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 one more year 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 21, 2016
The Legislature has adjourned Sine Die! With that call, the 104th Legislature was gaveled to a close on April 20, and with it, my final regular legislative session.
Many memories come to mind over eight years, but none more important than the opportunity you, the citizens of District 41, gave me when you chose me as your state senator.
Over the last few months I’ve told you about various bills we’ve dealt with in the Legislature. An important bill I haven’t previously mentioned was LB 726, the Financial Literacy bill. I introduced this legislation which became law on April 6. LB 726 implements a requirement for public post-secondary education institutions within the state to provide student specific, federal student loan information to their students on a yearly basis.
Today’s students are graduating college with far too much federal student loan debt. If they are made aware of this financial commitment on a regular basis, perhaps they will be more cautious and conservative when borrowing to finance their education.
This newsletter has served as my way of communicating to you during the legislative session, and as such, this will be my last one, barring any unforeseen circumstances that might bring us back into a special session (I don’t expect that). I have so appreciated the newspapers in District 41 printing my newsletter to keep you informed. Many thanks to the editors and publishers of our local newspapers for their support of this format.
While this newsletter will be my last, I will still be your senator for the remainder of the year, right up to the very moment my successor is sworn in. At this time, it appears your next senator will be Tom Briese of Albion. I have visited with Tom several times, and I believe he will serve the district well. Even though he is unopposed, I have encouraged him to travel the district during the campaign to not only acquaint himself with District 41 but also to give constituents a chance to get to know him.
Again, I want to thank you for this special and rare opportunity to be your state senator. Public service is something all of us should do in one capacity or another. It’s like paying rent for the space we occupy in this great state of Nebraska. I’m not sure what the next chapter in my life holds, but I know it will always have something to do with rural Nebraska, because that is where my home and heart are (and two of my grandchildren).
My best to all the good citizens of District 41!
April 8, 2016
What a difference a day makes.
A very long day of over eight hours of debate on select file resulted in two of my bills being advanced to final reading: LB 959 and LB 1067. The following morning, with just a few minutes of debate, another bill, LB 958, advanced to final reading with merely a voice vote.
I am pleased with the outcome of all three of these bills, and I’ll tell you why. LB 958 and LB 959 were bills that Senator Mike Gloor and I both carried, respectively, for the Governor with the goal of achieving some level of property tax relief. While maybe not as much ‘relief’ as we hoped, the legislation makes significant advances.
Senator Gloor’s bill, LB 958, provides property tax relief particularly for agricultural landowners. There is an additional appropriation of $20 million to the Property Tax Credit Fund bringing the total going into the fund to $224 million for this year.
My bill, LB 959, addresses education funding. It removes two elements from the school funding formula that have encouraged some local school districts to ‘levy up’ to capture state aid. LB 959 eliminates the minimum levy adjustment which results in additional equalization aid to some districts as well as allowing non-equalized districts with a levy below $.95 to receive their portion of the income tax rebate. It also removes the averaging adjustment levy requirements. These two elements result in approximately $8.5 million in state dollars being added to the school funding formula. The additional aid will be realized primarily by our more rural school districts which will reduce property taxes by a corresponding amount.
Another aspect of LB 959 implements limitations on a feature that allows a school district to levy up to 5.2 cents beyond the $1.05 levy lid to deal with life safety and environmental hazards such as mold. The bill limits the additional levy amount to 3 cents and clarifies that those funds can’t be used for new construction.
The long day of debate also included LB 1067 which deals with a unique educational entity – the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties. Currently, the Learning Community membership includes the 11 school districts in Douglas and Sarpy counties. Clearly, it has little or no impact to District 41. Nevertheless, as chair of the Education Committee I agreed to work with those superintendents to craft changes to the statutes governing the Learning Community.
From its inception, the Learning Community has been controversial, and the controversy continued as we debated the bill. I won’t go deeply into the details, but suffice to say that LB 1067 retains the Learning Community but makes changes to its taxing authority and how it responds to the needs of its students, particularly those in poverty who reside in the inner city.
Many hours of hard work went into all three of these bills, so I feel both gratitude and relief that at this time they all appear to be on their way to becoming law.
March 24, 2016
As we move into the final few weeks of the 2016 legislative session, we are focused on priority legislation. The state budget bills passed on Thursday and were sent on to Governor Ricketts for his approval.
The so-called “Right to Farm” constitutional amendment is among the priority bills under consideration. Debate on LR 378 CA began on Wednesday afternoon. This measure is supposedly intended to give constitutional protection to farming and ranching practices.
Initially, I thought this sounded like a positive idea. It was only after the Agriculture Committee public hearings that I began to have serious doubts about the measure. The Committee voted once and didn’t advance the bill. The Committee then met again and a second vote garnered the majority needed to advance the bill to general file.
North Dakota was the first state to adopt a similar constitutional amendment in 2012. Missouri followed in 2014. Oklahoma voters will have a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment this November.
We simply don’t know enough about how the constitutional amendments in these states will work or are working. Nebraska shouldn’t leap into this issue without additional study, an understanding of the potential effects of the amendment on the ability of future Nebraska Legislatures to respond to the needs of its citizens, and whether the protections are truly needed in our state.
We must be careful to make sure the language does what we want it to do to avoid unintended consequences when amending the Nebraska Constitution. I’ve heard from many farmers and ranchers in my legislative district. There’s a strong divide among those in agriculture about the actual need for constitutional protections and whether the language in LR 378 CA is too vague.
As my constituents wrote: “Right to Farm isn’t what real farmers and ranchers are talking about. We are much more worried about our growing property tax bills on our farm land. If the Legislature wants to help Nebraska farm and ranch families, doing something about the property tax burden is far and away the best thing you could do.”
As senators, we want to look out for the best interests of agriculture because it is the number one industry in our state. I am not convinced that this constitutional amendment is in the best interests of farmers and ranchers. I removed my name as a co-sponsor before debate began.
In a surprise move just prior to resuming debate on LR 378 CA Thursday, Senator John Kuehn, the measure’s sponsor, filed a unanimous consent motion to bracket the measure until April 20, 2016. The bracket motion was accepted. The Agriculture Committee will study the issue during the interim. Perhaps a similar measure will be introduced in 2017, but the measure is dead for this session.
February 26, 2016
It recently occurred to me that I am in the midst of my “first of lasts”. Tuesday was the the first day of the last half of this legislative session – which will be my last.
Yesterday, I gave the last bill introduction I will make to a committee. On Tuesday, the Education Committee finished its public hearings which is my last round of public hearings as a committee chair. Am I feeling a bit nostalgic as I move through these final days of my last legislative session? Perhaps, but there is much work yet to be done. Here are some of the issues that have been at the forefront.
As I write this, we are waiting for the report from the Nebraska Economic Forecast Advisory Board which is scheduled to meet February 26, 2016 to review their existing forecasts. Changes in those forecasts could impact the state’s projected budget status contained in the Appropriations Committee Preliminary Report issued earlier this month. Any changes the Board makes in the financial forecast will affect the state budget. Legislative rules require the Appropriations Committee to forward their budget recommendations by the 40th legislative day in a short session which is March 9 with floor debate scheduled to begin on March 15.
I’m glad to say that actions on the floor are moving at a more reasonable pace. Although we still have filibusters, every single bill is not impeded by a constant filibuster. That may change as we get into the meat of the legislative session where the most important bills often generate strong support and strong opposition.
Public hearings for the majority of the standing committees end next week, but that doesn’t mean the committee work is completed. In fact, it intensifies. We will spend many hours in executive session, examining the bills that have been brought before the committee and making decisions on what elements will be put together in bills that will be sent to the floor.
With respect to executive sessions, while the meetings are not open to the public, the media is nearly always in attendance. With the reports filed by both print and television reporters, you can be made aware of some of the discussions and decisions being made on bills of interest to you. I also encourage you to check the legislative website for information on specific bills including committee statements, fiscal notes and amendments.
With 27 days left in the legislative session, the hard work of the Legislature continues. I remain honored to be a part of it.
February 12, 2016
Two very well-attended hearings on LB 958 and 959 gave voice to wide ranging opinions on how we should provide property tax relief in Nebraska. I sat through both hearings – as chair of the Education Committee (LB 959), and as a member of the Revenue Committee (LB 958). Senator Gloor and I introduced those bills on behalf of the Governor in our respective committees.
Now the legislative process unfolds. How will the respective committees weigh the testimony that was presented? What will the committees send to the floor (if anything) for full debate by the Legislature? You may have read in my January column of my concern and desire to arrive at some solution. Unfortunately, the outcome is still unclear.
I’ve always said the road to achieve property tax relief should travel down two tracks: one that controls the spending of those property tax dollars and a second track that provides more state support to lessen that reliance on property taxes.
At both hearings, we heard the cry primarily from ag land owners: please do something; statewide, property taxes on ag land have increased 176% over the last 10 years; property taxes are crushing us.
On the other hand, we heard from educators, primarily administrators, who say that spending in education is not the problem; we simply need more state dollars put into education. County commissioners and other local governments warned of restraints to growth and economic development.
I’m looking for reasonableness and something that’s achievable. In addition to the two Governor’s bills, we have other ideas in both revenue and education that use varying approaches. LB 958 looks to limit valuation increases; another bill seeks to put a temporary freeze on valuations. LB 959 wants to limit budget increases of school districts. I have another bill that provides additional state dollars that would go directly to reduce the maximum levy for school districts based on the amount of state student support aid to be received.
So where do we go from here? I am hopeful that both committees will pull ideas from several bills to craft a package that addresses property tax relief. At this point, I don’t know what those “packages” will look like, but I do know the clock is ticking. In a few days we will reach the deadline for priority bill designation. Each senator can choose one priority bill and each of the 14 standing committees can name two priority bills. Our Speaker can also select 25 bills, and he has said that his goal is to have all priority bills that come out of committee be scheduled for debate before our scheduled adjournment in April.
As Education Committee chair, it is my intent to guide my committee in a thorough discussion of the bills and hopefully craft a package of ideas that lead us down those two tracks to achieving property tax relief. While committee chairs do have some element of control with bills, we are still just one vote when the motion is made to advance a bill. I hope I can make my vote count toward achieving sustainable property tax relief.
Rural Nebraskans want property tax relief. My constituents want it, I want it, and the Governor has made it his top priority this legislative session.
The Revenue and Education Committees spent the better part of last fall grappling with the issue. Senator Mike Gloor and I, as chairs of the respective committees, led that charge. Our stepping off point was the unfinished work of the earlier Tax Modernization Committee which recommended that the state increase support for public education as a mechanism for lessening the reliance on property taxes to fund education.
First let me say that this is no easy challenge to meet. But we try. Secondly, as Education Chair in our Unicameral, I value education and I believe Nebraskans want to keep it strong. But because education commands the greatest part of the property tax dollar, it must be part of the solution.
So what are we trying to do this legislative session? Suffice to say there are several bills that propose different alternatives, some of which grew out of our discussions this past fall. Senator Gloor and I worked with the Governor and agreed to carry bills that spoke to ways to achieve property tax relief.
The ‘education’ bill seeks to place some limitations on the budget authority of school districts. It removes some of the exceptions school districts have which allow them to exceed the $1.05 levy limit, and it limits the amount of money a district can put into reserve each year.
Senator Gloor’s bill took a similar approach with the other political subdivisions that use property tax dollars (counties, NRD’s, etc.) In addition, his bill includes a formula that would put an aggregate 3% limit on ag land valuation increases statewide.
The components of both bills will have varying impact on taxpayers across the state. To say everyone could see a drop in their taxes would be inaccurate. But both bills take steps to empower the local political subdivisions to make fiscal decisions that could result in lower property taxes.
The valuation component of Senator Gloor’s bill would have a positive impact on increasing the amount of state aid that goes out to schools. In addition, I have introduced a second bill that would propose to put even more dollars from statewide income tax receipts into state support for all students with an accompanying drop in the maximum levy for school districts.
Admittedly, I am oversimplifying a very complex situation. The bills are being met with varying degrees of hope and concern. As always, the devil is in the details. But I would offer two things to you, readers in District 41. We very much want to attack this problem. Please know that. Secondly, reach out to your local school district: ask questions, visit with board members, and get their reaction to these proposals.
This is an issue that needs several approaches if we are to obtain sustainable property tax relief.
The Second Session of the 104th Legislature was gaveled into order by Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley at 10:00 a.m. on January 6, 2016. This is the second year of a two-year session so this 60-day session is tentatively scheduled to adjourn in mid-April. Bill introduction will continue through January 20. Public hearings begin on January 19.
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 seven years, I write a biweekly newsletter during the legislative session. Our area newspapers are kind enough to share the newsletter with you in print form.
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 Unicameral Information Office at (402) 471-2788 or send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions must be renewed each session.
You may also live stream the Legislature and legislative committee hearings by clicking on the Live Video Streaming link on the legislative website.
Area teachers who may be planning student field trips to the Capitol while the Legislature is in session must schedule tours 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.
If you have questions regarding this newsletter, legislation or state issues, please call my legislative office at (402) 471-2631. You may write to me c/o P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or email me at: email@example.com 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.
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.