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Tim Gragert

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40

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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.

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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