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LB 243, the bill I introduced to create the Healthy Soils Task Force, was advanced from the Agriculture Committee on a 7-0 vote. No one testified against it at the public hearing earlier this session. I have designated it as my priority bill, assuring that it will be discussed by the full Legislature.
The purpose of LB 243 is to promote a more widespread use of healthy soil practices among farm and ranch landowners and operators in Nebraska in order to improve the health, yield and profitability of the soil, increase its carbon sequestration capacity, and improve water quality. The Director of the Department of Agriculture, as well as the chairs of the Agriculture and the Natural Resources Committees, would be members of the task force. The Governor would appoint the additional fourteen members, who are to have expertise in methods used for incorporating healthy soil stewardship practices into working agricultural operations and for optimizing environmental services provided through such practices.
The Healthy Soils Task Force is to develop a comprehensive healthy soils initiative, as well as develop an action plan to carry out the initiative. The task force shall examine how to provide farmers with research, education, technical assistance, and demonstration projects; examine options for financial incentives to improve soil health; and examine the contribution of livestock to soil health. Furthermore, the task force is to identify goals and timelines for improvement of soil health through voluntary partnerships among agricultural producers and other entities. Finally, the task force is to review the new farm bill and identify opportunities to leverage funding under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program of the USDA and other conservation programs. The action plan is to be completed by January 1, 2021, at which time the task force will terminate.
Water quality and how it relates to soil health are very important to me and many Nebraskans. Healthy soils will increase crop resilience to drought, reduce soil erosion, result in higher per-acre crop yields, increase water retention, enhance water quality, and increase carbon sequestration in the soils. Many healthy soil practices are widely known, such as deep soil testing, nutrient management, cover crops, no till and irrigation water management. The task force will study why there isn’t more widespread usage of such practices and develop methods aimed at increasing their use. The most recent Ag Census showed that approximately 2% of Nebraska cropland was growing a cover crop. No till was being used on about 50% of cropland acres.
I have made it abundantly clear that I am not interested in creating new mandates for the agricultural sector. My vision is to make more information available and accessible on the advantages of improved soil health by demonstrating the economic and environmental benefits of healthy soil management practices. I believe that LB 243 will result in a win for the producer, a win for the consumer, and a win for the environment.
The Legislature passed LB 284 this past week, a bill introduced by Senator John McCollister of Omaha. This bill requires remote sellers, those without a physical presence in the state, to collect and remit sales tax on sales into the state. Although this tax has always been owed by the purchaser, if not collected by the seller, few persons actually paid it. Due to an outdated Supreme Court ruling, states could not require remote sellers to collect the sales tax, placing an unfair burden on local stores, selling similar products. South Dakota passed a law requiring remote sellers to collect sales tax, with the intention of taking it to the Supreme Court, in an effort to overturn the previous ruling, which occurred last summer. In order to not place a hardship on small business, the collection duty is limited to those making sales of more than $100,000 or 200 individual transactions in a calendar year into our state. These are the same thresholds used in the South Dakota law. The legislation also requires the marketplace (i.e. Amazon, Ebay) to collect and remit for third party sellers. With voluntary compliance and the passage of LB 284, state revenue is increased annually by approximately $40-$50 million.
The recent flooding has created devastation throughout our legislative district. Cities and counties are experiencing tremendous hardship. I sympathize with those who are dealing with destruction of personal and public property. Senators were briefed by the Nebraska National Guard Adjutant General, Daryl Bohac, who serves as the director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, and by the assistant director, Bryan Tuma. NEMA is ready to assist. They ask that requests come through the county emergency managers. I have contacted the emergency managers from the counties in our legislative district and have tried to touch base with many county sheriffs and city administrators, offering my assistance. Another means of assistance is 2-1-1, which can help connect callers with needed health and human services. With the widespread damage, restoration will be a lengthy process.
As senators finish up the committee hearing process and continue to select bills for prioritization, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (402) 471-2801. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.
The first cloture vote was taken this past week on LB 399, a bill that updates the civic education standards in our K-12 schools. Cloture is a method used to stop a filibuster. After six hours of debate, a motion can be made to invoke cloture. If thirty-three senators vote in support of the cloture motion, it immediately shuts off debate, allowing for a vote on the pending motion or amendment and then on the advancement of the bill. The cloture vote was successful and LB 399 advanced to the second stage of debate, where another filibuster is likely.
Most of the initial opposition to LB 399 focused on the requirement for students to take the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to measure student mastery of the social studies standards in 8th and 11th grade. The Education Committee amendments dealt with concern over the use of this test by giving districts three options to choose from: require the naturalization test; require the student to attend a governmental meeting followed by a project or a paper; or require the student to complete a project or paper and a class presentation about a person or event commemorated by one of the holidays listed in the bill, such as George Washington’s birthday or Veterans Day. Just a couple senators continued to oppose the bill and extended the debate, requiring the cloture motion.
The first priority bill was debated by the Legislature this past week. Every senator is allowed to designate one bill as their priority bill. Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon selected LB 155 as his priority bill. LB 155 removed from statute the statement that the use of eminent domain by public power for transmission for privately developed renewable energy generation facilities is a public use. The purpose behind LB 155 was to prevent public power districts from using eminent domain for the benefit of private wind companies. NPPD is planning to construct a 345,000-volt transmission line (R-Project) in Northern Nebraska, to increase the reliability of the transmission system. Many Sandhills residents do not want wind projects crossing their property and feeding into this line. Opponents of LB 155 feared it would send a “closed for business” message to the renewable energy industry and cited the economic benefits from wind projects. Some were concerned that this could prevent public power from using eminent domain for transmission to any such project.
After several hours of debate, LB 155 failed to receive the necessary twenty-five votes for advancement, falling two votes short. I supported the bill because I believe that eminent domain should be used very infrequently and that it should only be used for a public good.
Senators began discussing property tax relief this past week. LB 183, introduced by Senator Tom Briese of Albion, would reduce the assessed value of agricultural land solely for the purpose of educational bonds. As amended, LB 183 would lower the value of agricultural land from 75% to 50% of actual value for this purpose. In some areas, rural landowners pay a disproportionate share in the funding of K-12 schools, but are outnumbered by non-rural residents when voting on school bond issues. The intent of LB 183 is to help equalize the tax burden for new school buildings and renovations. LB 183 was given initial approval on a 29-1 vote, but will now wait to see what package the Revenue Committee advances on property tax relief, to determine how it fits in.
The Appropriations Committee presented their preliminary report this past week to the Legislature. It is quite similar to the Governor’s recommendation, containing approximately $24 million more than the Governor’s budget, for a two-year budget of $9.4 billion. When presenting the preliminary report, the Appropriations Committee chairman warned that further cuts may be necessary after the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meets. The following day, the forecasting board lowered projections for the current fiscal year and the next two years by approximately $110 million. The forecasting board will meet again in April and the projected revenue at that time will be used in the final biennial budget.
One of the meetings I attended this past week presented information on 2-1-1. This is an information and referral system linking Nebraska residents to health and human services, community and disaster response, and government programs. This program is free and serves the entire state.
As the Legislature continues with debate in the morning and public hearings in the afternoon, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the issues 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 email@example.com.