The One Hundred Sixth Legislature, First Session, has adjourned sine die. The Legislature passed some important bills and failed to agree on other critical issues. Of the forty-nine individual priority bills, thirty-four became law. Of the thirty-three committee priority bills, twenty-nine were passed by the Legislature.
LB 720, the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, was the priority bill of Seward Senator Mark Kolterman. It proposed to replace and update the Nebraska Advantage Act, which offered tax incentives to businesses for investment and employment growth. LB 720 was voted on two days after the property tax relief measure failed. Although I believe our state needs some type of tax incentives in order to compete with other states, I had to withhold my support for LB 720. I did not think we should proceed with appropriating funding for tax incentives prior to funding property tax relief. I felt we needed to keep these two issues as a package deal, if we wanted any hope of getting property tax relief passed next year, as property tax relief is my top priority. The vote to end debate on LB 720 fell three votes short. All bills pending at the end of this legislative session are automatically carried over to the 2020 session.
Priority bills that were passed include LB 686 dealing with prison overcrowding, LB 149 raising the legal age from 18 to 19 for purchasing and using cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products, and LB 657 allowing Nebraskans to grow, process, and handle hemp and hemp products. Priority bills left pending include LB 44 to eliminate the death penalty, LB 110 to allow for medical marijuana, LB 483 to change the method used to assess agricultural land, and LB 670 offering scholarships to private school students.
A balanced budget was passed, limiting spending growth to 2.9%, which was lower than the Governor’s recommendation. The budget included additional funding for the Property Tax Credit Fund, increasing the annual funding for this property tax relief program to $275 million annually.
Both of the bills that I introduced were passed. LB 243 creates the Healthy Soils Task Force, which will be appointed by the Governor in the next couple weeks. The task force will develop a comprehensive healthy soils initiative and action plan. LB 406 updated the statutes pertaining to the State Treasurer’s unclaimed property division.
An initiative petition drive calling for property tax relief is currently underway to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 general election ballot. The proposal would give taxpayers a refundable income tax credit in the amount of 35% of property taxes paid each year. Property taxes collected in 2018 amounted to just under $4.2 billion, of which 35% would be approximately $1.5 billion. Although budget cuts would be considered, to deal with this amount of property tax relief, the Legislature would most likely also have to increase taxes or broaden the tax base by repealing exemptions or taxing more services in order to fund the income tax credit proposal.
The residents of Northeast Nebraska that were victims of the March flooding still continue to be a top priority to me. The Legislature passed LB 512, which will require the County Board of Equalization to adjust the value of destroyed real property to its assessed value on the date of the damage. Current law required land and buildings to be valued for property tax purposes on January 1 of each year. The passage of this bill will put a process in place to reduce property values when damaged by a natural disaster between January 1 and July 1.
With the completion of the legislative session, I will be spending more time back in Creighton. During the interim, I will try to get around the district as much as possible. I will still travel to Lincoln periodically for meetings and office work. If I’m not in Lincoln, my staff will be able to assist you. My contact information is email@example.com. My telephone number at the State Capitol is (402) 471-2801 and my mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.
Our office received word this past week that Boyd County has been included in the disaster declaration, making federal funding available for individual assistance. Knox County had previously been included, as well as the Santee Sioux Nation. To apply for individual assistance, call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 or register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. This is in addition to the counties and tribal areas that have qualified for public assistance.
The Legislature debated LB 227 for six hours this past week before advancing it to the second stage of debate. LB 227, introduced by Venango Senator Dan Hughes, amends the Nebraska Right to Farm Act (NRFA), which protected farmers against nuisance lawsuits brought by individuals who move into agricultural zoned areas. Although the NRFA protected farmers if they were there first, it did not protect them if any changes took place on the farm. Under current law, even the conversion of a non-irrigated farm to an irrigated farm or a transition of the operation within the family could remove the defense provided by the NRFA. LB 227 sought to remedy this.
LB 227 applies to the following situations: the conversion from one type of farm operation to another, a change in ownership or size of the operation, the enrollment in a government program, or the adoption of new technology. An amendment adopted in an effort to resolve concern expressed over neighbor’s rights, would allow lawsuits during a two-year period following any of the changes listed in the bill. If a subsequent change is made, the two-year period would start over. Farmers would still have to comply with county zoning and environmental regulations before any change could take place. Furthermore, lawsuits could be filed at any time if reasonable techniques to mitigate negative effects on the property of others are not employed. Prior to advancement of the bill, the sponsor pledged to work on additional amendments to resolve concerns with the bill.
The amendment that I referred to last week, allowing property taxes to be prorated for victims of a natural disaster, was adopted by the Legislature and LB 512 received first-round approval. I supported the amendment as I think it is unfair that property owners would have to pay property taxes for an entire year, if their home is destroyed part way through.
Another bill discussed this past week, LB 334, proposed to eliminate the Angel Investment Tax Credit program, which hasn’t been very successful, and instead transfer the funding appropriated to the Business Innovation Act. The Business Innovation Act funds grants and loan programs that encourage innovation and startup businesses in Nebraska. The chair of the Revenue Committee suggested that the $4 million appropriation should be used to replenish the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund, which has dwindled from $5 million to $400,000 due to the recent flooding. Many senators, including myself, supported this suggestion. However, since the $4 million appropriation would not be available until next year, the Appropriations Committee voted to put $6 million in general funds into the emergency fund for the upcoming fiscal year and then use the $4 million plus an additional $1 million, to replenish the emergency fund in 2020-21.
The Revenue Committee has been working on a proposal to share with the full Legislature regarding property tax relief. They plan to hold a public hearing on their amendment to LB 289 on Thursday, April 18. The Education Committee and the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee will join the Revenue Committee for the hearing. Possible components of the proposal include increasing the sales tax by ½ cent, eliminating the sales tax exemption on pop and candy, charging sales tax on plumbing and moving services, increasing the cigarette tax by 36 cents a pack, reducing the valuation of agricultural land for property tax purposes from 75% to 65% of its value and residential and commercial property from 100% to 90%, and adding a foundation aid component to the school state aid system.
My priority bill, LB 243, was passed by the Legislature on a 43-0 vote. It creates a task force that is to develop a healthy soils initiative and action plan. Another bill that I introduced, LB 406, was passed last month with the emergency clause, meaning that it went into effect when the Governor signed it. LB 406 updated statutes dealing with unclaimed property to ensure claimants receive all the unclaimed property rightfully due to them. The State Treasurer’s office recently notified me that the changes made in the law have already begun to simplify certain processes within their office. There is more than a half million dollars in unclaimed property in District #40. A list of unclaimed property can be found at: https://treasurer.nebraska.gov/up/. If your name is listed, the website also contains information on how to file a claim.
I would like to commend the North Central Sports Club, composed of student-athletes from Rock County High School in Bassett and Keya Paha County High School in Springview, for foregoing their spring trip and instead sending the money to a Verdel family that was severely impacted by the flood.
As the Legislature debates controversial issues, I appreciate hearing from constituents as to their views on the bills. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. My telephone number is (402) 471-2801 and my mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.
The Revenue Committee heard testimony this past week on LB 720, which would adopt the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. LB 720 proposes to rewrite Nebraska’s business incentive program. The legislation encourages the creation of higher paying jobs, simplifies the process, improves the transparency and accountability of the program, and reduces the number of years in which credits can be redeemed.
The primary current business incentive program, the Nebraska Advantage Act, is set to sunset next year. Senator Mark Kolterman of Seward, the sponsor of LB 720, stressed the on-going need for incentives to attract top employers while encouraging the growth of existing businesses. Although others questioned whether these incentives were the best use of our state’s tax dollars, Senator Kolterman emphasized that allowing our business incentives to end with no substitute in place would be disastrous for Nebraska.
Under LB 720, applicants would work with the Department of Economic Development, rather than the Department of Revenue, for the purpose of building and sustaining a relationship between businesses and the state. Various tax benefits would be available to taxpayers that meet the required levels of employment and investment. Twenty-two senators have signed on as co-sponsors of LB 720.
The Legislature spent approximately three hours discussing LB 627. Introduced by Lincoln Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, this bill would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Proponents argued that young people are bypassing our state for jobs because we are one of only twelve states that don’t offer this protection for LBGT individuals. Opponents countered that sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a protected class of individuals, that it could encourage lawsuits, and that it could restrict the religious beliefs of business owners. Under the speaker’s rules, the sponsor of LB 627 will have to prove that she has thirty-three votes in order for the bill to be placed on the agenda again, which appears unlikely.
My first bill was passed by the Legislature this past week. LB 406 will assist the State Treasurer’s Office in more efficiently administering the Unclaimed Property Program.
The Corps of Discovery Welcome Center closed last month. It is located on Highway 81 in Nebraska, just across the border from Yankton. I initiated a meeting with representatives of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, the Tourism Commission, and economic development organizations in Northeast Nebraska. The purpose of the meeting was to see if we can find a way to keep this building open and staffed, as it plays a very important role in promoting Nebraska, as tourists cross the river into Nebraska.
The Unicameral Update is a daily source of information, covering legislative activity. It can be found on the homepage of the Legislature’s website at nebraskalegislature.gov. Furthermore, a print publication of the weekly Update contains the same articles that appear online. Interested persons can subscribe to the free publication by calling (402) 471-2788 or by subscribing online.
I wanted to make sure that high school students with an interest in law, government, leadership or public speaking are aware of the 2019 Unicameral Youth Legislature, held June 9-12. It is a 4-day legislative simulation conducted at the State Capitol. Students will act as senators and sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, and debate legislation. Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Speaker Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Registration forms can be obtained at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl.
Although I am in Lincoln during the week, I try to attend functions in my legislative district when I am back home on the weekends. I will be in Wakefield on Saturday, March 23, for a Town Hall meeting at the Legion Hall from 1-3 p.m. If you would like to discuss legislation or another issue and I don’t see you in the district, please contact my legislative office at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
This past week, public hearings were held on both of the bills that I introduced: LB 243 and LB 406. LB 243, which proposes to create the Healthy Soils Task Force, was heard before the Agriculture Committee. Nineteen people testified in support of my bill, no one opposed it, and representatives from the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and the Natural Resources Conservation Service spoke in a neutral capacity. Supporters included representatives from Natural Resources Districts and the Nebraska Pork Producers, the former assistant Vice Chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture & Natural Resources (IANR) at the University of Nebraska, and Jeffrey Steffen from Crofton.
The public hearing for LB 406, which I introduced at the request of the Unclaimed Property division within the State Treasurer’s office, was heard before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. A representative of several insurance companies and a utility company expressed concern with one provision of the bill, which proposed to remove the ability to report properties in the aggregate for items less than $25, thereby requiring the owner’s name and address on all items reported. This portion was meant to ensure that property owners are getting all the money due to them when they file a claim. However, testifiers were concerned that it would increase their client’s workload and costs. Consequently, this portion of the bill will be removed and the issue studied over the interim.
The Revenue Committee heard testimony on three bills (LB 18, LB 284, and LB 291) this past week that were introduced as a result of the South Dakota v. Wayfair case. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that states could require remote sellers (those without a physical presence in the state) to collect sales tax. Current Nebraska statutes don’t explicitly mandate collection. The three proposals followed the South Dakota law which required collection if the online retailers had $100,000 worth of sales or at least 200 transactions. Furthermore, LB 284 and LB 291 both require online marketplaces (such as etsy & eBay) to collect and remit for smaller vendors for whom they facilitate sales. Twelve states have passed similar marketplace facilitator provisions, although the issue was not part of the Supreme Court’s decision. LB 18 proposes that revenue from internet sales is used for property tax relief, a concept the governor supports. However, the State Tax Commissioner indicated there is not a clear way to identify which tax revenue is attributable to remote sellers. The Tax Commissioner emphasized that the committee can count on no new revenue from these proposals, but the fiscal office disagreed, projecting approximately $18 million in added tax revenue over the biennium due to the mandate on marketplace platforms.
LB 373, proposed by Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon, would require counties that allow the construction of new wind turbines to have zoning regulations, which address set-backs, noise, and decommissioning. For two years, while developing the guidelines, wind turbines would need to be at least 3 miles from a residence. The bill also establishes a civil cause of action for citizens who feel a wind energy facility has diminished their property value. Proponents of the legislation, primarily landowners that live nearby to wind turbines, testified that they don’t have a voice in the process. They mentioned concern with noise and shadows created by the turbines. Opponents, who were many, warned that the legislation would stifle rural economic development and interfere with local control. They cited the increased jobs the projects bring to an area, the increased tax revenue, and the added income for landowners.
Every morning when the Legislature convenes in session, the day begins with a prayer. Chaplains from across the state are given the opportunity to deliver the prayer to state senators on the floor of the Norris Legislative Chamber in the State Capitol. Since I am new to the office this year, I was not able to get letters out before the legislative session began, but will be sending them in the near future to those whose information is available. In the meantime, if any members of the clergy are interested in this, please contact Alex in my office at (402) 471-2801, and he will work with the Clerk of the Legislature’s staff to schedule a day for you to visit the Capitol and deliver the morning prayer. My address is P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.