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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 firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number at the Capitol is (402) 471-2801.