funding to all schools while giving property owners relief that they needed, was the best package that we were going to see this Legislative Session. The bill repealed many sales tax exemptions, raised the sales tax by a half cent, maintained the property tax credit relief fund, etc. Many of the Senators in the body and the Governor all were opposed to the sales tax exemptions and raising the sales tax because they all campaigned on not raising taxes. Although in my opinion, I see that broadening the sales tax base would be beneficial in the future because we are truly in the face of a crisis. Another reason that we couldn’t pass property tax relief is because there was a standstill when it came to voting for a large business incentives bill (LB 720). I couldn’t believe that we were discussing giving large corporations in Nebraska a tax break when our land owners are struggling to even make their property tax payments.
The Revenue committee has been meeting over the interim to try and create another comprehensive proposal to provide property tax relief. The plan is to have something drawn up this interim that we can all agree on so that once the session resumes in January, we will be able to pass it quickly and smoothly. I believe that the members of the Revenue committee have been working diligently to produce a proposal that we can agree on to provide property tax relief for hard working Nebraskans.
If you haven’t already heard, there is a ballot initiative circulating to provide property tax relief. This ballot initiative is the voice of Nebraskans and if it passes, it will put the Nebraska Legislature in a position to create a solution. The legislature will have the incentive it needs to pay a $1.5 billion rebate to the property taxpayers of Nebraska each year. This initiative will show the legislature what the citizens really want and I encourage you to sign this ballot-initiative. You can find out more about this ballot initiative at www.truenebraskans.com
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to call my office at 402-471-2732, email me at email@example.com, or visit my Facebook page.
After my first legislative session, I have taken the opportunity to sit back this interim and learn from what our state has to offer. I have attended multiple meetings focused on property tax relief, which has been my main priority since I was elected to office last year. The revenue committee is working diligently to compose a comprehensive plan to present to the legislature in January. I am circulating the property tax ballot petition throughout our district. I enjoyed seeing many of you at the county fairs and getting the chance to chat.
I am on the Health and Human Services committee which means that I hear from many organizations across our state that are working daily to keep Nebraska residents healthy and taken care of. This interim I have toured many organizations and facilities across the state. My tours have included the Nebraska Children’s Home in Grand Island, QLI in Omaha that specializes in Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries, the PACE Program at Immanuel Pathways, the State Developmental Center in Beatrice, and the Lincoln Regional Center. I also had the opportunity to visit the Youth Rehabilitation & Treatment Center in Geneva. I know that DHHS is working very hard to ensure the welfare of the girls during this time.
One special event that my family hosts is a Goodwill Industries tour of our Dairy Farm. Goodwill of Hastings helps individuals with disabilities or barriers grow into more independent lives with effective programming. My Daughter Whitney has Rett Syndrome and we have utilized the services of Goodwill Industries. Our grandson, Carter, was visiting from Texas at the time and he was a great help in giving the tour!
As fall approaches, I will be very busy between traveling to the Capitol more often to attend different interim hearings for the committees I sit on and the beginning of harvest. In the HHS committee we will be focusing on funding for rural health providers, drug testing protocol in the child welfare system, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, the Health Care Cash Fund, waivers under the Medical Assistance Act, and much more. In the Education Committee I will be attending different listening sessions and interim hearings for safe and effective student discipline in the classroom, administrative costs of local school systems, and Educational Service Units. Also fair funding for all schools in the state is the number one priority.
I’m looking forward to the legislative session in January, but I know there is much to be done before then. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to call my office at 402-471-2732, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit my Facebook page.
There are less than 15 days left in this session. We still have a lot of things to try to accomplish over that time, so it will be a busy few weeks.
We passed the budget through the first round of debate. While it is probably more spending than I would have liked, I think the Appropriations Committee did an admirable job in putting the budget together considering the limitations they had. I was glad we were able to amend the budget to add $51 million a year to the Property Tax Credit Fund, instead of the $26 million the Appropriations Committee had recommended. The $51 million a year is what the Governor recommended in his budget proposal, and I believe he is correct in directing that money towards property tax relief. I recognize the concern over our depleted cash reserve, but property tax is a bigger need, especially for farmers and ranchers.
While we were able to add a little bit of property tax relief through the budget, we were not as successful during the debate on LB 289, the property tax relief package from the Revenue Committee. The package would have increased sales taxes by ½ of a percent and eliminated a number of sales tax exemptions on things like candy, pop, and a number of services. The money raised from these sales taxes would go directly to property tax relief. Also, ag values for property tax purposes would drop from 75% of assessed value to 65% and residential and commercial property from 100% to 90%.
There were a number of supporters who spoke during the debate, myself included, and only a couple of opponents. Unfortunately, the bill went three hours without a vote. Under the Speaker’s rule, that means Senator Linehan has to show the Speaker she thinks she can get 33 votes to overcome a filibuster before the Speaker will bring it back up for debate again. I know Senator Linehan is working hard to find those votes, including working on more changes to the bill. I hope we can debate and pass something to give relief to those in the district before the end of the session.
Thank you to all of those who have emailed and called about LB 289. Your ideas and suggestions are very important to me. Each call and email was on my mind during the debate.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me by phone at 402-471-2732, by email at email@example.com, or on my Facebook page.
This past week, as a member of the Education Committee, I was able to join the Revenue Committee and the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee for a joint hearing to hear testimony on the proposed property tax relief plan. It was a very spirited hearing, going until almost 11:00 that night.
Under the proposed plan, state sales taxes would rise ½ of a percent to 6%. The plan also removes some sales tax exemptions on certain products and services. The money raised would go to property tax relief. Most of the relief is done through increased state aid to school districts. Every school district would get a certain amount of “foundation aid”, increasing the amount of state aid to many districts across the state. Since the state would be supplying more funding to the school districts, the districts would need less money from property taxes.
Further property tax relief is brought through reduced property valuations for tax purposes. Agricultural and horticultural land would be lowered from the current 75% to 65% of their assessed value. Residential and commercial property would be lowered from the current 100% to 90% of their value.
Spending growth for school districts will also be capped by the inflation rate. Schools will not be allowed to increase spending by more than the inflation rate or 2.5%, whichever is lower.
The Revenue Committee met the day after the hearing to discuss many of the concerns that were brought up. They worked hard to develop a comprehensive property tax relief package to present this session. I look forward to discussing their proposal on the floor in front of the full Legislature. As a body, we have a large task in front of us.
Since our last update, we also passed the Hemp Act through the first two rounds of voting. I was proud to be a cosponsor of this important legislation. By giving producers the option to grow hemp we are opening the opportunities for new commercial markets and growth in our state.The bill still needs to pass one more round of voting and be signed by the Governor.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact my office by phone at 402-471-2732, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on my Facebook page.
My priority bill, LB 585, was debated and passed the first round of debate. This bill would create the Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Program. The purpose of the bill is to increase the number of locations across Nebraska so that consumers are able to fill their tanks with higher blends of ethanol – from E-15 all the way up to E-85. If funded, the program would distribute up to a million dollars a year in grants to gas stations, allowing those stations to install, replace, or convert infrastructure for ethanol. I see the economic opportunities with this program and what it does to promote ethanol use across the state. I am certainly disappointed that we are not able to fund this program in the current year and get moving on working with gas stations to install blender pumps across the state. However, we all understand with the current fiscal strain on our resources, we are not able to do everything we would otherwise do. It is my hope that building this program now will better position us for funding the program in the very near future.
We should see a property tax relief plan from the Revenue Committee very soon. More and more details are emerging as to what will be in the final package. It looks like every school district will get an increase in state aid, something that will be a big help in lowering property taxes, as school funding is where most of our property taxes go. Many of you have contacted my office concerned about property tax relief, and I am going to do everything I can to make sure we get meaningful relief. It has been a long road for the members of the Revenue Committee to try and come up with a plan to get to 33 votes. The Revenue Committee met last week but a package bill did not come out of committee. The final version will not be everything that any group wanted, but it should be a compromise so that we can achieve some form of relief for the property tax payers. Senator Lindstrom’s LB 303, proposed on behalf of the Governor, was advanced to General File. This bill would add $51 million a year to the State’s Property Tax Credit Fund.
The Legislature also passed LB 512 by Senator Linehan. This was mostly a technical bill, but it also included an amendment by Senator Erdman that I wholeheartedly supported. The amendment would make property tax payments more fair for those people whose homes are destroyed during a natural disaster. They would not be taxed on the assessed value of the home for the full year. Instead, it changes the valuation to a formula that assesses the value of the property based on the value and percentage of the year the home was standing, and add it to the new valuation of the property based on the value and percentage of the year the home was destroyed. If, for instance, a home was destroyed exactly halfway through the year, current law would still tax the property based on its value with the home intact. The new bill would assess the value of the property with the home intact for half, and the value of the property with the home destroyed for half. This would reduce the property tax bill and give a little help to those who have been affected by a natural disaster.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact my office by email at email@example.com, by phone at 402-471-2732, or on my Facebook page.
We have finished up all committee hearings for the session. There were many interesting bills brought before the Education and Health and Human Services Committees, and I got to see and hear from hundreds of testifiers from across the state. We heard 56 bills in the Education Committee and 64 in the Health and Human Services Committee.
Now that committee hearings are over, we will move into all-day debate on the floor. We will be in session from 9 am until noon, recess for lunch, and resume session from 1:30 to 5 pm. After a few weeks, we will then work late a few nights a week, sometimes as late as midnight.
I introduced LB 347 to the Health and Human Services Committee. This is a bill that would exempt the ancient practice of reflexology from massage licensing. Currently, if someone wants to practice reflexology, they must get a massage therapy license, which requires at least one thousand hours of school that can cost thousands of dollars. Exempting reflexology from massage licensing would allow reflexologists to practice in Nebraska without a meddlesome restriction. The committee had a quick turn around and voted to send the bill to the full legislature. While it is probably too late this year to be debated on the floor, it will be brought up next year during the short session.
Each senator is allowed to select one bill to prioritize for floor debate. This session I prioritized Senator Friesen’s LB 585 which would create the Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Program. The program is designed to assist retail operators or fueling stations in the conversion of their equipment to allow for the expanded use of renewable fuels. The program would distribute up to $1 million in grants throughout a year to gas stations to install, replace, or convert infrastructure for ethanol. These grants can be used to install blender pumps that offer the fuel consumer a push-button selection of gasoline-ethanol blends. I believe this bill would help bolster economic development and promote ethanol across the state.
Cleanup continues across the state after the devastating flood. I am thankful for Governor Ricketts and President Trump expediting the state’s request and approval for Federal disaster relief. If you or anyone you know has been affected, make sure to take plenty of pictures of the damage before you start cleaning up. This documentation will be extremely helpful when filing your claim with FEMA.
If I or my staff can assist with any questions you may have, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, call my office at 402-471-2732, or visit my Facebook page.
This past week has seen extreme weather all across our state, from blizzards in the west to flooding in the east. I am thankful for our first responders who are working tirelessly to keep everyone safe. I am also happy to see and hear so many stories of neighbors going out of their way to help each other with no hesitation. That is what makes this state so great. Everyone affected by these storms are in my thoughts and prayers as we will find out in the next few days and weeks just how severe the damage has been.
We are quickly coming to the end of committee hearings. The last day for hearings is March 28th. After that we will begin all day debate on the floor.
Discussions on property tax relief continue. The Revenue Committee has been constantly meeting to try and come up with a comprehensive proposal that will gather the 33 votes needed to overcome an expected filibuster. I have heard good things coming from those discussions, and remain optimistic we will get something done this session.
Budget hearings and discussions also continue. I look forward to see the proposal the Appropriations Committee comes up with so we can begin debate soon. I suspect we will begin debate around mid-to-late April, around the time the Forecasting Board releases their next estimates.
I have two more town halls scheduled this month. The first one will be on March 23rd at the Central Public Power and Irrigation District in Holdrege and the second one is on March 30th at City Hall in Blue Hill. I look forward to seeing many of you over the next couple of weeks to discuss what is important to you.
As always, if you have any questions, please contact my office by email at email@example.com, by phone at 402-471-2732, or send me a message on Facebook.
We are over a third of the way through the session and it seems like the time has flown by.
I presented LR 13 before the Agriculture Committee. This resolution would urge the respective federal agencies to enforce their standards for labeling milk and dairy products. Earlier this year dairy supporters and farmers from across the country submitted roughly 13,000 comments to the FDA urging them to reserve the use of the terms milk, yogurt, butter, ice cream, and cheese for products derived from real dairy origination when they are labeling products. Dairy farmers have been taken advantage of by non-dairy products using the term “milk.” As a former dairy farmer, I was proud to bring this resolution, and it received a good reception during the hearing.
There were many of you that came to the capitol last week to watch the vote of Senator Brewer’s LB 155. LB 155 would remove a sentence in statute dealing with eminent domain. We had a spirited debate on LB 155. Senator Brewer fought hard for property owners’ rights, but unfortunately fell two votes short. Many of you reached out with your concerns and I really appreciate that. I was a supporter of the bill that day and plan to support it again when Senator Brewer brings the bill back next session.
The Appropriations Committee released their preliminary budget. It was similar to the Governor’s budget proposal in many aspects, and I look forward to seeing the committee’s final proposal. The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board threw a wrench into the budget when they announced that it was lowering its prediction of tax revenue by $110 million through the budget period. This means we have to find that $110 million somewhere else in the budget. The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board still has one meeting left in late April, and those projections will be the ones we use when debating the budget.
I have worked with Farm Bureau to set up three town halls planned through the district over the month of March. The first is on March 9th at the Sutton Bakery in Sutton at 9:00am. On March 16th, I will be at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Hildreth at 9:00am. Finally, I will be in Blue Hill at City Hall on the March 30th at 10:00am. I look forward to seeing those that come and am working to plan other events throughout the district. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact my office.
We are fully into the swing of hearings and floor debate now. Our days are packed from sun up until sun down with meetings, floor debate, and hearings.
I recently introduced my first bill to the revenue committee. LB 705 deals with tax-exempt savings plans for individuals with disabilities. These savings plans are also known as Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts. These ABLE accounts allow for disabled individuals and their family members to save for long-term needs without worrying about losing eligibility for social security income and Medicaid. After discussion with the Department of Health and Human Services we brought an amendment to the committee that aligned the wording federally. This bill brought attention to ABLE accounts and started a conversation with my colleagues.
I had my first taste of a property tax debate on the floor with Senator Briese’s LB 183 and Senator Linehan’s LB 103. LB 183 would reduce the valuation of agricultural and horticultural land solely for the purposes of educational bonds. This bill would reduce the valuation of agricultural land from 75 percent to 30 percent when it came to repaying school bonds. After much spirited debate, the proposal was put on a speaker’s hold while we wait for more comprehensive property tax bills to make it to the floor.
LB 103 would keep local governments from receiving a windfall due to higher property valuations. If property valuations increase, the local levy would have to decrease by the same amount, keeping the amount of taxes the same. If a local government would like to increase the levy, they would have to hold a public hearing before voting to do so. This bill passed the first round of voting 35-2, with 9 not voting. I supported this common-sense legislation, and will continue to do so through further rounds of voting. I have full confidence in Senator Linehan and the rest of the Revenue Committee to bring forward a fair and comprehensive plan to deal with the issue of high property taxes. I have received phone calls, letters, and emails from many of you, and I assure you that I remain committed to comprehensive property tax reform.
Last week the Appropriations Committee removed pro-life language from the budget. This language would have kept the state from sending any taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood clinics. A budget debate will be coming up soon and I can assure you that this issue will be addressed.
We are now past the tenth day of the session, which means that all bills have been introduced for the session. I have introduced three bills and a resolution. They are:
I have also cosponsored a number of different bills, dealing with property tax relief, pro-life issues, and limiting the power and control of government in our lives. You can find more information about these bills on the Nebraska legislature’s website at nebraskalegislature.gov.
My colleagues and I have also started committee hearings, which is probably my favorite part of the legislature. Each bill in the legislature gets a public hearing. At these hearings we hear from the second house, the people, on every bill. Anyone who wants to come to a hearing and speak on a bill is able to do so. I am on the Education and Health and Human Services Committees, two of the biggest committees in the legislature. We have already heard a number of bills on a variety of topics, and I look forward to working for District 38 as we continue this session.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can also find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/senatormurman/ and leave a comment there.
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