The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at firstname.lastname@example.org
On Friday, September 8th the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission fined me $500 for not disclosing campaign costs associated with my campaign for the Legislature during the summer of 2016.
An Alliance man, Richard Schommer, alleged in a complaint that I didn’t disclose the amount I paid for horse feed, food, lodging and fuel. It was for this infraction I was fined. His complaint also alleged my use of my Army surplus HUMWV (hum-vee) wasn’t properly reported. Lastly, his complaint said the gift of Henry Rifles I made to my friends who accompanied me on the ride also wasn’t properly reported. The Henry rifles were my personal gift to my veteran friends that endured the 500 mile ride. I paid for these out of my own pocket. The HUMWV was simply rented for a parade. The commission did not find these complaints sufficient to merit any fines.
As many of you know, I did what I called “The Freedom Ride” during the campaign. Along with a number of friends (veterans) who I served with in my thirty-six years in uniform, we rode mules 500 miles around all thirteen counties of the 43rd Legislative District. My opponent, former Sen. Al Davis, out-spent me during the campaign more than four to one. My campaign was ran on a shoe string. We didn’t have the money to saturate the newspapers, radio and TV stations, pay for multiple weekly mailings of attack ads or buy thousands of signs. We had to do something else to generate some publicity for the campaign.
The idea for the ride was actually something one of my veteran friends came up with. Stick a “Brewer for Legislature” sign on a mule, and ride the animal around the entire district. It was a novel idea. A 92-year lady in Brewster told me the last time she saw a politician campaign on horseback was when she was a little girl. The original plan was to bring together a group of old friends, all of us Army veterans, some I served with in Afghanistan, and do something together so we could catch up on old friendships. It was a “Veteran Ride” as much as it was a political campaign event. Scattered across several states, many of us hadn’t seen each other in decades. My friend Tony (my Legislative Aide) flew home from working in Afghanistan to do this. Win or lose the campaign, it gave me memories I will cherish for the rest of my life, one last ride for some old soldiers. In spite of some complaints from my back, I don’t regret a minute of it.
Ignorance of the law is no defense. It’s true. I didn’t do a very good job of keeping track of expenses on the ride. In particular, I didn’t do a thing called “in-kind” donations very well. A typical day of this 23-day ride we would stop and camp in a little town along the route. Folks would often greet us and sometimes bring a picnic supper. I didn’t record the “value” of a tub of potato salad, or a bale of hay a rancher may have given the mules, or a tank of fuel I bought out of my own pocket for my own pickup, or a package of hamburger one of my friends may have bought and grilled burgers for supper. I didn’t try and “estimate and report” the value of the grass the mules ate along the Cowboy Trail or the State-owned right-of-way along the roads and highways we rode. I didn’t keep track of the occasional hotel room my friends bought so they had a bed and a hot shower for a change, instead of a cot in a tent.
Everything on that ride I paid for was out of my own pocket, or something one of my friends bought on their own. I didn’t spend a dime of what little I had raised in campaign contributions to pay for any of it.
Regardless, all of those sorts of things should have been reported. Anything of value that is used by a campaign has to be reported. That’s the law. I’ve paid my fine and I’ll take my licks for this. The Accountability and Disclosure Commission told me I could pay my fine with campaign funds. I paid for it out of my pocket because people didn’t donate money to my campaign to pay for my mistakes. Obviously I know better now and it won’t happen again. I guess I’ll just have to find an accountant who knows how to ride a mule the next time I do this.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at email@example.com or call us at (402) 471-2628.
I’ll make a prediction in this week’s column. Much like how we began the last session with the budget being over $1 billion in the hole, we’ll start the next session in another budget hole. The budget we passed was built on the assumption of 5% revenue growth, which would come from an economy growing at a similarly robust pace. It’s not. I’m not banking on the “Eclipse” tourism to save us.
Back in July, the Lincoln paper reported “the Federal Commerce Bureau says Nebraska logged the worst economic performance in the U.S. in the beginning of 2017.” Net tax revenue receipts for July were $268 million, which was 2.8% below the certified forecast of $276 million. I predict this trend will continue. Assuming we’re not called back into special session to do more budget cuts because of these revenue shortfalls, then we’ll start the 2nd session of the 105th legislature with more budget cutting. Maybe in the hundreds of millions.
This will be a “short” session (60 days). People should not get their heart set on some special piece of legislation passing because I think it is very likely we’ll spend most of the next session arguing over more budget cuts. Unlike last time when a lot of the cuts were really just reductions in future increases and other accounting devices, THIS time we’ll be cutting “bone” because all the budget fat and meat is already gone.
So where does the Legislature cut?
First, we need to know where the money is spent. According to the Department of Revenue about 37% of the budget is spent by one State Agency: The Department of Health and Human Services. About 29% of the budget is spent on just sixty-nine of Nebraska’s two-hundred forty-four K-12 School Districts (175 of them get NO State Aid). We spend 11% of the budget on Public Safety and about 17% of the budget goes to higher education.
Second, I think we need to know what the Nebraska Constitution says we have to pay for. During my Army career, I became familiar with quite a number of Army regulations. When reading them, you had to pay close attention to words like “shall” and “must.” Words like “should” and “may” were worth noting, but screwing up a “should” or a “may” regulation wouldn’t get you court-martialed. I figured I’d start to answer this question by looking up everything in the supreme law of the land in Nebraska.
I wanted to know how many “shall spend money for something” is in the Constitution, so I searched for the phrase “shall provide.” That appears 21 times.
Twenty of twenty-one times the use of this phrase requires the legislature to “provide” laws to govern something.
However, Article VII-1 provides clear instruction that the legislature spend money on something:
“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. The Legislature may provide for the education of other persons in educational institutions owned and controlled by the state or a political subdivision thereof.”
Why then do we spend 29% of our State Budget (about $1.22B) on just sixty-nine of the State’s two hundred forty-four K-12 school districts? “Shall provide” should mean something more than zero for the 175 school districts who receive no State Aid.
You then have to ask, why do we spend about 17% (about $723M) of the State Budget on “higher education” like the University when 72% of our K-12 schools get absolutely no funding from the State?
Shouldn’t we fully fund the “shall provide” our Constitution says our K-12 schools are supposed to get, before we decide to spend money on a “may provide?”
As it is, all the legislature has “provided” are laws that create out-of-control property taxes to fund most schools and allows it to duck it’s constitutional responsibility for “providing” for all K-12 schools. In addition to the cuts I see looming in the future, I think we need to re-think who gets what.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 471-2628.
Senator Tom Brewer
I read the other day that Governor Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands signed an emergency order that allows the territorial government to seize private guns and ammunition and any other private property the National Guard may deem necessary to respond to Hurricane Irma.
I read where the City Council of Lincoln, Nebraska has proposed an “anti-hate” resolution. It says that the City of Lincoln recognizes “values” and will proactively work to promote diversity and inclusion within our community.
Really? What values? Does the City Council have a right to tell individual citizens what to feel? What to say? How to think? What if a pastor preaches against homosexuality in a Sunday Sermon from a pulpit in a Lincoln Church? Will the City work to “promote diversity and inclusion” to respect everyone’s convictions and beliefs, or will the pastor be branded as “intolerant” by the city? Will the City Council condemn the vulgar attacks against UNL Sophomore Kaitlyn Mullen last week when she tried to recruit for a conservative student organization on campus? Is she worthy of inclusion?
Does the City Council realize there is NO SUCH THING as “hate speech” in America, that promoting such a falsehood is nothing more than an attack on our 1st Amendment rights? No one has a right to not be offended. If you don’t like what someone says or how they think, move on. Ignore them. Don’t try and silence the bigots, let them speak. Let their bogus ideas be laid bare for all to see. Let their beliefs compete in the arena of public opinion and be cast upon the ash heap of failed ideas after full and fair debate.
I saw where Oregon Gov. Kate Brown approved gun control legislation that would force people to surrender their firearms.
This law allows the police, or a member of a subject’s family or household, to file a petition with the local court which could then issue an order prohibiting someone from firearms possession if the court believed they posed an imminent risk to themselves or others. The person then has 30 days to request a hearing to get back the firearms confiscated from them, assuming a judge agrees. Otherwise they lose them for a year.
A person does not have to commit a crime and be arrested to lose their 2nd Amendment rights in Oregon. A judge simply has to “think” they shouldn’t be allowed to have them. No arrest. No charge. No trial. No jury. No due-process, just one person’s opinion who has no idea who this person being deprived of their rights really is. Demanding that one’s fellow citizens be degraded and stripped of their most basic constitutional rights is tyranny, plain and simple. I hope the US Supreme Court swiftly reverses this oppression.
Why is the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution the only amendment to the constitution the people need to get permission from the government to exercise? Did you need to get permission to read this newspaper, or did the 1st Amendment protect your right to do so?
What do these three stories have in common? A total lack of respect for constitutional republicanism.
We are a Constitutional Republic. We have inalienable, individual rights in that republic. We are Americans. Our country is built upon the sovereignty of the individual, and upon the rule of law that form the basis for a civil society. Each day, examples like these show me the relentless march of progressive elitism leading a counter-revolution to wreck our country. Every day is another example of our country drifting farther away from it’s founding principles, unmoored from our Constitution, slipping closer to the tyranny of rule by a privileged few masterminds. The examples of mob rule we’ve seen in the news lately and the never-ending drumbeat of political correctness to silence free speech sickens me.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at email@example.com or call us at (402) 471-2628.
This week I had a special honor. It was special because it honored me as a Father and as a soldier, albeit an old retired soldier. My daughter, Second Lieutenant Kalee (Brewer) Bolton, graduated from her officer basic course in Fort Lee, Virginia. This is a special moment in the career of every young Army officer. I am so proud of her. I was really glad I got to be there.
Today the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced it had extended the Public Comment Period for NPPD’s R-Line project which runs 225 miles from the Gerald Gentleman Power plant near Sutherland to Holt County, much of it through the heart of the Sandhills.
The comment period originally ended July 11th but will now be extended through November 7th.
About 125 miles of the East/West portion of the project, from Thedford to the Neligh/Hoskins area, goes through previously undisturbed grassland. Over 93 miles of this portion of the line has no road access, in some places the nearest road in more than 3 miles away. I am very concerned about this, but concerned is all I can be because very little can be done about it. The only thing really holding up construction now is an endangered beetle.
NPPD approved the route of the R-Line in January 2015. The current planned route of the R Line will be built no matter how many extensions to the public comment period there are. Unlike other States who have agencies citizens can address grievances to, public utilities in Nebraska have very little oversight besides the Power Review Board. The law gives this organization very narrow jurisdiction over public utility projects such that it simply has no authority to address many citizen concerns.
It’s worth noting my predecessor supported the R Line project.
Speaking of power, there is going to be a hearing of the Natural Resources Committee here in the Capitol, Room 1525 at 1:30pm, Friday the 22nd of September. The committee will discuss an Interim Study (Legislative Resolution 125). The purpose of the study is to study public power in Nebraska. One of the topics is “the role of public power and of renewable energy in economic development in the state, including strengths and areas in need of improvement.”
Quite a few folks in the district have expressed an interest in attending this hearing and testifying on the topic of “renewable energy” (aka; wind energy). The author of the book, “Paradise Destroyed – The Destruction of Rural Living by the Wind Energy Scam” Mr. Gregg Hubner will join us and testify.
I want to thank all of the folks who contacted me about last week’s column concerning Civil War statues. I was humbled by such an out-pouring of support for that subject. I think protecting our nation’s history and fighting mob rule are important topics and I am so pleased so many of you feel the same way.
Speaking of freedom of speech, I was appalled by what I saw happen to a student on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus this week. A young lady, a sophomore, was berated and intimidated by people (including a university professor) just because she was trying to recruit students for a conservative group. I watched a video of this vulgar and unprofessional behavior by people that are paid with our tax dollars. I saw a university employee tell her that she could only hand out her “propaganda” in an area he called a “free speech zone.”
I’m going to ask the University for a map of these so-called “free speech zones” because the last time I checked, the first amendment to our constitution applied to the entire country. Maybe the nearly $1 billion in funding the legislature appropriates each year to the university can be pro-rated to only fund the free-speech areas and let them find another way to pay for the parts of the campus where constitutional rights don’t apply. If a special session is needed to make additional cuts to the budget, this will be on my mind.
Normally I devote this column to all the latest updates on the issues that are important to me and my district. Out of control property taxes, the wind energy scam, the maddening story of a power line, constitutional rights, our troubled prison system, ranching, farming, rural life in general.
Today I’m taking a break from that stuff. I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me: Tearing down monuments of Confederate Civil War figures.
First of all, I hate mob rule. That is not what this country is supposed to be. When a statue in a park is built or removed, a school or street is named or renamed, I think it should be a thoughtful, deliberate choice made by the community, not a political kneejerk brought on by a mob. I think the mob is winning and that bothers me. The American history surrounding these monuments is important. It is as profound as it is inescapable. Our republic has a dark past marked with genocide and slavery and the bloodiest war in our country’s history fought to end it. These are indisputable facts, and no matter how many statues are torn down it will not erase them.
The United States is also the greatest country on Earth with a long history of incredible societal growth and enlightenment; one of constant change for the better. Our history follows a path towards MORE justice, not less, one of “a more perfect union” as our constitution says. Our system is based on the rule of law, not the mob. Tearing down a monument commemorating past U.S. history no matter how dark it is removes a mile-marker in our growth as a nation. How can we measure all the progress that has unfolded since the era in which the statue was built if it’s gone?
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney was the author of the terrible Dred Scott decision that rejected citizenship for African Americans. There was a statue of him on the grounds of the Statehouse of Maryland. Also on the grounds was a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court. In the mob frenzy that has followed since the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia a few weeks ago, the Statue of Justice Taney was recently removed. I think this DIMINISHES the achievement of not only Justice Marshall, but that of the country as a whole.
The other day President Trump asked “where does it stop?” and he is right. Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington includes statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a number of other Confederates. Will they be removed? Will the Jefferson Memorial be taken down and a new face found for the nickel coin? Do we blast the faces off Mount Rushmore like the Taliban did to the statues of Buddha in Afghanistan?
What strikes me is at the other end of the reflecting pool opposite the Capitol is the Lincoln Memorial which commemorates the man who defeated the Confederacy, who restored the union, who ended slavery, and advanced the country into a new era. Without the context of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is just another long-dead President and not the man the Capitol of Nebraska is named after.
In the years after the Civil War there was a good deal of statue building, the height of it around 1910. Most were done by children of Confederate veterans trying to memorialize the war their fathers had fought. The reconstruction era in the South during the postwar years was racked with extreme poverty, with many families missing sons and fathers lost to the war. There were other, more sinister motives to build these statues too, during the Civil Rights struggle in 50’s and 60’s. I find it ironic that the chief opposition to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was the political left in this country. It certainly wasn’t a conservative governor standing in front of a school denying entry to a black student.
Regardless of the motive, a great many of these statues were part of a larger effort to heal the Nation with “malice towards none” as Lincoln said. During those years after the war, Jefferson Davis was never charged with treason and was released from prison after serving only a couple years. The funeral of Robert E. Lee in 1870 was attended by senior politicians from the North. His eulogy read like he was an American hero.
If you “revise” all the history based on someone being “offended” then we won’t have any history left because someone, somewhere will always take offense at something. Instead of tearing down an “offensive” statue from the Civil War, how about building a new one commemorating another American, someone who represents how far the country has come since then? How about we celebrate the triumph of the American idea instead of shrinking in fear from the tyranny of the political-correctness mob?
If you don’t know where you’ve been, how will you ever know how far you’ve come?
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 471-2628.
I went to a meeting about Wind Energy in Mitchell, SD this week. There I met representatives from over a dozen South Dakota counties, a member of the South Dakota legislature, county commissioners and nearly that many people from Nebraska. While I sat and listened to the many horror stories of citizens being forced to live with wind turbines near their home, it reminded me of how important our struggle against the Wind Energy scam really is.
I wonder how many land-owners willing to sign the fifty-year easement to build one of these 550-foot towers planned for sites in Nebraska are actually willing to live near one? I wonder how many Wind Energy company executives are willing to live near one? The Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln is only 400 feet tall by comparison.
The collusion between Wind Energy and government disgusts me. If the Federal Production Tax Credit for wind energy didn’t exist, you would not see another industrial wind energy turbine built. As Warren Buffet said,
“….on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”
He is absolutely right. Wind is an incredibly inefficient way to make electricity. Something that only makes electricity 30-40% of the time is why the industry will never stand on its own without being propped up by tax dollars. These dollars are taken by the federal government in taxation from all of us and then transferred to a few lucky people who own wind energy companies. Land owners are paid for their easement by the wind energy company with these dollars, many of whom live nowhere near the wind farm on their land. All of this is done because some wrong-headed mastermind in Washington D.C. decided wind energy was “green.”
I’m all for “green” or “alternative” sources of energy, but wind energy is neither of these.
An industrial wind turbine will never produce enough electricity in its entire lifetime to off-set the so-called “carbon footprint” that was needed to manufacture, install and maintain it. Aside from tax dollars, wind is also utterly dependent on “conventional” power plants (coal, gas, etc) because when the wind doesn’t blow, the wind farm still “owes” the power grid the rated generation capacity. Roughly 800 megawatts are produced by about 475 industrial wind turbines currently in Nebraska. Those 800 megawatts have to be delivered to the power grid every single day whether the wind blows or not. Additional capacity has to be built into near-by conventional power plants to pick up the slack from the wind farm when it’s not making power. Additional generation capacity isn’t free, and its cost is reflected in the electric bill consumers have to pay. When you look at the “all-in” cost of electricity production, making these 800 megawatts all from coal in the first place would be “greener” and much cheaper than using wind.
People argue that wind energy is a “private property rights” issue. I hear it all the time; who are you to tell me what I can or can’t do on my land? I understand this, but my question is, who pays the neighbors who had no say in the siting of these things? Who pays for their loss of property value? Who pays for the constant torment brought on by the incredible noise these turbines make? The 24/7 vibration constantly shaking their house? The flicker coming from the shadow of the blades causing migraines and nausea? Can you imagine a constant 55 decibel noise (like a window air conditioner) invading your home and there was NOTHING you could do to stop it? That was reported by a person whose house is 1.3 miles from a wind turbine. Imagine what it’s like for the person who is only 1000 feet from one of these things. 1000 feet is the set back the wind energy companies fight for from County Planning and Zoning Boards. Who fights for the property rights of people affected by these things?
We will meet with executives from NPPD concerning the R Line again next week. I’m sure we’ll hear the R Line has value in balancing electrical loads and relieving “congestion” on Nebraska’s power grid. As I have stated before, I believe the chief purpose behind the current routing of the line is to service future wind energy projects in the Sandhills. I hope to convince them to change the routing and avoid the most environmentally fragile area of our State, but I am not very optimistic. The way Nebraska State laws are set up right now, the only citizen recourse to an NPPD board decision is litigation in the courts. Nebraska doesn’t have a “Public Utility Commission” like many other States do. There is no entity of Nebraska State government to which a citizen can appeal an NPPD board decision.
Whether they keep making electricity or not, these gigantic steel and concrete structures will be there for generations, monuments to the greed of a few in a short-sighted land rush to hurry up and get them built and collect their profits off the backs of tax-payers before Uncle Sam wises up and shuts off this gravy train. This is despicable public policy. It hurts people. It hurts Nebraska, and I’m going to do everything I can to stop it.
As most people in the 43rd District already know, the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) has proposed plans to build what is known as the “R Line.” This is a 345KV transmission line extending from Sutherland, NE to Eastern Holt County. This 225-mile high-voltage transmission line will cross the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills.
Many have asked me if “one” of the purposes of the R Line project is to provide for a way to move electricity produced by the possible future development of industrial wind energy projects in the Sandhills – or – does the urgent need for the R Line have nothing to do with whether or not industrial wind energy projects are ever developed in the Sandhills?
Many residents of the Sandhills feel that industrial wind energy development is entirely unsuitable for this part of our State for a host of reasons. There is strong citizen-lead opposition to this. I share this view. As many of you know, I introduced a bill (LB 504) to put a two-year moratorium on the development of industrial wind energy projects in the Sandhills so we can adequately study the total impact these projects will have on the region before building anymore. I’m frustrated this bill remains stuck in the Natural Resources Committee while this issue continues to tear the fabric of the Sandhill’s community apart.
Recently a private meeting of concerned citizens was held in Thedford where they planned to hear from a representative of the US Fish and Wildlife Service about concerns they had with the Draft Environmental Impact Study for the R Line project. Apparently, NPPD asked the US Fish and Wildlife Service representative not to speak at the meeting because it was outside of the “public comment period” for the study the citizens had questions about. The USFWS representative received a call and was instructed not to attend the meeting. Later, people saw individuals in an NPPD vehicle photographing the vehicles of the citizens in the parking lot. This behavior is unacceptable, and it angers me.
A citizen who faces having land that has been in their family for generations forcibly taken from them by the government through imminent domain deserves to have answers to any and all questions they may have at any time they wish to ask them, from whomever they wish to ask them of. They certainly do not deserve to have government representatives use these kinds of tactics against them in an effort to deny them their basic right to ask questions and address issues they have with any agency of government, which NPPD is a sub-division of. Currently, the only oversight of NPPD is their board of directors. Things like this cause me to wonder if additional oversight of NPPD isn’t needed.
As you might imagine, my phone has rang off the hook about this. Like everything else, there are always two sides to every story and NPPD deserves a chance to explain their version of events, so I have a meeting with NPPD executives scheduled in the very near future. I have also asked the Chairman of both the Government, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and the Natural Resources Committee to hold public hearings on the subject of the R Line so NPPD officials may testify in a public setting about this. I would hope they welcome the opportunity to clear the air on this matter.
This issue goes well beyond whether or not the R Line is a good idea. Other infrastructure projects our State needs now and in the future will all need one very big thing: public trust. The people must know, without a shred of doubt, that nothing is being hidden from them, that they are being treated fairly, and everything is being done above-board with complete transparency. You can’t earn that trust by acting untrustworthy, and even though you might end up with more work to do, you’re never wrong by doing the right thing.
Once again I am reminded that all I ever needed to know to be successful in life I learned in Kindergarten: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
I visited the Omaha Community Correctional Center and the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility (NCYF) in Omaha this week. I see the same issues everywhere we go in the Department of Corrections. I am anxious to see legislation introduced in the next session so we can start addressing these problems. Because of LB 605, a law passed in 2015, all of these problems have to be corrected by 2020 or the law requires the release of inmates to correct the overcrowding problems.
I spent Wednesday morning with the Aging Partners Program. They work with Senior Citizens and provide a range of services for older adults and their care-givers across the State. As our population ages and people live longer, access to these services becomes ever more important. This is particularly important in the 43rd District where services are not as available as they are in the more densely populated part of our State.
My staff attended a meeting of the local FairTax group at the Lincoln Independent Business Association which promotes the elimination of all forms of income tax (including the elimination of the IRS) and replaces it with a national consumption (sales) tax. Many of these same people are active in and help us with efforts to reform State and local tax issues.
The idea for reducing property taxes is being reviewed by a number of prominent Nebraska attorneys to ensure it will comply with constitutional requirements. The committee to launch the ballot petition initiative is being formed. I am hopeful the first signatures will be collected early next month. They will need to collect about 150,000 signatures state-wide. A certain percentage of signatures must come from a certain percentage of counties. The idea will reduce the property taxes paid in Nebraska by about $1.2B. Nebraskans should see about a 30% reduction in the property taxes they pay. I am very excited about this idea. If you would like to help, please contact my office. This effort will need all the help it can get.
I met with executives from NPPD concerning the R Line this week. The chairman of the Natural Resources Committee (Sen. Dan Hughes) and the State Ombudsman’s Officer also attended. I consider this meeting a “beginning” to the dialog I need to have with NPPD on this very divisive subject. I’ve received a number of documents from concerned citizens that clearly indicate the R Line is to be built, in whole or in part, to service future wind energy development in the Sandhills, which I strongly oppose. On the other hand, NPPD officials insisted in our meeting that providing connection to wind power in the Sandhills IS NOT the reason the R Line is urgently needed. The current routing of the line appears to be designed to service future wind energy projects, and takes it through the most environmentally fragile area of our State. This has the potential to cause harm to the land that may take generations to heal, not to mention the impact on property values and on tourism.
At this late stage of the project, changing the route will be very difficult. It’s my hope this option is not off the table, but I am not optimistic it is very likely. NPPD is a unique sub-division of State government with a popularly-elected board of directors serving as the only oversight that governs NPPD operations. Since the NPPD board has already approved the R Line project, there is little citizen recourse to the board’s decision. There is no other agency of State government that someone could appeal the decisions made by the NPPD board of directors that I am aware of.
I’m not against infrastructure projects. They are important to the future growth and prosperity of our State and provide much needed benefits to our citizens. That said, such a project and the interests of a public utility must be balanced with that of the citizens affected by the project.
Right now, I don’t see this balance. Other routes for the power line are available. I realize a number of public meetings and comment periods have been held. Nonetheless, considering the significant public opposition to this project, I believe all parties concerned would welcome additional public hearings to answer questions and clear the air. Both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NPPD have agree to extend the public comment period for this project and are waiting for this extension to be made official. I’m still waiting to receive word on any scheduled hearings. I’ll continue my dialog with the committee chairman, citizens and NPPD to try and find a solution that better balances the interests of everyone concerned.
I continue to tour the different correctional facilities across the State. Our committee visited the Work Ethic Camp in McCook and the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, NE. These tours are very informative and I am learning more and more about the many different aspects and challenges everyone is facing either as an inmate or as a staff member. The Legislature will be better prepared to discuss and address these concerns and challenges after we wrap up the work of this committee this summer, but wrap it up we must. I’m a new Senator but Nebraska’s problems with corrections is an old issue. I think this is the third legislative committee to study this. It’s something the Legislature has to address in the next session.
I’m happy to report that an idea for reducing property taxes has finally emerged. Since January, the staff and I have had weekly discussions between groups of concerned citizens and many Senators all working toward a solution. This idea will reduce property taxes by about 30%, and will not impact the revenue currently collected by any local unit of government, namely schools. The details of the language of the proposal are being worked out right now, but I am confident citizen groups will begin circulating a ballot petition that amends the Nebraska Constitution in the next month or so. As soon as it is available, I will share all the specifics of the plan. I am very excited about this.
While the many groups of citizens will be presenting this ballot initiative to the people of Nebraska, Sen. Erdman who is the State Senator for District 47 (just to the West of us) has stated he will introduce the idea as a Legislative Resolution. Hopefully, one way or another, either through the people on a ballot initiative, or Sen. Erdman’s resolution, we will have real property relief for the first time in generations.
I am pessimistic about this idea ever passing in the Legislature, so it is very important to have the people (the 2nd House of Government in Nebraska) propel this forward as a ballot initiative. I have heard many painful stories from you in the district and also from all across Nebraska. We get calls every day with heartbreaking stories of how property taxes are breaking the backs of our citizens. In the Army we had a thing we called “the decisive operation.” In plain English, that means the number one priority. This is it! That’s why I support this duel effort thru a ballot initiative and a Legislative Resolution. When this ballot initiative petition hits the streets, these groups of citizens will need all the help they can get in order to obtain the required number of signatures before the deadline to place it on the ballot in November 2018. Sen Erdman will also need all the help he can get supporting his Legislative Resolution in January when the session starts. I will co-sponsor it, as will many others, but we need concerned citizens to fill the Capitol the day of this resolution’s committee hearing. Please email or call me if you are interested in helping with this project, and my office will connect you with the right people.
As you know from my last weekly update, I have asked the Chairmen of both Natural Resources Committee and the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee (Senators Hughes and Murante) to hold Public Hearings concerning NPPD’s proposed “R Line” project. I have many concerns about this. A number of things have eroded public trust in this project, so I would hope all parties concerned would welcome a public hearing to clear the air and answer questions. As of this writing, I have yet to receive word any hearings have been scheduled. Citizens who would be interested in participating in these should contact Senator’s Hughes and Murante and encourage them to schedule them.
Sen. John Murante may be reached at; email@example.com or call 402-471-2725
Sen. Dan Hughes may be reached at; firstname.lastname@example.org, 402-471-2805
The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs (NCIA) along with the Mid-America Transportation Center (MATC) hosted the Sovereign Native Youth STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Leadership Academy in Lincoln this week. I was part of a tour with these Middle and High School students of the Capitol and later a tour of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Museum near Ashland. I really enjoyed working with these exceptional young people, who came from all over Nebraska. I was honored to escort this group.
This week also included a radio interview with the Chadron radio. So I could be in two places at once, my Legislative Aide did a radio interview with KRVN in Lexington where the Right to Repair legislation was discussed. I co-sponsored this bill (LB 67) that would restore ownership, or what I consider to be just basic property rights, to owners of Agriculture equipment. Information technology has advanced to the point everything has an on-board computer which owners of ag equipment cannot repair themselves because they cannot access software operating systems. Ag equipment owners should have the same rights of ownership an automobile owner has. If you have a car with a problem, you can plug in a little hand-held diagnostic computer and read a fault code and find out what part is bad and replace it yourself. If you own a shiny new half-a-million dollar piece of ag equipment with a problem, you can’t even start the engine without paying a technician to come out and access the operating software. I hope folks contact the members of the Judiciary Committee and urge them to support this bill and vote it out to General File so we can debate it and pass this legislation.
My staff also attended a hearing about the 911 emergency system this week. There are a lot of challenges making sure everyone in the state has access to basic cell phone/wireless coverage so no matter where you are, you can dial 911 and call for help. That’s the goal in the law and getting there, especially in places like the Sandhills, is a considerable challenge. This infrastructure is taken for granted in the urban areas of our state, so not everyone realizes the urgent need we face in the Western Nebraska. I am a strong supporter of efforts to expand wireless coverage and we have to do everything we can in the Legislature to promote this. Unless they’ve been out-West recently, “No Service” is not something a lot of people in Nebraska have seen on their phone in a long time. Like everything else, this capability costs money so funding is also a serious concern.
The staff and I continue to discuss the property tax issue with many citizen groups and a number of Senators. I think a ballot initiative is going to happen this summer, along with a legislative resolution a number of senators support early next session. I am excited and very hopeful we will see something soon, and I will be supporting it.
The Nebraska constitution says “…the legislature shall provide for the free instruction in the common schools.” What has happened instead is the legislature “provided” laws that ended up forcing 70% of the State’s school districts (175 of 249) to operate without financial support from the State. In those school districts, 100% of the costs are being paid for entirely by local property tax payers. This is a very divisive situation where most urban schools end up with State dollars supporting them, and most rural schools do not.
The bottom line is the Legislature has to find a way for the State of Nebraska to pay a lot more for K-12 education than it does right now. Too much of that bill is on the backs of property tax payers. “….the legislature shall provide” needs to really mean “provide.”
I’ll be at the Middle Niobrara Natural Resource Districts Conservation Field Day in Ainsworth 26th of the July. Later that day I’ll be at the ribbon cutting for the new Mid-Plains Community College in Valentine. I’ll also be at the Sheridan County Parade in Gordon next Saturday for the on the the 29th of July as well as the County Fair and Rodeo. I look forward to seeing everyone and talking with you. Please join me.
You are currently browsing the archives for the Uncategorized category.