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The public hearing on LB 1023 was held on Thursday, February 10th before the Natural Resources Committee. It reflects the work of the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability Special Committee (STAR WARS) and proposes to adopt the Lake Development Act and the Water Recreation Enhancement Act. I was appointed to serve on the STAR WARS Committee, stemming from the passage of LB 406 last year. In addition to recommendations to construct a 3,600 acre lake in or near Sarpy County and a new marina at Lake McConaughy, the legislation also recommends a new lodge and event center at Niobrara State Park and expanding the Weigand Marina at the Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area.
A number of testifiers representing Knox County, the Village of Niobrara, the Niobrara School District, and the Ponca Tribe drove to Lincoln to express their support for this exciting opportunity to increase tourism and economic development in Northeast Nebraska. Proposed funding for the projects is included in legislation before the Appropriations Committee.
Last week, I mentioned that LB 986 was filibustered. This legislation would have limited an increase in a school district’s property tax asking to 2.5% or the inflation rate, whichever was greater. A cloture motion to end debate and allow a vote on the advancement of LB 986 was unsuccessful, falling five votes short of the necessary 33 votes. A number of senators felt that this would put too severe of a restriction on school districts. An unsuccessful cloture motion means the issue is done for this year.
The Legislature gave first-round approval to legislation addressing vaccine mandates. Under LB 906, any employer that requires its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 must allow for an exemption to such requirement if the employee submits a completed vaccine exemption form, developed by the Department of Health and Human Services. An exemption would be allowed for health purposes with a signed written statement from a doctor or if the vaccine conflicts with a sincerely held religious belief. Anyone granted an exemption, could be required to be periodically tested or wear personal protective equipment, at the employer’s expense.
The Legislature began debate on LB 890, which proposes major changes in the school funding formula. The legislation establishes an education stabilization base aid factor in the formula, giving schools approximately $1,100 per student in state funding. The proposal lowers the local effort rate from $1.00 to $0.75 and increases the allocation of state income tax returning to the schools from 2.23% to 20%. One hundred fifty-eight school districts would become equalized under the proposal, up from the current 87 of 244 districts. The intent is to fund the proposal through the dedication of one-half cent of current sales tax revenue and to repurpose the money directed to the refundable income tax credits under the Nebraska Property Tax Incentive Act. After several hours of debate, the sponsor of LB 890 asked that the bill be placed on a Speaker’s hold, only to return to the agenda if an agreement is reached between the primary proponents and opponents.
I introduced legislation pertaining to Nebraska’s College Savings Plan before the Revenue Committee this past week. LB 864 would expand the definition of qualified higher education expenses to allow the funds to be used for education loan payments for the beneficiary or the sibling of a beneficiary, up to $10,000 per person. In December of 2019, President Trump signed the SECURE Act, expanding qualified distributions for 529 plans at the federal tax level to include apprenticeship and student loans. Legislation passed last year to add apprenticeships to the definition of qualified higher education expenses. LB 864 would complete the process by passing enabling legislation on the state level to bring our 529 plan in line with the federal changes. This issue was brought to my attention by a constituent who wanted her son to have more flexibility with his 529 plan, as allowed on the federal level. I worked with the Nebraska State Treasurer, John Murante, who administers our College Savings Plan. He testified in support of the bill, as did the constituent who brought the issue to me. No one testified against the proposal.
If you support or have concerns with any legislation before senators, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.