NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

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Lincoln—On Friday, June 15 Senator Mike Groene of Legislative District 42 will announce the creation of the TEEOSA: School Funding Legislative Study Group to be held during the 2018 interim.

The people of Nebraska have made it clear they want the Legislature to address property tax relief. They have also indicated a desire for statewide, stable and equitable funding for their public schools.

The 1990 Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) calculates the sources of school revenue.   It is now obvious that the formula has major flaws. Two factors have come into play: the authors of the original legislation never foresaw the last decade of rapidly increasing property valuations and subsequent Legislatures have made changes to the TEEOSA formula during years when state revenues fell.  Those factors have caused an overreliance on property taxes as the major source of school funding.

Senator Groene is joined by nine of his colleagues, Senators Brewer, Briese, Friesen, Geist, Hilgers, Lindstrom, Linehan, Scheer and Wayne, in creating the TEEOSA School Funding Legislative Study Group. Together, this group represents all regions of the state, various sized schools, and local taxpayers affected uniquely by the funding formula.  Furthermore, they have all shown an interest in addressing the problem by previously introducing TEEOSA-related legislation or investing time in understanding the issue. The group has a statewide perspective on creating an equitable solution.

The end goal of the study is an introduction of a 2019 legislative bill addressing the TEEOSA revenue flaw that puts equity back into school funding and can garner the support of the full Legislature.

What: Press conference announcing the creation of the TEEOSA: School Funding Legislative Study Group

When: 1:00-1:20pm CT on Friday June 15, 2018

Where: 2nd Floor Rotunda, Nebraska State Capitol, 1445 K Street, Lincoln, NE 68508

Who: Senator Mike Groene will be joined by:

    • Senator Suzanne Geist
    • Senator Curt Friesen
    • Senator Tom Briese

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On Memorial Day, Barb and I attended the ceremony at Fort McPherson National Cemetery near Maxwell.  To do so was not only a reminder for us of the sacrifice of those who gave all to protect the freedom we all share, but to realize that many of the living in attendance are the sons, daughters, parents and extended families of those lost loved ones. It must be remembered that the death of these soldiers is more than an individual loss, it creates a huge hole in families and communities that reaches down through future generations.

It was heartening to hear the words of the main speaker, our own David C. Olson, who by his own admission is neither a polished orator nor a man of high military position, but a veteran of common rank. As an advocate for veterans, no one better could have relayed the message that Memorial Day is not a celebration of accomplishments by the politicians or the generals, but instead, of the valor and sacrifice of the common soldier. On Memorial Day, we honor the greatness of those individuals who died in service to their fellow Americans.

With Memorial Day in mind, it is concerning to us the lack of importance that most Americans put into their duty to vote. Recent statewide and local elections have had dismal voter turnout. In the Omaha Public School’s successful $409.9 million bond election to renovate older schools and build 5 new schools in Northwest Omaha, only 21.4% of registered voters voted; meaning that the 14.4% of those registered who voted in favor decided the issue. In a Millard Public Schools levy override election, only 46.8% of registered voters voted and 29.2% of those registered decided to raise property taxes for all of the homeowners in the district.  Even in the recent primary election where winners go on to the general election, the statewide 24.27% voter turnout (25.87% Lincoln County) was disappointing.

Politicians in the past have blamed voter access for the declining turnout, so we expanded early voting from election day to weeks, we expanded the ability to vote by mail and we made it easier to register to vote by creating DMV motor vehicle-voter registration and created provisional ballots for those who have changed addresses. None of it worked, yet we now have more disinterested citizens registered to vote and that has distorted the percentage of active voters; but even with that, the number of voters has decreased nationally. It is akin to saying if we build them a house they will move here, the fact is a person has to be motivated to want to live somewhere and to vote when they get there.

I am approaching the issue through public education. When addressing the State Board of Education last year concerning their upcoming student civic and social study assessments, I stated that we already have an assessment of our public schools’ success in instilling civic readiness in our children; it is voter turnout. As each new generation of voters leave our schools, fewer and fewer of them are voting.

We are preparing proposed legislation to address needed changes to our present statutes that require American civics to be taught in our schools, updating the old 1940’s Americanism Law.  The statute gives guidance to school boards on the subject matter and curriculum that is expected to be offered to students. The present statute makes it a misdemeanor crime by a teacher for not following the statute and basically puts the county sheriff in charge of enforcing it.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled similar provisions unconstitutional and against a teacher’s free speech rights.  A person does have the right to say what they wish, they cannot be arrested; but they can be fired by their employer. One of the changes we propose will put enforcement in the hands of the local and State Boards of Education. We also will eliminate old cold war terminology starting with the word “Americanism” and instead refer to “American citizenship”. In order to take pride in citizenship, and then take responsibility to vote, one must first know the history and sacrifices of those who came before.

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

Recent deadly school episodes of violence in Florida and Texas, by two individual public school students against their peers and school personnel, causing 27 deaths have caused political reaction across the country including Nebraska.  A few of Nebraska’s State Senators have called for interim studies to examine school violence and to seek ideas to improve school safety. I recently examined recent legislation passed by the Legislature concerning school safety and I have reached the conclusion that the issue has been addressed adequately by the Nebraska Legislature. If an interim Education Committee study were to be held, it would be more of an attempt to assure the public on what is presently being done by school officials to address school safety.

In 2014, LB 923 was passed, including an amendment introduced by Senator Kolowski, to create the position of State School Security Director within the Nebraska Department of Education. The Commissioner of Education, currently Matt Blomstedt, was directed to fill the position based on experience, knowledge and skills in the field of school security. Presently, a very well qualified Jolene Palmer holds the position. Previously, she held educational training positions for 15 years with the Nebraska State Patrol; before that, she started out as an elementary school teacher before becoming an elementary school principal.

The job description of the Security Director’s duties is well defined: “providing leadership and support for safety and security for the public schools”; and the legislation is clear as to the Education Department’s and Director’s duties.

 

–Collect present safety and security plans from all school districts; it directs local school districts to cooperate with the Director and allows the Education Department to withhold those plans from the public (from the planning of a future perpetrator)

–Recommend minimum standards for school security for public school buildings in Nebraska

–Conduct an assessment, to be completed by August 31, 2019, of the security of each of Nebraska’s 1130 public school buildings

–Identify deficiencies in each schools’ security based on the minimum standards adopted by the State Board of Education, and make recommendations to school boards for remedying such deficiencies

–Establish security awareness, preparedness tools and training programs

–Establish research-based model instructional programs for staff, students, and parents to address the underlying causes for violent attacks on schools

–Respond to inquiries and requests for assistance relating to school security from private, denominational and parochial schools

 

This year we added within LB 1081, a statutory provision requiring school boards to collaborate with their local county attorney and law enforcement officials to review the schools’ rules and standards for student conduct and require the school to contact law enforcement if a student displayed such conduct.

 

In Nebraska, we value local control of our educational facilities. Citizens, through their State Senators, do create statutes giving direction to their elected State Board of Education on matters that concern them; the Board in turn directs and advises local elected school boards. The State Board is then required to measures their performance.

 

School security is, and should be, a local issue decided by local voters through their elected local school board. They have tools available to them. They can create an inter-local agreement with local law enforcement to have a police officer on site at school buildings, as North Platte Public Schools (NPPS) presently does, or they can hire a security officer themselves. Through LB 923 and school accreditation requirements, school districts should have in place a school security plan.  NPPS has done so with the creation of a “School Safety Committee” comprised of law enforcement officials and school administrative staff.  School districts can create a secure entrance to their school buildings and install metal detecting devices, as the Lincoln County Commissioners recently did at the courthouse with an investment of $23,724 for scanning equipment.

 

Providing a safe environment for our school children is a local issue; local school boards have the authority to spend your tax dollars on projects they deem to be their top priorities. One would think the safety of our children would be at the top of that list.

 

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

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In the last weeks of the legislative session, senators introduce Legislative Resolutions (LRs) suggesting interim studies on topics of interest to them.   They are sorted by the Executive Committee and assigned to the appropriate committee for consideration. They are meant to lead to legislative bills the following year.   The Committee Chairman can choose which, if any, of those studies the Committee will take up. If an LR is not selected by the Committee, the sponsoring senator of the LR is free to have their staff do a study in house.

LRs involve senators’ time, taxpayer cost for travel and meals, and committee staff time for research and planning to make sure those knowledgeable in the subject are invited to testify. You may recall the Urban Affairs Committee held one of their hearings in North Platte last year on Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Those hearings led to Committee Chairman Justin Wayne’s LB874; I co-signed that bill. The legislation passed and new statutes were created giving clearer instructions to city councils on the guidelines for TIF projects.

Thirteen LRs have been assigned to the Education Committee.  Topics include the student option enrollment program, Student Discipline Act, school violence, anti-bullying policies and early childhood education.  As Chairman of the Committee, with the help of committee staff, I must decide which meet the requirement that they address a pressing issue that necessitates more research than what is covered during committee hearings when legislation is normally introduced during the session.

So far we have selected Senator Vargas’ LR 452 examining alternative teacher certification programs. In Nebraska, we have a shortage of teachers in certain academic areas, and in rural Nebraska we have a hard time getting young teachers to move to the country.  The goal is to draw to the teaching profession the individuals who hold college degrees that have pursued other careers but may be looking at a career change and have a passion to teach.  Last session, Vargas had introduced related legislation (LB1135) based on his experience in a program he was enrolled in as a teacher in the state of New York.  During the Education Committee hearing on the bill, there was confusion as to what present Department of Education requirements are and what additional college coursework is required.  The ultimate goal is to make it easier for individuals with real world experience to transition into the classroom.

We are also pursuing an interim study on the funding side of the Tax Equity Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA).  Along with Committee members, I plan to invite to the conversation senators outside of the Committee who have in the past showed interest in the subject or have introduced unsuccessful TEEOSA bills.

No matter where you seek the answer for Nebraska’s high property taxes, you first have to look at how we fund our schools. No less than 50% and as high as 70% of each Nebraskans’ property taxes go toward public education. Over time, the present formula is by design set up to shift school funding to property taxes from income and sales taxes. That flaw needs to be fixed if we are to address long term property tax relief.

Outside of the Education Committee I introduced LR 463, an interim study to examine statutes related to augmentation projects in relationship to N-CORPE. During the Natural Resources Committee hearing on our LB1123 (to clarify that the N-CORPE land could be sold while the NRDs involved could continue their river augmentation projects), it became obvious that there was much misinformation circulating about the issue that distracted from the legislation being passed.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Dan Hughes has agreed to take up the issue.  The goal is to stop the fearmongering, define the truth of existing statutes, allow for the voluntary sale of the land, lower the occupation tax burden on irrigated farmers and at the end of the process get everybody who is interested in protecting irrigated farming through better management of our limited groundwater resources to be on the same page for future actions. After everything, my end goal is to have Senator Hughes and I agree on a legislative solution.

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.

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.

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42
Room #1306
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2729
Email: mgroene@leg.ne.gov
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