NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Tim Gragert

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40

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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.
FEMA Public Assistance Deadline Extended
 
LINCOLN, Neb. –The deadline to file a Request for Public Assistance (RPA) has been extended until June 20, 2019.
 
Under FEMA’s Public Assistance grant program, applicants may be eligible for reimbursement for debris removal and emergency protective measures as well as the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster-damaged publicly owned facilities and the facilities of certain private nonprofit organizations such as houses of worship at a federal cost share of 75 percent.
 
The program also offers more protection of these damaged facilities from future events by providing 406 hazard-mitigation measures during the recovery process.
 
Government entities are encouraged to submit a request for public assistance to FEMA. RPAs must be submitted in Grants Portal. If you have not received an email for the Grants Portal please call (402) 429-3389.
 
There are several categories of work eligible for FEMA reimbursement:
  • (Categories A-B) the cost of emergency services and debris removal, and
  • (Categories C-G) for roads and bridges, water control facilities, buildings and equipment, utilities, parks and recreational areas.
There are 80 counties designated for some type of public assistance: Adams, Antelope, Banner, Blaine, Boone, Box Butte, Boyd, Brown, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Cedar, Cherry, Cheyenne, Clay, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dakota, Dawes, Dawson, Deuel, Dixon, Dodge, Douglas, Fillmore, Franklin, Frontier, Furnas, Gage, Garden, Garfield, Gosper, Greeley, Hall, Harlan, Holt, Howard, Jefferson, Johnson, Kearney, Keya Paha, Kimball, Knox, Lancaster, Lincoln, Logan, Loup, Madison, Merrick, Morrill, Nance, Nemaha, Nuckolls, Otoe, Pawnee, Phelps, Pierce, Platte, Polk, Richardson, Rock, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Scotts Bluff, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Sioux, Stanton, Thayer, Thurston, Valley, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, and York.
 
Five Tribes have been designated for PA:
 
Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, Sac and Fox, Santee Sioux Nation and the Winnebago Tribe.

The Legislature gave second-round approval to the budget bills this past week, which will allow them to be read on Final Reading by the 80th legislative day (May 22), as required by legislative rules. The only amendments that were adopted were offered by the Appropriations Committee and were primarily technical in nature.

Senators began debating LB 720, the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. LB 720 would provide tax benefits to companies that invest or increase employment by a specified amount. The topic of tax benefits versus the cost of tax incentive programs has been a topic of discussion for years. Back in 1987, the Legislature passed LB 775, the Employment and Investment Growth Act, in an effort to keep ConAgra from leaving the state. In 2005, a comprehensive revision of LB 775 was passed. The Nebraska Advantage Act focused on making Nebraska more attractive for starting and growing a business, added a rural component, promoted higher paying jobs, and provided more transparency.

The purpose of LB 720 is to increase the value of the program through better investments, better jobs, more robust reporting, and more overall transparency.  The legislation would simplify the process and direct applications to the Department of Economic Development, rather than the Department of Revenue, in an attempt to build stronger relationships with businesses. It also proposes a new revolving loan fund to accelerate tax credits into front-end loans for job training and site development. The intent of LB 720 is to spend no more than what Nebraska Advantage spends on average, which is approximately $150 million annually. The legislation shortens the benefit period to 15 years (rather than 26 years), thereby providing greater predictability for the state’s budget.

In order to be competitive with other states, tax incentives are an important factor for Nebraska. As businesses evolve, programs need to be updated. However, I feel that the Legislature should pass a property tax relief measure before determining how LB 720 fits into the process. Senators are still working on LB 289 and on alternative approaches and are hopeful that property tax relief will be on the agenda again in the near future.

Two bills that the Legislature debated for three hours this past week, but appear unlikely to be on the agenda again this year, are LB 670 (private school scholarships) and LB 110 (medical marijuana). LB 670 proposed to create a state income tax credit for taxpayers who contributed to private school organizations for education scholarships. The credit could offset up to 50% of their tax liability. The decrease in revenue due to the tax credits was capped at $10 million the first year. If 90% of the credit was used each year, the cap could grow by 25% annually.

LB 110, which would adopt the Medicinal Cannabis Act, was advanced from the Judiciary Committee last week on a 5-1-2 vote. Committee amendments substantially tightened the original bill. The amendments require a patient to be examined by a doctor, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse with whom they have a bona fide practitioner-patient relationship. If the patient has a qualifying condition (such as cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, terminal illness, or PTSD), the practitioner would complete a certification, which the patient could take to a dispensary to receive cannabis or cannabis products. The amendments also significantly reduce the allowable possession amount to 2 ½ ounces of cannabis or cannabis products containing no more than 2000 mg of THC, prohibit the growing of marijuana at home, and prohibit the smoking of cannabis. An Enforcement Department and Medicinal Cannabis Board would be created to oversee and regulate the process.

The Governor has made his opposition to LB 110 known, emphasizing that UNMC has conducted research supporting successful clinical trials for Epidiolex, which is a cannabidiol derivative from marijuana that was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat seizures. LB 110 would circumvent this system of FDA approval, thereby putting public health at risk. Supporters of legalizing medicinal marijuana have already begun gathering signatures on a petition initiative they hope to place on the 2020 general election ballot if the Legislature doesn’t pass LB 110.

As we enter the final 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.

All Nebraska Disaster Recovery Centers Close May 17

LINCOLN, Neb. – Effective Friday, May 17, all the State of Nebraska and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) will close.

There is always help available.  After a DRC closes, survivors can still get help by contacting FEMA in these ways:

  • Call the Disaster Assistance Helpline at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY).
  • Online, visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • On a smart phone, download the FEMA app and click on “disaster resources,” then “apply for assistance online.”
  • Call FEMA’s toll-free registration line at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY). Telephone registration is available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT seven days a week.

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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