January 16th, 2014

Welcome to the official website of Nebraska’s 41st Legislative District!  It is an honor to be your senator, representing the counties of Antelope, Boone, Garfield, Greeley, Howard, Pierce, Sherman, Valley, and Wheeler.  I look forward to three more years of service to Legislative District 41 and the State of Nebraska.

I am committed to working hard to represent the interests of rural Nebraska.  I hope this website will be a helpful tool which allows you to keep in touch with your Unicameral.  This truly is a citizen-driven Legislature that we have!

My office and staff are ready and willing to take your calls.  If you ever have questions or concerns about what is happening in the Legislature, please let us know.  My office number is 402-471-2631.  When you’re in Lincoln, please stop by my office in the State Capitol, room 1107.

Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature!

April 30th, 2014

Newsletter, April 18, 2014

The One Hundred Third Legislature, Second Session was gaveled into history at 5:36 p.m. on Thursday, April 17, 2014. This has been an eventful session packed with monumental issues including tax reform, justice reform and Medicaid expansion.

I’m proud of the Legislature’s work on tax reform – reforms that will result in $500,000,000 in tax relief for Nebraskans over the next five years. We will continue to work on tax reform over the interim, particularly searching for a workable solution to high property taxes.

As a result of the passage of my personal priority bill, LB 1103, the Education Committee will embark on a strategic planning process for education in Nebraska.

Our aim is to develop a common statewide vision for education in our great state. What should education look like in Nebraska? What do we want the educational process to achieve? Those are just a few of the questions the Education Committee will be posing in our summer work.

The Education Committee will begin our discussion early next month. As part of our discussion, we will develop a structure that involves many educational groups in the process. LB 1103 requires several public hearings which will allow all Nebraskans the opportunity to share their thoughts as well.

Too often our conversations about education revolve around funding. I realize that funding is a necessary part of the discussion, but first let’s talk about our hopes and dreams for what education can do for our children, our communities, our state. If we can identify some common themes in those discussions, then we can more appropriately direct resources (money) to bring those hopes and dreams to reality.

Stay tuned to see how the visioning process unfolds and, please be a part of it too!

Which brings me to the interim. Now that the legislative session is over, I’ll be back home in Cedar Rapids. Although I’ll be spending time in Lincoln due to the visioning study, I intend to spend as much time as possible with my family. My summer schedule is also filled with community celebrations and county fairs. I look forward to seeing you in your community this summer.

Since this is my last newsletter for the 2014 legislative session, I want to thank the publishers and editors of the 19 weekly newspapers in District 41. They publish my newsletter as a public service to you, their customers and my constituents. I appreciate their hard work and their courtesy.

My legislative office is open regular business hours during the interim. If you have questions about this newsletter, please call my legislative office at (402) 471-2631; write to me c/o P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or email me at ksullivan@leg.ne.gov If you write or email, please include your full name and mailing address.

Serving as your State Senator is a great honor and responsibility! Thank you for allowing me this privilege. Have a great summer! 

April 30th, 2014

Newsletter, April 4, 2014

One of the Legislature’s most important duties is to pass a balanced state budget on or before the 50th legislative day in a short session. We passed the $7.93 billion 2013-2015 budget package on March 24 and sent it on to the Governor for his signature. The Governor then used his red pen to line-item veto approximately $65.3 million from the budget package.

At the beginning of this week, the Appropriations Committee recommended veto overrides totaling approximately $60 million or 94% of the Governor’s line-item vetoes. The budget prepared by the Appropriations Committee passed on a 41-7 vote. It identifies and supports priorities for our state and its citizens.

The Governor’s vetoes impacted the following programs and were recommended for an override by the Appropriations Committee:

$7.4 million in cuts to the Nebraska Supreme Court for a juvenile services project contingency program;

$10 million in cuts for developmental disability provider rate adjustments, behavioral health, and a state ward permanency pilot project;

$7.4 million in cash reserve funds to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for state park deferred maintenance;

$12.5 million to the Department of Motor Vehicles to replace a title and registration system;

$1.1 million of a $21 million transfer to the Water Sustainability Fund;

cuts in funding for additional early childhood education staff;

cuts in funding for additional staff in the inspector-general for child welfare’s office; and

$14.2 million in cuts for capital improvement projects.

The Legislature has made a commitment to the restoration and maintenance of our beautiful State Capitol. We appropriated funding to begin a 10-year process to replace the building’s 50 year old HVAC system and to complete original Capitol plans for installing fountains in each of the four courtyards.

The Appropriations Committee’s approach was to strike a balance between tax cuts and maintaining state buildings and services. I supported the work of the Appropriations Committee and voted with 36 of my colleagues to override the Governor’s budget vetoes.

The final state budget has a slightly above average two year spending growth of 6.1%. Average spending growth has been 5.6 percent annually over the past 30 years. Spending growth has been lower than average over the last five years as the state cut services and deferred maintenance during the recession and the slow recovery.

The Legislature has five business days before adjournment and much work left to do.

April 30th, 2014

Newsletter, March 21, 2014

Taxes have commanded a considerable amount of legislative attention this session. We started our review last summer and fall with the Tax Modernization Committee. The committee members explored aspects of our tax code, looking at ways to improve it and searching for ways to lower taxes for Nebraskans without sacrificing revenue sources for the services government provides.

I believe think we have accomplished those tasks – in part.

LB 987, the Revenue Committee’s tax bill contains several tax relief provisions:

●lower-income earners will see their state income tax on social security benefits reduced. LB 987 reduces federal adjusted gross income (AGI) by the amount received as Social Security benefits for Nebraska income tax purposes. The adjustment applies to those taxpayers with federal AGI of $58,000 or less for married filing joint returns and $43,000 or less for all other returns.

●the bill will index income tax brackets for inflation for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2015. The indexed rate will be determined annually by the Tax Commissioner. Nebraska is one of 19 states that do not index.

●an amendment adopted on select file allows for a partial income tax exemption for military retirement benefits for newly retired service personnel.

We’ve also addressed homestead exemption issues. We increased homestead exemptions for senior citizens, added homestead exemptions for 100% disabled veterans and their unremarried spouses and created a homestead exemption for the developmentally disabled.

Other tax cuts include tax exemptions for farm repair parts, purchase of precious metals, and the purchase of postage by direct mail providers.

Property tax concerns resounded during the Tax Modernization Committee hearings across the state. The Revenue Committee looked long and hard at several options, searching for one that would give the most benefit to the most citizens. Several of the proposals had unintended consequences or didn’t accomplish actual tax relief. Ultimately, the Committee’s decision was to increase funding going into the property tax credit. We recommended a funding increase of $45 million. The Appropriations Committee included a $25 million increase in their budget. We attempted to add the additional $20 million through an amendment but were unsuccessful. There is now $140 million in the property tax credit program, up from the current $115 million.

The Legislature has answered the call to give Nebraskans reasonable tax relief, keeping in mind that we also need to be able to fund the governmental services Nebraskans expect – good schools, well kept roads and services to people in need. It’s not enough for some but it’s a start. We will continue to review solutions to the property tax dilemma with the intent to introduce additional property tax legislation in 2015.

On a lighter note, I want to congratulate the Pierce Lady Jays on their second straight Class C-1 Girls State Basketball Championship. Although none of our boys’ teams brought home a championship this year, I also want to congratulate the teams from Boone Central/NG, Clearwater Orchard and Spalding/Spalding Academy on qualifying for state.

April 30th, 2014

Newsletter,  March 7, 2014

With only 20 business days remaining in this legislative session, we’re in the home stretch – but there is still a great deal to accomplish before our mid-April adjournment. Budget debate begins next week. Our daily schedule will include late nights three days a week starting March 18.

We are in the second year of a two-year $7.9 billion budget. The state budget is adjusted in the second year based on revenue changes and passage of new legislation.

The budget debate will be intense. These decisions impact all Nebraskans who care deeply about how state government is funded and what programs are funded – whether it’s state aid to schools, prison reform or tax cuts. As senators, we must also look ahead to how our 2014 budget decisions may impact the state in future years.

The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met last week to revise the current fiscal year revenue estimate and the revenue estimate for FY 2014-15. The board provides an advisory forecast of general fund receipts used by the Legislature to craft the state’s budget. For this fiscal year, the board raised the revenue estimate by $36 million. By law, the additional revenue must be deposited in the state’s cash reserve fund.

For FY 2014-15, the Board raised the estimate by $63 million. By law roughly $1.9 million would be retained to meet the required minimum reserve for the biennium, resulting in approximately $61.1 million going to the general fund for future use.

The projected unobligated balance in the cash reserve fund is estimated to be $725.7 million. The cash reserve acts as the state’s insurance against fluctuations in revenue – a rainy day fund. The relatively high balance in the cash reserve causes many to question whether the balance is too high. Should the cash reserve balance be reduced and if so, how and by how much? How much do we need in the cash reserve? What do we do with that revenue? Tax relief? Maintaining the programs we currently fund? New spending? It’s a balancing act.

We must also consider the role of federal funding in our overall budget in the areas of education, health care, roads and transportation. For instance, LB 983 harmonizes Department of Motor Vehicles operator’s license provisions with federal requirements. If LB 983 would not pass, Nebraska would be non-compliant with federal rules and regulations which carries the penalty of a loss of $13.7 million in federal highway funds the first year and $27.4 million for each subsequent year of noncompliance. The bill exempts farmers, their family members, and employees from the CDL requirement when driving covered farm vehicles. It also bans commercial vehicle operators and operators of 9-15 passenger vans and school buses from texting and using a handheld mobile telephone while driving, unless necessary in an emergency which complies with a bill I introduced in 2013.

Proposed tax cuts will be a very large segment of the budget debate. Our goal must be to make real and sustainable tax policy decisions while balancing the state’s financial obligations. It will be an interesting debate!

April 30th, 2014

Newsletter February 21, 2014

Mountain lions have been in the news lately. The first mountain lion hunting permits for the first season were issued in December and the second season is underway. I haven’t seen a mountain lion in the wild, but there is evidence of their presence in District 41, including where I live in Boone County. Mountain lions are beautiful animals to be sure, and we are seeing them more often in central Nebraska.

Does Nebraska need a mountain lion hunting season? I’m not sure. Regardless, I am very skeptical about how the first permits were distributed and the way the hunts were conducted. Hunting with dogs and shooting a treed mountain lion at close range doesn’t seem too sporting.

Even though mountain lions have been seen and “heard” (their ‘scream’ is apparently quite terrifying) near the Valley County farm/ranch where I grew up, they haven’t caused problems on our property with livestock, mainly cows and calves.

It is important that landowners, homeowners, farmers, ranchers have the right to protect themselves and their livestock and, if necessary, to kill a mountain lion that is threatening them. State law already gives farmers, ranchers and individuals a legal right to protect themselves and their livestock from mountain lions in NRS §37-559, state law since 1998. The law allows farmers or ranchers to destroy a mountain lion if the animal is in the process of stalking, killing or consuming livestock on their property. It also also allows persons to defend themselves against a mountain lion without penalty if the animal stalks, attacks or shows unprovoked aggression towards them.

So – does Nebraska truly need a mountain lion hunting season? I don’t know. If, according to Game & Parks, hunting is necessary to control the population, that decision should be based on facts. What is Nebraska’s mountain lion population and how many remain based on recent permitted kills and accidental deaths by traps or vehicles? Perhaps the deaths in the last six months have controlled the population. When we talk about controlling animal populations, I’m certain much more needs to be done to actively control our deer population.

The Natural Resources Committee advanced LB 671, Senator Chambers’ personal priority bill, last week. The bill was debated for the first time today. Senator Chambers feels so strongly about repealing mountain lion hunting that he vowed to stop all other Game and Parks legislation. Two bills advanced by the Revenue Committee are in his sights. The bills would divert sales tax revenue derived from the sale of motor boats and all terrain vehicles, excluding farm use, to a park maintenance fund.

I support this idea. Our parks are in critical condition, in need of upgrades and improvements. A dedicated revenue stream will undoubtedly help. However, I’m always concerned about earmarking state revenues for specific purposes. As a result, I suggested a five-year sunset provision on the earmark. In five years, the Legislature can review the earmark to determine what the funding has accomplished and how state revenues are faring.

Here’s where compromise enters in. A great deal of our work in the Unicameral is about compromise. If there is support for LB 671, Senator Chambers will not obstruct passage of bills increasing revenue for Game and Parks maintenance. Parks maintenance funding? Continued mountain lion hunting? Which one? It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to accomplish both this session.

There are strongly held opinions on these issues, but only a bare handful of constituents have contacted me and their opinions are divided. LB 671 easily advanced to select file today without my vote. If you live in District 41 and you oppose or support LB 671, please let me know before the next round of floor debate. If you’ve already contacted me, your name/position are on file so there’s no need to contact me again on this issue.

April 30th, 2014

Newsletter, February 7, 2014

Chairing the Legislature’s Education Committee is a unique and challenging opportunity. With 249 K-12 school districts and 47% of the state’s budget devoted to education, education is always front and center in the Legislature’s deliberations. This session is no exception.

LB 470, the Superintendent’s Pay Transparency Act, passed easily on Final Reading this morning. The bill requires school boards to publish superintendent contracts, amendments, and associated costs and to identify these costs in their annual proposed budget statement. School boards must file a copy of the contract with the Nebraska Department of Education which would be posted on the Department’s web site. Transparency was the impetus behind LB 470. Senator Jim Scheer, the vice chair of the committee and the bill’s sponsor, believes openness about this important administrative position will help school boards make better decisions and provide information to patrons about the leader of their district.

LB 725 is now on select file. I introduced this bill to ensure that the amount of state aid certified to be distributed to our school districts comes closer to the amount that is actually appropriated for the 2014/15 school year, a total of about $940 million.

The Education Committee held public hearings this week on bills concerning early childhood education. Research consistently shows that investment in programs that help children get a strong educational start before they reach the kindergarten door pays off in educational success once those students are in all-day classes. I’m pleased that Nebraska is on a path to put more resources behind this effort using dollars already budgeted for education. LB 984 makes more funds available to school districts who can apply for grants to start preschool programs for 4 year olds. Currently, approximately 36% of 2012-2013 kindergarten students participated in publicly funded early childhood education in the school year immediately preceding kindergarten.

All families are concerned about school safety, particularly in light of the tragic events in Millard in 2011 and the increasing number of school shootings across the U.S. in the last 15 years. We’d like to think school is a safe haven for our children, but we must be prepared. LB 872 creates the position of state school security director within the Nebraska Department of Education. The school security officer would assist schools in developing safety and security plans over the next year. A safety and security plan also includes things beyond a school’s physical structure. School preparedness includes people and is much broader with issues such as tornado drills and suicide prevention plans.

The Education Committee’s plate is full, as it should be when dealing with our most precious resource, our children and their education. Done right, we prepare them to be productive, engaged citizens who will ensure a stable and vibrant future for our state. I am proud to lead the charge on education efforts in our Nebraska Unicameral.

Newsletter January 10, 2014

January 16th, 2014

The Second Session of the 103rd Legislature was gaveled into order by Lieutenant Governor Lavon Heidemann at 10:00 a.m. on January 6, 2014. We’re in the second year of a two-year session so this 60-day session is tentatively scheduled to adjourn in mid-April.

I will continue to chair the Education Committee and serve on the Revenue Committee, the Legislative Planning Committee, and chair the Nebraska’s Emerging Future Subcommittee.

My staff and I are located in room 1107 which is on the first floor in the west corridor of the State Capitol. Please stop by my office and say hello if you’re in Lincoln, especially over the next four months when the Legislature is in session.

As has been my practice the past five years, I write a biweekly newsletter during the legislative session. Our local newspapers are kind enough to share the newsletter with you in print form. The newsletter is also posted biweekly on my web page: http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist41/

For those area teachers who may be planning student field trips to the Capitol while the Legislature is in session, please be advised that all tours must be scheduled in advance with the Capitol Tour Office at (402) 471-0448. Please call the tour office as soon as possible to reserve your preferred date and time. Tours can’t be booked through my office nor do I have any influence in changing the Capitol Tour Office’s schedule. I strongly encourage teachers to call early and be flexible on their dates.

A toll-free hot line is available from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday to answer questions about bill status and fill requests for publications. The number is (800) 742-7456. The service is also available to the hearing and/or speech impaired.

The Legislature’s website is updated daily when we’re in session. Information about bills, amendments, fiscal notes, hearing schedules and other legislative business is easily accessible at: www.nebraskalegislature.gov

The Unicameral Update is a free weekly publication containing hearing dates, in-depth stories, summaries of debate and other legislative information. The Update is available online. A free printed subscription may be ordered by calling the toll-free hot line at (800) 742-7456. Subscriptions must be renewed every January.

Public hearings begin on January 21. Introduction of new bills will continue through January 22. In addition to new legislation, 2013 bills that weren’t indefinitely postponed or passed are still alive either in committee or on the legislative agenda. Floor debate on carryover legislation is scheduled to begin on January 13.

If you have questions regarding this newsletter, legislation or state issues, please call my legislative office at (402) 471-2631. There is Voicemail on my phone so if you get the recording, please leave a message and I’ll get back to you. You may also write to me c/o P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or email me at: ksullivan@leg.ne.gov. If you write or email, please include your full name and mailing address.

I look forward to hearing from you AND working hard for you and the betterment of rural Nebraska in our Nebraska Legislature.

Disrict 41 County Courthouses

January 8th, 2013

Last September, my staff and I took a whirlwind three-day tour through all nine of the counties in District 41! I hosted town hall gatherings in each county and listened to many comments, suggestions, ideas and concerns from my constituents. We also made a point of stopping and taking a photo of each county courthouse. These photos now hang framed in my legislative office.

Antelope County Courthouse

Garfield County Courthouse