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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.
Good morning, my name is Sen. Steve Erdman, and today I introduced a bill to end the Learning Community.
The original purpose of the Learning Community (LC) was to deliver basic educational services to poor and disadvantaged children in order to accelerate the learning process and to increase academic achievements. The vision statement on the LC’s website states: “That all children in the Learning Community achieve academic success without regard to social or economic circumstances.” Unfortunately, the Learning Community has lost sight of its original purpose and goal, and continues to expand into areas well beyond its intended scope and purpose.
The LC’s mission is to “measurably improve educational outcomes.” But, after being in operation for more than 10 years the LC has failed to provide the public with concrete and objective measurable evidence of student success. Contrary to the opinion of David Patton, the LC’s CEO, who recently told the Omaha World Herald that “the data is crystal clear,” closer examination of the evidence shows that the sample sizes of their data were too small to be meaningful and their improvements were so slight that no reasonable person could counted them as any kind of significant improvement. Moreover, they cite as measurable results things which are either too vague or too impossible to measure, such as providing “emotional support” to students and families. When it comes to early childhood education, recent and past studies show that early childhood education programs do not accelerate the learning process at all. For instance, a 2012 article written by Andrea Mrozek concluded that what pre-K children need most is “playing in an environment of adult attachment.” In other words, pre-K children learn best at home under the nurturing care of their own parents, not by an adult stranger in an educational institution.
Perhaps, the most egregious example of how the Learning Community has lost sight of its original purpose came last year when the LC board members approved the setting up of a non-profit, private foundation. The foundation has no defined purpose, no regular members, and its directors are not elected by 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 open meetings laws or public records laws, nor has anyone disclosed how they intend to spend the foundation’s money. It is wrong for Nebraskans to be funding a secretive foundation with no public accountability whatsoever.
The LC has also engaged in egregious spending. The General Fund expenditures of the LC are projected to increase 16% this year while its capital projects are expected to rise by another 6%. The LC’s operating budget is projected to rise to $8.9 million, which is a 6% hike from last year. The LC is levying the maximum amount allowable by State law. In order to help you see how they waste taxpayer dollars consider the way they cater meals for some of their adult learning programs. While their kitchen sat unused on June 14, 2018, the LC catered meals from Shields Catering Service for $2,300 and from African Cuisine Catering for an additional $970. Total cost for the catered meals that day was $3,270.
Many of the LC’s programs undermine our free-market economy as well as our charity work. For instance, after the LC gave monies to One World to start a free daycare center, those private day care centers which were already operating in the community, such as the Safe Haven Daycare Center in north Omaha, were driven out of business. Moreover, after One World began teaching English as a Second Language to Spanish only speakers, the charity programs which had been teaching English as a second language to speakers of all languages, such as the program provided by the Literacy Center of the Midlands, suddenly fell by the wayside and closed its doors. Meanwhile, non-Spanish speakers were left with fewer place to go to learn English.
The LC is out of control and needs to be stopped immediately. The bill I introduced today is the longest bill I have ever introduced. The bill is 143 pages long. The reason the bill is so long is because the LC has expanded its tentacles into so many different areas of life in the greater Omaha metropolitan community without ample justification for doing so. Instead of focusing on its original purpose, the LC has devolved into an institution in search of a mission. If there is to be a Learning Community in the future, let it be run by parents in the Omaha Public School District or by a privately funded organization.
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.
Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 47th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Steve Erdman
On the last day of 2018 the Legislature’s Planning Committee released its Final Report covering the 2017-2018 Biennium. The report received the unanimous support of its committee members, but contained some very bad news about the State’s financial status. In short, the report warned that the State’s cash reserves, also known as the Rainy-Day Fund, have been depleted down to a dangerous level. The conclusion of the report was that the Legislature needs to restore the Rainy-Day Fund to two times an average month’s revenue over the course of the next two biennial budgets.
According to the Planning Committee’s report: “During the past two biennial budgets cash reserves were approximately halved, from approximately $700,000,000 to $300,000,000. Although the reserves are intended to serve the function of a shock absorber smoothing out the fiscal road in tough times, this dramatic halving occurred during a time of reasonably normal economic conditions. Simply put, the draw down on reserves meant expenses were not cut enough or revenues were not raised enough. In either case, the trend is most disturbing, and should it be permitted to continue, a fiscal crisis will ensue.”
The Planning Committee’s Final Report did not tell me anything I did not already know. In May of 2017 I held a press conference where I suggested that the Legislature cut $250,000,000 from its budget in order to make ends meet. The Appropriations Committee did not take my advice, and State revenues fell short of their projected goal by 232,000,000. Had the Appropriations Committee made the appropriate adjustments to the budget, the Final Report of the Legislature’s Planning Committee would not have contained such a dire warning of a looming fiscal crisis.
The State Legislature will now have to begin the new legislative session in a huge financial bind. Because voters approved Medicaid Expansion in November, legislators will be searching for a way to pay for it without dipping into the State’s Rainy-Day Fund. Moreover, the most pressing need facing Nebraskans is the need for property tax relief, which can only result in lower revenues for the State. We can now add to this financial burden the Final Report of the Legislature’s Planning Committee which directs the State to replenish its cash reserves by some $450,000,000 over the course of the next four years.
Make no mistake about it, there will be some in the Legislature who will want to raise your taxes. They will look at raising your sales taxes (including taxes on Internet sales), your gasoline taxes, your cigarette taxes and even your State income taxes as a way to generate more revenue for the State. However, I have said many times before, and so I will say it again: Nebraska does not have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. We got into this mess by spending too much money, so the only way out of it will be to reduce spending. Because very few Nebraskans can actually afford a tax hike, why should we raise taxes to pay for the past mistakes of the Legislature? As long as the Legislature continues to spend money like a drunken sailor, I will find it difficult to support any bill which comes with a hefty fiscal note.
Unless State revenues can somehow magically increase, the next two years should be about reducing the size of our state government, not increasing it. Unfortunately, the make-up of the Legislature continues to slide in the direction of fiscal irresponsibility. As the population of socialists from Eastern Nebraska continues to increase in the Legislature over and against the fiscal conservatives from Western and Central Nebraska, the prospects of ever restoring our cash reserves or balancing our budget without dipping into our Rainy-Day fund becomes ever-increasingly hopeless. Unless the Legislature can somehow figure things out, the Planning Committee’s stern warning of a looming fiscal crisis remains an approaching reality for the State. In fact, many, including me, would say that day has already arrived.
Now that the New Year has finally arrived, it is safe to say that this is the calm before the storm. The new biennium Session is scheduled to begin on January 9, so the political fireworks are about to begin. There will be several hotly contested bills that the State Legislature will have to grapple with this year, including such things as legalizing medical marijuana, so this week I would like to point out what some of the more important issues will be so that you will know what to watch for in the days ahead.
The first item to be settled will be the rules. This is easier said than done. The Legislature will most likely adopt the rules from the previous session in order to conduct business until a new set of rules can be approved. During the last biennium session, the Legislature argued over the rules for the first month, essentially shortening the longer 90 session into a 60 session, making it very difficult to pass non-priority bills and to pass a budget. This year we hope to have a much shorter debate over the rules, so that we can have more time to conduct the business of the State and to get more things done.
Running immediately out of the chute will be those seeking to chair the various committees of the Legislature. This year I will serve again on the Committee on Committees. The Committee on Committees decides who serves on each committee. Chairmanships, however, are determined differently. Any Senator can apply to become the chair of a committee, but they must first garner a majority vote of their peers in the Legislature. The vote is taken by way of a secret ballot on the chamber floor, so nobody knows how each Senator voted. The secret ballot is one of those rules I would like to change. I believe the public has a right to know how their Senator voted on these various chairmanships. Nevertheless, I will seek to maintain my current position as Chair of the Building Maintenance Committee, which is categorized as a Special Committee of the Legislature.
This year we will have 90 days to conduct the State’s business and to pass a budget. However, because the voters approved Medicaid Expansion last November, the Legislature will have to figure out a way to pay for the added expenses. Because the State’s cash reserves have been dangerously depleted, the Legislature will be forced to either raise taxes or to cut spending (or do both). A fight will necessarily ensue over raising taxes, which the Governor has vowed to veto, and also over which programs or departments to cut. I believe the only sensible way to balance the budget is to make appropriate cuts. Raising taxes only gives legislators more of other peoples’ hard-earned money to spend Willy Nilly.
Added to the stress of having to work out a budget will be the public’s need for property tax relief, which I have vowed to set as my number one priority again this year. I will introduce a Constitutional Amendment to give every property owner a 35 percent credit or refund of their property tax bill on their State Income Tax Return. Needless to say, this will surely liven the debate over how the State spends your hard-earned tax dollars. If legislators don’t want to listen to me, then they will be forced to hear from the voters in 2020. If all things go according to our plan, a similar citizen-led initiative will appear on the 2020 ballot, allowing the people to override the lack of support or indecisiveness of the Legislature. Moreover, if Gov. Ricketts really wants property tax relief, as he says he does, then let him begin by supporting our Constitutional Amendment for property tax relief.
Finally, farmers and ranchers desperately need a new way of valuing their agricultural land for tax purposes. Therefore, I will introduce new legislation this year to change the way we value agricultural land from the current market based system to a productivity based system. This will be my best attempt yet at making this transition. This year I hope to have the Governor’s support in making this change. With God’s help, I believe we can make this change become a reality this year!
Earlier this month Nebraska State Senators Adam Morfeld and Anna Wishart, both from Lincoln, launched a new petition drive to legalize medical marijuana in our state. Instead of waiting to see the full effects of recreational marijuana use in Colorado, they presume that history will be on their side. But, just like what happened in Colorado, medical marijuana is not the end game in this long political fight.
What we already know about Colorado’s love for weed has not been good for that state. For instance, among teens age 12-17 marijuana use has risen by 39 percent, and traffic fatalities involving users have also dramatically climbed. From 2007-2012 traffic fatalities increased by 100 percent among those testing positive for the drug. Emergency room visits related to marijuana use also increased 57 percent from 2011 to 2013. Therefore, I reject the argument that marijuana usage, whether it be for medical reasons or for recreational reasons, bears no social consequences.
Marijuana remains an illegal drug. The marijuana plant remains on the federal government’s list of controlled substances. Colorado’s Amendment 64 has done nothing to legalize marijuana. Those who grow, manufacture, and dispense the product continue to do so in violation of federal laws. So, purchasing marijuana at a Colorado dispensary and bringing it across the state line into Nebraska remains a crime, and for this reason our jails near the Colorado border remain full of those charged with federal drug trafficking.
Colorado’s drug habit affects Nebraska in some rather debilitating ways. Because Colorado dispensaries located near the border sell to Nebraskans, Western Nebraska ends up paying the price for Colorado’s drug habit. For instance, Nebraskans often end up paying for the incarceration, the rehabilitation, and the welfare benefits of Colorado residents as well as our own residents who purchase the drug in Colorado; meanwhile, Colorado benefits from revenue generated from taxes placed on the sale of the marijuana. For these reasons and more, Nebraska Attorney General, Doug Peterson, has filed a lawsuit against the State of Colorado.
Common sense shows that using marijuana is just a bad choice for anyone to make. Many employers, for example, understand the harmful effects of marijuana’s use on the job, so they have begun testing for the drug during the hiring process and randomly thereafter. Colorado’s marijuana dispensaries mean that there are now fewer qualified job applicants living in Western Nebraska than there were just a few years ago.
When President Trump signed the farm bill last Thursday, he took hemp off the federal government’s list of controlled substances. Marijuana remains on that list of controlled substances. Hemp is a cousin of the marijuana plant, and is used to make a variety of products from rope to lotions. Cannabidiol or CBD, which can be derived from either the hemp plant or the marijuana plant, must have hemp-derived THC levels below three percent in order to be legal by federal standards, making it impractical for use as a recreational drug. However, CBD remains prohibited by Nebraska’s laws.
Nebraska’s Attorney General issued a memo on November 16, 2018 reminding state law enforcement agencies that CBD remains illegal in Nebraska. According to the memo CBD continues to be included in Nebraska’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act’s legal definition of “marijuana.” Only two exceptions exist to the state statute. The first exception allows UNMC to study the drug until October 2019. The second exception allows for the sale of CBD oil, which has been approved by the FDA. But, according to Chris Peterson, an investigator with the Lincoln and Lancaster County Narcotics Task Force, CBD oil has never been approved by the FDA. Peterson also told KLKN news in Lincoln that the product is “not as safe as it is being purported.” Therefore, my purpose in writing today is to remind Nebraskans that both marijuana and hemp remain prohibited substances by Nebraska State Statutes.
As I sit by the fire with pen and paper in hand, reflecting on the events of the past year, gratitude and thanksgiving well up within me because of the tremendous opportunity I’ve had to serve the people of Legislative District 47. It truly is an honor and a privilege to represent all ten counties of Legislative District 47 in the Nebraska Legislature. The people of Western Nebraska truly are the salt of the earth.
Although it was a very tough session for passing any kind of legislation, I did manage to get one bill passed into law this year. LB 17 was signed into law by Governor Ricketts on March 21, 2018. LB 17 updates the Nebraska Appraisal Management Company Registration Act for compliance with Title XI of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforce Act of 1989. Without this bill Nebraskans would not have been able to sell any real estate this year.
The biggest disappointment of the year, of course, came when Reform for Nebraska’s Future decided to pull the plug on our citizen-led ballot initiative for property tax relief. However, I believe fear of that petition drive caused legislators in Lincoln to act with a higher degree of fiscal restraint than they otherwise would have. Nevertheless, we have since begun a new ballot initiative for property tax relief, and much like the last petition drive with paid petition handlers, our new petition drive, staffed only with an army of volunteers, is practically signing itself. This ballot initiative is identical to the resolution for a Constitutional Amendment that I will introduce in January; it will allow every Nebraska property owner to claim thirty five percent of their property tax bill as a credit or refund on their Nebraska State Income Tax Return.
Although Governor Ricketts and I did not see eye-to-eye on agricultural land valuation reform this past year, I believe that is changing. There is hope for the future. 2019 may become the year that we finally change the way we value agricultural land from the current market based system to a productivity based system. I have been collaborating with the Governor’s office, and I have also been working with experts in the field in order to write a better bill. My hope is that we can pass an even better bill into law next year.
As you may recall, instead of voting for property tax relief in November, Nebraskans voted in favor of Medicaid expansion. Consequently, the Appropriations Committee of the Nebraska Legislature will be searching for new ways to fund it next year. I expect the cost to be much higher than the $33 million originally projected by the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Department of Health and Human Services. Coupled with the fact that we have only 27 operational days of revenue left in our savings, State legislators simply won’t be able to pass any bills with hefty fiscal notes again this year. Instead, Senators as well as the heads of State agencies should be looking for ways to cut spending. The day of our fiscal reckoning will come shortly after we all hang our new calendars on the wall. Nebraska must finally get its fiscal house in order, and that process simply cannot happen without some pain and discomfort for some.
Especially as we consider the needs of those most in need of medical services, let us also be reminded of the poor and humble conditions upon which the Christ child was to be born: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn,” Luke 2:6-7. Although Christ had a humble beginning, he has the power to bless each one of us today. Therefore, my prayer is that God will richly bless you in the New Year. Until then, Merry Christmas!
Political correctness drives me crazy!
Did you know that Veggie Tales is a very dangerous racist cartoon for children? Veggie Tales is a popular animated Christian video series designed to teach biblical morality to children. In 1993 animators, Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, launched Big Idea Productions in order to produce children’s videos with Christian themes. Veggie Tales, which depicts talking fruits and vegetables on a kitchen countertop, quickly became their best-selling product. However, today we are being told by Dreama Moon, a college professor at Cal State San Marcos, along with one of her undergraduate students that Veggie Tales is a dangerous racist cartoon because the videos always depict the villains as colored fruits and vegetables.
Political correctness has run amok! To be clear, there is nothing racist or dangerous about Veggie Tales. Instead, political correctness has now become one of our nation’s most malignant cultural cancers. Why do I say this? I say this because political correctness seeks to undermine our most sacred American values and institutions.
Among our most sacred American values is our God-given write to speak freely. Political correctness undermines the guarantee of free speech afforded to us by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It undermines our God-given right to freedom of speech and stifles the free expression of ideas by controlling what can and cannot be said both in private as well as in the public square. For instance, anyone who identifies those who have been illegally crossing our southern border as “illegal aliens” is automatically deemed to be a racist and is told to use the terminology of “undocumented immigrants” instead, even though the first term suggests no particular race at all.
Similarly, political correctness seeks to undermine the very foundations of religion as well as our American traditions. For instance, last week Jennifer Sinclair, principle of Manchester Elementary School in Elkhorn, Nebraska, was exposed for trying censure Christmas. In her memo to the school’s staff and teachers, she banned the use of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, “Elf on a Shelf,” Christmas carols, candy canes, reindeer, homemade ornaments, Christmas movies, and all other red and green items associated with Christmas. She did this despite the fact that Christmas has been recognized as a national holiday since 1870. After the Liberty Counsel, a First Amendment watchdog group based in Florida, sent a letter to the school district asserting that the ban showed hostility towards Christians, the school board members finally decided to put the principal on administrative leave.
Political correctness is even ruining women’s sports. For instance, anyone who questions the sex of a transgender person today is automatically counted as a bigoted sexist. So, educators are now being told that they can no longer question the gender of any student, and this has led to transgender athletes dominating in women’s sports.
Biological males competing as females in women’s sports are now winning championships and breaking records at the expense of those who are biologically female. Earlier this year, for example, biological males, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, who self-identify as females, dominated Connecticut’s state track championships. Miller finished first in the 100 meter and 200 meter races, while Yearwood finished second in the 100 meter. Connecticut’s Interscholastic Athletic Conference allows these athletes to compete according to their gender identity, instead of their biological sex, and nobody, not even the parents, can question their wisdom.
Political correctness has become a scourge on American society. Therefore, this week I have chosen to use what freedom I have left in the press to expose this scourge, and to hopefully begin the process of removing this malignant tumor from American society. Instead of controlling what others say, I believe we should simply treat each other with respect. Political correctness adds nothing new to the Golden Rule taught by Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Matthew 7:12.
So, at the risk of being politically incorrect, let me be the first one to wish you a merry Christmas!
Sen. Steve Erdman Speaking in Harrison, NE
Last week I put a thousand miles on my truck as Joel Hunt (my Legislative Aide) and I toured together the ten counties of the Panhandle which make up Legislative District 47. Throughout the week I held nine town hall meetings in Bayard, Bridgeport, Chappell, Harrison, Hemingford, Kimball, Ogallala, Oshkosh, and Sidney. I would like to personally thank everyone who came out to attend these town hall meetings.
These town hall meetings are very important to me. These town hall meetings are important because they provide me with the opportunity to meet new people living in the Panhandle, to hear the concerns of the constituency, and to form strategies for the upcoming legislative session. They also give me the opportunity to communicate with the folks living in Western Nebraska.
After speaking to people from all ten counties in my district, I have been firmly reminded that the two most important priorities of mine going into the new legislative session need to be property tax relief and agricultural land valuation reform. These are the two issues which matter most to my constituents, and these have been my top two priorities for my first two years in the Nebraska Legislature. So, I remain eager to fight for these two causes again next year. Therefore, I will introduce a Constitutional Amendment to allow all property owners to claim 35 percent of their property tax bill as a credit or a refund on their State Income Tax return, and I have also been working on a new agricultural land valuation reform bill that will change the way we value agricultural land from the current market based system to a productivity based system.
What came up as a new issue for me to tackle during these town hall meetings was the problem of antelope in the Panhandle. In the Western counties of the Panhandle, especially those bordering Colorado and Wyoming, antelope have been destroying crops and fences. Almost everywhere I went, constituents sought me out to talk about the problem of antelope on their land. During my journey through Sioux County alone we encountered a herd that Joel and I estimated at approximately 1,000 antelope. They were just too numerous to count. So, I understand that this is a big problem effecting many farmers and ranchers, and I intend to address this problem going forward.
The most controversial matter which came up in these town hall meetings was Medicaid Expansion. While the voters in Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster Counties alone were enough to guarantee passage of the Medicaid Expansion ballot initiative, rural Nebraskans rejected it soundly. In the ten counties which comprise Legislative District 47 voters rejected the initiative by fifty five percent of the vote. Only forty five percent voted for it. In light of the fact that the majority of the voters living in District 47 opposed the Medicaid Expansion ballot initiative, I am leaning towards voting against funding for Medicaid Expansion when it comes up in the Legislature. Funding for Medicaid Expansion could take important benefits away from our state’s poorest citizens, who need them most. I believe those who most need help from the State are children, single mothers, the sick, and the disabled, and funding for Medicaid Expansion may take benefits away from these folks in order to put more people on the Medicaid rolls.
Western Nebraska is beautiful place to live, and the people who live here are truly the salt of the earth. Thank you for allowing me to serve you and to represent you in the Nebraska Legislature. If you were unable to attend a town hall meeting in your neck of the woods, but would still like to voice your concerns, you may send me an e-mail at email@example.com or call my office at (402) 471-2616.