NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. John Stinner

Sen. John Stinner

District 48

Welcome

January 6th, 2016

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 48th 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.

Sincerely,
Sen. John Stinner

The First Ten Days

January 22nd, 2016

The 104th Legislature, 2nd Session is underway and we have just completed the first ten days. Bill introduction is complete and hearings on all introduced bills have begun. We have started debate on last year’s carryover priority bills. Extended debate has occurred on anatomical donations, poker, co-payments for inmates, and meningitis vaccinations. Many more contentious issues will be coming up and I expect thorough debate on each bill. We have until February 19 to declare our priority bill. This is significant because in a short session, only priority bills and consent calendar bills (non-controversial bills advanced out of committee with no dissenting votes) will be debated.

Major issues for our legislative session appear to be rebalancing the budget, property tax relief, school financing, Medicaid expansion, and a highway funding bill brought by Senator Smith. This highway funding bill, also called the Transportation Infrastructure Bank, is of great interest to me as it has implications for the Heartland Expressway, and is an initiative put forth by Governor Ricketts.

I have introduced nine bills this year. Along with those nine bills, an amended Oil and Gas Commission bill, this year introduced by Senator Schilz, will be presented to the Natural Resources Committee. This bill reflects proposed changes to the Commission commensurate with the discussions, meetings, public comments and concerns expressed throughout the year. I do want to thank Senator Schilz and the Committee for their diligence in this matter.

One of my bills, LB 773, is on early childhood development and establishes a task force to study local needs regarding the early childhood workforce, the ability of the current state systems to meet the needs identified, and an agreement on the competencies necessary to close the achievement gap for children at risk of failing in school. Findings and recommendations are to be reported to the Legislature no later than December 1, 2017. I am passionate about this area because I see the direct linkage with children entering kindergarten ready to learn and reducing special education costs, reducing behavioral problems, reducing dropout rates and teen pregnancies, and ultimately reducing crime and the cost of corrections. This bill has already had a hearing before the Education Committee where it had 12 testifiers in support.

As always, I welcome your comments and input, and I encourage you to telephone my office or email me.

The 104th Legislature, 2nd Session, is set to convene on January 6, 2016. This session is our short, 60 day session. I am looking forward to continuing my work on behalf of the citizens of District 48.

This session we welcome new Senator, Nicole Fox, who represents District 7. Senator Fox was appointed to the Legislature by the Governor after the resignation of Senator Jeremy Nordquist. I look forward to working with Senator Fox and welcome her to the Legislature.

During this short session, there will be many issues that will be discussed. Several issues from last session will be up for debate right away, along with new legislation that will be introduced. This year I anticipate there will be between 400 and 600 bills introduced in the first 10 days of session. In addition to these new bills, several key pieces of legislation from last session will be discussed again, or re-introduced in a different form. Corrections and prison reform, expansion of Medicaid, medical marijuana, Oil and Gas Commission and wastewater, mountain lions, school funding, and property tax relief are just some of the topics I anticipate will be discussed, all while being cognizant that the State faces a $110 million budget shortfall.

In order to keep myself informed and on top of the issues, and to prepare myself for my second year in office, I had a very busy interim. Along with various conferences, committee meetings and hearings, I held many meetings with community leaders in the District. Discussion at these meetings focused on issues I anticipate will come up this Session, as well as various bills that were passed last session and how those new laws are affecting the community. These meetings were very informative and provided me valuable information that will help me make informed decisions during this upcoming session.

In addition to the meetings with community leaders, I held town hall meetings across the District. I want to thank all of those who came and participated. The discussions I had during those meetings proved to be very beneficial. I always enjoy hearing from community members and getting a better idea of where you stand on the issues. It is the people of District 48 that I work so diligently for, and I am proud to be your voice at the State Capitol. As always, I encourage you to contact me with any questions, concerns or issues you may have.

As the new session quickly approaches, I look forward to working with my legislative colleagues to make Nebraska the best it can be for all its citizens.

Growing Nebraska

November 9th, 2015

Recently, I had the opportunity to serve as a panelist at the 2015 Platte Institute Legislative Summit. Our panel was entitled “Grow Nebraska with Tax Reform.” Governor Ricketts has indicated he would introduce a tax reform plan that offers broad based relief on both property and income tax in the near future.

First, I want to say that I highly endorse periodic efforts to review and debate our state’s tax posture as to “fairness” and “competitiveness.” I applaud the Governor for his leadership role in this effort.

I believe that the people of Nebraska expect government to be efficient, effective and accountable. Those three elements are my guiding principles when reviewing budgetary issues. When the Governor talks about limiting the size and scope of government, I think that really resonates with all of us.

I am curious to see if we, as a state, can limit the growth of government spending to 2% to 3% in light of what I see as historic challenges over the last 20 years. For example, corrections and the court system have grown at 5.9% and 7.7%, and we still have considerable issues to confront. Aid to individuals, which includes Medicaid, has been increasing at 6.1% annually, with major cost drivers such as aging, developmental disabilities and increasing demand for mental health. I believe these issues must be addressed in a comprehensive way inclusive of utilizing a 4.75% average annual growth factor in light of what appears to be a long term pattern of slow growth and low inflation.

Lastly, the state’s cash reserve, referred to as the rainy day fund, serves as a stabilizer for unforeseen economic events. It is essential that as we add risk to our model, the size and use of this fund should also be a subject for discussion.

In light of the current projected revenue shortfall, efforts in broad based tax reform may be delayed. However, I am excited to see what the Governor’s plan entails and to see what is possible to help grow Nebraska.

Interim Update

September 10th, 2015

Hello from the Capitol! I want to thank you again for your confidence in me as your State Senator. I have been very busy over the interim learning about all the issues facing the citizens of Nebraska, as well as learning about how other states handle these same issues.

In June I was invited to Denver, Colorado, to participate in the National Conference of State Legislature’s forum on working families. This forum focused on training and workforce development, child care, asset development and legislative tools to ensure effective use of tax dollars. The information provided at this forum resulted in a working committee to formulate a strategic plan for Nebraska. We are in the initial stages of our work and I anticipate many beneficial things will come from our research.

In July, I attended the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meeting in San Diego, California, and a regional Council of State Governments conference in Bismarck, North Dakota. These meetings covered a wide variety of topics in the form of policy workshops providing me detailed information that I hope to be able to put to use during my time in the Legislature.

I was appointed to the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee. This Committee is charged with providing ongoing oversight of the ACCESSNebraska system. ACCESSNebraska provides the citizens of Nebraska a way to apply for Medicaid and economic assistance programs online. The first hearing for the Committee was held in July. A tour of the Lincoln facility was also conducted in July. Two more tours are planned in September for the facility in Lexington and the facility in Scottsbluff. The Committee is required to brief the Health and Human Service Committee by December 15, 2015 on its findings.

During the summer, I participated in two fireside chats regarding commercial wastewater wells. I heard from many of my constituents on this matter, and I thank you for your participation in these gatherings. I am working diligently to get prepared for the hearing on the interim study I introduced. That interim study hearing will take place on September 22 in Sidney, with another hearing sometime in November in Lincoln.

The Intergenerational Poverty Task Force was created by LB 607 this session. This Task Force is charged with gathering information and data regarding children who are at risk of continuing the cycle of poverty. As a member of this Task Force, we had our first meeting on September 4 where we reviewed applicants in order to select the advisory committee of the Task Force. Our preliminary report to the Legislature and Governor is due December 15, 1015, and our final report on our findings will be due on December 15, 2016.

The interim has been a busy one for me. Again, it’s a time for me to learn about the important topics affecting the citizens of Nebraska. The knowledge I’m gaining by participating in these meetings, committees and task forces is invaluable and only helps me to represent you, the citizens of District 48, much better. I encourage you to contact me with any questions or concerns you might have, as well as any topics that would interest you. My contact information is: Senator John Stinner, District 48, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509, (402) 471-2802. My email address is jstinner@leg.ne.gov.

The 104th Legislature, 1st Session, adjourned Sine Die on Friday, May 29, 2015. I worked hard to absorb and learn as much as I could this first year, including getting to know my colleagues, learning the budget, learning the rules of the Legislature, as well as the process. It has truly been an honor to represent the people of District 48.

Below is a summary of the legislation I introduced this session, along with the status of each bill as of May 29, 2015. Over the interim, I plan to attend various conferences, participate in various meetings on the Committees I have been appointed to, and do research for possible legislation next year. As always, I encourage you to contact me with any concerns, questions or legislation ideas you may have.

LB 156 – Change the amount of credits allowed and reporting requirements under the Angel Investment Tax Credit Act

LB 156 raises the aggregate amount of refundable tax credits available for qualified investors or qualified funds from $3 million to $5 million per calendar year. The qualified investors, or qualified funds, must invest in qualified small businesses in a qualified high-technology field. In addition, the small business must have 25 or fewer employees and have at least half of its payroll in Nebraska.  Approved by Governor 5-27-15

LB 241 – Change provisions relating to conveyances of cemetery lots

LB 241 repeals a requirement to record a deed at a County Register of Deeds office to cemetery lots issued by a city of the primary class, a city of the first class, a city or village, or a cemetery association formed by a city or village. This bill allows cemeteries within the State of Nebraska to bypass the Register of Deeds office in issuing cemetery deeds or certificates, and instead use their own record keeping systems to track who the lots are owned by, as well as who is buried in those lots. If cemeteries do not have a record keeping system of their own, LB 241 allows these cemeteries to continue to record those deeds or certificates in the same way they have been done for years. In addition, the individual receiving the deed could still bring the original deed into the Register of Deeds office for recording. Approved by Governor 3-5-15

LB 242 – Change provisions of the Dry Bean Resources Act

LB 242 makes the following changes to the Dry Bean Act:

  • • Increases the amount of the assessment levied on each 100 pounds of dry beans sold, called a “check off,” which is used to fund the performance of the mission of the Dry Bean Commission. The current statutory maximum check off was set in 1987. The assessment is raised from the current maximum allowed of 10 cents per hundred weight to 15 cents per hundred weight as of August 1, 2015, with authority for the Commission to adjust the assessment within a 24 cent maximum.
  • Repeals the refund provision.
  • Amends the law regarding the publications of the annual reports and its contents to recognize web based reporting.
  • Amends the provisions of the Commission’s cash fund and specifies receipts that are to be credited to the fund. LB 242 adds new language providing payments to the fund, including license fees, royalties, and repayments.

Approved by Governor 4-13-15

LB 485 – State intent relating to appropriations for child welfare

LB 485 provides funding for a service mandated by State law but not funded by State appropriations. Section 28-728 R.R.S. 2008 requires “each county attorney or county attorney representing a contiguous group of counties is responsible for convening a child abuse and neglect investigation team and ensuring that protocols are established and implemented. … Each team must have protocols which, at a minimum, shall include procedures for: (iii) Arranging for video-recorded forensic interview at a child advocacy center for children who are three to eighteen years of age and alleged to be victims of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse or neglect, have witnessed a violent crime, are found in a drug-endangered environment, or have been recovered from a kidnapping.” LB 485 will provide funding for child advocacy centers to operate accredited satellite offices so that video-recorded forensic interviews will be provided that are accessible to children, their families and law enforcement. This funding will allow child advocacy centers to fulfill their two-fold mission to help heal children who have experienced a traumatic event, and to hold perpetrators accountable. Amended into LB 657 (Com AM829), and was approved by the Governor on 5-20-15

LB 512 – Provide powers and duties to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regarding certain wastewater and change an assessment for certain costs

LB 512 is intended to do the following: (1) Make it absolutely clear that the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission has authority to monitor and regulate the disposal of water produced from the extraction of oil or gas production in other states that is injected into a commercial disposal well in Nebraska. (2) Make such produced water subject to an assessment of twenty cents per forty-two gallon barrel to be used for the following purposes:

  • To offset the costs of monitoring and regulating produced water disposal,
  • To offset the additional costs of damage to roads used for the transporting of such produced water, and;
  • To provide additional funding for transportation infrastructure necessary for the design and construction of additional roads and bridges to be used for the transporting of such water.

This bill currently sits in the Natural Resources Committee.

LB 533 – Appropriate funds to the University of Nebraska

LB 533, the Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning, is a foundational component of the programmatic change in the way experiential learning can enhance the skill and performance competency of healthcare students and providers. The Global Center will position UNMC as the global leader in the delivery of highly integrated learning for the health sciences, through immersive virtual reality and other methods. This will improve health care provider performance, recruit the best and brightest students and faculty, lower costs, and, most importantly, improve patient outcomes.

LB 533 appropriates $1.5 million from the General Fund for FY 2015-16 and $3 million from the General Fund for FY 2016-17 to the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska for the startup of operations of the Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning at University of Nebraska Medical Center. LB 533 states that it is the intent of the Legislature to provide $5 million from the General Fund for both FY-2017-18 and FY 2018-19 for the operations of the center. Portions of LB 533 amended into LB 657 (ComAM829) and LB 662 (Com AM1246). Both bills were approved by the Governor on 5-20-15.

LB 561 – Name the Irrigation District Act and change election provisions for irrigation districts

LB 561 updates laws governing the election procedures provided for irrigation districts organized and governed by the provisions of Chapter 46, Article 1. LB 561 provides specific statutory language to allow recognition of modern land ownership choices used today thus granting the “electors” of irrigation districts the appropriate rights to vote in matters for which the irrigation districts laws provide for elections. LB561 also provides that irrigation districts may, at their discretion, provide for the conduct of elections in an irrigation district by the use of mail balloting to make such elections more convenient for electors and encourage greater participation in such irrigation district voting. Approved by Governor 5-13-15

LB 633 – Appropriate funds for state aid to municipalities and counties

LB 633 is intended to restore some of the direct state aid to municipalities and counties in the amount of $40 million of General Funds, beginning in FY 2015-16. Direct state aid to municipalities and counties was totally eliminated in 2011 with the passage of LB 383. LB 633 would provide $20 million in state aid to municipalities and $20 million to counties. These funds could be used by municipalities and counties only for public infrastructure projects as defined in section 77-27,142. This bill currently sits in the Appropriations Committee.

LR 154 – Interim study regarding the authority of the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and its role in decisions regarding the disposal of salt wastewater into dry wells.

Referred to the Natural Resources Committee. Hearings – early summer.

2015 Session Review

June 22nd, 2015

This has been a year for me as a newly elected representative to learn about the Legislature as an institution. I ran for office to represent you and to make a difference for the better. My goal is to earn your trust. Even though we may not agree on everything, I will do my best to communicate my positions and what I stand for. I am working hard to do what is in the best interests of the people of District 48 and the State of Nebraska. I do want to thank those people who have contacted me during the session and would continue to ask for your input.

The Appropriations Committee is a good fit for my talents. As a person who has worked with accounting, numbers, finance and budgets, the assignment to the Appropriations Committee has placed me in a position to make a difference and contribute. After the third time through the budget, working with the experts on the Legislature’s Fiscal Staff, and asking many questions, I have gained a great deal of knowledge about what makes state government work. The current Chair, Senator Heath Mello, is a master of compromise to get a budget that the entire nine member committee can all support given their different priorities. Governor Ricketts found the Appropriations Committee’s budget consistent with his goals making vetoes unnecessary. My goal is to continue to expand my knowledge on the state’s budget and work to match funding to priorities to build a better Nebraska in the future. With this experience I can be a strong voice for western Nebraska priorities.

The following is a summary of this year’s actions on the $8.7 billion state budget:

  • Overall growth in spending: I have heard from the taxpayers that the growth in government spending must be modest. The 3.1% increase in expenditures was one of the lowest in 30 years and a full percent below the 10 year average.
  • Property tax relief: As the revenue projections for the State increased, the Appropriations Committee did more than the Governor recommended by increasing the funding for property tax relief by an additional $8 million over two years to $204 million per year. This increase is in addition to the $60 million added previously by the Committee.
  • K- 12 funding reduces property tax reliance: Another budget item that reduces reliance on property taxes is funding for K-12 education. This year’s biennial budget increases state appropriation for K-12 education by the full amount determined by the TEEOSA formula. An additional $37.1 million is provided in FY15-16 and an additional $5.6 million for FY16-17.
  • Make medical education in the Nebraska the best in the world: The University of Nebraska Medical Center, under its new leadership, Chancellor Jeffery P. Gold, MD, has a proposal to develop a Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning. If the Legislature appropriated $25 million for this project, the Medical Center will raise $75 million in private funds for the construction of a new facility. This new facility would be the site of a state-of-the-art training program called iexcel. Using next generation technology in simulated real-life clinics and hospital space, it will allow students and practitioners in all health care professions the opportunity to learn and practice as a team.
  1. Technology deployed across Nebraska’s communities will allow this center to be a resource for the entire state and beyond. Satellite simulation centers in Scottsbluff, Kearney, Norfolk and Lincoln will efficiently bolster continuing education and statewide training opportunities. Scottsbluff will be the first remote site to get a simulation center.
  2. Medical education will be more effective. The ability to practice and master real-life scenarios in a virtual, no-risk environment before treating patients in a real life risk environment is a leap forward in medical education.
  3. LB 533, a bill I introduced, became a part of the state’s budget to support the operation of the Center.
  • Funding for child advocacy center services: Another part of the budget package that I am very pleased about is the $500,000 per year appropriation for the support of child advocacy services. This funding will assist child advocacy centers fulfill their two-fold mission to help children who have experienced a traumatic event (such as child abuse) and to hold perpetrators accountable. The state mandates county governments to provide child advocacy center services, but provides limited funding. This means that these centers must raise funds from various other sources including community fundraising. Under this program, funding is targeted to operate accredited satellite offices. This means that professional video-recorded forensic interviews will be provided. These services will be accessible to children, their families and law enforcement in the region. These child advocacy centers still will need charitable fundraising to support their other functions. LB 485 was the bill I introduced that was the basis for this appropriation in the state’s budget.

Personal property tax relief was provided by LB 259. LB 259 was separate from the budget, but also provides significant tax relief of about $20 million per year. It provides businesses and farmers an exemption on the first $10,000 in value of farm equipment and other taxable personal property they own. Railroad and pipeline companies, which also have taxable personal property, get a proportional tax break.

Passing legislation to meet the needs of the people and the businesses of District 48:
As a representative of District 48, I see my role as that of an advocate for needs of Scotts Bluff County and the North Platte Valley. In my first year, I focused on bills that will assist the District.

Dry editable beans are a major cash crop to Agriculture in the District: As a person who helps finance agricultural production in the Valley, I know the importance of the sale of dry editable beans. In 2013 the sale of these beans brought in $117,700,000, and they were grown on 117,000 acres. The State of Nebraska has established a commission to promote the profitability, sale, export and research of the production of dry editable beans. The Dry Bean Growers Association asked me to introduce LB 242. LB 242 increases the amount producers and first purchasers pay per cwt to promote the sale of these beans and to conduct research. The Panhandle Research Center conducts the research, works to improve yields and the quality of the beans.

After some extended debate, the bill passed. Effective August 1, the assessment per cwt increases from 10 cents to 15 cents. Authority is provided for the Dry Bean Commission to increase the assessment to 24 cents cwt if needed in the future.

Surface Water Irrigation Districts Law was amended to address operational issues: Another bill that I introduced and made a priority for the District was LB 561. LB 561 updates the law governing irrigation districts. These surface water districts date back to the beginning of irrigation in the District. Many provisions of this law had not be updated since 1943.

  • Among other provisions, the amended law allows an irrigation district of less than 15,000 acres to eliminate subdistricts and hold at-large elections. The bill specifies that in the case of land owned or leased by a corporation, trust or other legal entity, the entity will identify an elector-designee in writing not less than 30 days prior to an irrigation district election.
  • LB 561 provides a process for determining who is entitled to vote if two or more persons claim conflicting rights to vote on the same acreage. It also allows irrigation districts, at their discretion, to conduct elections by mail. The bill passed 48-0.

Oil and Gas Waste Water Disposal: My colleagues and I became involved in the disposal of oil and gas wastewater at the beginning of the session and will continue to work on the issues as they are studied this summer. As Senators, we received concerned communications about this proposal before the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission. Residents raised concerns about the specter of contamination of water for drinking, irrigation and livestock, as well as heavy truck traffic damaging Nebraska’s road ways. Since the route goes by schools and towns, residents raised concerns that the truck traffic posed a highway safety problem.

  • I introduced LB 512, a bill that would provide specific authority for the Oil and Gas Commission to regulate oil and gas waste or production water from other states, and also impose a regulatory and infrastructure fee on waste water from an out-of-state well. The bill had a public hearing where the public expressed their concerns and the oil and gas industry presented their case that the proposal was safe from their prospective. This public hearing was the first time the Legislature used remote site interactive technology to allow people to testify in Scottsbluff. Based upon this testimony and concerns raised, I introduced LR 154 to conduct a Legislative Study of the Oil and Gas Commission’s authority and role in the disposal of oil and gas wastewater.
  • Senator Chambers introduced another bill, LB 664, to require any company that applies to dispose wastewater in the state to provide a list of all chemicals present in the wastewater. In an unprecedented move, the Legislature on a vote of 37-6, voted for the bill introduction at this late date. A public hearing was held but the bill has no chance of passage this year. This bill will be in play next session if needed. The issues will be discussed and studied over the summer with possible legislation next session.

Stimulating investment in new high technology small businesses and creating new higher paying jobs: Senator Hilkemann designated LB 156 a Senator priority bill so that it could be considered this year. What LB 156 does is add another $1 million of funding to the current $3 million allotted to the Angel Investment Tax Credit Act. Under this Act, investors or groups of Nebraska investors must invest in small businesses in Nebraska in a qualified high-technology field. The small business must have 25 or fewer employees and have at least half of its payroll in Nebraska.

  • The Investor gains a refundable tax credit that reduces their risk and encourages their investment. The tax credit is up to 35% in a non-distressed area and 40% in a distressed area. Only four businesses have been located outside of a distressed area. Seventy-two businesses have been approved by the state and 103 start-ups are eligible for funding.
  • The funding for the credit has been exhausted on the first day the funds were available the past two years. The need for additional funding is clear. The additional funding is designed to support further investment in high technology start-up companies and create new jobs in Nebraska. Governor Ricketts signed the bill into law.

Eliminating unnecessary government paperwork: LB 241 is the bill I introduced to change a provision of law requiring cities that operate cemeteries to file deeds to cemetery lots with the County Register of Deeds. The statewide Organization for County Register of Deeds identified this as an unnecessary requirement. The records of the city cemeteries were more accurate. City cemeteries records not only reflect ownership, but also recorded the person who was interned in the plot. No real purpose was served by a duplicate recording of only the ownership with the County Register of Deeds. This bill was passed early in the session and provided me with my first opportunity to speak on and process a bill.

Addressing Nebraska’s road and bridge infrastructure needs: Nebraska should address its needs to replace aging roads and bridges. A 2014 report by TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation group, found that Nebraska’s bridges are in seventh worst condition in the nation. As validated by a study conducted by the Legislature, 3,279 of the 11,763 state and county bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. On behalf of cities and counties, I introduced LB 633 that would have appropriated $40 million for road and bridge infrastructure repair and construction. The $40 million would be divided into $20 million for the cities and $20 million for the counties.
LB 610, introduced by Senator Smith, phases in a 6-cent increase in the fuel tax. Over four years the tax will increase 1.5 cents per year and will generate $75 million in additional funding for roads infrastructure. The funding is divided equally by the state, cities and counties. Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill. My position was to support the override of this veto. I joined 29 other Senators on this override vote. The following are the points that I considered:

  • Public Safety should be a priority: The first and foremost consideration for the Nebraska roads system is the additional revenue that is need to address safety concerns. Safety related issues include those caused by deteriorated infrastructure, as well as congestion in areas with increased traffic.
  • The need is local: During my campaign, I heard from the voters about the need to improve our roads infrastructure. Good roads are a key to economic development and commerce. Our transportation infrastructure is the engine that powers Nebraska’s economy. Transportation is the economic lifeline for agriculture, manufacturing and business sectors that carries inputs and moves products to market.
  • Enhancing transportation infrastructure will boost the economy in the short term by creating jobs in construction and related fields. In the long-term, these improvements will enhance economic competitiveness and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors by reducing travel delays and transportation costs, improving access and mobility, improving safety and stimulation of sustained job growth.
  • Cities and counties do not have the funding: Cities and counties would need to increase taxes, but they would need to increase either property taxes or sales taxes, or cut other services. Counties and cities have no state aid funding source for their needs. Local government state aid went from $17.9 million in 2003 to $11.9 million in 2009 and then was totally eliminated in 2010. At the same, time the state has imposed a long list of unfunded mandates that require funding from local sources.
  • Nebraska needs to build new four lane roads: Since 1988, western Nebraska has sought funding for the building of the four lane Heartland Expressway from north to south across the state. Western Nebraska and Scotts Bluff County need a four lane highway for the economic future. Even with the allocation of a ¼ % of 1% of sales tax revenues to the Department of Roads, the amount spent on new construction has not reached 2003 levels. The fuel tax increase will provide the funding needed for the economic future of western Nebraska. The residents and visitors that use the roads should be responsible for paying for them. General Nebraska taxpayers should not have to bear the entire burden.

Reforms to the Corrections System: In January when the session began, one of the biggest issues on the agenda was correction reforms. The talk around the State Capitol was that it would take $33 million to fund the reforms necessary. The following are bills that were passed or debated on corrections reform:

  • LB 605 is the main reform bill. This bill reduces the jail time for mostly non-violent crimes not involving sex offenses, and increases the jail time for violent crimes and those involving sex offenses. It does include burglary and some other crimes as violent crimes. The goal of LB 605 is to move the state towards the enhanced use of probation for non-violent offenders. This bill passed unanimously.
  • LB 598 is intended to address the crafting of rules for how and what reasons prisoners are segregated and placed in solitary confinement. It establishes an Office of Inspector General independent of the current structure and begins the process for removing the administration of parole out of the Corrections Department. This bill passed unanimously.
  • The third bill, LB 173, was the most controversial. This bill it repeals mandatory minimum sentences, which also starts the earning of good time sooner. It allows judges more authority for the determination of the length of extended sentences. The bill was opposed by the Governor, the Attorney General and County Attorneys. This bill was laid over until next year.

More will need to be done to improve programing so the criminals can be rehabilitated and placed on parole. The 11.2% ($20.3 million) increase in the budget for the Department of Correctional Services is somewhat misleading. Almost half of this amount is related to inmate medical costs. Health care costs have increased significantly during recent years because of a larger population, an aging inmate population, inflation and the new Hepatitis C treatment. The budget includes $2.5 million for 59 additional security staff and $1.2 million each year for behavioral health staff.

Driver’s licenses for children of illegal aliens is authorized. I am proud to be from Scotts Bluff County with our strong Hispanic population, and I strongly supported LB 623. These Hispanic people, who I have come to know, are honest, hardworking, church going, family oriented people. These people are not looking for a handout. They are filling jobs that we desperately need to sustain and grow our local economy. I do not look at this as an immigration bill, but as a jobs and economic development bill. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that one of our major priorities should be to secure our borders for national security reasons, but we cannot confuse the children of immigrant’s needs for a productive future on the failure on the part of our federal government. As expected, Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill and, as expected, the Legislature voted to override his veto on a vote of 34 in favor, 10 against.

LB 268-The repeal of the death penalty is passed over the Governor’s veto. After 40 years of effort, Senator Chambers finally secured passage of the repeal of the death penalty over the Governor’s veto. The debate of this issue was the most emotional and heated of the year. This was probably the most difficult vote of the year for me. After reviewing the information both pro and con, I was conflicted.

It was my position that this decision should have been presented to the voters on the ballot. Our office received volumes of calls on both sides of the issue. In the end I voted against the repeal of the death penalty. As promised, the Governor vetoed the bill and pressed hard get Senators to uphold his action. The override of the veto received just enough votes to pass.

This is but a summary of what I believe were the major issues of interest to you. Thank you for contacting me with your concerns, problems, and positions. Your input keeps me grounded in District 48 and what I need to do to represent your interests in Lincoln and the Legislature. I look forward to being home in the District over the summer and fall and meeting with you.

With less than 25 working days remaining in this year’s session, my rookie session has gone fast and well. The following is a status report:

LB 156 which allocates an additional million dollars of funding to the Angel Tax Investment Credit Act, moved to the second round of debate. This program is creating new high tech jobs in Nebraska and keeping investment dollars in Nebraska. If passed and signed by the Governor, this program will have a total of four million dollars in funding.

LB 242, the bill to raise additional funds for the promotion of dry beans, was signed by the Governor. Dry beans are a major cash crop in the Valley and, like any product, research, development and marketing promotions are critical. In addition, the local Panhandle Research Station will have the funding it needs to improve bean production.

LB 561 will accomplish a long overdue revision to the laws concerning surface irrigation districts. This bill advanced to the second stage of debate. LB 561 will streamline the operation of these water districts and provides voting by mail so they can operate more efficiently and continue to provide the irrigation water that is the life blood of agriculture in the Valley.

In the budget bill, Child Advocacy Centers will receive $500,000 for the next two years. The funding will provide statewide access to services to children who are alleged victims of sexual abuse, or serious physical abuse or neglect, have witnessed violent crime, are found in a drug endangered environment or have been recovered from a kidnapping. Such Centers provide expert forensic interviews to help heal the child and hold perpetrators accountable.

And finally, the provisions of LB 533 are also in the budget package. It will provide funding for the new medical practice simulation center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center with Scottsbluff as its first satellite site.

I introduced LB 512 as a place holder for possible revisions to the current Oil and Gas laws. I introduced this bill in response to concerns about the application for approval of an oil and gas waste water disposal well in Sioux County. The issues were discussed again this week as a part of the confirmation process for the Governor’s new appointment to this Commission. The Confirmation Report was accepted, but with concerns about the Commission’s process for reviewing applications.

It is my position that this pending disposal well proceeding must be done correctly and must consider all of the relevant factors. Because the hearing testimony was conflicting, I have asked for a comprehensive study to be done over the summer involving the public, the Oil and Gas Commission, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Natural Resource Districts. The Natural Resources Committee has the jurisdiction to conduct this study.

Other issues considered this week of interest to the District include:

The increase in the tax on gasoline advanced but faces a promised veto by the Governor. The bill, LB 610, which would raise the gas tax six cents over four years and is billed as a way to generate money for bridge and road work, advanced on a 27-14 vote. Less than two hours later Governor Ricketts formally announced that, if the bill passed, he would veto it. With Monday’s vote, the Legislature avoided one telling test of the measure’s support and whether enough political will would exist to override Ricketts’ veto, if necessary. The bill advanced without the need for a motion to stop debate, or a closure motion, that requires 33 votes. I continue to believe our roads infrastructure needs additional funding, and a majority of the contacts from District constituents support this position.

Criminal justice debate dominated the week. Speaker Hadley scheduled the package of bills intended to address Nebraska’s correctional problems this week. The goal of LB 605 is to start the State down the road to the enhanced use of probation for non-violent offenders.

Despite all work that was done over the summer, criminal prosecutors expressed strong objections to several of the provisions of LB 605, the first bill of the package. The bill advanced, but only after assurances that the remaining issues will be addressed by the parties before the bill is addressed on the second round of debate.

A second bill of the package, LB 598, also was advanced. This bill is intended to address the rules for how and for what reasons prisoners are segregated, established an independent Office of Inspector General and established the process for removing the administration of parole out of the Corrections Department.

The third bill that is being discussed primarily addresses issues concerning what makes a criminal a habitual criminal. LB 173, sponsored by Senator Chambers, also advanced to the second stage of debate. LB173 would amend the “habitual criminal” statute, so it applies only to “violent offenses.” LB173 would also eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence for a habitual criminal enhancement. The minimum penalty would be 10 years, instead of a 10 or 25 year mandatory minimum. The next issue on the agenda will be the debate on the repeal of the death penalty.

As always I would appreciate any thoughts and inputs. My contact information is: Senator John Stinner, District 48, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509, Phone (402) 471-2802. My email address is jstinner@leg.ne.gov

As a member of the Appropriations Committee every spare minute is consumed with finalizing the Appropriations bills for the next biennium. The tough decisions on state spending are in the process of being made.

Dry bean promotion and research funding increase bill passes. The Legislature passed on a vote of 46 to 1, LB 242 which increases the funding for the Dry Bean Commission. The bill awaits the Governor’s signature. The mission of the Commission is to promote, educate and conduct research to improve the profitability of the production of dry edible beans.

After all of the debate on General File, it was humbling to see the bill pass with such support. Dry Beans are a critical part of the Valley’s agricultural economy. The additional funding will restore the erosion of the purchasing power for promotion and research caused by inflation. The Commission can continue to promote the consumption of beans that are high in protein and fiber. The increase in the assessment will be effective August 1, 2015.

Angel Tax Credit bill advances. The Legislature advanced LB 156 to the second round of debate with no objections. LB 156 is a bill that I introduced and that provides additional funding for tax credits. Senator Hilkemann has made this bill a priority so that it could be considered.

The available tax credits were gone by mid-July in 2012, mid-April in 2013, and January 1 the past two years. The demand clearly exceeds the available credits.

The Angel Investment Tax Credit was part of a package passed in 2011 to expand the tools available to the state in promoting development and investment in high-growth companies, particularly in the technology sector. The initial proposal included $5 million annually for the credit, but budget constraints led the Legislature to reduce the amount to $3 million per year.

As introduced, LB 156 would raise the credit by $2 million annually to the original proposed level of $5 million. However, the Legislature’s Revenue Committee reduced the proposed increase to $1 million, or a total of $4 million per year.

Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, Revenue Committee Chair, acknowledged the demand,
“The credit has been ‘sold out’ every year,” he said. “The committee wants to see how we do with an additional million. If the demand is there we can consider raising it again.”

In order to improve the information available to evaluate the program in 2019, an amendment was adopted to improve the information that must be provided by recipients of the funds.

What would the gas tax increase mean for funding Nebraska’s roads? LB 610 would increase the fixed motor fuels tax rate by 1.5 cents every year for four years for a total of six cents. Here are the details of the bill:

Of the two components of the fixed rate, the portion allocated to the Nebraska Department of Roads would increase ½ cent every year, from 7.5 cents to 9.5 cents for 4 years. The portion that is allocated to cities and counties would increase one cent every year from 2.8 cents to 6.8 cents over 4 years. Beginning January 2019, the total fixed rate motor fuels tax would be 16.3 cents per gallon.

This bill advanced on a vote of 26 yes, 10 no and 8 Senators not voting. LB 610 will need 30 votes to override a veto promised by Governor Ricketts. At this point I have received more support for this tax increase from the people of District 48 than I expected. Consistent with this support, I am supporting the bill. This should be an effective mechanism to improve our infrastructure, cap and eventually lower property taxes.

As always I would appreciate any thoughts and inputs. My contact information is: Senator John Stinner, District 48, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509, Phone (402) 471-2802. My email address is jstinner@leg.ne.gov

The Legislature is coming to Scottsbluff for your participation. You are invited to hear and provide testimony about LB 512. This is the bill introduced in response to citizen concerns about the application before the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission to allow the disposal of waste water and fracking water from Colorado and Wyoming in a dry well in Nebraska. By using technology, the Legislature is making the public hearing accessible to people in western Nebraska.

LB 512 provides for a fee of 20 cents per barrel to be imposed on all “produced water” from outside our borders. The fee will be primarily utilized to monitor wells and to repair our roads. However, your testimony is needed as to the need to provide additional statutory tools, overall concerns for water quality or additional funding to the Oil and Gas Commission to regulate saline water and fracking water that is produced in the oil and gas extraction process. You can be a part of the legislative process.

The interactive video connection to the public hearing in Lincoln for public input will be available on March 11, 2015, starting at 12:30 p.m. Mountain Time, at the Educational Service Unit Number 13, at 4215 Avenue I, Conference Room C in Scottsbluff. You will be given the opportunity to provide information in support of additional regulation or taxation, in opposition to additional action, and in a neutral capacity to provide background information.

If a large number of testifiers are present, testimony of each person may be limited to three minutes. If you do not wish to testify but have a position, a sign-in sheet will be available to express your position.

I look forward to the public’s input and the opportunity to objectively look at the facts before taking any action, if necessary. I want to thank everyone for taking the time to assist us, as legislators, to make informed decisions. If you wish to see and listen to the testimony in your own home, you may do so on the Legislature’s web site by video streaming. The web address is nebraskalegislature.gov. A copy of the draft bill is available on this same site.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, in the afternoons, my fellow members and I are in the process of public hearings on the State’s $8.7 billion preliminary budget. During these hearings, the Committee gathers information, agencies defend their proposed budgets and answer questions. The Committee will also listen to testimony on appropriations bills introduced the first 10 days of the session. The Committee’s preliminary budget mirrors the Governor’s budget request except for the following:

The Governor requested $60 million be added each year to the state’s property tax credit relief fund for a total of $400 million for two years. The Committee agreed to increase the fund by $45 million for each year.

The Committee used some of the funds in the state’s cash reserve fund, or rainy day fund, for onetime items. It proposed using $5.4 million for the Republican River lawsuit settlement and $17 million in federal fines levied on the Department of Health and Human Services over several years of improperly claimed federal funds.

The Committee is recommending spending more than the Governor proposed on such items as state aid to schools, public assistance, and state employees’ salaries. It did not recommend funding the use of county jails to house the state’s excess of prison inmates, and proposed less for Medicaid, mostly for lower Hepatitis C treatment costs.

Another key difference includes a $14 million addition to fund juvenile justice issues, which the
Governor failed to fully fund, and a recommendation for more programming and mental health treatment for prison inmates. The proposed general fund spending represents a 3.2 percent increase during the 2015-17 fiscal years, which is $31.85 million more than the Governor’s proposed total spending of over $8.7 billion.

The Revenue Forecasting Board met on February 27 and made a relatively small downward adjustment of $9.7 million for the next two years to the projected revenues for the next year. The reduction puts the projections in line with the historical average growth of revenues. The projections made by this Committee at their next meeting in April will be used as the final ones for the next two year budget.

As always I would appreciate any thoughts and inputs you might have bills before the Legislature. My contact information is: Senator John Stinner, District 48, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, Phone (402) 471-2802. My email address is jstinner@leg.ne.gov

Sen. John Stinner

District 48
Room #1406
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2802
Email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov
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