January 7th, 2015

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 two 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!

March 17th, 2015

Newsletter,  March 13, 2015

The headlines in the March 12 daily papers were very dramatic and somewhat misleading when it comes to the future of property tax relief.  LB 350 failed to advance from the Revenue Committee this week with just two committee members voting to advance the bill.

Although the intent of LB 350 is to lower the property taxes paid by agricultural land owners, the biggest benefits would not go to farmers and ranchers in rural Nebraska.  The benefits from LB 350 would primarily accrue to farmers and ranchers near urban areas.  The property tax revenue lost from farmers and ranchers near urban areas will be recovered by higher property taxes on business and residential property owners in those areas.  It’s a tax shift.

Out here where we live, this tax shift can’t happen to the same extent because we don’t have as many business and residential property owners.  Political subdivisions with large amounts of agricultural land in their taxing district would have to make up the lost revenue by increasing their levies or through cuts to local services funded by property tax revenue. This includes schools, cities, counties, NRD’s, community colleges, ESU’s, rural fire districts and county-owned medical facilities.

Estimates of the shortfall are in the $138.5 million range statewide. The loss to schools alone is estimated to be $94 million. LB 350 would transfer approximately $25 million to the state aid fund to be distributed as equalization aid in the state aid formula per year beginning in FY17-18, more than two years down the road.

Unfortunately, 158 out of the 245 school districts in the state don’t receive equalization aid through the state aid formula.  Most are small, rural school districts with large amounts of agricultural land in their taxing districts.  158 school districts will receive no benefit from LB 350, leaving them no choice but to raise their levy and negating any possible property tax relief for the agricultural land owners in those school districts.

Although the Revenue Committee declined to advance LB 350, we continue to work on other proposals for actual, substantive and sustainable property tax relief.  It’s my personal belief that we can provide that solution by increasing state funds to public schools to directly reduce the percent of school funding derived from property taxes.  With more than half the legislative session remaining, there’s plenty of time to develop proposals that will actually work.

March 3rd, 2015

Newsletter, February 27, 2015

As required by our legislative rules, the Appropriations Committee Preliminary Budget Report was distributed on the legislative floor this week. The rules require the preliminary budget to be distributed to the full Legislature 20 to 30 legislative days after the Governor has presented his or her budget in the State of the State Address.

This is the first of several stages in the legislative budget process and provides a starting point for discussion of the budget recommendations proposed by Governor Ricketts and the Appropriations Committee.

The Appropriations Committee then holds public hearings on the bills comprising the Governor’s budget and State Agency budget requests.  Following the public hearings, the Appropriations Committee will make a formal recommendation to the Legislature.  Legislative rules require that the Committee’s formal budget recommendation be made by the 70th legislative day in odd years.  The 70th day falls on April 28 this year.

Once the formal budget recommendation is made, floor debate on the proposal will begin.  The budget package must be passed no later than the 80th legislative day which is May 14.  It then goes to the Governor for his signature or veto.

Passing a balanced budget is the only duty that must be accomplished this session. Other legislative bills with large fiscal notes may advance through the regular process, but they will be held until the final budget package has passed.

The Nebraska Economic Forecast Advisory Board (NEFAB) is scheduled to meet this week and again in late April to review their existing forecast. Changes in the forecast could have a significant impact on the preliminary budget recommendations contained in the Appropriations Committee’s report. The board’s projection is part of the larger budget picture.  The Legislature needs to take all economic factors into account when making fiscal policy decisions.

Budget growth in the Appropriations Committee preliminary budget is 4.0% in FY16 and 2.5% in FY17 for a two year average of 3.2% which is very close to the Governor’s recommendation.  The total General Fund biennial budget is $4.26 billion for FY2015-16 and $4.37 billion for FY2016-17.

On a lighter note, girls’ state basketball begins on March 5 and boys’ state basketball begins on March 12.  Good luck to the teams from District 41!  If you’re in Lincoln for the tournaments, please stop by and say hello.

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.

February 19th, 2015

Newsletter, February 13, 2015

Merriam-Webster defines a filibuster as an effort to prevent action in a legislature by making a long speech or series of speeches.

Many of you may be familiar with Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of a filibuster as the character Senator Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Using the filibuster to delay or block legislative action has a long history. The term filibuster became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the U.S. Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill.

What was once a rare event is becoming more routine in the Nebraska Legislature. The filibuster is being employed often these days by different senators in our 49-member body.

Essentially, a filibuster is a long series of motions and amendments used to hold up or prevent a vote on a bill.  Although often seen as a tool of the minority, the filibuster can be employed by any senator if they have the intestinal fortitude to conduct a disciplined and sustained debate on any issue.

Senators don’t have to address the specific issue during their filibuster, although most do. They can speak on whatever they like to fill their allotted time.  Sometimes, just the threat of a filibuster can be enough for a compromise to be reached.

A cloture motion is the procedure used to break a filibuster by ending debate and causing a vote on the bill.  In most states, filibusters can be cut off with a simple majority of votes.  When the Nebraska Legislature adopted a cloture rule in 1992, our rule said that cloture motions had to be approved by a two-thirds majority (33 votes), so long as the speaker decides the bill has received a “full and fair debate.”

The rule no longer says that a bill must have eight hours of debate before lawmakers can vote on cloture.  However, the tradition of eight hours on general file and four hours on select file is a tradition that most Speakers honor.

We’ve already experienced two filibusters this session, but neither went to a cloture vote.  With LB 88, which would have increased the marriage license fee from $15 to $50, the filibuster resulted in a compromise which limited the increase to $25.  The filibuster on LB 18, which required vaccination of children against meningitis, forced the bill’s sponsor to bracket it until June.

As we proceed into the more weighty issues later in the session, I predict additional filibusters will have tempers flaring as time becomes more valuable.

If you have questions regarding this newsletter, legislation or state issues, please call my legislative office at (402) 471-2631. I have Voicemail, so if you get the recording, please leave a short message. 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.

February 4th, 2015

Newsletter, January 30, 2015

The Legislature is settling into a rhythm after 10 days of bill introduction at the beginning of the session.  We convene on the legislative floor in the morning to discuss legislation advanced from committees.  In the afternoon, the 14 standing committees hold public hearings on the 655 new bills and 4 constitutional amendments introduced this session – the same number as 2013.

Revisor’s bills are the only new bills that don’t receive a public hearing.  Revisor’s bills are prepared by the Office of the Revisor of Statutes.   These bills propose technical corrections or the repeal of obsolete statutes and are placed directly on general file.

The public hearings are an extremely important part of the legislative process.  They are   regularly scheduled committee meetings designed to receive public comment on bills and resolutions.  Each week’s list of public hearings is posted on the legislative website listing the standing committee, the bill number, date, and hearing room number.  http://nebraskalegislature.gov/   These hearings are the public’s opportunity to weigh in on legislation and share their viewpoints on the record directly with the committee members who will be making the decision about the future of that bill.

I’ve introduced five pieces of legislation that are not directly related to my duties as Chair of the Education Committee.  My bills deal with the Microenterprise Tax Credit Act, the interest rate on partnership dissolutions, banning the use of cell phones by school bus drivers, exempting horses from the sales and use tax, and allowing voters to determine if their county officials should be elected on a nonpartisan ballot.

In my role as Chair of the Education Committee, I’ve also introduced bills addressing aspects of the state aid formula, statewide assessments, community colleges, early childhood education, lottery and other education topics in addition to technical and management bills for the Commissioner of Education.

Although this is only Day 17 of the 90 day legislative session, we’re already taking action and   making decisions that will affect Nebraska and its citizens in the future.  Pressing issues still ahead include sustainable property tax relief, prison reform, funding for K-12 education and building a two-year state budget.  With a new Chief Executive in Governor Ricketts and 18 new senators in the Legislature, it will be an exciting time!

If you have questions regarding this newsletter, legislation or state issues, please call my legislative office at (402) 471-2631. I have Voicemail, so if you get the recording, please leave a short message. 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.

January 23rd, 2015

January 16, 2015 Newsletter

The First Session of the 104th Legislature was gaveled into order by Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley at 10:00 a.m. on January 7, 2015. This is the first year of a two-year session so this 90-day session is tentatively scheduled to adjourn in late May or early June.

I will continue to chair the Education Committee and serve on the Revenue Committee.  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 six 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/

If you are an area teacher 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 while the Legislature is 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.

Introduction of new bills will continue through January 21.  Public hearings begin on January 20.

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 someone will 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