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The legislative session ended on a good note. We adjourned after the 89th day; less damage will be done to your pocketbook by avoiding the 90th day. Some senators, sensing that events were out of control due to the effects of a major vote trade, along with judgement errors made in the learning process by freshmen senators, believed the best option was to slow the session down and run out the clock on the 90 day session. Due to those efforts, legislation that was unwanted by the majority of Nebraskans was delayed for now. Hopefully a stigma has now been attached to the practice of vote trading and freshmen senators have learned not to cosponsor bills before reading them.
The budget ended up at a 3.5% average increase over the next two years. That increase in spending is larger than necessary considering inflation has been under 2% in recent years. There was an additional $63.5 million of spending that, because of a state budgeting policy, does not show up in the budget. It is considered onetime spending of excess cash reserves. That excess tax dollars was the result of over taxation of hardworking Nebraskans. Included in the $63.5 million are $17.2 million for a federal fine on the misuse of foster care money, $25 million for a virtual reality training center at the UNMC in Omaha, $8 million for Creighton University’s new Dental College, and a $5.5 million payment to Kansas for the Republican River settlement.
Even though it is a two year budget, there will be attempts to add more spending to the second year of the biennium budget. Government does not follow the same budgeting rules that we do in our private lives. I will oppose any new spending next year. With the downward collection of taxes in the latest tax revenue reports, we ought to be cutting the budget.
LB268 repealed the death penalty. Currently, there is an attempt to overturn that decision by a petition drive. If you believe in democracy, find a petition and sign it; let’s get this issue on the ballot and let the citizens decide.
LB176 would have allowed the swine packing corporations to own the hogs from cradle to grave. The farmer would act only as a contract feeder for the packer. It was filibustered and defeated for this year. Nebraska has managed to have a thriving livestock industry with farmer or investor owned livestock. I trust the farmers to be good stewards of our food production and our environment. I am not so sure I can trust a Chinese-owned meat packing company.
LB643 was the medical cannabis bill. The sponsor sensed the support needed to advance the bill was not there, so he pulled it in order to work on it over the interim and present it again next year.
Overall, our office had some success. We got our priority bill – LB367, the pay-per-signature for petitioners – passed. If we had known the death penalty petition was coming we would have put an emergency clause on the bill so it could have gone into effect prior to the 90 day waiting period. We got a good start on oversight of Tax Increment Financing, by passing into law the ability of the State Auditor to directly audit Community Redevelopment Authorities. We helped pass a good agricultural zoning bill, LB106. We also helped stop bad legislation: LB423, millions of dollars in tax subsidies for windmill-generated electricity; LB18, an unneeded, forced meningitis vaccination for public school children; LB343, an attempt to spend more of your tax dollars outside of the state-aid formula for extracurricular educational high school programs.
This summer, the Education Committee – of which I am a member – is having an interim study on educational funding sources; out-of-control property taxes will be my main focus. We also sponsored LR323, an interim study that will have a hearing later this summer on the N-CORPE groundwater pumping that directly affects Lincoln County. I will continue to write updates every couple of weeks, and hopefully you will to continue to find them informative.