NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

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

Home District Column 1/12/2018

January 11th, 2018

The Legislature convened last week with very little rancor or acrimony. I do disagree with the ill-informed who believe that the previous year’s session, where hard stands were taken by those with differing political viewpoints leading to filibusters and stagnation on certain issues, was counterproductive to good government. Good government occurs when debate is not stymied by vote trading, block voting or hasty compromise. Due to last year’s successful session, senators now know exactly the boundaries each of their colleagues have placed on individual issues. I am optimistic that we are seeing more willingness between senators of different viewpoints to negotiate within the confines of a bill and less attempts of vote trading (you vote for my legislation and I vote for yours).

Past Nebraska Legislatures have fallen into the trap of taking the easy way to compromise: throw money at it, which leads to Nebraska having the second highest ratio of local/state tax burden to private income in the nation; only Illinois, which is hemorrhaging population and is on the verge of bankruptcy, has a higher tax burden. Nebraskans deserve better; last year was a good start to redefine collegiality in the Legislature from “let’s all get along” to “respect for each other’s ideas.”

Besides a few private exchanges with University of Nebraska administrators and regents, I have stayed out of the debate on harassment of a student by a university employee. The firing of the employee was warranted; individuals in positions of power over another (teacher/student) cannot be allowed to intimidate those they intend to educate. One has to wonder if the instructor involved believed it was appropriate to spew racial slurs against Caucasians and obstruct a student’s legitimate campus activity, what must have been the level of intimidation in the confines of her classroom. Sens. Steve Erdman, Tom Brewer, and Steve Halloran need to be applauded for addressing the conduct of the lecturer. They attempted to create dialogue with the top administrators, they presented solid evidence of campus bias against certain political ideas, and when necessary they involved the public through the press.

Should Nebraskans be concerned about the censorship of certain ideologies on UNL’s campus? When analyzing the political affiliation of the instructional staff of the English, teachers college, philosophy, sociology, psychology, political science and history departments, we find that out of 97 only seven are registered Republicans. A vigorous academic exchange of ideas cannot happen when one ideology is restricted from participating. This unbalanced situation happened under a previous administration. Now that the senators have brought this indefensible inequity to present President Hank Bounds and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, I am confident they will take steps to correct the sterile intellectual environment that now exists at UNL. Sen. Halloran is presenting legislation to remind students that their rights do not stop at the gates of a higher education establishment and will require the university to be accountable to the public on instances of free speech infringements. I will support him in his endeavor.

We are working on legislation to address NCORPE and TIF, and due to my position on the Revenue Committee, we have a front-row seat on proposals addressing taxation legislation. At present, it looks like the Education Committee, which I chair, will not have to cut state aid to public schools, due mostly to the increase in residential property valuations in equalized school districts. Those homeowners will pay more property taxes to support their schools but will receive less state aid.

When I ran for the Education Committee chairmanship after only two years in the Legislature, I was pleased to have the support of 15 eastern Nebraska senators, resulting in a 28-vote majority. So it was great to get the approval of a local editorial writer when they pointed out that when successful senators from western Nebraska show statewide vision and collaborative spirit, they are rewarded with Unicameral leadership positions, as I was with the election as Education Committee chair.

We are having a town hall meeting at Hershey Baptist Church on Saturday at 1 p.m. It will be an open discussion on what is happening in Lincoln.

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

Home District Column 12/21/2017

December 21st, 2017

The 2018 Legislative Session begins January 3rd.  This being the second year of our biennium cycle, all legislation that was on the floor of the Legislature or in Committee is still alive. Senators and Committees will be adding in 300 or more newly introduced bills and there is also to be taken into consideration a time consuming $200 million budget deficit that will have to be addressed–makings for a crowded schedule.

Looming in the background is an upcoming referendum petition drive by the Second House of the Legislature (the citizens) to address our regressive and burdensome property tax problem.   I am personally going to sign the petition; we need to put the issue on the ballot, if for no other reason but to force action by the Legislature. Once the property tax issue is on the ballot, if between now and next November, depending on how the Legislature and Governor address the issue, come Election Day you can vote against the ballot issue or vote for the issue and against the politicians who refused to listen to you.

Below are most of the bills we have carried over on general file.

LB 127: Requires newspaper notice of time and location of political subdivision meetings.  With the advent of the internet, some entities have forsaken the newspaper as the vehicle they use to announce meetings.  Transparency in government should always be a defining tenet of Democracy. We are working on a priority vehicle.

LB 595: Give control of discipline in the classroom back to the teacher. It is becoming clearer to me, once we get past the good or bad influence of the home, the problems we are having in educational outcome and lack of personal responsibility of many our youth is the atmosphere of the classroom. Yes, all students should have the opportunity to be included in the classroom, but no one has the right to disrupt the classroom to the detriment of others’ opportunity to learn. As Education Committee Chairman I will continue to prioritize this issue.

LB 596:  Equine massage. This issue is the “poster child” of over regulation and licensure by government.  Due to restrictive practice requirements and expensive educational qualifications, there is not a single licensed equine massage therapist in Nebraska.  Since Karen Hough of Arnold brought this issue to me, I have had many individuals, three in Lincoln County alone, contact me saying they would like to start an equine massage business. I have discovered since introducing the bill, in the world of horses, equine massage is commonly used to prepare horses for competitive events. The veterinarians I have talked to believe the over regulation is foolish.  We will amend the bill requiring equine massage therapists to register with the Department of Health and Human Services stating their educational training along with identification information. With the registry in place, the veterinarian association will support the bill.

LB 640: Limit the local property tax portion of public school funding, forcing the state to step-up its constitutionally required efforts to fund public education. It was prioritized by Senator Friesen last year and will remain part of the property tax debate this year.

LB 218: Transparency requirements on ground/surface water augmentation projects and to clarify existing law allowing for the sale of the land while maintaining a reservation on water usage and transfer. At the end of last session, we fought off an attempt by special interest to have the bill killed in the Natural Resource Committee. The political climate has now changed; citizens have since gotten involved and created “Landowners for a Common Purpose”, their mission being to help inform the public and NRD board members of the existing legal ability they have to sell NCORPE land. Recently the Middle Republican NRD unanimously passed a resolution, telling their Senator Hughes, who is also Chairman of the Natural Resource Committee, to work for legislation to clarify their ability to authorize the sale of the land. LB 218 fits that description.

Barb and I have decided that I will run for reelection.  Hopefully to most, it comes as a Christmas present.  Keep warm and have a blessed Christmas!!!! 

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

Home District Column 12/14/2017

December 14th, 2017

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines civics as “the study of the rights and duties of citizens and how government works”.

Nebraska statute 79-724, commonly known as the Americanism Law, instructs our schools’ employees on the public’s will that our children shall be taught civics, on United States  history, the U.S. and state constitutions—which define their rights as American citizens—the benefits and advantages of our form of government and  the duties of citizenship.  Nebraska law 79-725 also gives direction to teachers on instilling character principles in our children; “common honesty, morality, courtesy, obedience to law, respect for the national flag, the United States Constitution, and the Constitution of Nebraska, respect for parents and the home, the dignity and necessity of honest labor, and other lessons of a steadying influence which tend to promote and develop an upright and desirable citizenry.”  Any teacher reading this, is probably wondering why parents are not also required to do the same?

With the above statutes in mind, last week I became concerned when I read the proposed civic readiness definition presented to the State Board of Education by their Chief Academic Officer and his Social Studies Education specialist. As Chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, I thought it my duty to address the board, to express my concerns on the proposed civic definition: that it did not adequately include all of the dictates of existing state law.  The board invited me to do so at their work session last Thursday and their board meeting Friday.

First off, it did not include the word, “America”:  The civil rights and duties of citizenship in the United States of America differ greatly from those in countries such as communist China or the socialist based countries of the European Union.  It is a privilege to be an American citizen, the civil rights and duties inherent in being one, or an immigrant wishing to become one, should be rightly presented as solely American.

Second, it only mentioned history in the generic context of shaping the present, there was no mention of America’s history of individual sacrifice, including loss of life and property in order to preserve the freedoms we share.  Without the “foundational knowledge of how we, as Americans, gained and maintained our rights”, civics becomes a study of “my rights without duty” in lieu of the correct “our rights guaranteed by responsibility of duty”.

Third, the language in the Civic Skills section of the document included unnecessary divisive politically charged jargon (community organizing and collective action) that could better be said by words such as community involvement and ability to work with others.

The Post-World War II Americanism statutes do need to be brought up to date. For example, we need to eliminate unconstitutional language stating that educators shall be charged with a criminal act if they do not follow present statutes (they can still be fired). At present, there is proposed legislation presented by Senators Brasch and Krist in the Education Committee addressing the Americanism statutes.  Both senators, as a gauge to see if students are learning the basics of American civics, include in their bills a requirement that high school students shall take the 100 question civics portion of the U.S. Immigration Service’s Citizenship Naturalization Exam.  I agree, it is not unreasonable to expect our children to be as well-versed in citizenship as proud new immigrant citizens are.  At present, the continued downward trend of voter turnout for elections by each new generation would indicate we are failing our children when it comes to conveying to them the privilege of American citizenship and the responsibilities entailed in being so.

We are working on getting a combined version of the legislation to the floor of the Legislature for debate this year.

The State Board of Education wisely decided to delay action on accepting the civic readiness definition and instructed their staff to do a rewrite. State Board of Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt and I agreed that in the future, we will work together to assure state statute and Department of Education policy are in agreement.

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

Home District Column 11/30/2017

November 30th, 2017

What does it mean to be Pro-Life?  Naturally, it means defending the unborn from abortion.  It’s supporting policies that protect the innocent from murder.  With those tenets in your pocket one can go through life blindly standing on the moral high ground. I, for example, supported the passage of Senator Watermeier’s Pro-Life LB46 which created the “Choose Life” license plate.  The legislation is a great statement on Nebraska values, symbolic in nature and an easy vote for a Pro-Life politician to make while standing on high ground.

But life shows us that moral issues are not always clear. Pro-abortion individuals are usually against the death penalty, Pro-Life individuals usually are for it (my position); now we have some elbowing going on up on the high ground.

During debate on LB327, the $11 billion budget, there was an attempt to take $323 thousand of Federal Title X Family Planning grant funds from two Planned Parenthood locations in Omaha and Lincoln. Sounded to me like another easy symbolic vote for a Pro-Life politician, considering that Title X’s language actually states that no grants will be given to “programs where abortion is a method of family planning”.

The issue soon became cloudy when I was contacted by constituents about “People’s Family Health Services (PFHS)”, with clinics in North Platte and McCook, being the local entity that received Title X grants; as the legislation was written, it would have also put PFHS’s and 11 other family clinics’ (mostly rural clinics’) funding in jeopardy.

PFHS’s family planning budget for FY 2018 is $280,387. Of this amount, they received $109,026 in Title X funds. The rest of the funds must be made through insurance reimbursements, Medicaid reimbursements, patient payments, and donations.

I called the Director of PFHS to clarify their policy on recommending or referring clients to abortion clinics. They do not.  I doubled checked with Health and Human Service’s annual statistics, they showed very low numbers of residents in Lincoln and surrounding counties who have had abortions; it was obvious that no one in our area was aiding or encouraging women to have abortions.

PFHS administers the Federal Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC) in 15 rural southwest Nebraska counties offering healthy food, prenatal care, breastfeeding support, and connects families to healthcare and substance abuse providers.

In the PFHS Director’s own words, the family planning side of their mission:

“Provides cervical cancer screening, breast and testicular screening, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment, pregnancy testing, contraceptives, free HIV testing. Also provides education and counseling on reproductive and preventive health, STI/HIV risks, abstinence/postponing sexual involvement, and counseling on different contraceptive methods. Referrals are made to community partners for primary healthcare, Women’s Resource Center, health department, social services, WIC, prenatal care, among others… We have an APRN (Nurse Practitioner) on staff two days per week to provide services in North Platte.

“Family Planning promotes the well-being of families, responsible behavior, and healthy babies. It prevents unintended pregnancies through education including abstinence and contraceptive services. It allows planning and timing of pregnancies for healthy outcomes. We do NOT provide abortions here. A patient must seek their own resources for this service if they desire.

“No one is refused because of inability to pay. Cost is based on income and the number of people supported by that income. Charges are based on a sliding fee scale. Medicaid, insurance, and Every Woman Matters are accepted.

“So far in 2017, People’s Family Health Services has served 1035 unduplicated patients.”

We are blessed in the Lincoln County area to also have the fully funded by private donations Women’s Resource Center to help new parents become good parents. I believe services offered by the two non-profits are complementary.

I have told my fellow Pro-Life Legislators, create legislation that is not just symbolic and actually reduces abortions in Nebraska without harming women’s reproductive health care and infants’ wellbeing in rural Nebraska and I will co-sign the legislation.

This summer, I finally had a chance to visit the PHFS clinic in North Platte. When I tripped over infant toys on the lobby floor and saw children’s books scattered around, I immediately knew my vote was the right thing to do!

Contact Sen. Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or402-471-2729.

Home District Column 11/21/2017

November 22nd, 2017

Since area citizens organized and created “Landowners for a Common Purpose” in an effort to encourage the sale of the 30 plus square miles of government owned N-CORPE land in Lincoln County, the prospect of returning the land to taxpaying private ownership is gaining legitimacy and steam.  They have done their homework, have gained a legal opinion from a respected water rights attorney, have acquired an economic study by Nebraska economist Ernie Goss, and have been diligent in attending the board meetings of N-CORPE and of the four NRDs who created the inter-local agreement.

They have effectively debunked the false claims by some NRD officials and their hired attorney who have said that ownership of the groundwater allocation can’t be separated from the land with proof of existing Nebraska groundwater statues and State Supreme court cases; as an example, the 1997 Springer v. Kuhn case.

The starkest evidence in favor of selling the land is an action already taken by the NRDs.  In 2014, due to its isolation from the main body of N-CORPE land, N-CORPE sold 313 acres of previously irrigated land as dry-land by retaining the groundwater rights with the inclusion of the below Grantor’s reservation in the land deed.

“GRANTOR reserves to itself and its successors or assigns all rights to the use of groundwater appurtenant to the Property. It is expressly agreed that GRANTOR shall have the sole and exclusive right to the use of such groundwater, and may convey, sell, or assign the right to the use of such groundwater at its sole discretion. Furthermore, GRANTOR reserves the right of ingress and egress over, across, upon, and below the Property for the purpose of obtaining, monitoring, or storing groundwater. Said rights are hereby reserved unto GRANTOR, its heirs, successors and assigns, forever, or until released by GRANTOR.”

Selling the land will set no new precedents in groundwater rights and to dismiss one scare tactic, it will not suddenly allow the city of Denver to acquire our water.

The common sense reasons to sell the land are plentiful; put the land back on Lincoln County’s tax rolls, gain the local economic benefit of private ownership, pay down the approximately $83 million bond debt and eliminate most of the $1.4 million operating cost of custodial government ownership thus lowering the occupation tax burden of farmers.

Lately another reason has arisen of why the land would be better off in private ownership.  Mismanagement of the land has created an infestation of Kochia, commonly referred to in summertime as Russian thistle and in the winter, better known as tumbleweeds. Tumbleweeds from the N-CORPE land have packed into nearby corn fields making them unharvestable, have packed into fence lines and have created rural fire hazards. N-CORPE will have no choice next spring but to spend thousands of tax-dollars to spray agricultural chemicals to control the weed infestation.

None of the N-CORPE land ownership proponents have answered the core question that taxpayers are asking: “if the land can be sold without harming the river augmentation project, tell us then, your reasoning why you persist in government ownership of the land?”

The elected members of the Twin Platte, Lower and Middle Republican NRDs have been very open to listening to the facts presented to them by the citizens involved with “Landowners with a Common Purpose”.  I anticipate they will do “good government” and sell the land.

One last observation: tragic and disrespectful events in our country have made many of us examine our core beliefs. We spend too much time concentrated on the actions of disgruntled and selfish individuals in our country who confuse privileges with rights.  For me, standing for the national anthem and our flag in respect for what they stand for is an amazing privilege and owning a firearm in anticipation of a future need to defend our freedom from the aggressor will always be a right and a responsibility; both actions I consider a civic duty.

The sayings used often around this time of year, “count your blessings” and “thank God for America”, still ring true in our country. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

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

Home District Column 11/2/2017

November 2nd, 2017

The Nebraska Economic Development Task Force was created this year with the passage of Legislative Bill 641 to examine the effectiveness of economic development programs and to look at alternatives. Due to my position as Education Committee chairman, I am appointed as one of its 10 members.

So far we have met every month, requiring a trip to Lincoln. Originally, the subject was geared to analyzing what state and local economic development programs were effective, weighing the cost to the taxpayer versus the economic activity created.

The topic of late has turned to tax increment financing, a program that has legislative oversight by the Urban Affairs Committee. It was created by ballot approval of citizens, adding a new section to our State Constitution, Article VIII-Section 12. TIF is intended to create an incentive to transfer existing economic growth from the outer edges of a community to redevelopment in blighted and substandard older areas. It was never intended to become a tool for communities to use to compete with other communities for normal regional development growth; and it was never intended to be used as a cure-all for normal free-market irregularities such as a present perceived shortage of workforce housing.

This year I led a successful filibuster of LB496 — legislation that would have added private construction cost of projects (outside of Omaha and Lincoln) to the total cost property tax dollars could be used for to finance TIF. This was a major change to the present belief that TIF dollars are still tax dollars and should be used for public purpose: Limited to the cost of removal of blighted structures and replacement of older public infrastructure — streets and public utilities. The false perception during debate on the bill was that TIF was not being used for housing. The most recent TIF report by the Department of Revenue showed $557 million of statewide residential property value involved in TIF projects.

Most of those residential projects, due to being limited to public infrastructure cost, run their course on average much less than the allowable 15 years, thus returning those tax dollars back into the communities’ tax base sooner rather than later. By adding construction cost to the equation, all residential TIFs would run the full 15 years. The question also arises: Why would any contractor build a residence without TIF? It would soon become apparent that to compete, TIF would be a necessary part of the projects’ financing. Last year, outside of Douglas and Lancaster counties, Nebraska had $667 million in residential construction growth; considering the vast majority of that growth was in the city limits of communities, it is not hard to imagine the hit our state’s property tax base could take if LB 496 would pass. Last year, residential TIF had a $12 million cost; that could easily double in a few years.

In Lincoln County, we have an odd array of economic indicators. Low unemployment but, at the same time, loss of population is one. How can there be a shortage of housing when we have fewer people?

Is the cost of housing the problem, or is the cost of owning housing the culprit? I go back to high property taxes as a source for part of the housing situation. The mere fact that the supporters of LB 496 claim that property taxes are such a burden that the diversion of a homeowner’s taxes to a contractor for 15 years is a deciding factor to build should give pause to all of us when we examine our property tax burden. For example, a family looking to buy a $200,000 home in North Platte would pay on a 4 percent interest, 30-year mortgage a reasonable $955 loan payment; but when you throw into escrow an additional $100 for insurance and $350 for property taxes, a monthly payment of $1,405 can deter home ownership. So I continue to work for property-tax relief for all and fight against answers that only profit special interests.

As a statewide policy maker, I have to take into consideration unintended consequences of legislation. Often when you try to fix a perceived short-term economic bottleneck, you end up breaking the bottle.

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

Home District Column 10/26/2017

October 27th, 2017

Why are Nebraska’s property taxes the 12th highest per-capita in the nation? It is how we fund public education.

In 1990, the Legislature over Governor Orr’s veto passed LB1059 “the Tax Equity Educational Opportunity Support Act”. The legislation was enacted to correct, at that time, the over reliance on property taxes (70%) to fund education. A goal was to fund a minimum of 45% of the total state and local cost of education with income and sales tax increases. To do so, sales tax rates were raised by 25% and income tax rates 17.5%. The mechanism used to assure all districts received state aid was to guarantee that a minimum of 20% of the income taxes paid by the citizens in their districts would be returned to them in aid. The promise made to the taxpayers was that their property taxes would decrease proportionally to the increase in their sales and income taxes.

By 1996-97 the Legislature broke their promise by enacting LB1050 and 806 which eliminated the guarantee of a state foundation aid of 20% income tax credit and eliminated the goal of the State’s share of funding at 45%. Those changes returned property taxes collected as the first source of funding for schools and returned state aid as a source to fill in the remainder. Also in 1996 they enacted LB1114 which established levy lids that promised local property taxes would be controlled by enacting lids on local government’s levy authority; schools were limited to 1.00. As we all know now, they did not consider the rapidly rising property valuations over the last 20 years which have driven up property tax revenues.

The only promise kept by (at that time non-term limited) Legislature was to raise your taxes.

Where are we now after 37 years of broken promises? According to the Census Bureau, Nebraska is 49th in the nation in per-cent of school funding that comes from the state and 2nd in the nation as to funding from property taxes; according to the “Tax Foundation”, the latest 2014 study has us 7th highest in the nation property tax burden on homeowners. Property taxes account for 65% of school funding. Out of a total of 245 school districts, 178 districts receive no state equalization aid; and so much for the promise that the state would cover 45% of state and local tax support for individual districts, this year only 13 districts received 45% or more of their funding from the State.

Since 2015 we have made small steps to keep past promises. In 2016, the Education Committee and Legislature enacted LB1067 that reinstated a small portion of the guaranteed income tax credit (2.23%). Now at least every school district receives a very small amount of state aid; prior to that, 81 rural school’s districts received zero dollars in aid through the TEEOSA formula. That year we also passed LB959 which incorporated my LB444 into its language, which eliminated the mandate that schools maintain a minimum tax levy to receive most of their state aid thus allowing fiscally conscious school boards a little wiggle room to control local property tax rates.

I give you this history of how state government unjustly funds public education on the backs of property tax payers in preparation for the debate on a petition effort that is in the works. It is commonly rumored to be called the 50% school general fund property tax/income tax credit initiative. It will give all
property tax payers in Nebraska who file a state income taxes a 50% refundable income tax credit on the amount they have paid to school districts for their general fund levy.

Our State constitution mandates that the state “shall provide for free instruction in our common schools”. Since it is obvious that past and present state officials have not fulfilled that state duty, it may be time for the second house of the legislature do so through their constitutional right to enact laws through the petition/initiative process. You will hear scare tactics from the opposition to the petition; ignore them and sign the petition. It is time for the taxpayers to send a message to state government.

Home District Column 10/12/17

October 12th, 2017

I thought you might want to see the facts behind my positions on tax policy.

When talking tax policy in Nebraska, we refer to the three legged stool—taxes balanced between income, sales, and property taxes. Presently we are out of WAY OUT of balance.  Last year, Nebraskans paid in billions: $8.9 in state and local taxes, $3.9 (43.8%) in property, $2.55 (28.7%) income, and $2.45 (27.5%) in sales and miscellaneous taxes. In Lincoln County, the inequity is even more dramatic. Last year, Lincoln County’s residents paid $71.3 million (51.5%) in property taxes, $31.7 (23%) million state income taxes, and approximately $35 (25.4%) million in sales taxes. If it seems to you that the proportion of your tax burden leans heavily to property taxes, the evidence shows you are correct in your belief.  The easy political answer is to cut government spending.  Locally, it is up to you to run for office or ask the right questions of candidates before you support them.  On the state level, it is up to me to support policies that address the inequity in tax policy and to make sure the state does not pass down costly mandates to local government.

Our State’s property tax inequity is caused mainly by how we fund our public schools. Schools take well over half of your property taxes. As Education Committee Chairman, my focus has been to address the State Aid formula’s (TEEOSA) heavy reliance on property taxes. Last year I introduced LB640, which has made it through committee and is on general file but has strong opposition from senators representing some urban school districts that now receive the largest benefits from the status quo.  With Nebraska’s unique one house Unicameral form of state government, the citizens are the second house and it may be time for them to take the issue into their own hands with a petition drive to put property tax equity on the 2018 ballot.

I would eventually like to see an individual income tax cut in Nebraska and to make Nebraska’s businesses competitive, I would prefer to eliminate many of the present economic tax incentives that go mostly to large corporations and replace them with the elimination of our State’s corporate income tax. But this is not the time for income tax cuts. It is our burdensome property tax structure that is driving retirees from our state, harming the rural economy, and hurting our housing markets.  Like it or not, the property tax fix will have to come with a rebalancing of the three legged stool.

Monday, the County Commissioners set your tax rates for next year.  As a local taxpayer it is good to see that many of the citizens who sit on local elected boards are trying to hold down the cost of government. The County Commissioners again lowered the County’s tax levy and only increased spending by a minimal amount. We all need to be reminded that although the County sends out your tax statements, they only receive 18% of the total property tax revenue.  The local Ag Society (county fair) cut their tax rate and dollars nearly in half after doubling it for a year for a one time project. Mid-Plains Community College not only lowered their levy, they actually are taking less dollars ($16 million to $15.9). The villages of Sutherland and Wallace lowered their tax-rates and dollars. Thanks to the Airport Authority lowering their budget request, the city of North Platte was able to lower their levy slightly but due to reductions in sales tax revenues, they had to increase their dollars by $526,000.   One way to lower your property taxes is to shop locally this holiday season and keep your sales taxes local.

The Twin Platte NRD reduced their tax-rate by 25% and reduced their dollars asked for by $632,000. Thank the irrigated farmer for paying his $10/acre occupation tax for lowering your NRD taxes. Now if the Twin Platte Board would agree to push for selling the NCORPE land, we could get those farmers a tax cut too.

Lincoln County’s total property taxes will go up. Individually it depends on where you live and if you were one of the unlucky ones who got a large valuation increase.

Contact us: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729

Home District Column 9/28/2017

September 28th, 2017

Column 9-28-17

Recently, free speech issues have risen at the state and national levels. A University of Nebraska-Lincoln student representing “Turning Point”, a college campus-based organization touting support of free markets and limited government, set up a table on the student union commons area to recruit like-minded fellow students.   She was asked to move out of the area by University staff and insulted by individuals with combative comments, vulgar gestures, and rude signage. Not all insults were hurled by fellow students as one would expect, but also by two University instructors. I am all for an exchange of ideas between college instructors and students framed by classroom debate. What made this situation different was the intimidation of this student by University employees in positions of power over her. I do not believe such behavior should be tolerated by government employees at the University of Nebraska. They should have been fired.

This past Sunday, many professional athletes used the playing of our National Anthem as an opportunity to make a political statement by kneeling or locking arms.  Their behavior was baffling, why would you choose to insult our flag?  It is the very symbol that flies above us representing the rights we share as Americans and waves to honor all who have fought to protect those rights.  It is our Constitution and flag that has continued to drive our country in the direction of justice for all. What is more baffling is these athletes are living the American dream: most received a free college education, the opportunity to use their God-given talents, and to be rewarded handsomely for their efforts.  Choosing to disrespect America on their time I can understand, but on that football field they are employees representing a professional organization. Since that is the case, don’t ask me what the score was.  I won’t be watching.

A local amateur columnist recently distorted my views on using our State’s tax policy as a tool for economic development. He twisted a point I had made earlier (that those representing eastern Nebraska claimed an auto plant located in their corner of the state would be an economic boon for Nebraskans, but when rural Nebraska asks for property tax relief as an economic stimulus, we are met with a deaf ear) into a rant about housing and his dislike of my refusal to be bullied by the local chamber during legislative debate. He also inferred that government policy should be made by self-proclaimed experts in lieu of elected officials.

I freely admit, my election was not supported by the leadership of the local or State Chamber of Commerce. Why? Because I do not support incentive programs that harm local property and sales tax bases, I favor property tax relief for everyone over income tax cuts, I do not support government picking winners and losers through taxation policy, and I understand that Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is for urban renewal in such areas as between Cody Park and B Street.

The majority of the business community that did support my election were the owners of small businesses and individuals who work for a paycheck.  I kept my word to them and in 2016, received a 100% approval rating by the National Federation of Independent Business.

This past session I continued to support small businesses by supporting a sales tax on internet purchases and I championed property tax relief efforts.  I fought and defeated an attempt by a few (not all) bankers, wealthy investors, and corporate home builders to add residential construction cost to TIF because it was unfair to independent owners of rental housing properties–who with their own sweat and money, invest in and refurbish older homes–and was equally unfair to independent home builders who adequately supply the new homes needed in our community.

Don’t let the naysayers who deem themselves economic development experts mislead you on North Platte’s economic vigor. Even with the drag of a down agriculture economy and a high property tax burden, our housing and rental markets are strong, local retail developers continue to have faith in the community and are building new storefronts, and the labor market is robust–the railroad is hiring.

Contact us: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729

Home District Column 9/21/2017

September 21st, 2017

We introduced Legislative Resolution (LR) 130: an Education Committee study to examine issues related to the use and availability of substitute teachers.

Last year, Senator Erdman’s LB568 in the Education Committee and Senator Kolterman’s LB415 in the Retirement Committee brought to our attention policy issues concerning substitute teachers in our state’s public-schools.

When introducing LR130, I started with the premise that teachers want to teach and they take pride in their classroom results.  They would prefer to be in the classroom! Therefore, the questions we posed were: 1) what can we do to maximize teachers’ time in the classroom? 2) What policies can we pursue to assure that there is smooth transition in the classroom from teacher to substitute? 3) Could policy changes help lower last year’s $35 million statewide cost for substitute teacher?

Believing that the real-life experiences of local school superintendents were the best source of background information, we sent out a questionnaire to all 244 school district superintendents. Response was good.  At the hearing, we invited testimony from school organizations: Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA), Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA), Educational Service Units (ESUs), Nebraska Association of School Boards (NASB), and the Department of Education (NDE).

When asked how many days teachers are absent from the classroom, the answer was on average 10.5 to 12 days.  Considering many teachers prefer to be in their classrooms, the average was unexpectedly high.  A school official who testified stated that the total days a public school student is taught by substitute teachers is equivalent to one of their 13 years in public school.

Life does happen and as expected, illness and the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (up to 12 weeks) accounted for over 50% of the absence from the classroom.

Other major reasons were: continued education requirements for certified teachers for professional development and training for state mandates on assessments, curriculum, student testing, school safety, and standard reviews. Also attributed were new training requirements for numerous state edicts, as examples; suicide awareness, bullying prevention, date rape prevention, restraint and seclusion, and concussion protocol.

The trend towards teacher contracts allowing for personal days instead of strictly sick leave and family emergencies was also mentioned as a reason for increased teacher absences.

When asked if NSAA high school activities were a major factor for demand of substitute teachers, the answer was no: those events are mostly scheduled around school days.  Some isolated rural districts were affected by travel time to events. Also mentioned were, an increase in junior high activities and all-day club activities of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).

We discovered that after allowing for the expected 5-6 days of illness and family leave, the question remained of how can we keep teachers in the classroom the other 5-6 days they are now absent?  Scheduling training days by ESUs and the NDE during non-classroom times seems to be the quick answer.  That answer may mean adding more non-classroom days to employee contracts or simply scheduling training during the summer interim.  A consideration of moving away from the trend of giving paid personal days in contracts and instead returning to a policy of allowing for administrator approved paid absences may be another answer.

With that said, for the immediate future we still need to find ways to expand the pool of available substitute teachers. Most of the responders to our survey said allowing recently retired teachers the ability to substitute immediately would help immensely; the stickler is, the IRS requires a bona fide separation from like employment when retirement is drawn.  State law defines separation for public school teachers as 180 days.  NDE did attempt to address the problem this year by increasing the number of days a local substitute can teach from 45 to 90. To be a local substitute, one must have at least 60 credit hours of higher education including an hour of an approved human relations course.  It was suggested that 120 days should be considered.

If you have inkling to teach, check with your school, you may qualify to substitute teach.

Contact us: mgroene@leg.ne.gov or 402-471-2729

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1107
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
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