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!

April 30th, 2015

Newsletter,  April 24, 2015

As we move through the legislative calendar (with less than 30 days remaining), here is a brief overview of some of our recent actions.

LB 294, the human trafficking victims remedy bill, advanced from the first round of debate on a 34-0 vote on April 22. The bill, introduced by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk, would reorganize offenses and penalties involving trafficking, have the Foster Care Review Office collect information related to child trafficking victims, and expand the sources of funding for the Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Fund.

Many people a hard time believing that human trafficking happens here in Nebraska.  However, extensive research by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln shows that people are being forced to work in the sex trade right here in our state.

LB 85, the brand inspection bill, advanced to selection file this week.  It would increase the cap on the per head inspection fee charged for brand inspection of cattle.  Under the bill, the Nebraska Brand Committee would be given the authority to slowly raise the per head inspection fee up to a cap of $1.10.  Budget and appropriation limitations will only allow for small increases as needed to keep up with the rising costs of doing business.

LB 360 also advanced to select file this week.  As amended, the bill increases regulation and annual fees for commercial breeders, pet shops, kennels, dealers and animal shelters and will provide additional funding for enhanced enforcement of the state’s 15-year-old program to oversee commercial dog and cat breeding operations along with promoting better coordination between local and state governments for inspection of these facilities.

Earlier this week, the Appropriations Committee finalized its $8.7 billion budget proposal for the next two years. The budget proposes below-average spending growth at 3.1 percent per year, boosts state support for education, and invests $60 million per year into the state’s property tax credit program.  Budget debate is scheduled to begin on April 30.  The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board also meets that day to update revenue projections.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced an amended version of LB 643 to general file this week.  The bill would legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska.  There will be a lengthy and in depth debate on the pros and cons of this effort.

April 14th, 2015

Newsletter, April 10, 2015

LB 610 barely advanced to the second round of floor debate last week on a vote of 26-10 with 8 abstaining and 5 absent.   I was one of the 10 no votes.  I don’t like the idea of increasing gas taxes.

The average price of a gallon of gasoline in Nebraska this week is $2.353 which saves the average household about $100 every month.  I don’t believe lower gas prices are an excuse to raise taxes.  Most of us like lower gas prices because of the positive impact on our budgets which allows us to spend more on groceries and other necessities.

LB 610 would increase the fixed motor fuels tax rate by 1.5 cents every year for four years until January 2019 when the total fixed rate motor fuels tax would be 16.3 cents per gallon.

There are two components of the fixed rate and the proposed increases.  The portion allocated to the Nebraska Department of Roads would increase 1/2 cent every year, from 7.5 cents to 9.5 cents beginning January 1, 2016 until a tax increase of 2¢ per gallon is reached on January 1, 2019.  The portion allocated to cities and counties would increase one cent every year from 2.8 cents to 6.8 cents beginning on January 1, 2016 until a tax increase of 4 cents per gallon is reached on January 1, 2019.

For the Nebraska Department of Roads this generates $6,350,000 per year over the base year and is expected to raise an additional $25.4 million per year by FY2019 and beyond.  The fiscal impact for cities and counties is based on one cent of the fuel tax generating $12,700,000 per year over the base year.  This is expected to raise an additional $50.8 million per year by FY2019 and beyond.

The funding to counties is distributed as follows: Rural Population (20%), Total Population (10%), Lineal Feet of Bridges (10%), Rural Motor Vehicle Registrations (20%), Total Motor Vehicle Registrations (10%), Miles of Local Roads (20%), and Value of Farm Products Sold (10%).  The funding for cities is distributed as follows:  Total Population (50%), Total Motor Vehicle Registrations (30%), and Miles of Traffic Lanes of Streets (20%).

The Build Nebraska Act, effective July 1, 2013, already designates one quarter of one percent of general fund sales tax revenue for Nebraska roadways which raises about $70,000,000 per year.  Eighty-five percent is allocated to the state highway system and fifteen percent to local roads and streets. The local share is distributed based on the factors listed above.

Certainly I believe it’s important to have good highways, roads and bridges in our state.  I’m particularly concerned that those improvements reach rural Nebraska where counties face real challenges making much needed upgrades to aging bridges.

Overall, our state highway system gets high rankings when compared to conditions in other states.  I think the emphasis should be focused on priorities closer to local needs.  However, I’m not totally convinced that under the current Department of Roads planning that will happen.

With a new governor in office, we will have a new Director of the Department of Roads in place soon.  I think we should wait to increase the gas tax for public infrastructure until the new director is in place and he/she has had an opportunity to analyze how the department is currently spending their tax revenue.

April 7th, 2015

Newsletter, March 27, 2015

In the late 1990′s, large confined animal feeding operations began to proliferate in rural Nebraska counties that did not have county zoning regulations in place.  Alarmed farmers, ranchers and other rural residents across the state asked the Nebraska Legislature to enact temporary interim zoning laws.

The Legislature passed LB 822 establishing interim zoning in 1999.  Under the law, counties had to have appointed a planning commission or be in the process of adopting a comprehensive development plan prior to January 1, 2000 to enact temporary zoning.  Temporary zoning regulations expired July 1, 2001.  Since 1999, all but five Nebraska counties have adopted county zoning regulations.

The purposes of zoning are broadly defined in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 23-114.03 as promoting the health, safety, morals, convenience, order, prosperity, and welfare of the present and future inhabitants of Nebraska.

A bill introduced this session would strip local planning authorities and county boards of the ability to tailor zoning decisions to their county’s specific population, geography, land use requirements, and environmental conditions.

As introduced, LB 106 requires the Department of Agriculture, with the input of an appointed advisory committee, to develop a scoring matrix to approve or disapprove a proposed or expanding livestock operation.  It creates a seven-member Livestock Siting Review Board appointed by the Governor which would have the authority to overturn local county decisions denying livestock siting permits.

After the hearing, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee recommended that the original content of LB 106 be replaced with amendment 521 which is substantially different than the original bill.  There are four additional pending amendments.

As one of my local county commissioners said in his comments opposing LB 106, “this bill takes a very sensitive and very critical part of zoning away from local control.”  This is the prevailing view among the county board members and the planning and zoning officials in District 41.

I am a very strong supporter of local control.  I believe that local planning and zoning works particularly well in rural Nebraska.  We don’t need another layer of state government bureaucracy between local officials and the decisions they make on livestock siting permit requests.

LB 106 undermines local control and the hard work and money our counties have invested in developing their comprehensive plans and zoning regulations. It devalues unique local interests and needs and inserts a one-size-fits-all process that takes away the voices of local officials and citizens.

I will work to defeat LB 106.

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