NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. John Stinner

Sen. John Stinner

District 48

Things in the Legislature have finally began moving along. Since the beginning of session, 678 bills and substantive resolutions have been introduced. To date, 35 bills have been passed by the Legislature. Out of the 678 items being brought to the Legislature, only 5 of them have been brought to a full filibuster.

This session I introduced twelve bills. One of my bills has already been passed and two more sit on the final round, called Final Reading, before being debated. Another of my bills has been amended into one of those on Final Reading making a total of three. I expect to have at least four of my bills passed before the end of session.

The four bills I expect to have passed are LB99, 101, 151, and 222. LB99 is a bill that will require business entities to give notice to their lenders when they convert their form of incorporation. It has already been passed and signed into law by the Governor. LB101 makes the bidding process for the State’s main administrative arm, the Department of Administrative Services, more competitive by putting limitations on contract renewals and extensions. It has been amended into LB151.

LB151 would add oversight measures to state agencies during the auditing process by empowering the State Auditor to conduct post-audit reviews. As mentioned already, it has LB101 amended into it along with three more bills appropriate to the theme of responsible state agency management.

LB222 also follows along the theme of responsible agency management. It has been one of my most anticipated bills of the year. It would restructure the Nebraska Tourism Commission into an 11-district system based on lodging revenues. It would implement oversight measures by requiring the adoption of formal rules, regulations, and would clarify its innovative grant program to promote the tourism industry in Nebraska.

Ever since first arriving to the Legislature in 2015, I have worked hard implementing oversight measures into the Commission to save taxpayer dollars. Many of the issues I witnessed came to a head when its Director was fired last year for misuse of state funds and unethical management behaviors. LB222 is the culmination of those efforts to realign the Commission to its mission and purpose.

As most are likely aware, the biggest discussions this year will be on the state’s budget. We originally faced a $910 million dollar shortfall which was addressed through a deficit budget request early in the session for the end of fiscal year 2016-17. The preliminary budget for the 2017-18 & 2018-19 biennium demonstrates that a $134 million shortfall needs to be addressed with a transfer from the Cash Reserve Fund, or what is known as the “Rainy Day Fund.” The Forecasting Board met in February and increased the revenue shortfall by $153 million, leaving a $287 million shortfall to be resolved.

As the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, it is my responsibility to ensure that the Legislature fulfills its responsibility to balance the state’s budget, as set out in the Nebraska Constitution. There has been much impassioned discussion already on what the state’s priorities should be.  The Appropriations Committee has put in many long days and nights to prepare our proposal before sending it to the Legislature as a whole.

In addition to the $287 million shortfall, we will have to make adjustments as legislation is passed. Any changes in the state’s budget either through additional expenditures or revenue may change the number we have to work with.

In the coming weeks, the Legislature will debate not only the state budget but also a number of tax bills on the revenue side of the ledger and an education bill. Some of those bills that will be discussed are LB409, 461, and 640. LB409 is an education bill by Senator Groene that would adjust the state aid to education formula (TEEOSA) to match the Appropriation Committee’s proposed state aid to public schools. State aid to public schools is our biggest budget item and remains a priority in our proposed budget.

LB461 is a comprehensive tax cut proposal by Senator Smith. Under Senator Smith’s proposal, the top individual and corporate income tax rates would be cut from 6.84% to 5.99%. Currently, this threshold is reached at roughly $30,000 for individuals and $59,000 for married filers. The bill would also cap increases in agricultural land valuation at 3.5% annually. In addition, it would raise the earned income tax credits for low-income taxpayers to 12% of federal earned income tax credits and compress four tax brackets to three, giving middle income taxpayers additional relief.

Lastly, LB640 is a bill introduced by Senator Groene that is intended to address property tax burdens. Under his proposal, $224 million of the property tax credit fund would be added to state aid to school districts with the heaviest reliance on property taxes. Increasing state aid to those schools will ease the pressure put on them to fund their schools through property taxes. In theory, they would lower their property tax levies.

One other bill I have had great interest in comes from Senator Williams. His bill, LB518, would address the rural workforce housing shortage that many communities face, such as those in Scotts Bluff County. Under his proposal, it would create a rural workforce housing grant program with a one-time transfer of $7.3 million to assist in building low and middle-income homes. Smaller communities have a lower supply of housing due to higher costs and less return. This bill will incentivize construction companies to build much needed housing to attract workforce to rural areas.

My bill, LB496, is related to Senator Williams’ bill and would be a great compliment to his legislation. LB496 would allow the construction of workforce housing to be eligible for tax increment financing (TIF) in cities with a population of 100 to 100,000 people. Like LB518, LB496 would address workforce shortages in rural Nebraska by incentivizing investment in housing developments. Without affordable housing, workers are less likely to move to our communities.

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.

 

High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 11th-14th. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.

The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.

State Sen. John Stinner expressed his support for the Unicameral Youth Legislature. “Student engagement in the civic process is an essential part of our government. It is important not only to ‘fill the bench’ with our future leaders, but to give them an opportunity to enjoy an incredibly enlightening experience. The Unicameral Youth Legislature is fun and engaging. I would highly encourage the program for any of those who could benefit from it.”

Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are also available.

The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.

To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-2788. The deadline for registration is May 15.

Mid-Session Updates

March 14th, 2017

The Legislature has now passed a package of bills which have been signed into law by the Governor. This would include LB45: Military Honor License Plates, LB 56: state auditor experience requirements, LB74: population thresholds for annexation and suburban development, LB80: classification of law clerks under county attorneys or public defenders, LB131: requirements for urban growth districts, LB132: updates to provisions relating to improvement districts and extraterritorial zoning jurisdictions, and LB134: updates to regulation of Nebraska’s egg industry. In addition, a number of “revisor” bills which clean up expired statutes were also signed by the Governor.

This list adds to the deficit bill for the fiscal year ending in June, LB22, which was signed into law in February. It also adds to LB119, which delays the certification date for state aid to schools to assist with the budget shortfall.

Since late February, the Appropriations Committee has been conducting public hearings on state agencies’ budget requests, as well as bills brought to the Committee.  Public hearings for the Committee are nearing completion, which should be finished by March 17th.

The Committee then moves to the next stage in the process in late March when it reviews all agency budget requests and begins drafting the budget bills to be advanced to the floor. During this time, adjustments to the Governor’s recommended levels of funding for state agencies will be made and by April 24th it moves to the legislative floor for debate by the body as a whole.

The budget will appear on the floor as a package of bills. These can include the mainline budget, constitutional officers’ salary (i.e. other elected officials and judges), legislators’ salary, cash fund transfers, capital construction projects, and deficit bills for the next biennium. The next biennium will be for the fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The bills which I introduced continue to advance through the process. LB99 has now moved to the second round of debate- Select File. It is a bill that would require business entities to give notice to their lenders when they convert their form of incorporation. LB100 and 101 still sit on the first stage of the process- General File, where most deliberation occurs. LB100 would streamline the standards of proof used by mental health boards when determining the ability of petitioners to buy or possess firearms and LB101 makes the bidding process for the State’s main administrative arm, the Department of Administrative Services, more competitive by putting limitations on contract renewals and extensions.

A few of my other bills have been advanced from their respective committees to General File, including LB151, 222, and 496. LB151 would add oversight measures to state agencies during the auditing process by empowering the State Auditor to conduct post-audit reviews. An amendment was added to the bill by the Government, Veterans and Affairs Committee which would amend numerous other bills into it relating to the State Auditor.

LB222 would implement oversight measures into Nebraska’s Tourism Commission following its recent mismanagement issues last year. LB222 would restructure the Commission’s board, require the adoption of formal rules, regulations, and would clarify its innovative grant program. Senator Clements has officially “prioritized” my bill, which moves it up in the Speaker’s agenda.

LB496 would address workforce shortages in rural Nebraska by incentivizing housing developments to attract workers to those areas. This would apply to all cities in Nebraska with the exception of Lincoln, Omaha, and municipalities with a population smaller than 800 people. Senator Williams has prioritized this bill.

There are still a number of my bills being held in committee which include LB221, 540, and 611. Additionally there are a couple of “shell” bills being held. Shell bills are placeholders which can be used to make adjustments to the budget later on this session. LB221 is a budget bill which would make adjustments to the Water Sustainability Fund for FY2017-18 and 2018-19. LB540 would address Nebraska’s budget deficit by temporarily reducing the “needs based” component of the TEEOSA formula. Lastly LB611 would require state agencies to provide additional information on the Federal funds they receive during the budgeting process. This has been prioritized by my committee.

There are still many challenges that lie ahead before the end of session. The state faces a growing budget shortfall of over $1 billion through the end of fiscal year 2020-21. The Legislature reduced this number by $134 million through the 2016-17 deficit bill, but those cuts were offset by another $153 million reduction in the State’s tax revenues reported at the end of February. Our fiscal situation will force the Appropriations Committee and the Legislature to make a lot of tough decisions to balance its budget. I have prioritized LB233, a bill by Senator Smith that was requested by the Department of Revenue.

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.

 

The last few weeks have been very productive for me and the Appropriations Committee. Since day one, my priority has been the completion of Nebraska’s budget for the remainder of this year and into the next biennium. The current $900 million budget deficit has highlighted the importance of getting this accomplished.

After being elected as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, my first objective was passing LB22, the Governor’s deficit bill (which I call budget A). That objective was accomplished this week when the Governor signed it into law.

The Governor’s deficit recommendation was adjusted by the Committee through AM13. Some of these changes to the Governor’s recommendation included a $4 million adjustment to the Supreme Court for continuation of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, $3.5 million to developmental disability providers to cover a shortfall in Federal funding, and $5.3 million in reappropriations to the University of Nebraska for completed projects. The ultimate version of the deficit bill passed on a 42-3 vote on Final Reading.

As the Committee moves forward, we will have to develop a budget for the next biennium. Despite starting a week and a half behind schedule on the biennium budget, we have now finished work on the preliminary step. Next week we will start public hearings on each agency’s budget. This will be a great opportunity to have your voice heard in the budgeting process. Please do not hesitate to contact my office on how this can be done. My contact information is on the right side of this page.

In addition to my work on the biennium budget I have introduced a number of bills, three of which have been advanced from committee and now sit on General File, where they await the first round of debate.

LB99, 100, and 101 have “made it to the floor” where they await action by the Legislature as a whole. LB99 is a bill that would require business entities to give notice to their lenders when they convert their form of incorporation. LB100 is a bill which would streamline the standards of proof used by mental health boards when determining the ability of petitioners to buy or possess firearms. LB101 is a bill which would foster a competitive bidding process for the State’s main administrative arm, the Department of Administrative Services. This would be accomplished by putting limitations on contract renewals and extensions.

I introduced a number of other bills this session which have been referenced to my committee. Three of these bills are budget “shell bills.” Shell bills are placeholders which can be used to make adjustments to the budget later on this session. Since there are still unknowns such as future tax revenues in the following months, the Legislature may have to make some adjustments as we move forward.

In addition to the three shell bills, I have also introduced LB611, which is intended to facilitate transparency in the budgeting process. Under LB611 state agencies would be required to provide additional information during their budget requests. This would include information on the Federal funds they receive, the “strings” that are attached to those funds, and an operating plan in the event that fluctuations in Federal funds trigger liabilities to the State.

I have a number of other bills which are awaiting advancement from their respective committees. LB151 is a bill that would add oversight measures to state agencies during the auditing process. Under the bill, the State Auditor would be empowered to conduct a post-audit review to evaluate which corrective actions have been taken by governmental agencies.

LB222 was a major priority I brought this year which would implement oversight measures into Nebraska’s Tourism Commission. Last year, the Commission faced a public controversy in which its Director was fired after a scathing audit revealed lack of oversight and misuse of state funds. The bill I have brought would restructure the Commission’s board, require the adoption of formal rules, regulations, and would clarify its innovative grant program.

I still have two bills which have been introduced but yet to be heard in committee. LB496 is a bill which has been referenced to the Urban Affairs Committee. Under this bill, cities would be able to address workforce shortages in some areas by incentivizing housing developments to attract workers to those areas.

LB540 is a bill which would address Nebraska’s budget deficit by temporarily reducing the “needs based” component of the TEEOSA formula. The TEEOSA formula is the calculation that is used in determining how much funding goes to the various K-12 school districts across the state. This approach is one of the fairest ways to address Nebraska’s budget shortfall.

Lastly, I introduced LR32 last week recognizing the Dry Bean Commission’s 30th anniversary on February 7th. The Dry Bean Commission was created to facilitate and promote the industry in the state. Nebraska is the third largest producer of dry edible beans in the country, the largest domestic producer of great northern beans, and the second largest producer of pinto beans and light red kidney beans. This industry is vital to the district, and vital to the state.

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.

It’s been a long few weeks of debate. The Legislature’s focus has remained with the rules governing it and the State’s budget deficit. After a long debate over the last couple weeks on LB22, also known as the deficit bill, and the Appropriation Committee’s adjustments to that bill under AM13, the Legislature has advanced the bill to Final Reading, which is the last round of debate before advancing to the Governor for passage into law.

LB22 is part of the Governor’s recommendations to close the State’s nearly $900 million budget deficit, which was brought to the Appropriations Committee of which I was elected Chair earlier this year. There was a lot of debate and passion contributing to the discussion, with many Senators analyzing line item by line item to raise their concerns over the Governor’s recommendations. The Governor’s recommendations included a net decrease of $151 million in deficit appropriations, or cuts. The Committee adjusted this number to a net decrease of $137 million in cuts, which the Legislature advanced by a vote of 45-4.

Only thirty percent of state agencies will be affected by these cuts.

Since the budgeting process is very thorough, I’d like to explain the process so that citizens of District 48 may be informed in their decision making.

You will often hear the Legislature refer to the “fiscal year,” or “FY” for short. In governmental accounting, the ledger does not correspond neatly with the calendar year of which most of us are familiar. The fiscal year for Nebraska will look something like this: “FY2016-17,” which runs from July 1st of each year to June 30th. While it may seem cumbersome, the State’s accounting method corresponds with the legislative session, where decisions on the state budget are made. This accounting method ensures that the Legislature has ample time to balance the budget.

The budget is enacted in two-year “bienniums” and looks something like this: “FY2017-18 and FY2018-19.” The next biennium begins on July 1st, 2017 and ends on June 30th, 2019. The mainline budget, which deals with operations and state aid, is enacted in odd-numbered years. While the deficit bill has produced much discussion, the mainline budget is likely to be the main focus this session.

In most years we would start with the mainline budget and other accompanying budget bills. But this is not a normal year. Since we are facing a significant budget shortfall, the deficit bill is the first step in the process towards balancing our budget. It should be noted, however, that not all deficit appropriations are decreases in spending.

To ensure the continuance of some of Nebraska’s most critical services, the Governor proposed $20 million in deficit appropriation increases, which was adjusted to $23 million by the Appropriations Committee. Some of these increases included $8.5 million to fulfill some of the State’s obligations to Medicare, $7.8 million to sustain the Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare program, and $4.6 million to Developmental Disability aid.

The Appropriations Committee is now working to complete what is called the “preliminary report,” which will be used during the next stage of the budgeting process. A lot of work goes into the development of this report. The Committee reviews each agency’s budget request, line item by line item.

Starting next week, the Committee begins public hearings on agencies’ budget requests, which will occur through mid-March. Also included during these hearings will be appropriations bills, or “A bills.” Any substantive bill introduced to the legislature which has a direct fiscal impact on the state budget must be accompanied by an A bill. Each A bill is treated separately. It will receive a public hearing by the Appropriations Committee and require the legislative body’s approval, just like any other bill.

After public hearings have been heard, the Committee will again review the requests based on the information obtained during public hearing. The Committee will consult with the Legislative Fiscal Office to determine how the State’s budget will be formulated and will finalize its recommendation before advancing to the legislative body for debate.

The Appropriations Committee has until the 70th day of session to advance its budget bills to General File, which will fall on April 24th of this year. If the Committee does not make this deadline then the Governor’s recommendations must be considered. This two-part process is a safeguard designed to ensure that the body upholds its constitutional duty to balance and pass the budget.

The budget can be divided into numerous bills including the mainline budget, deficit, constitutional officers’ (i.e. other elected officials and judges) salary, legislators’ salary, capital construction projects, and fund transfers bills. Other types of budget bills may be offered as needed. By May the Legislature should finish debate and be ready to pass Nebraska’s comprehensive budget.

I hope the description provided here informs you as a citizen of District 48 and of all Nebraska on the budgeting process. As the representative of District 48 and Chair of the Appropriations Committee, it is my honor to serve the State to the best of my abilities. I hope this information proves useful as you carry out your civic duties.

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.

The Legislature has convened this year and is off to a running start. With lots of items on the docket, including a high budget deficit, the Legislature has a long road ahead. A lot has happened already, so I’d like to keep constituents of District 48 fully appraised of the situation.

The first day of session I was elected as the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, which deals with the state’s budget and manages the appropriations process. All other fiscal matters facing Nebraska’s state agencies, boards, and commissions goes through the Appropriations Committee. I am thankful that the members of the Legislature placed their trust in my abilities by electing me as chair by unanimous vote. I am humbled to receive their support in this challenging time.

But more importantly, I would like to thank the people of District 48 for placing their faith in me to represent Scotts Bluff County. During my tenure as a State Legislator, I have met with various constituencies and processed much of their feedback. I am grateful for the continued involvement from the people of District 48. Without you, I would not be where I am today and I would not be able to serve in your best interests. I look forward to the coming months and will report the latest developments as they occur.

This session we will have to contend with an approximately $900 million dollar revenue shortfall. The Governor has already released his deficit proposal to deal with the current year’s budget shortfall. This plan includes transfers from selected unencumbered cash funds, lapses in accumulated unencumbered reappropriations, 4% across-the-board cuts to agency operations, and one-time strategic cuts to certain  aid programs. Additionally, the Governor’s proposal includes a transfer from the Cash Reserve Fund, also known as the “rainy day” cash fund.

The Appropriations Committee is already in the process of doing our due diligence with hearings scheduled this week. The objective is to resolve a $267 million dollar shortfall in the current biennium before we proceed to the next biennium. It should be noted that 70% of state agencies were excluded from any budget cuts. Most of the agencies that were excluded from cuts were those in education and social services. Some of these would include state schools, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Corrections.

The Governor presented his budget for the next biennium during his “State of the State Address” last week. His budget proposal provided details as to how the State of Nebraska gets to a balanced budget. We all know when income is short it is imperative that we prioritize what is necessary. Corrections is one priority that is a necessary area to address. Ensuring the safety of Nebraskan’s remains a top priority for the Governor, state agencies, and members of the Legislature. Other top priorities for the Legislature include comprehensive tax reform, property tax relief, and K-12 funding.

In addition to my responsibilities as Chair of the Appropriations Committee, I plan to introduce a few of my own bills this year. Some of those bills include LB99, LB100, LB101, and LB151. LB99 is a bill that would require corporate entities, such as domestic partnerships and LLCs, to send a notification to their bank after converting from one corporate structure to another. This bill will mitigate the risks to secured parties when entities change their structure.

LB100 is a bill that will clarify the process for removing disqualifications placed on individuals that are considered mentally incapable of possessing firearms. This bill would clarify the standards of proof for mental health boards to ensure they are using clear and convincing evidence in their determination if the individual is a danger to society. Individuals who have completed drug therapy, for instance, and have been rehabilitated may reapply for their handgun permits.

LB101 is a bill that will incentivize state agencies to continually seek low-cost solutions to the services required by those agencies. The bill would limit state agencies’ ability to renew contracts, thereby requiring that those agencies open up new bids for those services. This adds an element of competitiveness to the contract bidding process, which is an essential component of finding the most efficient and cost-effective solutions. This bill will bring the state into industry best practices, which is often a part of doing business.

Finally, LB151 is a bill that will add oversight measures to state agencies during the budget hearing process. During the hearing, the State Auditor’s office will submit any outstanding auditor reports on the agency being examined and require it to be entered into the record. Binding the audit reports to the budget hearing process will keep state agencies accountable to the auditing and budgeting process to ensure responsible stewardship of state tax dollars.

I am looking forward to a busy session, and feel that I am ready for the challenge of continuing the tradition of a fiscally responsible state. I am humbled by the support that has been shown to me firstly from my constituents in District 48, my fellow Senators, and all those who have put their trust in me. I am confident that with some creative problem-solving the budget shortfall in Nebraska will be mitigated through a responsible and efficient budgeting process.

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 over the interim. 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.

 

Welcome

January 3rd, 2017

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

Sen. John Stinner

District 48
Room #1004
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2802
Email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov
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