NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

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Column 9/24/2020
September 24th, 2020

We have just completed another local government budgeting cycle.  Most of us dread the coming announcement of a new tax rate and the hit it brings to our personal budgets. Of course every year many of us already have received a notice of a property valuation increase, adding an even larger hit to our finances.  In Lincoln County if you live in the country, this year you received a notice of an appreciable valuation increase for the acreage under your home. The change was dictated by the State Department of Revenue.  The government rent (property taxes) in Nebraska for living on your own “God’s Little Acre” is regressive and a detriment to home ownership.

After six years in the legislature I now realize that long-term direct property tax relief will never be gained with the present dueling political philosophies of expanding government spending and that of the present practice of using property tax credits as a short-term placebo to appease the common man while still keeping the corporate world happy.

If we are ever going to make Nebraska an affordable place to live, there are three routes we can take: The Legislature can restrict access to property taxes by local governments and eliminate costly local government mandates and force consolidation of local government services.  With the present super majority legislative process in place, the likelihood of that happening on a noticeable scale is minimal.

The second is the petition process where a simple majority of the voters can enact legislation.

The third way to control property taxes is the grassroots vigilance of the taxpayer.  Run for office, vote for the candidate with the courage to say no to government spending or attend the meetings of local boards, especially their budget hearings.

This past biennium session the Legislature did enact two important budget hearing bills LB148 and LB103.

In LB148, budget hearings must now be held from a regularly scheduled meeting and it shall not be limited by time. At the hearing, copies of the budget must be available for citizens to examine, a presentation must be given to explain the budget changes and all citizens attending must be given the opportunity to speak.  It mandates that all public meetings, not just the budget hearing, of larger government entities must be posted in a local newspaper.  We needed to stop a new practice by some to post their meeting notices on their seldom read websites.  We also added a clause specific to NCORPE, the joint entity created by four NRDs to manage the pumping of our Lincoln County ground water into a creek.  It had come to our attention that NCORPE, who is responsible for the spending of millions of your tax-dollars, had gone without a published budget for over a two year period and after investigating we found out they were not required to hold a budget hearing. Now they do.

LB103 put clarity in government property tax asking. How many times have September headlines   claimed your taxes weren’t raised because the levy remained the same or was even lowered slightly? Of course we knew they did raise our taxes by taking advantage of huge valuation increases.  Once, after being told by a local politician that they did not raise my taxes because they did not raise the levy, I informed him that until I can pay my taxes in levies, I’ll continue to judge my tax burden in dollars. It is now required of local entities to start their budget process by lowering their levy in the budget to match the preceding years tax-asking.  If they wish to spend more of your tax dollars, they must now hold a public meeting and take a vote on raising your tax burden by raising the levy.

You do not have to be well versed in a budget to attend a budget hearing, if one issue catches your eye, show up and give them your opinion. It may be an expansion of government run preschools, a jail expansion, the purchase of new vehicles or salary and benefit increases that dwarf what you have.  Just show up!

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

Column 9/10/2020
September 10th, 2020

An opportunity lost: on long term property tax relief

After taking some time to mull over the events of the delayed COVID related legislative session, I am back to writing my column.

I will start with LB1107, the legislature’s attempt to address the two big issues that we faced: Nebraska’s regressively high property taxes and the demand by large corporations for income and sales tax relief in the guise of tax incentives. I had labeled the plan as the Grand Bargain early in the session and now much to my chagrin, the title has stuck.

After changes were made to LB1107, I eventually could live with its business incentive portion, titled the ImagineAct. Originally the bill had very little in it for rural Nebraska.  We sat down with the bill’s sponsor and the State Chamber of Commerce; they agreed to add a rural manufacturing incentive tier for rural counties with less than 100,000 residents. It allows for lower thresholds for manufacturers with as few as five new employees and $1 million in investments to qualify for wage and investment credits.  In rural Nebraska most of us wear blue jeans to work and if we’re going to grow, it will be in the area of manufacturing.

I did disagree with the inclusion, for the first time in Nebraska, of the use of your tax dollars for direct cash payments to attract or maintain business entities; $300 million commitment to the University of Nebraska Medical Center if they attract a federal surge capacity hospital, $40 million (over 10 years) to retain one large eastern Nebraska data collection company and up to $6 million in annual refundable tax-credits to companies involved in renewable chemical production.  The reality was it was going to happen and as usual the money would flow downhill to eastern Nebraska. So in retrospect, why not a project in rural Nebraska too? With the help of Gary Person of Lincoln County’s Development Corporation we introduced AM3362 to create the Nebraska Rural Projects Act to assist with up to $10 million in matching state funds to build a railroad spur line off a main track to create an Industrial Rail Access Business Park. It was too late to get it included in LB1107, but it was well received in the body and I will pursue it next year as separate legislation.

What I could not support was the, ‘let’s throw money, rob Peter to pay Paul’ property tax relief plan in the bill. I absolutely will not support the Washington mentality of throwing money at a problem. That is exactly what creating another property tax credit is; the new credit would start at 5.5% rising to 12% of your school property taxes applied against your state income taxes.  The total credits will be at least $125 million annually (for four years), eventually reaching $375 million in five years plus an inflation factor. Sounds like a lot of money but let’s put it in prospective. Over the last 5 years statewide property tax collections have increased $813 million to $4.378 billion; since LB1107 does nothing to control local government spending, it is reasonable to believe property taxes will continue to increase at the same rate.  Meanwhile in five years the new property tax relief will amount only to $375 million.  To take another view, the new credit will be shared by over 700,000 real-property owners who already pay $4.378 billion in property taxes, while at the same time corporations now paying approximately $325 million in income taxes will eventually be sharing $150 million in tax incentives, supposedly against newly created income and sales taxes.

LB1107 does not deliver long-term tax relief; I didn’t vote for its final passage, to have done so would have given the false impression it did.  All tax dollars collected by government is spent. It has become clear to me; true property tax relief in Nebraska will only come from electing local officials who have the courage to control spending and the state stepping up its support for public education.   Meanwhile, in my remaining time in the Legislature I will pursue tax relief through attempts to control the spending power of local governments.

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

CDC Coronavirus updates: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services Coronavirus updates: http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx

Nebraska Department of Education Coronavirus resources: https://www.education.ne.gov/publichealth/resources/

Lincoln County Health Department contact information:

West Central District Health Department
111 N Dewey/Suite A, North Platte
Phone: (308) 696-1201
(Arthur County/Arthur, Hooker County/Mullen, Lincoln County/North Platte, Logan County/Stapleton, McPherson County/Tryon, Thomas County/Thedford)

NOTE: After each county name is the county seat.

Full list of Nebraska Health Departments contact information:

Nebraska Health Departments

As seen in the Midlands Voices section of the January 12, 2020 Edition of the Omaha World Herald.

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When parents drop off their children at the front doors of a public school, they are entrusting the custodial care of a vulnerable member of their family to our public school employees. We all expect that our children’s physical safety is their top priority. We want school employees to be assured that they can intervene to protect our children from doing harm to themselves or others and also be able to protect themselves. With those expectations should come freedom from fear of liability or loss of employment if they do so in a safe and reasonable manner.

In America, parents have traditionally expected that if their child or other students misbehave, the teacher has the authority to control the learning environment by temporarily removing a student from the classroom.

Parents understand that their child or other children may have special needs. No one disagrees that before the early 1990s and the enactment of federal laws to protect these children, they were treated unfairly in school discipline policies. These children now have Individualized Education Programs that include a process on how the student’s behavior is handled when or if they disrupt the class. Those plans must take precedence over any school policy on removing a disruptive student from the classroom.

To address these concerns, members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee have sought input from classroom educators, administrators and school board organizations, as well as advocates for children with special needs. The result is Legislative Bill 147 as amended by AM 1803. Not all interested parties are happy with the final result, but those organizations to whom we entrust the care of children — administrators, teachers and school boards — are in full support.

AM 1803 defines what Nebraskans expect all of our school employees to do at that moment in time when violence is happening. It further defines the authority we give our teachers to manage the learning environment in their classrooms, while fully protecting the rights of children with disabilities. The legislation we are proposing is a common-sense approach to classroom behavioral issues.

The legislation clearly states that school personnel may use reasonable physical intervention to safely manage the behavior of a student when protecting the student, other students, school personnel or any other person from physical injury. They can physically intervene to secure property if the possession of such property poses a threat of harm to the student or others.

The legislation clarifies that physical intervention cannot be used to inflict bodily pain as penalty for disapproved behavior, and it requires parental notification when physical intervention was used to control their child’s behavior.

It assures all school employees and school districts that when they act reasonably to protect others, they will not be in danger of unwarranted legal or job-threatening repercussions.

It requires school districts to have a policy on how and when a student can be removed from a classroom, including the mandate that students be returned to an orderly classroom learning environment as soon as possible. The policy must be proactive, instructive and restorative, and involve communication among administrators, teachers, students and parents.

This bill is a needed first step to fixing a festering problem that is holding back maximum educational opportunities for all children who attend our public schools, but more is needed. To further improve the learning environment in our classrooms, there will be related legislation introduced this session proposing behavioral awareness, physical intervention and de-escalation training that shall be given to all school employees. There will also be proposed legislation on how the state will aid local school districts in paying for the training.

The goals are safety first, maximizing learning time in the classroom and teaching children the expected behavioral boundaries of a civilized society that will follow them into the workforce and their private lives. Simply put, we need to make sure “teachers can teach.”

Column 12/19/19
December 19th, 2019

It came as no surprise to me when I heard of N-CORPE pursuing a windmill project. The Nebraska value of local government control has been abused and attacked throughout the creation of the N-CORPE interlocal. Any reasonable person after reading the interlocal agreement governing N-CORPE would conclude that its purpose was solely to “regulate/manage water to assist the State of Nebraska with compliance with the Republican River Compact and to assist with implementation of Twin Platte NRD’s Integrated Management Plan and the State of Nebraska’s responsibilities under the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program”.

The four NRDs involved in N-CORPE have 46 total board members; of those, only 9 reside in Lincoln County. 37 non-resident board members should not be making decisions affecting our way of life in Lincoln County!

We know the sales pitch: “Let’s put 100 windmills on the public N-CORPE land and garner $879,000 in nameplate capacity taxes, pick up another $800,000 for the leases and promises of lower occupation and property taxes.” But there is a problem: the majority of the citizens of Lincoln County do not want windmills in the Sand Hills. We are not willing to sell our soul or the integrity of who we are as ranchers, farmers, railroaders and power-plant workers for an ill-gotten windfall from windmills.

What we want is to have N-CORPE sell the land and put it back into private hands. We are willing to continue to be good neighbors and bail out the residents of the Upper and Lower Republican NRDs and protect their livelihoods by sharing Lincoln County ground water to augment the flows of the Republican River.

In Lincoln, we are continuing to bring legislation forward to clearly state that N-CORPE can sell the land without harming the augmentation project. The legislation has evolved to where it is ready to become law.

We have had two Nebraska Supreme Court cases on N-CORPE which clarify the present situation. In the Estermann case, the Court said the Legislature changed Nebraska common law that permitted use of the ground water only on the overlying land when it gave NRDs the power to augment streams. Therefore, N-CORPE could transfer ground water off the overlying land. In the Dundy County property tax case, the Court reaffirmed that under common law you must own the land overlying a source of ground water, reaffirming the 1985 Sorensen vs. Lower Niobrara NRD decision, where the NRD owning a ½ acre tract of land over the well site was sufficient to satisfy common law because the Legislature had exempted public ground water use for domestic purposes by enacting the Municipal and Rural Domestic Ground Water Transfers Permit Act.

I was asked by members of the Natural Resources Committee to work with the Attorney General’s office and the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. I did, and gained their understanding that our latest effort would cause no harm to interstate water compacts or augmentation projects. I worked with a prominent Nebraska law professor on the language and consulted a very successful private law firm, well-known as being successful water law attorneys.

Our latest effort to clarify that N-CORPE can sell the land will protect the augmentation project from a lawsuit by defining beneficial use of the augmentation project as a public purpose, thus exempting N-CORPE from  the dictates that the ground water used is limited to the “reasonable and beneficial use on the overlying land”.  What we are attempting to do is nothing new. It has been done before when we protected municipal and rural domestic ground water use and industrial uses such as ethanol plants.

After working with legal minds in the public and private sector on this legislation, it is frustrating to be stymied by ill-informed opinions on what is tradition and what is truth about Nebraska’s water laws, mostly by NRD resistance based on the legal opinion of an attorney whose motives and loyalties are suspect.

This is a statewide issue and needs to be addressed. I see no good reason why the bill will not be advanced from the Natural Resources Committee and quickly passed into law. But, we understand, politicians aren’t always guided by good reasoning.

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

We’ve Moved!
November 18th, 2019

My office has moved back to Room 1107 which is located on the south west side of the Capitol Building.

My office phone number has not changed.

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

Education Hearing 10/19/2018
October 12th, 2018

Education
Room 1525 – 1:30 PM

Document
Number
Introducer Description
LR452 Vargas Interim study to examine alternative teacher certification programs

If you are not testifying in person on a bill and would like to submit a written position letter to be included in the official hearing record as an exhibit, the letter must be delivered to the office of the committee chair (or emailed to the committee chair) of the committee conducting the hearing on the bill by 5:00 p.m. on the last work day prior to the public hearing.

Additionally, the letter must include your name and address, state a position of for, against, or neutral on the bill in question and include a request for the letter to be included as part of the public hearing record.

Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning the 1992 Quill case, deciding for South Dakota in the Wayfair internet sales tax case, Nebraska can now collect sales taxes on internet purchases from citizens.

The interstate commerce clause of Article I of the Constitution that regulates commerce over state lines exists to protect consumers and create a level playing field for businesses. It was to stop states from protectionist practices for in-state businesses by basically creating regulatory burdens on out-of-state products. Because brick-and-mortar business had to collect a sales tax from consumers and the out-of-state use tax was not enforced, the past court’s decision actually gave out-of-state businesses an advantage that in-state businesses did not share.

Talking to main street retail business owners while campaigning in 2014, my opinion changed on the sales tax issue. Local businesses were making the merchandise sales pitch, but were losing the actual sale due partially to a 7 percent price advantage out-of-state internet retailers had. I don’t like paying taxes any more than you do, but I have formed the philosophy that in order to get tax relief for all, we first must all have a stake in the game. Sales taxes help pay for public services, streets and roads, and public education.

If you buy your products locally, you are helping to pay for those services with your sales taxes, but at the same time if your neighbor purchases a product online from an out-of-state company, they are not helping pay for those same public services they enjoy. I hold the same view on all tax policies that allow government to pick winners and losers. We all need to be in the same tax-burden boat, rowing together toward tax relief for all.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue cannot differentiate between online and local sales. Accordingly, there is no way to put an accurate number on state internet sales tax receipts; however, the Revenue Department has estimated it to be $30 million to $40 million. Once we enact proper legislation, the proceeds should eventually be put toward property tax relief, but first they need to be added to the general fund with all other tax receipts. How we collect taxes and how we spend tax dollars are two separate issues and need to have separate debates.

I do not support a special session of the Legislature to address the internet sales tax issue. The issue needs more time to be researched; the law we craft and pass must reflect the present South Dakota statute approved by the court. Also the optics to the taxpayers are not good with the Legislature rushing to Lincoln to increase taxes on consumers after we rejected Sen. Tom Brewer’s call for a special session on property taxes.

The matter can wait until January when the regular session starts. This gives the governor and interested parties time to have a well-vetted bill introduced on day one and passed with an emergency clause.

I wish to give a shout-out to Renae Brandt on her efforts toward moving the debate forward on the future of the Pawnee Hotel. We often lament that our young people do not take leadership roles in issues confronting our local government. As far as I am concerned, Renae is North Platte and she is definitely a rising community leader. It is always good to put a face on community efforts and is good policy to have more than one idea presented on community actions. Renae has my support, and in my meeting with her, she showed all the attributes of a leader. For the good of the community, I doubt she will back off the issue.

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

Towards the end of each legislative session is the time for bill signing ceremonies by the Governor, attended by the sponsoring Senators. It is a good time to explain to the public the “why” and the “how” the legislation will affect their lives. I was recently involved in a couple of those signings

LB944; adjustment to the 2017 biennium mainline budget. Tuesday, I attended the Governor’s North Platte appearance for a signing ceremony. Because of a continuing state tax-receipts shortfall, we had to adjust present spending increases down and rob the cash funds (hotel tourism occupation tax for example) to pay necessary general fund expenses. No, we did not cut spending; we slowed down the increases to a half of a percent annually. To the majority of Nebraskans, the big accomplishment included in this bill was to clarify in state statute what federal law already states in the Title-X family health grant program, that no grants will be given to health clinics that includes abortion as a recommendation for family planning. I took some political heat last year when I helped defeat similar language because it endangered critical federal funding that rural family clinics were presently receiving, such as North Platte’s Peoples Health Clinic. The new budget language, which I shared a part in, will now protect the Title-X funding for those clinics that were adhering to the intent of the law.

LB1081; the Education Committee priority bill. Every year I try to introduce legislation that includes a reduction in spending, LB1081 includes the removal of redundant reporting requirement for Poverty and Limited English plans by the Omaha area learning community schools and the Department of Education, saving state taxpayers $75,000.

We also worked with Senator Lou Ann Linehan to include an amended version of her LB651, the Nebraska Reading Improvement Act (NRIA). NRIA can be summed up by an old education saying “the first years of a child’s education, through third grade, is spent teaching a child to read, so during the remainder of a child’s lifelong education, they can read to learn”. The Act requires schools to administer, three times each school year, an assessment of reading skills to all students in Kindergarten through third grade. Testing three times is critical to inform the teacher, parent and student of the student’s progress.  Students already assessed and receiving special instruction through limited English and special education programs are exempted. Parents or guardians of a student identified as having a reading deficiency must be notified by written correspondence and the school is to include parents in the individual reading improvement plan designed for the struggling student.

Senator Linehan agreed with us to make sure we did not mandate additional cost to the schools. Therefore, we only mandated the assessments, the parental reporting and the creation of individual reading plans but made the bill’s recommendations of how they achieved results voluntary. With a few tweaks and refocusing, the NRIA should fit into most schools’ existing reading programs and the requirement to offer a summertime program can be incorporated into existing public library programs. With the passage of LB1081, the Legislature has now made it clear in law, the public’s intent and what all good teachers already know: the critical importance that good reading skills accompanied by a vast vocabulary is essential to gaining a passport to success in America.

It was good to see that Lincoln County Community Development Corporation received $159,750 and the North Platte Area Development Corporation received $383,400 from the newly created Nebraska Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act created by Senator Williams’ LB518. I supported his efforts to transfer an existing $7.3 million, created from fees paid on property deed transfers, from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  This program gives the grants to the home builder and most importantly, any new housing project using the grant money will remain on the property tax rolls.

It is not yet clear why the property tax petition effort was halted by the sponsor. No matter, the issue remains. Next week I may give some insight into where the effort can go from here.

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

Education Hearing 3/22/2018
March 15th, 2018

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 12:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
Appointment Von Behren, Paul – Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education
Appointment Ohles, Frederik – Nebraska Educational Telecommunications Commission
Appointment Baxter, Nicholas – Nebraska Educational Telecommunications Commission

Written Position Letter Policy for Public Hearings

If you are not testifying in person on a bill and would like to submit a written position letter to be included in the official hearing record as an exhibit, the letter must be delivered to the office of the committee chair (or emailed to the committee chair) of the committee conducting the hearing on the bill by 5:00 p.m. on the last work day prior to the public hearing.

Additionally, the letter must include your name and address, state a position of for, against, or neutral on the bill in question and include a request for the letter to be included as part of the public hearing record.

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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