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This week I joined a vast majority of my colleagues in advancingLB 956 and 957, this year’s budget bills to a second round of debate. In Nebraska, the Legislature adopts the biennial budget in a long, 90 day session. During the short 60 day session, like the one we are in now, the Legislature adopts mid-biennium budget adjustments. Budget bills consist of General Fund adjustments and Cash Reserve Fund appropriations. Most state spending comes from the General Fund, which is the basic fund for most program, department, and capital state expenditures. The Cash Reserve Fund serves as a savings account for the state and is mostly used as a cushion for economic downturns. A healthy cash reserve is important for economic downturns. Nebraska weathered the Great Recession better than many states because of its healthy cash reserve. However, the Cash Reserve Fund is used for some important one-time investments for the state. One of the one-time investments in the budget package this year is critical funding for the Missouri River levee project to protect Offutt Air Force Base and properties and development south of the base.
Another budget item of interest to Bellevue is a one-time $4 million appropriation to the Site and Building Development Fund. This fund, administered by the Department of Economic Development, can be used to help cities and counties develop industrial-ready sites by covering costs such as land or building purchases and construction, technical assistance or planning costs. Requests for funds have exceeded the amount available year after year and I understand from discussions with the City of Bellevue and the Bellevue Chamber, that there are several sites in Bellevue that could be eligible for this funding if more money was available in the fund. I hope this investment will help develop industrial-ready sites and attract new jobs to the area.
The budget package also makes an important investment to address issues in our Corrections system. This funding request was in both the Governor’s budget proposal and the Appropriations Committee recommendations. This represents a down payment on addressing the long-term issue of prison overcrowding in Nebraska.
Special Visitors This Week
I appreciated the chance to hear from UNL student veteran leaders this week. I would like to give a special thanks to these student veteran peer mentors and to the University of Nebraska Lincoln for establishing a Veteran Success Center on campus
I was happy to welcome a wonderful group of 8th graders to the Capitol this week from Logan Fontenelle Middle School in Bellevue. As a state senator who is also an educator, these student visits are one of my favorite “perks” of the job.
We also had a visit from 4th graders from Avery Elementary School in Bellevue. These kids had very insightful questions about how a bill becomes a law. We provided them with a special “Unicam Kids” book published by the Unicameral Information Office.
We always love visitors, whether tall or short, or any size in between. If you have a group that wants to come to the Capitol, please contact Chris Triebsch in my office at 402-471-2615 or via email at email@example.com
The Consent Calendar agenda has been larger than usual. The Speaker scheduled a third group of consent calendar items this week. One of my consent calendar items that advanced Friday was LB 694, which changes provisions relating to exempt contracts under the Taxpayer Transparency Act. In my first year in the legislature I passed LB 429 (2013) to add state contracts to the Taxpayer Transparency Act. Adding contracts to the Taxpayer Transparency Act makes copies of government contracts easily available to citizens on the Nebraska Spending website. The original bill included certain exceptions for specific service agreements for individual citizens. These original exceptions, and the new ones added in LB 694 for the State Department of Education, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, are designed to protect the privacy of individuals and families receiving state services. It helps us strike the right balance between protecting privacy and protecting the public’s right to access information about how the state is spending resources on contracts. This bill only applies to the state spending website and does not have any affect on public records requests. I thank my colleagues for advancing this bill on consent calendar.
This Week in Urban Affairs
This week, three bills that were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee were advanced from General File as part of the third Consent Calendar agenda:
● LB 875: Change conditions for approval of a planned unit development for certain second-class cities and villages
● LB 948: Change an application period limitation for the designation of enterprise zones as prescribed
● LB 865: Change provisions relating to handicapped parking
LB 948 deals with enterprise zones, a topic that was discussed last year in the Urban Affairs Committee’s interim study report on LR 155, the committee’s interim study to examine current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska.
Designed to encourage investment and economic growth in distressed communities, some type of zone-based economic development initiative – most commonly called enterprise zones – is present in the vast majority of states. Nebraska’s enterprise zone statutes were passed in 1992 and 1993, but the original enterprise zones designated under the Enterprise Zone Act were allowed to expire after a decade.
The Enterprise Zone Act was reactivated with the passage of LB 800 in 2014 to allow the creation of up to five enterprise zones by the Department of Economic Development. Under the Act, any city, village, tribal government area, or county may apply for designation of an area within its boundaries to be designated as an enterprise zone. Once an area has been designated as an enterprise zone, the designation remains in effect for ten years. Businesses located within the boundaries of a designated enterprise zone receive preferences under a variety of state business incentives and grant programs, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Business Innovation Act, the Job Training Cash Fund, and the Site and Building Development Fund.
While the Department of Economic Development has designated enterprise zones within the City of Omaha, the City of South Sioux City, and Otoe County, two of the five enterprise zones authorized under LB 800 have yet to be designated. LB 948 would authorize the Department of Economic Development to establish an additional application period for the designation of enterprise zones, allowing other municipalities and counties (including the Bellevue area) to seek enterprise zone designation in distressed portions of their communities.
In the District
You may have noticed the big shamrock painted on the street at the intersection of Mission Avenue and Franklin Street. Saturday, March 19, is the 4th Annual Olde Towne Pub Crawl. It starts at 2pm with bus service available between locations between 4pm and 11:45pm. Two of my Olde Towne favorites, Moonstruck Meadery and Luigi’s, are included.
All my best,