NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Tim Gragert

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at tgragert@leg.ne.gov

Almost 500 new bills were introduced by members of the Legislature during the first ten days of the legislative session. All of the proposed legislation will have a public hearing before the relevant committee. The public hearing process has already started and will continue through February.

I introduced five bills this year. The first three will have public hearings next week before the Natural Resources Committee and the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

LB 769 requires that each member of the Natural Resources Commission be a resident of the State of Nebraska.

LB 770 would provide a free park permit to disabled veterans.

LB 771 expands current law, which allows owners of passenger vehicles to purchase a decal in lieu of a front license plate if the vehicle does not have a front license plate bracket, to also apply to pickups.

LB 995 proposes to appropriate $150,000 for the Legal Education for Public Service and Rural Practice Loan Repayment Assistance Aid, so that funding can continue for this loan repayment assistance program, in an effort to encourage lawyers to seek employment in rural communities or by working for Legal Aid.

LB 1108 updates the unclaimed property statutes in an effort to return unclaimed property to its rightful owners in a more timely manner.

Chief Justice Michael Heavican gave his annual State of the Judiciary address this past week. He noted that the primary goal of the judiciary is access to justice for all Nebraska citizens. The Nebraska Supreme Court created an Access to Justice Commission in an effort to fulfil this goal. The purpose of the Commission is to provide equal access to expeditious and fair justice for all Nebraskans, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age, or language. He reviewed how the court system is addressing language barriers, fostering conversations with Native American communities, focusing on the welfare of children and the elderly, and providing educational events. He also highlighted the work of the Office of the Public Guardian.

Chief Justice Heavican informed senators that there are now 32 problem-solving courts, including Drug and DUI Courts, Veterans Treatment Courts, Reentry Courts, and Young Adult Courts. These courts have shown that they effectively reduce recidivism and increase community safety, while also being very cost-effective. The average annual cost to supervise a problem-solving court participant is approximately $2,865, compared with the average cost to incarcerate a prisoner which can reach as high as $38,000 per year.

This past week, the Revenue Committee held a public hearing on LB 974, the committee’s proposal for property tax relief. The legislation would reduce the valuation of property for school district taxing purposes and add a foundation aid factor to the state aid formula. By the 2022/2023 school year, it would guarantee a certain amount of basic funding for every school district.

Proponents of LB 974 at the public hearing included the Nebraska Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Soybean Association, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska Dairy, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom and the Nebraska Platte Institute. Opponents included Nebraska Association of School Boards, Nebraska Council of School Administrators, Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, Nebraska State Education Association, Omaha Public Schools and Lincoln Public Schools, as well as schools of various sizes, the Center for Rural Affairs, and OpenSky Policy Institute.

Supporters stressed that property taxes are too high, that our state aid formula is too heavily dependent on property taxes, and that something needs to be done this year. Opponents voiced concern that state revenues won’t be able to pay for this in the future without a new revenue source and schools feared that they would lose state aid, as well as local control.

The Revenue Committee will try to get LB 974 advanced quickly, so the full Legislature can debate this important issue. I realize that the proposal isn’t perfect, but I believe we should work together to get property tax relief passed this year. When fully implemented in three years, it is projected that taxpayers on average will pay 11.8% less than what they would have paid in property taxes. This is in addition to the approximate 11% reduction in property taxes attributed to the Property Tax Credit fund, which is left intact with LB 974.

If you have any thoughts or concerns with legislation before us, I welcome your input. 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.

On Wednesday, January 15, Governor Ricketts presented his State of the State Address to the Nebraska Legislature. The beginning of his speech focused on the events of last year. Although there was much devastation, he emphasized how Nebraskans responded with determination and generosity. A recent federal report pegged the losses stemming from last year’s weather at more than $3.4 billion. This figure does not include all the damages to the private sector, creating hardship for many homeowners, business owners, and farmers. The governor specifically recognized those that lost their life as a result of the flooding.

Eighty-four counties and five tribes submitted more than $400 million in disaster relief projects to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA generally covers 75% of the total cost, with the state and local government each contributing 12.5%. Therefore, the Governor included $50 million in his budget recommendations to cover the state’s portion, as well as an additional $9.2 million for counties that were most severely impacted by the disaster, to assist with their share.

Governor Ricketts went on to outline his top four priorities for this year. In addition to flood relief, the governor’s priorities include property tax relief, working to retain our veterans in the state, and workforce/business expansion.

The governor noted that last year the Property Tax Credit Fund was increased by 20%, bringing the annual funding up to $275 million. Governor Ricketts recommended approximately $500 million in property tax relief over the next three years. The Revenue Committee recently introduced LB 974 and the governor stated that he will work closely with them.

LB 153, which was introduced by Senator Tom Brewer, at the request of the governor, received first-round approval this past week on a 46-0 vote. This legislation would exempt 50% of military retirement benefits from the state income tax, thereby making Nebraska more competitive with surrounding states as we work to keep more veterans in our state.

The governor has proposed to invest $16 million in scholarships for students in high needs fields in an effort to increase the pool of younger generation workers. His budget recommendations also include funding for LB 720, the bill that revamps our business tax incentives, to help Nebraska compete nationally in expanding job opportunities. Eight million dollars are contained in his recommendations for the Department of Corrections to enhance salaries in order to attract and retain correctional workers.

As mentioned previously, the Revenue Committee introduced their property tax relief proposal. LB 974 will have a public hearing on Wednesday, January 22. The bill proposes to reduce the valuation of property, but only for school district taxing purposes. The taxable value of residential and commercial property would be reduced by 5% each year for three years, reducing valuations from 100% to 85%. Agricultural land would be reduced by 10% each year for two years, or from 75% to 55% of actual value.

LB 974 would also add a foundation aid factor to the state aid formula. The amount would be determined by calculating a percentage of the total state sales and income tax receipts for the prior year and dividing it by the fall membership, arriving at a state average. The percentage used increases from 5% to 15% over the first three years. There is also a provision added in the third year that would guarantee a certain amount of basic funding for every school district.

It appeared that some of the larger schools could experience a loss under LB 974. Therefore, transition aid was added to assure that no school would receive less than the previous year. The transition aid would be phased out over a 3-year period.

As we continue with bill introduction and the public hearing process gets underway, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on the legislation. I can be reached at tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number at the Capitol is (402) 471-2801. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509.

Wednesday, January 8 marked the first day of the One Hundred Sixth Legislature, Second Session. This also marks the beginning of the second year that I am serving as the representative of the 40th Legislative District. The 40th district covers the counties of Boyd, Cedar, Dixon, Holt, Knox and Rock.

Legislative sessions in even-numbered years last for 60 days. During the short session, senators will make any necessary adjustments to the two-year budget that was developed during the 90-day session in 2019. The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met in October and increased previous forecasts for state revenue upward by $266 million over the current biennial budget period. By statute, the projected increase of $161 million for fiscal year 2019-20 must go into the Cash Reserve Fund. The projected increase in revenue of $105 million for the next fiscal year (2020-21) is retained in the General Fund. The Governor, as well as many senators, have stated that this should be dedicated to property tax relief.

Legislative bills that were not killed or passed by the Legislature last year are automatically carried over to this year’s session. There are approximately 85 carryover bills that have been advanced from committee, but have not been passed by the Legislature. Another 400 bills remain stuck in committee.  The Speaker has indicated that carryover 2019 priority bills that are still in play will be scheduled ahead of bills listed in worksheet order (the date that they advanced from committee). However, bills designated as 2020 priority bills will take precedence over any other piece of legislation. Senator Mark Kolterman of Seward has already designated LB 720 as his priority bill for 2020, as he did in 2019. LB 720 proposes to revamp Nebraska’s tax incentive program which rewards businesses for investment and employment growth. The current Nebraska Advantage Act sunsets at the end of 2020.

Property taxes will again be a top issue this year. I am optimistic that the Legislature will work together to provide additional tax relief for Nebraskans. In addition to business tax incentives and property tax relief, other priority issues this year include overcrowded prisons, funding for correction’s officers, Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers, student discipline, and workforce shortage.

Bills can be introduced during the first ten days of a legislative session, which occurs on January 23rd this year.  All bills that are introduced are guaranteed a public hearing before the committee that has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the legislation. The Legislature will meet in the mornings and the various committees meet in the afternoons for the first two months. Last year I was selected to serve on the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. I will continue serving on these committees this year. Beginning in March, the Legislature will meet in all day sessions until April 23, the scheduled date of adjournment.

A wealth of information is available on the Legislature’s website – NebraskaLegislature.gov. Viewers can read the text of bills introduced, search state laws, find their senator, follow the progress of a certain bill, read the Unicameral Update, and watch the Legislature live through video streaming. I encourage you to check out this site.

With the beginning of session, I will be in Lincoln during the week and home in Creighton on the weekends. My office is still located on the 11th floor, due to the HVAC project. If you are ever in the Capitol and want to visit with me, please call my office and my staff will come down and escort you up the elevator, as access in the tower is limited to staff and senators. Alex Brechbill serves as my administrative assistant. He is responsible for my calendar and answering the phone. Kim Davis is my legislative aide and is responsible for constituent issues and legislation.

In order to effectively represent District #40, I encourage your input. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My telephone number at the State Capitol is (402) 471-2801.

On July 30, 2019, President Trump signed a bill July 30 that declares the United States has been in a state of war since Dec. 7, 1941.

“The American Legion sought the declaration as a way to honor approximately 1,600 U.S. servicemembers who were killed or wounded during previously undeclared periods of war.

“The LEGION Act (Let Everyone Get Involved In Opportunities for National Service Act) also opens the door for approximately 6 million veterans to access American Legion programs and benefits for which they previously had not been eligible.”

To read the full article, go to https://www.legion.org/membership/246557/legion-act-signed-law

For additional information, go to https://www.legion.org/membership/246558/11-things-you-need-know-about-legion-act

Lincoln, Neb., Nov. 25, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Nebraska announced that agriculture producers affected by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019 can apply for assistance through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus (WHIP+). Nebraska FSA offices across the state are ready to accept applications.

“Nebraska farmers have had a challenging year,” said Nancy Johner, FSA State Executive Director in Nebraska. “WHIP+ may be able to assist those who have faced significant losses.”

WHIP+ Eligibility

WHIP+ is available to producers who have suffered eligible losses of certain crops, trees, bushes or vines in counties with a Presidential Disaster Declaration or a Secretarial Disaster Designation (primary counties only). A list of qualifying counties is available at farmers.gov/recover/whip-plus. Also, producers with losses in counties that did not receive a disaster declaration or designation may still apply for WHIP+ but must provide supporting documentation to establish that the crops were directly affected by a qualifying disaster event.

“In Nebraska, disaster losses must have been a result of floods, tornadoes, snowstorms or wildfires, and related conditions that occurred in 2018 or 2019,” said Johner.

Eligible crops include those for which federal crop insurance or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) coverage is available, excluding crops intended for grazing. Because grazing and livestock losses are covered by other disaster recovery programs offered through FSA, those losses are not eligible for WHIP+.

Both insured and uninsured producers are eligible to apply for WHIP+, but all producers who receive WHIP+ payments will be required to purchase crop insurance or NAP coverage for the next two available, consecutive crop years after the crop year for which WHIP+ payments were paid.

WHIP+ Payments

WHIP+ payment amounts will be determined using a formula that includes several factors: expected value of the crop, how much of the crop was actually harvested, and crop insurance coverage and payments issued on those crops. At the time of sign-up, producers will be asked to provide verifiable and reliable production records.

Producers with WHIP+ payments for 2018 disasters will be eligible for 100 percent of their calculated value. Producers with WHIP+ payments for 2019 disasters will be limited to an initial 50 percent of their calculated value, with an opportunity to receive up to the remaining 50 percent after January 1, 2020, if sufficient funding remains.

WHIP+ Prevented Planting

FSA will provide prevented planting assistance to uninsured producers, NAP producers and producers who may have been prevented from planting an insured crop in the 2018 crop year and those 2019 crops that had a final planting date prior to January 1, 2019.

An application deadline has not yet been established for the WHIP+ program.

Additional Loss Coverage

The Milk Loss Program will provide payments to eligible dairy operations for milk that was dumped or removed without compensation from the commercial milk market because of a qualifying 2018 and 2019 natural disaster. In Nebraska, qualifying natural disasters for this program include floods, tornadoes, and snowstorms.

Applications for the Milk Loss Program are being accepted through Feb. 1, 2020.

Eligible producers can receive payments at a rate of 75 percent of the market value of the milk that was dumped. The payment formula takes into consideration normal milk marketings for the impacted dairy operation, fair market value of the milk, and promotion and hauling fees, among other factors.

Producers also are reminded of the availability of the On-Farm Storage Loss Program. This program assists those who suffered losses of harvested commodities, including hay, stored in on-farm structures in 2018 and 2019.

For More Information

Additional information about the WHIP+ Program, the Milk Loss Program, and the On-Farm Storage Loss Program can be found at farmers.gov/recover or by contacting your local USDA Service Center.

NOVEMBER 25, 2019 (LINCOLN, NEB.)  — The Nebraska State Patrol is urging motorists to be prepared for a winter storm that is projected to affect most of the state over the next two days.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for Nebraska counties throughout western, central, and northern Nebraska, which will take affect at 9:00 p.m. Monday. Heavy snow and strong winds are expected to create hazardous travel conditions for significant portions of Interstate 80 and many other Nebraska roadways.

“Thanksgiving week is a major travel period and this strong winter storm has the potential to make travel difficult,” said Colonel John Bolduc, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. “Drivers should plan ahead and adjust plans accordingly to make sure they reach their destinations safely.”

Motorists are encouraged to stay up to date on conditions and plan ahead as travel may become difficult or impossible in some areas. Nebraska 511 is the best resource to monitor road conditions and closures. Motorists can also view real time conditions with the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Plow Tracker system. NSP will provide updates on social media as well.

Troopers will be on the road to assist motorists who need help. Anyone in need of assistance can call *55 from a cell phone or 800-525-5555 to reach the NSP Highway Helpline. NSP also issues the following reminders for motorists traveling in extreme weather conditions:

·         Always wear your seat belt and never drive faster than conditions allow.

·         Blowing and drifting snow can reduce visibility. Travel only when necessary.

·         If you must travel, use well-traveled routes and give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. Tell others your destination, your route, and when you will arrive.

·         If you become stranded while traveling, stay in your vehicle until help arrives. Have a red flag or bandana to signal for help. Freezing temperatures can be life threatening.

·         If your vehicle becomes stuck, run your motor sparingly and keep a window cracked to prevent buildup of carbon monoxide.

·         Maintain a winter weather survival kit in your vehicle.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provides many services to Nebraskans, including resources on mental health, child care, food assistance, Medicaid, and several other very important services. Below you will find a link to an interactive two-page document outlining these various DHHS services. In addition, you will find the latest information on the Olmstead Plan, Medicaid expansion, and DHHS’s 2019-20 Business Plan.

http://dhhs.ne.gov/Documents/How-DHHS-Serves-Nebraska.pdf

Nebraska farmers have until July 19th to apply for funding via a new pilot program to help repair ephemeral gullies on their fields. Ephemeral gullies are those areas in fields where small gullies appear after heavy rains. Nebraska is one of five states selected by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to take part in the pilot project which will provide $2 million to producers. Funds can be used by farmers to implement conservation practices such as cover crops, crop rotation, no-till, contour farming, buffer strips, terraces, waterways and others.

In 2017, USDA announced enforcement changes for Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas related to highly-erodible land. This change targeted repair of ephemeral gully erosion. Since the passage of the 1985 Farm Bill, farmers have been required to control erosion on fields that are classified as highly erodible. Each spring, NRCS conducts compliance reviews on a random selection of highly erodible fields to determine if erosion has been adequately controlled. A non-compliance ruling can affect eligibility for farm program payments and federal crop insurance. If erosion control issues are identified during compliance reviews, farmers may be given variances, which provide time for farmers to make adjustments and install needed conservation practices.

Nebraska Farm Bureau continues to work with our counterparts in other states as well as the federal congressional delegation and NRCS staff to ensure implementation and enforcement of these changes are consistent with the law.

To sign up for the pilot program, or if you have questions, please contact your local NRCS office. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/ne/contact/local/

LINCOLN, NEB, June 28, 2019 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering a special Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) sign-up for farmers in Nebraska who could not plant their crops because of flooded or wet fields. This sign-up provides technical and financial assistance to help farmers plant cover crops, an alternative to letting fields go fallow and uncovered. The deadline to apply is July 19, 2019. This is an extension of the June 21 sign up deadline announced in April.

Excessive moisture and flooding in 2019 have prevented or delayed planting on many farms across Nebraska. Many producers are unable to plant crops by a final planting date or have experienced significant delays in planting.

Fields that are saturated for an extended period can lose important soil organisms. Cover crop roots add organic matter and create pathways for air and water to move through the soil, which is key to restoring its health.

“Cover crops help farmers manage soil erosion, weeds, and pests and improve soil health,” said Craig Derickson, NRCS state conservationist in Nebraska. “They can also help soil health recover after a flood or a long period of remaining wet.”

Cover crops also improve soil’s physical and biological properties, supply nutrients, improve the availability of soil water, and break pest cycles along with various other benefits. Cover crops approved for funding through this sign up can potentially be hayed or grazed.

Work currently being done to maintain conservation structures as well as sediment removal, debris removal or grading and reshaping can be stabilized and protected from further erosion and damage by planting a cover crop.

Derickson said, “For Nebraska’s cropland that suffered significant damage, planting a cover crop can be a great way to help protect fields and restore productivity.”

For more information, or to apply for this special EQIP funding, contact your local NRCS office.

Other USDA Programs

Farmers with prevented planting coverage through USDA-administered crop insurance can hay, graze, or chop a cover crop.  USDA’s Risk Management Agency adjusted the final haying and grazing date from Nov. 1 to Sept. 1 to help farmers who were prevented from planting or delayed in planting due to flooding and excessive rainfall.

More Information

USDA offers a disaster assistance discovery tool that walks producers through five questions to help them identify personalized results of what USDA disaster assistance programs meet their needs. For more information on disaster assistance programs, contact your local USDA service center or farmers.gov/prevented-planting.

Update on the Highway 11 Bridge, South of Butte. Instead of only replacing damaged pavement as originally planned, recent evaluations determined that the entire bridge deck will have to be replaced. In the long-term, this will help ensure that more work will not have to be done in the upcoming years. The expected completion time of the Highway 11 Bridge has been pushed back to December 31, 2019.

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40
Room #11th Floor
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2801
Email: tgragert@leg.ne.gov
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