NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Tim Gragert

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40

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The One Hundred Seventh Legislature, Second Session, has adjourned sine die. The last day was filled with last minute items, the governor’s closing speech, and ceremonial procedures. The thirteen senators that won’t be back in January, either due to term limits or deciding not to seek a second term, were recognized. Although I won’t be running for another term, I will miss my colleagues and am thankful for being given the chance to serve with them in representing the State of Nebraska.

When I ran for office, my priorities were property tax relief, helping veterans, pro-life issues, and water quality. I believe that healthy soil is directly related to the quality of water. During my first year in office, I sponsored legislation that created the Healthy Soils Task Force. Among the recommendations from the task force, was the creation of a producer learning community (PLC). This was accomplished through LB 925, a bill I introduced this year. The PLC is an agricultural producer-led nonprofit voluntary organization dedicated to fostering the learning and sharing of knowledge related to the protection and improvement of soil and water quality.

In 2019, I was a co-sponsor of LB 209, which updated abortion informed consent statutes to include information on the abortion pill reversal process. In 2020, I co-sponsored LB 814, which prohibited dismemberment abortion. Both of these bills passed. This year, I was a co-sponsor of both LB 781, which would make abortions illegal if a fetal heartbeat is detectable, and LB 933, which would ban abortions in Nebraska if Roe vs. Wade is overturned this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, neither of these bills became law.

As a veteran who served for 40 years and by the grace of God avoided serious injury, I wanted to help those who were less fortunate. In 2020, I sponsored legislation to provide disabled veterans with free lifetime state park permits. I co-sponsored legislation that initially excluded 50% of military retirement benefits from state income tax and later offered a full exemption. Last year, I introduced legislation to prohibit an insurance company from adding a surcharge or increasing premiums for a member of the armed forces if they choose to discontinue their motor vehicle insurance coverage while they are deployed. This year, I introduced a bill to remove the 10-year limitation on access to state tuition assistance for members of the Nebraska National Guard.

In 2020, the Legislature passed LB 1107 which provided for a statutory minimum of $275 million annually for the Property Tax Credit program (shown on your property tax statement). The legislation also created a new refundable income tax credit based on the amount of school district property taxes paid. The annual funding began at $125 million increasing to $375 million by tax year 2024. This year, with the passage of LB 873, the refundable income tax credit will increase to $548 million for the 2022 tax year and $560.7 million next year, significantly higher amounts than anticipated just a couple years ago. Furthermore, a new refundable income tax credit for property taxes paid to community colleges was also implemented, beginning with an appropriation of $50 million this year and increasing to $195 million by 2026. The Property Tax Credit program has since grown to $313 million for tax year 2022. Therefore, property tax relief from these two programs will soon top $1 billion annually.

It has been an honor to serve the constituents of Legislative District #40. I welcomed your input and listened to what you had to say, while holding firm to the values and beliefs that I ran on. I have met so many wonderful people in the district and have learned a great deal from you. The past four years have been an extremely valuable experience and for that I thank you.

I would also like to thank the local papers who publish this column during the legislative session. This helps keep the constituents of the 40th legislative district informed on what is happening in Lincoln.

Even though the legislative session has ended and I will be home in Creighton the majority of the time, I will still travel to my State Capitol office periodically and my staff will be there full-time. If you need assistance with state issues, I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My e-mail address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

The Legislature passed nearly 100 bills during the first three days of this past week. We will now recess for several days, thereby giving the Legislature the opportunity to override any potential governor veto prior to adjourning sine die. Governor Ricketts has five days (not counting Sunday) to either sign or veto the bills. He also has the option to let the legislation become law without his signature.

Bills passed include all five bills that I introduced this year, in addition to one carry-over bill from last year. My bills dealt with the removal of the 10-year limitation on tuition assistance for members of the National Guard; common sense changes in the child labor law and the short-time compensation program; the authorization of funds in the College Savings plan to be used for loan payments; the creation of a Producer Learning Community dedicated to improve soil and water quality; the addition of a donor registration question on annual applications for hunting and fishing permits; and the requirement for a public hearing on the fate of the library, if a township form of government is discontinued.

Other bills passed include:

LB 1023 contains the STAR WARs recommendations, proposing an addition to the Weigand Marina at the Lewis and Clark State Recreational Area, a new event center and lodge at Niobrara State Park, and a new boat launch near the Village of Niobrara. This bill also includes funding for the initial steps of a possible lake between Omaha and Lincoln.

LB 1015 gives the Department of Natural Resources the authority to develop, construct, manage, and operate the Perkins County Canal Project, under the South Platte River Compact. The Governor recommended $500 million to fund this effort to secure Nebraska’s water supply from being diverted for projects initiated in Colorado. However, the Legislature only appropriated $53.5 million to contract with a firm to determine the cost of a canal, the conceivable amount of water that could be diverted, the timeline of permitting, and the potential drinking water benefits.

LB 809 authorizes the Department of Environment and Energy to enter into agreements to provide grants and loan forgiveness to certain public water systems and municipalities for drinking water and wastewater treatment projects. The agreements may cover up to 75% of the eligible project cost, up from the current 50% match.

LB 1024 allocates $335 million of federal ARPA funds, along with some cash reserve funds, and general funds for economic recovery and incentive measures, in an effort to rejuvenate areas in North and South Omaha, as well as other areas of the state with high concentrations of low-income residents.

Currently in Nebraska, to obtain a concealed carry permit, an applicant must undergo a criminal background check, pay a $100 fee, and complete an approved handgun training and safety course. Under LB 773, also referred to as constitutional carry, persons wanting to carry a concealed weapon would no longer need to get a permit. LB 773 was successfully pulled from the Judiciary Committee and overcame a filibuster during the first stage of debate. However, the cloture motion to end the filibuster at the second stage of debate fell two votes short, meaning the bill was pulled from the agenda and will not be debated again this year. Prior to the cloture vote, an amendment aimed at gaining the Omaha Police Department’s support for the bill by allowing them to retain their gun registration requirement failed on a 13-29 vote. Senator Tom Brewer, the primary sponsor of LB 773, vowed that he will be back next year with similar legislation.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn sine die on Wednesday, April 20th. During the last week of this legislative session, I can be reached at tgragert@leg.ne.gov. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

Many major issues were dealt with this past week in the Legislature, with the most significant being the passage of LB 873. When fully implemented, LB 873 will result in almost $900 million in annual tax relief. The legislation sets a floor for the refundable income tax credit of $548 million in 2022 and $560.7 million in 2023. This guarantees an approximate 25% refund for property taxes paid to school districts. Additionally, a similar income tax credit will be implemented for property taxes paid to community colleges. Funding for this portion will begin at $50 million this year and increase to $195 million in 2026. The funding for these refundable income tax credits will continue to grow annually by the statewide valuation growth, capped at 5%.

In addition to property tax relief, LB 873 also contains income tax relief. The top income tax rate for both individuals and corporations will be reduced to 5.84% and the tax on Social Security income will be completely phased out by tax year 2025. I was proud to be able to vote in support of such a significant tax relief package.

The Legislature overwhelmingly overrode all but one of the Governor’s line-item vetoes in the budget bills. The Legislature built into the budget a 15% increase in provider rates to help providers address severe worker shortage issues, partially due to a significant increase in pay for similar state positions. The Governor reduced funding from Developmental Disability, Medicaid, Medicaid Nursing Facility, Child Welfare, and Community Corrections Providers Rates to an approximate 5% increase. With the successful override motion, the full 15% increase in provider rates was restored.

Senators passed LB 1014 on a 40-4 vote. It specifies how the $1.04 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding will be spent. Included within LB 1014 is $7 million for the Cedar Knox Rural Water Project.

The Legislature debated LR 264, a constitutional amendment proposing to eliminate the property tax, the state income tax, the sales tax, and the inheritance tax. These taxes were to be replaced with a consumption tax on new goods and services, with no exemptions for items such as medical services, new homes, groceries, or repairs. The consumption tax rate was projected to be 8.97%, but this figure was disputed by a research tank, which predicted the tax rate would have to be approximately 20% to be revenue neutral.

LR 264 CA was debated for several hours before a vote was taken on the advancement of the proposed constitutional amendment. Twenty-five votes are necessary for advancement, but only nineteen senators supported the bill, with fourteen voting against it. Although I felt that any proposal which addresses property taxes warrants discussion, there were many unanswered questions associated with this tax proposal. There will be an interim study to explore best practices for the implementation of a consumption tax in Nebraska.

Another bill that failed to advance was LB 920, the prison reform bill. The legislation attempted to address our state’s severe overcrowding problem by enacting the recommendations identified through an analysis of our correctional system conducted by the Crime and Justice Institute. Several of the items were controversial and some senators viewed them as soft on crime. After eight hours of debate, a motion was made to invoke cloture so that a vote could be taken on the advancement of the bill. Thirty-three votes are necessary, but the motion only received 26 votes, meaning that the legislation will not be debated again.

The same fate occurred with LB 933, which would ban abortions in Nebraska if Roe vs. Wade is overturned this summer by the United States Supreme Court. However, the cloture motion for LB 933 was almost successful, falling only two votes short. I was a co-sponsor of LB 933 and was disappointed that it was filibustered and didn’t advance.

During these last few days as the Legislature votes for the final time on many bills, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at tgragert@leg.ne.gov. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

The Legislature gave final approval to the budget bills. During the 90-day legislative session, the biennial budget is crafted. During the 60-day session, adjustments are made. This was a much more demanding task this year due to the increased revenue projections and the influx of federal money due to the pandemic.

The budget was filibustered at every stage of debate, not because of what was in it, but due to the possible amendments that could have been added. The budget sets aside $175 million for a potential new state penitentiary but does not appropriate these funds. The chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Steve Lathrop, does not want the prison funding appropriated prior to discussion of prison reform. He stressed that even with the new prison, we’d be 1,300 beds short by the time it opened.

LB 920 contains the policy options identified through the Nebraska Criminal Justice Reinvestment Working Group process, resulting from the analysis conducted by the Crime and Justice Institute. The working group is made up of criminal justice leaders from across the state, led by the Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Steve Lathrop, Governor Pete Ricketts, and Chief Justice Mike Heavican. The goal was to identify evidence-based strategies and data-driven reforms. The report found that unlike other states, Nebraska’s incarceration rate has been increasing over the last decade. Nebraska’s imprisonment rate increased 17% since 2011, while the national imprisonment rate decreased over this period. The length of stay for incarcerated individuals has increased 38% in the last decade, driven largely by increasing sentence lengths and decreasing parole rates. Corrections expenditures have grown over 50% since 2011. Still, recidivism remains a concern, with 30% of those released in 2018 returning to prison custody.

LB 920 contains consensus items ranging from a streamlined parole process, to reducing “jamming out” releases, to expanding problem-solving courts. It also includes items that didn’t reach a consensus from the working group including the creation of a geriatric parole mechanism, modification of a drug possession penalty, discouragement of the use of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent felonies, and a means to ensure consecutive sentences are used consistently and appropriately across the state.

Last week, an attempt was made to combine LB 723, which sets a floor for the refundable income tax credit at approximately 25% of property taxes paid to school districts, LB 825, which phases out the tax on Social Security income, and LB 939, which reduces the top rate of the individual and corporate income tax to 5.84%. The combined amendment to LB 825, which also includes a new refundable income tax credit for a portion of property taxes paid to community colleges, fell one vote short of the necessary 33 votes required on a cloture motion. A successful cloture motion ends debate, allowing for the advancement of the bill. Usually, an unsuccessful cloture motion results in the measure being done for the year. However, with the importance of these tax cutting measures, another attempt was made to amend these items into an unrelated bill. This time, the comprehensive amendment to LB 873 was successful. LB 873 now offers significant property and income tax relief to Nebraskans and I am hopeful that it is soon passed by the Legislature.

The Legislature gave first-round approval to a proposed constitutional amendment pertaining to unfunded mandates. LR 263CA would prohibit the Legislature from imposing new program expenses on political subdivisions without full reimbursement by the state. If passed by the Legislature, the measure will be on the general election ballot this November.

Senators also gave first-round approval to LB 876, which amends the Nebraska Racetrack Gaming Act, reflecting that voters approved casino gambling at horseracing tracks through a 2020 ballot measure. There are currently 6 tracks in Nebraska – in Lincoln, Omaha, Grand Island, Hastings, Columbus, and South Sioux City. As amended by the committee amendments, those interested in building a new racetrack enclosure would have to wait for the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission to conduct a detailed study looking at the potential impact on the state. The Commission would approve or deny licenses based on its analysis. Proposals for new tracks have come from Bellevue, York, Norfolk, North Platte, Ogallala, Gering, and Kimball.

As we head into the last days of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on legislation before the Unicameral. I can be reached at tgragert@leg.ne.gov. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

The Legislature gave second-round approval to the budget bills this past week, working late each evening. This will allow the budget to be read on Final Reading next week, meeting the requirement to have it passed by the 50th legislative day. The budget provides funding to cover salary increases recently negotiated with the union and the state for employees at correctional facilities and other 24/7 facilities that were experiencing dangerous staffing shortages. Worker shortages and competition also necessitated provider rate increases for nursing homes, behavior health providers, developmental disability providers, and juvenile justice providers. Very few adjustments were made to the Appropriations Committee’s recommended budget.

The Appropriations Committee also submitted their recommendations for spending the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in the committee amendments to LB 1014. LB 1014, as introduced, contained the governor’s proposals for spending the $1.04 billion in federal funding resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the recommendations from the committee mirrored the governor’s suggestions. Both the governor and the committee recommended $100 million in funding for shovel-ready capital projects, funding for workforce housing, workforce development in community colleges, assistance to small and medium meat processors, and funding for a Rural Health Complex at UNK.

Unlike the Governor, the Appropriations Committee recommended $55 million for competitive wages for providers of developmental disabilities services similar to the pay rate for State of Nebraska employees who recently received a significant raise due to severe staff shortages. Furthermore, $55 million was recommended for supplemental incentive payments for direct care staff employed at licensed and Medicaid-certified nursing home facilities. The Appropriations Committee also included $150 million for qualified census tracts, to be used for entrepreneurship, housing, employment, job creation, and small business assistance. This is meant to help North and South Omaha.

Since there is a set amount of federal ARPA funding, the Speaker of the Legislature required senators offering amendments to LB 1014, to also specify which program(s) would be cut in order to fund their proposal. Only a couple of amendments were successful, adding funding for additional mental health care capacity, nurses scholarships, and loan repayments for health professionals.

I was able to obtain $7 million in ARPA funding for the Cedar Knox Rural Water Project through a successful amendment to LB 1014. The Governor had included $60 million for drinking water projects in his recommendations, even mentioning the Cedar Knox Rural Water Project in his State of the State address. However, the Appropriations Committee did not include it in their recommendations, but did work with me on finding a revenue source for my amendment. The Cedar Knox Rural Water Project is overseen by the Lewis and Clark NRD and has over 900 rural service connections, serving two SIDs, three housing developments, five campgrounds and four communities – Crofton, Fordyce, St. Helena and Obert. This regional system treats surface water from the Lewis and Clark Lake. However, the intake structure is expected to be inundated by sediment in approximately 20 years and the approaching sediment is causing an increase in organic material drawn into the intake that must be treated. Furthermore, production capacity of the treatment plant and portions of the distribution system are at or near their maximum sustainable levels. This funding will be used to assist with the cost of developing a groundwater source and a treatment plant. I emphasized to senators the importance of having an adequate drinking water supply prior to potential increased population and infrastructure due to the exciting STAR WARS project proposed in northern Knox County.

LB 933, introduced by Senator Joni Albrecht, would prohibit abortions in Nebraska if Roe v. Wade is overturned this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. A public hearing was held on LB 933 before the Judiciary Committee on February 24. However, the bill is stuck in committee, without enough votes to advance. I, along with twenty-two of my colleagues, signed on as a co-sponsor of this legislation. Speaker Hilgers has designated it as his priority bill. On March 25th, Senator Albrecht offered a motion to pull LB 933 from committee and place it on General File. Her motion was successful.

As we enter our final weeks of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your opinions on the legislation 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.

We change our clocks twice a year, switching from standard time to daylight saving time and back again, even though we may not like it. This could soon change. The Legislature gave first-round approval to LB 283 which would keep daylight saving time year-round, if given approval on the federal level and three adjacent states adopt similar laws. To date, Wyoming has passed this legislation and the proposal is pending in Colorado, Iowa, and Missouri. In total, 18 states have passed bills to switch to year-round daylight saving time and an additional 27 states are considering it. Furthermore, on the federal level, the Senate approved a measure with bipartisan support that would make daylight saving time permanent across the United States next year. The proposal now goes before the House of Representatives.

Under current federal law, states are allowed to keep standard time year-round or change their clocks twice a year. However, the sponsor of LB 283, Senator Tom Briese, stated that he initially attempted to propose standard time year-round but ran into much opposition from retailers, chambers of commerce, and the recreational industry, who prefer longer daylight. Supporters cited many reasons to end the practice of changing our clocks, such as difficulty in getting children out of bed for school, disruption of medication schedules, reduced economic activity, health reasons, and even increased car accidents.

The Appropriations Committee presented their budget proposal to the Legislature and we spent most of this past week debating it. The state’s financial status has significantly improved since the Legislature passed the biennial budget last year. Since last session, more than $2 billion of additional revenues have affected the budget. Of this amount, $611 million is retained in the General Fund and $1.445 billion was transferred to the Cash Reserve Fund, as required by law. With the addition of unused appropriations from last fiscal year, it resulted in $775 million in available funds for this biennium. The Appropriations Committee utilized $349 million in their budget recommendations, leaving $454 million in available funding for tax cuts or increased spending. Of the $349 million utilized by the committee, 75% went to employee salary increases, provider rate increases, and support for the STAR WARs proposal.

Much of the debate on the budget bill adjustments focused on correctional issues. The Appropriations Committee’s recommendations include a $175 million transfer from the cash reserve fund for a new $270 million, 1,512 bed correctional facility to replace the aging Nebraska State Penitentiary. However, their recommendations do not include the appropriation authority to expend these funds, requiring further action by the Legislature. The chair of the Judiciary Committee strongly believes that criminal justice reform needs to take place prior to discussion of prison construction. Without changes in parole or reduced sentencing for some crimes, even with the new facility, it is projected that our prison system will be overcrowded by more than 1,300 inmates by 2030. Nebraska tops other states in having the most overcrowded prisons.

I want to inform high school students who have an interest in law, government, leadership, or public speaking, of the 2022 Unicameral Youth Legislature. It is a four-day legislative simulation held at the State Capitol from June 12-15. Student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation, and learn about the unique process of our unicameral system. UNL’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities for the camp. Registration forms can be obtained at https://nebraskalegislature.gov/uyl. The scholarship application deadline is April 5.

Again, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on legislation that is before senators. 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.

A new event center and lodge at Niobrara State Park, a new boat launch near the Village of Niobrara, and expanding the Weigand Marina at the Lewis and Clark State Recreational Area, are one step closer to reality, as the Legislature gave first-round approval to LB 1023 on a 29-4 vote. LB 1023 carries out the recommendations of the State Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability (STAR WARS) Special Committee, of which I am a member. The bill also includes funding for road improvements and a new marina at Lake McConaughy, as well as a new lake between Omaha and Lincoln. All discussion pertaining to the improvements in Knox County were favorable, noting the natural beauty of the area and agreeing that we need to attract more people. There were many questions asked on the proposed 4,000 acre lake, such as the projected costs, whether Lincoln’s drinking water would be affected, and the process that will be used to purchase the land. It was estimated that the proposed lake could cost up to $1 billion, but that private-public partnerships would be sought. Discussion also focused on guaranteeing that the lake would be accessible to the public.

The Appropriations Committee has included $80 million from the Cash Reserve Fund and $120 million from the General Fund in funding for the LB 1023 projects in their final budget recommendations to the Legislature. Unlike the Governor, the committee did not suggest funding any portion of it with the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, as they felt these projects did not fit the criteria put forth by the federal government on the use of these funds. The funding includes $1 million for an independent hydrology study to make sure that Lincoln and Omaha water resources would not be adversely affected.

The Legislature also gave first-round approval on a 36-3 vote to LB 1015, which attempts to secure Nebraska’s water supply from the South Platte River under the 1923 South Platte Compact signed with the State of Colorado. This compact entitled Nebraska to 120 cubic feet per second of water from April 1st through October 15th (irrigation season) and 500 cfs of water from October 16th through March 31st (non-irrigation season). Although we are currently receiving the full amount, senators were told that we can only legally claim the non-irrigation season water entitlement by building the Perkins County Canal, a canal and reservoir system, along the South Platte River.

With population growth in Colorado and talk of water projects, Governor Ricketts has pushed for this project and recommended to fund it with an appropriation of $400 million from the Cash Reserve Fund and $100 million from ARPA funds. Senators have questioned the total projected costs, including maintenance costs, the amount of water Nebraska has the right to, and the urgency for this project. The Appropriations Committee voted to include only $53.5 million for the canal project in its budget package. This would fund a feasibility study, design work, permitting, and potentially buying land.

Second amendment rights were the subject of more than eight hours of debate this past week. LB 773, introduced and prioritized by Senator Tom Brewer, was stuck in the Judiciary Committee. A pull motion to place the bill on General File was successful on a 30-12 vote. A couple days later the bill was filibustered on General File. A cloture motion to end debate and allow a vote on the advancement of the bill was successful on a 36-9 vote, after which LB 773 received first-round approval.

Currently, to get a concealed carry permit, applicants must submit to a background check, pay a $100 fee, and complete an approved handgun training and safety course. Under LB 773, referred to as the constitutional carry legislation, persons wanting to carry a concealed weapon would no long need to obtain a permit.

As the Legislature begins the last 20 days of this 60-day legislative session, I encourage you to inform me of your thoughts and opinions on the legislation 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.

The public hearing process is now complete. A hearing was held on every bill that was introduced before the committee with jurisdiction over the subject matter. The Legislature begins meeting in full-day sessions on March 8. The following week, we will begin meeting into the evenings, in order to complete our work by April 20.

On Monday of this past week, senators focused on consent calendar bills. Consent Calendar is a process to allow noncontroversial bills without priority status to be debated by the Legislature. If three senators object to any of the bills listed on Consent Calendar, the bill is removed. Furthermore, amendments that are not purely technical in nature cannot be added to these bills. I had one bill on Consent Calendar that was given first-round approval, dealing with township libraries. If a county votes to discontinue a township form of government and the township has a library, LB 75 requires the county board to hold a hearing on what should happen to the library, in order to give residents the chance to voice their opinion.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, senators advanced 17 priority bills that weren’t controversial. Two of the bills I introduced were given initial approval. LB 780 makes common sense changes in two programs administered by the Nebraska Department of Labor – child labor and Nebraska’s short-time compensation program. LB 864 expands Nebraska’s college savings plan, allowing 529 plans to be used for loan payments, reflecting changes made on the federal level.

The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met this past week and voted to increase projections for the current 2021/22 year and the 2022/23 fiscal year. The Board decided to increase their forecast made in October of last year by $370 million for this year and by $405 million for next year. The increased revenue for the current fiscal year will be transferred to the Cash Reserve Fund, bringing its projected balance to $1.7 billion.

Much of the projected increase in revenue can be attributed to the large magnitude of federal dollars that have been distributed to Nebraska – to individuals, businesses, political subdivisions and the state. Nebraska will receive approximately $24 billion! This amount is equivalent to 22% of total state personal income.

The increased revenue projections led the Governor to strongly push for two of his proposals to be funded – $230 million for a new State Penitentiary and $500 million for the Perkins County Canal Project. This is in addition to proposals pending at the second stage of debate to reduce the top rate of the individual and corporate income tax, accelerate the elimination of the state income tax on Social Security benefits, and continue to fund substantial local property tax relief.

The Appropriations Committee is finishing work on the budget and will forward their final recommendations to the Legislature next week. There will be separate legislation with their recommendations for the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Since this money is one-time funding, we must be careful to fund projects that won’t have ongoing expenses.

Recently I attended a briefing by the Secretary of State in response to claims that have been made about Nebraska’s elections. He dispelled many of the myths that have been circulating with solid, factual information and charts. Several ballot counting machines were brought in to the briefing and we were able to watch how they actually worked and learned of the safeguards taken to ensure a valid election.

As the Legislature begins full-day debate, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on the legislation 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.

The Legislature has passed the midway mark in this 60-day legislative session. The priority bill designation process is also complete. From this point on, generally only bills with priority status will be debated by the Legislature.

Every senator gets to select one bill as their priority bill, every committee can pick two, and the speaker is authorized to designate 25 bills as speaker priority bills. I selected LB 925 as my priority bill and it received first-round approval this past week on a 34-7 vote. LB 925 creates the Resilient Soils and Water Quality Act. To carry out the provisions of the Act, a Producer Learning Community would be formed. The PLC would focus on peer-to-peer, hands-on learning, through regional demonstration farms. Healthy soil directly relates to water quality. In an effort to prevent more communities from needing to purchase expensive water treatment systems to address the high nitrate levels, this proactive measure attempts to address the root of the problem by encouraging the use of comprehensive healthy soil practices.

The following is a few of the bills that were designated as senator priority bills:

LB 1023 would adopt the Lake Development Act and the Water Recreation Enhancement Act. This legislation is the result of the work by the STAR WARS Committee and includes projects at Niobrara State Park and the Lewis & Clark Lake State Recreation Area.

LB 933 proposes to adopt the Nebraska Human Life Protection Act. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, this bill would prohibit the performance of an abortion in Nebraska. LB 1086 would adopt the Chemical Abortion Safety Protocol Act and prohibit the sending of abortion-inducing drugs through the mail. The public hearing on both of these priority bills was held this past week before the Judiciary Committee, along with legislation to prohibit an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable on an ultrasound (LB 781).

LB 1015, the Perkins County Canal Project Act, was introduced by the Speaker of the Legislature, at the request of the Governor. The governor included $500 million in his budget recommendations for this canal project on the South Platte River in an effort to secure Nebraska’s water supply from being diverted for projects initiated in Colorado. The canal was authorized in the South Platte River Compact, signed by Nebraska and Colorado in 1923 and ratified by Congress in 1926.

LR 264 is a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal the state income tax, the state sales tax, the property tax, and the inheritance tax. These taxes would be replaced with a consumption tax on services and new goods purchased for personal consumption. Business expenses would not be taxed. A pre-bate payment would be sent to citizens for basic necessities such as food.

LB 773, referred to as the constitutional carry legislation, would authorize concealed carry without a permit in Nebraska. Gun owners would no longer need to obtain a state permit, pay a fee, conduct a background check, or take a training course.

One of the bills that I introduced was selected as a committee priority bill by the Business and Labor Committee. LB 780 makes common sense changes in provisions of two programs administered by the Nebraska Department of Labor – child labor and Nebraska’s short-time compensation program. One of my bills was also selected as a speaker priority. LB 864 would expand the Nebraska Educational Savings Plan to allow education loan payments for a beneficiary or a sibling to qualify as a higher education expense.

Following a filibuster, LB 939 received first-round approval on a 40-1 vote after senators received assurance that its fiscal impact will be re-evaluated at the second stage of debate to determine how it fits in with the revenue outlook. As amended, LB 939 would lower the top rate of both the individual and corporate income tax to 5.84%. There was discussion on whether the thresholds should instead be lowered, which would provide greater tax relief for the middle income.

As the Legislature debates bills that have been designated as priorities, I encourage you to inform me of your opinions. I can be reached at tgragert@leg.ne.gov. My address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my office telephone number (402) 471-2801.

The Legislature spent four hours this past week debating LB 906 which focuses on employer vaccine mandates. As amended by Health and Human Services Committee amendments, LB 906 would apply to businesses with one or more employees but would only pertain to the COVID-19 vaccine. LB 906 clarifies that if an employer requires employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, an exemption to the mandate is allowed for a medical reason, accompanied by a signed statement from their health care practitioner, or for a religious reason, based on the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs. The employer may require employees granted an exemption to be tested periodically for COVID-19 and wear personal protective equipment, both at the employer’s expense. An amendment was adopted clarifying that federal law supersedes state law. This was necessary after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal vaccine mandate last month for health care providers that participate in the federal Medicare or Medicaid programs.

An amendment was offered to LB 906 that would have stricken the authority of employers to require the unvaccinated to undergo periodic testing and wear PPE. Initially, the sponsor of the bill, Senator Ben Hansen, supported this amendment. However, the committee amendments represented a compromise, allowing several entities to withdraw their opposition to the bill. When the amendment threatened to unravel this compromise, Senator Hansen withdrew his support for the amendment, after which the amendment failed. The cloture motion to end debate and allow for a vote on the advancement of the bill was successful on a 38-3 vote and LB 906 advanced to Final Reading on a 36-2 vote.

Debate began this week on LB 939, which proposes to reduce the top individual income tax rate from 6.84% to 5.84% over a three-year period. The Revenue Committee amendments add the provisions of LB 938, which reduce the top rate of the corporate income tax to 5.84% as well. Last year, legislation was passed to reduce the top corporate income tax rate from 7.81% to 6.84%. Under the amended version of LB 939, the top corporate income tax rate would be reduced further and faster than what was previously enacted. By fiscal year 2025/26, it is estimated that the tax cuts would reduce state revenue by approximately $400 million.

The sponsor of LB 939, Revenue Committee chair Senator Lou Ann Linehan, said that because state revenues have grown far greater than predicted, it is time to return the excess to taxpayers. Furthermore, LB 939 would make Nebraska more competitive with other states, when contending for businesses and residents. Much of the debate centered on whether the Legislature will be able to afford this tax cut in future years and whether it primarily benefits the wealthy.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce presented data showing that our current income tax system provides relatively low tax burdens for lower income taxpayers, but that middle-income and above taxpayers have some of the highest income tax rates in the Midwest. They urged Nebraska to modernize our outdated tax system and be more competitive in today’s environment, when trying to attract new residents, talent, jobs, and entrepreneurs. Whereas, the Open Sky Policy Institute distributed information showing that approximately 83% of the corporate income tax cut would flow to out-of-state taxpayers and that 84% of the personal income tax cut would go to the highest earning 20% of Nebraskans.

As the Legislature debates tax policy and other issues, I encourage you to inform me of your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at tgragert@leg.ne.gov. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 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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