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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.
Sen. John Stinner
Now that all day public hearings have completed, the Legislature has moved on to all day debate on legislation. In addition to the Legislature’s work considering legislative proposals, the Appropriations Committee is finalizing its budget proposal as we prepare to present it to the full Legislature.
This has certainly been an unprecedented time for the Committee, with many challenges we haven’t seen before. First and foremost on everyone’s mind is how we have adjusted to the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March of last year, the Legislature passed emergency funding to secure supplies and other resources for healthcare providers. Since then, we have gone from concerns of a 10% revenue shortfall to a $500 million surplus, due in large part to federal relief and stimulus funds throughout the course of the pandemic.
Some of the major budget priorities being considered include an increase in property tax credits by $574 million, setting aside $115 million in funding for the Governor’s plan to build a new prison, and building up our Rainy Day Fund by $100 million to a total of $763 million, or 14.2% or state revenue. In addition, the Committee has made $210 million available “on the floor” to be used for other legislative proposals outside of the budget.
In addition to my work on the budget, there were 6 bills that I introduced which were referenced to the Committee and amended into the budget for the Legislature’s consideration.
LB141 appropriates $7.5 million to the Nebraska Arts Council as matching funds to assist in renovation of the Museum of Nebraska Art Collection at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. This would include existing and additional gallery space for the museum.
LB142 increases the appropriation to the Nebraska Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund by $500 thousand annually until 2030 to provide a sustainable and robust endowment. The Cultural Endowment was created to support the arts and humanities in Nebraska, and has shown incredible success in its ability to leverage private donations for the arts.
LB264 provides $100 thousand in funding for a competitive grant program established last year to award grants to certified cultural districts. These districts are based on a geographical area and feature artistic or cultural activities to promote various communities across Nebraska.
LB342 provides $2.5 million annually to the Sixpence Fund to make more widely available quality early childhood care for Nebraska’s at risk infants and toddlers. The Sixpence Fund was established as a public-private framework to provide funding for high-quality early childhood programs, specifically for developmental interventions.
LB421, as amended into the budget proposal, provides $1.5 million annually in funding for student loan repayment of rural health professionals. The legislation will help to shore up the waitlist for a state program that assists in student loan repayment for health professionals who make a commitment to remain in state-designated shortage areas. This is part of an effort to attract and retain health professionals for our rural areas of the state.
LB588 extends existing appropriations for deferred maintenance under facilities programs for the University of Nebraska and State Colleges. It increases the appropriation to the University’s program by $2.5 million and requires a 2% contribution of expended funds in the program to establish a revolving facility maintenance fund. This will put the University on a path to self-sustainability.
I also have two other bills outside of the Appropriations Committee which have advanced from their respective committees to the floor of the Legislature for debate.
LB59, advanced with wide agreement, authorizes the Nebraska Tourism Commission to enter into agreements with retailers to sell the Commission’s merchandise. This legislation will be important to marketing Nebraska as a tourism destination, especially after a tough year for the industry during the pandemic. I have requested a “consent agenda” designation from the Speaker of the Legislature to fast-track it to consideration on the floor.
LB592 allows the Western Nebraska Veterans’ Home, located in Scottsbluff, to utilize automated medication distribution machines to dispense medications to residents in its assisted living facility. This will improve the facility’s efficiency and reduce human error. The bill was advanced with wide support as well and is being considered for the Speaker’s “consent agenda” designation.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.
A lot has happened since adjournment of the legislative session last year, especially with the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of health and safety concerns, the Legislature has adjusted to new protocols in response. I am confident that we can continue to conduct our business while keeping all involved safe and healthy.
It was reported in late January that I was among those being quarantined after the Appropriations Committee was exposed to a positive COVID-19 test. Everyone on the committee safely completed quarantine without any symptoms and continued our work conducting public hearings, beginning with the Governor’s budget proposal on Friday.
As part of the effort to slow the spread of the virus, the Legislature is conducting all-day committee hearings through Mar. 12. In normal times, the Legislature would be gathered on the floor of the Legislature in the mornings to debate legislation. This will help to minimize such gatherings while the pandemic is projected to be at a peak.
We’ve also implemented a number of other safety measures, such as restricting access to the Norris Legislative Chamber, temperature checks, free testing for Senators and legislative staff, social distancing measures, installment of plexiglass barriers, and additional cleaning procedures. The Legislature has also expanded our offerings for public input on legislation to reduce contact, as detailed on the Legislature’s website.
My top priority this session will be passing the state’s biennium budget. In January, Governor Ricketts announced his proposed two-year $9.6 billion budget for the State. Many of his priorities include controlling state and local spending, property tax relief, veterans’ tax relief, expansion of broadband connectivity for rural Nebraska, investment in a new prison, and many other priorities such as an increase in school funding.
This year I have introduced 13 bills, 10 of which were referenced to Appropriations.
The first bill I introduced was LB59, which would authorize the Nebraska Tourism Commission to enter into agreements with retailers to sell the Commission’s merchandise. This is part of an ongoing effort to expand Nebraska’s tourism industry after the 2018 announcement of the “Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone” campaign. A marked increase in demand for the Commission’s merchandise has led to the need for a wider distribution network, which is what LB59 would enable. The public hearing was on Feb. 3.
Another bill I introduced is LB392, which would enact the Prescribing Psychologist Practice Act. This is a continuation of my efforts from last year to allow psychologists to prescribe psychotropic medication under a rigorous education and training program.
The pandemic has worsened an already prevalent mental health crisis in America, with 40% of adults reporting a struggle with mental health or substance abuse, according to a CDC report. Couple this with a behavioral and mental health workforce shortage experienced in rural Nebraska, and the need for this legislation becomes primary.
Prior to the pandemic, 88 out of 93 counties were considered a federally designated mental health profession shortage area, including Scotts Bluff County. This includes psychiatrists, where the Panhandle has lost three psychiatrists since 2010.
Last year, I was able to receive input during the hearing process, and have included accountability improvements to ensure participating psychologists are properly supervised and liability protections ensured for collaborating physicians.
I have also introduced LB592, which would allow certain assisted-living facilities to utilize automated medication distribution machines to dispense medications to residents. This will help assisted-living facilities reduce human error in essential medications for residents. The public hearing was on Feb. 5.
I look forward to the coming months as the Legislature considers the priorities important to the state and to Scotts Bluff County and the Panhandle.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is: Senator John P. Stinner, District 48 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2802; email: email@example.com.
The 106th Nebraska Legislative Session commenced on January 8th. This session is referred to as the ‘short session’ because it is only 60 days long. Even though it is only 60 days, nearly 500 bills have been introduced. They will all be given a hearing as required by law.
The session will be dominated by two major pieces of legislation. First, the Revenue Committee has worked diligently on proposing a major property tax relief bill which provides for approximately $500 million over three years. This is in addition to the $275 million already in the property tax relief fund. This bill (LB 974) was given a hearing by the Revenue Committee on January 22. In short, the bill would provide a dollar-for-dollar reduction in K-12 property taxes with state aid.
The second major piece of legislation is LB 720 which is the state’s major incentive program bill to replace our current business incentive package which sunsets this year. I believe our state would be severely diminished in its ability to attract and retain businesses to Nebraska without passage of this bill. Senator Mark Kolterman has done a wonderful job crafting this bill by consulting the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and many other organizations that have helped create this package. I expect both LB 974 and LB 720 to be up for debate very soon.
There are several other issues facing us this session; however, there is good news: December receipts were well over the certified forecast and currently stands at $178 million. These funds are scheduled by law to go into the Rainy Day Fund. This should bring the fund to over $500 million which is the minimum reserve our state needs to maintain.
The Governor released his Mid-Biennium Budget Recommendations last week. I first want to personally thank the Governor for including $3.8 million to help assist in the temporary repair of the tunnels that collapsed as a part of the Ft. Laramie canal failure this past summer. This irrigation failure affected thousands of acres in Scotts Bluff County. Other priorities include $53 million for disaster relief in response to last year’s flooding and $9.2 million to help counties to cover additional costs associated with the floods. The Governor also recommended up to $16 million towards workforce development.
As you may remember, the Legislature passed a Biennial Budget last year that would fund the Nebraska government from July 1st, 2019 until June 30th, 2021. But over time, agencies’ financial needs may change, and the state’s collected revenue may be more or less than the Economic Forecasting Board previously predicted. Those predictions are what shaped the Biennial Budget. Now, in the so-called ‘off-year,’ the Legislature must adjust the original budget to fit these changes. In effect, if the original budget was a four-story building on 20th and Broadway, the Mid-Biennial Budget is a remodel of the fourth floor – and perhaps an additional fifth floor.
The Governor’s recommendation is the first step in the budget process for a ‘short session.’ Next, the Appropriations Committee – of which I am honored to serve as Chairman – will meet this week to discuss the Governor’s recommendations, look over adjustment requests from agencies and come up with suggestions for what to do with any surplus revenue.
Then, the Committee will hold hearings; first, to hear the Governor’s budget recommendations, then to hear the agencies’ requests for changes to their original appropriations from the original budget. After that, the Committee will meet again multiple times to decide what recommendations will be made to the full Legislature. The deadline for the Committee to put any new budget bill onto General File is the 40th legislative day – or, March 12th. Just as we did last year, the bill(s) will then require passage on General File, Select File and Final Reading (the three-step process used for every piece of legislation in the Unicameral). After passage on Final Reading, the only remaining step is the Governor’s signature.
I will be carrying several pieces of legislation, and you may have already heard about a few of them. I will detail these in my next letter. Until then, if you have any questions, concerns or comments, you are welcome to email me or call my office at (402) 471-2802.
Fall is nearly here and with that comes cooler weather, turning leaves, Husker football, and – for senators – public hearings on interim studies and legislative resolutions. The Nebraska Health Care Cash Fund, rate increases for behavioral health providers and funding options for global water management research by the University of Nebraska are just some of the topics the Appropriations Committee will study this fall.
These hearings are not always for specific pieces of legislation. Instead, they are meant to create a better understanding of certain topics that senators feel the need to address. These studies may be a key part of new legislation introduced next session. While other committees are already underway with hearings, the Appropriations Committee began hearings on September 20th.
One of those interim study resolutions is LR210. This is meant to analyze the programs and agencies involved in addressing workforce and talent shortages across the state. Hopefully, the study will help the committee come up with better options to help us fill vacant positions all across our state. The hearing will take place on Friday, September 27.
A key part of this workforce shortage is housing. As I addressed in my last article, job-seekers should know that they have housing available when they search for employment in Nebraska.
Lack of affordable housing is hurting Nebraska’s chances of filling jobs in both large and small communities. On the urban side, the Omaha World Herald found that mortgage payments in Omaha “ha(ve) increased 23 percent” since 2011 on a four-bedroom, 2,400 sq. ft. home. Newer two-bedroom apartment units have risen in cost by an average of 61%.
On the rural side, openings for workers and houses to put them in is at a high disparity. In Hastings for example, a workforce study showed over 500 job openings… but only 30 houses available on the market. This issue affects both urban and rural districts, so every senator in the Legislature has a stake in solving this issue.
Why are prices higher? For many communities in Nebraska, it’s because these towns and villages are so far away from construction hubs. Equipment (and labor) must be shipped in from a distance, and that costs money. Additionally, many of these projects are not done in bulk, making equipment even more expensive at a per-unit basis.
Nebraska has attempted to help in the past, and it has helped to an extent. The Legislature passed LB 518 in 2018 which provides $7.3 million in grants to nonprofit development organizations to build housing in rural communities with a proven need. These grants must be matched at a 1:1 ratio. An update in the Columbus Telegram nearly a year ago pointed out that it helped Columbus increase its new build rate by 350%. Additionally, I was pleased to see my bill, LB 496, passed in 2018. This bill amended the definition of ‘redevelopment plan’ to include projects that increase available workforce housing. Those projects now have a path to become eligible for tax increment financing.
While LR210 will help us define even more options, I believe that we have two immediate, tangible items we can pass to bring workers into these communities. The first is LB720, also known as the ImagiNE Act. This is something I will discuss in further detail in my next article. But the second option before us in the next session is LB 424 – colloquially known as the Land Bank Bill.
The Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act was created in 2013 to allow municipalities in Douglas or Sarpy County (containing the cities of Omaha and Bellevue) to create a Land Bank. These banks are independent entities (either government or non-profit) that help transform dilapidated or abandoned properties. LB 424 (introduced by Senator Quick) would allow every municipality that opportunity. This bill remains on General File after failing to invoke cloture.
I’ve gone into this bill in further detail in a previous article, and the irony in our current situation is that rural areas would seem to need this tool as much (if not more) as Douglas and Sarpy Counties. This bill could be a mechanism not just to restore housing physically, but restore them to the tax rolls and add workforce housing to the communities that need it most.
As the summer months continue, the Legislature is gearing up for what will most likely be an intense 2020 session. We will be addressing topics ranging from redistricting to comprehensive property tax reform to economic incentives. I plan to extensively research these issues for next session.
While the national economy is strong and unemployment low, there are still issues facing our state. Even though Nebraska has won three Governor’s Cups in a row for economic development, maintaining that development depends heavily on replacing the Advantage Act, which took effect in 2006. The Advantage Act was a system of business incentives to make Nebraska competitive with neighboring states and fight “brain drain.”
One of Nebraska’s biggest issues economically is the ability to keep entrepreneurs from leaving the state for other jobs and homes elsewhere. This happens in two stages – first, some of our best students forego an education at one of Nebraska’s institutions. Second, many of those who do get an education at schools like Wayne State or the University of Nebraska at Lincoln leave the state after graduation to take jobs elsewhere, like those in high-skill, high-demand, high-wage jobs, also dubbed “H3” jobs. This is called “brain drain” – when Nebraska’s best talent leaves for other states.
The effect of the brain drain on Nebraska is very real. The State’s Department of Labor projects over 34,000 openings in these H3 occupations every year through 2026. In Scotts Bluff County, for instance, this means annual openings to the tune of 125 in accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, or 100 for K-12 educators. Outside of my own county, 13 of Nebraska’s 93 counties don’t have a primary care physician. Former University President Hank Bounds said once that in his talks with a Scottsbluff hospital administrator, the administrator wouldn’t hesitate to hire 50 more nurses if the candidates were there.
In comparison to other states in the nation, University of Nebraska Omaha demographer David Drozd cites Nebraska as the 10th worst state in retaining people 25 and older that have at least a bachelor’s degree from 2012 to 2016, according to an Omaha World Herald article in April 2018. These numbers were based on U.S. Census Bureau numbers. According to Drozd, that comes out to 20,000 people lost to other states every decade.
During the 106th Nebraska Legislature session, I introduced LB639 to help bring the workforce back and to spark a discussion about how to address our workforce shortage. This bill would have provided government scholarships (matched by private companies) for students that took an internship and stayed to go to school in the State. It’s also vital to support our state university whenever possible – a recent study made public in May valued the University of Nebraska’s impact on the state economy at $4.5 billion. Without that support, we could see damage, like that happening in Alaska – costing Nebraska jobs and opportunities.
The solution comes in three parts. First of all, H3 jobs have to be available in Nebraska for students to take. A 2016 Brookings Institution study stated Nebraska ranked 40th in the country for occupations in heavy reliance of research, development or STEM fields. Without these ‘advanced industries,’ our financial health as a state can be undermined by unhealthy surpluses in low-paying jobs. Nebraska has already made slight progress by encouraging companies like Facebook to establish centers here, but we must also find a way to make sure our rural communities share in the successes.
Secondly, students should be shown why staying in Nebraska is an appealing option.
The Nebraska Tourism Commission has done a great job of this in the past few years by using ingenious marketing tools and slogans. If potential workforce members can appreciate our ‘hidden gems’ such as the Haymarket and Old Market in Lincoln and Omaha respectively, our growing sports and entertainment scene, natural treasures like the Sand Hills, and the state’s central location to the rest of the contiguous United States, they will be more willing to stay.
Finally, job-seekers need to be reassured that there is affordable housing available – which will be the topic of my piece next time.
A final note: many people in my district have been impacted severely by an irrigation canal failure in Wyoming just over one week ago. This is a big event, and it will have a major economic impact to many people in the agriculture field this year. There are many people across both states working this issue quickly and resiliently. My staff and I have been a part of numerous conference calls discussing the developments with all involved, and a staff member also virtually attended a Wednesday meeting for the affected constituency by video-conference. While temporary solutions are being implemented, this problem could warrant a further look when next the Legislature convenes. I encourage anyone affected by this to visit this website for anything they may need – from attorneys to behavioral health professionals and others.
The first session of the 106th Nebraska Legislature has come to a close, and senators are reflecting on what we’ve accomplished and what is still on the table for next year. After Speaker Scheer made the decision to end session early, the Legislature adjourned on May 31 after wrapping up a few more loose ends.
Personally, I was proud to see seven of my own bills signed into law over the course of the past few months. Furthermore, language from three more bills I introduced were included as part of the Biennium budget that was signed by the Governor in May.
One of my bills signed by the Governor was LB 52 which would require state agencies to remit all public and special purpose funds to the state treasurer so that those funds can be entered into the state accounting system. Last summer, an audit was released detailing a state agency’s bank account outside the state accounting system. In response, this law demands more transparency and accountability. Another of my bills, LB 637, allowed the sale of tourism promotional products by the Nebraska Tourism Commission. This helps the Tourism Commission take advantage of nationwide attention surrounding the motto, “Nebraska: honestly, it’s not for everyone.” The body also passed LB 638 which added another way for the state to put more money into the Cash Reserve Fund – or the “Rainy Day Fund.” Refilling the depleted fund continues to be a priority of mine. The Governor has also signed LB 48 and LB 49.
While three of my bills never advanced in their original form, language from these proposals (LB 403, LB 404 and LB 562) were adopted in the state budget. For example, LB 404 requires the Appropriations Committee to specifically divide the Department of Health and Human Services’ appropriation between Medicaid expansion, Medicaid long-term care and other medical assistance. In other words, this requires transparency by revealing how much the Department will spend on long-term care. Meanwhile, the expansion of state-provided Medicaid services approved by voters in the 2018 election will take place in October of 2020.
This language – an important step to see exactly how much money is going towards provider rates – was signed into law with the budget on May 27. In regards to the whole budget, the Omaha World Herald declared the Appropriations Committee one of the ‘winners’ of the 2019 session. We are very proud of all the hard work put in to this budget by the Fiscal Office, the Governor’s Budget Division, and all the senators and staff of the Committee.
While we are proud of these accomplishments, we left a few things on the table, such as Senator Mark Kolterman’s bill, LB 720 (also known as the ImagiNE Act). This economic incentive program would replace the Nebraska Advantage Act which is set to expire next year. Our state needs an updated program to compete with other states, and LB 720 would be a marked improvement on our current program. Senator Kolterman did a fine job of consulting with several organizations in the making of this bill, including the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce. The body has the option to address this again next year.
Another piece of legislation left behind was LB 424 by Senator Dan Quick. This bill would allow municipalities or regions to create land banks of their own. Currently, only Sarpy and Douglas counties have this ability. This is essential for rural communities like my home county of Scotts Bluff, because it addresses the workforce housing shortage not only in my community, but others like it. This bill may return in a different form next year as well.
One of this year’s major unaddressed policy topics was comprehensive property tax reform. We did pass meaningful relief by adding $102 million to the property tax relief fund which raised the total of that fund to $275 million a year. However, a comprehensive solution is still needed in order to help farmers in rural areas who are struggling to pay the bills. This is something that should be addressed as soon as the next session begins.
As the session comes to a close, my office will begin looking at issues that impact constituents and looking for solutions. If you have any ideas relating to policy or potential legislation, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at (402) 471-2802.
We are three quarters of the way through this year’s Legislative Session. There are several big issues still to be discussed on the floor, such as Medicaid reimbursement rates in long-term care facilities, property tax relief, and of course the budget (the Appropriations Committee draft of the budget will be released onto General File this week to be debated by the full Legislature).
Much of my time is spent in the Appropriations Committee, but I want to give one more update on some of my priority legislation. One of those priorities is my personal priority bill, LB 424. This legislation (introduced by Senator Dan Quick) has to do with land banks.
A land bank is a tool used to develop vacant, blighted, abandoned or tax-delinquent properties. Currently, state law limits the existence of land banks to only two Nebraska counties – Douglas (home to Omaha) and Sarpy. LB 424 would allow municipalities or regions around the state to create a land bank of their own. This combats two problems: abandoned and vacant properties and the workforce housing crisis in rural communities.
This legislation is essential, especially for rural communities like District 48 and the rest of the Panhandle. Many properties have been vacated or abandoned as population migration takes people out of rural communities and into urban areas. Inequitable and inefficient tax foreclosure methods have left behind nuisance properties. These properties can many times be repurposed and rehabilitated into affordable workforce houses.
The state faces a drastic shortage in workforce housing. In a letter to the Urban Affairs Committee, Mayor Kaufman of Gering spoke in favor of LB 424. “Gering,” Kaufman said, “is challenged with dealing with nuisance properties while at the same time encouraged to develop affordable workforce housing.” Gering is a founding member of the Western Nebraska Economic Development – a coalition of 11 municipalities that would directly benefit from the passing of LB424.
As an example, one workforce study in Hastings showed that there were over 500 job openings in the local area, but less than three dozen houses on the market. By teaming up with geographical neighbors to form land banks, Nebraska communities can transform these dilapidated properties into usable real estate. LB 424 is expected to go through changes meant to garner more support for the legislation before it returns to General File for a vote.
As for my own legislation, the Governor signed LB 637 into law last week. This bill would authorize the Nebraska Tourism Commission to sell their promotional products. I was honored to have this bill selected as a Speaker Priority Bill by Speaker Scheer. This guaranteed that the bill would be heard quickly. The bill passed with a yes vote from all 49 senators.
LB 637 was necessary because the Tourism Commission was previously unable to sell or produce merchandise with the State’s new marketing slogan, “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” The Commission can now take full advantage of the increased attention brought to Nebraska as a tourism destination.
In my last newsletter, I mentioned LB 638. This bill (prioritized by the Appropriations Committee) was designed to provide another alternative to increasing the ‘Rainy Day Fund’ – or, the Cash Reserve Fund. In addition to the “forecasting error” method, which requires the State to save any surplus revenue, this bill would establish a 20-year trend line and would have the state pick the larger of the two numbers to put into savings. The other priority bill of the Appropriations Committee was LB 334, which awaits on Select File.
Constituents are more than welcome to contact my office at any time with any questions you may have by calling our office, sending an email or finding us in the Capitol Building. Stay safe, and have a wonderful start to May.
As the weather heats up, so does the pace of the Legislature. We are in the final third of session for the year, and senators are now spending both mornings and afternoons in the George W. Norris chamber debating legislation.
Along with full-day sessions, the Appropriations Committee is wrapping up their work on this biennium’s budget. The deadline for the Committee to submit its budget proposal is May 2 – or, the 70th legislative day. After listening to every Nebraska agency during the public hearing process, this is the time when the Committee meets at least once a day, and sometimes more to hammer out final details. Additionally, they must also decide the fate of dozens of bills that were also heard in hearings. After that is complete, the budget will be introduced to the entire Legislature to be debated and passed.
Of those bills to pass, the Appropriations Committee has prioritized two bills: LB 638 and LB 334. I introduced both of these bills this January.
LB 638 provides another alternative methodology for adding to the ‘Rainy Day Fund,’ or, officially, the Cash Reserve Fund. This is much like an emergency savings account for the state. This law would establish a second methodology for adding to the reserve. The intent of this change is to add a discipline to our state when revenue exceeds our twenty year average trend line. It does not eliminate the current “forecasting error” method but would take the greater of the amounts to the reserve.
Meanwhile, LB 334 is a business incentive bill meant to keep the Business Innovation Act in action. Essentially, the Act was designed to sunset; however, LB 334 would terminate that end date and fund the Act by ending the Angel Investment Tax Credit three years earlier than previously planned.
The Omaha World Herald called the Business Innovation Act “an economic development tool of proven value,” adding that “Lawmakers can strengthen it by passing LB 334.” It’s essential that the state invest in continual economic growth. One of the problems that start-up companies face is a lack of capital to get these businesses off the ground. This bill would help those businesses – especially high-growth businesses such as those in technology. This is a vital long-term goal.
LB 334 passed General File on a 41-0-5 vote on April 9. In light of the recent flood and blizzard damage that the state faces, Senator Lou Ann Linehan and I have come to a compromise, allowing the first year of the repurposed Angel Investment funds to be directed to flood relief.
Finally, I’d like to share a little information about an opportunity for students not only in my district, but all around the state. From June 9 to June 12, the Capitol hosts the Unicameral Youth Legislature. There is no other event like it since Nebraska is the only unicameral government among the United States. Students can take on the role of state lawmakers, sponsor bills, host hearings, and debate legislation.
Not only does the event take place in the unique and historic State Capitol, but senators, staff and lobbyists all pitch in to help run the event and teach youth about the lawmaking process. This event is hosted by the Nebraska State 4-H and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. If anyone is interested but needs financial aid to attend, there are full-admission scholarships and $100 scholarships available. You can find more information by going to the Nebraska Legislature website or by calling the Unicameral Information Office at (402) 471-2420. The deadline to register is May 15.
I want to start by sharing a little bit of information we have about the blizzard that hit Scotts Bluff County earlier this month. Most of the statewide focus has been on the devastating river flooding in eastern and northeastern Nebraska. Early rough estimates put the total damage to Nebraska agriculture and husbandry at nearly one billion dollars, and this has led to President Donald Trump’s approval of Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts’ request for federal emergency aid. But the Nebraska Panhandle suffered its own damages from a blizzard that hit on March 12 as a part of the same storm system.
The blizzard continued through March 13 and 14, and it gave an approximate 16-20 inches of snow according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Regional Coordinator Tim Newman let our office know that those numbers were estimates. Because of wind gusts as high as 89 miles per hour, it was practically impossible to get an accurate measurement of snowfall. The storm forced the closure of many highways in the Panhandle (including Interstate 80), and many were without power temporarily during the storm. More early estimates indicate that the storm caused $300,000 of damages in Scotts Bluff County.
There is never a good time for a storm, but this was especially bad timing for ranchers who were in the middle of calving season and feedlots trying to maintain their livestock. Many of these cattle did not survive the wind, snow and cold. As of March 20, six claims had been filed with the USDA Farm Service Agency in Nebraska. If you are a farmer who has lost livestock as a result of the storm, you have 30 days to report these losses to your FSA county office. This can be as easy as calling in (the Scotts Bluff County office can be reached at 308-632-2195). NEMA tells us that you will not need to submit a count when you first report your claim.
The next concern that NEMA expressed to us was flooding capability. Fortunately, the snow melt is not expected to trigger river flooding; however, there is a slight concern for lowland flooding. Our office is always open to your questions and concerns as the community deals with such a difficult challenge, as is your local NEMA office.
As devastating as the storms were to the state, the Legislature kept moving. On March 20, priority bills were announced on behalf of senators, committees and the Speaker (Senator Jim Scheer of Norfolk). Priority bills are designated in order to inform the Speaker which bills should be treated in a timelier manner for the remainder of the session. Each senator can designate one bill as a personal priority, and committee chairs usually select two bills to designate as their respective committee’s priorities. Finally, each senator sent in requests to the Speaker to deem a bill of his or her choice as a Speaker Priority Bill. Since the Speaker only chose 25 bills as priorities, not all senators’ requests were granted.
My bill, LB 637 (to authorize sales of tourism promotional products by the Nebraska Tourism Commission) was selected as a Speaker Priority Bill. By now, many of you have probably heard of Nebraska’s new tourism slogan – “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” This catchphrase garnered national attention, and hits on the Nebraska Tourism website increased dramatically. Now, the Commission wants to capitalize on its marketing campaign by selling promotional products; however, state statutes don’t currently allow it. This bill would fix that by allowing the Commission not only the flexibility to create different kinds of products, but to continue the momentum that they have in terms of branding our state.
For my personal priority, I selected Senator Dan Quick’s bill, LB 424. This bill would change the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act to allow any municipality to create or join a land bank. As it stands now, only municipalities in Douglas and Sarpy Counties are allowed to create a land bank. This bill passed out of the Urban Affairs Committee on a 5-1 vote, with one present not voting.
Finally, the Appropriations Committee chose LB 334 and LB 638 as our priority bills. These were both introduced by my office. In my next update, I will tell you a little more about the importance of these bills to economic development and the budgeting process.
Until then, stay safe. If you have the time or the money, take the chance to help those in areas affected by the floods or the blizzard. Scotts Bluff, and all of Nebraska, are strong people, and I know we will pull through no matter what is thrown our way.