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Since the 2017 Legislature sine die I have been spending my time traveling throughout the 44th legislative district and one of the most frequently asked questions I have received is what the senator’s do during the interim. Although we are not spending our time debating on the legislative floor, I can assure you we are still hard at work. Our typical day consists of everything from speaking engagements, meetings with constituents in our districts, representing our districts at fairs and in parades, interim hearings and studies, to meeting with groups that have ideas for potential legislation.
During the month of June, I spent a lot of my time speaking at different events in the district. My first stop was in the City of Alma for an Open House and Dedication of the Alma Municipal Airport Terminal Building. That weekend I walked in the Palisade Pioneer Days Parade and kicked off a busy week by meeting with the Red Willow County Commissioners. The next day I traveled to McCook for a town talk over breakfast at Sehnert’s with the chamber followed by coffee with a cop and then wrapped up the day by meeting with the Furnas County Commissioners. I then started my weekend by walking in the Medicine Creek Days parade. Toward the end of June the LR 127 committee kicked off its correctional facility tours.
The first few weeks of July I have been spending time at my family farm harvesting which has taken up the majority of my days. Over the fourth of July, I stopped at the Culbertson celebration for breakfast and then went to Arapahoe for their annual parade. After a few days off, I traveled back to Arapahoe to speak at the Nebraska Health Care Central District meeting. I also joined Governor Ricketts this past week on a tour of the American Agricultural Lab Ag Testing facility. The rest of the month I will be busy attending parades and fairs in Dundy County and Perkins County, as well as, the Gosper County Fair in Elwood and others in the district.
At the beginning of August I will begin to spend more time in Lincoln for the LR 127 Committee Tour’s. During this time in Lincoln I have many appointments scheduled with different groups and lobbyists that want to discuss potential legislation.
With the summer already in full swing, the election campaigning has begun. In the past few weeks we have heard current Governor Pete Ricketts is planning to seek re-election, as well as, current US Senator Deb Fischer. Governor Ricketts has already been endorsed by the Nebraska Republican Party’s state central committee. Other candidates seeking political offices are: Charlie Jansen, who is the current State Auditor will be seeking re-election and Bob Evnen who is running for Secretary of State. At this time there is no declared candidate for treasurer of the State of Nebraska. In the legislature there are six senators that will be term limited out plus one senator who has indicated he will not be seeking re-election. This will again result in a significant number of new senators in the body.
Former Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature, Mike Flood has said he will not be running for governor in 2018. Mike Flood who is a republican from Norfolk made these comments after former Governor Dave Heineman told Lincoln’s KLIN radio that Flood would make a great governor. The former senator announced he would be running for governor in the 2014 election but withdrew the following month due to family health issues. Former Governor Heineman also expressed that he is disappointed that the property tax issue has yet to be solved over these past two years. Governor Heineman was in office for ten years and failed to solve the property tax problem. Part of the way the Heineman administration balanced the state’s budget was to cut state aid to schools and counties which caused local property taxes to increase in order to maintain services. It is very clear in Lincoln that former Governor Heineman is not very friendly to current Governor Ricketts or his administration.
This past week the LR 127 Committee had their first two tours to the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution and the Nebraska State Penitentiary. We had the opportunity to sit down with several members of the corrections state and representatives of inmate groups to discuss issues that they are facing.
On May 2, we debated LB 461 which was the Governor’s and Revenue Committee’s comprehensive tax plan. After six hours of debate it fell short of the needed votes to pass. In its original form I did not support LB 461 but after several hours of negotiating with multiple senators we came up with an amendment that would have provided significant property tax relief, as well as, income tax relief that would have been triggered based on revenue growth of the State of Nebraska in future years. This would have been a good bill but in the end not enough senators were comfortable with the concept of triggers based off the forecasting boards’ projection for revenue growth for the state of Nebraska.
LB 98 was debated on general file for close to six hours and unfortunately ended up two votes short of breaking the filibuster. LB 98 would provide over and fully appropriated Natural Resource Districts with an additional 10-year extension, of an existing sunset date, on a 3-cent levy to attempt to reduce water consumption within their NRD boundaries. Although, we were unable to break the filibuster this year, LB 98 is an important issue that I believe we will need to revisit next year.
This week we are dealing with the final passage of our biennium budget. Although, this budget contains more spending than I am comfortable with, ultimately, the State of Nebraska needs to have a budget in place to begin our fiscal year, July 1.
Each Legislative session senators have an opportunity to extend an invitation to the ministers, in our respective districts, to offer the morning prayer. The Chaplain of the Day gives the invocation in the morning before the start of the legislative work day. There is an effort every year to have a faith leader from each district in Nebraska on at least one day. This past week wrapped up with final Chaplain of the Day Pastor Jack Whitcomb from First Congregational United Church of Christ in Stockville, NE. Other chaplains from Legislative District 44 that volunteered to give the morning prayer are: Pastor Rob Clay from Imperial Bible Church in Imperial, Preacher Wayne Vogel from McCook Church of Christ in McCook, Pastor Johnny Walker from West First Chapel in McCook, Pastor Phyllis Dunlop from First Christian Church in Elwood, and Pastor Jason Dowell from Freedom Baptist Church in Stamford. Again, I would like to thank each Pastor for taking the time to travel to Lincoln and offer the morning prayer to the legislature. If you think your pastor might be interested in volunteering for next year feel free to contact my office for more information.
We have started all day debate and even though this session got off to a slow start we’re starting to get a lot of bills moving. This past week my bill LB 182 was debated on the floor of the legislature. This bill would clarify the qualifications for a program that provides financial assistance to cities and rural water districts to build safe drinking water projects. Also this week the legislature heard two more of my bills, LB 535 and LB 317. LB 535 provides an exception for filing a statement with the register of deeds when recording an oil, gas, or mineral lease. LB 317 provides for a re-levy or reassessment of a special assessment for cities of the second class or village. All of these bills were advanced to select file.
This week, the Natural Resources Committee’s two priority bills advanced to the next stage of debate. LB 566, which would enter Nebraska into the Interstate Wildlife Violators Compact and strengthen penalties for Game Law violations, and LB 182, which helps cities and natural resource districts that run public water systems to qualify for funding and loan forgiveness from the state’s drinking water loan fund. The bill did not add new funds, it just clarified that NRDs are eligible for the available federal funding. Both of these laws will help Nebraska by providing additional tools to keep bad actors from hunting here, and by ensuring public water systems, and the NRDs who run them, are able to use federal funds available for their upkeep.
Another bill to help NRDs did not fare as well this week. Sen. Friesen’s LB 98 would extend the sunset date of the law that allows a three cent levy authority for districts that are fully or over appropriated until 2026. The levy can only be used for groundwater management and integrated management activities. The bill was filibustered by senators who do not understand the value of helping NRDs fund the water management tasks that are needed to help them out of their appropriation statuses. This is an important tool to generate matching funds revenue to access the state’s Water Sustainability Fund.
I had the opportunity this week to take some of my staff along with me to Imperial for a portion of the Upper Republican NRD’s water conference. While it was a long time in the car on one day, I was pleased that we were able to travel through the district, so my staff could see the area I proudly represent.
This week begins the first week of full day debates. All committees have completed their hearings with just a few executive sessions left for committees to decide whether any additional bills will be advanced to general file. Of the 667 bills introduced, 33 have been passed by the legislature and 31 have been indefinitely postponed or withdrawn. We currently have 230 bills in various stages of debate, understanding we will not act on all of these bills before the session ends. Of legislation I introduced, this past week LB 566 which adopts the Wildlife Violator Compact was presented to the floor and advanced to select file. I am hopeful the same will happen this week with LB 182 which would change powers and duties of the Department of Environmental Quality under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Act. Speaker Scheer has requested all senators show their vote counts to him on their priority bills. This is to ensure that we keep a steady pace and get through the less controversial bills and not get bogged down on the more contentious issues, before the session ends.
Of local importance, LB 518 was advanced this past week. LB 518 adopts the Rural Workforce House Investment Act and transfers funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This bill would create grants to support the development of workforce housing necessary to recruit and retain employees in rural and underserved communities. Competitive grants would be awarded to nonprofit development organizations in areas with demonstrated housing needs, low unemployment, and the ability to complete projects within two years. The grants would require a dollar-for-dollar local match and all unmatched grant funds would be returned to the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund on June 30, 2021. The Department of Economic Development would administer the grant program. Finally, LB 518 would transfer unallocated funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to the Rural Workforce Hosing Investment Fund.
In order to keep our youth informed about agriculture, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) puts on a five-day program called the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute (NAYI). It will be held July 10-14 in Lincoln. The program is designed to teach current high school juniors and seniors about the agriculture industry and all the career possibilities available within it. NAYI is the longest running ag youth event of its kind in the county and is free of charge to the participants. NDA is currently accepting applications to NAYI. The application is available online at nda.nebraska.gov/nayi.
High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 11-14. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.
“I believe the backbone of democracy is voter knowledge of our system and their clear understanding of the role citizens need to play in the continued success of our nation.”
– Senator Dan Hughes
Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are also available.
The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.
To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-2788. The deadline for registration is May 15.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Unicameral Information Office
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion held a morning press conference on January 25th to announce that he has resigned from the Legislature. He specified that he had handed in his letter of resignation to Speaker Jim Scheer stating that his resignation would be effective at 12:01 a.m. on January 30th. This has been a pressing issue on the Legislature this session and I am glad that we are now able to put this issue behind us. I and many others had been encouraging Kintner to resign since this last summer. During floor debate, more than 20 senators rose to encourage the expulsion or resignation of Kintner. Ultimately, his resignation can be attributed to the large amount of criticism he faced from his colleagues to take responsibility for his actions and resign. I have great confidence that Governor Ricketts will make a good choice in filling the vacant seat. Eligible applicants looking to fill the vacant seat for Legislative District 2 have until January 31st at 5pm to submit their application.
The Legislature’s Executive Board has voted to create a special investigative committee to examine the challenge to whether Omaha Senator Chambers lives in his north Omaha district or resides in a different district. The special investigative committee is made up of the following seven members: Chairman Dan Watermeier, Vice Chairman John Kuehn, and members Sue Crawford, John McCollister, Kate Bolz, Speaker Jim Scheer, and myself. The committee is discussing the idea of possibly hiring an attorney/investigator from outside of the Legislature to review this matter. Depending on how the members of the special investigative committee decides to move forward, this could end up being a lengthy process.
This week the following bills: LB 182, LB 317, and LB 318, each had their own public hearing. LB 182 was heard in front of the Natural Resources Committee and has been advanced to general file. LB 317 was immediately advanced to general file following the public hearing in front of the Urban Affairs Committee. I introduced LB 318 to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and the committee has yet to take any action on the bill.
Up next, LB 275 – would provide duties for law enforcement officers and rights and duties for private property owners regarding abandoned vehicles, will have a public hearing on February 6th in the Transportation and Telecommunication Committee.
Wednesday, January 18th was the last day to introduce legislation. There were 667 bills and eighteen Constitutional Amendment’s introduced this year. I introduced eleven bills on various topics related to District 44. The entire list of introduced bills are on the Legislature’s website (www.nebraskalegislature.gov). The total number of bills introduced is slightly less than we are normally used to but I think this may be attributed to the projected budget shortfall. Several of the bills this year have been introduced before; cigarette tax increase, repealing the death penalty, hunting mountain lions, and Medicaid expansion. One of the proposed rule changes would be to minimize the ability to filibuster. The press has inferred to the public that the legislative body has increased the amount of time spent filibustering lately, but if you look back to recent history you will usually see that it is the same bills being filibustered every time. Although, it may appear that the legislative body is being combative; history will prove that we are debating several of the same issues each year.
Two bills of great interest that I have introduced are LB 537 and LB 593. LB 537 would require drug screening for applicants and recipients of welfare. This bill will be heard in front of the Health and Human Services Committee. I am looking forward to my first time before the HHS Committee. The second bill would create the offense of criminal trespass to vehicles. I worked closely with McCook Police Chief Ike Brown to ensure that this bill was done correctly the first time. I also ran it by multiple law enforcement groups in the area. This bill will be heard in front of the Judiciary Committee.
Of local importance, my next two bills LB 317 and LB 318 are scheduled to be heard in front of the Urban Affairs Committee and the Government, Military, and Veteran Affairs, respectively. LB 317 provides for a levy or reassessment of a special assessment for cities of the second class or villages. The background of this bill stems from a discovery made by the City of Imperial while reviewing statutes, that a city of the second class or village does not have the same authority as a first class city, primary class city, or metropolitan class city to re-levy or reassess a special assessment. LB 317 will give all other class of cities the authority to re-levy or reassess a special assessment. LB 318 will authorize telephone conferencing for meetings of the Nebraska Brand Committee. The state agencies that already allow the telephone conferencing are; the educational service unit, member educational service units, community college board of governors, public power district, public power and irrigation district.
If you know of a hard-working young person who will be in college in the Lincoln area during the Spring 2017 semester and who has an interest in government, policy, politics, or administration, the legislature is currently selecting for Legislative Page Positions. Pages must be high school graduates currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and able to work 20 hours a week from January 4, 2017 through May. It is a paid position and many Nebraska colleges offer credit for participating in the program, similar to an internship. The deadline to apply is October 3rd and the Selection Committee will conduct interviews on October 13th. We have had a few students from the 44th District who have done this in the past and I would encourage all college students to consider it. If you or someone you know might have an interest in participating, please contact my office.
I will be holding open Town Hall meetings all across the 44th district over the coming months. I will be listening to to your comments and answering your questions to ensure that I am in touch with the wishes of the people of Southwestern Nebraska. Look for dates and locations in your local paper, and on my Facebook page, located here.
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