NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Tim Gragert

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at tgragert@leg.ne.gov

Welcome
January 9th, 2019

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 40th 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. Tim Gragert

Lincoln, Neb. — The Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) continues to take immediate action to restore and open roads and bridges damaged by catastrophic flooding.  NDOT will be holding several open house public meetings to share information about its flood recovery plan and Emergency Relief (ER) projects in response to the historic flooding in March 2019.  Nebraska residents and visitors are encouraged to attend the meeting located in the area of interest to them.

The open house meetings are scheduled as follows:

  • District 1 Flood Recovery Meeting: Tuesday, June 25, 2019 from 2:30-4:00 p.m. in the Kimmel Conference Room (5995 G Road, Nebraska City, NE 68410)
  • District 3 Flood Recovery Meeting: Wednesday, June 26, 2019 from 2:30-4:00 p.m. at the Lifelong Learning Center (601 E. Benjamin Avenue, Norfolk, NE 68701)
  • District 8 Flood Recovery Meeting: Thursday, June 27, 2019 from 9:30-11:00 a.m. at the Holt County Annex (128 N. 6th Street, O’Neill, NE 68763)
  • District 3 Flood Recovery Meeting: Thursday, June 27, 2019 from 2:30-4:00 p.m. in the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Conference Room (2523 Woodbine Street, Niobrara, NE 68760)

Restoring safe and efficient travel of Nebraska’s Highways is NDOT’s top priority through temporary emergency relief and permanent solutions.  The open houses will feature informational displays and handouts including project details and timelines with NDOT representatives available to help answer questions about flood recovery efforts.  Members of the public are welcome to attend the meetings at any point during the posted times.

Information about NDOT’s flood recovery efforts is available and updated at  https://dot.nebraska.gov/news-media/nebraska-flood-2019.

LINCOLN – During the recent legislative session, Governor Pete Ricketts signed three bills to provide Nebraskans with additional property tax relief.

  • LB103 protects Nebraskans from automatic tax hikes when property values go up.
  • LB294, the mainline appropriations bill for 2019-2021, increases the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund by $51 million per year.
  • LB512 ensures that damages from natural disasters are taken into account when assessing property for tax purposes.

More information about each of these bills can be found below.

LB103: Ends Automatic Property Tax Hikes

The Governor signed LB103 to give Nebraskans greater insight and input into proposed property tax increases.  The bill requires taxing entities—like school districts, cities, and counties—to hold a public hearing and vote before they can raise property taxes.  Previously, as property valuations went up, property taxes would often soar higher and higher—even as tax rates remained the same.  This meant Nebraskans paid more in property taxes without ever debating or approving the increased amount.

With LB103 signed into law, Nebraskans will now receive public notice whenever a political subdivision (such as a school district, city, or county) wants to increase its property tax receipts.

“Nebraskans deserve to be fully informed, and to have a fair say, before they pay more in property taxes,” said Governor Ricketts. “This bill adds much-needed transparency and accountability to the property taxation process.”

The Legislature passed LB103 47-0-2, and it is already in effect as law.

LB294: Adds $51 Million Annually to the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund

LB294 includes the Governor’s recommendation to add $51 million annually to the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund in the 2019-21 budget.  This represents a 23% increase for a total of $275 million in property tax relief per year for Nebraskans.

“The key to delivering real, sustainable property tax relief is to control spending,” said Governor Ricketts.  “The State budget limits spending increases to less than 3%, while raising the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund by 23%.  Over the last five years, Senators and I have successfully worked together to nearly double the amount of direct relief to Nebraska’s farmers, ranchers, and homeowners.”

Taxpayers will see the additional relief when their property tax statements are sent out in December 2019.

LB512: Accounts for Disaster Damage to Property

LB512 provides property tax relief to Nebraskans who suffer damage to real property as a result of a natural disaster such as a flood, fire, or tornado.  Under normal circumstances, property is assessed for tax purposes on January 1 each year.  However, LB512 allows taxpayers to report property damage occurring after January 1 and before July 1 in order to obtain a revised assessment that takes the damage into account.  So long as the damage exceeds 20% of the assessed value for the current tax year, the property’s value will be lowered to reflect the damage.

“In March, Nebraskans experienced the most widespread natural disaster in state history,” said Governor Ricketts.  “LB 512 will help Nebraskans who are working to get back on their feet as the state rebuilds bigger and better than ever before.”

The Legislature passed LB512 without opposition, and it is now in effect.

Nebraskans who have experienced significant property damage due to a natural disaster in 2019 should fill out a Report of Destroyed Real Property.  This report, Form 425, is available by clicking here and must be completed by July 15, 2019.

###

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Director Jim Macy commended a new agreement between U.S. EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to speed the availability of funding used to restore vital water infrastructure in times of disaster.

The federal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) establishes a framework for EPA-funded State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs to assist and collaborate with FEMA disaster assistance grant programs.  The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) has state revolving funds available for communities whose water systems were impacted by historic flooding.

“This agreement is important because it helps provide recovery funds more swiftly for our local infrastructure needs, such as the restoration of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities impacted by the flood,” Gov. Ricketts said.  “It’s a great example of the ongoing federal, state and local cooperation which is helping Nebraska rebuild bigger and better after the most widespread natural disaster in our history.”

The MOU also ensures that communities that receive SRF loans will still be eligible for FEMA reimbursement.

“This MOU allows state agencies to better serve our communities impacted by federally declared disasters,” Macy said. “The clarity that this MOU provides will allow state SRF programs to offer 0% bridge loans so communities can deliver clean drinking water and effectively manage wastewater to help our communities recover quickly and return to normal operations. Reliable infrastructure is the key to community success.”

These SRF funds will act as an interim loan for communities that were impacted by the March floods until they receive reimbursement from FEMA. Then, those FEMA funds can be used to pay off the SRF loan.  When communities repay SRF loans, those funds go back into the SRF to sustain the program for future loans.

Jim Gulliford, Region 7 Administrator, also stated that the agreement is beneficial from a regional perspective.

“This comes as welcomed news for our Midwest states that have been hit hard by the spring 2019 floods,” Gulliford said. “The flexibility to use state revolving funds to restore vital water infrastructure, coupled with the opportunity to seek reimbursement from FEMA, is a win-win for our communities.”

The MOU and a fact sheet are available https://www.epa.gov/cwsrf/memorandum-understanding-between-environmental-protection-agency-and-department-homeland

Owners of properties destroyed or significantly damaged by flooding, a tornado, or other natural disasters can request a new property assessment — what could amount to a tax break if officials agree that a property’s value has dropped.

That applies to all types of properties — homes, businesses and agricultural land. The measure amends a previous state law that required a property’s assessed value to be set as of Jan. 1 — no exceptions, even if a house burned down on Jan. 2.

State Sen. Steve Erdman, the amendment’s sponsor, actually introduced the bill last year and again this year before the March floods. The proposal gained new urgency, and supporters, afterward.

“Hopefully the word will get out,” said Debbie Churchill, the Dodge County assessor. “People, take advantage of it. Don’t wait until the last minute.”

There are fairly strict parameters and a narrow window to apply:

  • The damage has to have occurred between Jan. 1 and July 1 of the current assessment year.
  • “Significant property damage” is generally defined as damage exceeding 20% of the assessed value of land, a structure or the property’s total assessed value, if it’s in an area with a disaster declaration or if the property has been declared unlivable.
  • Owners have until July 15 to fill out and send in a form — available at http://www.revenue.nebraska.gov/PAD/forms/f_425.pdf — to their county assessor and county clerk.
  • The damage cannot be man-made — you can’t apply for a reassessment if your house caught fire because of a lit cigarette, for example.
  • A county board of equalization has final say on any assessment adjustments, which must be approved before July 25 or, if an extension is requested, Aug. 10.

Read more at https://www.omaha.com/news/plus/people-take-advantage-of-it-nebraskans-can-ask-for-tax/article_1d0c5496-4738-50c9-a865-922faa7a1ebc.html

Read more about the bill at https://www.omaha.com/news/legislature/legislature-oks-amendment-that-would-give-tax-break-to-those/article_1a30fd62-c3a6-5ba9-a9f2-ec752056e861.html

LINCOLN, Neb. – Homeowners, renters and business owners in Holt county may now apply for Individual Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for losses resulting from the severe winter storm, straight-line winds and flooding that occurred Mar. 9 to Apr. 1, 2019.

FEMA disaster grants for qualified homeowners and renters may help pay for basic repairs to make a home habitable, provide temporary rental assistance, and provide assistance for disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other sources.

The deadline for registration is June 19 for Individual Assistance.

How to register with FEMA:

  • Online, visit DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • By phone, call FEMA’s toll-free registration line at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY) or use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS). Telephone registration is available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central Daylight Time seven days a week.
  • On a smart phone, download the FEMA app and click on “disaster resources,” then “apply for assistance online.”

Applicants will need the following to apply:

  • Social Security Number;
  • Daytime telephone number;
  • Current mailing address;
  • Address and zip code of the damaged property;
  • Proof of ownership and occupancy, such as a utility bill; and
  • Private insurance information, if available.

After registering for disaster assistance with FEMA, homeowners and renters may also be contacted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to apply for a low-interest disaster loan. SBA disaster loans provide the largest source of long-term federal disaster recovery funds for survivors.

Applicants may apply online using SBA’s secure website at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may receive additional information for this disaster by visiting the SBA Nebraska disaster website.

Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing may call 800-877-8339 (TTY).

For flood insurance information, visit FloodSmart.gov or call the NFIP helpdesk at 800-427-4661.

Currently, 28 counties and one tribe are designated for FEMA Individual Assistance: Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dodge, Douglas, Hall, Holt, Howard, Knox, Madison, Nance, Nemaha, Pierce, Platte, Richardson, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Stanton, Thurston and Washington counties and the Santee Sioux Nation.

LINCOLN –  Nebraska Labor Commissioner John H. Albin announced today that Holt County, Nebraska is now eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). The filing deadline is July 5.

Individuals who live in or worked in the eligible county, and whose employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a direct result of flooding in the state, may qualify for unemployment assistance. The Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program was triggered when President Trump designated portions of the state a disaster area on March 21, 2019.

“FEMA is continuing to review counties for individual assistance and they will be added as they qualify. DOL will provide updates should additional counties become eligible,” said Commissioner Albin.

The filing deadline has passed for fifteen other Nebraska counties and the Santee Sioux Nation, which were previously declared eligible for DUA. Counties already declared eligible include Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dodge, Douglas, Hall, Howard, Knox, Madison, Nance, Nemaha, Pierce, Platte, Richardson, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Thurston and Washington.

The first week of unemployment eligible for DUA is the week of March 10 through March 16, 2019.  Applicants should file an unemployment insurance claim online at NEworks.nebraska.gov. All DUA applicants will be required to provide documents to verify wages.

“Even if an applicant doesn’t qualify for DUA, he or she can still take advantage of the resources and services provided by our job centers throughout the state,” Commissioner Albin added.  A listing of job centers is available at https://dol.nebraska.gov/Home/AboutUs.

To be eligible for DUA benefits under the Presidential Disaster Declaration, individuals must:

  • Be an unemployed worker whose unemployment was caused as a direct result of the major disaster declared by the President
  • Be a U.S. national or a qualified alien; and
  • Not qualify for regular unemployment insurance benefits from any state; and
  • Have worked or been self-employed in, or scheduled to begin work or self-employment in, one of the counties listed above; and
  • Establish that the work or self-employment they can no longer perform was their primary source of income.

Also eligible to apply for DUA are individuals who:

  • Can no longer work or perform services because of physical damage or destruction to the place of employment as a direct result of a disaster; or
  • Cannot perform work or self-employment because of an injury caused as a direct result of the disaster; or
  • Became the breadwinner or major support of a household because of the death of the head of the household; or,
  • Cannot work or perform self-employment due to closure of a facility by the federal government.

DUA applicants will need their Social Security Number and the name and address of their last employer or prospective employer to file for DUA. Applicants are required to provide proof (at the time of filing or within 21 days of filing their DUA claim) that they were employed or self-employed at the time the disaster occurred or were scheduled to begin (or resume) a job or self-employment when the disaster occurred.  A copy of the most recent federal income tax forms or check stubs may also be required (self-employed individuals should also provide Schedules SE and Schedule C or Schedule F.)

Individuals can generally receive up to 28 weeks of DUA benefits as long as unemployment continues to be a result of the disaster.  Eligibility for DUA benefits will be determined on a week-to-week basis. General information about DUA can be found at https://dol.nebraska.gov/UIBenefits/Programs/DUA.

The One Hundred Sixth Legislature, First Session, has adjourned sine die. The Legislature passed some important bills and failed to agree on other critical issues. Of the forty-nine individual priority bills, thirty-four became law. Of the thirty-three committee priority bills, twenty-nine were passed by the Legislature.

LB 720, the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, was the priority bill of Seward Senator Mark Kolterman. It proposed to replace and update the Nebraska Advantage Act, which offered tax incentives to businesses for investment and employment growth. LB 720 was voted on two days after the property tax relief measure failed. Although I believe our state needs some type of tax incentives in order to compete with other states, I had to withhold my support for LB 720. I did not think we should proceed with appropriating funding for tax incentives prior to funding property tax relief. I felt we needed to keep these two issues as a package deal, if we wanted any hope of getting property tax relief passed next year, as property tax relief is my top priority. The vote to end debate on LB 720 fell three votes short. All bills pending at the end of this legislative session are automatically carried over to the 2020 session.

Priority bills that were passed include LB 686 dealing with prison overcrowding, LB 149 raising the legal age from 18 to 19 for purchasing and using cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products, and LB 657 allowing Nebraskans to grow, process, and handle hemp and hemp products. Priority bills left pending include LB 44 to eliminate the death penalty, LB 110 to allow for medical marijuana, LB 483 to change the method used to assess agricultural land, and LB 670 offering scholarships to private school students.

A balanced budget was passed, limiting spending growth to 2.9%, which was lower than the Governor’s recommendation. The budget included additional funding for the Property Tax Credit Fund, increasing the annual funding for this property tax relief program to $275 million annually.

Both of the bills that I introduced were passed. LB 243 creates the Healthy Soils Task Force, which will be appointed by the Governor in the next couple weeks. The task force will develop a comprehensive healthy soils initiative and action plan. LB 406 updated the statutes pertaining to the State Treasurer’s unclaimed property division.

An initiative petition drive calling for property tax relief is currently underway to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 general election ballot. The proposal would give taxpayers a refundable income tax credit in the amount of 35% of property taxes paid each year. Property taxes collected in 2018 amounted to just under $4.2 billion, of which 35% would be approximately $1.5 billion. Although budget cuts would be considered, to deal with this amount of property tax relief, the Legislature would most likely also have to increase taxes or broaden the tax base by repealing exemptions or taxing more services in order to fund the income tax credit proposal.

The residents of Northeast Nebraska that were victims of the March flooding still continue to be a top priority to me. The Legislature passed LB 512, which will require the County Board of Equalization to adjust the value of destroyed real property to its assessed value on the date of the damage. Current law required land and buildings to be valued for property tax purposes on January 1 of each year. The passage of this bill will put a process in place to reduce property values when damaged by a natural disaster between January 1 and July 1.

With the completion of the legislative session, I will be spending more time back in Creighton. During the interim, I will try to get around the district as much as possible. I will still travel to Lincoln periodically for meetings and office work. If I’m not in Lincoln, my staff will be able to assist you. My contact information is tgragert@leg.ne.gov. My telephone number at the State Capitol is (402) 471-2801 and my mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509.

 

This past week started out being very productive. The Legislature passed the budget bills on Final Reading and sent them to the Governor. He has five days to decide whether to sign them or to line-item veto specific items. The budget bills are the only bills that must pass this year, as the Nebraska Constitution states that each Legislature shall make appropriations for the expenses of the Government.

The Legislature also voted to pull LB 147 from the Education Committee and place it on General File. LB 147 was stuck in committee with a 4-4 vote. The motion to pull the bill was made by the chair of the Education Committee, Senator Mike Groene. It received 25 votes, the minimum required. LB 147 proposes to amend the Student Discipline Act. It would allow an administrator, teacher, or other school personnel to use reasonable physical contact to protect a student, staff, or other person from physical injury. If physical contact is used, school personnel must notify the parents of the student and inform them of the incident. The bill would also require an administrator to remove a student from a class upon request by a teacher or other school personnel if the student’s behavior is so disruptive that it seriously interferes with the learning environment. The goal is to return the student to class as soon as possible after appropriate interventions or supports have been implemented. The teachers’ union is supportive of LB 147, recognizing the need for such legislation. However, administrators have concerns and feel the bill may create more problems than it resolves. I thought it was a good idea to bring the bill to the floor of the Legislature in an effort to encourage the administrators and teachers to work together on a compromise over the interim.

The Revenue Committee worked for months on a proposal contained in LB 289. It provided significant property tax relief by establishing a foundation aid factor in the school state aid formula, guaranteeing that every school district receive at least one-third of its formula needs from state aid. To ensure that the increased state aid resulted in property tax relief, school spending would be limited to the CPI inflation rate plus growth. To provide revenue for the proposal, the state sales tax rate would be increased, a couple of sales tax exemptions eliminated and the sales tax imposed on a limited number of services. During a seven hour public hearing on the proposal, only four people testified in support and more than fifty testified in opposition. The committee worked on revisions prior to advancing LB 289, lowering the proposed increase in the sales tax rate and increasing the number of services taxed, but the larger school districts remained opposed to the proposal. After three hours of debate, the sponsor of LB 289 could not come up with the necessary 33 votes to place the bill on the agenda again, as required by the policy of the Speaker of the Legislature.

After it appeared that LB 289 would not be discussed again this session, Albion Senator Tom Briese offered an amendment to LB 183, a bill already advanced to the second stage of debate. The amendment proposed to place an additional $100 million in the Property Tax Credit fund, bringing the total to approximately $375 million in property tax relief, reflected on a taxpayer’s property tax statement. This amount would be appropriated to the Property Tax Credit fund annually until the school state aid formula is reworked and state aid is increased by at least 20%, thereby incentivizing the Legislature to work on reforming the formula, which is currently too dependent on property tax revenue. To fund the property tax relief, the proposal would have eliminated a number of sales tax exemptions and the personal property tax exemption, while increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit to assist the lower income with the broadened sales tax. After three hours of debate, Senator Briese offered a motion to invoke cloture, allowing for a vote to be taken on the advancement of the bill. However, the cloture motion fell ten votes short and LB 183 was removed from the agenda.

I supported LB 289 and LB 183. Even though I didn’t agree with everything in these bills (I would have preferred further broadening the sales tax base rather than an increase in the sales tax rate), they did present an opportunity to offer property tax relief to Nebraskans. I also supported the passage of the budget bills which contained an additional $51 million in annual funding for the Property Tax Credit fund. Although this past week was disappointing, I will continue to work to bring property tax relief to taxpayers.

I was happy to see that the Nebraska Department of Transportation has awarded the contract to Hawkins Construction of Omaha, allowing them to begin immediate work on the Highway 281 Bridge over the Niobrara River, south of Spencer. A temporary single lane shoofly is anticipated to be in service by August 1, with work scheduled to start on May 28.

As we enter the final week of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

On May 22, Governor Ricketts released a guide called “Nebraska Disaster Resource Guide”, aimed at assisting Nebraskans recovering from natural disasters, most recently being the March flooding. The guide provides resource summaries, hotlines, and other contact information for more than two dozen community organizations as well as state and federal agencies involved in recovery assistance.

Follow the link to access the guide: https://nema.nebraska.gov/sites/nema.nebraska.gov/files/doc/disaster-resource-guide.pdf

Printed booklets may also be requested by sending an email to nema.jic@nebraska.gov or by calling (402) 471-7421.

Individual Assistance Now Available Until June 19 for Nebraskans
 
LINCOLN, Neb. – At the request of Governor Pete Ricketts, homeowners, renters and business owners in Nebraska counties designated for federal assistance now have until June 19 to register for federal assistance.
 
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster grants for qualified homeowners and renters may help pay for basic repairs to make a home habitable, provide temporary rental assistance, and provide assistance for serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other sources.
 
How to register with FEMA:
  • Online, visit DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • By phone, call FEMA’s toll-free registration line at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY).
  • On a smart phone, download the FEMA app and click on “disaster resources,” then “apply for assistance online.”
Applicants will need the following to apply:
  • Social Security Number;
  • Daytime telephone number;
  • Current mailing address;
  • Address and zip code of the damaged property;
  • Proof of ownership and occupancy, such as a utility bill; and
  • Private insurance information, if available.
 
After registering for disaster assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), homeowners and renters may also be contacted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to apply for a low-interest disaster loan. SBA disaster loans provide the largest source of long-term federal disaster recovery funds for survivors.
 
Applicants may apply online using SBA’s secure website at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may receive additional information for this disaster by visiting the SBA Nebraska disaster website.
 
Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing may call 800-877-8339.
 
For flood insurance information, visit FloodSmart.gov or call the NFIP helpdesk at 800-427-4661.
 
These 27 counties and one tribe were designated for FEMA Individual Assistance: Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dodge, Douglas, Hall, Howard, Knox, Madison, Nance, Nemaha, Pierce, Platte, Richardson, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Stanton, Thurston and Washington counties and the Santee Sioux Nation.

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40
Room #11th Floor
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2801
Email: tgragert@leg.ne.gov
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