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

2021 Final Redistricting Maps
September 30th, 2021

 

Final Legislative District 40 Map

Final Legislative District 40 Map – Pierce County

Final Legislative District 40 Map – Dixon County

Final Legislative District 43 Map – Rock & Boyd Counties

 

Final Public Service Commission Map

 

Final Supreme Court Map

 

Final Board of Education Map

 

Final Board of Regents Map

The Legislature successfully concluded the special session called to enact legislation pertaining to redistricting on Thursday, September 30. Based on the 2020 census data, new boundary lines were drawn for Congress, the Legislature, the Supreme Court, the Public Service Commission, the State Board of Education and the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. After a contentious start, senators agreed to compromise on redistricting maps for Congress and the Legislature. All six bills were given final approval and will go into effect upon the governor’s signature.

Under the Congressional redistricting plan, District #1 lost Saunders, Otoe, and a portion of Polk County, as well as Burt and Washington Counties, most of Thurston County, and a small portion of Dixon County. This was primarily due to the population growth in the City of Lincoln and Lancaster County. District #2 retained all of Douglas County and the western portion of Sarpy County and picked up Saunders County. District #3 now covers 79 counties, plus a portion of Polk County. It had to grow in size geographically due to loss of population and contains all the counties in Legislative District #40. 

Under the Legislative redistricting plan, Legislative District #36 is eliminated. It is currently represented by Senator Matt Williams of Gothenburg. LD36, covering Custer, Dawson and a portion of Buffalo County, was moved to Sarpy County. According to the 2020 census data, rural Nebraska was to lose 1-2 senators to the metropolitan area based on population shifts in the state. I was glad that the final map only moved one district from the rural areas. Legislative District #40 will no longer contain Rock and Boyd Counties, nor the southern portion of Dixon County. It gained Antelope County and the northern portion of Pierce County. Holt, Knox, and Cedar Counties were not altered and remain in LD40. I look forward to representing these new areas, but will continue to respond to constituents in the counties from which I was elected as well. 

LB 406, which passed earlier this year, created the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability Special Committee of the Legislature. The Committee, on which I serve, has hired a consultant to study three areas of the state, including northern Knox County. The study is looking at the socioeconomic conditions, recreational and tourism opportunities, and the public investment necessary to enhance economic development in our area. The consultant hired was HDR out of Omaha and they have started their work in our area. The next step of the study process is a Design Workshop. The public is invited to join the HDR team as they develop and review design concepts in the study area, which includes the Lower Niobrara and Lewis & Clark Lake regions. The team will host a short presentation followed by an open house where attendees will be able to view proposed design concepts, ask questions of the project team, and provide feedback. These workshops will be held on October 12 through 15 at the Group Lodge at Niobrara State Park from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 2:00-4:00 p.m. on Friday. 

After these last couple of weeks in Lincoln, I will be back in Creighton most of the time until the next legislative session begins on January 5, 2022. If you have any questions or need assistance, please contact my office. If I am not available, my staff will be able to assist you. 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 Governor called the Legislature into special session on Monday, September 13, to enact legislation on redistricting. The 2020 census data was released to states on August 12. Usually this data is available by the end of March and the redistricting process is completed during the regular legislative session. However, due to the pandemic, final population figures were delivered more than 4 months later than normal.


Every ten years after the census is completed, senators are tasked with redrawing boundary lines for six different entities. The general goal of the redistricting process is the creation of districts that are substantially equal in population. New maps are to be drawn for members of the Legislature, Representatives of Congress, the Supreme Court judicial districts, the Public Service Commission districts, members of the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska, and for members of the State Board of Education.


The Redistricting Committee made public the maps for the redistricting plans just prior to the Legislature convening in special session. Two alternative plans were submitted for the legislative district boundaries and the congressional district boundaries. The Redistricting Committee held public hearings in each of the three congressional districts on their maps this past week.
At this time, only one congressional district proposal has been advanced to the Legislature for debate. Over the last 10 years, the population in Congressional District 1 (Lincoln and surrounding counties) and Congressional District 2 (Omaha and surrounding areas) increased, whereas Congressional District 3 (the rest of the state) experienced a decrease in population. Due to this population shift to more urban areas, boundaries will have to be adjusted. Under Legislative Bill 1, Douglas County would be divided among Congressional District 1 and District 2. Sarpy County would be kept whole in Congressional District 2, which would also gain Saunders County. Furthermore, Otoe, Cass, and Thurston Counties would move from Congressional District 1 to District 3, as would half of Burt County and the southeast corner of Dixon County, making Dixon County entirely in District 3.


The ideal legislative district population is 40,031. This has increased from the target of 37,272 in 2011. The current population of Legislative District 40 is 35,576, which deviates from the ideal population by 4,455 or 11.1%. All six counties within Legislative District 40 decreased in population over the last ten years. The 2020 census showed Boyd County with a population of 1,810, down from 2,099 in 2010, or a 13.8% decrease. Cedar County decreased from 8,852 to 8,380 or by 5.3%. Dixon County fell from 6,000 to 5,606 residents or by 6.6%. Holt County fell from 10,435 to 10,127 or by 3%, whereas the population in Knox County decreased by 3.6% from 8,701 to 8,391. Rock County fell by the largest percentage, 17.3%, with their population decreasing over the last 10 years from 1,526 to 1,262. Legislative District 40 will have to grow in geographical size due to the loss in population.


Both LB 3 and LB 4, the redistricting plans for the legislative districts, eliminate one rural district and move it to the metropolitan area. (Based on census results, data showed the need to move either 1 or 2 districts, depending on how the maps were configured.) Under LB 3, Legislative District 40 would pick up Brown and Keya Paha Counties and the northeast corner of Pierce County, but lose a southern and eastern portion of Dixon County. Under LB 4, Legislative District 40 would gain Pierce County but lose Rock County and the southern portion of Dixon County.
Although my priority is to keep Legislative District 40 as intact as possible, I must also look at the entire state when considering what plan to support. I believe the maps will most likely be adjusted before the Legislature votes on Final Reading.


Please contact me if you have questions on the redistricting process. 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 Legislature completed their work and adjourned sine die on May 27, 2021, six days early in the 90-day session. Our final days were spent on redistricting guidelines, motions to override gubernatorial vetoes, and procedural matters.

LR 134, a resolution introduced by the Redistricting Committee, defines the guidelines to be used by the Legislature during the 2021 redistricting process. The Redistricting Committee is established as a special committee of the Legislature in January of each year ending in the number 1. The committee is authorized to introduce and exercise jurisdiction over legislative bills and resolutions relating to redistricting and hold hearings regarding such legislation. The Redistricting Committee for the 2021 process was appointed by the Executive Board and consists of 9 senators, chaired by Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn.

The Legislature is responsible for drawing the district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, Legislature, Nebraska Supreme Court, University of Nebraska Board of Regents, Public Service Commission, and State Board of Education. The guidelines are designed to help ensure that the redistricting plans yet to be developed by the Legislature are constitutionally acceptable. The guidelines require the Legislature to use population data from the 2020 U.S. Census, to follow county lines whenever practicable, define districts that are compact and contiguous, follow traditional districting principles, not favor a political party or consider political affiliations of registered voters, not dilute the voting strength of any minority population, and to create districts that are substantially equal in population. LR 134 was adopted by the Legislature. After the census data becomes available in mid-August, it is anticipated that the Legislature will meet in Special Session this fall to carry out their redistricting responsibilities.

The Governor vetoed three bills. All three bills were passed easily by the Legislature. The motions to override the Governor’s vetoes were all successful, but by a much smaller margin. LB 108 attempts to address the cliff effect in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. LB 306 expands eligibility to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, offering federal financial assistance to those in need. LB 147 transfers the duties and responsibilities for management of the Omaha Public Schools retirement system to the Public Employees Retirement Board, who already manages the retirement funds for all other school employees, as well as for judges, county workers, and state employees. The legislation spells out that the state would NOT take on the debt of the OPS troubled pension system.

This session was different than the first two sessions I experienced, as there was revenue available to address some priority issues, such as expanding high speed broadband services to underserved areas of the state, reducing the value of agricultural land for school bond purposes, reducing the top corporate income tax rate, phasing out the income tax on social security benefits, eliminating the income tax on military retirement benefits, and eliminating the sales tax on some agricultural equipment and ethanol inputs. Even with the tax reductions, the Legislature limited the two-year average growth in spending to 2% and has a projected surplus of $27 million above the required 3% minimum reserve. I felt the Legislature passed a responsible budget.

I was selected to serve on the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability (STAR WARS) Special Committee, created by the passage of LB 406. The committee is authorized to hire a consultant to study three areas of the state, one being northern Knox County.  A Request for Proposal (RFP) for contractual services is being prepared. This study will look at the recreational and tourism opportunities and public investment necessary to enhance economic development and catalyze private investment in our area. We have already held one “idea raiser” in Knox County and I expect more meetings will be held in the area. I am excited to see the direction this study takes.

I will be back in Creighton now that the Legislature has adjourned. 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 District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my office telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

The Speaker of the Legislature has announced that senators will complete their work a few days early, adjourning sine die on May 27th rather than June 10th. This is partially due to the many late nights that were worked in order to complete our business and knowing that we will be meeting again in a couple months.

Every ten years, the Legislature must complete the redistricting process to reflect population changes after the U.S. Census is complete. Due to the pandemic, states didn’t get the census data in March, as they typically do. The data should be available by mid-August, forcing the Legislature to meet in a special session this fall to redraw the governmental district boundary lines.

This past week, seventy-three bills were read on Final Reading and passed into law. The following are some of the bills that passed.

LB 2 reduces the value of agricultural land from 75% to 50% of its actual value for school bond issues. This legislation seeks to more evenly balance the responsibility for paying for school bonds amongst farmers and residential homeowners.

LB 51 increases certification and training standards for law enforcement officers. The Crime Commission is directed to post information on its website regarding law enforcement officers who have their certification revoked or have been convicted of a serious crime.

LB 64 phases out the taxation of all social security income over a 10-year period. The 50% exemption over the first 5 years is spelled out in statute. The increase to 100% over the next 5 years is included in intent language, allowing a future Legislature to revisit the issue to determine if there is sufficient revenue at that time.

LB 324 allows for herd-share arrangements with a producer prior to slaughter, in an effort to make it easier for consumers to purchase individual packages of meat directly from the producer or processor.

LB 387 will exempt 100% of military retirement from state income taxes. This bill was introduced at the request of the governor and I selected it as my priority bill.

LB 388 authorizes the Public Service Commission to issue $20 million in grants annually to increase access to high speed broadband across the state. Unserved and underserved areas will be prioritized.

LB 396 adopts the Nebraska farm-to-school program. Administered by the Nebraska Department of Education, the program encourages schools to use locally and regionally produced or minimally processed food in an effort to improve child nutrition and strengthen the farm economy. The program may also include activities to provide students with hands-on learning opportunities.

LB 406 creates the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability Special Committee of the Legislature. The committee is authorized to hire a consultant to study three areas of the state, including northern Knox County. The study will look at the socioeconomic conditions, recreational and tourism opportunities, and public investment necessary to enhance economic development in our area.

LB 644 requires counties, cities, school districts, and community colleges to send a brightly colored postcard to affected property taxpayers notifying them of a joint public hearing if they propose to increase their property tax request by more than the allowable growth percentage. The allowable growth percentage is set at 2% plus real growth.

Senators discussed but did not vote on LB 542, which would have authorized the State Highway Commission to issue up to $400 million in bonds over the next six years to speed up the completion of Nebraska’s expressway system. One-third of the state’s 600-mile expressway plan to link major cities with four-lane expressways remains unfinished more than 30 years after it was approved by the Legislature. The cost of the project continues to increase due to inflation and rising construction costs. Segments waiting to be completed include Fremont to Columbus and Fremont to Norfolk.

It was decided to hold LB 542 until next year, but retain its priority status. This would allow the Legislature to have a better idea of what will happen with the infrastructure bill in U.S. Congress that could send a significant amount of funding to states to improve highways. Furthermore, it was recently announced that the Department of Transportation has received bids on expanding Highway 275 between West Point and Scribner into a four-lane system.

As we finish this legislative session, I still encourage you to contact me. 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.

Nebraskans will once again reap the benefits of the energy and creativity of Nebraska young people as they serve as interns in their local public libraries. The Nebraska Library Commission recently awarded Nebraska Library Internship Grants totaling $25,000 to twenty-four Nebraska public libraries. These internship grants will support public library interns who will contribute to the scope and value of the diverse programs and activities in Nebraska’s public libraries.

“The internships are a great opportunity for students to get involved in library work. Beyond earning money and gaining valuable work experience, the student is exposed to the broad range of library services and programming. Internships provide an opportunity for the student to view the library as a viable and satisfying career choice. In addition, interns bring a fresh perspective and their own unique talents to the library,” said Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner.

Student interns will learn about library work as they shadow staff, assist with day-to-day library operations, and implement special projects. Some of the activities that students will participate in include:

  • plan and implement programs such as summer reading programs for all ages, story time sessions, book discussions, and teen/tween activities;
  • assist with computer classes for adults and seniors;
  • organize Makerspaces and Maker Clubs, as well as other STEAM learning activities, programs, and crafts;
  • work with Summer Youth Outreach Services to provide Bookmobile services at locations throughout the city and county;
  • facilitate partnerships with Doane University, the Bassett Old Feed Store Art Center, the Ponca State Park, and Nebraska Extension;
  • assist with outreach events outside the library;
  • update the library’s website and social media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, etc.) or in some situations designing and coding a new website;
  • assist with circulation activities, book selection, and collection management; and
  • work on newspaper digitization projects.

The following 24 Nebraska public libraries were awarded 2021 internship grant funding:

  • Hoesch Memorial Library, Alma
  • Atkinson Public Library
  • Rock County Public Library, Bassett
  • Bayard Public Library
  • Blair Public Library and Technology Center
  • Bridgeport Public Library
  • Central City Public Library
  • Clarkson Public Library
  • Clearwater Public Library
  • Columbus Public Library
  • Crete Public Library
  • Franklin Public Library
  • Kimball Public Library
  • Madison Public Library
  • Morrill Public Library
  • Norfolk Public Library
  • Cordelia B Preston Memorial Library, Orleans
  • Oxford Public Library
  • Papillion Sump Memorial Library
  • Plainview Public Library
  • Ponca Carnegie Library
  • Stromsburg Public Library
  • Verdigre Public Library
  • Kilgore Memorial Library, York

Additionally, three public libraries participating in the Library Innovation Studios: Transforming Rural Communities (LIS) project have also received 2021 internship grant funding. The interns hired in these libraries will primarily be working with this LIS makerspace grant. These libraries include:

  • Bellevue Public Library
  • McCook Public Library
  • Lied Randolph Public Library

Funding for the project is supported and administered by the Nebraska Library Commission, in partnership with the Nebraska Library Systems.

As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, “bringing together people and information.”

Nebraska’s Regional Library Systems consist of four non-profit corporations governed by boards representative of libraries and citizens in the region. The four systems were established to provide access to improved library services through the cooperation of all types of libraries and media centers within the counties included in each System area.

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The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission Website, http://nlc.nebraska.gov/publications/newsreleases.

 

FOR MORE

INFORMATION:                            
Christa Porter
402-471-3107
800-307-2665

Legislative bills proposing to decrease the corporate income tax rate and phase-out the income tax on social security benefits both received second-round approval this past week after amendments were added to require the Legislature to revisit these issues prior to full implementation. This would allow a future Legislature to determine whether revenue is sufficient at that time to carry out the Legislature’s intent.

Under LB 64, taxation of all social security income would be phased-out over a 10-year period.  Nebraska is one of only 13 states to tax social security income. Senators questioned whether the Legislature could afford the $168 million price tag once it is fully implemented. The Appropriations Committee chair offered an amendment that kept the 50% exemption achieved over the first five years in place, but used intent language to increase the exemption from 60% to 100% over the following five years. Even though LB 64 advanced to Final Reading, an amendment may still be offered to impose an income cap.

As advanced from the Revenue Committee, LB 432 proposed to reduce the top corporate income tax rate on taxable income in excess of $100,000 from 7.81% to 6.84%, which is the top individual income tax rate. The intent was to create parity between businesses regardless of the legal form. Subchapter S Corporations and Limited Liability Companies don’t pay corporate income tax. Instead they distribute income to their partners or shareholders, who then pay individual income tax on their distributions. Once again, some senators questioned whether the Legislature could afford this tax decrease and whether it was the best use for this money. Under a compromise amendment, the top corporate tax rate would be reduced in phases, decreasing to 7.5% the first year and 7.25% the second. The final decreases to 7.0% and 6.84% in the following two years are included in intent language. After adoption of this amendment, LB 432 was advanced to Final Reading.

Senators debated LB 474, which proposed to legalize medical marijuana, for eight hours this past week. Senator Anna Wishart offered legislation again this year to adopt the Medicinal Cannabis Act. She worked on the initiative petition last year that collected 196,000 signatures, far more than needed to place it on the ballot despite the hardship in gathering signatures due to the pandemic. Although the Secretary of State approved the proposal for the November 2020 ballot, a lawsuit was filed at the last minute, alleging that the initiative language violated the single subject requirement of our constitution. The lawsuit was successful and the initiative was removed from the ballot. Senator Wishart told of broad support for the ballot measure from all areas of the state, from all age groups, and across the political parties. She predicted that another ballot measure will be successful and that it will be approved by voters if LB 474 is not passed by the Legislature. Although focused on “medical marijuana”, the initiative petition may simply refer to “marijuana”, to make sure the single subject provision is not violated again. This could open Nebraska up to recreational marijuana as well.

Thirty-six states have comprehensive medical cannabis programs or have fully legalized cannabis for adult nonmedical and medical purposes. An additional 11 states allow the use of low THC high CBD products for medical reasons in limited situations or as a legal defense. This leaves Nebraska, Arkansas, and Kansas with no medical cannabis program.

LB 474 was described as the most conservative medical marijuana legislation in the United States. Under LB 474, patients must have a qualifying medical condition and written certification issued by a health care professional, with whom they have a bonafide relationship. The written certification must be renewed every 90 days. Health practitioners must perform a physical exam on patients prior to providing a certification for medical cannabis, complete continuing education requirements, and are limited in the number of certifications they can issue. Patients could possess no more than 2.5 ounces of cannabis and must purchase it from state-licensed dispensaries, which are prohibited from selling edible products. Patients could not smoke it or operate a vehicle while under the influence. Furthermore, municipalities could ban or adopt zoning restrictions on the locations of medical cannabis businesses, although the receipt of mailed products could not be prohibited.

This was a difficult issue for me. I have heard from and met with parents, pleading for the ability to use marijuana as an alternative for harsh drugs with terrible side effects for their children who were experiencing severe seizures. However, the cloture motion on LB 474 was not successful, meaning that LB 474 will not be debated again. The Legislature won’t have the same control over how an initiative petition is implemented.

Senators are meeting into the evenings as we attempt to finish our business prior to the end of session. I still encourage you to contact me with your opinions on the issues 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.

Two major pieces of legislation that would have provided property tax relief were defeated this past week. Generally, I am supportive of proposals that attempt to lower property taxes.

LR 11, introduced by Bayard Senator Steve Erdman, is a constitutional amendment proposing to replace all taxation with a consumption tax on the purchase of services and new goods. Nebraska residents would no longer pay property taxes, income taxes, sales and use taxes, inheritance taxes, or estate taxes. LR 11 was advanced from the Revenue Committee on a 6-2 vote and was prioritized by Senator Erdman.

To implement the constitutional amendment and provide more information on how the consumption tax would work, Senator Erdman also introduced LB 133. However, this bill was not advanced from the Revenue Committee.

As proposed in LB 133, taxable property and services would be taxed at a rate of 10.64%. The following items would be exempt from the consumption tax: the sale of land; the purchase of fuel; the purchase of used property; and the purchase of taxable property or services for business, investment, or educational purposes.  The consumption tax would tax all services with no exemptions and would also tax only new goods. Households would receive a monthly pre-bate, which would compensate them for taxes paid up to the poverty level. The state would collect the tax revenue above the poverty level.

The consumption tax proposal is a bold idea. No other state has adopted this tax system. Some senators stated that it was not ready for prime time. After senators debated the pros and cons of LR 11 for several hours, a vote on the advancement of the proposed constitutional amendment fell short.

LB 454, introduced by Henderson Senator Curt Friesen, would adopt the School Property Tax Stabilization Act. The purpose of this act is to increase the state’s share of the cost of education in school districts that are primarily funded from property tax revenue. Stabilization payments would be directed to schools where property taxes required to fully fund formula needs exceeds 70% of formula needs. Under the committee amendments, the percentage would be lowered to 55% by the fourth year. Stabilization payments would equal 50% of the difference between the property tax requirement and the formula needs threshold.

Currently two-thirds of our school districts do not receive equalization aid through the school state aid formula. This results in a disproportionate burden placed on rural landowners when funding school districts. Under LB 454, $65 million in stabilization payments would have assisted 177 schools in the first year, increasing to $167 million by the fourth year, assisting 207 schools. After several hours of debate, the vote on the advancement of LB 454 also fell two votes short.

There is general agreement that the school state aid formula needs to be reworked. When the formula was originally developed, it was not envisioned that agricultural land valuation would increase so greatly over the years. LB 132, introduced by Bennington Senator Wendy DeBoer, would create the School Financing Review Commission. The commission would be tasked with conducting an in-depth review of the financing of public elementary and secondary schools, including methods to offer alternatives to the heavy reliance on property taxes and to provide equitable education opportunities across the state. LB 132 received first-round approval after the sponsor promised to work on an amendment to adjust the make-up of the commission.

The Legislature still has some major issues to debate during the last weeks of this legislative session. I encourage you to 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 is (402) 471-2801.

 

Governor Ricketts signed the budget bills this past week with no line-item vetoes. He praised the Legislature for passing a budget that limited spending growth and placed an emphasis on increased funding for property tax relief measures.

The Legislature gave first-round approval to LB 64, which addresses the taxation of social security benefits. LB 64 was introduced by Omaha Senator Brett Lindstrom and prioritized by Seward Senator Mark Kolterman. Only 13 states tax social security benefits.

Currently, the social security benefits of individuals with incomes less than $43,000, and couples with joint incomes of less than $58,000, are exempt from taxation. Under LB 64 as introduced, the taxation of all social security income would be phased-out over a 5-year period. The committee amendments extended the phase-out period to 10 years. Because the elimination of taxation on social security income would reduce state revenue by more than $130 million per year when fully implemented, Norfolk Senator Mike Flood offered an amendment that would cap the phase-out provisions at a certain income level in an effort to lessen the fiscal impact. Under the amendment, which contained the provisions of LB 237, the social security tax exemption would only be available to individuals with a federal adjusted gross income of less than $80,000 ($95,000 for those married filing jointly), with individuals making less than $60,000 ($75,000 for those married filing jointly) getting a full exemption by the 5th year.  Senator Flood withdrew his amendment after a pledge was made to work on an income cap prior to the next stage of debate. The amount of the income cap may be increased, depending on the outcome of the Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meeting on April 29. After this agreement was made, LB 64 advanced on a 47-0 vote.

LB 364 would adopt the Opportunity Scholarships Act. Introduced by Elkhorn Senator Lou Ann Linehan, it would allow individuals and corporate taxpayers to qualify for a non-refundable tax credit equal to the amount the taxpayer contributed to a scholarship-granting organization. Donors can contribute up to 50% of their state income tax liability. The scholarship-granting organization would provide education scholarships to eligible students to attend private schools. Eligible students are defined as those that qualify for free or reduced price lunches. As introduced, the credits would be capped at $10 million annually.

The Revenue Committee amendments reduced the amount of credits to $5 million and eliminated the annual increase in the amount. The committee amendments also contained the provisions of LB 531, introduced by Albion Senator Tom Briese. LB 531 creates the Nebraska Child Care Contribution Tax Credit Act. As amended, this program would be capped at $5 million as well. A taxpayer who makes a qualifying contribution to a child care or early childhood program may apply for a nonrefundable income tax credit equal to either 50% or 75% of the contribution made, not to exceed $100,000. The credit would be available for the next 5 years.

Those in support of LB 364 pleaded that all parents, regardless of their income, should be able to choose between a public and private school, based on what is in the best interest of their children. Opponents argued that state funding should not be directed to private schools and were concerned that private schools don’t accept all students, including those with special needs.

After 8 hours of debate, a cloture motion was offered by Senator Linehan. A cloture motion requires 33 votes to end debate and allow for a vote on the advancement of the bill. However, the motion for closure fell 4 votes short, meaning that the bill will not be debated again this year.

LB 388, which was introduced at the request of the Governor, would adopt the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act. The Act provides $20 million in grants annually to increase access to high speed broadband across the state. LB 388 received first-round approval this past week on a 44-0 vote.

I was excited that LB 406 received first-round approval on April 29 with a 42-2 vote. Norfolk Senator Mike Flood and I worked on an amendment to LB 406 to appropriate funding for a consultant to study economic development in Northern Knox County. The study will look at recreational and tourism opportunities and what public investment is necessary to enhance economic development in the area.

As the Legislature enters the last few weeks of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the issues 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 Legislature passed the budget bills this past week. Governor Ricketts has 5 days (not counting Sunday) to decide whether to sign the legislation. The governor has the authority to line-item veto specific items on budget bills, without vetoing the entire bill. Once the budget bills have been passed, other legislation that appropriates General Funds or results in the reduction of revenue to the General Fund, and all other tax expenditure bills, can be read on Final Reading.

LB 2, introduced by Senator Tom Briese, would reduce the valuation of agricultural land from 75% to 50% of actual value for the purpose of educational bonds. As introduced, LB 2 would have reduced agricultural land to 30% of its actual value for school bond issues but the Revenue Committee amendments changed it to 50% of actual value. The committee amendments also included the provisions of LB 79, as amended, which proposed to increase the funding for the Property Tax Credit Fund by 3% each year. However, the 3% annual increase in the Property Tax Credit Fund was removed in an effort to retain enough support for the advancement of the bill.

The purpose behind LB 2 is to more evenly balance the responsibility for paying for new school buildings between agricultural landowners and those living in town or owning businesses. Currently in rural areas, agricultural landowners may represent a small percentage of voters in a school bond election. However, they may end up paying for the majority of the debt. The Legislature debated LB 2 for more than 5 hours this past week, prior to giving the bill first-round approval with 38 senators voting aye, 3 voting nay, and 8 not voting on the advancement of the bill.

Another property tax measure was also debated by the Legislature this past week. LB 408 proposed to limit a political subdivision’s property tax request to no more than 3% over the prior year. The 3% increase would not apply to property taxes used for bonded indebtedness or property taxes raised from real growth. The 3% lid would sunset after 2027.

After 8 hours of debate on LB 408, a cloture motion was made by the bill’s sponsor. Cloture motions require 33 votes to cut off debate, thereby allowing a vote to be taken on the advancement of the bill. The cloture motion was not successful, falling four votes shy. Political subdivisions, such as schools, cities, and counties, opposed this bill. The Governor proposed a similar lid, but wanted it in the constitution, rather than in statute, which would have been more difficult to alter if needed.

Property taxes are the number one concern I hear from constituents. The Legislature has increased the funding for the Property Tax Credit Fund and last year we passed a new income tax credit program based on the amount of property taxes paid to school districts. However, even though the Legislature appropriates approximately $700 million annually for property tax relief, it has not resolved Nebraskan’s property tax burden. Therefore, I was supportive of LB 408.

One day after a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd, the Legislature gave first-round approval to LB 51 on a 39-0 vote. LB 51 would require all law enforcement agencies to be accredited by January 1, 2023. It would require agencies to adopt policies on the use of force and would increase annual training requirements for law enforcement officers. Chokeholds would generally be prohibited. Law enforcement agencies are to adopt policies requiring an officer to intervene when they believe another officer is engaged in the use of excessive force.

As introduced, continuing education requirements would have been increased from 24 hours to 40 hours. The committee amendments reduce the requirement to 32 hours, which will be phased-in. Furthermore, the 10-hour limit on online training is removed. The Crime Commission would be required to develop a database of law enforcement officers that have had their certification revoked or have been convicted of a serious crime. The reserve officer program is replaced with conditional training officers, who would be able to carry a firearm, wear a badge, and interact with the public, after completing specified training, and if under the direct supervision of a field training officer, as they await the next basic training class. Prior to the second stage of debate, the sponsor of the bill has pledged to work with rural senators who voiced concern on some of the bill’s provisions. My support for this measure depends on whether these concerns are adequately resolved.

As we enter the final weeks of this legislative session, senators have begun working into the evenings in order to finish our work. The Legislature will begin discussing taxation and spending measures over the next two weeks. I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on these measures. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number 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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