NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at mgroene@leg.ne.gov

Welcome
January 8th, 2020

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

Education Hearing 1/21/2020
January 15th, 2020

EDUCATION COMMITTEE

PUBLIC HEARING AGENDA

January 21, 2020
1:30 p.m.

Room 1525

LB880 — Groene — Change dates related to certifications and distributions of state aid to schools

LB920 — Groene — Change provisions for the distribution of lottery funds used for education, transfer powers and duties, and create new funds

*agenda may change at Chair’s discretion

As seen in the Midlands Voices section of the January 12, 2020 Edition of the Omaha World Herald.

—————

When parents drop off their children at the front doors of a public school, they are entrusting the custodial care of a vulnerable member of their family to our public school employees. We all expect that our children’s physical safety is their top priority. We want school employees to be assured that they can intervene to protect our children from doing harm to themselves or others and also be able to protect themselves. With those expectations should come freedom from fear of liability or loss of employment if they do so in a safe and reasonable manner.

In America, parents have traditionally expected that if their child or other students misbehave, the teacher has the authority to control the learning environment by temporarily removing a student from the classroom.

Parents understand that their child or other children may have special needs. No one disagrees that before the early 1990s and the enactment of federal laws to protect these children, they were treated unfairly in school discipline policies. These children now have Individualized Education Programs that include a process on how the student’s behavior is handled when or if they disrupt the class. Those plans must take precedence over any school policy on removing a disruptive student from the classroom.

To address these concerns, members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee have sought input from classroom educators, administrators and school board organizations, as well as advocates for children with special needs. The result is Legislative Bill 147 as amended by AM 1803. Not all interested parties are happy with the final result, but those organizations to whom we entrust the care of children — administrators, teachers and school boards — are in full support.

AM 1803 defines what Nebraskans expect all of our school employees to do at that moment in time when violence is happening. It further defines the authority we give our teachers to manage the learning environment in their classrooms, while fully protecting the rights of children with disabilities. The legislation we are proposing is a common-sense approach to classroom behavioral issues.

The legislation clearly states that school personnel may use reasonable physical intervention to safely manage the behavior of a student when protecting the student, other students, school personnel or any other person from physical injury. They can physically intervene to secure property if the possession of such property poses a threat of harm to the student or others.

The legislation clarifies that physical intervention cannot be used to inflict bodily pain as penalty for disapproved behavior, and it requires parental notification when physical intervention was used to control their child’s behavior.

It assures all school employees and school districts that when they act reasonably to protect others, they will not be in danger of unwarranted legal or job-threatening repercussions.

It requires school districts to have a policy on how and when a student can be removed from a classroom, including the mandate that students be returned to an orderly classroom learning environment as soon as possible. The policy must be proactive, instructive and restorative, and involve communication among administrators, teachers, students and parents.

This bill is a needed first step to fixing a festering problem that is holding back maximum educational opportunities for all children who attend our public schools, but more is needed. To further improve the learning environment in our classrooms, there will be related legislation introduced this session proposing behavioral awareness, physical intervention and de-escalation training that shall be given to all school employees. There will also be proposed legislation on how the state will aid local school districts in paying for the training.

The goals are safety first, maximizing learning time in the classroom and teaching children the expected behavioral boundaries of a civilized society that will follow them into the workforce and their private lives. Simply put, we need to make sure “teachers can teach.”

Column 12/19/19
December 19th, 2019

It came as no surprise to me when I heard of N-CORPE pursuing a windmill project. The Nebraska value of local government control has been abused and attacked throughout the creation of the N-CORPE interlocal. Any reasonable person after reading the interlocal agreement governing N-CORPE would conclude that its purpose was solely to “regulate/manage water to assist the State of Nebraska with compliance with the Republican River Compact and to assist with implementation of Twin Platte NRD’s Integrated Management Plan and the State of Nebraska’s responsibilities under the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program”.

The four NRDs involved in N-CORPE have 46 total board members; of those, only 9 reside in Lincoln County. 37 non-resident board members should not be making decisions affecting our way of life in Lincoln County!

We know the sales pitch: “Let’s put 100 windmills on the public N-CORPE land and garner $879,000 in nameplate capacity taxes, pick up another $800,000 for the leases and promises of lower occupation and property taxes.” But there is a problem: the majority of the citizens of Lincoln County do not want windmills in the Sand Hills. We are not willing to sell our soul or the integrity of who we are as ranchers, farmers, railroaders and power-plant workers for an ill-gotten windfall from windmills.

What we want is to have N-CORPE sell the land and put it back into private hands. We are willing to continue to be good neighbors and bail out the residents of the Upper and Lower Republican NRDs and protect their livelihoods by sharing Lincoln County ground water to augment the flows of the Republican River.

In Lincoln, we are continuing to bring legislation forward to clearly state that N-CORPE can sell the land without harming the augmentation project. The legislation has evolved to where it is ready to become law.

We have had two Nebraska Supreme Court cases on N-CORPE which clarify the present situation. In the Estermann case, the Court said the Legislature changed Nebraska common law that permitted use of the ground water only on the overlying land when it gave NRDs the power to augment streams. Therefore, N-CORPE could transfer ground water off the overlying land. In the Dundy County property tax case, the Court reaffirmed that under common law you must own the land overlying a source of ground water, reaffirming the 1985 Sorensen vs. Lower Niobrara NRD decision, where the NRD owning a ½ acre tract of land over the well site was sufficient to satisfy common law because the Legislature had exempted public ground water use for domestic purposes by enacting the Municipal and Rural Domestic Ground Water Transfers Permit Act.

I was asked by members of the Natural Resources Committee to work with the Attorney General’s office and the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. I did, and gained their understanding that our latest effort would cause no harm to interstate water compacts or augmentation projects. I worked with a prominent Nebraska law professor on the language and consulted a very successful private law firm, well-known as being successful water law attorneys.

Our latest effort to clarify that N-CORPE can sell the land will protect the augmentation project from a lawsuit by defining beneficial use of the augmentation project as a public purpose, thus exempting N-CORPE from  the dictates that the ground water used is limited to the “reasonable and beneficial use on the overlying land”.  What we are attempting to do is nothing new. It has been done before when we protected municipal and rural domestic ground water use and industrial uses such as ethanol plants.

After working with legal minds in the public and private sector on this legislation, it is frustrating to be stymied by ill-informed opinions on what is tradition and what is truth about Nebraska’s water laws, mostly by NRD resistance based on the legal opinion of an attorney whose motives and loyalties are suspect.

This is a statewide issue and needs to be addressed. I see no good reason why the bill will not be advanced from the Natural Resources Committee and quickly passed into law. But, we understand, politicians aren’t always guided by good reasoning.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729

Column 11/28/2019
November 28th, 2019

I started to write this column pondering the things government has done to be thankful for.  I soon realized how foolish that frame of thought was. Government in any form exists from the will of the people, from those it rules over or, if you live in America, serves. We are blessed to live in a country where for over 500 years, it has been settled by hardy individuals seeking freedom of religion, economic opportunity or land ownership. Others had to first overcome the evil of slavery to garner freedom. Throughout our history, thousands of Americans have risked all, in worldwide military conflicts to protect the gift of freedom and to end government-supported slavery, not only for Americans but in the hope of planting the seeds of freedom in foreign lands. As any veteran will tell you, “Freedom is not free”.

Free will is a gift from God, the pursuit of freedom is thus a natural result of that gift. Wisdom and common sense are also God-given gifts and if pursued stand as a natural check on absolute freedom.

We live in a society where some seek to define freedom as the ability to pursue pleasure through sloth, drugs, alcohol or deviant behavior; but the wise understand: when those pursuits are gained they do not provide freedom but slavery.

Government does not supply blessings; in fact, too often it not only restricts the rewards garnered from a person’s good choices, but also acts as an enabler for a fool to be foolish.

So on Thanksgiving Day, as on all days, I am thankful for the freedom to worship God without government persecution, to protect my health with what I choose to eat, drink and breathe, to associate with those who have my best interests in mind, to work and live where I see fit, and as an elected official to speak the truth without fearing the wrath of the fool. Freedom, most of all, offers the lasting blessing of forgiveness; for if we fail today to be vigilant in how we exercise our freedoms, tomorrow is a new opportunity to try again.

During the Thanksgiving Holiday, I consider the ability to surround myself with family and friends a reward for the wise exercise of my freedom.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!!!

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729

Column 11/21/2019
November 21st, 2019

When a lottery ticket is purchased in Nebraska, a portion of the money goes to the state of Nebraska; last year it amounted to $46.6 million. Our State Constitution requires that the proceeds are allocated as follows: the first $500 thousand plus 1% of the remainder goes into the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund, 44.5% to the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, 44.5% to education and 10% to the Nebraska State Fair.

Every five years the Legislature directs the Education Committee to make recommendations on how the 44.5% for education should be allocated to best advance the education priorities of the state. Last year, the distribution to education was $20.5 million.

Through June 2021, by statute, the education funds are allocated as follows:

Sixty-two percent goes into the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund, which provides financial aid to college undergraduates who qualify due to low family incomes and who already qualify for federal Pell grants. Mid-Plains Community College students are eligible for this financial aid.

Seventeen percent goes into the Department of Education Innovative Grant Fund. Approximately half of the money pays for the ACT test given to all juniors in Nebraska’s public schools. The remainder is awarded to individual schools through competitive innovative grant applications. In 2017, four districts and the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council were awarded grants. The idea is to encourage innovation in public education with the hope that good ideas will eventually spread throughout the state.

Nine percent goes into the Community College Gap Assistance Program Fund to provide financial aid for courses of study (welding, CDL license training, etc.), which are not eligible for federal Pell grants. To date, Mid-Plains Community College has received $250 thousand. So far the program has been underutilized by community colleges.

Eight percent goes into the Excellence in Teaching Cash Fund, which provides forgivable loans to teaching students working on a bachelor’s degree or teachers working on a master’s degree. Priority funding is given to students majoring in shortage areas, and loan forgiveness is provided for those teaching in a very sparse district or high poverty school. Wallace Public Schools is designated as a very sparse school district. Buffalo Elementary School and Adams Middle School in North Platte, as well as the Brady Elementary School and High School, all meet the poverty definition.

Three percent goes to distance education incentives which are meant to encourage school districts to share educational courses using technology.

One percent goes into the Expanded Learning Opportunity Grant (ELO) Fund which provides matching grants to afterschool programs. North Platte’s Kids Klub has received ELO grants, this year they received a grant for the next two-year period totaling $45,000.

The Education Committee must issue its report by December 31st with recommendations for the next five-year period. One of my priorities is to include funding for behavioral identification and intervention training at the building level across every district in the state to help create a safe classroom environment for teachers and students.

One challenge of the current grant structure is that small school districts don’t generally have access to dedicated, full-time, professional grant writers. The application packet for the 2017 innovative grants was 42 pages. Smaller school districts where administrators serve as principals, coaches, technology specialists and/or bus drivers shouldn’t be left at a disadvantage to receive the benefits of lottery proceeds. By giving direct aid to each school district, it would create fair access to lottery funds.

We held a hearing this last Friday at the Capitol to hear from the agencies responsible for managing the various funds, and a few other invited guests that could provide insight on what is (and isn’t) working well with the current allocation amounts. Now the hard work begins. The Committee is working to determine the best use of the lottery dollars and to make fiscally-responsible recommendations. It is essential that the Legislature pass a bill in 2020. Current and future funding recipients deserve to know what they can expect come July 2021 and need time to plan their programs accordingly.

A copy of the Committee’s report will be publicly available online at the end of the year.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

We’ve Moved!
November 18th, 2019

My office has moved back to Room 1107 which is located on the south west side of the Capitol Building.

My office phone number has not changed.

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

Column 10/31/2019
October 31st, 2019

To achieve property tax relief and limit government, I continue to pursue wasteful spending; the prime example is the NCORPE project and its unnecessary ownership of 19,500 agricultural acres.   A recent newspaper guest opinion submitted by an NCORPE official is a case study of a wasteful government entity out of control. I must ask what do the subjects of government paying property taxes, pasture land rental rates, and public hunting lands have to do with groundwater management?

To counter some of NCORPE’s points made in the newspaper piece:

–Property taxes: Unless used for private purposes, government entities should not be paying property taxes; no matter how you sum it up, government paying taxes is double taxation.  If NCORPE land had remained in private hands, Lincoln County taxing entities would be receiving approximately $757,000 in property taxes in contrast to the NRDs agreeing, for now, to voluntarily pay 2019 property taxes of $145,800.

–Management and labor cost of NCORPE infrastructure of 30 wells and 22 miles of underground pipeline.  Without the taxpayer burden to maintain the land, NCORPE’s $370,870 payroll cost could be eliminated, saving more of your tax dollars.  NCORPE could easily contract out the maintenance services for a fraction of their labor cost; even now, when a well has a malfunction the NCORPE staff hires a well service company to do the repair work. The wells are presently operated remotely eliminating any need for manual startups by an employee.

–Mortgage:  Remember when NCORPE claimed they could not sell the land due to the mortgage? We have completely dismissed that claim by simply reading the mortgage documents. Now they claim a bond insurance document limits the sale of the land.  The reality is if you sell the land and pay down the bond or you keep the land as collateral, it has the same result on the bond insurer’s exposure.  What secures the bonds is the $10/acre occupation tax–period.

–May sell the Land: Yes, may sell the land. Our LB606 gives the NRDs the ability to voluntarily sell the land by protecting the continuation of the augmentation project, it does not mandate it. We have worked with the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Natural Resources, the Governor’s office and well-respected private water-law attorneys to create legislation that satisfies our state constitution’s beneficial use requirement.  LB606 will make augmentation the beneficial use for a public purpose, thus eliminating the common law’s tradition of use on the overlying land.  By defining augmentation as a public use, similar to how our state statutes handle municipal and rural domestic water projects, the beneficial use now becomes water necessary to accomplish surface water augmentation.

–Lawsuits: The statewide NRD bureaucracy scares NRD board members with fears of lawsuits.  The two NCORPE lawsuits so far that have been brought are against an NRD’s eminent domain powers and related to property tax collections. In the Dundy County property-tax case, the court referred to language from a 1985 Supreme Court case that actually strengthens our argument for enacting LB606.  In that case, the Court affirmed that ownership of as little as a half-acre of land encompassing the well was sufficient to satisfy the beneficial use requirement for a public purpose. The lawsuit they have not yet seen and should fear is when the Court is asked to answer the question, “How does pumping groundwater down a creek satisfy the common law’s requirement that use of the groundwater must directly benefit the public’s domestic or agricultural need on the overlying 19,500 acres?” LB 606 when enacted will eliminate that fear.

I have taken on powerful political entities many times and I have become accustomed to being politically threatened and shunned, but nothing comes close to what I have witnessed dealing with the NRD establishment. My personal livelihood has been threatened, brave public servants who have aided my efforts have been confronted by the establishment, a helpful professor versed in water-law was told in no uncertain terms to stop or face exclusion from the good-ole-boy club, and local farmers and ranchers who have stepped up on this issue have endured character attacks.  There is presently an unhealthy political environment within our State’s Natural Resource community. It needs to be addressed.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

Column 10/10/2019
October 10th, 2019

Column 10-10-19

Economic growth is driven by the old real estate adage: The top three reasons real property sells are “Location, location, location!” Union Pacific’s railyard is in North Platte because it sits on the Platte River’s natural transportation route and lies at the midpoint of the United States; its national location is the paramount reason. Regionally, location again is the reason the Walmart distribution center is in North Platte and on a smaller scale, why North Platte is considered a natural place for medical and lodging facilities.

In a perfect world, the economy moves smoothly and government concentrates its efforts on providing public safety, streets and utilities. Problems start to arise when government tries to become more than the supplier and conduit needed to deliver public services to citizens and businesses. When government expands into areas of public wants such as entertainment, tourism, and attempts at job creation, taxes must go up to pay for those activities. High taxes then in turn create a barrier to economic development that would naturally occur. For businesses, location now becomes secondary to simply being able to make a profit.

A recent example is a company’s interest in building large-space warehousing facilities in North Platte. Due to the growth of the marijuana industry in Colorado, the cost of warehousing has tripled there. The natural response is for warehousing services to expand to nearby locations in states where marijuana is not legal. In these states, the marijuana industry cannot compete for space with construction material and other commodity sellers who rely on reasonable storage cost in order to be profitable. North Platte’s location fits that description, but apparently our high state and local taxes have raised a barrier to the warehouse investor’s ability to profit from their investment. Even North Platte’s ideal location can’t overcome burdensome taxation. Thus starts the vicious cycle of tax abatement for new commercial projects and tax increases for existing residents to fund the additional city infrastructure needed for the project. As taxes go up, a city becomes more desperate and the cycle grows in magnitude.

The use of a million dollars of Quality Growth Fund and up to 15 years of lost property tax revenues from TIF probably will not be the final tally for North Platte taxpayers. The company in question is well-known for accessing Nebraska’s Advantage Act, and if it does the city will lose thousands more in sales tax receipts on the project’s materials cost.

The above scenario is why next year I will hesitate to support the present form of LB720, Nebraska’s newly proposed economic development plan. The new legislation has been given the name the “ImagiNE Nebraska Act” and would replace the existing “Advantage Act”.

Last year, the Advantage Act refunded $152 million in sales and corporate income taxes as incentives for business growth in Nebraska. You would think that the purpose of an economic development plan would be long-term job growth, but in fact, sales tax refunds amounted to approximately $109 million and income tax refunds amounted to the remaining $43 million. Only 2,489 new jobs were reportedly created from the taxpayer investment. I have a philosophical distaste for sales tax abatements on products not produced in Nebraska. For example, windmills for wind energy projects have received millions in sales tax refunds on materials built in other states that created no jobs in Nebraska.

I am also concerned with language added to LB720 that for an unexplained reason added new construction for commercial banks as qualifying for incentives. With the exception of businesses doing 75% of their sales outside of Nebraska, no other retail businesses qualify. Why do banks?

Politics, political donations and lobbyists play a part in economic incentives, making their cost higher than necessary. The reality is that incentives of some sort have become part of our state’s tax policy. I will vote for a version of LB720, but first I must be assured that property tax relief is achieved with the passage of a version of LB289. I firmly believe property tax relief for the average citizen will do more for our economy than all the tax giveaways combined.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

Home District Column 9-26-19
September 25th, 2019

Thanks to those who attended the McCook Natural Resource Committee hearing on the N-CORPE land ownership issue. The testimony came from successful agri-business people, attorneys and from Lincoln County officials. The Natural Resources Committee heard the truth; it was convincing, pertinent and backed by fact.

N-CORPE’s public land ownership is a direct assault on a highly-valued Nebraska governing tenant: “LOCAL CONTROL” on issues of property taxation and land use. They also heard a very weak defense by NRD employees as to why taxpayers need to own 19,500 acres of land for a groundwater to river augmentation project that in a physical aspect is unrelated to how much land is involved.

Their argument for land ownership is based on old English Common Law, which is based on tradition and related court cases. Common law goes back to the days when water for domestic and livestock use primarily came from surface water streams. It was commonly accepted that you could not dam up a stream and deny a neighbor his share of the stream water as it flowed through his property. Nebraska’s common law on water, as defined by the Nebraska Supreme Court is, “your use of groundwater is limited to the beneficial use needed on the ownership of overlying land.”

Nebraska’s Constitution of course takes precedent over all laws: legislative, court case or common. It states “The use of the water of every natural stream within the State of Nebraska is hereby dedicated to the people of the state for beneficial purposes.”

The Nebraska Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that when the Legislature enacts a statute that is contrary to any common law, the new statute takes precedent, common law and past court cases are no longer relevant. The Nebraska Legislature has in the past created statutes that have made an exception to common law. In 1963 they created the Municipal and Rural Domestic Groundwater Transfer Permit Act, which defined the Constitution’s beneficial use clause for public water projects as other than the common laws use on the overlying land. It is the reason the City of North Platte does not have to own 19,500 acres of land surrounding their water wells in order to supply you drinking water. The statute was upheld in the 1985, “Sorensen vs. Lower Niobrara NRD” case in which the Court clearly stated that NRD’s ownership of half acre well sites to supply domestic water to rural citizens was sufficient for the public purpose and that, “in permitting transfer of groundwater from the site of its extraction the act has removed use on overlying land as an index for the ‘reasonable and beneficial’ required by common law.”

How much water NCORPE uses can easily be protected from lawsuit by deed reservations on the land sales and by the local NRD’s ability to set allocations on the amount of water used.

Two recent Supreme Court cases concerning NCORPE make it clear that the augmentation project is a public purpose similar to public domestic use water projects. In both of the cases the Court made references to the Sorensen Case by stating in Estermann, “Since the Nebraska common law of groundwater permitted use of the water only on the overlying land, legislative action was necessary to allow for transfers off the overlying land for as pressing a need as supplying urban water users.” In the Dundy County Case the Court referred back to language in the Sorensen case where concerning a public use a half-acre of land ownership over a well-site was sufficient to satisfy the common law’s requirement of land ownership over the source of the groundwater.
It is a complicated issue, but as you can see we have done our homework. At the hearing Thursday when NRD representatives were asked by senators about the ability of the Legislature to rectify the competing interest in this matter, they had no answers. I believe that a majority of senators on the Natural Resources Committee now see through the scare tactics and misinformation presented by the landowner proponents. I would not continue to be in Lincoln if I did not believe that commonsense and justice can prevail. It is time for legislative action.

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729.

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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