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