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Budget Bills Pass First Round of Debate
On Tuesday, the Legislature voted to advance three bills that comprise this year’s budget package: LBs 905, 906 and 130. These bills are the result of months of daily hearings and careful consideration by our Appropriations Committee, the only 5-day committee in our Legislature.
The proposals include an additional $25 million of property tax relief as well as investments in correctional services, job training and water sustainability projects. I continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that funding for the levees around Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base.
The budget provides funding to shorten our developmental disability waiting list of approximately 1400 individuals. It also includes funding to help Games and Parks meet some of their deferred maintenance needs, including bringing more of our state park facilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. These projects will allow more Nebraskans with physical disabilities to visit and enjoy our state parks.
Property Tax Relief Proposals
In addition to the $25 million appropriation to our Property Tax Credit program, the Legislature has advanced two bills related to property tax relief this session: LB 986 and 1087.
LB 986 expands the homestead exemption program to include more families, including families with a child or close relative who have a developmental disability. As I mentioned last week, LB 986 received overwhelming support in the first round of debate.
On Thursday, the Legislature advanced LB 1087, a bill that grants homestead exemptions to veterans who are 100% disabled due to a service connected disability. LB 1087 also applies to widows or widowers of such a veteran. Currently, veterans with 100% disability due to a non-service-connected disability qualify for the exemption.
Income Tax Relief Advances
Also on Tuesday, I joined 35 of my colleagues in support of LB 987. LB 987, introduced by the Revenue Committee, indexes income tax brackets for inflation and also exempts social security benefits from state income tax for Nebraskans who earn less than $58,000 for married couples filing jointly and $43,000 for individuals filing any other return. Under LB 987, Nebraskans will see up to $122 million in income tax relief over the next four years. I look forward to discussing this bill and other tax bills before the Legislature in the weeks to come.
Last session the Legislature passed two bills related to income tax relief: LB 308 and LB 573. LB 308 eliminates the alternative minimum tax from state income tax, with $24 million in income tax revenue by 2016. Before its passage, Nebraska was one of nine states that had not repealed its alternative minimum tax. LB 573 made changes to income tax rates and exclusions for capital gains and extraordinary dividends held by an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). LB 573 saved eligible taxpayers $604,000 in the first year and up to $3.4 million over four years.
In 2012, the Legislature passed LB 970, which in its final version provided $97 million in income tax relief for Nebraskans. The final provisions of LB 970, went into effect in 2014. In 2013, the rates for the three lowest tax brackets were lowered as a result of LB 970. This year, the brackets changed so lower and middle levels of income are taxed at a lower rate.
Taken together, LB 970 (2012), LB 573 (2013), and LB 308 (2013) provide $124 million of income tax relief for Nebraskans over the next four years. If the Legislature advances LB 987 and LB 75 in their current forms, this number grows to $266 million in income tax relief.
How To: Navigate the Nebraska Legislative Website
The Legislature works hard to conduct their business in a transparent way. The legislative website is a great tool to help citizens stay informed on issues and learn more about the legislative process. This website can be found at the following link: www.nebraskalegislature.gov
In Nebraska, all bills and amendments are posted online through the Legislature’s website. To look up a bill, simply type the bill number in the search engine on the right hand side of the home page. If you do not know the bill number, you can search by introducer, committee the bill was referred to, or subject matter here: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/
When you read a bill, the most important language of most bills is the material underlined or struck out. Underlined content indicates new material or additions to state law. Struck out material indicates the bill removes this language from our state laws. The other language in the bill simply shows the rest of the law that the bills changes. The exception is an outright repeal of a section of statute. This language is neither underlined or struck out, just stated in the bill.
The Transcriber’s Office in the Legislature helps create transcripts from public hearings and floor debate which are available online as they become available. By mid summer, all transcripts from the previous session are available online for public view. These transcripts can be found in the bottom right hand corner of the bill page under “Related Transcripts.” The bill page also contains the fiscal note, committee statement, statement of intent and any amendments to the bill. The fiscal note and statement of intent help legislators and the public understand the fiscal impact of a bill and purpose of the bill. The committee statement allows one to see who supported or opposed a bill as well as the committee vote on the bill.
School Visits and Youth Unicam
Each year I am delighted to host students from schools in my district visiting the Capitol. Many fourth grade classes visit the Capitol as part of their state history curriculum. This week, fourth graders from Avery Elementary visited the Capitol. Their visit included a tour of the Capitol and a chance to watch floor debate. If you would like to arrange a school visit, please email my administrative aide, Courtney Breitkreutz, at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am also happy to make classroom visits at schools in the district when my schedule permits. For example, because Friday was a recess day, I was able to visit Cornerstone Christian School for a classroom visit. I look forward to several other scheduled visits in the weeks to come. If you would like to arrange a classroom visit, please contact Courtney at the above email address.
High school students interested in learning more about state government and public policy should consider applying for the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The program runs from June 8-11 and allows high school students to serve as state senators: sponsoring bills, conducting committee hearings and debating bills on the floor of the Legislature. Early bird discounts are available through April 1 and there are scholarships available. Registration for this year’s Unicameral Youth Legislature closes May 15. For more information, please visit www.nebraskalegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-0764.
All the best,