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Public hearings are in full swing. The Judiciary Committee went until after 9 p.m. one night this past week hearing bills regarding issues related to conversion therapy and discrimination based upon sexual orientation. One afternoon, the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony on ten bills related to license plates, of which six would add new options for specialty plates. The executive board met over the lunch hour to hear testimony on proposed constitutional amendments to increase legislators’ salaries and to lower the age requirement for persons running for the Legislature. The Governor testified before the Revenue Committee in support of his proposal to exempt 50% of military retirement benefits from the state income tax.
The Natural Resources Committee, on which I serve, heard testimony for more than three hours on one bill dealing with eminent domain. Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon introduced LB 155 to remove the statute stating that public power building transmission to a renewable energy project is a public use. In effect, this would remove the ability of public power to use eminent domain to provide transmission lines and related facilities for a privately developed renewable energy generation facility. The legislation amends a law passed in 2010 that first opened the state to privately developed renewable energy projects.
Since Nebraska is a public power state and thus could not take advantage of the federal production tax credits that subsidize wind energy projects, the Legislature authorized private companies to build wind energy facilities. Private companies could utilize the federal tax credits, thereby making the project more financially feasible. As the cost of wind development projects have decreased, the federal production tax credits are set to be phased out entirely by 2024.
Senator Brewer has been fighting wind and transmission projects because he represents the Sandhills region. He is concerned with the route of the R-Project, a transmission line from NPPD’s Gerald Gentlemen Station near Sutherland to an existing substation east of Thedford. From there the transmission line would proceed east and connect to a second substation in Holt County. I believe the transmission line is necessary to enhance reliability and relieve congestion. Senator Brewer is concerned that private developers will use this line for wind energy facilities. I agree that eminent domain shouldn’t be used to benefit private companies. It should only be used by our public utilities on projects that are for the public good.
LB 66 was discussed on the floor of the Legislature but failed to receive first-round approval with a vote of 19-23. Twenty-five votes are necessary for advancement. LB 66 would have required cities to incorporate early childhood development in their comprehensive development plans. Discussion focused on where the daycare facilities are located within the city, whether bus lines go near them, etc. These issues may pertain to larger cities, but are not applicable to smaller towns. Although I realize the importance of addressing early childhood education in our communities, I believe that this discussion is better suited for local school boards than city government.
LB 306, introduced by Bellevue Senator Sue Crawford, would create a new category of good cause for voluntarily leaving employment for purposes of unemployment benefits. The new category would be to care for a family member with a serious health condition. The benefits would not be charged against a specific employer’s account. Committee amendments clarify that such individual must make all reasonable efforts to preserve employment before voluntarily leaving their job. LB 306 received first-round approval on a vote of 29-11.
In addition to debate by the full Legislature in the morning and committee hearings in the afternoon, I try to attend as many events as I can. I enjoy the opportunity to visit with constituents that attend these events. If you are ever at the State Capitol, make sure to contact me. 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, Nebraska 68509.
I’d like to introduce myself. I am Senator Tim Gragert, newly elected to represent District 40 in the Nebraska Legislature. District 40 consists of Boyd, Cedar, Dixon, Holt, Knox, and Rock counties. I am a lifelong resident of Creighton and recently retired from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Army National Guard. My wife, Donna, and I have three children and three grandchildren. I am honored to serve the residents of northeast Nebraska in the Legislature.
The One Hundred Sixth Legislature began on Wednesday, January 9. Thirteen newly elected senators joined thirteen re-elected senators in taking the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican. Of the thirteen newly elected senators, one returned after sitting out four years due to term limits. Two of the thirteen newly elected senators were appointed by the Governor, following the resignation of the current senators due to election to a different office.
Following the ceremonial activities, in which my family joined me, senators got right to work with elections for the speaker and chairs of the committees. Every senator is assigned committees to serve on. I was selected for the Banking, Commerce & Insurance Committee, which meets on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, and the Natural Resources Committee, which meets on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons. Committee hearings will begin later this month and continue through the end of March. In the Nebraska Legislature, every bill (except revisor bills which are purely technical in nature) is referenced to a committee based on the subject matter and is guaranteed a hearing, allowing the public to testify in support or opposition to the legislation. The Legislature will meet as a body in the mornings during the public hearing process and in all-day session beginning in April.
Bill introduction is allowed for the first ten days of the legislative session. Typically, approximately 700 bills are introduced during the 90-day session. The Legislature is predicted to discuss a wide range of issues including property tax relief, the school finance formula, and the implementation of Medicaid expansion, which was recently approved by voters.
My first few days have been eventful. I spent the first day in the office of former Senator Tyson Larson. The second day began in a hearing room before I was assigned to the 11th floor, along with five other newly elected senators. Due to the Heating, Air Conditioning, and Renovation Project (also known as the HVAC project) at the Capitol, which is expected to take approximately 8 years, one quadrant of the Capitol is off-limits. Divisions of the Legislature that were housed in the tower were moved off-site, so that all the senators could remain in the building. However, it will be more difficult for visitors to the Capitol to see their state senator. Since the offices in the tower are only accessible to senators and staff, visitors will have to use the telephones at the information area on the first floor to call their senator’s office. Staff will come down and escort visitors up the elevators. Although this will be an inconvenience, the HVAC project is sorely needed to replace an outdated system.
This year the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 6. During the legislative session, I will be in Lincoln during the week and drive home to Creighton on the weekends. If I am not in my office, my staff will be able to assist you. My administrative assistant is Alex Brechbill and my legislative aide is Kim Davis. Alex will answer the phone and is responsible for my schedule and Kim will work on legislation and constituent issues.
I would like to inform you of the Legislature’s website at NebraskaLegislature.gov, which contains a wealth of information. Viewers can read the text of bills introduced, search state statutes, e-mail senators, view the agenda for the day, read the Unicameral Update online, and even watch the Unicameral live.
As my first legislative session gets underway, I invite you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions on legislation that is before us. I can be reached at email@example.com. My State Capitol telephone number is (402) 471-2801 and my mailing address is: Senator Tim Gragert, District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.