NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

17 days remain to approve a budget and finalize legislation.  The planned 1% increase in the biennium budget is problematic.  I don’t believe Nebraska’s economy, and thus tax revenues, will recover quickly, we need to slow down our spending at an even faster pace than the present budget dictates.  The budget robs $198 million from cash funds of state government entities, these funds are usually generated from fees charged to taxpayers (such as the fee cattlemen pay the Brand Committee). It also reduces the state’s Cash Reserve Fund by $259 million, which in times like this, is why the fund exists. But no matter how you look at the budget, it is deficit spending. Plainly stated, we have not cut the budget to match expected revenues. I would be willing to wager we will be back next year cutting the budget even further.

LB640: Our attempt to fix the funding inequity in the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) funding formula was debated Monday for 3 hours. LB640 would fix the overreliance on property taxes.  We have the votes to pass it, but presently the political climate in Lincoln, does not allow for the 33 votes needed to overcome a filibuster from senators who are under pressure from urban school administrators who benefit from the present TEEOSA formula.  They don’t want to lower the maximum property tax levy by 6.3 cents. Why? Because they know that they have the homeowner by the neck, you may lose your job, your income tax burden may drop but you must come up with your property taxes or lose the roof over your head. This battle is not over, the concept of LB640 and the bill itself is still alive, eventually the citizens will speak loud enough that something will change on this issue.

LB461, the comprehensive tax relief plan: I did vote it out of revenue committee because all forms of high taxation needs discussion, but I do not support the passage of the bill in its present form. First, the income tax cuts are too deep. We need to protect income tax revenues as the source of the present $224 million Property Tax Relief Fund (PTRF).  Plus income tax revenues must be part of the answer to correct the TEEOSA formula’s over reliance on property taxes.  Second, the property tax portion of LB461 gives very little relief to agriculture landowners in Lincoln County and the little it gives will be shifted to homeowners and businesses. What needs to be done is a compromise which incorporates components of both LB640 and 461 into legislation with the goal to reverse the shift of school funding to property taxes, controls spending, and lowers taxes.  When I first got here the issue was dismissed, three years later we got major legislation to the floor; the debate has shifted in our favor.

LB595: school discipline legislation to give teachers more decision-making authority on discipline issues in their classrooms was debated Monday for 3 hours. Common sense does not reign in public education.  The bill is about protecting children and school employees from violence and maintaining orderly classroom environments; it became a debate over misbehavior being a mental health issue and was opposed by a few arrogant school administrators (none from western Nebraska or Lincoln County) who believe the schools and some senators belong to them. Again, we have the 25 votes needed for passage, we do not have the super majority of 33 needed to overcome a filibuster.

LB409:  Education Committee legislation to match the TEEOSA formula’s 2.3% ($67.9 biennium budget) increase in school funding, about half of what was expected, passed General File.  Even with education being buffeted from severe budget cuts, there will be attempts to offset the reductions in expected state funding by adding amendments to the bill that will increase the property tax burden of Nebraska’s citizens. Nebraska is tenth in the nation in per pupil spending, it is evident that Nebraskans support public education.  It is time for the few, but vocal, large school districts within the public education establishment to support the taxpayer.

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

This week’s column was penned by Senator Groene’s Legislative Aide, Tim Erickson.

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LB478, advanced to Select File, which is our bill that allows productive citizens who have been convicted of a felony in their past to possess archery equipment. The Game and Parks Department has had a policy of issuing archery hunting permits to individuals who have a past felony conviction. A recent Nebraska Supreme Court case cast doubts on the legality of felons owning bows and arrows and using a knife with a blade over 3 ½” long to process game. LB478 also allows felons to own hunting knives if they possess a hunting license. The bill was advanced unanimously on a 25-0 vote.  It is a Speaker Priority Bill and will have a great chance at passage this session.

Our horse massage bill, LB596, was voted out of committee and onto General File last Thursday.  We discovered that in the world of horse enthusiasts, horse massage is a common practice to keep competitive livestock at the top of their game, no different than a professional athlete. We found that because of the onerous requirements Nebraska has set, there is not one single licensed equine massage therapist in Nebraska. We introduced LB596 to exempt equine massage therapy from the list of animal therapies that must be licensed under the Veterinary Medicine and Surgery Practice Act. The bill advanced with a 4-0 vote with 3 not voting.

Next week will be tremendously busy for our office.  Tentatively, the speaker has let us know that we will start off Tuesday morning with LB640. This is our property tax relief proposal which Senator Friesen selected as his priority bill.  The goal of LB640 is to put tax equity back into the “Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act” (TEEOSA). The final amended version of the bill will cap local property tax support of school districts at 55% and lowers the maximum school general fund levy from 1.05 to .987. It shifts back to the state its constitutional responsibility to financially support public schools. Because LB640 caps the local property tax effort at 55% of revenues, it will take away the negative effect property valuation increases have had on your property taxes due to the injustice in the present TEEOSA formula.

On Wednesday, we may start the day with LB409; this is legislation that has to pass for schools to receive the State Aid to Education formula (TEEOSA) to match the Appropriations Committee’s proposed $1 billion State Aid to public schools. Although it is an increase of $20 million over last year, it is below the formula’s expected $67 million increases. It is not a simple task to fairly adjust a flawed TEEOSA formula. Although some want to hold the bill hostage in order to fund schools with an even larger increase when others are taking a cut, this bill as it has been amended is the prudent thing to do.

LB595, will also be on General File debate within the next few weeks.  LB595 has been amended after prolonged conversations with all the parties involved.  The bill was amended from its original form to clarify that the teacher or administrator is only protected from legal action or administrative discipline if their conduct was reasonable and that penalties still exist for those that abuse their authority.  It provides for a common sense approach to address student behavior that is violent to him or herself or to others.  It also provides a process for the return to the classroom for the student.  It makes sure that the student is allowed to be returned to the teacher’s classroom without the teacher’s consent if required pursuant to the Special Education Act or the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Students can also be returned after a conference between the parents or legal guardians, principal, and teacher to address the student’s behavior. LB595 enforces learning in a classroom; not only does it allow learning to happen, it allows teachers to instruct students that there are behavior boundaries that all citizens should follow.  It’s a common-sense approach.  We’re working with all parties to make this work for everyone involved.

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

Committee Hearings wrapped up last week and this week we began full day debate on the floor of the legislature.

LB640, our property tax relief proposal was voted out of the Revenue Committee. Senator Friesen selected it as his priority bill, so it will be debated this year. The goal of LB640 is to put tax equity back into the “Tax Equity and Education Opportunity Support Act” (TEEOSA). The final amended version of the bill will cap local property tax support of school districts at 55% and lowers the maximum school general fund levy from 1.05 to .987. Rapid increases in property values in rural Nebraska has caused 174 school districts out of 245 to receive no state equalization aid, which is the main source of state aid. Brady, Hershey, Maxwell, and Wallace are among those schools; Sutherland is on the cusp of losing the small amount they now receive. Those schools will gain property tax relief because of the 55% limit. North Platte Schools is an equalized district and is scheduled to receive over $10 million in aid next year. Taxpayers in the North Platte district will receive tax relief by the lowering of the maximum levy, which will be offset with an additional $1.4 million in state aid.  LB640 does not reduce total needs calculated for a district, it keeps districts funded; what it does is shift back to the state its constitutional responsibility to financially support public schools. Because LB640 caps the local property tax effort at 55% of revenues, it will take away the negative effect property valuation increases have had on your property taxes due to the injustice in the present TEEOSA formula. There is no better way to encourage rural communities to grow than to lower the property tax burden on all homeowners and businesses, LB640 is a step in that direction.

Senator Chambers’ LB447 removes mandatory minimum sentences for felony convictions.  I was in opposition to the original bill, but Senator Linehan dropped an amendment to only include non-violent drug offenses. I supported her amendment and helped advance the bill to select file. Why? Because we have a prison overcrowding problem and it needs to be addressed. Either we lock people up for extended periods, spend millions we do not have to build new prisons and staff them, or we figure out a way to rehabilitate criminals back into society. Probation and rehabilitation programs are less expensive.   After being informed by law enforcement officials that LB447 would not only reduce sentences for nonviolent drug-users, but also career drug dealers and manufacturers, I have decided not to support LB447 on select file.  Protecting society is the top concern, but as a fiscal conservative, I do not want to build and staff new prisons. There has got to be a better way.

LB518 creates “The Rural Workforce Housing Act” by transferring $7.3 million in seed money from the   “Affordable Housing Trust Fund” which presently generates its funds from real estate document fees. Competitive grants would be awarded to nonprofit development organizations in areas with demonstrated housing needs, low unemployment, and the ability to complete projects within 2 years.  The program will require a local one to one match of the grant program.  I voted for the bill because it does not take new housing projects off the local property tax rolls and it allows local entities, such as a non-profit hospital, who believe there is a housing shortage, to donate funds to the program.  I will not support another so-called workforce housing bill, LB496, which would allow housing projects to use Tax Increment Financing (TIF).  We can’t continue to complain about property taxes and then turn around and take property taxes away from our schools with abuses of TIF.

LB98 extended a sunset-date for over or fully appropriated Natural Resource Districts to levy an additional three-cents ($45 on an average $150,000 home) to FY 2025-26. It was in existence for 12 years, plenty of time to accomplish its purpose. I helped stop it from advancing. Either we want property tax relief or we don’t.

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

We named LB595 as our Senator Priority Bill authorizing teachers and administrators to use physical force or restraint on violent students and gives limited immunity for those employees from legal and administrative discipline. It also gives teachers the authority to have repeatedly disruptive students removed from the classroom and it sets up a process involving the teacher and parents as to when the principal can have the student returned to the classroom.  The Education Committee voted the bill out of committee, meaning it will be debated on the floor of the Legislature.

LB478 allows productive citizens who have been convicted of a felony in their past to possess archery equipment. The Game and Parks Department has had a policy of issuing archery hunting permits to individuals who have a past felony conviction. A recent Nebraska Supreme Court case cast doubts on the legality of felons owning bows and arrows and using a knife with a blade over 3 ½” long to process game. LB478 also allows felons to own hunting knives if they possess a hunting license. The bill came out of committee and was selected to be one of the Speaker’s 25 priority bills.

LB640, our property tax relief bill, was picked up by Senator Friesen as his priority bill. The bill would set 60% as the maximum amount that property taxes could generate for a local public school’s budget, the remainder would come from increased state aid along with present federal, state, and miscellaneous local funding (speeding tickets etc.) It would also lower the maximum property tax rate schools can levy from 1.05 to 1.00. We would designate the appropriated funds presently in the Property Tax Relief Fund to pay for the shift of school funding back to the state. It is presently still in Revenue Committee and may be used as the base for the property tax relief portion of a comprehensive income tax bill. Either way, I believe Senator Friesen and I have the votes to get the bill on to the floor for debate.

LB594 requires a limited liability company (LLC) seeking a tax benefit to file an amended certificate of organization with the Secretary of State disclosing the members of the LLC. It has been the policy of our democracy that when you receive the direct benefits of tax dollars you lose your right to privacy, no one should be able to hide behind a front company. The hearing was last Monday. The Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee has not acted on the bill as yet. Since no one testified against the bill. It should have a good chance to make it to the floor.

Sometimes government can over-regulate to the point that it can deny consumers access to services they wish to use. An example of this was equine (horse) massage therapy. The Department of Health and Human Services regulates animal health issues including issuing licenses for veterinary medicine. We were approached by Karen Hough from Arnold, Nebraska about the issue. She wished to practice equine massage therapy as a sideline business. Although she had taken training and had practical experience, she was denied a license due to the requirements set by the state. We discovered that in the world of horse enthusiasts, horse massage is a common practice to keep competitive livestock at the top of their game, no different than a professional athlete. Texas, Montana, South Dakota, and many other western states do not require a license to be a horse massage therapist. I was informed that it is practiced in Nebraska, but it is being done illegally without a license. We found that because of the onerous requirements Nebraska has set, there is not one single licensed equine therapist in Nebraska. We introduced LB596 to exempt equine massage therapy from the list of animal therapies that must be licensed under the Veterinary Medicine and Surgery Practice Act. We had the hearing last week in the Health and Human Services Committee. I think it has a good chance to be voted out of committee. I have found no better example than this issue to show the public’s sometimes frustration of government becoming a “nanny state”.

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

Monday 3/20

Business and Labor
Location: Room 2102
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB598 Groene Require consideration of certain factors by the Commission of Industrial Relations when establishing wage rights

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB155 Brasch Require successful completion of a civics examination as a prerequisite to high school graduation
LB308 Brasch Change provisions relating to the committee on Americanism
LB14 Krist Require successful completion of a civics examination as a prerequisite to high school graduation

Tuesday 3/21

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB540 Stinner Provide for a temporary aid adjustment factor in the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act

Wednesday 3/22

Health and Human Services
Location: Room 1510
Time: 2:00 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB128 Groene Change eligibility provisions relating to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

We are at a point in the session where committee hearings are wrapping up and floor debate on Senator and committee priority bills are in full swing. We have also reached the time where we start meeting 4 instead of 5 days a week; it comes just in time to save friendships, avoid fistfights, and maintain good governing. Legislation comes fast to the body when action is constant; time is lacking to inform oneself on upcoming legislation, work on your own bills with your colleagues, and have time to go back home where sanity prevails. It is not that work is not done on the fifth day, it is just common sense that if one can have time to study issues a couple of days a week, it can avoid bad legislation caused by uninformed votes or worse by votes given due to political friendships or persuasion by the lobby.

This week we had the education hearing on LB409, legislation to adjust the State Aid to Education formula (TEEOSA) to match the Appropriations Committee’s proposed $1 billion State Aid to public schools. Although it is an increase of $20 million over last year, it is below the formula’s expected $67 million increases. It is not a simple task to fairly adjust a flawed TEEOSA formula. Since no proponents but many opponents testified on the bill, it was apparent LB409 was fair to all; it will lower funding to all sizes of districts.

LB98 extends the sunset date on an additional 3 cent taxing authority per hundred dollars of valuation for 8 out of 23 Natural Resource Districts (NRD) that are designated over or fully appropriated on groundwater. The extension would be from 2017 to 2026.  All NRDs have a base taxing authority of 4.5 cents.  NRDs have been a beneficiary of the massive valuation increases in property valuations, taxing revenues have increased 77% over the last 10 years. Another factor is the 2009 State Supreme Court case Garey vs. Nebraska Dept. of Natural Resources which reaffirmed our State Constitution’s mandate that property taxes can’t be used for state purposes. They can’t be used to build pipelines or maintain property or infrastructure whose purpose is to satisfy state surface water agreements with another state, such as the Republican River compact or the Platte River Agreement.  Eliminating the tax would give Lincoln County residents $45 of tax relief on a home valued at $150,000 or $250 on an average quarter of farm ground.

LB496 would add new housing projects designated for workforce purposes (regardless of building site) to what is allowable under TIF projects. If this passes it will put small housing contractors out of business or it would be foolish of anybody to build a house unless they would be granted TIF. If enacted it will cause a huge property tax shift to hardworking small businesses, home owners, and agriculture land. After all, someone must pay the taxes to afford public safety, good schools, and maintain government infrastructure.  It has been prioritized so it has a good chance to become law.

I have introduced LB599 which would consider all new development infrastructure and building construction as business inventory until occupied, leased, or sold. To a contractor, new development is business inventory, not unlike an automobile on a dealer’s lot, where property taxes are not charged until the vehicle is retailed. I believe LB599 would be a fairer method to aid home construction and would eliminate government picking winners and losers in tax relief. The hearing on the bill is this Thursday in the Revenue Committee.

March 9

LB596 allows for an exemption from licensing by the Department of Health and Human Services for those in the profession of Horse Massage Therapy.  Presently, there have been no licenses for horse massage therapists issued by DHHS.  There are Nebraska citizens that have experience to do this and current regulations keep them from aiding horse owners.

March 13

LB594 provides for limited liability companies applying for economic development programs to file amended certificates of organization.  This will allow for transparency about those that are applying for economic development programs.  The bill provides for transparency to the public about who is receiving tax incentives.

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

Monday 3/13

Banking, Commerce and Insurance
Location: Room 1507
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB594 Groene Require a limited liability company seeking a tax benefit to file an amended certificate of organization

Tuesday 3/14

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB630 Larson Adopt the Independent Public Schools Act
LB650 Linehan Change provisions for teaching certificates
LB568 Erdman Change provisions related to temporary teaching certificates

*order of bills may change

I have not been able to get columns out weekly due to being extremely busy with legislative business over the last month. I will continue to be heading into March.

We wish to thank the Lincoln County Farm Bureau for sponsoring the town hall meeting on Feb. 18. We had a good turnout and even had some eastern Nebraska folks show up who had concerns that I was chairman of the Education Committee.

We had to explain to them that America is not an authoritarian form of government based on educational elitism instead, we are a democracy where we tell all our children they can grow up to be president. One would assume they can also be elected to a school board, or be elected a county commissioner or perhaps a state senator who is elected by his peers to be the chair of the Education Committee.

I believe a major detriment to an advanced free society is a form of occupational arrogance, displayed by some, that comes along with higher levels of education. Education accompanied by wisdom is a blessing to society; education unchecked by wisdom is not. Wisdom advises; educational elitism dictates.

This week, the state revenue forecasting board lowered expected state tax revenues by another $158 million. State funding for public schools (TEEOSA) was expected to go up 6.9 percent or $67.6 million; the expected increases will be lowered to somewhere around 2.1 percent or $20.5 million. The Appropriations Committee will decide what the final dollar amount is, and then we in the Education Committee will decide how the reductions in expected funding will be shared by all school districts.

I have introduced Legislative Bill 409 as the shell bill that we will use to fairly administer the slowdown in educational spending proportionally to each district. The hearing on the bill will be next Monday.

On Feb. 15, the Natural Resources Committee heard LB 218, our attempt to force the sale of the 19,500 acres of N-CORPE land in order to put it back on the tax rolls and to eliminate most of the operating cost.

During the debate, never once was a good reason given why the citizens of four natural resource districts involved in N-CORPE needed to have a government entity own the land. It became obvious during the hearing that influences outside Lincoln County are running the show at N-CORPE. I believe we have been able to stop outsiders from influencing the members of the committee to kill the legislation by indefinitely postponing the bill.

Sometimes, I feel like I am in the Old West, where cattle barons believed the open range was theirs, and by God, no farmer was going to put up fences. It seems that we have some that believe the groundwater is theirs and no one is going to tell them otherwise. Thankfully, most of us associated with irrigated farming know different and we wish to be stewards of our groundwater so we can pass on irrigated farming to future generations.

There is talk of plans by N-CORPE’s board (most are not Lincoln County citizens) to sign a contract to allow 140 electric generation windmills on our government-owned Lincoln County land. You might consider attending N-CORPE’s next meeting.

Since our last column, we introduced our proposed TIF bills before public hearings:

» LB 262, to restrict open land use

» LB 489, to strike permissions for use of TIF language from existing law and

» LB 597, to give Nebraska’s Department of Revenue oversight over proper use of tax increment financing.

We are making headway in convincing fellow senators of the drain to local property tax bases that TIF is causing. The Revenue Department has recently released its 2016 TIF report. Property tax dollars lost to TIF have gone from $37 million annually to $70 million over the last 10 years. Have your property taxes gone down over that period? Proponents of TIF’s use as economic development claim they should have.

Eventually we will get something accomplished. There is a lot of money involved; it is not easy to take tax dollars away from those who profit from them.

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

Monday 3/6

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB634 Wayne Include virtual school students in the state aid to schools formula
LB409 Groene Change the base limitation and local effort rate for school districts
LB484 Kolowski Create the School Financing Review Commission

Tuesday 3/7

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB651 Linehan Adopt the Nebraska Reading Improvement Act
LB662 Linehan Establish a grading system for schools and school districts

Thursday 3/9

Revenue
Location: Room 1524
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB599 Groene Exempt certain improvements on land from taxes as prescribed

Health and Human Services
Location: Room 1510
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB596 Groene Exempt equine massage therapy from credentialing and regulation under the Veterinary Medicine and Surgery Practice Act

Monday 2/27

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB398 Wayne Provide requirements for public school districts relating to swimming activities
LB569 Friesen Establish the Community College Task Force and sunset community college levies
LB490 Walz Adopt the College Choice Grant Program Act

Tuesday 2/28

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB521 Walz Change provisions related to early childhood education in the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act
LB511 Education Committee Change provisions for payment of educational costs for state wards and students in residential settings
LB512 Education Committee Change provisions related to education

Wednesday 3/1

Judiciary
Location: Room 1113
Time: 9:15 AM

Document Introducer Description
LB478 Groene Provide for possession of archery equipment and knives for recreational purposes

 

 

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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