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LB10 Winner take all of the five Electoral College votes: Earlier the bill survived a filibuster and advanced to Select File after the first round of debate. This time some senators changed their vote and the bill fell two votes short of the 33 needed to advance to final reading. I believe we are still a federation of states and that individual states should decide as a whole state on whom is hired as our chief executive officer (president). There are those who believe that we have become a complete democracy in lieu of the Founding Fathers’ opinion that the United States (apparently an outdated term) is a mixture of a republic and a democracy. I disagree, local states’ rights are critical in protecting our freedoms.
LB367 Eliminate the pay-per-signature restriction on petitioners: This was my priority bill this session. Why, you ask? Because Nebraska is a unicameral legislature and through the petition process the citizens are the second house. Our state constitution unequivocally states, “The first power reserved by the people is the initiative whereby laws may be enacted and constitutional amendments adopted by the people independently of the Legislature.”
I have observed that depending on which way the political winds are blowing at the time affects where the political left or political right stands on limiting your petition rights, making it all the more critical that your right to take part in your government through the initiative process is protected. My colleagues agreed and passed LB367 to Select File 38 to 0.
LB31 Eliminate motorcycle and moped helmet requirements: Senator Bloomfield has been a firm advocate for those who seek to have their right of personal responsibility returned to them on their decision to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. After the required eight hours of debate, it was stopped by a filibuster by those who seem to believe they know what is best for others. An ironic sidebar discovered in the debate was that a few of the opponents of LB31 are avid open road bicyclists. There is no state law requiring them to wear a helmet when using our public highways.
LB106 Livestock Siting and Expansion Act: Its focus is to create common statewide parameters to govern zoning laws related to large agricultural livestock operations. This bill came through the government affairs committee of which I am apart. My vote to pass it through committee was based on the fact that the sponsor of the bill agreed to work with me to amend the bill on the floor. We believe that agriculture should be able to grow in Nebraska but we also share our supporters’ belief of local control. The original language of LB106 gives authority to the state to override local county zoning boards. Our amendments remove the state’s authority and replaces it with a mediation option between the farmer and the county to work out agreeable exceptions to the zoning matrix.
This week the Unicameral went to full days on the floor for bill debate. Committees are still cleaning up late legislation as senators implore and coerce the best they can to get their bills out of committee and onto the floor. Because of full day floor debate, the committees must meet over the noon hour or before the session begins in the morning.
Several bills being heard deal with the expansion of Medicaid. Proponents of Medicaid expansion are using a cunning tactic of splitting it up piecemeal, and claiming that if each is enacted and funded we will save tax dollars. I am yet to be convinced that spending tax dollars saves tax dollars. The catch is that for every dollar they spend of your federal tax dollars they plan to save ten cents of your state tax dollars; meanwhile the federal debt continues to rapidly escalate. That may work for them but it does not work for me, nor for future generations of Americans.
My staff and I appreciate all the phone calls and emails we have been receiving informing us of where you stand; it helps me decide how I should vote. So please do not hesitate to contact us.
When I went to Lincoln I assumed I took a $12,000 a year job as a government employee, but after the first couple of weeks I felt more like a low paid bank loan officer at the biggest bank in Nebraska; every lobbyist in town was looking for money and they are not interested in paying it back. Now I am wondering if I am a Deacon in the Church of Secular Humanism where quite a few of my fellow senators seem to want to do their good works with your tax dollars or try to make everyone feel good about their sexual preferences or their recreational drug use.
Marijuana: I will vote against and help defeat LB189 which would basically decriminalize the drug by making possession a misdemeanor. I do support LB326, which is the opposite of LB189, it strengthens present drug laws and makes possession of the synthetic form of marijuana a Class IV felony. I have heard from law enforcement in Lincoln County who see firsthand the lives devastated from prolonged use of marijuana. Their advice is the council I will follow.
Medical Marijuana (LB643 Cannabis Compassion and Care Act): We will not support the attempt to make present forms of recreational marijuana legal for medical purposes. We understand there is mounting evidence for legitimate medical uses for the cannabidiol oils derived from the cannabis plant. Any attempt to make it available as a medical product must be done through the usual medicinal forms of a pill or a liquid administered in the form of inhaled vapor. It must be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist. LB643 is nowhere close to where it needs to be.
We do support LB390, which sets up the Medical Cannabidiol Pilot Study within the University Of Nebraska Medical Center. Its measured approach is the right way to advance medical uses of marijuana by-products. A young man from North Platte did a well-received job of representing advocacy for medical marijuana, but in contrast, most of the individuals roaming the halls of the State Capitol advocating for the drug were actually good examples of why marijuana is a dangerous and harmful drug to society.
Property taxes: It is not a good omen that we have yet to get a property tax reduction bill out of any of the related committees. We are still trying to come up with an answer in the Education Committee on a version of property tax relief. One big obstacle is that Omaha and Lincoln area public schools receive a majority of the state aid to education and they are reluctant to share their windfall with rural Nebraska. There may be a way to compromise.
Other happenings: The Bridge Repair Act – LB609 – has not come out of the Transportation Committee and its accompanying LB610, which funds the bill, has passed the Revenue Committee. The bills create a 6 cent tax increase on motor fuels. It makes 4 cents of the increase available to counties and cities to repair bridges, and gives 2 cents to the Department of Roads. We need to repair our bridges, but LB609 takes away local control of bidding and funding of bridge projects and LB610 has no sunset clause. Both bills need work before I will support them.
We supported LB366. LB366 increases the personal needs allowance for Medicaid recipients who reside in alternative living arrangements from $50 to $60. What I did not agree with is the resulting price tag to taxpayers of a million dollars. I attempted an amendment to adjust the Medicaid increase in the budget to assisted living facilities from the projected 2% to approximately 1.75%, which would have made LB366 revenue neutral. Considering that inflation is expected to be around 0.5% in 2015, it seemed like a fair trade-off. We got the attention of the tax and spenders in the Legislature; the protest was audible. At the end of the day a message was sent, and some senators now believe we ought to make sure we have a way to pay for additional benefits before we give the taxpayers’ money away. It is an indication that the budget fight is heating up.
So far we have advanced two of our bills out of committee to general file, meaning they can be enacted into law on the floor of the legislature. Those bills are LB367 – an initiative petition rights bill – and LB378, which in our office we call the Iron Eagle bill. Even though our bills made the first cut from around 650 introduced, to about 150 that get through committee, there is still no guarantee that individual bills will be debated on the floor of the legislature. The Legislature, by constitutional restrictions, meets 90 days during odd numbered years and 60 days during even numbered years (thank God) over the two year biennium session. Therefore each senator is allowed to prioritize one of their bills, which guarantees it will be heard this year. Each committee can prioritize two bills and Speaker Hadley can prioritize up to twenty-five bills.
I decided to prioritize LB367 – the petition bill – because it deals directly with your constitutional right to petition your government. A message needs to be sent to government entities, such as The League of Municipalities who have consistently tried to restrict your petition rights, that they are our public servants, not our masters. Since it is a two year session, all bills not heard this year carry over until next year. We can decide to prioritize the Iron Eagle bill for next year.
Due to our TIF bill legislation, we have raised enough alarm that the Urban Affairs Committee has introduced an amendment to a bill that pertains to the State Auditor. The amendment will clarify that the Auditor’s office has the authority to audit TIF programs across the state. So in the future a citizen finally will have somewhere to call at the state government level to ask for help if they suspect wrong doing. It is a good start and we will continue to push for TIF reform in the future.
There is a disturbing trend in legislation that I’ve seen. Where bills addressing fees or government power are introduced, they contain a clause included where future fees or expenditures can be automatically increased by unelected bureaucrats or appointed commissions. If you have been watching the Unicameral recently, you may have wondered why so much time is being spent on LB242 – the edible bean bill. In that bill changes are made that takes away an individual bean grower’s right to opt-out of the promotional fee charged on their product. It also allows an appointed commission to raise the fee from 15 cents per hundredweight to as high as 24 cents at their discretion. Some might say it only affects 500 bean growers in western Nebraska, and that’s true, but if legislators can do it to them they can just as easily do it to you on other matters. Senator Larson of O’Neill Nebraska is fighting it with a filibuster; he is standing on principle.
Another example, LB431, will raise the upper dollar limit from $40,000 to $100,000 of what a school board will be authorized to spend without following a prolonged bidding process. That number has not been changed since 1979. I agree that it needs to be raised, and while bids will still be taken, it allows for a quicker response time to maintenance emergencies. But tucked into the bill is a clause that allows the State Board of Education to automatically raise the limit by inflationary factors every 5 years. To me, that is lazy government. In the future another elected legislature should make that decision.
Our federal government is broken because of automatic formulas that increase Medicaid, Medicare, federal retirement benefits, Social Security, etc. Our state government should take heed from those mistakes. The problem is that many politicians like the opportunity to hide behind automatic formulas. I plan to offer an amendment to remove the inflationary clause from LB431.
Issues in the Education Committee are coming to a head.
Learning Community: The experimental funding of Ten Omaha area school’s which has them sharing the proceeds from a common property tax levy and also participating in a unique learning community will be addressed. An honest assessment of the experiment would call it a failure. I can’t predict what will happen, but many senators would like to eliminate the learning community concept. I agree; if the state’s TEEOSA funding formula is good enough for Lincoln County’s schools, it should work for Omaha.
Lottery funds: How to spend 44.5% of the lottery funds that are dedicated to education by our state constitution, are up for grabs because the sun-set clause governing the present spending is up this year. Half of the funds have been going to tuition grants for low income college students; the program has helped many local students at Mid-Plains Community College. I plan to support continuing the present funding practice. The other half of the $16 million available have been split between programs, covering early childhood education, teacher retention, technology, etc. There might be better uses for some of these funds.
Property taxes: I and other senators are still trying to adjust the state aid to education formula to give rural schools credit for their income tax allotment, and also allow them to set their own tax levy without penalty. It will be an uphill fight.
On the Floor: LB10 allows presidential candidates that win the majority of the popular vote in Nebraska to take all five of our electoral votes passed to second round by the narrowest of margins. It needed 33 votes to beat back a filibuster and that’s exactly what it got. It appears that it’s on its way to becoming law.
In other matters we got our first look at the appropriations preliminary budget numbers. It doesn’t look like it’s off to a good start; will go into where the spending is out of control another day.
Nebraska, as we all know, is the only one house legislature. Because the citizens are considered the second house, we are also the only legislature that has public hearings on all introduced bills. This year there were 663 introduced bills. I introduced 8, the rest were introduced by the other 48 senators. Committees meet each afternoon, starting at 1:30 PM to hear testimony by citizens – mainly lobbyists. At the end of the day the committee may go into executive session and either kill the bill – let it lie dormant and do nothing – or pass it out of committee to the floor of the legislature.
Every morning the senators meet on the floor of the legislature to hear bills and debate them, unless the bill is simply a minor change to existing law then it usually passes without much comment.
This week it looks like the legislature will be preoccupied with debate concerning two bills, LB10 and LB77.
LB10 is Senator McCoy’s bill that will return Nebraska’s five Electoral College votes back to a process where the winner of the presidential popular vote in Nebraska receives all 5 votes. Before the 1990’s, that is how it was done. Since then, the outright winner of the presidential popular vote in Nebraska received two Electoral College votes. The three congressional votes are treated as separate, and are awarded based on whichever candidate wins the congressional district.
Maine is the only other state that divides up its electoral college. America is a republic, wherein we democratically elect our local and state representatives, but the presidential winner is chosen by the states. One can argue how much of the original republican form of government remains, but the Electoral College is an essential remnant of that process. President Obama received Omaha’s one Electoral College vote in 2008; therefore progressively leaning senators will oppose LB10 and will probably filibuster the bill, however I will support the bill.
LB77 is Senator Nordquist’s bill to supply Medicaid assistance for medical costs associated with family planning services for families whose earned income is at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. Besides offering taxpayer support for certain family planning services that are offensive to some, it also has an annual $500,000 price tag. Socially and fiscally conscious senators will vote against it, or if necessary, filibuster it, and I will be on their side.
This past week the legislature had an emergency appropriations bill. Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare account has a $7 million dollar shortfall, so the legislature transferred the amount needed from the Public Assistance account. It had to be done, but the point I wanted to make is that the money is coming from somewhere, and the newly created deficit will have to be made up in the new budget. I made the point that maybe it’s time for the legislature to take at least one session to get the Health and Human Services Department under control, instead of adding more and more benefits each year (such as LB77) to the department’s case load.
An example of good legislation is LB561, which was introduced by Senator Stinner of Scottsbluff and recently sent to the floor for debate by the Government Committee. In Nebraska, we have 24 surface water irrigation districts. Some of these districts have as few as eight members. Election law maintained that each district had to conduct elections by setting up a polling place and hiring poll workers. In some instances, only one or two voters who did not vote by an absentee ballot showed up at the poll. LB561 allows for the use of ballot by mail for voters in irrigation districts. This is a common sense approach to government.
This week I will present the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bills – LB238 and LB445 – to the Urban Affairs Committee. A pertinent fact to consider is that all economic development legislation is heard by the Revenue Committee. The reason the Urban Affairs Committee hears TIF Bills is because TIF is an urban renewal and redevelopment tool for the taxpayers. However, it has been greatly abused by city governments, and has evolved into an unintended economic development tool. We shall see what happens.
Things are setting up for an interesting spring in the legislature.
It looks like we will be debating LB586, which protects sexual orientation in the workplace and gives special rights for those who claim to have those preferences – I do not believe we need a law. If you do your job and follow workplace rules nobody cares about your sex life.
For LB111 – the voter I.D. bill – it seems some believe it is too much to ask that voters be required to show identification proving they are Americans before they vote. I am for it.
LB663 legalizes marijuana as a medicinal drug. I will consider supporting it, as long as smoking, baking, and other detrimental uses to society of it remains illegal. If the THC component of the plant is used as a drug in the liquid form of a pill or vapor and only available to the patient by prescription from a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist for pain and seizure relief, then I support it. Currently, the bill has a long way to go before it reaches that point.
Meanwhile, it is not looking positive that the legislature will control spending. What I am hearing is that the front lines of fiscal conservatism are faltering from the assault of special interests. They want more of your tax dollars and it looks like we will have anywhere from 3% to 4% annual spending increases. It is hard to get tax reduction with those kinds of spending increases, especially after a 6.3% average increase the last two years. There will be fights and debates on the floor of the Unicameral over these issues; I am still holding out hope and I plan to be part of a positive outcome.
Government Committee: On Tuesday the 17th, we will hear LB378 – the Iron Eagle bill. It attempts to change requirements for electoral approval of borrowing money for parks, recreational facilities, and public grounds. If voters are told that the project is not going to use tax dollars, common decency should allow the voters the opportunity to vote on an attempted change to that position.
On Thursday the 18th, I’ll introduce LB 367 and LB 368 which concern our petition and initiative rights. Nebraska’s Constitution is clear; the first power reserved by the people is the initiative, “whereby laws may be enacted and constitutional amendments adopted by the people independently of the Legislature”. LB367 eliminates the restriction on how petitioners are paid, and LB368 will stop the practice of opponents blocking your access to sign a petition. It’s hard to believe, but there are those out there that would like to stop you from petitioning your government. To the opponents, it is easier to control a majority of 25 senators than an independent electorate.
Next week on the 24th, LB238 and LB445, the TIF legislation I introduced will be heard. LB238 proposes to redefine the language of existing law to make it clear that the funds generated by TIF are property tax dollars, and the usage of TIF must follow the intent of the constitutional amendment that allows a city to confiscate property tax dollars from the schools, counties, and other local governmental entities. TIF dollars are tax dollars and they need to be spent by the city for expenditures on public infrastructure. LB445 will establish that Nebraska’s Department of Revenue will have oversight and enforcement authority over TIF programs. Fifty-five million of Nebraska’s property tax dollars disappeared into the TIF program statewide in 2013; that is a lot of money when you consider that the Governor and the Appropriation Committee are trying to decide if forty-five to sixty million dollars of your income and sales tax dollars should be shifted to property tax relief. TIF is a good program when it is used for its original purpose of redevelopment and urban renewal. Property tax dollars should be used for local public infrastructure – it is that simple.
There will be some powerful interests lined up against the accountability and proper use of TIF these bills attempt to bring. I expect opposition because there is an abundance of money involved, but who said it would be easy.
I did not get a column written last week; instead I spent seven hours driving on snow-packed highways on my way to Lincoln. I gladly make the weekly trips to Lincoln. To keep my sanity I need to come home on the weekends to the open spaces of Lincoln County.
Government/Military/Veterans affairs Committee: I presented LB 427. It addresses the states mandates to counties to supply office space, utilities and furniture for state probation employees. LB 61 by Senator Bolz was also heard addressing the state mandate to counties to supply office space for HHS employees. The issue of mandates to local government needs to be addressed in the bigger discussion on judicial reform and child welfare issues. Overall taxation is a burden in Nebraska. Beware of a politician bragging about tax cuts when in reality it is a tax shift.
As a committee, we advanced Larson’s LB 111 voter ID and McCoy’s LB 10 — which would return Nebraska’s five Electoral College votes to a winner take all. Maine is the only other state that divides its Electoral votes by who wins each congressional district. Both of these bills will be debated hotly on the floor of the Unicameral.
Education committee: I presented LB 444 which would allow local schoolboards to set their tax rates without penalty. I also presented LB 534 which would put state school aid funding decisions back in the hands of the elected senators instead of a faulty formula. At present, 30% of school districts out of nearly 245 receive 100% of the equalized portion of state aid to public school. Approximately 170 rural school districts get no equalization aid and pay the majority of their children’s education with local property taxes. Clearly the formula is broken. Similar bills were also introduced. I believe some type of property tax help will be presented by the committee that includes elements of all. Education consumes approximately 60% of your property taxes, the committee’s plan will be added to the debate on relief with input by the Revenue and Appropriation committees along with the Governor’s plan.
On the Floor: LB 18 mandatory vaccinations for Meningitis. I presented an amendment to make it a requirement of the schools to give educational materials to the students when they enter Junior High and High School instead of forcing parents to vaccinate their children. There has been two cases of the disease in the 12-17 year age group and 9 in the 18-22 age group over the last 11 years. The vaccine covers only 75% of the bacteria that cause the disease in the U.S., and it has a waning effectiveness over a 5 year period. I support vaccinations, but not all diseases and their vaccinations are equal. Sometimes government can overreach and give a false security to its citizens. We lost the vote on the amendment 27 to 19. I am continuing to share information with my fellow senators. We will see how the second round of debate and voting goes.
LB 190 is an example of politics. It allows spouses of military personnel to bypass the 180 day citizenship requirement to get a concealed carry permit. It sounds good until you realize President Obama made the military acknowledge homosexual marriage. I voted against it. With our state constitutional ban on gay marriage being challenged in the courts, it is not the time to be granting gay marriage-rights through unrelated legislation. It passed first round, but I believe the sponsor now sees the unintended consequences and will pull the bill from second round consideration.
LB 107 – the Nurse Practitioner bill – passed first round debate. I voted for it. I believe it will help with rural access and also allow for quicker access to health care. Their scope of practice is limited. We have been told there is a shortage of family doctors, so this action should not hurt their practices, but instead help with the workload.
If you do not see my name in news stories about legislation do not be concerned. More work is done behind the scenes than in the limelight of the press. I continue to work for limited government, controlled spending, and personal freedom.
Things are speeding up at the legislature. Governor Ricketts gave his State of the State address this past week. His support of the legislature’s attempt to control spending is a good step forward. I have concerns about his continuation of the property tax credit fund, which uses overpayment by taxpayers on their income and sales taxes as its funding source. He plans to increase the fund by $60 million annually to a total of $200 million. I would rather see the State government pay for its constitutional responsibilities and stop asking the property tax payer to do it. I believe it would be better to allow local governments to lower their property tax burden. If and when the economy declines, the state will not have the tax dollars to fund the property tax credit. When that happens there are going to be some very unhappy property taxpayers.
In Education Committee hearings, we heard a bill to mandate meningitis vaccinations for students in the seventh and eleventh grades. The vaccination has only a five year life span for each dose. The vaccination only covers seventy-five percent of the bacterial strains that cause the disease and seventy-five percent of parents already vaccinate their children. There have been only 177 cases of the disease over the last 25 years in Nebraska and actually none were recorded in 2014. This is one of those emotional issues that give government a bad name. Freedom, or a perceived greater good are the choices.
On Friday, the Government Affairs Committee heard testimony on two voter ID bills: LB111 and LB121. I believe the committee will combine the bills and bring a version to the floor for debate. We also heard LB112, which would have changed the process of selecting our president from the Electoral College system to a national popular vote. There were good arguments on both sides, but most on the committee decided we were not narcissistic enough to think we’re wiser than Hamilton, Adams, Mason and the rest of our founding fathers. The bill was tabled in committee and our Electoral College remains.
I have introduced three additional bills this legislative session that I feel will bring accountability to government:
In many cases legislation is introduced to interject ideas into the overall debate on the major issues. This session those issues are property tax relief, judicial reform, public school funding, and limiting state mandates to local government.
Last week the Unicameral had its first debate; it was on proposed rule changes that govern the body. The only votes taken by the legislature that are secret and withheld from the public are for the Speaker of the Unicameral and for chairmanships of committees. An attempt was made to add some accountability to the process by changing the rule to make the votes public. For without transparency and disclosure there can be no accountability. There is no comparison to citizens voting privately in the polling booths, an elected representative should reflect the views of the majority of those they represent and their votes should be public. Sadly partisan politics prevailed and we lost the vote and secret voting remains in our state government. I and other senators have made public our votes on our legislative websites http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist42/
We have introduced five bills so far:
I also signed on as a co-sponsor Senator Davis’s LB 192, related to railroads; to require at least a crew of two individuals. Those of us who live in railroad country understand this public safety issue.
There will be hundreds of bills introduced this year by the 49 senators; the last day to do so will be Wednesday, the 21st. Some will be incorporated into larger bills, others will be repeated in future years and become law as more and more senators become aware of the necessity of the bill, most will not see the light of day. Bill introduction is the beginning of the conversation that will start in committee hearings this week.
During my campaign I made a promise to the voters to conduct all of my business with utmost transparency.
The Legislature voted today on the permanent rules. I voted the following ways:
Coash Amendment to Rule 5, Sec 5: This gives the State-Tribal Relations Committee a Priority Bill.
Murante Amendment to Rule 7, Sec 3: To prohibit dividing the question on the adoption of the budget. I felt this would allow special interests to insert spending into the budget and force a take-it-or-leave-it vote on the entire budget which could contain funding for vital services. I refused to let special interests hold the budget process hostage.
Kintner Amendment to Rule 1, Sec 1 and Rule 3, Sec 8: To require recorded votes for Speaker and committee chairpersons. I believe that all our votes should be transparent, and I will always vote for the person I believe will best serve the voters and best aligns with my philosophical beliefs about public policy.
Adopt Permanent Rules: Since the Kintner Amendment failed and the rules contained secrecy language, I did not feel I could support them.
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