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 email@example.com or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.
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 email@example.com or 402-471-2729 with any comments, questions, or concerns.
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.
We in rural Nebraska, with an economy heavily dependent on agriculture and transportation, understood as early as two years ago that something was amiss in the state’s economy. Prices of farm commodities crashed, railroad shipments slowed down, energy exploration and infrastructure construction stagnated, and railroad and agriculture related businesses were laying off employees. Rural senators repeatedly told their colleagues of the coming slowdown. But yet, government spending did not slow down; the state budget was increased by 3.7% annually and local governments raised property tax revenues in the face of taxpayers’ concerns that lower family incomes would make them harder to pay.
Based on information supplied to them through the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Nebraska Revenue Department, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board recently revised their tax revenue forecast for the next biennium state budget down $910 million or 10% below the expected General Fund budget projections.
A few examples of cuts in state spending that may need to be made in order to eliminate the present (it could get larger) $910 million shortfall:
The state aid to Public Education (TEEOSA) is expected to increase 5.6% annually, totaling $109 million over the 2 year biennium
Medicaid: 5.5% increase totaling $96 million
State employee pay raises: 2.5% estimated increase totaling $53 million
Employee health insurance premiums: 10% increase totaling $35 million
Community colleges: 3.5% increase totaling $7.2 million
…and the University of Nebraska’s request for an increase of 4% in state funding, totaling $50 million (the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association [SHEEO] in its latest report already rates Nebraska as the fifth highest [$438] in per capita spending of all fifty states in tax support of its University System).
The list of other state programs that could also be affected by the budget shortfall includes special education, public assistance programs, juvenile justice reform, and basic government operations (utility bills, etc). The $404 million tax-relief expected by taxpayers from the Property Tax Credit Fund, an $11 million annual water sustainability fund allocation, and the need to actually increase spending on badly needed improvements to the State Corrections budget are also on the chopping block. In fact, if we froze the general fund budget at this year’s $4.41 billion, the savings would only amount to $594 million.
Believe it or not, with the scenario we are presently in, there are still special interest groups and some senators who think we can cut income taxes and increase economic development tax breaks for chosen individual businesses; there are also some who advocate raising taxes, and then there are those who believe a positive attitude will magically fix everything. I don’t belong to any of those three persuasions. We are going to have to slow down and even reverse government spending. Past efforts for property tax relief must be protected and we cannot raise tax rates on citizens. Expand the sales tax base? Maybe, if used to protect property tax relief. Government entities need to learn to live under the same economic realities as do those in the free market world.
One way to help keep your local economy strong during an economic turn down is for citizens to support their local retail businesses. The trend to buy products on-line is harming our state’s sales, income and property tax base, and most importantly, harming the job market in our local retail industry. It would help if we all reversed some of our on-line shopping habits by researching products online and then buying them locally. Cancelling a big city shopping trip can also help your gasoline budget. Just a thought, but I agree, you do have the freedom to spend your money where you wish.
In an earlier column I proudly informed you that my voting record on 9 issues generated for me the lowest rating by the State Chamber of Commerce, but recently my voting record on 6 issues garnered a 100% rating by members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (small local business owners). That is a fact I am very proud of.
Three Nebraska football players’ recent display of kneeling during the National Anthem was a misdirected and misinformed action on their part. Why? Because there has not been any substantial reports of police misbehavior, profiling, intimidation, or let alone shooting of unarmed citizens by Nebraska’s police officers. When those players are wearing a Nebraska Football Uniform on game day, they represent all of Nebraska. The perception was given by them, to the nation, that Nebraska has a noticeable racist element in our police force. Considering the 2015 killing of Omaha police officer Kerrie Orozco, their actions were an undue insult to Nebraska’s police. In fact, Nebraska police officers have shown great restraint, the overwhelming evidence is they risk their lives by waiting until they are fired on or are in danger of being driven over before they react with force. The home states of the players involved are Missouri, Georgia, and Texas. One would think if they experienced police injustice where they are from, the correct thing to do would be to protest back home.
Nebraska Coach Mike Riley has lived in Nebraska for almost two years; I assume he considers himself a Nebraska citizen. He has of yet to register to vote in Lancaster County. He supported the players’ behavior, as freedom of speech; perhaps the coach’s decision to not register to vote is his form of protest. I would think the Coach now has a great opportunity for a teaching moment in citizenship by taking a moment out of his all-important task of winning football games and fill out a voter registration card in front of the team.
Housing crisis?: I have heard from a few special interest groups supporting expansion of tax incentives for middle class housing projects. I don’t see the need. A healthy housing market should have a steady demand that matches or exceeds availability, to maintain existing homeowner values and assure rental property owners that their efforts to supply reasonable but profitable rental housing are rewarded. We now have that market in Lincoln County.
Local contractor businesses are booked. There is a need for more qualified construction workers, normally workers from presently depressed businesses (oil and gas) would migrate to construction. Free market principles would indicate that to fill demand, the Local Chambers of Commerce and Banking Interest would be encouraging startup businesses in the home building sector. The employers I have heard of who are concerned about available housing ironically, are those that do not pay property taxes on their place of business–in the education and medical fields. Sorry, but if you make a better salary because your employer does not pay burdensome property taxes, you should contribute to the tax-base by paying taxes on the full value of your home. In their defense, I have not had one individual medical or educational employee ask for special preference. In fact, I have had no average citizens seeking government involvement in building middle class housing. The entire fabrication of a housing shortage and the need for government action has come from the business interest in banking and real-estate speculation that would initially profit from property tax avoidance programs. Sidney, Nebraska with the Cabela’s upheaval would love to have Lincoln County’s housing market.
$833 is the monthly payment on a $180,000 30 year mortgage with a 3.75% interest rate. The escrow payment to cover the $3,887 property tax bill in North Platte is $324, nearly equal to 39% of the loan payment. If local officials want to lower the tax burden for all, they could expand the tax base by making sure all owners of private property pay their full share of property taxes to support our public institutions. More to the point, they should concentrate on controlling government spending. If they did, they would not need to or have time to play venture capitalist in the housing market by manipulating our property tax base.
Property taxes are burdensome for all of us. Whenever government picks winners and losers, as to who pays them, the result is, the rest of us have to pay more to maintain necessary public services.
This past Friday, Governor Ricketts, United States Senator Deb Fischer, former Governor Kay Orr, and State Department (NDOR) of Roads Director Kyle Schneweis were in North Platte to announce 8 planned major road construction projects and 12 future design projects that NDOR has prioritized for the next 10 years. The projects will be financed by funding from the Build Nebraska Act (BNA) and Transportation Innovation Act (TIA).
Turning the 60 mile stretch of Hwy 83 between North Platte and McCook into a Super-2 road system is one of the approved projects. Hwy 83 is a major north south transportation artery from Canada to Mexico; the hills, valleys, farm equipment traffic, and wildlife over the 60 mile stretch between North Platte and McCook is a bottleneck that commercial freight and individual travelers have avoided, especially night travelers. The highway is a natural connection for freight movement between I-80 in Nebraska and I-70 in Kansas.
I have long been an advocate for the benefits to traffic flow and especially the cost savings of the Super-2 concept of adding passing lanes every 3 to 5 miles. I have seen it work well on Hwy 50 and 56 in southern Kansas and if you have taken Hwy 36 to Estes Park in Colorado, you have benefited from the Super 2 concept. When I heard Governor Ricketts had hired Mr. Schneweis away from the Kansas Department of Roads, my first thought was: Why not build Super-2s in Nebraska as effectively as Kansas has done? A constructive discussion ensued with the new director, who needed no convincing; he was already an advocate of the concept. The cost savings and safety aspects of the Super-2 concept was also discussed in debate during the passage of the Transportation Innovation Act (LB960) last year (you can see the floor debate transcripts HERE, my statement starts on page 194). Local regional efforts in the past advocated a four-lane highway, the cost benefit analysis of 4-lane was highly unlikely to ever make NDOR’s top engineering and economic benefit priority list. The road needs of a growing eastern Nebraska would continue to trump our rural road wants. Upgrading Hwy 83 to a Super-2 made the $60 million project financially feasible and put us in the winner’s circle. The point I am making is that success does not happen in a vacuum; with input, support, and compromise from local citizens, businesses, government entities, and elected officials this project is going to be completed.
To refresh your memory:
The Build Nebraska Act (BNA) was created by LB84 in 2011. It was a bill presented by then State Senator Fischer that allocated ¼ cent of sales tax dollars to completing 4-lane express-ways connecting larger communities to each other and to the I-80 interstate system. Since the BNA’s existence, so far in western Nebraska only a stretch of Hwy 385 south of Alliance to Angora has been financed by the BNA. Our Hwy 83 project along with a $60 million, 18 mile, 4-lane project on Hwy 26 in the panhandle between Minatare and Bridgeport will bring tax dollars back to western Nebraska.
The Transportation Innovation Act–LB960 (TIA) was passed this last year. We supported the legislation after the original language of the bill requesting a $150 million transfer from the reserve fund was downgraded to $50 million and future funding was guaranteed by mandating that 2 cents of the prior year’s fuel tax increase (LB610) would be allocated to the fund, verses continued transfers of reserve funds. As a side-note, hopefully with the downturn of the economy, the Legislature’s recent bad habit of spending reserve funds for special projects will cease. It’s called a RESERVE fund for a reason. Through TIA funding NDOR has added North Platte’s I-80 Newberry Interchange to US 30 as one of the 12 Design Study Projects for future construction consideration. TIA also directs NDOR to use a portion of the funds to create a cost share program for replacement of rural county bridges. The Platte River Bridge north of Sutherland would be a good example of a project that would qualify for this new funding source.
For a complete transcript of the Transportation Innovation Act floor debate on 3/15/2016, please click HERE. My statement begins on page 194 (page 24 of the document) and is also copy and pasted below.
SENATOR GROENE: THANK YOU, MR. PRESIDENT. I APPRECIATE SENATOR SMITH’S WORK ON THIS. HE’S MORE PATIENT THAN I AM AND HE WORKS HARD TO COME TO COMPROMISE. THE ORIGINAL BILL THERE WAS…I WOULD HAVE PROBABLY FILIBUSTERED IT AT $150 MILLION, OR ATTEMPTED TO, BECAUSE I’M A BIG, FIRM BELIEVER OF USER TAX, AND THAT’S WHAT GAS TAX IS. BUT THE COMPROMISE IS, AS THEY SAY IN POLITICS, IT’S BEARABLE. SO I’LL SUPPORT LB960 AS LONG AS $50 MILLION IS THE ONLY MONEY THAT COMES OUT OF MY INCOME AND SALES TAXES TO BUILD ROADS AND THE REST OF IT IS FUNDED BY USER TAXES AND FUEL TAXES. BUT WE’VE TALKED A LOT HERE ABOUT DISREPAIR OF THE ROADS. WELL, LET ME TELL YOU, FOLKS, I DROVE THE WHOLE HIGH PLAINS AND NEBRASKA HAS DONE A GOOD JOB WITH THEIR ROADS. THEY ARE NOT IN DISREPAIR; BRIDGES, YES, MAINLY BECAUSE WE’RE GETTING BIGGER, AGRICULTURE IS GETTING BIGGER, EQUIPMENT IS GETTING BIGGER. THEY JUST CAN’T HANDLE WHAT WE HAVE OUT THERE NOW. BUT THE TAXPAYERS REMEMBER NOW AND IN ONE MORE YEAR WE’LL BE 31.5 CENTS ON FUEL TAXES. THAT’S THE HIGHEST IN THE REGION BY FAR. AND WE GENERATE $410 MILLION A YEAR FROM THAT FUEL TAX THAT WE SPEND EVERY YEAR. AND SENATOR FISCHER’S LB84, THE STATE’S PORTION IS $63 MILLION. THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE BUILT THESE EXPRESSWAYS. AND THEN WE GET ANOTHER $200-AND-SOME MILLION A YEAR FROM THE FEDS. SO IT’S NOT CHICKEN CHANGE OR CHUMP CHANGE OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT. TAXPAYERS HAVE HISTORICALLY IN THIS STATE SUPPORTED THEIR ROADS, SO I DON’T THINK WE NEED TO ACT LIKE WE’VE SAVED THE DAY. DOES THIS ACCELERATE IT? I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY’RE GOING TO GET THE EMPLOYEES TO DO THIS, BECAUSE WE’RE LOW UNEMPLOYMENT, AND WHAT CONSTRUCTION COMPANY CAN BUILD THAT ROAD THAT QUICK NOW ONCE WE INFUSE THE MONEY INTO IT, BUT I’M WAITING TO SEE HOW THAT HAPPENS. BUT $50 MILLION IS ACCOUNTABLE. WE CAN ACCOUNT FOR THAT EASIER. IT’S NO RUSH TO SPEND IT. AND THEN AS IT TRICKLES IN OR COMES IN, NOT A TRICKLE, A PRETTY GOOD FLOW OF 2 CENTS A GALLON TAX IN THE FUTURE, IT MAKES SENSE. BUT I’M STILL CURIOUS WHAT WE’RE GOING TO DO WITH THE $63 MILLION OF LB84. WHERE IS THAT GOING NOW? IS THAT ALSO STILL MEANT FOR EXPRESSWAYS OR WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH IT? OR DO WE NEED IT ANYMORE? I THINK SENATOR KRIST DROPPED A BILL TO GET RID OF THAT AT ONE TIME. BUT I CAN LIVE WITH THIS, AND AS 1 SENATOR OUT OF 49, KNOWING THAT MY TAXPAYERS ARE PAYING A LOT FOR FUEL TAX RIGHT NOW. ALSO AN IDEA THAT I’VE BEEN PUSHING BECAUSE I TRAVEL THE HIGH PLAINS IS IN CERTAIN AREAS WE REALLY DON’T NEED A FOUR-LANE EXPRESSWAY. THERE’S THESE…THE CONCEPT OF THE “SUPER TWOS,” COLORADO USES IT, KANSAS USES IT, WYOMING USES IT, WHERE EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE IT’S A FOUR-LANE ON HILLS AND AREAS WHERE DRIVERS BECOME FRUSTRATED OR ACCIDENTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO HAPPEN, WHERE EVERY TEN MILES OR SO YOU TURN IT INTO A FOUR LANE GOING UP THE HILLS. THAT MAKES SENSE TO ME. HIGHWAY 50 IN KANSAS IS WELL TRAVELED, AND THEY HAVE DONE THAT THERE, AND IT KEEPS THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC GOING, PLUS THE COST IS A LOT LESS FOR MAINTENANCE AND FOR BUILDING. BUT I WOULD HOPE THE STATE OF NEBRASKA DEPARTMENT OF ROADS LOOKS AT THAT INSTEAD OF PUTTING A LOT OF CONCRETE OUT THERE THAT’S NOT NECESSARY. SO I THANK SENATOR SMITH FOR HIS EFFORTS–AND I CAN LIVE WITH THIS–AND SENATOR MELLO FOR WORKING WITH SENATOR SMITH AND THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE. AND LET’S PUT THIS ON THE BACK BURNER. LET’S SEE HOW THIS WORKS NOW BEFORE WE COME BACK AND START THROWING MORE MONEY AT IT IN THE FUTURE. LET’S SEE IF IT ACTUALLY WORKS. CAN WE DO THAT ONCE? WE NEVER ALLOWED SENATOR FISCHER’S BILL TO WORK COMPLETELY. APPARENTLY IT DIDN’T. BUT THANK YOU.
Good news. At present it looks like there will be no need for any special session of the legislature. The downward trend in tax receipts had slowed in August just enough that efforts to reduce spending by state agencies will get us through this year’s budget. Things will change over the next three months, but addressing any budget shortfalls can now wait until January. Also attempts by some in the Legislature to turn Senator Kintner’s lack of discretion into a special session has run out of steam. Kintner has said he will not resign. Thankfully there will be no special session over cyber-sex and the whole country will not have an opportunity to laugh at Nebraska’s cyber-sex scandal. Senator Kintner was elected by the citizens of District 2, it is their decision if he should represent them. He was fined $1,000 by the Accountability and Disclosure Commission for misuse of state property; the system we have in place works, there is and never was any need for further action by the Legislature but Senator Chambers will not let the matter rest, he has daily made it clear we will be discussing the issue next session.
We were right: over the last two sessions we successfully led filibusters of (LB18) proposed legislation to make all meningitis vaccinations mandatory for school children. To start with, the legislation was badly written; there exists meningococcal vaccinations, but not for all causes of meningitis per se. Meningitis is a medical condition, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain. The rare condition is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, but can be a result of injury, cancer, or certain drugs.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has for many years recommended that adolescent children be vaccinated for Meningococcal bacteria disease caused by 4 of 12 known bacterial strains (ACWY). The issue was that two new (Men B) vaccinations for a B strain of the bacteria had just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The CDC recommended those vaccines only for individuals who are at increased risk due to existing medical conditions. LB18 as written would have mandated those expensive vaccinations be given twice to all children at the age of 12 and then at 16.
This month the American Academy of Pediatrics released Men B guidelines to their members which agrees with CDC recommendations, stating that they should only be given in rare cases. This latest announcement by the pediatric doctors gives credence to our successful filibuster of a bad bill.
In the case of Meningococcal (ACWY) vaccinations, the public/private medical system has worked with over a 70% vaccination rate and there is no need for a statutory mandate. There have been no cases of the disease in Nebraska’s adolescent population over the last 4 years and only two cases have been reported in children between the ages of 12 to 17 over the last 13 years.
Not all immunizations and the need for them are created equal: unlike Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR vaccine), meningococcal bacteria disease is not highly infectious and by the time American children reach adolescence, the vast majority have developed natural immunity to the bacteria. Plus while the MMR vaccine has a long lifespan with a 99.5 % effectiveness, the Men-B vaccinations are short lived, a recent New England Journal of Medicine study noted that only 66% of students given the vaccine developed protective antibodies.
The point needs to be stressed, even if a child has received the vaccinations, they can still be at risk of meningitis from other sources. A January death of a vaccinated Nebraska teenager from meningitis symptoms that was linked to an unrelated streptococcal pneumonia bacteria is proof enough that vigilance by parents is the best defense against a very rare disease.
The proposed legislation was first introduced in 2012. It was obvious by reading testimony from the bill’s hearing before the Education Committee that it was introduced by request of the drug companies who make the new vaccinations. It never made it out of committee that year, this time the legislation was presented as protecting the children.
Tuesday, I attended the educational water management event at the West Central Research and Extension Center here in North Platte. The event was a perfect example of the success of the United States Congress’s passages of the Morrill Act in 1862 and the Hatch Act in 1887; first to create land grant colleges with an emphasis on agriculture and the mechanical arts in order to promote education for the industrial classes, and second to establish agriculture research and extension stations.
The event was also a good example of public-private cooperation. The private organization “Nebraska Water Balance Alliance” (NEWBA) provided research to the forum covering stewardship practices and profitable economic solutions to maintaining long term irrigated farming in western Nebraska. Lincoln County Farmer Roric Paulman has been one of the driving forces behind the work of the statewide alliance. In order to make stewardship of our ground water popular, it has to also be profitable; the NEWBA is providing much of that research.
What we are looking at on the legislative side of the ground water issue:
Sale of N-CORPE approximately 20,000 acres: We are researching legislation to allow the NRDs that own the land a way to sell it off but retain control of the water rights. The occupation taxes, paid by farmers, should be collateral enough for the bond holders. Proceeds from land sales would help pay down the bonds thus lowering the present occupation tax and private ownership of the land would put land back on Lincoln County’s tax rolls. Eliminating government ownership would also eliminate much of the cost of operating N-CORPE’s office. Wells could be maintained by private contractors and management cost shared by all four NRDs could be easily accomplished by present employees of the Twin Platte and Middle Republican NRDs where N-CORPE is situated.
Water Sustainability Fund: Looking at legislative ideas that would guarantee that the majority of the $11 million appropriated annually to the fund are used for agricultural purposes.
1) Provide a voluntary opportunity for farmers, within the five mile surface water sensitive area of the Republican River, to farm individual irrigated quarters as dry-land for a year and then be reimbursed the difference in property and occupation taxes between irrigated and dry-land. We would first have to have Kansas agree to a 100% offset credit of the groundwater saved.
2) Water meters: Use the fund to create a voluntary cost-sharing water meter program for agriculture wells in the over-appropriated Platte River Basin and the Tri-State compact controlled Republican River Basin. Encourage installation of meters on wells that don’t presently have meters or to update existing meters. In today’s precision farming world, water over applied at the wrong time is costly. Eventually, I believe we need to manage the Ogallala Aquifer as one entity. The University of Nebraska’s Research and Extension Services is the obvious entity to increase their involvement in gathering accurate groundwater usage numbers and then recommend sound scientific recommendations on management of the entire Ogallala Aquifer system.
3) Platte River flood waters: We have been discussing with the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources promotion of a state driven initiative to work with Kansas and Colorado to create a flood water diversion project to keep the water in Western Nebraska. We may present a Legislative Resolution next year to ask the Natural Resource Committee to start the ball rolling in that direction.
The N-CORPE Project was a reaction to a panic situation that forced 4 locally controlled Natural Resource districts (NRDs) to work together. The vast majority of my constituents believe pumping precious groundwater into a creek to be a bad solution to a worse problem. We should learn from that experience: the groundwater issue is a statewide concern. Hopefully another drought will not bring another panic situation. Decisions made in those circumstances are costly and not the wisest, as N-CORPE’s existence can attest too.
Maintaining irrigated farming for future generations should be our goal. It was heartening to observe the mingling of free market solutions and University Research working together at the WCREC open house. My job is to attempt to bring balanced legislative guidance as the third leg of the solution.
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