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

Individual Assistance Now Available Until June 19 for Nebraskans
 
LINCOLN, Neb. – At the request of Governor Pete Ricketts, homeowners, renters and business owners in Nebraska counties designated for federal assistance now have until June 19 to register for federal assistance.
 
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster grants for qualified homeowners and renters may help pay for basic repairs to make a home habitable, provide temporary rental assistance, and provide assistance for serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other sources.
 
How to register with FEMA:
  • Online, visit DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • By phone, call FEMA’s toll-free registration line at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY).
  • On a smart phone, download the FEMA app and click on “disaster resources,” then “apply for assistance online.”
Applicants will need the following to apply:
  • Social Security Number;
  • Daytime telephone number;
  • Current mailing address;
  • Address and zip code of the damaged property;
  • Proof of ownership and occupancy, such as a utility bill; and
  • Private insurance information, if available.
 
After registering for disaster assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), homeowners and renters may also be contacted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to apply for a low-interest disaster loan. SBA disaster loans provide the largest source of long-term federal disaster recovery funds for survivors.
 
Applicants may apply online using SBA’s secure website at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may receive additional information for this disaster by visiting the SBA Nebraska disaster website.
 
Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing may call 800-877-8339.
 
For flood insurance information, visit FloodSmart.gov or call the NFIP helpdesk at 800-427-4661.
 
These 27 counties and one tribe were designated for FEMA Individual Assistance: Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dodge, Douglas, Hall, Howard, Knox, Madison, Nance, Nemaha, Pierce, Platte, Richardson, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Stanton, Thurston and Washington counties and the Santee Sioux Nation.
FEMA Public Assistance Deadline Extended
 
LINCOLN, Neb. –The deadline to file a Request for Public Assistance (RPA) has been extended until June 20, 2019.
 
Under FEMA’s Public Assistance grant program, applicants may be eligible for reimbursement for debris removal and emergency protective measures as well as the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster-damaged publicly owned facilities and the facilities of certain private nonprofit organizations such as houses of worship at a federal cost share of 75 percent.
 
The program also offers more protection of these damaged facilities from future events by providing 406 hazard-mitigation measures during the recovery process.
 
Government entities are encouraged to submit a request for public assistance to FEMA. RPAs must be submitted in Grants Portal. If you have not received an email for the Grants Portal please call (402) 429-3389.
 
There are several categories of work eligible for FEMA reimbursement:
  • (Categories A-B) the cost of emergency services and debris removal, and
  • (Categories C-G) for roads and bridges, water control facilities, buildings and equipment, utilities, parks and recreational areas.
There are 80 counties designated for some type of public assistance: Adams, Antelope, Banner, Blaine, Boone, Box Butte, Boyd, Brown, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Cedar, Cherry, Cheyenne, Clay, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dakota, Dawes, Dawson, Deuel, Dixon, Dodge, Douglas, Fillmore, Franklin, Frontier, Furnas, Gage, Garden, Garfield, Gosper, Greeley, Hall, Harlan, Holt, Howard, Jefferson, Johnson, Kearney, Keya Paha, Kimball, Knox, Lancaster, Lincoln, Logan, Loup, Madison, Merrick, Morrill, Nance, Nemaha, Nuckolls, Otoe, Pawnee, Phelps, Pierce, Platte, Polk, Richardson, Rock, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Scotts Bluff, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Sioux, Stanton, Thayer, Thurston, Valley, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, and York.
 
Five Tribes have been designated for PA:
 
Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, Sac and Fox, Santee Sioux Nation and the Winnebago Tribe.

The Legislature gave second-round approval to the budget bills this past week, which will allow them to be read on Final Reading by the 80th legislative day (May 22), as required by legislative rules. The only amendments that were adopted were offered by the Appropriations Committee and were primarily technical in nature.

Senators began debating LB 720, the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. LB 720 would provide tax benefits to companies that invest or increase employment by a specified amount. The topic of tax benefits versus the cost of tax incentive programs has been a topic of discussion for years. Back in 1987, the Legislature passed LB 775, the Employment and Investment Growth Act, in an effort to keep ConAgra from leaving the state. In 2005, a comprehensive revision of LB 775 was passed. The Nebraska Advantage Act focused on making Nebraska more attractive for starting and growing a business, added a rural component, promoted higher paying jobs, and provided more transparency.

The purpose of LB 720 is to increase the value of the program through better investments, better jobs, more robust reporting, and more overall transparency.  The legislation would simplify the process and direct applications to the Department of Economic Development, rather than the Department of Revenue, in an attempt to build stronger relationships with businesses. It also proposes a new revolving loan fund to accelerate tax credits into front-end loans for job training and site development. The intent of LB 720 is to spend no more than what Nebraska Advantage spends on average, which is approximately $150 million annually. The legislation shortens the benefit period to 15 years (rather than 26 years), thereby providing greater predictability for the state’s budget.

In order to be competitive with other states, tax incentives are an important factor for Nebraska. As businesses evolve, programs need to be updated. However, I feel that the Legislature should pass a property tax relief measure before determining how LB 720 fits into the process. Senators are still working on LB 289 and on alternative approaches and are hopeful that property tax relief will be on the agenda again in the near future.

Two bills that the Legislature debated for three hours this past week, but appear unlikely to be on the agenda again this year, are LB 670 (private school scholarships) and LB 110 (medical marijuana). LB 670 proposed to create a state income tax credit for taxpayers who contributed to private school organizations for education scholarships. The credit could offset up to 50% of their tax liability. The decrease in revenue due to the tax credits was capped at $10 million the first year. If 90% of the credit was used each year, the cap could grow by 25% annually.

LB 110, which would adopt the Medicinal Cannabis Act, was advanced from the Judiciary Committee last week on a 5-1-2 vote. Committee amendments substantially tightened the original bill. The amendments require a patient to be examined by a doctor, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse with whom they have a bona fide practitioner-patient relationship. If the patient has a qualifying condition (such as cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, terminal illness, or PTSD), the practitioner would complete a certification, which the patient could take to a dispensary to receive cannabis or cannabis products. The amendments also significantly reduce the allowable possession amount to 2 ½ ounces of cannabis or cannabis products containing no more than 2000 mg of THC, prohibit the growing of marijuana at home, and prohibit the smoking of cannabis. An Enforcement Department and Medicinal Cannabis Board would be created to oversee and regulate the process.

The Governor has made his opposition to LB 110 known, emphasizing that UNMC has conducted research supporting successful clinical trials for Epidiolex, which is a cannabidiol derivative from marijuana that was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat seizures. LB 110 would circumvent this system of FDA approval, thereby putting public health at risk. Supporters of legalizing medicinal marijuana have already begun gathering signatures on a petition initiative they hope to place on the 2020 general election ballot if the Legislature doesn’t pass LB 110.

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

All Nebraska Disaster Recovery Centers Close May 17

LINCOLN, Neb. – Effective Friday, May 17, all the State of Nebraska and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) will close.

There is always help available.  After a DRC closes, survivors can still get help by contacting FEMA in these ways:

  • Call the Disaster Assistance Helpline at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY).
  • Online, visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • On a smart phone, download the FEMA app and click on “disaster resources,” then “apply for assistance online.”
  • Call FEMA’s toll-free registration line at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY). Telephone registration is available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT seven days a week.

Update on the Hwy 11, 12 & 281 Bridges:

On Friday May 10th, bidding documents were sent to selected contractors for work on these bridges.

Contractors will have until May 21st to submit bids on the N-12 Bridges, west of Niobrara and the US-281 Bridge South of Spencer.

They will have until May 28th to submit bids on the N-11 Bridge, South of Butte.

The Legislature gave first-round approval this past week to a $9.3 billion biennial budget for fiscal year 2019-20 and 2020-21, which consisted of seven bills advanced to the floor by the Appropriations Committee.  The ending balance is $2 million above the required minimum 3% reserve. The fiscal impact of LB 300, which proposes to increase the salaries of judges, is approximately $2 million. If LB 300 is passed, there will be little to no funding for other legislation with a fiscal impact. In developing the budget proposal, the Appropriations Committee had to come up with an additional $45 million to bring the minimum reserve back to 3%, which had been lowered due to budget constraints during the last biennial budget.

The average budget growth over the two-year period is 3.0%, which is slightly lower than the Governor’s recommendation. One of the largest growth factors in the budget is the $50 million in funding for Medicaid expansion, which was placed on the ballot through an initiative petition and approved by Nebraska voters. The budget contains a 3.1% per year average increase in total general fund aid for K-12 school districts, amounting to almost $1.3 billion each year, or approximately 28% of our general fund budget.

The projected balance of the Cash Reserve Fund will fall to $372 million by the end of the biennium, representing approximately 7.5% of annual state revenues. Fiscal experts have recommended a target of 16%, which gives the state some cushion in case of an economic recession. The status of the Cash Reserve Fund includes a transfer of $54.7 million for two additional high security housing units under the Department of Correctional Services, in an attempt to deal with prison overcrowding and to allow the transfer of high-risk inmates from the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution to Lincoln, where staff are more available.  However, the Appropriations Committee also recommended transferring $25 million each year to the Cash Reserve Fund instead of fully funding the Governor’s recommendation to increase appropriations to the Property Tax Credit Fund by the full $51 million each year, for a total of $275 million in annual funding. Although senators realized the importance of rebuilding the Cash Reserve Fund, they argued that it shouldn’t be done with funding for property tax relief. An amendment to block this transfer was successful on a 28-8 vote.

In addition to the new correctional facilities, the budget also contains $2.5 million each year to expand capacity at problem-solving courts, such as drug courts. These courts, which offer a lower cost alternative than prison, focus on early intervention, appropriate treatment, intensive supervision and consistent judicial oversight.

Another issue that was a priority for the Appropriations Committee was provider rates, which are paid to the various providers in the Department of Health and Human Services’ programs. During the previous biennium, provider rates were either cut or frozen. Although the Governor recommended a 2% increase for long term care providers, the Appropriations Committee’s budget proposal includes an average 2% per year increase for all providers. Additional funding was included for nursing homes, in order to adjust for recent negative inflation factors used in the calculation of their rates.

The Legislature debated LB 289 for three hours this past week. LB 289 is the Revenue Committee’s proposal for property tax relief. According to the Speaker of the Legislature’s policy, the sponsor of LB 289 will have to prove that she has 33 votes, in order for LB 289 to be placed on the agenda again. The Revenue Committee is working on possible adjustments to their proposal in order to gain the approval of the necessary number of senators. I voted for the increase in the funding for the Property Tax Credit program during the budget debate and I’m hopeful that we can pass a proposal containing additional property tax relief. Although I can justify a sales tax increase if it results in significant property tax relief, I would prefer removing more exemptions and broadening the base of the sales tax, rather than an increase in the sales tax rate.

I encourage you to continue to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on the issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at tgragert@leg.ne.gov. My address at the capitol is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

Disaster Recovery Center Relocates in Boyd County

LINCOLN, Neb. – Beginning on Wednesday, May 9, the State of Nebraska and FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Boyd county will change location to:

BOYD COUNTY

  • American Legion Post 78
  • 116 S. Thayer Street
  • Spencer, NE 68777
  • New Hours – Monday – Saturday
  • 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CDT

Survivors can visit any open Nebraska DRC.  To find locations, go online to FEMA.gov/DRC or call the Disaster Assistance Helpline at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY).

FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recovery specialists provide information on available services, explain assistance programs and help survivors complete or check the status of their applications. They can provide referrals and help with appeals. Centers are equipped with captioned phones, video remote interpreting and assistive listening devices.

Nebraska homeowners, renters and business owners in Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dodge, Douglas, Hall, Howard, Knox, Madison, Nance, Nemaha, Pierce, Platte, Richardson, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Stanton, Thurston and Washington counties and the Santee Sioux Nation may apply for assistance for uninsured and underinsured damage and losses resulting from severe winter storm, straight-line winds and flooding.

How to Register with FEMA:

  • Online, visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • On a smart phone, download the FEMA app and click on “disaster resources,” then “apply for assistance online.”
  • Call FEMA’s toll-free registration line at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY). Telephone registration is available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT seven days a week.
  • Visit a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) and speak to a FEMA specialist. To find the nearest DRC visit: FEMA.gov/DRC, or text DRC along with a ZIP code to 43362, or call the Disaster Assistance Helpline at 800-621-3362 or800-462-7585 (TTY).

To help the Recovery Specialists, applicants requesting assistance should bring the following information:

  • Social Security number
  • Address of the damaged primary residence
  • Description of the damage (photos if available)
  • Information about insurance coverage
  • A current contact telephone number
  • An address where you can receive mail
  • Bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds

Businesses and residents can visit SBA.gov/disaster, call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. TTY users may call 800-877-8339.

For more information on Nebraska’s disaster recovery, visit fema.gov/disaster/4420.

This past week, the Revenue Committee advanced LB 289, giving the full Legislature the opportunity to discuss property tax relief this session. The Appropriations Committee presented their recommendations for the next two-year budget to the Legislature as well. These two issues will be our primary focus during the remaining twenty days of this legislative session.

As amended, LB 289 contains an additional $500 million for state aid to schools. The amendment contains caps on spending, in an effort to assure that the increased state aid results in significant property tax relief. Furthermore, the valuation of property would be reduced by 10% of its actual value. To fund the property tax relief measure, the sales tax rate would be increased by one-half percent to 6%, lower than a previous recommended increase to 6.25%. The cigarette tax would be increased by 36 cents a pack and sales tax exemptions would be removed on candy, pop, bottled water, and ice. In addition, a couple dozen services that weren’t previously taxed would now be subject to taxation under the proposed amendment. Some of the services that would be taxed but haven’t been mentioned before include hair, nail and skin care, tattoos, parking, motor vehicle repair, dry cleaning, lawn care, and taxi rides. Approximately half of the current $224 million appropriated to the Property Tax Credit program would be dedicated for the increased state aid. Two senators on the Revenue Committee abstained from voting on the advancement of the amended version of LB 289, signaling that it will be a controversial discussion on the floor.

Governor Ricketts issued his first veto of the year this past week. LB 472 was introduced by Senator Myron Dorn, who represents Gage County. LB 472 allows a county board to impose a one-half cent sales tax to pay a judgment rendered against a county by a federal court for violation of federal law. The increased sales tax authority is intended to help Gage County, who must pay more than $28 million in damages to six men and women wrongly convicted in a homicide of a woman in 1985. The Governor opposed the measure that would increase the local sales tax without a vote of the people. Currently the county is paying these costs through property taxes alone, which falls disproportionately on rural residents. This legislation would help even the burden to all taxpayers in the county. The governor’s veto was easily overridden on a 41-8 vote, eleven votes above the thirty votes required.

Legislation was introduced to increase the age for using vapor products or e-cigarettes to 21 years of age, in an effort to reduce the use of vaping among high school students. It also would require a license to sell these products, as is required for those selling cigarettes and other tobacco products. The General Affairs committee amendments reduced the age to 19, but included all tobacco products. Advocates for vaping promote it as a way to help cigarette smokers quit, but others are concerned that the fruity flavor options are being marketed to kids. LB 149 received first-round approval with a 40-0 vote.

There have been many rumors regarding the offer of a floating bridge from South Dakota to be used over the Mormon Canal. I have visited with the Governor’s office and top officials from the Nebraska Department of Transportation. They have seriously considered this option, but found that it is far more complicated than appears on the surface. They also fear that it could actually extend the timeframe of the permanent bridge. The department hopes to have the contractor working at the site by the first of June, if not before. I realize this is a severe hardship, but trying to stay as positive as possible will help everyone involved. Please feel free to contact me and I will assist you in any way I can. 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 State of Nebraska and FEMA will open Disaster Recovery Center in Knox County

KNOX COUNTY

  • Center Community Center
  • 207 Main St.
  • Center, NE 68724
  • Open April 30 through May 3
  • 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CDT

At the center, recovery specialists from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will provide information on available services, explain assistance programs and help survivors complete or check the status of their applications. They can provide referrals and help with appeals. The center is equipped with captioned phones, video remote interpreting and assistive listening devices.

Nebraska homeowners, renters and business owners in Antelope, Boone, Boyd, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dodge, Douglas, Hall, Howard, Knox, Madison, Nance, Nemaha, Pierce, Platte, Richardson, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Stanton, Thurston and Washington counties and the Santee Sioux Nation may apply for assistance for uninsured and underinsured damage and losses resulting from severe winter storm, straight-line winds and flooding.

How to Register with FEMA:

  • Online, visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
  • On a smart phone, download the FEMA app and click on “disaster resources,” then “apply for assistance online.”
  • By phone, call FEMA’s toll-free registration line at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY). Telephone registration is available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CDT seven days a week.
  • Visit a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) and speak to a FEMA specialist one-on-one. To find the nearest DRC visit: FEMA.gov/DRC, or text DRC along with a ZIP code to 43362, or call the Disaster Assistance Helpline at800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY).

Applicants requesting disaster assistance should have the following information on hand:

  • Social Security number
  • Address of the damaged primary residence
  • Description of the damage
  • Information about insurance coverage
  • A current contact telephone number
  • An address where they can receive mail
  • Bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds

Businesses and residents can visit SBA.gov/disaster, call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. TTY users may also call 800-877-8339.

For more information on Nebraska’s disaster recovery, visit fema.gov/disaster/4420.

 

The public hearing on the amendment to LB 289 that contained the Revenue Committee’s proposal for property tax relief was held April 24th before the Revenue, Education, and Retirement Committees. The public hearing started at approximately 4:00 p.m., after the Legislature adjourned early, and finished at 11:00 p.m. More than sixty people spoke at the hearing, with only four testifying in support of the measure.

Senator Lou Ann Linehan, the chair of the Revenue Committee, explained the amendment, which was introduced in an effort to provide long-term property tax relief for all Nebraskans. Nebraska places well among states in per pupil K-12 school spending. However, in terms of state funding as a percentage of overall funding, we rank 46th. Unsurprisingly, Nebraska ranks 3rd from the highest for local funding of our schools. With the proposed amendment, Nebraska would increase from 46th to 20th, when comparing state support for K-12 schools with other states. The proposed amendment would establish a foundation aid factor, amounting to a per student state revenue contribution of $3,474 per student for the 2019/2020 school year. The proposal would also lower the local effort rate in the school state aid formula and reduce the valuation of property by ten percent. It guarantees that every school district will receive at least one-third of its formula needs from state aid. School spending would be limited to the CPI inflation rate.

Most of the testifiers commended the committee for their work on property tax relief, but proceeded to criticize the portion of the plan that affected them or the people that they represent. The largest school districts warned that it would reduce their funding, realtors fought the increase in the documentary stamp fee, veterinarians feared the imposition of sales tax on services for pets, farmers resisted the loss of the Property Tax Credit program, cities lamented the reduction of property tax revenue, grocery store owners rejected the collection of sales tax on candy, pop and bottled water, and convenience store owners opposed the increase in the cigarette tax.

From studies I’ve seen, Nebraska ranks high in property tax burden among the states, about average in income tax burden, and somewhat low in sales tax burden. The proposed amendment to LB 289 seeks to increase the state’s sales tax rate from 5.5% to 6.25%, eliminate a couple of sales tax exemptions, and tax a limited number of services, in order to fund the property tax relief measure. I would rather see further broadening of the sales tax base than an increase in the sales tax rate.

In light of the opposing testimony, the Revenue Committee is meeting in executive session in an attempt to alter the funding sources for the property tax relief plan. Discussions have included retaining the current Property Tax Credit program (that gives $224 million worth of relief to taxpayers and is reflected on their property tax statements), eliminating more sales tax exemptions, and lowering the proposed sales tax increase.

The Legislature debated Senator Ernie Chambers’ annual bill to repeal the death penalty this past week. After approximately three hours of debate, LB 44 failed to advance to the second stage of debate on a 17-25 vote. In 2016, voters overturned the Legislature’s repeal of the death penalty. Most senators felt it was too soon to attempt to change this, as it would ignore the will of the people.

I am continuing to work with local officials, NEMA and the Department of Transportation on the bridge projects and water issues, due to the recent flooding. I can assure you that state officials have prioritized these projects.

The Legislature will start meeting into the evening in order to get our work accomplished by the early part of June. I still encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on legislation before us. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My telephone number is (402) 471-2801 and my email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov.

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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