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On June 11 President Trump delivered a speech in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he lifted the ban on E15 gasoline for the summer months. E15 is gasoline mixed with 15 percent ethanol. The announcement was good news for Nebraska farmers, because Iowa and Nebraska are the top two ethanol producing states in the country. So, the more ethanol we sell, the better it is for Nebraska’s corn growers.
E15 has been the subject of much criticism in recent years. So, today I would like to explain why E15 is a great Nebraska product and why we need it for the future. Whether we want to admit it or not, E15 is here to stay, but there are some very good reasons why we should all like this unique Nebraska product.
The first reason that makes E15 such a great product is that it helps the United States compete in the global oil market. Because of political turmoil in places such as the Middle East and Venezuela, the United States can no longer depend upon these oil producing countries to supply us with the oil we need. As President Trump said in his speech, “More American ethanol production means less dependence on foreign supplies.” The United States needs to become an oil independent nation, and American ethanol plays an important role in helping us reach that goal. Some, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, believe ethanol has the potential to cut our use of gasoline in half.
A second reason why E15 is a great product is because it is harmless to your vehicle. One of the main criticisms of ethanol in the past has been that it is harmful to your engine’s fuel system, but these criticisms have been largely debunked by objective studies. For instance, one such objective study was conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in March 2012. That study found no remarkable degradation in fuel systems in cars with models dating back as far as 1995. As a general rule, though, you should not use E15 in classic cars, cars manufactured prior to 2001, or in small engines, such as your lawn mower.
A third reason that makes E15 such a great product is that the timing is right. E15 is a fuel for America’s future. The EPA has approved E15 for all cars manufactured since 2001, but this year car manufacturers are rolling out new models specifically designed for burning E15. The only holdouts this year are BMW, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Mazda, and Volvo. I believe these foreign car manufacturers will come around soon, especially once they learn that Americans want to buy new cars that are even better designed for burning E15.
Nebraska stands to benefit greatly from this increased demand for E15 and other ethanol products. President Trump also signed an executive order on June 11 to promote agricultural biotechnology. The executive order will direct federal agencies to streamline regulations and to speed up innovation. Consequently, the new E15 rule change along with biotechnology and higher demands for the product will only spur on development and encourage economic growth in our state. So, in the final analysis E15 is very good for Nebraska.
Friday, June 14th is Flag Day. So, today I want to encourage you to fly your American flag with pride. The United States of America is the greatest nation in all of world history. No other nation has ever come close to matching the greatness of our republic, and today I want to remind you of that fact.
Some may ask, “Has America always done what is right?” The answer to this question is most assuredly, “No”. Such things as slavery, racism, and Native American genocide will forever tarnish our nation’s past. To be sure, it would be foolish to say that America has always been on the right side of truth, justice, liberty and righteousness.
No nation governed by human beings will ever be so perfect. The reason is that human beings are fallible. We make mistakes. As human beings, Americans are neither superhuman nor divine. However, what distinguishes America from the other nations of the world is the fact that we can talk openly about our past and learn from our mistakes. The fact that we recognize in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government as basic human rights is exactly what makes our republican form of government so great.
Despite our checkered past, America truly has a great story to tell. America, more than any other nation, has been the worldwide defender of freedom. When dictators arise and oppress nations, those nations turn to the United States of America for deliverance. On June 6th we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. Had the United States of America not intervened in Europe during WWII, Europeans would still be oppressed by Nazi dictators today.
Besides being the worldwide champions of justice and liberty, the American people have excelled more than any other modern nation in science, technology, philosophy, education, art, sports and entertainment. The list of American accomplishments is far too numerous to list exhaustively here. But, despite all of our wonderful achievements there remains still one more aspect of our American nation which propels us to the top of the list of the world’s greatest societies.
So what is it that makes America so great? The ultimate source of American greatness is the fact that we have always looked to God, honored him, and credited him for our success. Throughout our history as a nation, Americans have always recognized and honored God as the true source of our providential blessing. Perhaps, our National Motto says it best: “In God We Trust” or the song we sing at every baseball game, “God Bless America.” So, this year when you pledge your allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, remember what it means to be “One nation under God.”
Even when the future of America seems bleak, the American spirit remains strong. As Americans, we view every potential disaster as an opportunity to put American greatness on display for the rest of the world to see and to marvel at, and all of our American greatness is summed up and represented through the stars and stripes on the American flag.
So, as we fly our American flags high on Friday, let us remember all of these things which make America great, and let us teach them to our children, so that the next generation of Americans can be even greater than ours.
This year the Nebraska State Legislature passed LB 512. I, Nebraska State Sen. Steve Erdman, was able to amend the bill with property tax relief for those with destroyed real property. Those with significant damage to their real property exceeding 20 percent of the property’s assessed value and caused by a calamity may have their property reassessed for property tax purposes. The reassessed value of the destroyed property will become the value of the property for the whole tax year.
Those with destroyed property must submit Form 425. The form may be accessed on the Department of Revenue’s website or by following this link to the form: Form 425. The deadline to file is July 15. After filing the form the county board of equalization will review the Report of Destroyed Real Property and make any adjustments to the assessed value of the property for the current tax year.
Calamity means a disastrous event, including but not limited to, a fire, an earthquake, a flood, a tornado, or other natural event which significantly affects the assessed value of the property. If you have any questions, please contact your county assessor’s office or your county clerk’s office.
The first session of the 106th Legislature has now come to an end. Just like students who receive their report cards at the end of the school year, so also should the Nebraska State Legislature be graded. So, what kind of grade should be given to the Nebraska State Legislature this year? In my assessment, the Legislature has earned a grade of D along with the comment, “Needs Much Improvement.”
So, why do I give the Nebraska State Legislature such a poor grade? I have given the Legislature a low grade because of what they failed to do this year. Most importantly, the Legislature failed to pass legislation for significant property tax relief, including LR3CA, my Resolution to put a measure on the 2020 ballot for a Constitutional Amendment for property tax relief. Moreover, LB 289 also failed in the Legislature. This bill would have given Nebraska property owners significant property tax relief for 2018 but made up for the loss in revenue by eliminating numerous sales tax exemptions, such as pet grooming services, tattoo services, and wedding planning services.
The second reason why the Nebraska State Legislature deserves such a poor grade is because they failed to reform the way we value agricultural land for property tax purposes. Nebraska needs to switch to an income based approach to valuing agricultural land, instead of using the current market approach. Although my priority bill, LB 483, advanced out of the Revenue Committee this year, it failed to advance beyond General File. Instead, the Legislature passed my other bill, LB 372, which forces the Property Assessment Division to use appropriate indexes when valuing agricultural land for property tax purposes in the current market based system. While this bill will slightly improve the current market based system, it won’t solve the major problems associated with using this method.
The third reason why the Nebraska State Legislature deserves such a poor grade is because they failed to cut spending. Contrary to the opinion of the Governor as wells as certain other Senators who serve on the Appropriations Committee, a smaller increase in spending does not constitute a cut in spending. The Legislature increased overall spending this year by 2.9 percent. If you managed your budget the same way that the State does theirs, you would soon go bankrupt, and that is what is slowly happening to the State.
What saves me from rating the Nebraska State Legislature with a failing grade is the fact that a few good bills actually did pass this year. One such bill was LB 244. LB 244 was my bill to make an allowance for massage therapists to make use of mobile units in the practice of their business. Because LB 244 passed along with an emergency clause and was signed by the Governor, the bill now becomes the law. So, massage therapists can now begin taking their services out to where their clients live, work, study, and play.
Thank you for reading my articles throughout the first session of the 106th Legislature. It has been an honor for me to serve the constituents of Legislative District 47. I hope to see many of you at our parades, festivals, and fairs this summer. May God bless Nebraska!
Nebraska’s First Capitol Building, Douglas County, 1855
Nearly 80 percent of Nebraskans say they need property tax relief. My highest priority as a Nebraska State Senator has been to provide significant and meaningful property tax relief to all Nebraskans.
For this reason I introduced LR3CA in the Nebraska Legislature earlier this year. LR3CA is a Legislative Resolution that would put a measure on the 2020 ballot, allowing Nebraskans to decide for themselves whether they need substantial property tax relief or not. The ballot measure associated with LR3CA is a constitutional amendment which would allow Nebraska property owners to claim 35 percent of their property tax bill as a credit or refund on their Nebraska State Income Tax Return.
Unfortunately, the Legislature’s Revenue Committee never advanced LR3CA out of committee. I anticipated that this would happen, so last year I began working with some concerned citizens who shared my concern for providing property tax relief for our residents. These concerned citizens began a petition drive to put the same measure as LR3CA on the 2020 ballot. Today you may visit their website at: www.truenebraskans.com.
The petition drive is going strong. Although a recent leadership dispute in the organization had to be overcome, it unfortunately lead to some misinformation about the petition drive being reported in the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper. That information should be read as fake news. Those running the petition drive are more organized than ever before, and I am confident that True Nebraskans LLC will be successful in putting this measure on your 2020 ballot. So, please consider signing it when it comes to your neck of the woods.
Another way I have sought to provide property tax relief to those who need it most is through LB 482, which I successfully amended onto LB 512. LB512 passed on Final Reading on Friday. My amendment is designed to bring property tax relief to those with destroyed property. I believe those suffering the destruction of their property by tornados, fires, and floods deserve property tax relief most. No one should have to pay property taxes on the full assessed value of their property on January 1 once nature leaves them with only the ghost of a house, a barn which no longer exists, or a damaged agricultural field.
The bill will direct County Assessors to reassess property for its value on the date of its destruction. Whatever the value is on the date of its destruction is what the value that property will have for the entire year. This will result in significant and meaningful property tax relief for those with destroyed property. However, in order to give each county board of equalization time to make reports and to hear appeals, this can only apply to those whose properties have been destroyed before July 1 of each year. Considering that most tornados and floods occur during the spring months, I believe most victims of natural disasters in our state will get the property tax relief they need.
The bill will cover those who have suffered losses from this year’s blizzards and floods. The amendment is retroactive to cover those whose properties have been destroyed since January 1, 2019. I expect Gov. Ricketts to sign the bill into law soon. So, if you have suffered property losses from this year’s blizzards and floods, please contact your County Assessor’s office right away. The deadline to apply for reassessment is July 15.
Finally, as we celebrate Memorial Day let us remember to honor those who have paid the ultimate price for our liberty. Throughout our history other nations have at times been ruled by evil men, who pursued acts of aggression against their own people, against other nations, and even against the United States. During those times the people of the United States of America rose up against those evil regimes and acted in the morally responsible way by sacrificing their own posterity to bring these tyrants down, restoring peace to the region, and spreading our values of freedom and human rights throughout the world. Remember, all gave some, and some gave all!
The State Legislature is now in its final days of the 2019 legislative session. Only 12 days remain. State Senators have passed two budget bills on to Final Reading with the final round of debate coming up on May 21.
The main budget bill is LB 294. This bill increases State spending overall by 3.2 percent. I am not happy that we have advanced such a poor budget bill. Debate on the budget has been handled very poorly this year. Senators have proposed several amendments to LB 294, but they have never been given the opportunity to talk about them on the floor. Those who have concerns about the budget have been effectively shut down. So, I can honestly say that a full and fair debate has never taken place on the budget despite the fact that LB 294 has advanced.
Many Senators believe the State spends too much money and should cut the budget. But, the opportunity to share where these cuts could be made was obstructed by those in control and who insist on increasing State spending. Therefore, you should expect your taxes to remain high while the State continues to squander your tax dollars on programs that don’t work.
The State does not operate by the same rules private citizens do. When you do your budgeting you manage your finances based on how much money you have. That’s not how the State functions. I did not vote for this budget and I will not vote for LB 294 when it comes up on Final Reading. As your representative in the State Legislature, I know that you sent me to Lincoln to lower your taxes and to cut spending. So, that is what I intend to do with my one vote.
On May 15 we debated another very poorly designed bill. LB 720 is a bill to adopt the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. However, it should be more appropriately named: “The Just Imagine How High Your Taxes Can Go Act”! Therefore, I put a bracket motion on the bill to kill it which remains pending in the Legislature should it ever come back to the floor for another round of debate.
Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward introduced this bill on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce. LB720 replaces the Nebraska Advantage Act which is set to sunset in 2020. The bill is a tax and spend bill which offers tax incentives to entice new businesses to move to our state; thus, creating new jobs.
The Nebraska Advantage Act did not work and neither will the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. So, let’s review some history to see what this kind of economic philosophy actually leads to. In 1987 the Legislature passed LB775, which appropriated $300 million towards these kinds of tax incentives for businesses.
Then, in 2005 the Legislature passed the Nebraska Advantage Act. The primary purpose of the Act was to keep ConAgra’s headquarters in Omaha. But, as we all know, that did not work. ConAgra moved to Chicago.
The last audit of the Nebraska Advantage Act showed that it cost the State anywhere from $7,800 to $208,000 in tax incentives per job created by the Act. The amount of earned income tax credits available in the Nebraska Advantage Act is currently $490 million. LB720, would add an additional $200 million to these tax incentives for a grand total of $990 million.
As a Legislator I have to concern myself with the State’s fiscal responsibilities. Wouldn’t the $1 billion be better spent on property tax relief? I think so. Unfortunately, the final days of house cleaning in the State Legislature will likely end with big money going to the Chamber of Commerce while the citizens get hung out to dry…again.
Thank you for the honor of taking up your concerns and representing you in the Nebraska Legislature. I will continue the fight for fiscal responsibility.
May is budget month in the Nebraska Legislature. Because we use a biennial calendar, the Legislature has a 90 day session, instead of the shorter 60 day session, on odd numbered years in order to pass a budget. Because Nebraska legislators have to pass a balanced budget, extra time is needed to debate the budget on the floor of the Legislature.
I serve on the Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee decides how the money gets spent. The Appropriations Committee is not supposed to appropriate any more money in the budget than what the Forecasting Board projects the State’s income to be. Generally speaking, this is how we balance the budget. However, more requests come in for money than what the State has to spend. So, the Appropriations Committee decides what to fund based upon who convinces the committee to support their ideas the most.
Together with Sen. Robert Clements, who also serves on the Appropriations Committee, we tried to reduce spending in the budget. We believe the State should spend less than what the Forecasting Board projects the State’s income to be. Only by spending less can we replenish the State’s cash reserves fund, provide for property tax relief, and live within our means. However, every time Sen. Clements and I tried to reduce spending in the budget, we were outvoted 7-2.
Forecasting the State’s income is very difficult to do. During the last biennium, for example, the Forecasting Board had to lower their predictions several times due to the falling revenues. By setting our budget to match the Forecasting Board’s predictions, I believe we are on shaky ground. The Appropriations Committee has learned nothing from the last biennium, and we are neglecting our duties to replenish the States cash reserves and to give our citizens much needed property tax relief.
LB294 is the Appropriations Committee’s biennium budget. LB294 includes a 3.2 percent increase in State spending. The Governor’s budget that he submitted to the Appropriations Committee had recommended at 3.1 percent increase in State spending. But, why are we spending more money than what we know we can get? I voted against LB294 because it increased spending by 3.2 percent.
Another bill, LB289, is the Revenue Committee’s bill to provide for property tax relief. This bill is very complex and convoluted. The bill was written to grant property tax relief, but it makes up the difference by eliminating various tax exemptions, such as services provided by plumbers, electricians and dry cleaners, and grocery store items such as candy, pop and bottled water. The bill also raises the cigarette tax, and it increases the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 6 percent. In my opinion, the State needs to cut spending from the budget first before shifting the tax burden to other kinds of taxes.
LB289 did not pass on the first round of debate on General File. In order for the bill to come back, it will need 33 votes. Instead of raising taxes in order to pay for property tax relief, the Legislature should have moved to cut spending first, and then shifted the property tax burden to sales taxes.
Gov. Ricketts is also opposed to LB289. But, the Governor’s reasoning is backwards. Gov. Ricketts opposes LB289 because he says it raises taxes. He’s right! It does just that. But, the Governor’s budget increased spending by 3.1 percent. He justified his increase in spending by saying, “I have to decrease the amount of increase.” The Governor cannot have it both ways. He cannot oppose tax increases and propose increases in State spending at the same time.
The bottom line is that the Legislature needs a healthy dose of common sense. No responsible family would operate their household budget in the way the Legislature runs theirs. It makes no sense to spend money that you think you might get. To the contrary, the wise person budgets for less money than he or she expects to get.
My highest priority in the Nebraska Legislature is to reduce property taxes. For this very reason I introduced LR3CA in January, which is a Legislative Resolution to put a measure on the 2020 ballot, which allows the registered voters of the State to vote on a constitutional amendment for receiving 35 percent of their property tax bill back every year in the form of a credit or refund on their Nebraska State Income Tax Return. This measure has been appropriately nicknamed “The 35 Percent Solution”.
LR3CA is going nowhere. Because LR3CA remains stuck in the Legislature’s Revenue Committee, it won’t become law this year. I anticipated that this would happen, because it has happened every year that I have introduced a bill or a resolution for significant property tax relief. The bottom line is that the Legislature lacks the intestinal fortitude to grant the property owners of our State the significant property tax relief they so desperately need. Therefore, we will have to do it another way.
There is hope for the future. Because I anticipated that LR3CA would die in committee, last year I began working with a group of concerned citizens to launch a petition drive to put the same measure on the 2020 ballot. Ballot initiatives of this kind allow the citizens of Nebraska to act as the second House of the State Legislature. When Senators in the Nebraska State Legislature fail to listen to their own constituency and to take appropriate action, it becomes incumbent upon the citizens of our State to take their concerns into their own hands and to act.
TRUE Nebraska LLC was formed by a group of concerned citizens in order to oversee the petition drive to put a measure with the same language as LR3CA on the 2020 ballot. The TRUE in TRUE Nebraska stands for “Tax Relief Unites Everyone”. Last Wednesday TRUE Nebraska held a rally on the north steps of the Capitol in Lincoln to kick start their summer petition drive. TRUE Nebraska already has more than 200 people working across the state collecting signatures for the petition drive. However, TRUE Nebraska still needs more workers. So, if you would like to know more about the petition drive, if you would like to view the rally, or if you would like to get involved, please visit their website at www.truenebraskans.com.
According to Wallethub.com, Nebraska currently ranks as the seventh highest state for property taxes in the nation, including Washington, D.C. Our property taxes are higher than other high property tax states, such as New York, Rhode Island and Michigan. Moreover, Nebraska has higher property taxes than each of our surrounding states. Our high property taxes are preventing people from moving to our state and they are causing good people to leave our state.
Nebraska’s high property taxes have reached the level of a crisis. As Sen. Tom Brewer, who represents Legislative District 43 in the Unicameral, recently said, “When a tax reaches the point it causes people to move, it is no longer just a tax. It is no longer just a ‘problem’. It’s a crisis and it’s immoral.” The property tax crisis we face in our state is now comparable to the burden that our Founding Fathers faced under the tyrannical rule of King George III of Great Britain when he put a tax on their cup of tea.
Sometimes working in the State Legislature is like trying to give a dog a bath. You know the dog needs it because he stinks, but the dog only wants to jump out of the tub. In a similar way, sometimes in the State Legislature you need to kill a bad bill because it stinks, but others insist that the odor isn’t so bad.
Such is the case with just about any bill in the State Legislature which contains a sunset clause. Killing a bill with a sunset clause is like trying to give a dog a bath. State Senators seldom ever allow a bill to sunset. Instead, lobbyists working for that organization are very skillful at convincing lawmakers to extend the date.
Such has been the case with LB177. LB177 is a bill which extends the date for the bonding authority of the Papio Missouri River Natural Resource District (NRD) out to December 31, 2024. Back in 2009 the Legislature set the bonding authority for this NRD to sunset at the end of 2019. Instead of allowing their bonding authority to sunset, though, Senators in the State Legislature are insisting on extending it out for yet another five years. Consider that a 30 year bond issued in 2024 would bind taxpayers until the year 2054.
I am not against NRDs. We need the NRDs to manage our natural resources for us, and for the most part they do a very fine job. However, allowing the bonding authority to sunset for the Papio Missouri River NRD would have no adverse effects. This NRD would retain its right to raise its mill levy to as much as 4.5 cents when needed. However, just like all other departments in the state government, the Papio Missouri River NRD needs to learn how to live within its means.
The Papio Missouri River NRD includes Douglas, Sarpy, Thurston, and Washington counties. Altogether there are 23 NRDs in the state, but 33 percent of all property taxes collected by these NRDs goes to the Papio Missouri River NRD. The Papio Missouri River NRD increases their revenues by four to seven percent every year mostly because their property values continue to go up every year. When those running the Papio Missouri River NRD brag about not raising their mill levy, they conveniently leave out the fact that their mill levy has remained steady at 3.794 cents for several years and that their valuations keep going up. In their twisted way of thinking, taxing residents at the same exorbitant rate they have for years somehow means they are not over-taxing the people.
The Papio Missouri River NRD is also the most mismanaged NRD in the State. For instance, a dam they once built for flood control has no stream, creek or river running into it, and they have to pump water into the reservoir in order to keep it full. Moreover, they have sold lots around this same dam ranging from $90,000 – $600,000. Finally, when the manager of the Papio Missouri River NRD applied for disaster relief from FEMA, he never bothered to ask all of the board members for approval. Instead, he only asked six out of the eleven board members for approval.
As you can see, it is difficult for me as a lawmaker to support the idea of extending the bonding authority of the Papio Missouri River NRD when it is so poorly managed. Furthermore, two of the board members of the Papio Missouri River NRD have admitted openly that they would have plenty of money to run the NRD if their bonding authority was allowed to sunset this year.
So, when LB177 came up on the floor for debate, I tried to kill it with amendments and a bracket motion. However, no matter how hard I tried to keep that puppy in the tub, I could never get more than nine votes to do so. For some strange reason, not enough Senators in the Norris Chamber that day could smell what I was smelling. So, they advanced the bill to Final Reading by a vote of 34-9.
The population of Nebraska continues to shift eastward, especially towards the urban centers of the state. The latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau only confirm this trend. Nebraska’s urban centers continue to grow while the rural areas of the state continue to decline in population.
According to David Drozd, who works as a research coordinator for the Center for Public Affairs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy counties taken together added more than 12,000 people to their census rolls in the past year.
Drozd’s findings also confirm that the Panhandle of Nebraska is experiencing the greatest loss in population. For instance, Dawes, Duel, Cheyenne, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Sheridan, and Sioux counties have all experienced population declines of five percent or more since 2010. Box Butte and Scottsbluff counties have declined in the range of two and a half percent to five percent. Arthur County remains the smallest county in Nebraska with only 465 people, but Banner County actually grew. Banner County has experienced growth by more than five percent since 2010.
These findings concern me as a lawmaker representing ten counties in the Panhandle of Nebraska. In 2020 legislators at the Capitol in Lincoln will redraw the legislative district lines. Currently, each Nebraska State Senator represents a population of 37,000 people. So, when these legislative district lines get redrawn in 2020, we should expect to see the urban areas of the state gain more representation while the rural areas of the state will lose some representation. This won’t be good for folks living in Western Nebraska.
This population shift from rural Nebraska to the urban population centers continues to challenge the wisdom of former State Senator, George Norris, who led the state to adopt the unicameral system back in 1937 and which remains in use today. It is evident and clear that the current unicameral system which draws district lines based upon population favors the population centers of the state. Conversely, a second state house with districts drawn on purely geographical lines would favor the rural parts of the state. Therefore, the time has come to discuss moving back to a bicameral system. Nebraska remains the only state in the union which uses a unicameral system.
So, why does rural Nebraska continue to lose population? The primary reason the population of Western Nebraska continues to decline is because farming and ranching has become increasingly more and more difficult. Low crop prices, high property taxes and unfair agricultural land valuations are causing more and more farmers and ranchers to go out of business.
Folks living in Lincoln and Omaha do not understand the plight of the farmer and the rancher living in Western Nebraska, nor do they feel the pain of our low crop prices, high property taxes, and unfair agricultural land valuations. Consequently, the thought of redistricting can only give folks living in Western Nebraska cause for concern. The sad news that I am reporting today is that in the coming years, folks living in Western Nebraska will have less representation in their State Legislature.