NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene

District 42

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

What has happened since last week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bills of interest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday night, LB 944 passed General File.

Update on some legislation in which our office is involved:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Home District Column 2/22/2018

February 22nd, 2018

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

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

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

Other priority bills of interest:

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

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

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

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

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

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB1033 Murante Eliminate learning communities
LB1125 Groene Change school finance base limitation and local effort rate provisions

 

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.

Education Committee Hearing 2/20

February 15th, 2018

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LR285CA Murante Constitutional amendment to eliminate the State Board of Education
LR291 Kolowski Recommend that school administrators, teachers, parents, and students be educated about the potential health impact of heavy backpacks
Appointment May, Lisa – Nebraska Educational Telecommunications Commission
Appointment Kobza, Robert – Board of Educational Lands and Funds
Appointment Simmons, Joyce – Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education
Appointment Frison, Deborah – Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education
Appointment Bernthal, John – Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education

Home District Column 2/15/2018

February 15th, 2018

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

Legislation that may be of interest to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education Hearings 2/13/2018

February 7th, 2018

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB999 Vargas Change provisions relating to the Student Discipline Act
LB1110 Vargas Require annual reporting of school performance scores and classifications
LB1116 Linehan Create the Quality Education Accountability Commission and the Quality Education Accountability Office
LB1052 Pansing Brooks Require instruction and teacher education related to dyslexia

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.

Education Hearings 2/12/2018

February 7th, 2018

Education
Location: Room 1525
Time: 1:30 PM

Document Introducer Description
LB801 Stinner Adopt the Panhandle Beginnings Act to provide certain services to school-age children
LB998 Walz Create the Collaborative School Behavioral and Mental Health Program
LB1081 Education Committee Change education provisions regarding reporting, penalties, residency, boundaries, priority schools, subpoena authority, poverty, and limited English proficiency

 

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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