We are two-thirds of the way through the legislative session and Senator Chambers has officially been seated as the senator from District 11. Last Thursday, the Legislature accepted the recommendation provided by the special committee appointed to review the residency challenge. In the 2016 legislative race Senator Chamber’s opponent, John Sciara claimed that Chambers did not live in his north Omaha home. Sciara then filed a qualifications challenge against Senator Chambers. The challenger established nothing more than the incumbent has not always been physically present at his home on Binney Street. After hearing testimony and gathering exhibits, the special committee decided that Sciara was unable to prove that Chambers did not reside in his district the year prior to the election. The seven member committee recommended that the Legislature deny the challenge and dismiss Sciara’s petition. The legislature will be reviewing policies and procedures in case a challenge like this happens again.
The past week we also heard LB 640, introduced by Senator Groene. LB 640 would decrease the maximum levy for school districts and direct money in a property tax credit fund to increase state aid to districts that lose money as a result. This fund is supported by state income and sales taxes. The intent of LB 640 is to ensure that funding is distributed more fairly under the state’s school aid formula. Over the last decade we have seen the value on agricultural land increase and rural schools have seen less and less state aid because they are able to rely on property taxes to meet their needs. As a result we have seen a burden put on rural property taxpayers. I did support this bill but do acknowledge that property taxes in some urban districts could increase if LB 640 would be implemented. However, in many cases the property taxes on agricultural land has doubled in the last five years. All in all, this bill did not go anywhere and I ultimately do not see it going anywhere this year.
The legislature wrapped up this past week with debate on LB 461. LB 461 was introduced by Senator Smith and would lower Nebraska’s top corporate and personal income tax brackets, expand the earned income tax credit for low-income residents, cap statewide property tax growth and adjust the way agricultural land is valued for tax purposes. During debate last Friday, senators filed a number of motions to amend LB 461 which will guarantee a lengthy debate. When the Legislature adjourned Friday afternoon we had only made it through the first amendment filed.