Welcome

January 7th, 2015

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

Legislative Bill Summary for 2015

June 26th, 2015

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.

News from Lincoln: Working Through the Final 25 Days of the Legislative Session

June 19th, 2015

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

From Lincoln: Putting the Final Touches on the Budget for the State of Nebraska

June 19th, 2015

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

Legislative Update: The Legislature is Coming to Scottsbluff

June 19th, 2015

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

Legislative Review: Governor Appoints Corrections Director

June 19th, 2015

The Governor has appointed Scott Frakes as the new Director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections. Frakes comes to Nebraska with 32 years of experience in the State of Washington. The Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations Committee of the Legislature are eager to work with him to address Nebraska’s prison problems and overcrowding. The Legislature’s number one and primary objective is to keep the public safe.

This week Director Frakes appeared before the Appropriations Committee to discuss his budget and to begin a conversation on what needs to be done. He has only been on the job for about three weeks so it is too early for him to have a long term plan. It was not hard to identify the systems biggest problem.

The Diagnostic Center facility is over 300 percent of capacity. He stated that other issues he had discovered in his first three weeks are: deferred maintenance, staffing stripped to the bone, prison capacity at all facilities stretched to the limit, and a long list of program needs.

The preliminary budget includes an additional $20 million of new funding to help him to succeed in his new job. He will need it as Nebraska’s corrections system has real systemic problems.

Reported crime and arrests have declined between 2004 and 2013, but prison admissions increased and are now outpacing releases. If this growth continues unchecked, prisons will become even more crowded, swelling from 159 percent of capacity as of 12-31-2014 to a projected 170 percent of capacity by FY2020. To build a new 1,100 bed prison, the cost is estimated to be $262 million plus operating expenses. Even with this additional prison, the system would be at an estimated 128 percent of capacity.

Last year, Governor Heineman, Chief Justice Heavican and the Speaker of the Legislature, Senator Greg Adams, commissioned a study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The study offers hope by using a data-driven “justice reinvestment” approach to help the state.

The full report can be found at csgjusticecenter.org/jr/nebraska/publications/justice-reinvestment-in-nebraska-analysis-and-policy-framework/ but the following are the primary challenges the system faces: Nebraska’s overcrowded prisons house a large number of people convicted of non-violent, low-level offenses who might be placed in other settings, Nebraska’s felony sentencing system fails to ensure that people sentenced to prison receive post-release supervision or pay victim restitution, and; Nebraska’s parole supervision system lacks the resources necessary to handle a growing parole population, and not fully adopted evidence-based practices, and is not positioned to respond effectively to parole violations.

The Legislature has developed a package of up to 10 bills that respond to the CSG’s Justice Center Report. Four bills have already been considered, which are:

Under LB 598, by Senator Schumacher, the Department of Corrections would be given a time period to conduct public hearings to develop regulations for the imposition of solitary confinement. The rules would guide the level of confinement, conditions, behaviors and mental health status of inmates. This is to address the problem of overuse of solitary confinement, particularly for patients with a mental illness.

LB 592, by Senator Bolz, would improve access to mental health treatment for inmates and improve tracking and evaluation of those determined to be mentally ill and dangerous.

LB 606, by Senator Mello, would create an office of inspector general for the Department of Corrections and would require the Governor to declare an emergency when the prison population reaches 140 percent of capacity. Current law does not require the declaration of an emergency.

LB 605 would adjust sentencing structures to reduce the prison population.

In the afternoons, the Judiciary Committee will continue public hearings on the other bills that would implement the recommendations of this Report.

This week the Appropriations Committee begins its long process of public hearings on the preliminary budget it has crafted for the next two years. You may view these hearings on the Legislature’s web site, nebraskalegislature.gov by video streaming.

As always I would appreciate any thoughts and inputs you might have on correcting Nebraska’s corrections problems and the budget. 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.

Legislative Review: Reducing the tax burden across Nebraska

June 19th, 2015

During my campaign for Legislature, a primary concern expressed by voters of District 48 was the overwhelming burden presented by property taxes. According to an article printed on January 26 in the Omaha World Herald, Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have seen property taxes increase by 162 percent over the past decade, with businesses and homeowners seeing an increase of 40 percent.

This session, there have been several bills proposed and referred to the Legislature’s Revenue Committee with the objective of reducing the tax burden across Nebraska. Some of the highlights of the legislation introduced with the aim of reducing property taxes include:

LB 350, introduced by Sen. Lydia Brasch, reduces the assessed value of Ag land from 75 percent to 65 percent for all tax purposes. LB 351, also introduced by Sen. Brasch, reestablishes the intended level of income tax funding to the state education aid formula.

LB 178, introduced by Sen. Dan Watermeier, would gradually reduce the valuation of agricultural land from 75 percent to 55 percent of its actual value for the sole purpose of K-12 school district taxation.

LB 280, introduced by Sen. Al Davis, creates a local income tax tied to a reduction in property taxes, reduces agricultural land valuation from 75 percent to 65 percent for K-12 education funding, and establishes a per-pupil amount to go to every district to restore aid to the 159 school districts that have lost equalization funding.

LB 186, introduced by Sen. Boltz, creates the Property Tax Circuit Breaker Act, and provides for a refundable income tax credit available to Nebraska residential property owners and renters based upon income. Under this plan, low income taxpayers get the most property tax relief. LB 186 is estimated to cost $206 million the first year and up to $215 million in three years.

Governor Ricketts weighed in on the discussions in his proposed budget. His top priority is an increase of $60 million per year in state finance direct property tax relief. This is a 43 percent increase. This addition results in $200 million in total property tax relief per year. The Governor also supports a reduction in the assessed valuation of ag land for taxation purposes from 75 percent of actual value to 65 percent of actual value. His budget allocates $9.5 million for the first year and anticipated increases by allocating $19 million and $30 million in the next two years. His tax relief credit depends on the amount of property tax paid. The more you pay, the bigger the credit on your property tax statement next year.

LB 633 is a bill that I introduced to address property tax relief. State government shares some of the blame for increasing property taxes and for cuts to local services. State aid was given to replace the personal property tax base lost to municipalities and counties by tax exemptions given by the State. The State did not keep its side of the bargain. In order to balance the State’s budget, aid to counties and cities has been reduced from $17.9 million in 1991 to $0 in 2010. The Municipal Infrastructure Redevelopment Fund was reduced for $4.5 million in 1989 to $0 in 2009. Both municipalities and county government had to either cut services or raise taxes to fund core services. In the meantime, the infrastructure in our cities and counties now desperately needs repair and replacement.

What LB 633 would do is appropriate $20 million per year to both municipalities and the counties to repair and replace infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. Without infrastructure we cannot expect to reduce property taxes or to develop the State’s economy. State aid is a way to shift from property taxes to the state’s tax base of sales and income taxes. I believe we must discuss this option in all fairness to municipalities and counties.

I need your help by providing your thoughts. What do you think of these options for property tax relief? My contact information is: Senator John Stinner, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509, Phone (402) 471-2802. My email address is jstinner@leg.ne.gov

I invite your participation and welcome your views.

Your District 48: Let the Session Begin

June 19th, 2015

As your newly elected Senator, it is an honor to represent the people of the 48th District in the Nebraska Legislature. It is my intention to serve you, the people of Scotts Bluff County, to the best of my ability as your representative in Lincoln.

The first day of the Legislature was packed with pomp and ceremony followed by the critical organizational decisions. Elections for key leadership positions were held and members were assigned to committees for the next two years. On the second day, the constitutional officers were sworn into office and our new Governor, Pete Ricketts, presented his message focusing on property tax reduction and economic development.

The Legislature’s Committee on Committees has assigned me to the Appropriations Committee. Members of the Appropriations Committee cannot serve on other committees because of the time commitment involved to review the state’s budget in detail. The Appropriations Committee conducts business daily until March and repeatedly deliberates the budget into the evenings to make its deadline. As a retired Certified Public Accountant and financial manager, I hope to use my skills and experience to help craft the state’s budget.

This year the Appropriations Committee faces the formidable task of reviewing substantial requests for additional funding such as: The Omaha Public School District is requesting another $20 million to eliminate the Metro Omaha learning community; the University of Nebraska is requesting another $28 million; and the Prison and Correction System is requiring at least $33 million to address overcrowding.

In addition, my goal is to be involved in all issues that would impact on the people of District 48. I need your help to provide your thoughts. Your input is very important to me. I will be voting on the controversial issues such as taxes, spending for the education of our children, and spending on services provided by the State. Perhaps the biggest issues of the year that must be addressed are new programs that allow the release of convicts to reduce prison overcrowding.

Your positions are very important to me. My contact information is: Senator John Stinner, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, Nebraska 68509, Phone (402) 471-2802. My email address is jstinner@leg.ne.gov.

My staff will help you. In order to help me, I have hired two experienced staff members: Jennifer Svehla is my administrative aide. Jennifer served in this role for former Senator John Harms. Jennifer is the key person to contact about my schedule. Roger Keetle is my legislative aide. Roger has served as a legislative aide for former Senators Joel Johnson and John Wightman. Senator Wightman left the legislature because of term limits. Roger’s duties include helping constituents with issues or problems they are having with state government.

You have a voice. Everybody’s opinion is invited and welcome. People often stop themselves from speaking about issues that matter to them because they think no one will listen or care. Nothing could be further from the truth. I care about what you think. It is my job.

You are a most influential “lobbyist.” When people hear the word “lobbyist,” they think of someone lurking in the Capitol’s hallways and rotunda representing rich corporations. However, nearly every public official will tell you that it is individual voters, their constituents, who have the most influence on decision making process. Every issue that comes before the Legislature is discussed on its merits by people representing may different points of view. For our representative democracy to succeed, while preserving our personal freedoms, we must each participate as fully as we can.

You can participate. Educate yourself about what your Legislature is doing. You can follow the Nebraska Legislature on the Nebraska Educational Network—NET 2, and even more information is found on the Nebraska Legislature’s web site Nebraskalegislature.gov. This web site has copies of all the introduced bills, the public hearing dates on all bills, and the agenda for floor debate, etc. Nebraska Public Television also video streams over the web committee hearings and the debate of bills on the Legislative Floor. Actions of the Nebraska Legislature are public and open to everyone across the State. I invite your participation and welcome your views.