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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.
The public hearing to be held by the Revenue Committee, the Education Committee and the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee on the property tax relief proposal, scheduled for April 18, was cancelled, due to the amendment to LB 289 not being ready in time. The hearing has been rescheduled for Wednesday, April 24 and the 82-page amendment was filed a week in advance, as required by legislative rules. The amendment could be further amended, based on testimony received at the hearing, prior to LB 289 advancing to the full Legislature.
Under the proposed amendment, a foundation aid factor would be added to the school state aid formula. Schools would receive $3474.40 for each student next year, resulting in every school receiving at least a third of its funding through state aid. Currently, more than two-thirds of school districts receive no equalization aid from the state and are funded primarily with property tax revenue. A lid would be placed on school spending, based on the consumer price index and growth within a school district.
The valuation of property will be reduced by 10%, with the valuation of residential and commercial property dropping to 90% and agricultural land to 65% of its value. The local effort rate in the school state aid formula will drop to 90 cents. The proposal represents a 50% increase in state funding for K-12 schools, resulting in $500,000 in property tax relief, which is projected to decrease school property taxes on average by 20%. The proposal would be funded by a ¾ cent sales tax increase, an increase in the cigarette tax to $1.00 per pack, the removal of some sales tax exemptions, including pop, candy, and bottled water, as well as taxing plumbing, heating and air-conditioning services, services provided by moving companies, and veterinarian care for pets.
Immediately after the amendment was filed, Governor Pete Ricketts issued a press release calling the proposal the largest tax increase in Nebraska history. He also criticized the elimination of most of the funding for the Property Tax Credit program.
The Legislature gave initial approval this past week to LB 657, the Nebraska Hemp Act. The passage of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill legalized the growth, cultivation, and processing of hemp across the country. Hemp is drought resistant, can serve as a rotational cash crop, and cannot contain over 0.3% THC. This is the chemical that produces the marijuana high. The legislation creates a process for farmers and cultivators to test their crop for THC compliance to ensure it complies with the Farm Bill.
Under LB 657 as amended, the hemp research pilot program authorized a couple years ago, based on the 2014 Farm Bill, would be expanded to enable wider participation for the 2019 growing season. LB 657 would provide the structure needed to prepare and implement a state plan to conform to the 2018 Farm Bill for the 2020 growing season and beyond. Other states around us have already passed legislation authorizing hemp and we need to get on board, in order to give farmers the opportunity to benefit from this crop.
The Legislature also gave first-round approval to LB 693, which adopts the Neighbor Spoofing Protection Act. The sponsor of the bill worked with the Attorney General’s office and the Public Service Commission on the legislation. The intent of the bill is to reduce the number of calls persons receive from numbers similar to their own, in a deliberate attempt to con people into answering the call. Supporters of the bill acknowledged that this would not entirely resolve the problem because many spoofing calls originate from the Internet or overseas and cannot be traced. LB 693 is patterned after a Kansas law and is among the growing attempt by states to place some constraint on this annoying practice, while Congress works on the issue as well.
LB 155, which as introduced, attempted to prevent public power districts from using eminent domain for the benefit of private wind companies. LB 155 fell two votes short of advancement earlier this session. After it was prioritized a second time, LB 155 was placed on the agenda again. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Tom Brewer, offered a compromise amendment, which resulted in the bill easily receiving first-round approval. The amendment would give landowners who didn’t want a connecting line across their property a chance to argue against it in court.
The Legislature has passed the two-thirds mark of this session. As we continue to discuss bills with priority status, 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 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.