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The winter of 2019 will long be remembered in Nebraska for its historic harshness and brutality. In Western Nebraska residents are digging out of the snow and praying for warmer temperatures; in Eastern Nebraska they are filling sandbags and praying for the flood waters to subside. In Western Nebraska calves are being birthed on a bed of snow; in Eastern Nebraska residents are being rescued from flood waters. In Western Nebraska residents remain held up inside their homes; in Eastern Nebraska residents are evacuating their homes.
We have a new tourism motto in Nebraska this year, which says, “Nebraska is not for everyone.” Indeed, few people would ever choose to live in a land with such extreme weather conditions. But, it is precisely those who know how to weather these extreme conditions and who help others get through them who set our state apart from other parts of the country.
The true colors of Nebraskans shine most brightly during these times of disaster and extreme weather conditions. Nebraskans come together during these tough times of deep stress and put the needs of their neighbors ahead of their own personal and private interests. We will help our neighbors dig out of the snow, help them round up their cattle, help them fill sandbags, and we will even open up our homes to those who have lost theirs in a flood. These are the values we all share as Nebraskans, and these are the values which make Nebraska great. So, Nebraska may not be for everyone, because not everyone shares our values.
Besides displaying generosity and hospitality towards our neighbors, Nebraskans are also an inherently grateful people. We deeply appreciate and honor our fire departments, and the linemen who restore our power, the plowmen who clear our roads, the National Guardsmen and first responders who come to our rescue, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who supply us with sandbags, and the sheriffs and patrolmen who keep our streets safe. We also appreciate the many churches who have opened up their doors so that their buildings can be used as shelters for those who have been displaced, and we appreciate the many Red Cross volunteers who greet these victims of the weather with a cup of cold water or a hot cup of coffee. To all of these people and more, we say, “Thank you.”
Governor Ricketts has filed the paperwork and made the request for federal relief aid, and Congressman Adrian Smith has been assisting by assessing Nebraska’s needs for federal aid. However, an official survey and assessment of damages will be completed by the Nebraska Emergency Management Association (NEMA) to see if Nebraska qualifies for federal disaster relief dollars. While I am confident that Nebraska will meet these federal eligibility requirements, NEMA’s surveys will determine which areas of Nebraska get this relief aid. In the meantime, those in affected areas should contact their County’s Emergency Manager to report their need for assistance.
As the snow melts, please let me remind you about a few safety procedures. Please be wary of flooded roads and remember not to drive on or across any flooded roads, especially when you don’t know the depth of the water level. If you see someone in danger, don’t try to help them yourself; seek assistance first. If you are in danger or need emergency medical services, please dial 911. If you need assistance with food, shelter, clothing, or anything else, please call 211. Before you travel, remember to check road conditions at: www.511.nebraska.gov. You can also download their convenient APP on your phone, so that you can keep an eye on our ever changing weather patterns and road conditions throughout the trip. Finally, drive safe, buckle up, obey the rules of the road, and always drive sober.
Last week my bill, LB372, passed through Final Reading by a vote of 47-0. Sen. Chambers and Sen. Hughes were excused from the Chamber and did not vote on the bill. This means that LB372 will now proceed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
LB372 is a bill which will require the Property Assessment Division to use all of the land capability groups provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) when valuating agricultural land and horticultural land for property tax purposes. In the past, the Property Assessment Division has acquired the very bad habit of using only dryland classifications for valuating other kinds of agricultural lands and horticultural lands, such as irrigated cropland. This practice has led to many inaccurate valuations of agricultural lands and horticultural lands.
Once LB372 gets signed into law, the Property Assessment Division will begin the process of classifying agricultural land and horticultural land according to their specific land capability groups as provided by the NRCS. These land capability groups can be found online at: www.nrcs.usda.gov.
One of my primary goals since becoming a Nebraska State Senator has been to make agricultural land and horticultural land valuations fair and accurate. LB372 represents a significant step in that direction. However, while LB372 will certainly move the valuating process further in the direction of fairness and accuracy, it will not completely solve the problem. The reason is that market sales will continue to plague the valuation process.
The fact of the matter is that the Property Assessment Division will continue to valuate agricultural land and horticultural land based on market sales, instead of using only the productivity of the soil. Therefore, I am waiting for the Legislature’s Revenue Committee to advance my other bill, LB483, out of committee and onto General File. LB483 is my priority bill for the year, and this bill will overhaul the entire system and change the way we valuate agricultural land and horticultural land for property tax purposes. LB483 will tie agricultural land valuations and horticultural land valuations exclusively to the productivity of the soil. Ultimately, this is what farmers and ranchers in Nebraska need in order to make their valuations fair and accurate.
On a similar note, on Thursday, March 14, a public hearing will be held on my bill, LB707. The Legislature’s website has erroneously published the date of this hearing for March 13, but the hearing will actually be held by the Revenue Committee on March 14 beginning at 1:30 p.m. in Room 1524 at the State Capitol Building in Lincoln, Nebraska.
LB707 is a bill that will make the process of protesting the valuation of your agricultural or horticultural property much easier. It used to be the case that board members of the Tax Equalization & Review Commission (TERC) would hold hearings in Scottsbluff. However, the TERC board no longer holds hearings anywhere in Western Nebraska. Consequently, anyone wishing to protest the valuation of their agricultural land or horticultural land has to drive to Lincoln in order to present their case before the TERC board, and I believe this practice puts an undue burden on folks living in Western Nebraska.
LB707 would change this. LB707 would eliminate the burden of driving all the way to Lincoln by allowing TERC hearings to be held by way of video conferencing or by way of telephone conferencing. So, this is a common sense bill that would save folks living in Western Nebraska from the needless hassle of having to drive all the way to Lincoln just to protest the valuation of their land.
A public hearing was recently held on my bill, LB482. LB482 is a bill to prorate property taxes for those who have had their homes destroyed by a fire or some other natural disaster, such as a tornado or a flood. The bill would exempt a property owner from paying property taxes on the real estate for as long as the home or living unit remains unlivable. This is a common sense bill, which I believe should slide easily through the legislative process. However, this is the second year I have introduced this bill. Even with bills which ought to be considered a slam dunk in the Legislature, unreasonable opposition often lurks in the hallways of the Capitol Building, waiting to pounce on a good bill during a public hearing.
So, this week I would like to take you inside the Revenue Committee’s hearing room and show how this bill was opposed by lobbyists in the evening hours of February 27th. Due to the lateness of the hour most of the testifiers who had filled the hearing room to testify on other bills had already decided to go home. LB482 was the last bill on the Revenue Committee’s agenda for the day, and the hearing started shortly after 6:30 p.m. while most Nebraskans were finishing up their supper or settling down for the evening.
Mr. Tom Placzek, who works as the assessor for Platte County, was the first one to testify against LB482. Mr. Placzek said he spoke on behalf of all county assessors in the state, and he indicated that he could not find a single county assessor who liked LB482. Placzek’s primary complaint was that the bill requires county assessors to report all destroyed properties to the County Board of Equalization. Placzek insisted that county assessors do not always know when properties get destroyed, and that county assessors do not want this responsibility being transferred onto them.
Mr. Placzek’s main reason for opposing my bill made no sense at all. So, during my closing remarks I reminded the members of the Revenue Committee that it is the job of every county assessor to accurately valuate every property in their county. Furthermore, every homeowner instinctively knows that if they so much as build a doghouse on their property, the county assessor knows all about it. So, if assessors know when you improve your home, then they also know when your home is destroyed. So, in the final analysis Placzek’s opposition to my bill amounted to nothing more than a bad excuse for him not to do his job.
The second person who testified against LB482 was Mr. John Cannon, who represented the Nebraska Association of County Officials (NACO). Mr. Cannon’s primary complaint with LB482 was that the bill could potentially put counties into a precarious situation in the event of a widespread disaster, such as the tornado which devastated the entire village of Pilger on June 16, 2014. The Pilger tornado, for example, wiped out so many homes that recovery would have been extremely difficult for the village without access to all of the property taxes.
Again, Mr. Cannon’s primary reason for opposing my bill made no sense at all. So, during my closing remarks I reminded the members of the Revenue Committee that those who have had their homes destroyed have no money either. In the final analysis, NACO would rather put the public finances of counties, metropolitan areas, cities, towns and villages over the personal finances of those who’ve had their homes completely destroyed. To me, their argument represents the inverted value system that is routinely imposed upon legislators by paid lobbyists. Government should exist for the betterment of the people, not for the betterment of the government.
As long as I serve in the State Legislature, I will represent the people of Nebraska, not the Lobbyists.
Pilger, NE 2014
Radical Left-wing activism continues to run out of control at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL). The University’s administration continues to turn a blind eye, instead of dealing honestly with the illicit behavior of its own faculty members. The unhinged behavior of the faculty will continue to worsen until University President, Hank Bounds, and Chancellor, Ronnie Green, are finally forced to deal with it.
Certain events unfolded last week in Lincoln, linking a Left-wing, activist professor at UNL to illegal behavior. While it should be needless for me to have to say that any kind of deviant or illicit behavior is inappropriate for a university professor, the University’s administration doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, the reputation of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln continues to slide into the cesspool of radical, Left-wing political activism, including illicit acts of vandalism.
On February 20th Patricia A. Wonch-Hill was arrested and ticketed for three counts of vandalism. Hill is an assistant research professor of Sociology at UNL. Hill was ticketed for putting googly eyes on two of U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s campaign signs and using a piece of tape to change the “o” in his name to an “a”, insinuating that his name refers to human flatulence. She was also ticketed for putting fake blood and “Betsy Riot” stickers on the front door of Sen. Deb Fischer’s office. According to the Lincoln Police Department Hill’s fingerprints were found at all three locations; thus, linking her to these three crimes.
This was not the first time Patricia A. Wonch-Hill has been charged with an illegal act of vandalism, though. Last year Hill was found guilty in a Virginia court for spraying fake blood on the house of Chris Cox, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association. While in Virginia Hill also harassed Cox’s wife by passing out anti-gun pamphlets in front of her place of business.
Patricia A. Wonch-Hill also took over as president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) one year ago after ousting former president, Donna Duffner, who served for only one month, in order to censure UNL for terminating Courtney Lawton, the graduate teaching assistant who harassed Kaitlyn Mullen. UNL has remained on the AAUP’s list of censured universities since May 2018.
In the world outside of academia employees are expected to represent well the business they work for. Illegal behavior is not tolerated because it tarnishes the reputation of the company. I expect no less from our flagship university. As a land grant university, Patricia A. Wonch-Hill does not just represent the university who signs her paychecks, she also represents the State of Nebraska.
In response to Hill’s arrest last week by the Lincoln Police Department, University of Nebraska spokesman, Leslie Reed, said in a written statement that the University does not “condone vandalism” and that the situation is “…a personal legal matter based on actions of a faculty member on their own time, and they will have to take accountability for their actions based on the outcome of the legal process.” In other words, “We don’t want to deal with it.”
When our Founding Father, Abraham Baldwin, a man of high moral character who signed the U.S. Constitution, founded the College of Georgia in 1785, which later became the University of Georgia, he wrote in the school’s original charter that “…civil order should be the result of choice and not of necessity…” By saying this, he did not mean that civility is always a matter of personal choice; instead, he meant that when civility is the result of good moral character, it does not have to be regulated or coerced. Unfortunately, the lack of action by the administration at UNL to confront the behavior of its own faculty continues to reduce civility to a matter of necessity, rather than choice. Unfortunately, UNL will never restore a sense of civility among its own faculty until it is finally forced to do so.
Patricia A. Wonch-Hill
2011 arrest in Lincoln County, NE for DUI
This week I will have public hearings on three of my bills. Today I would like to introduce you to those bills and present my reasons for introducing them.
On February 19 I will have a public hearing on LB161. This is a bill to eliminate the Learning Community. The Learning Community offers early childhood education, family engagement, and educational preparation programs to children and families in Douglas and Sarpy counties. Although the Learning Community does not directly affect folks living in Nebraska’s Panhandle, it has become a scourge in Douglas and Sarpy counties with a vision to expand across Nebraska.
The Learning Community has lost sight of its purpose and has devolved into an organization in search of a mission. The Learning Community’s board has abandoned its original purpose, they have started their own private foundation, they have wasted tax-payers dollars, and they have inadvertently driven private businesses and charity organizations out of Omaha’s inner city neighborhoods. For these reasons and more, the Learning Community needs to be terminated and replaced with a better program with proven results.
On February 21 I will have a public hearing on LB386. LB386 is a bill to correct the relationship between taxes levied and cash reserves. The bill will cap the cash reserves of local units of government with tax asking authority at fifty percent of their annual operating budget.
The reason for this bill is to prevent the abuse of cash reserves. Some local units of government have abused their tax asking authority by accumulating egregious amounts of cash reserves at the expense of the tax-payers. This bill will prevent this kind of abuse from recurring in the future. There simply is no reason why any local unit of government with tax asking authority needs cash reserves in excess of fifty percent of their annual operating budget.
On February 21 I will have another hearing on LB483. LB483 is my priority bill for 2019. The bill will change the way agricultural land gets valuated for property tax purposes. LB483 will change agricultural land valuations from the current market based system to a productivity based system.
LB483 is needed because the current market based system has never valuated agricultural land in a fair and equitable way. In most cases the current market based system valuates agricultural land upon one percent of sales in the county. Oftentimes hunting groups or other special interest groups will pay exorbitant prices for land which drives up agricultural land values across the county. The result has been that agricultural land valuations have risen beyond the level where many landowners can continue to farm or ranch in Nebraska.
LB483 will change the way we value agricultural land to a productivity based system. The bill will tie agricultural land valuations to the soil productivity ratings provided by the National Resources Conservation Service. The bill will also create the Agricultural Land Valuation Board, which will be charged with the task of setting the discount rate and creating a manual for county assessors to use when valuating agricultural land.
This week I will have public hearings on two bills in the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. The hearings on both bills will occur on February 12. The ideas for these two bills came to me from constituents living in Legislative District 47. So, today I would like to introduce you to the basic content of these two bills.
The first bill is LB371. LB371 is a bill which will allow Nebraskans to operate their all-terrain vehicles (ATV’s) on Nebraska’s highways and roadways. Current law forbids Nebraskans from crossing State highways with two or more lanes of traffic with their ATV. In order to cross a four-lane divided highway the owner or operator of an ATV must load the vehicle onto a trailer or into the back of a pick-up truck, cross the highway, and then unload the ATV. This is ridiculous!
Therefore, my bill will allow the owner or operator of an ATV to cross a four-lane divided highway or to drive on a four-lane divided highway. Farmers and ranchers use ATV’s to fix fences, to herd cattle, and to check on their fields. Using an ATV to accomplish these kinds of tasks is often more practical than using a pick-up truck, but current law forbids a farmer or rancher from traveling from one field to another on a two-lane State highway. Therefore, my bill would change the law to allow farmers and ranchers to use their ATV’s on these kinds of roads.
The second bill that will get a public hearing is LB612. LB612 is a bill which will allow the loved ones of those who have lost a family member in a tragic accident on a Nebraska roadway to memorialize the deceased person with a special kind of road sign. The pain and heartache of losing a loved one in a tragic accident is difficult to relate to until it happens to you. Therefore, these memorial road signs will help the surviving family members to grieve their loss.
LB612 will direct the Department of Transportation to erect memorial road signs to commemorate the deceased person by the request of surviving family members. Members of the deceased person’s family may fill out an application at the Department of Motor Vehicles and pay the required fee in order to memorialize their loved one near the location of the accident for a period of ten years. After ten years the family members may re-apply and pay the required fee to extend the memorial for another ten years.
The memorial signs shall resemble those currently being used in Lancaster County. The signs shall be triangular in shape and colored blue. The name as well as a picture of the deceased person would be displayed on the sign. Each roadside memorial sign would also include one of four safe driving slogans. These slogans would be: “Please Drive Safely,” “Seat Belts Save Lives,” “Watch for Bicyclists,” and, “Don’t Drink and Drive.”
The bill prohibits memorial signs to be erected for any deceased person who died on a Nebraska roadway with a blood alcohol content level at or above the legal limit.
On Thursday, February 7 the Legislature’s Revenue Committee will hold a public hearing on my resolution for a Constitutional Amendment on property tax relief. Property tax relief has been my number one priority ever since I came to the Legislature. As I’ve talked with people all across the State, it is evident and clear that no single issue matters more to Nebraskans than property tax relief.
My resolution for a Constitutional Amendment for property tax relief will allow all Nebraska property owners to claim a thirty-five percent credit or refund of their property tax bill on their Nebraska State Income Tax Return. Even if you have no income, but you pay property taxes, you will be able to file a Nebraska State Income Tax Return in order to claim your refund.
My resolution for a Constitutional Amendment for Property tax relief is known in the Legislature as LR3CA. The public hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. in Room 1524 at the State Capitol. Those wishing to testify should come early, sign the register, and fill out the green sheet in the hearing room. If you cannot make the long drive to Lincoln, letters and e-mails of support for the resolution can be sent to Sen. Linehan, Chair of the Revenue Committee, so long as they are received before 5:00 p.m. on February 6. Please be sure to state in your letter or e-mail that you want your comments to be put in the public record.
A citizen-led petition drive has been circulating around Nebraska, containing the same language as LR3CA. Please make it a point to sign the petition when it comes to your area. If the Legislature refuses to pass LR3CA, then Nebraska’s second Legislative House will speak up. Nebraska’s second Legislative House is the people of Nebraska. Nebraskans need property tax relief regardless of whether or not the Legislature has the guts to pass my resolution.
On another note, last week the Revenue Committee held a public hearing on my bill, LB372. LB372 is an agricultural land valuation bill, but it is not the one that will change our valuation system over to an income based approach. LB372 is a necessary bill because it corrects a problem in the way the Property Assessment Division currently values agricultural land. LB372 sets the stage for LB483, which is my larger bill to change agricultural land valuations over to an income based approach.
One of the problems with the way agricultural land currently gets valued relates to the soil data that the Property Assessment Division applies to dryland cropland, irrigated cropland, and grassland. Currently, the Property Assessment Division misapplies dryland cropland soil data from an index provided by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to irrigated cropland and to grassland. This practice by the Property Assessment Division causes County Assessors to value agricultural land inaccurately.
Because of this practice, the Property Assessment Division has been valuing agricultural land inaccurately. Instead of the current practice, the Property Assessment Division ought to apply soil data provided by the NRCS appropriately. In other words, NRCS soil data for irrigated cropland ought to be applied to irrigated cropland, and NRCS soil data for grassland ought to be applied to grassland. Instead, the Property Assessment Division only uses soil data for dryland cropland, and this practice skews valuations for irrigated cropland and grassland.
Therefore, my bill, LB372, fixes this problem. The bill requires the Property Assessment Division to apply the appropriate NRCS soil data to whatever kind of agricultural land is being assessed, and this fix will help to make agricultural land valuations more accurate and fair.
January 23rd was the last day to introduce new bills in the Nebraska Legislature. Overall, it was a very active start to the new Biennium. A total of 739 bills were introduced this year, which is the most since 2005. I contributed my fair share this year by introducing thirteen bills and one resolution for a Constitutional Amendment for property tax relief.
The new committee assignments have also been set. This time around I will be serving on the Appropriations Committee along with Sen. John Stinner of Gering. Because the Appropriations Committee meets five days per week, I am unable to serve on another Standing Committee. So, I will no longer be serving on the Education Committee or on the Health and Human Services Committee.
Special Committees are a different story. I will continue to chair the Building Maintenance Committee, which is a Special Committee of the Nebraska Legislature. The Building Maintenance Committee does not have regular meeting times during the Legislative Session; instead, the committee is required by State Statute to meet at least four times during the year.
The Legislature approved the rules within the first ten working days, avoiding the stalemate of two years ago. Senators will need all the time they can muster this year in order press through all of the new bills. Nevertheless, the one rule change I believe needed to pass, but did not, was a rule change introduced by Sen. Groene to eliminate secret ballots when voting for committee chairs. I believe each constituent deserves to see how his or her Senator voted on these committee chair assignments. Secret ballots undermine the need for transparency in government.
Last Tuesday we had a public hearing on my bill LB73, a bill to put the National Motto in our K-12 public schools. Few turned out to testify at the hearing because of a severe winter storm which swept over Lincoln that day. Nevertheless, the bill now rests in the hands of the Education Committee.
The other public hearing which got a lot of attention last week was Lincoln’s Sen. Anna Wishart’s priority bill, LB110. LB110 is a bill to adopt the medical cannabis act. The bill has a lot of support in the Legislature, including thirteen co-sponsors. The bill includes a state regulatory scheme to regulate, promote, inspect, authorize, and license the use of marijuana. However, there remain some very serious problems with the bill.
The bottom line is that the State of Nebraska cannot run ahead of the federal government when it comes to legalizing medical cannabis. The Supremacy Clause of Article VI in the U.S. Constitution says that federal laws trump all state laws. Marijuana remains an illegal drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Accordingly, there can be no acceptable medical use of marijuana until the drug is removed from the federal government’s list of banned substances. Consequently, LB110 cannot pass constitutional muster because it seeks to undermine the Controlled Substances Act of the federal government. Should this bill ever become law, the courts would necessarily have to strike it down as unconstitutional. I’m afraid Sen. Anna Wishart has wasted her priority bill on an unconstitutional piece of legislation.
Religious liberty seemed to be the theme that dominated Nebraska politics last week. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins with these words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Many of us tend to remember the first part of the amendment but forget the latter part about prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Similarly, Section 4 of the Nebraska State Constitution ends with the following statement: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to pass suitable laws to protect every religious denomination in the peaceful enjoyment of its own mode of public worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.”
On Tuesday, January 14, Governor Pete Ricketts held a proclamation signing ceremony, where he declared Wednesday, January 16, as Religious Freedom Day in Nebraska. Religious Freedom day is celebrated nationally on January 16 because that day commemorates the anniversary of the 1786 passage of the Virginia State Statute on Religious Freedom. Gov. Ricketts was flanked at the signing ceremony by a variety of faith leaders as well as a group of school children from a local Catholic school.
On Wednesday, January 16, U.S. Senator, Ben Sasse won Senate approval of a resolution to reject objections raised by Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii concerning the appointment of Brian Buescher to a U.S. District Court. Harris and Hirono had objected to the appointment on the basis that Buescher is a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization which opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Sasse reminded these two Democratic Senators through his resolution that the U.S. Constitution states explicitly in Article VI that, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
The fact of the matter is that religious bigotry is a growing problem in America today and attempts are even being made to corrupt the youth of America. For instance, in March DC Comics plans to release a new comic strip called “Second Coming.” DC’s new comic strip will depict Jesus as a superhero who has to return to earth in order learn how to become the “true messiah.” Art Ayris, who is the publisher of Kingstone Comics, the largest Christian Comics publisher in the world, has called DC’s new comic strip blasphemous because it undermines the deity of Jesus Christ by reducing him down to a Superman-like superhero. To be sure, reducing Jesus down to a fictional comic book character is something Sen. Ernie Chambers would certainly be proud of.
There should be little wonder why religious bigotry continues to gain traction in America, especially when school districts live in constant fear of posting something as secular and as mundane as our national motto, “In God We Trust.” According to the courts, “In God We Trust,” is not even a religious statement. For instance, in 1970 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Aronov v. United States that “It is quite obvious that the National Motto and the slogan on our coinage and currency, ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no resemblance to a government sponsorship of a religious exercise.”
For these reasons and more, the first bill I introduced this year in the Nebraska Legislature was LB73, a bill to require our public schools to prominently display our National Motto. The public hearing on this bill has been set for Tuesday, January 22. I believe it is time to return our National Motto to our schools.
Capitol Visitor Center, Washington, D.C.
Let the Legislating begin! The new biennial session of the Nebraska State Legislature began on Wednesday, January 9. That day began with some pomp and circumstance as 13 new senators were sworn into office. Then, the honeymoon ended abruptly as we turned our focus to committee chairs. This year experience and expertise played a more significant role when voting on committee chairs. Consequently, neither of the two major political parties dominates the other when it comes to these committee chairs.
Thursday, January 10, marked the first day to introduce bills. Senators will have until January 23 to introduce new bills. Nevertheless, 138 bills were introduced on that first day. Some of the more controversial bills that were introduced that day include one to legalize medical marijuana and one to give judges the authority to seize guns from those deemed to be mentally incompetent to own a firearm.
The first piece of legislation that I introduced on that day was a resolution for a constitutional amendment for property tax relief. This resolution has the same wording as the citizen-led ballot initiative which is now circulating around the state. This constitutional amendment will allow all Nebraska property owners to claim 35 percent of their property tax bill as a credit or a refund on their Nebraska State income tax return. Because high property taxes are the number one issue dogging all Nebraskans, especially those living in Western Nebraska, I was proud to introduce this resolution as my first piece of legislation going into the 2019-2020 biennial session.
Besides my resolution for a constitutional amendment for property tax relief, I also introduced one other bill that first day. The other bill that I introduced was a bill to put the National Motto on display in every public school in Nebraska. The time has come for us to put God back into our schools. This bill simply states that schools need to put a poster with the national motto, “In God We Trust,” in every classroom or in another place, such as the school cafeteria, where all students will be able to read it on a daily basis. The bill should cost the State no money, because private individuals and businesses will be allowed to pay for the posters, thus, defraying any costs to the schools. Moreover, any school needing a poster can simply print one online or get a copy from my office. That bill also states that the Nebraska Attorney General will defend any school who gets sued by a group seeking to remove the posters from our schools.
On Friday, January 11, I introduced a bill to eliminate the Learning Community and I held a news conference in the rotunda of the Capitol following that day’s session to explain why I introduced the bill. The Learning Community is a State funded and State mandated program to help poor and disadvantaged children in the Omaha metropolitan area succeed academically. At least, that is what it started out to be more than ten years ago. The Learning Community has abandoned its original purpose and has expanded into areas well beyond its original scope and purpose. In short, it has devolved into an organization in search of a mission. Meanwhile, they waste millions of dollars on programs with no proven track record for success, and last year they started a foundation with no defined purpose, no regular members, and no elected members. The foundation’s programs and expenditures require no approval from the Learning Community’s board, nor are there any mechanism set in place to guarantee transparency to the public. Their meetings are not open to the public, nor do they require a public notice, nor do they even require an agenda. The foundation does not adhere to public records laws, nor have they disclosed how they intend to spend their money. It is wrong for Nebraskans to be funding a secretive foundation with no public accountability whatsoever; therefore, I believe the time has come to put an end to this revenue-wasting monstrosity.
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