NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

Welcome

January 3rd, 2017

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 42nd legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Mike Groene

1/23-1/27 Hearing Schedule

January 19th, 2017

Education Committee:

Monday January 23, 2017 – 1:30pm, Room 1525

LB103 Murante Change provisions relating to accelerated or differentiated curriculum and require establishment of focus groups
LB235 Walz Clarify grant requirements for the Summer Food Service Program
LB109 Blood Provide for a temporary teaching certificate or permit for military spouses

Monday January 24, 2017 – 1:30pm, Room 1525

LB124 Baker Increase the probationary period of community college staff
LB123 Pansing Brooks Provide for reimbursement when certain postsecondary institutions terminate operations
LB396 Morfeld Change residency provisions relating to postsecondary educational institutions

Bills introduced by Senator Groene:

Thursday January 26, 2017 – 1:30pm, Room 1507

LB479 Groene Change public hearing provisions and redefine a term under the Nebraska Budget Act

Home District Column 1/18/2017

January 19th, 2017

Wednesday was the last day for Senators to introduce legislative bills. I have introduced 22 bills this year.  Fifteen bills on various topics related to District 42 and seven education bills as chairman of the Education committee.

The entire list of introduced bills are on the Legislature’s website (www.nebraskalegislature.gov).  All of these bills are important, but a few of them, should provide a greater amount of interest in the district. It is critical that people from the district show up in Lincoln to testify at the hearings in favor of the proposed legislation.  This is one of the ways that you can show others in the state what is important to us.

LB 218 provides that the NRDs involved in the NCORPE shall sell the land associated with the project, while retaining water rights and easements. Proceeds of the sale must be used to pay down related indebtedness.  Every five years, NCORPE must present a report for the continued need of the project at a public hearing. Selling the land should allow for the elimination of the NCORPE office and its over million dollar budget, plus by paying down the debt the NRDs should be able to drastically lower the present $10/acre occupation tax on irrigated land. This is a common sense approach to the NCORPE fiasco. It is not a new approach, Colorado also has a water mining project to satisfy its obligation to Kansas in the Republican River compact.  They have acquired the water rights to 55 irrigation wells in eastern Colorado from a farmer. The farmer remained the owner of the land. Colorado has no project manager or offices, they have one employee that maintains the well sites and turns them on and off.

LB488 is another NCORPE bill that would attempt to satisfy Kansas by voluntarily reducing irrigation water consumption by paying farmers that are in the riparian area within five miles of the Republican River or its tributaries $50/acre plus exempt them from the occupation tax for a year, if they agree to farm their land dryland for the year. The program would be controlled by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources and the funding for the program would come from the already annually appropriated $11 million to the existing Water Sustainable Fund. The bill earmarks $3 million to the new Water Conservation Grant Act.  That amount could generate nearly 60,000 acre feet of water conservation, to be used to satisfy Kansas’s demands. Kansas has recently showed a desire to work with Nebraska on alternative settlement practice. There will be those who directly benefit from the NCORPE project who will not like changes to the project and will testify against changes to the program, but it will be those who do not live in Lincoln or Red Willow counties where the NCORPE project directly effects our natural resources and our tax base.  We need local citizens to testify at the hearings.

We also introduced three bills related to the abuse of TIF and have tailored the bills to address the concerns the State Auditor  recent audit had on the use of TIF by cities and towns.

LB489 – Eliminate ambiguous language in allowable expenses paid by TIF Proceeds

LB262 – Clarify TIF not allowed on undeveloped vacant land outside city limits or within city limits for less than 40 years.

LB 597 (not yet assigned a number) Give State Revenue Department oversight of statewide TIF projects.

Other bills we have introduced to address concerns of local constituents;

LB 478 to provide possession of archery equipment for recreational purposes by ex-felons

LB 404 to provide 2 person crews on certain train crews

LB 217 Add requirements to increase transparency to open meeting act.

LB 596 Allow for Equine Horse Massage without state licensing.

We will attempt to keep you informed on hearing dates for these bills.

We are also presenting major legislation to address property tax concerns.  We are finishing up the language of the bill as I write this column. I will address the proposed legislation in next week’s column.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Education hearing dates added

January 13th, 2017

Tuesday January 17, 2017

Room 1525 – 1:30 PM

LB62 Scheer Eliminate prohibition on teachers wearing religious garb
LB119 Groene Change dates related to certifications and distributions of state aid to schools

Monday January 23, 2017

Room 1525 – 1:30 PM

LB103 Murante Change provisions relating to accelerated or differentiated curriculum and require establishment of focus groups
LB235 Walz Clarify grant requirements for the Summer Food Service Program
LB109 Blood Provide for a temporary teaching certificate or permit for military spouses

Committee Leadership Votes

January 13th, 2017

In an earlier entry, I pledged to post our committee leadership votes after Session started.

As promised:

Speaker: Scheer

Executive Board: Watermeier

Agriculture: Brasch

Appropriations: Stinner

Banking, Commerce, and Insurance: Lindstrom

Business & Labor: Albrecht

Education: Groene

General Affairs: Larson

Government, Military, & Veterans Affairs: Murante

Health & Human Services: Riepe

Judiciary: Ebke

Natural Resources: Hughes

Retirement: Kolterman

Revenue: Smith

Transportation & Telecommunications: Friesen

Urban Affairs: Wayne

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 1/12/2017

January 13th, 2017

On the first day of the 105th Legislature, we started with leadership elections of Speaker and Committee Chairmen, followed by senators’ appointments to committees.  Newly elected chairs moved into their committee offices, more senior senators got to pick from remaining offices and eventually, the freshman drew out of a hat for their offices. By the end of the third day, senators are close to being settled in. Within ten legislative days, we must have all proposed legislation handed into the Clerk. It happens fast.

As you are probably aware, I was greatly honored to be elected by my peers to the Chairmanship of the Education Committee. Those of you that have contacted my office will be glad to hear that my existing staff followed me; Charles Garman became a Committee Council and Kristina McGovern accepted the position of Committee Clerk. Existing Committee Council LaMont Rainey agreed to stay and fill the position of Lead Council and we added Tim Erickson as Legislative Aide.  Daily, I have never been around so many lawyers. I have told them I appreciate the value of law degrees, but it might take me a while to warm up to their way of communicating.

I ran for the Education Chairmanship to have a front row seat on addressing the inequities in how we fund our public schools through the “Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act” (TEEOSA).  What I have experienced over the last two years on the Committee is a split between rural and urban citizens. Rural school districts are mostly funded by property taxes and larger urban districts are funded about 50-50% property taxes and state aid. The inequity has split school districts into at least four lobbying organizations, depending on where they are in the TEEOSA formula. The larger districts also have their own paid lobbyists to represent their interest at the State Capitol. If you hang around down here long enough, you might start believing with enough money, we could just buy an education without much effort from the student or the teacher.

I will be introducing legislation to put “Tax Equity” back into the TEEOSA formula. The short version is we cap local property tax inputs at 60% of total funding of federal, state, and local sources. The cap would stabilize state aid for Brady, Hershey, Maxwell, Sutherland, and Wallace while giving tax relief to property owners. Another benefit is that it would minimize the effect of ever increasing property valuations. But how do we help stabilize funding for large school districts like North Platte? To help those taxpayers for now, our legislation would lower the TEEOSA factor calculating local effort from property taxes from $1.00 per $100 of value to 95 cents and lowering maximum levy rate to 1.00.

Correcting the injustice of the annual tax shift that puts more and more of school funding on local tax payers must be remedied by shifting an equitable portion back to the State.  I have never liked the concept of the Property Tax Credit Fund, that minimal credit you see on your tax statements. It is by definition a tax shift; we overcharge on income and sales taxes to fix an overcharge to property taxes. The effect is we allow local taxing entities to continue to raise their spending as they hide their tax increases behind the credit. Overall, I believe the tax credit has added to the inequities in taxation in our state instead of helping the situation.

Because of the present budget crisis, we are in danger of losing the tax credit altogether, the present $204 million credit is not guaranteed in law. We believe the best way to start protecting property tax relief is to guarantee it through education funding statutes.

It won’t be easy to achieve, we are dealing with politicians and special interest groups. Some wish to protect what they have, some are worried about public perception of spending versus good fiscal management.  Some would prefer to manipulate the numbers to show that we did not increase state spending. But as citizens we do not consider one government budget over another, we just know we want equity on how we fund the whole of government.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

 

Home District Column 12/28/2016

December 30th, 2016

It will never be said that a Democratic–Republic form of government is a static, boring endeavor. The 90 day 2017 Legislative Session begins next Wednesday January 4th and ends June 2nd. Since a speaker will have not yet been elected, the first day of Session will be led by Lieutenant Governor Foley. The proceedings begin with Chief Justice Heavican swearing in to office the 17 new and 8 reelected senators.

 
The other major business of the day is the election of leadership positions in the Legislature. But before that can occur, a majority of senators must approve the temporary rules (those of the previous Session) that govern the legislative process. New rule changes are normally done a few days later through recommendations by the Rules Committee and approved by the body before floor debate begins.

 
There is one continuous issue that may cause a rejection of the temporary rules: the practice, began in the 1970s, of secret ballots for leadership. It’s the only vote taken by senators that is kept from the public. There may be an attempt to amend the rules to change this policy. The problem is that to do so means there will be no rules on the floor of the legislature until the temporary rules are accepted. Chaos could ensue.

 
I am for public votes; you should know who I support for leadership. In fact, that this is even an issue amazes me. How can anyone be against transparency in the action of elected officials? There is not a senator in the body who does not know who I support for leadership positions. But that is not true of all, it only takes a few power hungry individuals who will attempt to garner support for chairmanships by purposely telling two colleagues running for another committee chair that they will support them, but in secret can hide the truth from one of them. Human nature does not change with elected office, if anybody needs the guidance of transparency, it is a politician. If an attempt is made, I will vote for transparency, but I would much prefer that we do it through the Rules Committee process. Secret government actions breed suspicion, not trust. Either way, we will post our leadership votes on our legislative website.

 
First, the Speaker of the Legislature is elected, then comes the election of 17 committee chairs in alphabetic order starting with Agriculture and ending with Urban Affairs. I am running for the Chairmanship of Education. I believe because of my colleagues, who have offered their support, we will have more than the 25 votes needed. The old joke on first day is: it’s the only day of Session when there are not 49 senators but instead 50, since every candidate has been told they have the support of 25.

 
Things going forward will move fast. First, we will address the Governor’s recommendation on the budget shortfall for the remaining fiscal year through June. Within 10 days, senators must submit their legislative bills. I will submit bills dealing with NCORPE, TIF, parental rights, property taxes, oversight of the State’s Tourism Commission, and add clarification to transparency and public notification requirements of laws governing elected local boards. As the session begins there will be others as constituents bring issues forward.

 

I was recently asked by a member of the press: Is it not odd that a State Senator is in conflict with local leaders of the community? He was referring to the use of TIF. My reply was simple; what is your definition of local leaders? Mine includes local elected officials. As of yet, I have not had a county commissioner, city councilman, school board member, or any other elected official confront my position on TIF, or for that matter, NCORPE. I assume as good public servants they govern using present law, but do not oppose enactment of better law. Other leaders are the business owners who pay their property taxes in support of their community, farmers who are stewards of our groundwater, religious leaders whose concern is morality, and parents who lead their families. Those are the local leaders whose advice I take into account.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 12/21/2016

December 23rd, 2016

The 2015 Legislature enacted legislation that allowed the State Auditor’s Office to audit Community Redevelopment Authorities (CRA). Prior to that taking place there was absolutely no regulatory oversight of municipalities’ use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

 
This week, State Auditor Charlie Janssen released an audit of a sampling of 22 TIF projects across the state. The link to the entire audit can be reached by visiting the State Auditor’s website, www.auditors.nebraska.gov or by clicking HERE. The results should be concerning to all tax payers. The audit disclosed shoddy record keeping and TIF being used in areas that a reasonable person might doubt as being blighted and substandard. Their findings also pointed out that the laws created by the Legislature putting into practice the voter approved 1978 constitutional amendment that enabled TIF are ambiguous to the point that they are useless.

 
The Auditor looked at three projects in North Platte. The CRA of North Platte could not show documentation of invoices that the TIF proceeds actually were used to pay proper costs related to the projects. The Auditor also questioned the CRA’s creation of a Community Redevelopment Authority Redevelopment Fund (CRARF) and funding it with 25% of the proceeds from TIF bond sales for the purpose of funding smaller non-TIF projects, stating “…Gives rise to the question of whether the intent of the Community Development Law is to allow cities to use TIF revenues to operate loan programs for non-TIF use.”

 
The Auditor recommended that language in present TIF law be cleared up. For example, in section 18-2103(12) the auditor states “the law is so broad and generic in nature that it undermines significantly any attempt to place parameters around the use of TIF.” After first precisely describing the “work or undertaking” costs that TIF monies may be expended on, the statute then negates itself by ending with “or other improvements in accordance with the redevelopment plan”. They recommended that the Legislature make clear definitions of the terms, blighted and substandard. Their comment on the present law’s definition: “Such ambiguity contributes to uncertainty at best and the potential for the willful abuse of TIF at worst.”

 
Finally, the Auditor ends with the recommendation that “Overall, TIF is subject to remarkably little monitoring and oversight.… The Legislature may wish to consider whether the Community Development Law is being utilized effectively, and municipalities are interpreting and implementing its provisions in an appropriate fashion”. Going on to recommend that the Legislature may wish to create a state oversight committee or authority “… thereby protecting the interests of both the taxpayers and their communities as a whole.”

 
This Senator agrees wholeheartedly with the Auditor’s findings and plans to be a part of the fix needed to put a good urban renewal program, TIF, back on the right path. MY reasons:

 
1) Citizens and their local elected officials need to be assured TIF is being used correctly for urban renewal of blighted and substandard areas of a community. Local elected officials and taxpayers need to have a source to go to at the state government level to verify the claims made by those wishing to profit from the use of TIF. Presently, your mayor and city council members have no state authority to address their questions or concerns.

 
2) TIF allows cities to unilaterally confiscate the tax dollars of your local schools, county, Natural Resources District, community college, etc, without input from those government entities. Those elected officials should also be able to check for the accuracy of TIF use. They are the ones who have to raise your tax rates in order to offset the revenue lost by TIF.

 
3) There’s reason we all pay property taxes, we want good schools and public services. If we arbitrarily allow some property owners to not contribute tax dollars to those purposes for 15 years, the rest of us must pay more to pick up the slack.

 
I believe you sent me to Lincoln to champion GOOD government; protect the rule of law, the glue that holds our freedoms together; and to make sure all taxpayers and citizens are treated equally. The present abuse of TIF in our state offends all of those principles and it must be corrected.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Home District Column 12/8/2016

December 12th, 2016

I mentioned in another column that I was running for the Chair of the Education Committee. I believe you sent me to Lincoln to address issues; there is no better way to do so than to be chairman of a committee. Below are the reasons I have shared with my colleagues as to why I am running and why they should support me in my endeavor:

With the general election behind us, I have decided to run for the position of Education Committee Chairman. The new makeup of the legislature with seventeen newly elected and thirty two returning officeholders has emboldened me to believe it is time to address pressing issues in public education in an effort to improve student success in our statewide school system. I spent my first two years as a member of the Education Committee and learned from Senator Sullivan as she guided difficult issues through the Committee.

We understand that student success hinges on the environment of the classroom. Teachers need to know they can demand proper nondestructive behavior without fear of reprisals or job loss. As chairman I will work with local school boards, teachers, and the Department of Education to seek improvements to classroom environment.

There is an understanding that parental rights should not be compromised by actions of government in relation to public education.  School choice must be protected; parents and students must be able to attend a school that reflects their personal values if they deem that to be of importance.

To maintain strong schools, local control is vital.  Decisions involving curriculum, personnel, and fiscal management of the resources allotted are best made locally.

The recent downturn in our state’s economy will have an effect on how we allocate our state’s resources. The new Chairperson of the Education Committee must maintain open communication with fellow senators and maintain good working relationships with the Appropriations and Revenue Committees’ leadership, along with the Governor’s Office, to direct available funding to best achieve classroom results. Alleviating the burden put on property tax payers to fund the majority of public schools financing must also be addressed through restructuring of the State Aid to Education formula (TEEOSA).

Like most Nebraskans, I have not spent my life surrounded by the education establishment. Instead, I have spent my life dealing with the educational outcomes of public schools through my personal family experiences and interacting with public school graduates in the private and public sectors. The opinion I will seek will be that of parents, teachers, and employers of the graduates from our schools. They are the individuals on the front lines of the public education process.  Members of the Education Committee must have an open mind to identify what works and what should be expanded on versus what policies have failed and should be eliminated.

Article VII-1 of our State Constitution declares, “The Legislature shall provide for the free instruction in the common schools of this state […]”. Government can only do so much, it is up to the parents, students, and teachers to assure that with that free instruction, an education is achieved.  With the belief that all children have one shot at gaining a great education, the Chairman of the Education Committee should come to the position with that and only that perception in mind.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

 

Home District Column 11/16/2016

November 17th, 2016

The election is over, the people have spoken.  Lincoln County as Legislative District 42 went 77% for Trump and 18% for Clinton.

Middle class Americans revolted against the party system.  Democrats got tired of the influence on the Clintons by Wall Street’s idle rich. The middle class working Democrat preferred Bernie Sander’s grassroots progressivism. When the party denied them their choice they stayed home, voted third party, or voted for Trump.  On the Republican side, the revolution took place in the primaries themselves. Working class citizens, who for years had stayed away from the voting booth, found their champion in Trump.  They went to the courthouses across America, registered as a Republican and they voted; they rejected the influence of the international corporations and old New England money. They rejected the establishment of the Party. Both sides rejected a vindictive, prejudiced National Press that has forgotten its free speech duty within the fabric of a free society to supply America with unbiased information. Americans wanted their jobs back and they want the sovereignty of their country defended; those, to me, seem to be reasonable requests.

America is still a grand experiment in a mix of democracy and a republic form of Government (the Electoral College).

Lincoln County also voted 71% to retain the death penalty. The vote reflected a common sense perspective on justice. We don’t live in a Utopian paradise and until Christ comes back, we never will on this earth. We must make the best of it that we can. Defending civilization and the innocent is part of our duty and is why I believe a large majority of voters decided the death penalty will remain an option for justice in Nebraska.

The outcome of the State’s Legislature races moved the body towards fiscal conservatism. Five incumbents were defeated; of them, four were senators who voted to eliminate the death penalty. In all of their districts the death penalty was retained by wide margins.  The lesson is, in representative Government, if you want to be reelected it is wise to have your votes reflect your constituents’ views.  All told, next year, there will be 17 new senators.  Term limits and a motivated electorate may just help move the Legislature in a new direction. Next year there will be a new Speaker of the Legislature and all of the 16 committee chairman positions that are elected by the Legislature’s 49 senators, could be in play. (We have decided to run for the Chairmanship of the Education Committee. I will explain my motivation to seek the position in a future column.) Nebraska is about to get a Legislature full of citizen representatives. We are looking forward to the upcoming session.

We are planning a town hall meeting next Monday night November 21st, starting at 5:30 pm at the University of Nebraska Research Center’s new conference room in North Platte.  We don’t plan on giving a speech, just bring your questions and concerns and we will give you straight and honest answers.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1107
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
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