NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

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The “interim” is the official government term for the time between the 60 and 90 day sessions of the Legislature.  Government looks at this time as a waiting period before they can intervene in your life and freedoms to a greater depth; you should look at it as a respite from the onslaught of the nanny state. To me, it is a return to the sanity of real life of God, family, friends and the pursuit the freedoms we still share.  Although, for me, it is not a true absence; government growth resists being restrained completely.  There will be times I will return to Lincoln for interim studies in the Education Committee, which I chair, and the Economic Development Task Force, which I am a member of.

Governor’s Vetoes:

LB998; is an attempt to codify in law the expansion of Educational Service Units’ (ESUs) duties into the area of family services and student mental health by establishing a social worker program.  It was to be funded by private donations, which should throw up red flags; private money comes with conditions.  Nebraska does need to have a discussion on the expectations we have of ESUs.  Are they outdated? Do we need to refocus their purpose? Or should we go so far as to eliminate them and incorporate their mission into the public school system and the State Department of Education? The Governor’s veto was the correct action.

LB873; Urban Affair’s Priority Bill is a perfect example of a Christmas tree bill with too much weight.  It originally was a cleanup bill, meant to eliminate antiquated, obsolete or unnecessary language in statutes and to alphabetize and clarify provisions and references in existing law.  It grew into a Christmas tree when senators wishing to pass their bills pressured the committee to hang their legislation onto the Committee’s priority.  Components of seven unrelated bills were amended into LB873. They included everything from creating municipal land banks where a city could enter into real-estate ventures by purchasing dilapidated properties and then replace or refurbish before placing them on the open real-estate market to requiring cities to address early childhood development in comprehensive plans and also use Quality Growth Fund (LB840) tax dollars.  Christmas trees allow bad laws to be passed as they slide through the legislative process on the backs of needed legislation, all without enough time for fair and full debate.  As chairman of a committee, there is pressure to help a friend get their dying legislation passed by allowing it to be amended into a priority bill. As Education Committee Chairman, I resist those overtures, any exception better have an overriding urgency to do the public good. The Governor’s veto is good government.

LB449 Senator Chambers’ repeal of the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Management Act. I voted for the repeal based on my strong belief in protecting property rights. I thought the statute gave county government excessive enforcement authority to abrogate a citizens’ property rights.   Either way, the law has no effect on Lincoln County or 91 other counties who have not enacted a related ordinance. Only Sheridan County has done so and it has never enforced the ordinance. I realize the threat of the law is often enough to get an irresponsible landowner to control his prairie dog infestation and I fully understand why the Governor vetoed LB449. It isn’t like Senator Chambers and the Governor have a good working relationship.

A recent local editorial about an email exchange I had with an individual critical of my positions is best described as “much ado about nothing” although JoAnne Young, a reporter from the Lincoln Journal Star, did contact me and wrote an accurate story about the exchange and the individual’s Facebook post. Make no mistake I take no bait unless I am reversing who is doing the reeling-in.  Radical groups that even Bernie Sanders would not claim use the internet to distort and create false news to attack and threaten political officials they disagree with. I will not be intimidated nor forfeit my free-speech rights. This endeavor has garnered the response I sought. It is now in the hands of the authorities.

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

As I write this, we are preparing for the last day of this legislative year.  There will be some last-minute attempts to kill legislation on Final Reading. An interesting aspect is that since it is the last day, if the Governor were to veto a bill: his veto would stand because by law the legislature is out of time to override his veto.

I am not one to pat myself on the back, but since a local columnist, ignorant of the inner workings of the Legislature deemed to profess his opinion of our accomplishments, I am inclined to list a few from my first term since space is not nearly available for all.

Education Committee; eliminated minimum property tax levy, thus allowing local schools to set their tax levy without fear of loss of state aid.  Changed the State Aid Formula so all school districts receive some state aid through the income tax rebate portion of the Tax Equity Educational Opportunity Support Act (TEEOSA). Injected classroom discipline into the discussion on mental health services being included in school funding.  That debate will continue next year. I led the filibuster to stop enforcement of an unreliable meningitis vaccination, the following year the Academy of Pediatricians agreed when they came out with a recommendation for their members not to give the vaccination unless certain preexisting medical conditions were present. Last year, my first year as Chairman, in the midst of the budget crisis I crafted LB409. Fighting off lobbying by the larger school districts and complaints by the smaller districts to create legislation that treated all fairly.  I have taken the lead in reworking the TEEOSA formula; my LB640 came close to passage this year and a form of it will return next year with me. This year, we worked with Senator Linehan on incorporating her LB651 into committee priority bill 1081.  It puts into law citizens’ expectations that their schools make sure children learn to read at a high level.

I was a deciding vote on getting the Governor’s tax overhaul bill out of Revenue Committee and I helped Senator Friesen get his school-aid foundation bill out of my Education Committee for debate.  Neither passed, but they have served their purpose as paving stones to a final property tax solution, be it by petition or legislative action next year.  Down here you can be successful as a compromising, vote trading politician or take the path I follow of integrity based on principle and openness.  Most senators follow that path. Sometimes we waiver and we need a reminder from friends.

A successful senator not only works on legislation to help local citizens like Jeremy Woods and his wife who brought me the idea for LB478, the archery bill to help ex-felons regain their right to hunt and fish, or Karen Hough fulfill her dream to open an equine massage business–the Governor signed LB596 yesterday; a successful senator also creates relationships with state agencies.  We have helped the village of Brady overcome Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) regulations when moving their village sign along Highway 30.  Just yesterday, we successfully mediated between the village of Hershey and NDOT a reimbursement of $56,987 for work Hershey did during the construction of the overpass. We helped local electricians and Beveridge Drilling with a temporary fix (legislative fix next year) to avoid an unintended state electrical code violation when boring is needed to complete a project. Due to privacy issues, I can not relate to you the many times we helped constituents mediate situations with the Department Health and Human Services.

We have been in the midst of changes in major legislation: Title X, education funding, petition rights, defeat of windmill tax incentives, Natural Resources District taxation and groundwater policy, etc., but what brings me back is helping individuals protect their rights and receive the government services they need.

I never consider personal gain when I get involved in issues and unlike a local political writer, I directly contact individuals for clarification on their position. Not once have I been contacted by him; I guess he prefers to read between the lines of my columns.

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

The session is basically over. Monday was the last day to vote on first round General File bills, Tuesday was the last day for Select File bills. Next week Wednesday, we will finish the last bills on Final Reading and the Governor will give a speech. The Legislature will applaud how great we are and how we saved babies (a good thing) and how we wrung our hands about property taxes and did nothing. The lobby behind the glass will mail out their political donations to those who jumped the highest for them. Another year of politics as usual.

I will get right to the point, you will not get a voluntary effort of property tax relief out of this Legislature. Efforts by Senators Erdman, Briese, and Friesen were either blocked or hijacked by the lobby. The Governor and Senator Smith’s LB947 was doomed at the start with a demand from the State Chamber of Commerce for a 15% corporate income tax cut from 8.04 to match the top individual rate of 6.84. The property tax relief portion of the bill was a Washingtonian attempt to claim relief by pushing it out over a 12-year period–an effort that would barely keep up with inflationary factors.

Our LB640 to give long-range property tax relief addressing how we fund our schools and alleviate the overreliance on property taxes had the best chance of passage. In earlier debate, it received positive votes on amendments of 30 and 43 votes. It was being filibustered by a few senators who represent larger school districts; the administrations of those districts do not want to give up property taxing authority in exchange for more state funding. They recognize they have the property taxpayers around the neck who will pay or lose the farm. They justifiably don’t trust the Legislature to fund schools.  I had presented to the Speaker a list of 33 senators who said they were willing to consider a cloture vote if it was amended. LB640 was not given that opportunity and it died.

Last Sunday, the Speaker asked the 6 senators who had presented property tax legislation to meet to see if a compromise could be reached. To ease the chances of success, I was willing to leave my LB640 out of the compromise. The state aid to education formula needs to be fixed but it can be done another day.  Today, we need immediate property tax relief. We got into this property tax fiasco because past Legislatures shifted school funding to property taxes.  The reality is that the fix will have to include a shift back to income and sales taxes.  It was a doomed effort when the first thing on the table is not an attempt to raise more state revenues but instead a tax cut for corporations.  I sarcastically said that maybe we need to take out of Nebraska’s Constitution the requirement for a balanced budget. Then we could be like Washington: the tax cutters could cut taxes, the spenders could spend and both will go home and get reelected. No compromise was reached.

One last thing. We did pass legislation that will cause your property taxes to go up.  Supporters of the Bankers Association’s (who reported record banking profits last year) workforce housing LB496, to allow Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to cover construction cost, defeated a filibuster effort from property tax relief proponents. TIF in the past has been limited to shift property tax dollars intended for schools and other local county taxing entities to pay for public costs of city infrastructure. Private construction covers everything from purchasing the building lot to sodding the yard after construction. LB496 will allow bankers and real estate speculators to recoup as much 30% of their cost over 15 years.  If taxes paid by citizens living in TIF’ed housing aren’t going towards schools and public safety, you will pay more! It still amazes me when one observes the legislative influence 30 pieces of silver from lobbyists buys in Lincoln.  The Governor could veto LB496 and stop this tax shift to homeowners and ag-landowners but first, he would have to recognize the severity of Nebraskans’ property tax burden.

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

We have 8 days left in this year’s session, it is a dangerous time of the year for freedom loving citizens. As Mark Twain has been credited as saying, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session”.  As the clock ticks, senators become more willing to compromise to get their pet projects passed, more often than not creating bad results. Nebraskan’s rights and tax dollars hang in the balance.

What has happened since last week:

LB 1009; allow the Nebraska Department of Transportation to raise highway speed limits.  Many citizens have contacted me over concerns of raising the interstate speed limit to 80 mph. I have the same concerns; presently, on-ramps and the presence of semi-trucks governed at 65 mph cause hazards that are not conducive to 80 mph.  The bill’s sponsor, Senator Murante, agreed to remove the interstate speed limit increase from the bill, and I supported the remaining speed increases. There is no good reason why there are two or three different speed limits on state highways when traveling between North Platte, Imperial or Broken Bow.  Kansas and Colorado, long ago went to a 65 mph limit on their rural highways. Also, in the bill is a new maximum 70 mph limit for newly created super-two highways. Major construction will occur on Highway 83 between North Platte and McCook turning it into one of Nebraska’s first super-two highways. That event, plus the ability to travel 70 mph will increase traffic through Lincoln County, it will naturally help economic activity. The bill passed General File with my support.

LB 909; change titling requirements for assembled and kit vehicles. I have been approached by citizens who have expressed frustration on getting titles and licenses for reproduction kit cars and vehicles that have had major repairs. Senator Bostleman’s bill makes changes to the law that will facilitate an easier licensure process for those vehicles. I supported its passage on General File.

LB 596; our equine massage practice bill. It has passed General File and will have friendly amendments added on Select File by Senator Kuehn (a licensed veterinarian) to eliminate government oversight on those practitioners, plus Senator Chambers is adding dogs and cats to the bill.  LB 596 has become the poster child of government over-regulation and licensure of non-harmful business occupations.  I have been interviewed on LB 596 by the Wall Street Journal and AP stories on our bill have run in the US News & World Report, Washington Post, London Daily Times and New York Times.  This human-interest story points out government’s tendency to become overbearing in the lives of average citizens.

LB 944; mainline budget bill. This is being filibustered by some for political reasons—the accurate language authorizing the Health and Human Services Department’s granting of federal Title X tax-dollars to family health clinics (including North Platte’s Peoples Family Health Services). LB 944 accurately mirrors the federal statute’s prohibition of using Title X money for abortion as a family planning method. The fight is over a federal Health and Human Service’s bureaucratic Regulation 59.5 which directs clinics to provide information and counseling regarding abortion but cannot perform them to receive a Title X grant.  Federal legislation has since overturned that federal regulation with the passage of the Weldon Amendment, which prohibits any federal agency from discriminating against those who do not wish to refer for abortion–whether or not those reasons are for religious, conscience, or any other reason.  Federal HHS currently interprets the provisions in Regulation 59.5 to be in conflict with the Weldon Amendment, which is later in time and of higher authority as a statute rather than a rule. We need to pass changes to the $8.8 billion-dollar state budget and I will continue to support the present language and thus, guarantee our local health clinic’s access to federal funding.

LB 1069; an update of our American Civics’ guidelines for public school curriculum.  If a bill that is held up in committee is deemed necessary by the majority of senators to be enacted, the sponsor, Senator Brasch, can ask the body to pull it from committee to the floor. That action is in process. Stay tuned.

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

Last week, Speaker Scheer started late-night legislative sessions, continuing debate up to midnight if necessary. As of Tuesday, there were only 15 days left in the session to finish debate on 63 priority bills. I do not envy the Speaker’s job.

Bills of interest:

LB158: Attempt to take away the right of a juvenile and their family to not exercise their right to counsel in a juvenile criminal court where mostly misdemeanor crimes are involved.  The United States Supreme Court made it clear in the 1975 Farretta v. California case that you have a right to not be represented by a lawyer; when Justice Stewart wrote in the Court’s opinion, “The question before us now is whether a defendant in a state criminal trial has a constitutional right to proceed without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so. Stated another way, the question is whether a State may constitutionally hale a person into its criminal courts and there FORCE (my emphasis) a lawyer upon him, even when he insists that he wants to conduct his own defense. It is not an easy question, but we have concluded that a State may not constitutionally do so.”  If passed, LB158 would have taken that right away, added the expense of a taxpayer-funded-attorney for poor juveniles to county public defender budgets and burdened middle-class families already stressed by a foolish mistake by a juvenile, with the cost of an attorney.   With the support of local citizens involved in the juvenile court system, we successfully filibustered LB158 and for now, we are protecting your constitutional right to represent yourself in criminal court.

LB299: Occupational Board Reform advanced to Select File. The Nebraska Legislature in the past has created in many cases, too many regulatory hurdles involved for citizens trying to pursue their occupation, whether it be in medicine or the vocational trades. LB299 would set up a scheduled review of the certification process for all occupational licenses.

LB596: Our Equine Massage bill is the poster child of over-regulated occupations that LB299 would address; its review process hopefully will catch and fix other over-regulated occupations. LB596 passed with no dissenting votes to Select File. We are working with other senators to amend the bill on Select File to where it will be even less restrictive for an individual to create an equine massage practice.

LB947: Revenue Committee Tax Reform package. This bill creates a property tax credit on your state income taxes starting at 2% on ag-land and 1% for residential, eventually reaching a 20% credit for ag-land by 2027 and residential by 2030, and it would lower the top corporate income tax rate from 7.81 to equal that of the top individual tax rate of 6.84.  At present, our corporate tax rates are not competitive with other states when trying to attract new business. As a member of the Revenue Committee, I agreed to be the deciding vote of a 5-3 decision to forward the bill out of Committee after garnering a Committee concession to cut the workforce development funding from $10 to $5 million and to phase in the corporate tax reduction over 5 years from the original 2 years.  I remain a firm supporter of the property tax petition, LB947 brings property tax relief at an unacceptably slow pace. I voted the bill out of Committee so the people of Nebraska will have a chance to hear legislative debate on property tax reform, and discover where their elected officials stand on the issue. A lot of variables would have to line up, including the outcome of our priority bill LB640, before I will support the final passage of LB947.

LB256: creates the ability for communities to create a Vacant Property Registration Ordinance.  It passed Final Reading and has been signed into law by the Governor. I supported the bill with the fate of the Pawnee Hotel in mind. Community supporters in North Platte would like to pursue redevelopment of the old historic building, but at present, they cannot even identify a person who speaks for the absentee owners. LB256 would force someone to step forward.

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

Please excuse me for not having a column the last two weeks. I do compose my columns myself and I have been a little busy on the floor of the Legislature; as you know I do not shy away from a debate. I do appreciate correspondence from you on legislation, and many times I find a pearl of wisdom in your words that help form my approach to legislation.

This week, debate on the budget began. Besides time spent by Sen. Ernie Chambers’ instructing us on legislative history and his past accomplishments, we must address spending to match revenue shortages. There are also two major components of the budget drawing debate: how we handle Federal Title X grants to health clinics offering reproductive and family health services, and funding levels for public higher education.

Last year I took criticism from my pro-life friends on my vote to remove a provision in the budget dealing with federal Title X funding. The language was not clear and would have harmed funding for North Platte’s People’s Family Health Services. During debate last year, I learned that the majority of clinics, including PFHS, that receive Title X funds follow the federal statute’s requirement that “none of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”

This year, I was included in the discussion on the proper budget language concerning Title X funding. The new Title X language in LB 944 reflects the federal law, assuring that those clinics such as PFHS who follow the law are not harmed financially. Earlier this year, I issued the following statement:

“Nebraskans expect our state’s Title X budget provision to mirror the 1970 federal Public Health Service Act’s language that forbids grants to be disbursed to family planning clinics that perform, assist, counsel or refer for abortions. Nebraskans, by far, are pro-life and they demand that their federal tax dollars will not be used to fund abortions. They must be assured that Title X funding grants will only go to family clinics that promote healthy pregnancies and family health. Therefore, I fully support the governor’s proposed budget language.”

Tuesday night, LB 944 passed General File.

Update on some legislation in which our office is involved:

» LB 758: Sen. Dan Hughes’ (co-signed) NCORPE bill providing for voluntary payments in lieu of property tax payments — passed into law.

» LB 874: Sen. Justin Wayne’s (co-signed) TIF (tax increment financing) law, a clarification on terms, uses and accountability for municipalities’ use of the redevelopment tool — placed on final reading.

» LB 596: Our equine massage practice bill. It was prioritized by the speaker. After fellow supporters of the bill, Sens. Burke Harr and Chambers, pointed out an unintended flaw in its language, we pulled the bill to amend the change needed. The bill is back on the agenda and has wide support.

» LB 778: The Education Committee priority bill was voted out of committee this week. It will limit school board authority to a 5-cent building fund levy and allow up to an additional 9 cents (14 cents total) by a vote of the people. Historically and traditionally, the public has been able to vote on major school construction projects, but with the advent of higher agriculture valuations, many rural school districts’ levies have dropped well below the maximum allowable $1.05 levy; therefore, districts have begun to build schools without the people’s vote. LB 778 will correct that situation and again allow the citizen to be included in major district decisions on construction projects.

» LB 640 is our priority bill. It addresses the inequity in the state school funding formula (TEEOSA) by setting 55 percent as a beginning factor to calculate the portion of local school funding that may come from property taxes. It also lowers the maximum tax levy for school districts from $1.05 to $0.987. Initially, LB 640 would be funded with the existing Property Tax Credit Fund. Last year, as Sen. Curt Friesen’s priority, it had support but not enough to overcome a filibuster. Since that time, the political climate and other tax policy positions have changed. So, there is a narrow path that an amended version of LB 640 can take to become a reality.

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

Home District Column 2/22/2018

February 22nd, 2018

We have reached the halfway point of the legislative session. Senator and Committee Priority Bill designations were due on Tuesday.

I prioritized our LB640, a carryover bill that Senator Friesen had prioritized last year, but we ran out of time to finish debate. The base language would provide property tax relief through changes in the State Aid to Education Formula (TEEOSA) by limiting the amount of property taxes to fund local schools to 55% and it would lower the max property tax rate a district could levy down from 1.05 to .987. It will shift more of the burden of funding schools back to where it belongs: state income and sales taxes.  In these times of cash shortages, we would use the present Property Tax Credit Fund (PTCF) as the initial funding source for this long-range fix of the major cause of high property taxes–how we fund our schools. Over the last year, things have changed; previous strong opponents of using the PTCF have now proposed using it to fund the creation of permanent tax relief through legislation. We have had a year to address how to perfect LB640 and we will be amending the bill to close any concerns of prospective legislative support.

LB1123, our frantic attempt to push our N-CORPE land sale bill did not cross the finish line. I have never talked to so many lawyers in one week in my life, but we finally got the answers we needed to create the ultimate amendment for LB1123.  But understandably, a majority of senators on the Committee just didn’t feel they had enough time to sort through all the proponents’ claims and opponents’ counter-claims on the effects the original language of the bill would have on ground water law. Of course, we know that Supreme Court case law and existing statutes already allows the NRDs to sell the land. All we were trying to do was give assurance, in statute, to the members of the four NRD boards involved that they could and should sell the land. Senator Hughes, Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, and I have since met and we agree that for interstate compliance reasons on the Platte and Republican Rivers, we need to protect the augmentation project.  We agreed that we need to clarify the ability of the NRDs to sell the land. We will work together over the summer to accomplish that mission next year. At the hearing on LB1123, the NRDs and Legislature received a strong message from Lincoln County citizens (“Landowners for a Common Purpose”) that they, nor this issue, are going away; it needs to be resolved. Until then, locally we can make sure that we know where candidates for local NRDS stand on the N-CORPE issue and then vote accordingly.

Other priority bills of interest:

LB1069 Senator Brasch: Update of the American Civics statute defining guidelines of what will be taught in our schools’ civics classrooms. It will have to be pulled from committee by the body due to the makeup of the Education Committee members. As Committee Chairman, I will fully support a pull motion.

LR1CA Senator Murante: Constitutional Amendment to require voter ID. I will support. I personally am proud to show evidence I am an American citizen.

LB158 Senator Pansing-Brooks: Force counties to appoint an attorney for every juvenile between the ages of 14 and 18 at their arraignment. I will again oppose this carryover bill. You have a constitutional right to an attorney; freedom is forfeited when you lose the right to refuse counsel. Parents and youths will be forced to have an attorney’s opinion added into their decisions.  Much of the cost will be put on local property tax payers.

Senator Williams’ LB496 adds construction costs to housing projects funded by Tax Increment Financing (TIF).  Senator Wayne’s LB874 updates TIF law removing the “catch-all” phrase that allowed for just about any cost to be paid by TIF. It would now be foolish to immediately re-open the floodgates with LB496.  Besides, the bill is not needed because we passed LB518 last year that created a Workforce Housing Fund.

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

Home District Column 2/15/2018

February 15th, 2018

It has been a very busy schedule the first 28 days of the 60-day session, and we have not yet even talked about the budget shortfall.

Legislation that may be of interest to you.

LB449 Senator Chambers’ 2017 carryover bill; Repeal of the Black Tailed Prairie Dog Act. It came out of Committee by a 7-1 vote.  It failed to get the 25 votes necessary on General File to go forward with a tally of 21-17 and 11 not voting. I was one of those not voting. Why? Because I believe that prairie dogs are varmints that need to be controlled; they cause range damage, their holes break livestock legs and their existence invites rattlesnakes.  But I agree with Senator Chambers’ argument about property rights. I just don’t like government being able to go on private ground without permission to eradicate wildlife. If we start with prairie dogs, where do we stop? Deer, elk, rabbits, owls, hawks, etc. all can do damage to agricultural crops. Since the defeat of his bill three weeks ago, he has been holding up the legislative process with filibusters.  He has decided to bring back LB449 by making it his 2018 priority bill. I have told him if he sticks to the property rights argument and does not attempt to regulate private control of the pests, I will support his bill.

LB874 Urban Affairs Committee’s Change the Community Redevelopment Law. I have been in full support of Chairman Wayne’s work on this legislation and have cosigned the bill. The legislation is in response to the 2016 State Auditor’s office audit report on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) use across the state which found major discrepancies in proper use by municipalities. The legislation strengthens requirements for record keeping, open meetings notices and adds better notice to affected government entities (schools, county, etc.) by requiring notice by certified mail. It also clearly states that TIF related tax dollars cannot be diverted to create a revolving loan fund and it clearly states TIF dollars must only be used on public costs related to the project that generates them. The bill also gives the State Auditor more auditing authority, but city officials are still their own oversight, therefore the legislation is only as good as the integrity of the city officials.

LB1123 Our N-CORPE land sale bill had its hearing last Wednesday, the Committee heard from many Lincoln County citizens and received over 160 letters of support. Expert testimony was received by the Committee from individuals involved in water law. I was disappointed in the misrepresentation of the bill by some farm groups who fear change. They are living in past time where water resources were believed infinite and had no limits. I believe, as do many of those involved in the citizens’ group, “Landowners for a Common Purpose”, that we need to get out in front to of the ground-water issue. Clearly defining the N-CORPE land sell issue in law is a step in the right direction. I have been working with legal minds to perfect an amendment that will fit into existing Nebraska Supreme Court case law and present state statutes. I hope to still prioritize it.

Property taxes: I sit on the Revenue and Education Committees; both Committees have heard different proposals for property tax relief. I don’t see any of the bills in their present form garnering enough votes to pass. The Governor’s bill has problems with raising property taxes on commercial property (rental homes, apartments and all other business property), he is working on solutions.  LB1084 attempts to give property tax relief by offsetting the cost, with increased sales tax revenues. Strong opposition exists by those opposed to tax increases. After-all, Nebraska residents are the second highest taxed people in the nation (only behind Illinois) when compared to family incomes. Senator Friesen’s LB1103 in the Education Committee would guarantee that school districts receive a minimum of 25% of their basic needs. It at least addresses the true reason for high property taxes: how we fund our schools.

There will probably be at least two property tax relief bills on the floor of the Legislature seeing as the petition is still an option.

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

Home District Column 1/25/2018

January 25th, 2018

The Legislature has met for 14 of the 60 days of the Second Session of the 105th Legislature.  Legislation acted on so far that may interest you are:

LB368: eliminate helmet requirement for motorcycle riders. It again failed cloture vote on a filibuster. The frustrating aspect is that the sponsors have had commitments from senators but in a fit of “get even”, some change their votes at the last minute. I supported the bill for reasons of personal responsibility “freedom” and the fact that states around us do not have helmet laws means that we lose some tourist dollars as bikers avoid the state.

LB81: to raise the fee for the 3-year handgun purchase permits you apply for at the sheriff’s office from $5 to $25. It failed. I spoke against it; it was a tax increase but more importantly, it was a further restriction on our Second Amendment rights. Because of the discussion on the floor, I believe an attempt in the future will be to made to make it a lifetime permit—only voided when you are convicted of a felony or you no longer reside in the state.

LB377: relating to obsolete classifications of school districts. It advanced to select file. Coming out of our Education Committee, it is a good example of what we call a cleanup bill. Public school law references 6 classes related to enrollment, this classification is for academics, not to be confused with the more familiar sports activity classes.  Two of those classes no longer exist and one only has 18 districts. For example, our laws still reference K-8 and high-school only schools; due to the actions of the Legislature in the past, forcing consolidation of those schools, they no longer exist.  Many of the bills you see pass through the legislature, with little debate, are similar cleanup bills.

LB39:  create a state law to duplicate existing federal and international law banning sale and trade of ivory. I spoke against it. I agree with efforts to stop the slaughter of elephants and rhinoceroses to harvest their ivory, but creating a “feel good” state law dealing with trade of that ivory that could burden local law enforcement would be redundant. It failed.

Other legislation to watch for:

LB758: Senator Hughes’ attempt to alleviate Lincoln and Dundy County residents’ concerns on the loss of local property taxes from the NRD’s N-CORPE and Rock Creek river-flow augmentation projects. It will allow the NRDs involved to VOLUNTARILY pay-in-lieu of taxes to the taxing entities affected.  Our State Constitution wisely forbids taxation on government property, it is foolish for the government to tax one individual and then turn around and pay taxes to another public entity (double taxation). I would prefer the land is instead put back on the tax-rolls. There is one aspect of the bill I am in complete agreement with and is critical to Lincoln County.  Since N-CORPE has been, for the past 5 years, paying property taxes on the 19,500 acres in their project, the courts may rule that the Lincoln County public entities involved may have to pay back those taxes to N-CORPE.  758 includes a grandfather clause in it that would eliminate that fear. I applaud Senator Hughes for his efforts and I have co-signed his bill.

LB1123: my bill to clarify the NRD’s ability to sell land associated with river-flow augmentation projects while reserving the groundwater rights associated with the land. N-CORPE has already sold 313 acres, where they did what 1123 would authenticate. By making the legislation specific to NRD augmentation projects, it will eliminate concerns that out of state interest will come in and take our water.  The reality is, the way N-CORPE came into existence, it created an exception to common law that opened a Pandora’s Box on water groundwater transfers; LB1123 will close it. The language of the bill mirrors Senator Hughes’ 758 definition of who the law applies to: NRDs involved in augmentation projects. The two bills work well together. I view 1123 as an economic development, tax-cut, support small government and common-sense bill all rolled into one. The public hearing on 1123 will be on February 14th, after it is voted out of committee, it will become my priority bill.

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

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.

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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