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This past week started out being very productive. The Legislature passed the budget bills on Final Reading and sent them to the Governor. He has five days to decide whether to sign them or to line-item veto specific items. The budget bills are the only bills that must pass this year, as the Nebraska Constitution states that each Legislature shall make appropriations for the expenses of the Government.
The Legislature also voted to pull LB 147 from the Education Committee and place it on General File. LB 147 was stuck in committee with a 4-4 vote. The motion to pull the bill was made by the chair of the Education Committee, Senator Mike Groene. It received 25 votes, the minimum required. LB 147 proposes to amend the Student Discipline Act. It would allow an administrator, teacher, or other school personnel to use reasonable physical contact to protect a student, staff, or other person from physical injury. If physical contact is used, school personnel must notify the parents of the student and inform them of the incident. The bill would also require an administrator to remove a student from a class upon request by a teacher or other school personnel if the student’s behavior is so disruptive that it seriously interferes with the learning environment. The goal is to return the student to class as soon as possible after appropriate interventions or supports have been implemented. The teachers’ union is supportive of LB 147, recognizing the need for such legislation. However, administrators have concerns and feel the bill may create more problems than it resolves. I thought it was a good idea to bring the bill to the floor of the Legislature in an effort to encourage the administrators and teachers to work together on a compromise over the interim.
The Revenue Committee worked for months on a proposal contained in LB 289. It provided significant property tax relief by establishing a foundation aid factor in the school state aid formula, guaranteeing that every school district receive at least one-third of its formula needs from state aid. To ensure that the increased state aid resulted in property tax relief, school spending would be limited to the CPI inflation rate plus growth. To provide revenue for the proposal, the state sales tax rate would be increased, a couple of sales tax exemptions eliminated and the sales tax imposed on a limited number of services. During a seven hour public hearing on the proposal, only four people testified in support and more than fifty testified in opposition. The committee worked on revisions prior to advancing LB 289, lowering the proposed increase in the sales tax rate and increasing the number of services taxed, but the larger school districts remained opposed to the proposal. After three hours of debate, the sponsor of LB 289 could not come up with the necessary 33 votes to place the bill on the agenda again, as required by the policy of the Speaker of the Legislature.
After it appeared that LB 289 would not be discussed again this session, Albion Senator Tom Briese offered an amendment to LB 183, a bill already advanced to the second stage of debate. The amendment proposed to place an additional $100 million in the Property Tax Credit fund, bringing the total to approximately $375 million in property tax relief, reflected on a taxpayer’s property tax statement. This amount would be appropriated to the Property Tax Credit fund annually until the school state aid formula is reworked and state aid is increased by at least 20%, thereby incentivizing the Legislature to work on reforming the formula, which is currently too dependent on property tax revenue. To fund the property tax relief, the proposal would have eliminated a number of sales tax exemptions and the personal property tax exemption, while increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit to assist the lower income with the broadened sales tax. After three hours of debate, Senator Briese offered a motion to invoke cloture, allowing for a vote to be taken on the advancement of the bill. However, the cloture motion fell ten votes short and LB 183 was removed from the agenda.
I supported LB 289 and LB 183. Even though I didn’t agree with everything in these bills (I would have preferred further broadening the sales tax base rather than an increase in the sales tax rate), they did present an opportunity to offer property tax relief to Nebraskans. I also supported the passage of the budget bills which contained an additional $51 million in annual funding for the Property Tax Credit fund. Although this past week was disappointing, I will continue to work to bring property tax relief to taxpayers.
I was happy to see that the Nebraska Department of Transportation has awarded the contract to Hawkins Construction of Omaha, allowing them to begin immediate work on the Highway 281 Bridge over the Niobrara River, south of Spencer. A temporary single lane shoofly is anticipated to be in service by August 1, with work scheduled to start on May 28.
As we enter the final week of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
As the deadline passed this week for selecting priority bills, a different priority repeatedly resurfaced in the Legislature – the devastating flood affecting many Nebraskans and the urgent need to get relief to those in need. I visited the Lynch and Niobrara areas last weekend and am heartbroken by the destruction seen in our legislative district. After talking to many local people, I am continually impressed with the dedication, the willingness to help, and the perseverance of the county emergency managers, the first responders, city and county officials, the Department of Transportation workers, businesses, churches, and the constituents of the 40th district. We will get through this, but it’s going to be a long haul.
Seventy-nine of the ninety-three counties and numerous cities have submitted emergency declarations to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Governor Pete Ricketts has sent an expedited request to the federal government for a presidential disaster declaration. Vice President Mike Pence, who visited Nebraska this past week, said the Trump administration will expedite the declaration to assure that federal aid will soon be on the way. If we qualify for disaster assistance, which seems assured, it could include both public and individual assistance.
NEMA has compiled the damage impact assessments submitted by the counties. At this time, the estimated statewide impact totals $553 million for public infrastructure and $89 million for private property. These figures will be updated as local emergency management teams are able to assess the damage across their counties. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture estimates that the lost livestock and needed repairs will result in a $400 million loss. This doesn’t account for the losses due to delayed or cancelled spring planting. The Nebraska Department of Transportation projects a cost of more than $400 million to repair our state’s infrastructure, including at least 200 miles of paved roads on the state’s highway system that will require significant repair or reconstruction and fourteen bridges that need to be replaced and three others that need reconstruction.
I have information on my website regarding potential assistance from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) at http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist40/. My website also has a list of resources to call if in need of assistance. Furthermore, NEMA has established a hotline for Nebraskans impacted by flooding. Impacted persons with questions should call (402) 817-1551. Additional resources can be found by visiting www.nema.nebraska.gov. Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Disaster Relief Project offers free legal assistance for low-income survivors of Nebraska’s floods, through both online resources and a network of trained volunteer lawyers across Nebraska. Low-income Nebraskans can apply for direct legal representation by applying online at disaster.legalaidofnebraska.org/apply or by calling the hotline at 1-844-268-5627. You can always call my office at (402) 471-2801 if you need assistance and I will try to direct you to the right resource.
Every senator is allowed to choose one bill as their personal priority bill, every committee can choose two bills and the speaker has the authority to select twenty-five bills as speaker priority bills. Priority status assures that the bill will be discussed by the full Legislature, if it has advanced from committee. Generally from this point on, only bills with priority status will be placed on the agenda. The speaker may also have a consent calendar, which is reserved for non-controversial bills that don’t warrant a priority designation.
Some of the bills designated as priority bills include:
LB 110, prioritized by Senator Anna Wishart, proposes to adopt the Medical Cannabis Act.
LB 147, chosen by the Education Committee, would allow teachers and administrators to maintain order in the classroom by allowing them to use necessary contact or physical restraint to subdue a student until they no longer present a danger.
LB 227, designated by the Agriculture Committee, is designed to protect farm operations and public grain warehouses from nuisance laws.
LB 289, prioritized by the Revenue Committee, is a placeholder bill. It will be used as the vehicle for property tax relief, once the committee develops their plan.
LB 483, selected by Senator Steve Erdman, proposes to change the way agricultural land is valued for property tax purposes from the current market based system to a productivity based system.
LB 657, introduced by Senator Justin Wayne and prioritized by Senator Tom Brandt, would permit the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp in Nebraska.
LB 686, selected by the Judiciary Committee, encourages continued efforts to reduce overcrowding in Nebraska’s correctional system.
LB 720, prioritized by Senator Mark Kolterman, would adopt the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, changing our current business tax incentive program.
Again, if I can be of assistance during the period of recovery from the flooding, please contact my office at (402) 471-2801. My email address is email@example.com and my mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.