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As the Legislature readies for the 108th biennium, many have their wish list of goals completed for the coming two years. As a rural Senator, I have heard loud and clear the call to further reduce property taxes. I hear it from farmers, I hear it from seniors, and I hear it from businesses. I have also read articles suggesting that the Legislature needs to “find the courage” to reduce property taxes. So, let me be clear; I hear you!
The first step to tax reform is understanding what we are already doing, including how property taxes are assessed, who assesses them, and what role the Legislature can and cannot play in reducing property taxes.
The State of Nebraska does not assess or collect a property tax. Property taxes are ONLY assessed by LOCAL political subdivisions. School districts account for the largest portion of the property tax requests and, generally, for more than 50% of the property tax bill. Although conservative spending is important for reducing taxes, many local school boards will tell you they face many challenges when crafting a responsible budget.
A huge portion of school district budgets are consumed by payroll costs to hire the teachers and administrators. Nebraska’s teacher shortage means sometimes districts have no choice but to enhance teacher salaries and benefits to fill the void. In addition, salaries must meet certain minimums to avoid an appeal to the Court of Industrial Relations and there are multiple Federal and State mandates that public schools also must meet. Of course, the cost of maintaining facilities, buses, and activities are also necessary components of the budget.
So, what can the Legislature do to help? The best thing we can do is work hand-in-hand with local governments, educational institutions, and industries to grow Nebraska’s economy. That includes ensuring we have a skilled workforce, creating a climate to start and grow small businesses, and expanding opportunities to attract and expand major corporations.
As we work to grow our state, there are other measures we can also take to ease the burden on property tax payers. First, the Legislature can fix the TEEOSA formula to provide more state aid to rural “equalized” school districts. This of course will mean either taking aid from urban schools, which would require the support from urban senators, or create a mechanism to provide additional aid. If we do the latter, where will the funding come from? If that answer is to raise the sales tax rate or reduce sales tax exemptions, then how much do we increase the sales tax or what exemptions do we eliminate? How do those new taxes impact seniors and farmers? We could also raise income taxes, but since our income tax rates are by far the highest of any state in the region, this is clearly a nonstarter if you are planning to get 33 votes to force a vote.
As an alternative to increasing state funding for schools, the Legislature could reduce state mandates such as requiring certain course work to be offered outside of core subjects like reading, writing, math, and science. In many cases, additional mandated courses require more teachers to be hired even when they are already in short supply or not available at all.
Finally, we could try to rebalance how we tax real estate. Ideas could include: reducing the rate at which agricultural land is taxed (currently 75% of market value). We could also look at taxing all real estate based on income produced from the land instead of based on its value. Ranchers are especially feeling the burden of property taxes this year because rainfall is short and they cannot maintain normal stocking rates. Additionally, dryland farmers in years like this literally produce no crop, but continue to pay property taxes as if the land was producing.
No matter what the plan, it must be able to elicit wide support. Although it takes 25 votes to pass a bill, 33 votes are required to end a filibuster. If history is any indication, we can expect any changes to sales tax rates, school funding, or property taxes to attract a filibuster. This will mean taking strategic steps to create a plan and rally votes from a diverse group of senators.
Fortunately, we know it can be done. The Legislature’s passage of LB873 in 2022 made huge strides in reducing the net tax liability for all Nebraskans. Not only did we approve the full phase-out of the state tax on Social Security, but the Legislature also approved a reduction in the top income tax rate for individuals and corporations over the next few years. Most importantly, the Legislature approved an income tax rebate based on the amount of property taxes paid toward the relevant public school and community college. In 2022, property tax payers could receive a 30% rebate, up from 25% in 2021. The rebate must be claimed when you file your income tax paperwork. If you do not file an income tax return, you can go to the Nebraska Department of Revenue’s and download a form to claim the rebate.
In the end, I will do all I can to accomplish further reductions in your tax liability. It has nothing to do with “courage” but everything to do with “perseverance” and strategy. If you have any questions or comments regarding property taxes or the income tax rebate, please feel free to reach out to me at 402-471-2729, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My door is always open!
You may have heard of the term “ESG” and wondered what does it mean? That answer is important for everyone to know, as we see this movement gaining steam. ESG is the acronym for Environmental, Social, and Governance. Certain investors and large, publicly-traded financial institutions are using ESG scores or ratings to determine whether a corporation is “socially responsible” and therefore whether they are worthy of investing in or offering services to.
The key focus of ESG is to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which include climate action, clean energy, gender equality, and responsible consumption and production. Although we all can agree that we want to protect the environment, stop discrimination, and encourage diversity ESG goes well beyond simply recommending that companies follow these principles. Instead, ESG is being used to force corporate policy changes, even if it is at the expense of an investment or financial firm’s fiduciary duty to its clients.
ESG suggests that two principles should exist in corporate America: (1) Corporate officers and directors should advance the interests of all corporate “stakeholders,” not just “shareholders,” and (2) Corporate performance should be evaluated by a “new measure of shared value creation” that explicitly includes ESG goals in addition to traditional financial metrics. But who decides which ESG factors should be imposed? How do we know whether a corporation is complying? Should corporations prioritize the interests of society over the interests of its shareholders?
When calculating the scores, the “E” asks how corporations interact with the environment. Specific criteria include corporate impact on climate change, greenhouse gas emission air pollution, and water usage. Often, companies are expected to have set goals in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement for climate action. The “S” focuses on social issues such as labor standards, human rights, social dialogue, pay equity, workplace diversity, access to health care, and racial justice, to name a few. The “G” refers to how the corporation is internally governed and how its leadership acts. Factors include corporate fraud, anti-corruption efforts, board diversity, and potential illegal activity.
How are you feeling at this point about the likely scores generated by midwest production agriculture, oil and gas producers, and energy networks that include coal and natural gas assets?
It is important to know that the ESG movement is creating several legal concerns. First, ESG investing presents legal issues for fiduciaries responsible for investing other people’s money. For example, imagine an investment firm is responsible for investing retirement or pension accounts. The firm’s chief responsibility is to provide the best return for the individuals who will rely on these accounts for their future income. However, if the firm has adopted an ESG policy, the investment portfolio for the accounts may not include the most profitable companies because the companies do not align with the firm’s ESG standards. That means retirees could lose out because the investment firm is prioritizing advancing an agenda over its responsibility to its account holders.
In addition, concerted ESG-based collusion and coercion against disfavored businesses raises serious legal questions under federal and state antitrust laws. Finally, ESG threatens to change the workplace in ways that might cause employees to violate federal and state employment laws.
It is important to remember that the Nebraska Investment Council oversees the investment activity of more than $23 billion in state funds, including the assets of the retirement systems administered by the Public Employees Retirement Board. The Investment Council’s voting members must “discharge their duties with respect to the assets of the retirement system solely in the interests of the members and beneficiaries of the retirement system and for the exclusive purposes of (1) providing benefits to members, and members’ beneficiaries, and (2) defraying reasonable expenses incurred within the limitations and according to the powers, duties, and purposes prescribed by law.” The Investment Council recognizes that the benefits it seeks are financial in nature, identifying its “mission” as “delivering investment management services to provide direct financial benefit exclusively to the owners of the funds entrusted to the Council.
As the ESG movement continues, you can be assured that the Nebraska Legislature will be watching closely. If necessary, the Unicameral will act to prevent businesses and individuals in Nebraska from discrimination and to protect state employee pension funds.
If you have any questions or comments regarding ESG or ideas for legislation, please feel free to reach out to me at 402-471-2729, or email me at email@example.com. My door is always open!
Even though the start of the 108th Legislature is quickly approaching, the 107th Legislature is continuing to complete its work on various interim studies. As many of you know, I currently sit on the Agriculture, Natural Resources, and General Affairs Committees. Last Friday, the Ag Committee held its last three interim study hearings at the Capitol. Although interim studies are not always associated with proposed legislation, interim studies can be a signal of legislation to come.
The first was related to LR277, introduced by Senator Carol Blood, to “determine what is needed to develop a plan to protect managed and native Nebraska pollinators from current harmful practices.” The hearing primarily addressed concerns regarding the decline in the domestic honeybee industry, and the various impacts occurring over time with the “wild” bee species here in Nebraska. According to the testifiers, Nebraska’s largest honey producers have left for states like South Dakota where more canola is raised, and fewer pesticides are applied to the primary crops like corn and soybeans. Testifiers said this accounts for most of the drop in the loss of honeybee population.
A significant amount of time was also spent discussing the “possible” linkage to modern farming practices and the loss of bee population, both domestic and wild. Testifiers agreed that there are many causes for the decline in bee population, but they felt that chemical use by crop producers was a big contributor. They especially focused on seed treatments used today and how the chemical treatments remain in the plant; small bits of residue are then potentially picked up by the bees feeding on the plant and brought back to the hive. As a farmer who uses these same seed treatments, I asked the testifiers to provide us with more evidence to support this theory. I also mentioned that farmers have been using ag chemicals since the 1950’s and that fewer chemicals are soil applied today in favor of direct application to the plant as needed. The developments in biotechnology have allowed plants to be more resistant to natural pests and the use of cover crops has made great strides in building soil health and controlling weed population. However, Glyphosate is still the chemical of choice for burn down of cover crops in the spring. I am wary of implementing state regulations that restrict ag chemical use beyond what is federally mandated today.
The second study was LR328, introduced by Senator Ray Aguilar, to “determine whether rules and regulations guiding the inspection and permitting of mobile food units are being applied consistently between jurisdictions.” The number of food trucks statewide has increased significantly over the past several years and is likely to continue to grow. Some are stand-alone units generally run by entrepreneurs who don’t want to invest in a brick-and-mortar restaurant, while others are operated by restaurant owners who want to take their product to other locations without significantly adding to their staffing levels and overhead costs.
Every mobile food unit that operates within Nebraska is subject to state food safety regulations and are inspected by food inspectors assigned to various regions across the state, but there are wide variations across the state among municipalities regarding additional food safety requirements and various regulations regarding where they can park their units such as the minimum street width, how close they are to another restaurant, what direction the unit faces along the street, and where the walk-up window can be located. Additionally, many larger cities charge fees to allow a unit to operate within its jurisdiction and have various methods to collect sales tax. I found the testimony very educational, but also heard no consensus on regulation. Those of us on the committee all agreed that we were reluctant to take away local control from the cities themselves, even though a more standard set of guidelines would be helpful to food unit operators.
The final hearing dealt with occupational regulation review for grain dealers. Grain dealers are regulated by the Public Service Commission; the Commission’s representative outlined enforcement actions taken against grain dealers since the last report and areas of concern they had going forward. We spent much of the time discussing the net worth requirements, fees, and bonding requirements for grain dealers and grain warehouses. One of the concerns that I expressed was that the bonding requirements of grain dealers and warehouses are very low compared to the amount of exposure they could have at any one time. I understand that raising the bonding requirements would raise costs to the dealers and warehouses, but an alternative might be to have state inspectors conduct more frequent inspections to confirm that grain inventory is in place and that the grain is in good condition. Given the high cost of farming and value of grain inventory today, the costs of massive shortages and ultimate failure of a dealer or warehouse would be devastating.
I am grateful to all of the testifiers who participated in the Agriculture Committee’s interim study hearings. It is important for Senators to continue to dialog with the public and experts about the challenges and opportunities in Nebraska today. If you have any questions or comments regarding these issues, please feel free to reach out to me at 402-471-2729, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My door is always open!
I mentioned last week that I will be working with Senator Brewer and all the interested parties to determine the future of the former State 4-H Camp that was destroyed by the Bovee Fire. Senator Brewer and I are very focused on getting this facility replaced, either on the old site or adjacent to the old site. Any reconstruction would be built outside of the primary fire risk area. This week, I will be meeting with the head of the Nebraska Extension. My goal is to determine the extent to which the University of Nebraska and the 4-H Foundation are committed to rebuilding the facility and offer our help in getting the necessary funding and support.
My fascination for this area started when I attended the 4-H camp as a young boy. Like many raised in other parts of the state, it was my first experience seeing the Nebraska Sandhills and seeing the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey which has only recently been surpassed as the largest man-made forest in the world. The 4-H camp has played host to countless Nebraska residents over the years. In addition to hosting the camps for the 4-H program, the State 4-H Camp has also played host to the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) Camp, wedding receptions, family reunions, and corporate, artistic, and nature retreats.
The uniqueness of the Sandhills and the Nebraska National Forest should not remain a secret. And I believe we can do more to draw in-state and out-of-state residents to District 42 if we are willing to take some risks. Just look at what has occurred with the Sand Hills and Dismal River Club golf courses. When the founders of the Sand Hills golf course chose a location off the beaten path to build a golf course where no one had gone before, many wondered if they were crazy. Yet, the first year it was opened it was rated as one of the best in the world and memberships were sold out and a waiting list continues today. All too often we don’t dream big enough.
The trick to a successful venture is to have a destination, atmosphere, and easy access. We already know the Sandhills and the Nebraska National Forest are two of our state’s greatest treasures. If we rebuild with the right services and design, we can continue to grow the number of visitors to the Halsey area. Highways 2, 83, and 97 all provide good driving access to the area. In addition, the Thedford airport has a newly constructed concrete runway that is ideal for landing many corporate aircraft as well as smaller single-engine piston aircraft. This airport could be a great asset for those coming to a new and improved conference facility located less than 20 miles away near Halsey. If the Lied Lodge can be successful at Nebraska City, why can’t a facility in the middle of the Nebraska Sandhills and next to a 90,000-acre National Forest not also be a draw?
During my time as your District 42 State Senator, I have been clear that I intend to bring more resources to our area. It begins with not allowing existing facilities to leave and get relocated elsewhere in the eastern part of the state. Along the campaign trail, I was asked what I will do as your State Senator to bring economic growth to all areas of the District and not just North Platte. This is one example of how I believe we can grow our area. Amidst the tragedy of the Bovee Fire, we have an opportunity to not only rebuild, but rebuild bigger and better than before.
I am committed to working with Senator Brewer and anyone wanting to join the fight to make reconstruction of the State 4-H Camp a reality. If you are interested in helping with this effort, or have ideas for 2023 legislation, please reach out to me at email@example.com or 402-471-2729 with your ideas. My door is always open!
I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Sherry Vinton who has been selected by Governor-Elect Pillen to become the next Director of Agriculture. Sherry is a great choice and, for the first time in many years, we will have a Director of Agriculture who has strong Sandhills roots and is an active rancher. This is great news for our state!
Just as Governor-Elect Pillen is preparing his administration, so are state Senators getting ready for the 2023 Legislative Session. The First Session of the 108th Nebraska Legislature will begin on January 4, 2023. I spent this past week attending new Senator Orientation and the annual Legislative Council meeting. The orientation was a great opportunity to meet all my new colleagues and get to know them on a more personal level. The Legislative Council meeting included all of the returning state Senators along with the newly elected Senators. The meeting was primarily focused on getting an update on some of the larger issues we will be facing once the session begins. Budget and tax issues will be based on the latest budget forecast from the most recent forecast estimates from the Tax Rate Review Committee. The numbers predict revenues will continue to outpace expectations and push the General Fund and the Cash Reserve Fund in excess of allowable balances. On the surface, this is a great problem to have, but it is critical we deplete the reserves in a responsible manner. The tax payer must be the first priority.
The General Fund is essentially the State’s checking account, while the Cash Reserve Fund is more akin to a savings account. The Cash Reserve is commonly referred to as the “rainy day fund” and is statutorily limited to a balance of no more than $1 billion. The latest forecast – should it prove to be accurate – predicts a balance of $2.3 billion. What caused the fund to grow to this level over the past two years? And more importantly, what can we expect the fund to do in the future?
We can thank post-COVID spending for the boost in State revenues. Federal pandemic relief dollars and the PPP loans that were ultimately forgiven, created a huge economic boost to all states and resulted in unprecedented increases in tax receipts. However, this will not be case in the coming biennium. The rapid rise in inflation has caused the Federal Reserve to significantly raise the Federal Funds rate in order to slow the economy. Many expect the economy will go into a recession in the near future. The severity of the recession is unknown at this time, but either way, reduced tax revenues will be the likely result.
Even with the uncertainty of future tax collections, we need to focus on fixing the school funding formula to help bring further reductions in property taxes. This will likely be a priority in Governor-Elect Pillen’s budget and is certainly a focus of many Senators. In addition to new property tax relief, I will be focused on protecting the existing income tax credits and the elimination of the Social Security tax codified in LB873 last session.
As for reducing our General Fund and Cash Reserve Fund, the Legislature should look for one-time spends as it did with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, rather than creating new programs that will have an ongoing fiscal note. We may also need to re-allocate ARPA dollars from any projects that were determined not to qualify for their initial allocations. One project I would like to secure funding for in District 42 is rebuilding the 4-H Camp near Halsey that was lost in the Bovee Fire. I am working closely with Senator Brewer, the University of Nebraska, and the 4-H Foundation to determine the vision and scope of the rebuilding project and develop a funding strategy. I made it clear in my campaign that bringing more investment back to District 42 was a priority of mine, and keeping existing assets in our District is step one.
I am putting the finishing touches on several bills that I intend to introduce when the next session begins. All bills must be introduced in the first 10 days of the session. If you have ideas for legislation, please reach out to me or my staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729. My door is always open!
I am honored to continue my service as your State Senator and want to take a moment to thank everyone who assisted me with the campaign. I would also like to extend a special thank you to my wife, Julie. Running for office is a decision with a significant impact on one’s spouse. Julie was a steadfast supporter and went above and beyond to support the campaign.
Now that the election is over, Senators are preparing for the 2023 session in earnest. This week, I will be attending orientation for new Senators in Lincoln. Even though I am technically a returning Senator, I asked to be included to ensure I am fully prepared for next session. I am also looking forward to getting to know all of my new colleagues. Later in the week, the Legislative Council will hold its annual meeting in Nebraska City. Senators will discuss current issues and start the process of establishing the Committee on Committees, which determines committee membership.
The Unicameral has 14 standing committees that meet regularly, as well as several special and select committees. All legislative bills are afforded a public hearing. After a bill is introduced, it is referred to the standing committee with jurisdiction over the bill’s topic, and standing committees meet in the afternoons throughout the first several weeks of the session in order to hold bill hearings. After the end of bill hearings, committees only meet periodically for supplemental hearings or in an executive session to consider advancing bills for consideration by the whole Legislature.
Committees have approximately seven to nine members and always have representation from each of Nebraska’s three congressional districts. With the exception of the Appropriation Committee, which meets five days a week, standing committees meet either one, two, or three days a week on regular days. For example, the General Affairs Committee meets on Mondays, while the Judiciary Committee meets Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Senators’ committee assignments are organized so that they have a standing committee meeting five days a week during the bill hearing period, which means they can serve on one or several committees.
As a general rule, returning members can choose to remain on their existing committees. New Senators are assigned to open spots based on their interests, and the committees’ need to have fair congressional district representation. When I was appointed, I assumed Sen. Groene’s standing committee assignments: Agriculture, Natural Resources, and General Affairs. There are several Senators from the Third District, including myself, who are interested in serving on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. If there are not enough spots, I would be interested in staying on the General Affairs Committee. I have also expressed a desire to serve on the Revenue Committee, given the number of District 42 constituents who are concerned about Nebraska’s tax system. In the end, it is my goal to make a positive impact on District 42 regardless of my committee assignments.
In addition to thinking about committee assignments, I have also been working with my staff on bill drafting. We are in the process of finalizing micro-TIF legislation, and I plan to co-sponsor a bill requiring two-person crews on trains. There are several other issues that I am exploring as well that may become legislative bills.
Finally, Julie and I attended an information meeting on November 6 in Dunning to discuss the damage to the State 4-H Camp and Nebraska National Forest from the Bovee Fire. The Nebraska National Forest is one of the largest man-made forests in the world, and thousands of youth and families have visited the State 4-H Camp since it opened in 1959. University of Nebraska officials reassured us that 4-H camps would still be held in 2023 in other parts of the state; however, the decision about whether to rebuild the camp had not yet been made. I expressed my desire to see the camp rebuilt and am ready to assist with obtaining funding support from the Legislature, if necessary. It would be a tragedy to allow this state treasure, which has exposed many to the beauty of Nebraska’s Sandhills, to go away.
If you would like to discuss an issue impacting you or you have ideas for legislation, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or 402-471-2729. My door is always open!
As Veterans’ Day approaches, I want to take an opportunity to highlight this critical but often neglected section of our population. Both my father and father-in-law served in the U.S. military in World War II and the Korean War, respectively. They were immensely proud of their service to our country. Today, there are approximately 16.5 million veterans in the U.S., a majority of whom are of the Vietnam War era and are men over the age of 75.
Because the bulk of our veterans are aging and the 2.5 million post-9/11 military veterans make up less than 1% of the population, it may be easier for younger generations to overlook the needs of our veterans. Furthermore, in the era of 24-hour news cycles and social media, it is easy for events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to fade into the background. However, threats to our democratic principles, fundamental freedoms, and continued safety are ever-present. Our men and women in uniform are our first line of defense.
The military’s people and physical assets contribute significantly to Nebraska’s economy. Nebraska hosts over 100,000 veterans, as well as thousands of active duty and reserve military personnel. Offutt Air Force Base is the headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command and the U.S. Air Force’s 557th Weather Wing and 55th Wing of the Air Combat Command.
The Nebraska Legislature continues to look for ways to welcome our military members and their families. In 2022, I voted to pass bills that reduced regulatory barriers so military spouses can transfer occupational licensing easily, increased access to State Tuition Assistance for members of the Nebraska National Guard, and appropriated funds for important improvements at Offutt.
In addition to passing laws that directly benefit our local military, the Unicameral also provides indirect support to military personnel and veterans. For example, support of behavioral health services, Veterans Treatment Courts, local healthcare and retirement facilities, job training and education, and much more help ensure our military and veterans have access to the services and opportunities they need to thrive in Nebraska.
Thank you to all of our service members and their families for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our country. I hope everyone takes a moment on November 11 to celebrate our veterans and consider the ways our military works every day to preserve our way of life.
If you have ideas for how the Legislature can support veterans and the military or would like to any other issues impacting you, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729. My door is always open!
This past Friday, I joined Governor Ricketts for the ribbon cutting for the newly constructed Army National Guard Vehicle Maintenance shop on east Highway 30 along the western boundary of the North Platte Airport. Not only does the National Guard support our active military, but it also plays a significant role in helping to deal with disasters, such as the 2019 floods and the COVID-19 pandemic. We are fortunate to have a strong National Guard that is well-trained and ready at a moment’s notice.
The new facility at Lee Bird Field replaces the Field Maintenance Shop built in 1955 on North Highway 83. The original facility was designed to support jeeps and 5-ton trucks. The new facility is a result of a $9.6 million investment by the federal government and will support 60 over-the-road 18-wheel trucks and Humvees, as well as serve as a regional hub. It is truly a state-of-the-art building comprised of 24,800 square feet, four times larger than the original facility. It will serve the Nebraska Army National Guard well into the future. I am also excited that the 41-acre site is well-positioned for future expansion. A facility like this is an asset to the entire legislative district.
As the former chairman of the North Platte Airport Authority, my colleagues and I began negotiating to lease this land to the Guard nearly five years ago. Like many large projects, planning starts well in advance of completion. This project could well be the beginning of other significant growth now that the airport has been annexed into the City of North Platte and construction of Sustainable Beef has begun. The combined impact of Sustainable Beef and the Hershey Rail Park will create many job opportunities and will result in significant secondary development as the support businesses begin to locate in the area as well. Having a nearly 9,000-foot runway will also make development at Lee Bird Field likely.
Airport expansion will also be more likely if the voters approve Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 1 in the November 8 election. This amendment would allow political subdivisions that own or operate an airport to use its revenue to recruit new or expanded regularly scheduled commercial passenger air service. Reliable passenger air service is an important tool for attracting businesses and residents to our region. I support the passage of this amendment, and I encourage you to do the same.
I continue to pursue solutions like Proposed Constitutional Amendment No. 1 to benefit District 42. This week, I worked with the Governor’s office to increase access to hay from South Dakota for ranchers whose access has been complicated by the fire damage in Thomas County. Please reach out if you would like more information.
Thank you again to all of our rural volunteer firefighters and first responders. This past year has been one for the record books, and it is still not over. I was very pleased to vote for LB717 to increase State compensation to fallen firefighters, first responders, and law enforcement officers who lose their lives in the line of duty from $50,000 to $250,000 (and indexed for inflation). Although no amount of money can replace a life, helping to ease the financial burden is an investment that Nebraska needs to make.
If you would like to discuss hay access, first responders, or any other issues impacting you, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or 402-471-2729. My door is always open!
As many of you know, the borders of District 42 were expanded beyond Lincoln County during the 2020 redistricting. Outmigration of population from Lincoln County over the last decade accounts for the change. Now, District 42 also includes McPherson, Hooker, Thomas, Logan, and the majority of Perkins County. Fortunately, I am very familiar with these counties and continue to actively engage with constituents throughout the District to learn about their needs.
I remain laser-focused on finding ways to grow District 42. A key component to retaining and recruiting population will be continuing to improve services within all areas of the District. One common thing throughout the newly expanded district is that there are many villages and unincorporated communities, as well as individual farms and ranches. It is often harder to make a “business case” for private investment when the population is low. In these situations, the State must find efficient ways to incentivize or, if necessary, subsidize investment.
For example, smalltown and rural Nebraska depends heavily on volunteer firefighters and paramedics to provide emergency services. This past year was particularly busy for our Rural Volunteer Fire Departments. Dry and windy conditions have resulted in many wildfires both inside and outside District 42. Our District 42 crews were also called upon to provide mutual aid for the very large fires. We are fortunate to have men and women willing to put their lives on the line to protect others.
Rural emergency services receive a small portion of county property taxes, but these funds are not always sufficient to cover significant one-time expenses. We must do all we can to not only provide training for our volunteer first responders but also ensure they have the necessary equipment. To this end, I have been working with two villages in the District that need a new ambulance. I have encouraged them to apply for available grant funds, which provide an opportunity to improve their equipment without increasing local property taxes. In addition, I will continue to support mobile training programs, like Simulation in Motion, which provide educational opportunities where the volunteers are. These programs decrease the training burden on rural volunteers by reducing their travel obligations.
Another area where state government can help is connectivity. Next session, I will continue to ensure that available funding for connectivity infrastructure reaches District 42. Although progress has been made in building out broadband, there is more to do. Technology continues to outpace our ability to build out the infrastructure. As labor remains tight, farmers must rely more heavily on technology to manage their operations.
We also have a huge need for improving mobile coverage. It is literally impossible to drive from North Platte to Mullen on Highway 97 without losing cell phone coverage. The drive on Highway 83 between North Platte to Thedford encounters the same problems. Not only do those living and traveling in these areas need connectivity to work and socialize, but mobile service is critical for public safety.
Although I would prefer the federal government would slow its spending, the pandemic response and infrastructure funds being sent to the states will be spent by someone. If we are on the hook for the bill, we need to get all the value we can from Nebraska’s share of the funding. The Legislature was careful to make sure that American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds were only going for “one-time” spending projects such as deferred maintenance, necessary infrastructure, and transformative developments. As we now consider how to invest funds from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, I will be there to remind my fellow Senators about the needs of our villages, unincorporated communities, and more isolated farms and ranches.
If you have identified needed support for other critical services or want to discuss any other issue impacting you, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729. My door is always open!
The 2022 Election is a big one for Nebraska. In just a few short weeks, Nebraskans will elect a new Governor and Lieutenant Governor, at least 15 new State Senators, and countless other civil servants to state, regional, county, and local offices. At the national level, control of both the House of Representatives and Senate is at stake, as well as leadership in many other states.
This time of year, there is always much discussion of election security, going all the way back to Florida’s “hanging chads” in the 2000 election and beyond. Nebraska is fortunate to avoid many of the problems we hear about in other states thanks to protections implemented by the Nebraska Secretary of State and the Legislature.
Nebraskans cast their vote on paper ballots. Even voting machines available for those with accessibility issues merely create a paper ballot. Ballots are then counted by machines that are not, and cannot be, connected to the Internet. Every counting machine is tested three times before each election, including a mock election to verify the accuracy of the ballot total. And, even though machine voting is more accurate than hand-counting, Nebraska selects a portion of precincts to have its machine count verified with a hand count. Once ballots are counted and tabulated, only then is election result information transferred to an Internet-enabled device for publication via a secure, encrypted USB device.
Nebraska voters should have peace of mind knowing that their vote will count, every time.
Other Nebraska policies also help ensure election security. Voters may not register on election day. By having Nebraskans register in advance, our election officials have time to verify the accuracy of voter registration information, as well as anticipate the number of voters, ballots, and precinct workers that will be needed. That said, there is still time to register if you would like to vote in the General Election! Mail-in registration must be postmarked by October 21 and in-person registration is open until October 28.
Once registered, it is time to cast your ballot. Many people still like to vote in person on election day. Polls are open for 12 hours starting at 8:00 a.m. Central or 7:00 a.m. Mountain Time. However, early and mail-in voting is also available for those who cannot make it to the polls on November 8. You can cast your vote in-person at your county election office now through November 7. Ballots can also be submitted via mail. In most Nebraska counties, ballots are not mailed to all registered voters. Instead, you must request a ballot be sent to you. October 28 is the last day a request for a mail-in ballot can be received. All early ballots must be submitted by the close of polls on November 8.
Who you elect really does affect you. Local officials set your property tax rates, including funding for schools, roads, emergency services, and levies for entities like natural resources districts. State officials determine income and sales tax rates and consider policies to ensure Nebraskans’ health, safety, security, and constitutional rights are protected.
In addition to local initiatives, all Nebraskans will consider two ballot initiatives this year. One would change the Nebraska Constitution to require a voter to show a valid photographic identification prior to casting a ballot. The other initiative would phase-in an increase to the state minimum wage from $9.00 to $15.00 by 2026 and cost-of-living increases in later years.
Finally, I was part of a bi-partisan coalition in the Legislature that proposed an additional change to Nebraska’s Constitution. If approved by the voters, LR283CA would to allow cities, counties, and other political subdivisions who own or operate an airport to use its revenue to develop or expand commercial passenger air service. This change could expand flight offerings at our larger hubs in Omaha and Lincoln, as well as smaller regional airports like the one in North Platte.
More voting information, including sample ballots, is available on the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website at: https://sos.nebraska.gov/elections/2022-elections. Thank you to all of my fellow Nebraskans who have put forth their names to serve our great state by seeking elected office.
If you want to discuss election security, this year’s ballot questions, or any other issues impacting you, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or 402-471-2729. My door is always open!
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