NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

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 6th, 2021

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

The Legislature gave the budget bills second-round approval this past week, making only minor adjustments. After the budget is passed, the speaker plans to schedule taxation and spending measures. The session is more than two-thirds complete, but we still have many significant issues to discuss.

As introduced, LB 406 focused on flood-control infrastructure projects along the lower Platte River. Senator Mike McDonnell, the primary sponsor of LB 406, has offered an amendment to strike the original provisions of LB 406 and replace it with a measure creating the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability Special Committee. I worked with Senator McDonnell, Speaker Mike Hilgers, Senator Dan Hughes, and Senator Mike Flood on the amendment.  The special committee will focus on three areas of the state – along the Platte River from Columbus to Plattsmouth, the Lake McConaughy region of Keith County, and the portion of Knox County that lies north of Highway 12. The special committee, made up of the speaker and two senators from each congressional district, will hold hearings and request information from state, county, and city agencies. The committee is authorized to enter into contracts for consulting, engineering, and development studies. Two million dollars would be appropriated to carry out these provisions.

In addition to studying how to protect property along the lower Platte River and provide for public infrastructure in the Lake McConaughy region, the studies would also focus on the socioeconomic conditions, recreational and tourism opportunities, and public investment necessary to enhance economic development and to catalyze private investment in Northern Knox County, including the Lewis and Clark Lake and Niobrara State Park. The studies, which are to be completed by the end of the year, will evaluate the outcomes and the economic benefits of proposed development and improvements to residents, the local region, and state tourism.

When Senator Flood and I first discussed this vision for Northeast Nebraska, I jumped on board. Our area was hit hard by the flood two years ago and then suffered with the rest of the state through the pandemic. However, Nebraskans are resilient and hardships tend to bring out the best in people, generating great examples of residents working together to rebuild their communities.

Having lived in Northeast Nebraska my entire life, I can vouch for the beauty of the area. As an avid fisherman, I can also attest to amazing fishing opportunities. I believe Northeast Nebraska has a lot to offer, but there is the potential to offer a great deal more with creative thinking and planning. This area is underdeveloped and underused, but could attract more visitors and tourism to the area with the right investments, which would enhance the economies of our local communities.

The public hearing on the amendment to LB 406 will be held on Tuesday, April 20 at noon before the Natural Resources Committee, of which I am a member. Senator Mike Hilgers has designated LB 406 as a speaker priority bill, meaning that if the amendment is adopted by the committee and the bill advanced to the floor of the Legislature, it will be debated by the entire body. I am excited and hopeful that this could be the first step of some major investment in economic development for Northeast Nebraska.

I would like to encourage any high school student with an interest in government, law, leadership, or public speaking to register for the 2021 Unicameral Youth Legislature. It will be held on June 13-16, 2021 at the Nebraska State Capitol. The Unicameral Youth Legislature is a four-day legislative simulation in which high school students take on the role of lawmakers. Student senators sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation, and discover the unique process of our nation’s only unicameral. Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. More information can be found at: www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl.

Again I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the legislation before us. 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.

The Appropriations Committee advanced their finalized recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2021-22 and 2022-23 biennial budget to the full Legislature. First-round debate took place this past week and all bills were advanced unanimously except LB383, dealing with capital construction. Under the $9.7 billion biennial budget proposal, the two-year average estimated revenue growth is 3.0%, whereas the two-year average growth in spending is just 1.6%. The committee was able to control the growth of spending due to a higher federal match for Medicaid, a lower than expected increase in the formula for state aid to schools, and federal coronavirus relief funding.

The chair of the Appropriations Committee stated that their priorities in fashioning the budget were to replenish the Cash Reserve Fund, to increase service provider rates, to enhance property tax relief, and to provide for job training and economic development. They also left some funding available for priority bills.

Under the committee’s proposal, the Cash Reserve Fund will increase from $412 million to $763 million, as a result of automatic transfers due to current law and a $50 million transfer from the General Fund each year to replenish the fund. The Cash Reserve Fund balance at the end of the current biennium represented 7.5% of revenues. The balance will increase to 15% of revenues at the end of the first fiscal year and 14.2% by the end of 2022-23. This is still below the 16% target of what the balance should be at the end of a positive growth revenue cycle, but is significantly better than our current level.

The single largest increase in the budget was a 2% per year increase for service providers, amounting to an $89.3 million increase over the two-year period. This would apply to the Department of Health and Human Services providers, such as those providing behavior health services and services to persons with developmental disabilities, as well as providers of community corrections and juvenile services.

The committee recommended a 2% increase to the Property Tax Credit Fund (shown on your property tax statement), which amounts to $63 million over the two-year period. This would increase the annual appropriation from $275 million to $310 million by the second year in the biennium.

The Property Tax Incentive Act (LB 1107) was passed by the Legislature last year. It provides a refundable income tax credit for taxpayers based on the amount of property taxes paid to their school district. For this year the amount appropriated for the income tax credit was $125 million. The amount was to increase based on the amount in the Cash Reserve Fund and the revenue growth, reaching $375 million by the fifth year. Because the Cash Reserve Fund is greater than $500 million, 100% of the growth over 3.5% is distributed to the LB 1107 income tax credit, increasing it to an estimated $313.7 million in both years of the biennium.

Combining the funding for the Property Tax Credit, the LB 1107 income tax credit and the homestead exemption, the Legislature is providing more than $1.4 billion in property tax relief over the two-year budget period.

The budget recommendations include $17 million in funding for Nebraska Career Scholarships for students attending the University of Nebraska, State Colleges, or Community Colleges and $15 million for the Business Innovation Act, which helps businesses develop new technologies that lead to quality job opportunities across the state. The recommended budget also leaves $211 million for legislation pending before the Legislature.

The Governor requested funding for a $230 million correctional facility to house approximately 1,500 inmates, in an effort to deal with the overcrowding situation and the aging Nebraska State Penitentiary. The Appropriations Committee’s recommendations set aside $115 million in the Nebraska Capital Construction Fund for addressing prison overcrowding but did not actually appropriate the money. However, an amendment offered by the chair of the Appropriations Committee would, among other things, appropriate $14.9 million to the Department of Corrections to prepare designs and plans for the new multi-custody-level correctional facility. The amendment was adopted by the body prior to LB 383 receiving first-round approval on a 37-3 vote.

As we finish up the debate on the budget bills, I encourage your input on the spending proposals, as well as other issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at tgragert@leg.ne.gov. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

The question of whether Nebraska should legalize medical marijuana will be debated by the Legislature this year. LB 474, the Medicinal Cannabis Act, was advanced this past week from the Judiciary Committee on a 5-2-1 vote. It has been prioritized by Senator Anna Wishart, the primary sponsor of LB 474. The bill, 62 pages in length, provides the regulatory framework to establish access to cannabis for medical purposes. It limits the allowable amount of cannabis, requires a patient to have a bona fide relationship with the health care practitioner, and prohibits the smoking of marijuana.

The committee amendments define qualifying medical condition as a current diagnosis of any of the conditions specifically listed, such as autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or terminal illness. Furthermore, eight hours of continuing medical education would be required prior to a health care practitioner issuing a patient a written certification.

The Nebraska Pharmacists Association, ACLU, the Epilepsy Foundation of Nebraska, and representatives from the Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis submitted written testimony in support of LB 474, while several individuals told Judiciary Committee members their personal stories of how medical marijuana would help their loved ones. Parents of young children affected by seizures have fought for more than 8 years to be able to use marijuana as an alternative to harsh drugs with many side effects. Thirty-six other states have legalized marijuana for medical use.

Those opposing the legalization of medical marijuana include the Governor, the Attorney General, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Medical Association, the Nebraska State Patrol, and the Nebraska Sheriffs Association. Standards do not exist to give either providers or patients information about the identity, purity, or quality of any cannabis product. The FDA process for approval of drugs cannot be used, as marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Many fear that the legalization of medical marijuana will open the door for recreational marijuana. Studies have confirmed that casual use of marijuana causes harm in the brain of young users and can have a long-term impact on the mental health of our young people, making them more susceptible to serious mental health conditions and suicide.

In 2020, despite the pandemic, a petition drive to place medical marijuana on the ballot gathered approximately 196,000 signatures, far more than the 122,000 required. The Secretary of State, Bob Evnen, ruled that the proposal should be placed on the November 2020 ballot, but his ruling was challenged by the Lancaster County Sheriff, arguing that it violated the single subject requirement of the Nebraska Constitution. The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the Secretary of State and ordered Mr. Evnen to withhold the initiative from the ballot.

Another petition drive is currently underway, which seeks to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational uses. Most likely, it will be successful and the question placed on the November 2022 ballot. One item that will be considered during the debate on LB 474 is whether the Legislature should pass a bill prior to this happening, where marijuana could be limited to medical use and lawmakers would have more authority to regulate its production, processing and distribution.

This is just one of the many controversial issues before the Legislature. I encourage your input. 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.

The Legislature has completed Day 50 of this 90-day legislative session and is in the middle of debate on bills that have been designated as a priority by senators, committees, and the speaker. As a general rule, only bills that have been designated as a priority are placed on the agenda at this point in the session. There is an exception to this rule for a procedure called consent calendar. This process allows non-controversial non-prioritized bills to be considered in an efficient manner. Senators must send a letter to the Speaker of the Legislature requesting that a bill be placed on consent calendar. If three or more senators object to any bill chosen, it will be removed from the agenda. Debate is limited to 15 minutes per bill. Not only do the bills have to be non-controversial, the topic that they pertain to must also be non-controversial. These bills must be fairly simple and cannot have a general fund impact. One of the bills that I introduced was selected for the first consent calendar. LB 78 would require applicants for four veteran specific license plates (Gold Star Family, Ex-Prisoner of War, Disabled American Veteran and Purple Heart) to register with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, thereby allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles to verify their eligibility through the DVA registry.

This past week, the Legislature gave initial approval to LB 572, pertaining to the Livestock Brand Act. The Nebraska Brand Committee was created by the Legislature in 1941 to inspect cattle and investigate missing or stolen cattle. Although cattle management practices have evolved, the rules and regulations pertaining to Nebraska’s Brand Law have remained mostly unchanged. Part of Nebraska is located within a brand inspection area, with the line running through the eastern portion of Knox County and including Holt, Boyd, and Rock Counties. Cedar and Dixon Counties are not located in a brand inspection area. I believe that having part of the state in a livestock inspection area and part outside of it, creates a disadvantage for producers and livestock markets.

LB 572 allows electronic inspections as a means to meet brand inspection requirements. As amended, the bill would lower the per head brand inspection fee for physical inspection from $1.00 to $0.85 per head for the next two years in order to reduce the cash reserves of the Nebraska Brand Committee. I realize that LB 572 is not the final answer, but I think it is a step in the right direction. I would like to explore the voluntary brand inspection system used in Kansas, as I think a statewide voluntary model could help unify our state. This system would be more cost-effective, would retain brand inspection, but would eliminate the boundary line.

Another bill receiving first-round approval was LB 529. This bill deals with the distribution of the 44.5% of lottery proceeds that are dedicated for education purposes. As required by law, a study was conducted by the Education Committee in 2019, to devise recommendations for the allocation of these lottery funds for the next five years. LB 529 contains the majority of the adopted recommendations.

The biggest recipient of lottery proceeds is the Nebraska Opportunity Grant, which is Nebraska’s only need-based financial aid program for postsecondary students. It also receives an annual General Fund appropriation. Nearly 13,000 students per year benefit from this program. Some new funding initiatives include a Department of Education technology update to automate enrollment option processes statewide and a teacher support system, giving teachers a person to call when they need guidance in dealing with classroom challenges.

If there are issues of concern to you, I encourage you to inform me of your opinion. 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.

The Legislature gave first-round approval to a bill that attempts to make it easier for the consumer to purchase individual packages of meat directly from the producer or processor. LB 324 authorizes herd-share agreements with a producer prior to slaughter, thereby giving the consumer an ownership interest in the animal. The farmer and consumer will develop a bill of sale that decides where the animal will be processed, which cuts of meat will be available, and at what price. Then the farmer will deliver the animal to the processor, providing the processor with a list of all share owners and the cut instructions.  The meat would be processed through a custom-exempt facility and the consumer could pick it up at the processor or on the farm. LB 324 is fashioned after legislation passed in Wyoming. Currently, persons are able to purchase a quarter or half of beef, but some may find this too costly or that they don’t have enough freezer space. LB 324 will allow consumers to purchase smaller shares than currently allowed. The processing under the herd-share agreement is exempt from USDA inspection because the meat is not sold at retail, as the consumer is a part-owner of the animal. However, the facility must still be inspected and meet safety and sanitation standards.

LB 324 also creates the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which provides a roadmap for increasing local processing capacity and expanding market access for small producers. Although this portion was not funded, Senator Tom Brandt, the sponsor of LB 324, informed legislators that U.S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry contacted him about his interest in this bill and pledged to help him find funding for it.

Last November, voters approved three ballot initiatives allowing casino gambling at licensed horse racetracks across the state and imposing a 20% tax on gross gambling revenue, of which 70% would be devoted to property tax relief. One of the ballot initiatives, approved by 65% of voters, changed the Nebraska Constitution to allow for the licensing, authorization, taxation, and regulation of all forms of games of chance to be conducted by authorized gaming operators within licensed racetrack enclosures.

LB 561 contains the necessary statutory framework to enact the initiative language. It merges the current Nebraska Racing Commission with the Nebraska Gaming Commission so the combined commission can administer both gaming and horseracing regulatory authority. It creates powers and duties for the commission and establishes penalties for violating the act. LB 561 increases the age for wagering on horseracing from 19 to 21 years of age, to make it consistent with casino gambling.

The committee amendments were divided into three portions for debate. The first portion would allow keno to be played on an electronic ticket as well as paper tickets. Payment would be limited to cash, a debit card, or a direct link to an account with a financial institution, such as Venmo. Credit cards would not be accepted. Purchase of a ticket for a keno game could only be made in person on site. The intent of this amendment was to modernize how keno is played, in order to remain competitive, as many communities are concerned that casino gambling will lower their keno revenue. This portion was adopted on a 26-18 vote.

The second portion of the committee amendments acknowledges that sports wagering is allowed with the passage of the constitutional amendment legalizing games of chance. There have been at least two Attorney General Opinions as well as several court cases stating that sports wagering is a game of chance. The amendments place restrictions on sports wagering, such as limiting it to a specific wagering area of the casino. This section was adopted on a 31-10 vote.

The final portion contained the remainder of the regulatory provisions and was adopted on a 35-4 vote. Following the adoption of the committee amendments, LB 561 received first-round approval on a 37-5 vote.

As the Legislature begins discussing bills that have been designated as priority bills, I encourage your input on these issues. 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.

I ran for the position of state senator on four main issues: pro-life, veterans, property taxes, and water quality. Since I was sworn in as a state senator in 2019, I have sponsored or co-sponsored the following bills:

                                 Senator Gragert – Legislation 2021               (as of 3/16/21)

Bills introduced

Bill # Description Committee Hearing Date Status
LB 75 Township libraries General Affairs 1-25-21 General File
LB 77 Patriot penalty Banking 1-25-21 Passed
LB 78 License plates – Veterans Affairs registry Transportation 1-25-21 General File
LB 395 Game & Parks depredation Natural Resources 1-28-21 GF – in LB 507

Comm. priority

LR 5 Healthy Soils report Agriculture 2-2-21 General File
Bills co-sponsored
Bill # Primary Sponsor Description Status
LB 4 Briese Tuition credits for reserves 50% to 75% community colleges Passed
LB 5 Blood Purple Stars School Act General File
LB 6 Blood Tweak of LB 153 to cover all military retirees Amended into LB 387
LB 10 Blood Disabled veteran definition changed to federal (more lenient) IPP
LB 36 Erdman National motto in schools In Education
LB 134 Brandt Require posting & reporting of tax incentive program information In Revenue
LB 195 Halloran Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act In Government
LB 211 Murman Reflexologist Registration Act General File
LB 259 Halloran Civil action for damages sustained by public safety officers In Judiciary
LB 261 Linehan Grave markers for National Guard General File
LB 300 Slama Extend justification for the use of force to motor vehicles In Judiciary
LB 306 Brandt Eligibility requirements low-income home energy assistance pgm. General File

Brandt priority

LB 324 Brandt Nebraska Meat and Poultry Inspection Law General File

Ag Com. priority

LB 362 Halloran Ballot harvesting – allow 3rd party to collect and deliver ballots In Government
LB 387 Brewer (req. Gov.) Military retirement – 100% exempt from income tax Select File

Gragert priority

LB 389 Sanders (req. Gov.) Teaching certificates military spouses Select File

Sanders priority

LB 396 Brandt Nebraska Farm-to-School Program Act General File

Speaker Priority

LB 404 Lowe Concealed weapon permit – good for 10 years (was 5) In Judiciary
LB 417 Halloran Firearms on school grounds by full-time off-duty law enforcement In Judiciary
LB 418 Murman Solemn Covenant of the States to Award Prizes for Curing Diseases In HHS
LB 512 Brewer Critical Infrastructure Utility Worker Protection Act In Bus. & Labor
LB 543 Brandt Agriculture Equipment Right-To-Repair Act In Judiciary
LB 567 Bus. & Labor Changes benefits for unemployment insurance In Bus. & Labor
LB 581 Ben Hansen Motorcycle helmets In Transp & Tel
LB 583 Murman Electronic prescriptions for controlled substances General File

Speaker priority

LB 665 Bus. & Labor Deny claims against the state In Bus. & Labor
LB 666 Bus. & Labor Payment of claims against the state In Bus. & Labor
LB 670 Murman Design and placement of highway memorial signs In Transp & Tel
LB 671 Murman $300,000/year for assistive technology & equipment for farmers In Appropriation
LB 673 Murman Education Behavioral Awareness & Support Act In Education
LR 1 Blood Support for U.S. Space Command headquarters at Offutt Adopted
LR 14 Halloran Convention of States In Government

Halloran priority

 

 

Senator Gragert – Legislation 2020

Bills introduced

Bill # Description Committee Hearing Date Status
LB 769 Natural Resources Commission – resident Nat. Resources Jan. 29, 2020 Amended into LB 632 and passed
LB 770 Free park permits – disabled veterans Nat. Resources Jan. 30, 2020 Passed
LB 771 One license plate – pickups Transportation Jan. 28, 2020 In committee
LB 995 Loan assistance – rural attorneys Appropriations In budget – passed
LB 1108 Unclaimed property update Banking Feb. 24, 2020 In committee
Bills co-sponsored
Bill # Primary Sponsor Description Status
LB 752 Blood Service providers ask question if veteran Amended into LB 755 and passed
LB 814 Geist Prohibit dismemberment abortion Passed
LB 835 Halloran Update Nebr. Pure Food Act (obsolete egg handlers) Passed
LB 899 Hughes Public Power Districts – biofuels Passed
LB 904 Bolz Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute Withdrawn – in budget
LB 911 Quick Veterans Cemetery Grand Island Passed
LB 931 Halloran Seasonally harvested products maximum weight overload Passed
LB 937 Brewer Tribal flags – State Capitol Amended into LB 848 and passed
LB 946 Briese Impose sales tax on services, lower rate In Revenue
LB 963 Brewer First responders, frontline state employees – workers comp Passed
LB 1084 Kolterman UNMC – Nebr. Transformational Projects Act Amended into LB 1107 and passed
LB 1150 Brandt YRTC – Fully staff Geneva & Kearney Amended into LB 1188 and passed
LR 288 Slama Urge Congress and Corps of Eng. To prioritize flood control Adopted
LR 292 CA La Grone Voter ID In Government
LR 300 CA Erdman Consumption tax (eliminate sales,  income and property taxes) In Revenue

 

Senator Gragert – Legislation 2019

Bills introduced

Bill # Description Committee Hearing Date Status
LB 243 Healthy Soils Task Force Agriculture Jan. 29, 2019 Passed
LB 406 Unclaimed property Government Jan. 31, 2019 Passed
Bills co-sponsored
Bill # Primary Sponsor Description Status
LB 5 Blood Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act – veterans Revenue 1/23
LB 6 Blood In-state residency of military family for college purposes Passed
LB 12 Blood Real Estate license fee exemption for military Passed
LB 15 Blood Children of Nebr. Hearing Aid Act Passed
LB 115 Blood Military on fedr. property, residents where property located Passed
LB 153 Brewer (at request of Gov.) Exclude 50% of military retirement benefits from state income tax Passed

 

LB 154 Brewer State Patrol collect data on missing Native American women Passed
LB 209 Albrecht Woman told possibility of reversing medication abortions Passed
LB 261 DeBoer Redistricting maps must use state-issued computer software Exec. Board 2/14
LB 263 Clements Fix 7 year option in current military retirement tax benefits Revenue 2/7
LB 279 Bostelman Sales tax exemption for food sold by veterans service org. Revenue 3/7
LB 291 Linehan Internet Sales tax – economic nexus, marketplace LB 284 Passed
LB 378 B. Hansen Repeal motorcycle helmet law for those 21 & older General File
LB 399 Slama Require civics portion of the Naturalization examination in 8th and 11th grade Passed
LB 413 Brandt Change Nebr. Advantage Act deadlines from 2020 to 2019 Revenue 3/6
LB 418 Cavanaugh Prohibit collecting medical debt if case pending in workers comp Passed
LB 424 Quick Nebr. Municipal Land Bank Act Passed
LB 451 Halloran Provide rules & procedures to create/guide a delegation to Article V convention Government 2/1
LB 477 Vargas Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards – tax exemption Passed
LB 497 Friesen Property tax relief plan Revenue 2/14
LB 511 Brewer Allow state employees to participate in youth mentoring program Passed
LB 575 Brewer Adopt school policy re: access of student info to military recruiters Passed
LB 611 Brandt Trains – two crew members Transp. 3/5
LB 626 Pansing-Brooks Create a Veterans Workforce Development Coordinator LB 138 Passed
LB 634 Hilkemann Require seat belts in new school buses Transp. 3/4
LB 660 Brewer Nebr. Brand Committee employ a  chief investigator Passed
LB 693 Halloran Neighbor Spoofing Protection Act Passed
LB 696 Bostelman Provide for military honor plates–Army & Air National Guard LB 138 Passed
LB 697 Bostelman Military license plates – eliminate $5 & $40 fee LB 138 Passed
LR 7 Halloran Convention of States – impose fiscal restraints & limit powers of federal government and term limits Government 2/1
LR 13 Murman Urge federal government to establish & enforce standards and product labeling for milk Adopted

Due to the pandemic, the Legislature has been holding full-day public hearings in an effort to limit the number of senators in one location. With more vaccinations underway, senators will begin full-day debate on Monday, March 15. This past week also marked the deadline for the designation of priority bills. Senators are allowed one personal priority bill and committees can select two bills as committee priority bills. The Speaker of the Legislature can designate up to 25 bills as speaker priority bills.

Among the bills given priority status are the following: LB 408 – limits annual growth in local government property taxes to no more than 3% a year; LB 388 – introduced at the request of the governor, seeks to appropriate $20 million in grants annually to increase access to high speed broadband across the state; LR 14 – proposes to apply to Congress to call a convention of the states, which would be limited to proposed amendments dealing with fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and term limits for officials and members of Congress; and LB 561 – provides regulatory authority over casino gambling, which was legalized by voters last year.

I designated LB 387 as my priority bill. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill to exempt 50% of military retirement benefits from the Nebraska income tax. LB 387, introduced by Senator Tom Brewer, at the request of the Governor, would fully exempt military pensions from state income taxes. Although this bill is important to military families, I felt it is also important to our state because it will be an investment to keep a quality workforce in Nebraska. I chose LB 387 as my priority bill because not only will it retain more veterans in Nebraska, it will also attract more veterans to our state when they retire from the military and are ready to begin their next career. The increased revenue the state will receive from income taxes paid at their new jobs will more than offset the income tax exemption for their military retirement benefits. Twenty-one states exempt military retirement pay from state income taxes and nine states have no state income tax. We must be competitive with these thirty states, including all of our surrounding states except Colorado, in order to attract military retirees. This legislation was an opportunity for legislators to show their gratitude as well as their wisdom. LB 387 was given first-round approval this past week on a 45-0 vote.

The Revenue Committee advanced LB 64, which as amended, would exempt social security benefits from the state income tax, through a ten-year phased-in approach. Only a dozen states currently tax social security benefits. Numerous attempts have been made in the past to exempt social security income but due to the fiscal impact, they have been unsuccessful. I believe it is time to discuss this issue again. LB 64 has been designated as a priority by Senator Mark Kolterman.

LB 680 was also advanced by the Revenue Committee this past week. It reduces the top corporate income tax rate from 7.81% to 6.84%, making it equal to the top rate paid by individuals and most small businesses.

During the last week of public hearings, LB 474 was heard before the Judiciary Committee. LB 474 would legalize the use of medical marijuana. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Anna Wishart, noted that this is the 5th year she has brought this bill before the Legislature. She also was a leader in the petition drive, which collected more than the necessary signatures to place it on last year’s ballot, but was struck down by the Nebraska Supreme Court for violating the single subject rule. With another petition drive already started, Senator Wishart pointed out that LB 474 contains far more restrictions than what would be passed by voters.

Proponents of LB 474 gave sometimes emotional testimony promoting the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and severe seizures in children. Former Husker football player, Grant Wistrom informed the committee how medical cannabis improved his quality of life when he played in the NFL.

Opponents of the measure included the state’s Chief Medical Officer, a representative of the Nebraska Medical Association, and the superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. They emphasized the need for drugs to be approved through the FDA process. The governor held a press conference prior to the start of the hearing, warning that marijuana use affects the chemical makeup of the brain, particularly in our youth.

As the Legislature begins full-day debate, I encourage your input on issues that are before us. 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.

The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met last week and revised the current forecast upwards. The board projected an increase of $204 million for fiscal year 2020-21, $165 million for fiscal year 2021-22, and $93 million for fiscal year 2022-23, for a total increase of $462 million. The three-year average growth rate increased from 2.9% to 3.4%.

Under LB 1107, the property tax relief bill passed last year, property taxpayers are eligible for a refundable income tax credit based on the amount of real property taxes paid to schools during the prior year. The credit was funded at $125 million in the first year of implementation, which equals approximately 5.5% of real property taxes paid to schools. The legislation contained a trigger mechanism for growth in the program. To trigger additional dollars beyond the $125 million, certain conditions must be met. If net receipts exceed forecast by 3.5% and the cash reserve is at or above $500 million, than 100% of the excess over 3.5% is added to the income tax credit program.  If the cash reserve is less than $500 million, only 50% of the excess is transferred to the program. By 2025, $375 million must be available for the income tax credit program and this amount will grow based on the percentage change in overall statewide valuations, with a cap of 5%. By 2025, the credit is projected to grow to approximately 15% of school taxes paid or approximately $2,227 per average farm. (This is in addition to the Property Tax Credit Fund which offers $275 million annually as a credit on your property tax statement. The gambling initiative passed by voters last year also earmarks 70% of the taxes collected to this fund.)

Based on the updated fiscal year forecast, which is above the 3.5% target level and pushes the cash reserve balance above $500 million, the funding for the income tax credit program will jump from $125 million this year to $313 million for fiscal year 2021-22.

The Revenue Committee advanced LB 408, the Property Tax Request Act, to the floor of the Legislature on a 7-1 vote. Under LB 408, introduced by Senator Tom Briese, a political subdivision’s property tax request cannot exceed the prior year’s property tax request by more than 3%. Such 3% cap could be exceeded with a vote of the people. The 3% increase on property tax requests would not apply to property tax dollars required to pay for the principal or interest needed to retire bonded indebtedness or property taxes raised from real growth (improvements, new construction or annexation) of a political subdivision. The committee amendments add a sunset clause in 2027.

LR 22 is a constitutional amendment, introduced by Senator Lou Ann Linehan, at the request of the governor. LR 22 is similar to LB 408 but would place the provisions in the constitution, which would be more difficult to tweak if changes are needed.

Blueprint Nebraska consists of a group of state business leaders whose goal is economic growth for our state. Since 2018, Blueprint Nebraska has worked with local stakeholders to identify the state’s core challenges and to chart a roadmap toward a strategic initiative that can shape our future. At a press conference this past week with two Revenue Committee members, they talked of their vision to pass a tax modernization plan by 2022. Their vision of good tax policy is a tax system with a broad base and low rates. The intent is to come up with a plan this session, take it across the state this summer to gain support and bring it before the Legislature next year.

All of the committees except the Judiciary Committee finished the public hearing process this past week. The Legislature will meet in the mornings next week, allowing the Judiciary Committee to complete their work in the afternoons. Full day debate will begin on March 15.

Again I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on the legislation before us. 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.

The extreme cold spell that Nebraska and other states experienced during the middle of February increased energy needs across the region, resulting in unprecedented short-term rolling blackouts. Public power districts were directed by the Southwest Power Pool to shed electricity usage immediately in order to prevent longer, more widespread power outages. The urgency of the situation, in which power demand exceeded generated power and minimum reserves were exhausted, prevented advance notice to some customers.

The Southwest Power Pool is a regional transmission organization that provides power to 17 states from North Dakota to Texas. Nebraska Public Power District and other Nebraska utilities joined it in 2009 to help ensure the stability of the power grid through reliable power sources, adequate transmission structures, and reasonable energy prices.

The southern state’s utilities are not weatherized to withstand cold weather, unlike Nebraska’s utilities. Although wind turbines did produce less power during the cold spell, the primary source of the problem was disruptions in fossil fuel power plants. The high demand for power caused the cost of natural gas and electricity to sky-rocket.

Senator Bruce Bostelman, the chair of the Natural Resources Committee, introduced LR 48. The purpose of the legislative resolution is for the Legislature to gain more information, in order to understand the reasons for, and circumstances surrounding, the interruptions in electricity to Nebraska residents. A public hearing on LR 48 will be held on March 3rd. Likewise, Senator Justin Wayne, the chair of the Urban Affairs Committee, introduced LR 49. It focuses on the natural gas shortages and increases in price during the cold weather spell.

This past week, the Revenue Committee heard testimony on two bills dealing with the taxation of social security benefits. LB 237, introduced by Senator Tom Brewer, would exempt social security benefits from the Nebraska income tax. The proposal, indexed to adjusted gross income, would be phased-in over a 5-year period. At that time, it is projected to decrease revenue to the state by $35 million. LB 64, introduced by Senator Brett Lindstrom, does not contain the income cap on eligibility and is projected to reduce revenue by almost $140 million when fully phased-in after 5 years.

The Revenue Committee also held a public hearing on LB 115, which seeks to eliminate the sales tax exemption on candy and soft drinks. This proposal, introduced by Senator John McCollister, is projected to increase state revenue by more than $50 million annually.

The Agriculture Committee, of which I am a member, advanced LB 324 to the floor of the Legislature this past week on a 7-0 vote.  The intent of LB 324 is to make it easier for the consumer to purchase packages of meat directly from the producer or processor. It would allow for the sale of animal shares if certain conditions are met. It also creates the Independent Processor Assistance Program to provide a roadmap for increasing local processing capacity and expanding market access for small producers. The need for LB 324, introduced by Senator Tom Brandt, became apparent during the pandemic when large slaughterhouses were shut down or ran at reduced capacity, resulting in a lack of options to get meat processed.

As committees finish up the public hearing process, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on legislation before us. 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 at the Capitol is (402) 471-2801.

The Legislature passed the one-third mark this week in the 90-day legislative session. The Appropriations Committee also presented their preliminary recommendations for the biennial budget. This provides a starting point for discussion of the various budget actions suggested so far. After the Appropriations Committee finishes its committee work, it will develop formal recommendations to be presented to the Legislature by mid to late March, at which time floor debate will take place.

Although we are in the middle of a pandemic, the state’s financial status is surprising good, having improved significantly since last year. Current projections reflect a balance of $49 million above the minimum reserve at the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year, a noticeable improvement from the previous projection of a $170 million shortfall. The committee’s proposal includes $130 million per year for funding legislation advanced to the floor. At this point, it does not contain funding for the Governor’s major initiatives, which will compete for this funding.

The Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee received testimony this past week on two controversial issues introduced by Senator Julie Slama. LB 76 would reinstate the winner-take-all system for electing presidential candidates, awarding all electoral votes to the candidate who received the highest number of votes in the state. LR 3 is a proposed constitutional amendment, giving voters a say on whether to require a photo ID prior to voting.

Only two states, Maine and Nebraska, allow their electoral votes to be split. Since 1991, Nebraska has awarded three of its five electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in each of its three congressional districts. The other two electoral votes go to the statewide winner. This method has resulted in the awarding of one electoral vote to President Barack Obama in 2008 and one to President Joe Biden in 2020. Since 1991, there have been more than a dozen attempts to change our system back to winner-take-all, but all have been unsuccessful. Proponents of LB 76 say now is the time to return to the system used in 48 other states. Opponents argued that our current system attracts more attention to Nebraska in the presidential race and to change it would signal to voters their votes don’t matter as much.

LR 3 CA states that voter identification is necessary in order to combat voter fraud, preserve the relative power of each eligible citizen’s right to vote, modernize election infrastructure, and ensure the integrity of the election process. Thirty-five other states require voter identification. Opponents argued it will make it more difficult for some to vote, and it isn’t necessary, as there is little evidence of voter fraud in Nebraska.

Last year the Legislature passed LB 1107, creating a property tax credit that Nebraskans can claim when filing their state income taxes. The credit is based on the amount of property taxes paid to schools. The credit will provide up to $125 million in property tax relief for the 2020 tax year, increasing to $375 million annually when fully phased in. This is in addition to the $275 million that is appropriated annually to the Property Tax Credit program, reflected on property tax statements.

In order to determine the amount eligible for the refundable income tax credit, the Nebraska Department of Revenue has created a tool for taxpayers to look up the amount of school district property taxes paid. The look-up tool can be found at revenue.nebraska.gov. If a taxpayer claims a different amount of credit than what they are entitled to, their refund may be delayed. Therefore, taxpayers are encouraged to use this tool.

If you are opposed to or in support of legislation or if you have any questions, please contact me with your thoughts and opinions. 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 at the Capitol is (402) 471-2801.

Sen. Tim Gragert

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