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During the 10-day period allowed for bill introduction, senators introduced 739 bills, as well as 7 constitutional amendments. Two years ago, during the last 90-day legislative session, 667 bills were introduced. In both 2013 and 2015, 655 bills were introduced during the first 10 days. The Judiciary Committee typically has the heaviest workload and with the increased number of bills introduced this year, the committee will have difficulty scheduling public hearings for more than 120 bills by the end of March. There has been some discussion of changing the Judiciary Committee from a 3-day committee to one that meets every day, as the Appropriations Committee does.
I introduced two bills. My primary goal this year is to listen and learn. I did sign on as a co-sponsor to a number of bills.
The first bill I introduced is LB 243. It proposes to create the Healthy Soils Task Force. The Task Force would consist of the Director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, two representatives from Natural Resources Districts, two academic experts, five representatives from production agriculture, two from agribusiness and one from an environmental organization. The chairs of the Legislature’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees would also serve on the task force.
Under LB 243, the task force would develop a comprehensive healthy soils initiative. They are to develop a comprehensive action plan using specified standards as measures to assess improved soil health. With the assistance from outside resources, the task force would 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.
I worked with several scholars with experience in agriculture and natural resources on this legislation. I decided to introduce it because soil health and water quality are important to me, having worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service for more than 30 years, and to all Nebraskans, as improving the health of Nebraska’s soil is the most effective way for agricultural producers to increase crop and forage productivity and profitability while also protecting the environment.
The other bill that I introduced was on behalf of the Unclaimed Property division of the Nebraska State Treasurer’s office. LB 406 updates and modernizes current statute, making the process more efficient.
The State Treasurer’s office publishes an annual unclaimed property report in Nebraska newspapers annually. Last year, the report included almost 31,000 names from properties received in 2017. However, since this is published only once a year, property owners need to be aware that they can check online at any time for unclaimed property at treasurer.nebraska.gov. Currently, there is $170 million in Nebraska unclaimed property and 350,000 names of people, businesses and organizations in the treasurer’s database. More than $14 million was paid out in 2018.
Some of the bills that I co-sponsored include:
This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting my hometown school. I presented a legislative resolution to the Creighton football team, recognizing the Bulldogs for an impressive season that concluded with the Class D1 championship.
Again I urge you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on issues before the Legislature. 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.
On Tuesday of this past week, Governor Pete Ricketts presented his State of the State Address to the Legislature, which outlines his budget recommendations for the next biennium. On Thursday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican presented the State of the Judiciary. He spoke about justice reinvestment, the role the courts play in that process, and the initiatives that have been implemented to increase access to our courts.
Although the state is strong and growing, Governor Ricketts acknowledged that our number one industry, agriculture, is struggling with low commodity prices. He relayed that when talking to Nebraskans, property tax relief is their number one priority. The governor’s proposal contains $51 million each year in direct property tax relief, accomplished by increasing the annual appropriation to the Property Tax Credit Fund to $275 million. Furthermore, at the request of the governor, Senator Brett Lindstrom introduced Legislative Bill (LB) 303, which creates a floor for the Property Tax Credit Fund, prohibiting the amount of property tax relief from going lower than $275 million.
Another recommendation from the governor for property tax relief would require a constitutional amendment (CA), which first must receive approval from the Legislature and then from the majority of voters. The proposal, introduced by Revenue Committee chair Senator Lou Ann Linehan, establishes a 3% cap on property taxes levied by local governments, such as schools, cities, and counties. The two exceptions would be for bond payments or if residents in a political subdivision voted for an increase at a special election.
Other senators are introducing alternative proposals for property tax relief. I will provide more information on this topic in a future newsletter, as tax relief will be one of the most important issues we deal with this year.
The governor’s budget proposal would allow retired military veterans to exclude 50% of their military retirement benefits from state income taxes. He noted that five of our surrounding six states do not tax veterans’ retirement benefits and wants to make Nebraska a more attractive state for veterans. Senator Tom Brewer introduced LB 153, the tax relief measure for veterans, at the request of the governor. I signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation.
K-12 schools are fully funded under the Governor’s proposal. Higher education received increases to fully fund salary and health insurance. The governor also proposed the creation of a Nebraska Talent Scholarship Program. The $4,000 scholarships would assist the university, state colleges and community colleges attract more students in targeted programs, ranging from engineering to health care. Funding for approximately 2,000 scholarships is included in his budget recommendations.
The governor has proposed a capital construction project for two new high security housing units. This would increase capacity by up to 384 beds at the Lincoln Corrections Center and help ease the overcrowding in our prison system.
Even with the new initiatives, the budget proposed by the governor limits spending growth to 3.1 percent. A significant portion of the new spending is attributable to fully funding the school state aid formula and for implementing Medicaid expansion. The governor’s recommendations contain no tax increases.
Although the Legislature’s Planning Committee recommended increasing the state’s cash reserve to $700 – $800 million, the governor’s proposal reflects a balance of $348 million, after transferring approximately $50 million for the Capitol Construction project at the Department of Corrections.
Because there is some talk of eliminating or reforming business tax incentives, the governor informed senators of his thoughts on this subject. He emphasized that incentives are an important tool for attracting new investments and jobs, but hinted that he would support efforts to make incentives simpler, more transparent and accountable, and with a greater focus on higher paying jobs.
As the public hearing process gets underway, I encourage you to inform me of your thoughts on the legislation that has been introduced. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number at the Capitol is (402) 471-2801.