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One of the blessings of Nebraska is the border we share with the State of Wyoming, and the feeling is mutual. The similarities between the people, the culture, and the values in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming are numerous.
Here in Nebraska we are a national leader in the production of food crops, and we are the Napa Valley of beef. Nebraska has more miles of rivers than any other State, and we have about the equivalent of Lake Huron worth of fresh water just under our feet.
Wyoming has a wealth of energy resources, arguably more than any other state. Wyoming was the 8th largest producer of natural gas, 9th largest producer of crude oil in the U.S. last year, with proven reserves of both that stretch into two other states. At least one-third of the coal reserves in the United States are found in Wyoming. In 2018, 40% of the coal mined in the U.S. came from Wyoming. Most of it was delivered to customers east of the Mississippi on modern, double-track high-speed railroads that pass through Nebraska. This coal has provided Nebraska with clean, reliable and affordable electricity for generations, and tens of thousands of exceptionally good jobs too.
When you consider how lucky Nebraska is to share a border with the state of Wyoming, you have to ask; why do the boards of our Public Power utilities want to “decarbonize” electricity generation in Nebraska? Do they think wind turbines and solar panels are going to replace coal and natural gas-powered generation? Do they understand what will happen to railroad jobs in North Platte and Alliance, and the jobs found in communities near power plants if we stop using coal and gas to make electricity in Nebraska? It’s important to remember there is no particulate matter leaving the smokestack at a coal-fired power plant these days. The “smoke” you see is almost 100% water vapor. All of the fly ash is captured and land-filled or used in concreate.
I was pleased to read on the NPPD website that the “decarbonization” goal will “…be achieved by continuing the use of proven, reliable generation until alternative, reliable sources of generation are developed…” This is the right approach. Using “proven” sources of electricity generation is the correct answer.
As the next legislative session approaches, I am considering a number of bills that would address how we generate, transmit and distribute electricity in Nebraska. I would like to see the legislature partner with our public power utilities, and pass legislation that makes Nebraska a national leader in the new small modular nuclear reactor technology.
Putting aside the far-from-settled argument over manmade carbon dioxide, nuclear power is the only source of electricity that is 100% free of pollution. There are zero emissions put into the environment by nuclear power. If the goal is to find a cleaner way to make electricity in Nebraska by 2050, the only “proven” way to do that is nuclear power. Until then, I’m really glad the coal mines in Wyoming are close by.
Fall weather has started making appearances here and there. This time of year is also when legislative proposals are being changed from hazy concepts into words on the page of a bill draft. The Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes makes that magic happen. Sometimes there is a lot of back and forth.
A major project that I have had the revisors working on is the constitutional carry bill for next year. I will again be this proposal my individual priority for the year. We had an excellent draft to work with last year. However, the legislative process is designed to work out the kinks in the bills we debate. We have identified a few technical fixes that we wanted to have in place from Day 1 of the new session.
The core principles of the bill remain the same: people should not have to pay a fee or ask permission to exercise a core civil right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and the Nebraska Constitution. The federal Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen makes clear that the Second Amendment does not describe a second-class right.
That court opinion has already upset the apple cart in a number of anti-gun states. More importantly, it instructs the lower courts on how to apply the Second Amendment in the future. The Bruen decision has started a new wave of cases challenging gun control policies found in state laws and local ordinances across the country. Some of our laws here in Nebraska may one day be found unconstitutional under the Bruen standard. I do not think we should wait for that.
My proposal is that adults who can legally have firearms should be allowed to carry them, openly or concealed, throughout the state of Nebraska. I do not believe people should have to take a government-mandated test or pay a fee to a bureaucracy to do this.
Opponents of my bill claim to believe in training. I know a little something about firearms training. I have trained a lot of shooters. I believe in training, and I think that all gun owners ought to get the knowledge and practice they need to be safe and proficient. But in a free country, we should not put a bunch of red tape in the way.
Liberty means trusting people to be responsible until they show us otherwise through their actions. I have fought for liberty all my life, and we are going to keep that fight up come January. I believe now is the time for Nebraska to join the twenty-five states that already have constitutional carry laws on the books.
Every session of the legislature I introduce a resolution. Last session it was called LR13CA. It proposes a constitutional amendment to place a limit on how much property taxes can be used to fund public schools.
Article VII, Section 1 of the Nebraska constitution reads; “The Legislature shall provide for the free instruction in the common schools of this state of all persons between the ages of five and twenty-one years.”
What I propose inserts new language that reads; No more than thirty-three percent of the funding for such free instruction in the common schools shall come from property taxes. The legislature can place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot with 30 votes.
Nationally, about forty percent of public schools are funded with property taxes. In Nebraska that average is about sixty percent. In my district in western Nebraska, over seventy percent of the funding for public schools comes from property taxes. If this proposed amendment was ratified by the people at the ballot box, and all the 244 school districts in Nebraska received the same funding they had before, an additional $700 million dollars would have to be appropriated to make up the difference. This is why this resolution is never voted out of the committee. Spending cuts elsewhere in the budget would be needed to accomplish that kind of appropriation.
When there is no limit placed on how much a tax can be used by government, how can anyone be surprised when that tax bill gets bigger every year?
Meanwhile, the legislature did pass some good bills the last couple of sessions that do lower property taxes. Unfortunately, the Nebraska Department of Revenue reports that about 40% of eligible tax payers failed to claim the refund on their state income tax form. For instance, the owner of a $250,000 home in Lincoln could have claimed $1,137 in refunds this year from the income tax credit and another state property tax relief effort. According to the Governor, when 2022 income taxes are due next April, Nebraskans could realize a 30% reduction in their property taxes through various income tax credits. It provides these credits on property taxes paid to support K-12 schools and, beginning on next year’s taxes, on property taxes paid for community colleges too.
In the 2021 legislative session, LB644 was passed to add transparency and accountability to Nebraska’s property tax process. Local units of government with property tax authority (schools, counties, towns, etc) are required by this law to have a “truth in taxation” public hearing if tax collections will increase more than 2% of real growth. The hearings have to be held after 6:00pm between 17-23 September. Postcards advising citizens of these hearings are in the mail now. Any planned increase in taxation from the previous tax year requires the words “NOTICE OF PROPOSED TAX INCREASE” on the post card.
Property tax relief through income tax credits is not as simple and straight forward as my constitutional amendment idea. Not taking the money from the citizens in the first place would not require a complicated refund scheme like this. Regardless, Nebraskans are leaving money on the table that is rightfully theirs. I encourage everyone who pays property taxes to attend their local “truth in taxation” hearing, and file an amended 2021 income tax return if they missed out on any property tax credits.
One of the subjects people talk to me about all the time is healthcare in rural Nebraska. We face some serious challenges that we need to address in the next session of the legislature.
Historically, life in western Nebraska has always come with hardship. People here have an enduring toughness and a sense of honor. Most have to work hard for everything thing they have. My district has a lot of very small towns with close-knit farm and ranch families whose ancestors settled in Nebraska before we were a state. This area has a “do-it-yourself” attitude that generally doesn’t like asking for help.
In the past three years, forty-six long-term care facilities have closed in Nebraska, mostly in small rural towns. Seventy-five percent of Nebraska’s seventy-one rural hospitals utterly depend on Medicare or Medicaid funding to keep the doors open. Several counties in western Nebraska have the highest percentage in the state of people age 65 and older who are living alone.
The Nebraska department of health and human services reports Nebraska has nearly 3,000 vacancies in registered nurses (RNs), nearly 400 vacancies in advanced-practice RNs. In the Sandhills communities there is an acute shortage of licensed practical nurses (LPNs). This causes a much higher nurse-to-patient ratio than found in any other part of the state. Just because the healthcare facility is in a rural setting does not mean it is cheaper to operate. In fact, higher prevailing wages often must be offered to attract highly skilled workers to a small town.
As you can see this is a difficult problem that we are trying to address in the legislature. Last session we passed a number of bills that distributed millions in federal Covid relief funding. There are grants available to hire and train/retain staff, build and outfit telehealth facilities, student loan forgiveness for healthcare workers and for affordable housing projects.
For a summary of funding allocated to Nebraska’s state agencies, eligibility criteria, and guidance on how to apply please visit: https://www.nehca.org/wp-content/uploads/ARPA-Summary-09.01.22-ck.pdf
I am closely following the healthcare situation in my district, and will continue to look for solutions to keep our hospitals, emergency medical crews, clinics and long-term care facilities open and financially solvent.
Bureaucracy. Paperwork. Hearings. Amendments. Debate. For most Nebraskans, these words do not stir up warm feelings. I think for most of us, those words make us want to tuck tail and head in the other direction. The Nebraskans that I know like to get the job done, not just hold meetings to talk about getting it done.
The layers upon layers of procedure and formality that we have to navigate in the Nebraska Legislature are part of what make the lawmaking process seem so challenging to Nebraska citizens. That process can be very frustrating.
As someone who is danger-close when the sausage is being made, I can tell you that it is not just frustrating for the public. It is frustrating for senators, too. But the good people of Nebraska sent us to Lincoln with a job to do, and sometimes to do an important job you just have to gut out the hard stuff. The good news is that the painstaking process of passing a new law can work in our favor, too.
We all learn in school about government checks and balances. Government is dangerous, and it is more dangerous when there are no brakes on it. Our system of government moves slowly, and that is by design. Committee hearings are designed to get lawmakers coached up on a subject by people who have information to share. The three rounds of floor debate in the Unicameral guarantee that those with concerns at least have a chance to get those concerns worked out. Filibusters mean that a big enough minority can permanently stop a bill if they are willing to work hard enough.
In Nebraska, our predecessors made the decision to move to a Unicameral Legislature. The blessing and the curse of the Unicameral is that the legislative process became a lot less complicated and more transparent than it was before. Most states have two legislative bodies working in parallel and then working out technical differences through conference committees. The Unicameral structure sometimes allows one charismatic senator to shepherd a bill through the Legislature so quickly that even my fellow senators scarcely know what was just sent to the governor’s desk.
Believe me, I often wish that I could just ramrod a good bill through the Legislature. It can be frustrating to work for months or years on an idea and then see it get bogged down in the mire. I always have to remind myself that the brakes on the machine have to be there to slow down the bad ideas.
As time-consuming as it may be, that is why we need Nebraskans to put their shoulder behind good ideas when they come up. In January, we will have at least sixteen new senators in the body. Most of them have never worked in or around the Legislature before. Nebraskans cannot be shy in telling these new senators, and the rest of us, what Nebraska’s priorities need to be.
In all of my recent travels around the world I have been reminded of how good we all have life here in Nebraska. One of the main reasons why we enjoy the quality of life we have here is because we have so many of our fellow citizens willing to serve our Nebraska communities.
I would like to thank all the Nebraskans who give of themselves so the rest of us can take so much for granted. Our law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical personnel who make dialing 911 something we can rely on. The soldiers and airmen of our National Guard who stand ready to answer the call of the Governor or the President. Our incredible healthcare workers who ride the ambulances and stand on the front line in the emergency room. The citizens who raise their hand and run for elected office on the city council or the county commissioners or the school board. The unpaid volunteers who staff rural fire departments or volunteer at their local school or church. The many veteran groups and organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars who give so much back to their communities. Civic organizations like the Eagles Club or Rotary Club or Shriners who support so many charitable causes. Even the neighbor who looks in on the elderly person who lives alone next door. The Dad that agrees to be the Cub Scout pack leader, or the parent who agrees to help chaperon the 4th Grade Class that visits our very unique and beautiful Capitol building every Spring.
These amazing citizens are the foundation of life in Nebraska. They are the stitches that hold our coat of many colors together. They make living in Nebraska and the United States the special thing that it is.
I’ve no doubt I left people off this list. It’s not intentional. The list of people and groups that make Nebraska and America great is very long. The willingness of ordinary people to volunteer and give back to their communities is a singularly unique aspect of American life. You just don’t see this degree of civic involvement in other countries. A lot of people in other countries are not as free as we are. They look to the government to improve their lives. Americans look to themselves. The people know our government does not make America great. Our people do. Working for them has been the greatest honor of my life.
In the coming session in January, I will strongly supporting bills that will make “volunteering” easier and less costly. Often times a citizen stepping forward to be on the local volunteer fire department, for example, must complete training and acquire equipment themselves. In small rural departments, all or part of these costs have to be absorbed by the citizen. We need to find a way to incentivize those citizens who want to support their community. We need a lot more of them.
In 1966, the good people of Nebraska had grown tired of paying high property taxes. They collected the needed signatures on a ballot initiative and they put the question on the November ballot. By a margin of 50.89% to 49.11% the people of Nebraska passed a constitutional amendment that did away with the “State Property Tax.”
At that point in time, the state property tax was nearly the only source of revenue for all forms of government in Nebraska, including the state government. When the first session of the 50th Legislature met the following January in 1967, they began the session without any revenue to run the State of Nebraska. The newspaper editorial pages at the time were filled with predictions of doom. Many described the situation as a “crisis” for Nebraska.
The Republican Governor, Norbert “Nobby” Tiemann, introduced two bills that created the state income and state sales tax. Opposition to the income tax was so fierce, the hearings for the bills took days as the line of people to testify stretched around the block. For the first time in history the Nebraska Republican Party did not endorse a sitting republican governor for re-election. They endorsed his primary challenger instead. The resulting political battle during the primary so wounded Governor Tiemann, he lost the general election to the Democrat J. James Exxon.
Today, fifty-six years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation. Property taxes are strangling the #1 industry in our state – agriculture.
Family farms and ranches are going bankrupt trying to pay their property taxes. People and businesses are fleeing Nebraska or not moving here in the first place because of it. In the six years I have had the honor of representing the 43rd District, the legislature has only had the votes to pass economic development programs that spend many thousands of tax dollars to attract businesses to our high-tax state, only to create a handful of jobs.
The first session of the 108th Legislature will begin in about five months. There is reason to be optimistic the coming election may finally produce the votes we need to effectively address the property tax crisis. How we fund K-12 public education in Nebraska has to change. Property taxes are too high in Nebraska because we depend on them far too much to fund our schools.
I really like Senator Erdman’s consumption tax idea. Other senators have also introduced some good bills that have fell short by only a few votes over the years. I’m confident many of these ideas will be re-introduced next session. I am giving serious thought to re-introducing my proposed constitutional amendment to place a limit on how much property tax can be used to fund public schools. As things are now, there is no constitutional limit placed on their use. Government abusing an unlimited source of tax revenue shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. We need to change the focus of public policy from those who spend the taxes to those who pay the taxes.
Since 2019, almost $30M has been spent on grants and other business incentives to improve broadband internet access in rural Nebraska. Over sixty different projects brought broadband internet to over 17,000 rural Nebraska households in 2019. LB 388 was passed in 2021. It added another $20M to the broadband grant program in 2021 and 2022. In 2022 we passed LB 1024. $40M of the money in this bill will be split between congressional district one and three to help expand broadband internet in rural Nebraska.
The legislature has defined the term “unserved” as areas that don’t have access to at least 25 megabytes (MB) download and 3 MB upload. “Underserved” areas are as those without access 100 MB download and 20 MB upload. Roughly 10% of rural Nebraska falls into the “unserved” category today. Since work in the legislature started in 2018, roughly 40% of rural Nebraska was considered “unserved” back then so progress has definitely been made.
I am proud of the work done by the legislature, the Public Service Commission and the Broadband Taskforce to bring fast internet to the many under-served communities in western Nebraska. Much of the credit for this goes to Sen. Kurt Friesen who finished his term in the legislature this year. He was the champion for this policy issue that will be hard to replace. Much remains to be done.
I will continue to be a strong supporter of this issue until every corner of the state has access to high-speed, high-quality broadband internet service. Like electricity, internet has become ‘critical infrastructure’ to our communities. Sparsely-populated areas in Nebraska are often the last to receive a new technological advancement. A number of towns and counties in western Nebraska didn’t get electricity until after World War II.
Much of the new technology allowing family farmers and ranchers to increase efficiencies and boost their profits depends on a high-speed internet connection. Agriculture is the #1 industry in Nebraska, yet many producers often struggle to use the new precision technology because they live somewhere without broadband internet.
Many Nebraskans learned during the China virus that fast, reliable internet is essential for people to work from home, take online classes, and for healthcare facilities to offer tele-medicine with patients who would otherwise have to travel considerable distances. Nebraskans living in the western end of the state should have these same opportunities. I look forward to continuing to work on this important issue.
One of the most brilliant and inspired ideas ever conceived by the American mind is having an election every two years. Citizens in the United States have the opportunity to select their elected representatives, and they don’t have to wait very long to determine whether or not they chose wisely.
Every two years, a portion of politicians all over the country, from city councils and school boards, to state legislatures, state governors, and the federal congress are up for election. The months leading up to the election is when the voices of the citizens are the most powerful.
Ordinary citizens who have a sincere desire to promote an issue and bring about a change in how things work in some organ of government – now is your time to act. Volunteering to help the campaigns of people running for elected office is the fastest and most effective way to make a friend and ally out of a politician. Donating money to a campaign is also influential, but nothing takes the place of someone willing to actually show up and participate in campaign events and donate sweat and effort. That mutual effort during a campaign can build strong relationships.
Labor Day weekend is the traditional beginning of the political season. Citizens who want to see a bill introduced and passed in the Legislature should strongly consider getting involved in the process right now. Bills that are drafted, and the process of generating support for them is started in August have a much greater likelihood of passing in January when the next session begins. Now is the time for citizens to approach candidates for the legislature and ask them if they would be willing to support or even introduce particular legislation.
Before a senator ever introduces a bill, there is a lot that can be done by concerned citizens to give a proposal the best chance for being made into law.
Senators should all be working for their constituents. That is the job we sign up for when we run for election. But new senators need all the help they can get if they are going to hit the ground running on Day 1 of the legislative session. As a “senior” in the Legislature now, I consider it part of my job to help promising new senators become effective champions for our Nebraska values. With the help of concerned Nebraskans, I am optimistic that we will be able to get some conservative points on the board when the Unicameral returns in January.
I would like to address a question I get a lot: Why did you go to Ukraine?
As most people know I am a retired US Army Colonel with numerous combat deployments over my thirty-six years of service. I have a lot of experience with war. I became frustrated watching and reading the endless news reports of artillery and rocket attacks on what seemed to be primarily civilian targets. I also wanted to bear witness to the war crimes and atrocities committed by the Russian troops. I was tired of hearing about this war. There is a lot of fake news about Ukraine. I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I needed to understand this chaos with my own senses. I needed to actually meet the victims and aid workers, and hear their stories. If I am to support sending more American blood and treasure to protect the rest of the free world, and not ignore a faraway challenge to our values and our strategic security, I needed to experience it for myself. The experience has changed me.
Girls and women are being raped. Men are being beaten, bound and shot. Mass graves are everywhere. The old and crippled and young orphans left behind in the war zone are fending for themselves. Russian soldiers are plundering the homes and property of Ukrainian families, stealing everything they can carry. Cities the size of Lincoln and Omaha and larger are being “rubble-ed” by near constant cannon and rocket artillery fire (a very old Russian tactic).
Putin is a terrorist, a murderer, and a war criminal. He is deliberately targeting civilians. I have spent many years in combat environments. I have seen countless unspeakable horrors common in warfare, but nothing like what’s happening in Ukraine. The Russian motive behind this war is the pure evil in the heart of one man. The last time an American soldier fought in a war this horrific was in WWII. The Ukrainians call the Russians “Orcs” from the Lord of the Rings novel. It’s worth looking up why they do.
During my travels through Ukraine, I was able to meet with mayors, church leaders, military people, and visit the wounded in hospitals all over Ukraine. I’ve spent the night in a basement with a family sheltering from Russian artillery that fell all night long. These experiences, meetings in conference rooms and offices, and moving around together, has given me a good handle on how we need to help these people.
Church leaders are busy caring for the hundreds of thousands of refugees, all in need of food, shelter and security. Ukrainians are a faith-based people. There is a sense of social responsibility among them, which seems to be a fundamental aspect of their character.
They are like a big team. All the different personalities, and age groups, and political opinions and religions are all in sync. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, this war has united the people of Ukraine with a strong sense of national identity with no regard to politics or creed.
The huge aid package from the United States, NATO and other European countries is slowly flowing into Ukraine. The last time the US and our allies did force-generation logistics on this scale was in the battle of the Pusan perimeter in Korea in 1950. The effort needed in Ukraine is every bit as big as Korea was. Effectively countering long-range fires with the new weapon systems we are giving Ukraine is what will tip the scales and grind the Russian monster to a halt. A modest Ukrainian success on the battlefield may set conditions for a badly needed ceasefire so civilian refugees can finally be evacuated and cared for, and the thousands of rotting corpses can be buried.
The Ukrainian people are among the most resilient people I have ever met. They love America. They embrace our values, and they are fighting and dying every day with a level of tenacity and valor I have never seen before. Regardless of their persistence and determination however, they cannot prevail if the free world dithers and wrings its hands. This is good versus evil.
The United States doesn’t stand alone in this fight. We have many allies alongside us in this struggle, yet we must not fail to grasp that our great country alone is the muscle in maintaining global democracy. Without the power we have suffered to possess it, democracy will be destroyed in our lifetime. We have paid the price for the freedom’s we enjoy. I fear we are dangerously close to letting those precious freedoms slip through our fingers. To avert this dismal future we must act decisively today, by targeting how best to provide Ukraine what it requires to evict this horde, and rebuild their battered nation.
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