NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. John Stinner

Sen. John Stinner

District 48

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There’s a lot to be thankful for this year. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a Thanksgiving break with family but am ready to go back to work with the Legislature. I hope everyone has enjoyed their Thanksgiving break as much as I have!

I am currently working on my priorities for the 2018 session. My priorities remain in funding our property tax relief, commitment to K-12 education, ensuring adequate funding for the Department of Corrections, fighting for our rural healthcare providers, and workforce development. I am determined to pass legislation that allows the use of tax increment financing (TIF) for workforce housing in rural Nebraska. The bill is LB496.

TIF is used to incentivize construction of development projects. It works by assessing the current property valuation of an area which can be a neighborhood, commercial district, or other boundary defined by a municipality. Then, using that valuation as a baseline, future increases in property tax revenues are used toward some of the construction costs. This does not affect current revenues and is always limited to a certain number of years defined by law.

In rural Nebraska, many of these projects simply will not happen without TIF.

One of the biggest problems we face in rural Nebraska is twofold: outmigration and difficulty attracting talent to live and work in our communities. In a survey conducted by the Nebraska Chamber, workforce availability remains a top concern for businesses for 5 years in a row. Affordable workforce housing is an essential piece of that equation. In a recent study commissioned by the Western Nebraska Economic Development group, Scottsbluff being a member, it was concluded that the Panhandle region significantly lacks supply of affordable housing.

LB496 will help solve that problem. I am committed to informing the public on the benefits of using TIF for workforce housing and seeing that LB496 passes in the Legislature.

I will also be revisiting a bill which would take an inventory of federal funds coming into Nebraska- LB611.  With a federal deficit that continues to grow and changes happening in Washington D.C., our state needs to prepare, just as any household must plan for their financial future.

Many of us are aware that the spending habits in D.C. are simply not sustainable. In Nebraska, federal funds make up 30 percent of our budget. Currently, the Appropriations Committee lacks a summarized view of all federal funds, making it difficult to prepare for changes at the federal level. Our policy decisions are often dictated by federal mandates, instead of what is best for Nebraskans.

The federal funds inventory will allow the Appropriations Committee and Legislature as a whole to conduct cost-benefit analyses that measures the impact of federal funds on our state and sets the framework for contingency planning.

Throughout the course of the last couple months, I have been continuing to meet with various stakeholders in the district including our healthcare providers. There are many issues impacting the quality of healthcare in the Panhandle such as funding issues, substance abuse prevention, mental health, and various regulatory issues.

I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with many constituents in the district. In October, I spoke at an event for retired teachers discussing issues like education legislation and public pensions. I had a wonderful time at the Regional West Foundation’s annual gala, where Dr. Lou Kleager and his wife Carmen were honored. I also stay up-to-date with Scotts Bluff County by meeting with the County Commissioners.

I have also had to travel to Lincoln for the various committees on which I sit. In October, I attended a joint hearing with the Revenue Committee, where we reviewed tax incentives. The forecasting board met, revising Nebraska’s projections for tax revenues. As of the current forecast, there is another $173 million budget shortfall to address. In addition, I have spent time with the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee assessing public school systems’ pension issues so that the Legislature can take any action needed to ensure our public school retirement pensions are sustainable.

I am getting ready for what will likely be a very hectic session, but look forward to the opportunity to represent District 48 and Nebraska’s interests.

As we gear up for legislative session, 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.

On September 22nd the Appropriations Committee I chair hosted a public hearing on two of my legislative resolutions: LR209 and LR210. For those who may not be aware, a legislative resolution is a step down from a legislative bill in that it does not become law. Frequently, state senators will introduce legislative resolutions in the form of “interim studies,” which are extended studies of policy topics that often include a public hearing. LR209 and 210 are two such studies

LR209 explores the options available to establish a methodology for depositing into the State’s Rainy Day Fund. Currently, the State relies on revenue forecasting error to deposit funds into the Rainy Day Fund. What this means is that the State deposits into the Fund when things are good, but what happens if an economic turnaround takes longer than expected? I believe that there should be a more systematic methodology versus the current “forecasting error.”

A lot of the discussion at the hearing attempted to address this question. Pew Charitable Trusts, a national research institute, spoke in favor of LR209. Their evidence-based research shows that when states have well-structured policies on Rainy Day Funds, it helps to prevent from credit-rating downgrades, cushions state services from economic downturns, and leverages state resources to capture opportunities in future economic growth.

The Platte Institute, a Nebraska research institute, also spoke in favor of LR209. Efficient use of government resources is one of their top priorities with issues like low taxes and regulatory reform. Understanding that when the State’s “fiscal house” is in order, well-structured Rainy Day Fund policy ultimately serves the taxpayer.

LR210 also deals with fiscal policy, but is more narrowly focused towards local government. It was introduced to examine the policies that can be implemented to manage “fiscal distress” among local governments, which could culminate in credit rating downgrading, increased taxes, or even bankruptcy.

A number of events at the local level in recent years highlight the risk posed by fiscal distress among localities. The exoneration of the “Beatrice Six” in 2009 after a 1985 murder case led to a $28 million judgement against Gage County. The recent acquisition of Cabela’s, a large employer in Sidney, by national outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops has led to uncertainties about the future of Cheyenne County. And many other instances illustrate the fiscal risk our communities have seen.

Additionally, our small towns in rural Nebraska have incurred significant challenges due to out migration, unfunded mandates by both state and federal government, and our states aging demographic.

Pew Charitable Trusts and the Platte Institute both testified in support of LR210 to detail how fiscal distress policies can be implemented to monitor and support local governments. The first step is to analyze the financial information already collected on localities. Then the State can put systems into place which can forewarn the State and localities when certain localities are at risk. And lastly the State can help put those localities back on track to fiscal health.

Since the public hearing on LR209 and 210, I have been out in the district meeting with constituents on various topics. Last week, I held town halls in Mitchell, Gering, and Morrill. A lot of the discussion centered on property taxes and what we’re likely to see next year during legislative session. Other big topics included agricultural economics, infrastructure, and housing.

Over the course of the interim, a lot of time is spent meeting with various trade associations, advocacy groups, and concerned individuals on specific policy topics. As a state senator, it is my responsibility to become fully versed in virtually all policy topics that I will encounter. This is an intensive process, but I am thankful to the many groups that are able to inform my decision making.

When I travel to Lincoln I am often asked to participate in public speaking engagements. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at Opensky Policy Institute and Platte Institute panels in the past few weeks. At the Opensky Policy Institute, I spoke during a September 21st symposium which included the current budget issues faced this year and what will likely be faced next year, and a panel discussion on the Aging demographic in Nebraska. At Platte Institute’s September 26th Summit, I discussed state fiscal policy regarding federal funds and my bill LB611, which would provide an inventory of federal funds and action plan if those funds are pulled back or implemented differently.

I’m looking forward to concluding my work over the interim and fighting for the issues that mean the most to my constituents in next year’s session.

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.

Senator John Stinner will hold three town hall meetings in the District in early October. Below are the dates, locations and times for each meeting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Mitchell City Hall Council Chambers, 1280 Center Avenue
7:30 a.m.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Gering City Council Chambers, 1025 P Street
5:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Morrill American Legion, 117 Center Avenue
8 a.m.

At these town hall meetings, Senator Stinner plans to talk about the 2017 legislative session, anticipated issues and general discussion for the 2018 legislative session, as well as other topics of interest within the 48th District. He welcomes any citizens who would like to offer comments or has questions.

On September 8th the Appropriations Committee hosted a public hearing on LR238, which is an interim study that examines sources of funding for behavioral & mental health internship programs in rural Nebraska.

Much of the behavioral & mental health workforce is experiencing a shortage of professionals. This shortage strains the existing resources available for those who need behavioral or mental health services. This could be people who struggle with addiction, individuals with developmental disabilities, head trauma patients, and many others. And that shortage is particularly pronounced in the rural areas of Nebraska.

According to a report prepared by the University of Nebraska Medical Center – College of Public Health, 79 counties were designated as shortage areas for psychiatrists and mental health practitioners in 2014. Virtually all of those counties are in rural areas.

There were a number of professionals from Western Nebraska who travelled to the Capitol to testify on some of the issues they have experienced with their workforce and acquiring the funding to operate internship programs. I’d like to thank Dr. Anne Talbot and Dr. Mark Hald from Options in Psychology in Scottsbluff, Dr. Katie Carrizales from Educational Service Unit (ESU) #13 in the Panhandle, Brent Anderson from Cirrus House in Scottsbluff, and Jeff Tracy from Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska. Each testifier did an excellent job illustrating the issues unique to our area of the state.

Some of the issues outlined by our providers in the Panhandle included regulatory interpretation of Medicaid reimbursements for behavioral & mental health internships, the authorization process for PhD candidates seeking an internship, lower reimbursement rates for behavioral health when compared to other healthcare services, and the use of leftover Medicaid funds for referral programs to behavioral & mental health services.

Other indirect ways of funding internships is simply to decrease the costs for providers. I had highlighted some of the regulations by the Department of Health and Human Services that could be simplified to make it easier for providers to initiate internships. One such regulation is concerned with the authorization of professionals in Nebraska to practice their trade: called credentialing. The process can sometimes take over months, delaying payment to interns and disincentivizing their participation in training programs.

But not all funding sources identified were through Nebraska Medicaid, however. There are many private sources that offer funding for internships. One such program is the newly formed High Plains Psychology Internship Consortium, which operates in Northeastern Colorado and Western Nebraska. Private programs such as this one are a viable source for internships, and are especially designed to keep professionals in rural areas.

The best way to keep our professionals in rural areas is exemplified by School Psychologist Dr. Katie Carrizales of ESU #13. Originally from the Panhandle, Dr. Carrizales decided to come back home after getting her degree. Part of what made this possible was the internship program she participated in and later training. Rural professionals need to be a “jack-of-all-trades” so to speak, and providing internship programs in rural areas provides training that is different from the more specialized training received in urban areas.

I learned a lot about funding issues and more broadly the behavioral & mental health workforce issues experienced in rural Nebraska. I’m grateful to all those who testified in Lincoln and look forward to working on these issues.

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.

Are you a Nebraska college student interested in becoming a page for the Nebraska Legislature for the 2018 Legislative session? You are encouraged to apply for any open page position. Details from the Clerk of the Legislature’s office are below.

Description: Legislative pages are selected in the fall each year to work for the upcoming legislative session, beginning the following January. Pages respond to Senator’s request lights on the legislative floor. They run errands, deliver messages, photocopy materials, get food and drink for the Senators, assist the presiding officer, set up and staff committee hearings and perform other duties as assigned.

Requirements: Pages must be high school graduates who are currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school with a minimum grade point average of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. They must be able to work 20 hours a week during session. It is preferred that they work the same four-hour shift each day. The legislative session will begin January 3, 2018, and go through April 2018. This is a paid position and you may also be able to receive credit hours through your college.

Parking: Parking is limited. There are no reserved parking facilities available. Most street parking around the Capitol is two-hour parking. The city will ticket if you park longer. We suggest that you may want to park on the side streets or carpool with other pages.

To Apply: Applications are available through the Clerk of the Legislature’s office, Room 2018, State Capitol, 1445 K Street, or through your state Senator’s office. A page applicant is also encouraged to contact his or her home district state senator for a letter of recommendation. If you do not know who your senator is, please contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office for assistance. When you have completed the application, please return it to the Clerk of the Legislature’s office, Room 2018, State Capitol, 1445 K Street, Lincoln NE 68509.

Deadline: The page application deadline for the 2018 legislative session will be Friday, September 29, 2017, at 5 p.m. The page selection committee will meet Friday, October 13, 2017, to interview and select individuals to fill those positions to start January 3, 2018.

Contact: For further information, please contact the Office of the Clerk of the Legislature at 402-471-2271, or Kitty Kearns at 402-471-0617, email: kkearns@leg.ne.gov.

Fourth of July is over and summer is now well underway. The Legislature has been adjourned for well over a month now, but lots of things have been happening at the Capitol.

After the Legislature adjourned on May 23rd I went back to the district to spend time with family and constituents in the district. Within the first couple weeks many of the special committees at the Capitol started to host a variety of briefings, meetings, and hearings to discuss the policy topics that they oversee.

One of those special committees which I am involved in is the Legislature’s Planning Committee. The Planning Committee began the interim by reviewing data from the Center for Public Affairs Research (CPAR) at the University of Omaha used in policy decision making. For example, data on housing statistics for District 48 shows that as of 2014 there were 16,354 housing units with a total population of 36,684 people. 23% of those housing units were built in 1939 or earlier. This comprised the largest segment of homes in the district. This shows a great need for the expansion of affordable housing.

In addition to my responsibilities with the Planning Committee, I am also serving on the Economic Development Task Force, which was created this year with the passage of LB641. The Task Force is responsible for addressing Nebraska’s economic development policy and providing its recommendations to the Legislature. During our research, we will gather input from various state agencies including the Department of Economic Development (DED), research institutions such as CPAR, and various other stakeholders throughout the state.

Much of the discussion at last month’s Task Force meeting was centered on the issues of state tax incentives for businesses and workforce education. Courtney Dentlinger, the Director of the DED, discussed the incentives Nebraska offers through the Nebraska Advantage Act. Some of these components include tiered incentive packages designed to attract investment into the state’s workforce and the distribution of Community Development Block Grants, which are designed to transform our communities and spur economic growth. For the next meeting, we will be discussing higher education and how it translates to the workforce using data provided by the Department of Labor.

Another activity I have been engaged in is working towards investment in early childhood education. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute’s Early Childhood Workforce Commission has been a great champion toward this cause. The Workforce Commission is a gathering of public and private sector leaders who are dedicated to expanding and strengthening our early childhood workforce. Due to low pay and other circumstances, there is difficulty in hiring and retaining people who want to work in early childhood education. Research has shown that commitment to the workforce in this industry leads to improved outcomes for children in the earliest phase of their lives. This equates to better living conditions and opportunity for our communities.

In keeping with the workforce theme as one of my priorities, I introduced a legislative resolution this year (LR238) which would provide an interim study for the funding of behavioral and mental health internship programs for rural Nebraska. In a recent article published by the Associated Press, my resolution was mentioned as one solution to the workforce shortage. Demand in the healthcare industry continues to grow in rural Nebraska, but the supply for professionals in behavioral and mental health professions is lacking. My interim study will address that issue.

I have also been involved in the Legislature’s Building and Maintenance Committee, which is tasked with addressing the state’s need for repairs of state-owned property. The Capitol building, State Office Building housing major agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the DED, and university campuses all are under the purview of the Building and Maintenance Committee. There are approximately 3,300 state buildings in Nebraska, with many needed projects such as fire alarm replacement at the State Office Building, replacing an outdated heating and air conditioning system at the Capitol, and roof replacement at the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln.

In addition to my responsibilities at the Capital and across the state I have spent time with many constituencies in the district. Interim is a great time to acquaint myself with the issues occurring in local governmental jurisdictions such as Scotts Bluff County Board of Commissioners and the City of Scottsbluff. It is also a great time for me to coordinate with them on pending legislation that would have an effect locally, such as my bill to allow the use of tax increment financing (TIF) for the development of affordable workforce housing, LB496. It is still pending in the Legislature.

I have also been meeting with other constituencies throughout the district such as members of trade organizations. Some of the organizations I have met with so far include those in healthcare, childcare, and private business organizations. Putting myself at the “ground level” of my constituencies gives me a deeper understanding of how policy at the state level affects others. Last but not least, the past month has been spent getting to know individual constituents and which issues they care about the most. I am always open to doing what I can for the constituents I represent.

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 past couple weeks have been an interesting ride.

Last week, the Legislature passed its budget package, but not without a lot of political theater surrounding the debate. This week we have debated the Governor’s “line-item” vetoes, which are specific programs in the budget targeted for further cuts.

In total, the Governor’s line-item vetoes totaled $56.5 million. Some of these items include a veto of the Rainy Day Fund reserve requirement going from 3% to 2.5% over the biennium, an additional 1% across-the-board cut to most state agencies, $32.4 million in provider rate cuts, and a reduction of the transfers to a highway cash fund.

Under the Constitution of Nebraska, the State Legislature is required to balance the budget. To shore up that budget, the Appropriations Committee vetted more than $700 million in cuts over the next two-years for the state’s $8.9 billion biennium budget. A lot of discussion on other policy issues entered the budget debate along the way.

One of the most contentious issues has been provider rates, which are part of the payment formula to organizations providing mental and behavioral health services. The Governor’s line-item veto to provider rates cut $32.4 million, which was upheld by the Legislature. My committee- Appropriations, offered the motion to override the Governor’s cut to provider rates. The override motion lost.

Property taxes were a large issue during discussion on the budget. Many Senators wanted to see more in cuts to make up for increases to the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund, which is used to fund property tax credits for Nebraska taxpayers. Education was also a big topic of discussion as some in the Legislature wanted to provide more state aid to schools with the intent of lowering school districts’ reliance on property taxes.

Investments in the justice system also provided a point of contention throughout the budget discussion. With recent issues in the state prisons, many have highlighted the need for additional funding to properly staff the prisons. There are also obligations from the Justice Reinvestment Act from 2015 to lower prison overcrowding.

There has been a lot of discussion this year regarding the tax revenue projections that the state relies on when crafting its budget. It’s important for us to remember that tax revenues follow closely with business cycles in the overall economy. There are generally five phases of the business cycle: initial recovery, early upswing, late upswing, slowdown, and recession.

During the initial recovery phase – stocks surge as concerns about a longer recession ease and riskier investments tend to outperform.  This phase typically lasts a few months. After this phase we begin to see an early upswing. Confidence rises, unemployment begins to fall, and profit margins improve.  Short-term interest rates rise and inflation stays low.  This phase tends to last at least one year – or several years amid soft growth.

Then we get into the late upswing – confidence is high, unemployment low, and inflation rises. But, the economy risks overheating.  Stocks usually extend gains but can be volatile. It is at this point that we begin to see a slowdown – economic growth slows, confidence wavers, interest rates rise, and short-term interest rates peak.  Slowdowns typically last a few months to a couple years.

That is when we run into a recession – defined as two straight quarters of lower gross domestic product.  Consumer spending plunges, unemployment rises, and inflation falls.  Recessions tend to last six months to one year.

As we look at the state’s tax revenue receipts, it’s important to pay attention to the trends. The Department of Revenue released its April tax receipts last week, showing a deficit of $55 million. Although we are seeing $55 million less than what was originally projected, we expected to see a $65 million deficit – that’s a $10 million improvement. As we finish out the fiscal year and head into the next, it will be important to monitor the trends.

Other than the budget items, my bill– LB496, was debated but failed by one vote to move onto the next round. It is the “companion bill” to Senator Williams’ bill- LB518, which has already been passed and signed into law. LB496 would have allowed the construction of workforce housing to be eligible for tax increment financing (TIF) in all Nebraska cities except Lincoln and Omaha. Like LB518, LB496 would have addressed workforce shortages in rural Nebraska by incentivizing investment in housing developments. Without affordable housing, workers are less likely to move to our communities.

Things are nearing to a close for the year. Thank you to all those who have contacted me throughout the session and have gotten involved in the Legislative 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. 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 Budget Debate Has Begun

April 27th, 2017

This has been a big week for the Legislature.

The Appropriations Committee introduced the budget package to the floor last Friday and debate has already began this week. Over the course of the next couple weeks, the Legislature will continue to debate the budget package, which determines spending for Nebraska for the next full biennial (two-year) budget starting in July 2017 and ending June of 2019.

There will be a lot of debate over the state’s spending, with some major priorities being discussed. Property taxes and the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund will be a major source of contention as the Legislature seeks to provide comprehensive property tax relief to Nebraskans. The Property Tax Credit Cash Fund is the second largest increase in the budget at $40 million over the two-year biennium.

Another big item will be the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) funding for our public schools.  TEEOSA includes the funding formula used to allocate state aid dollars to public school districts. TEEOSA is the largest increasing item in the budget at $62 million over the next biennial budgeting period.

The third major item in the budget is going to be Justice Reinvestment Act Funding. The Justice Reinvestment Act was a culmination of policy changes implemented to address Nebraska’s prison overcrowding issues. Increases for the Justice Reinvestment Act will increase by $11 million as more prisoners become eligible.

As prison issues continue to present a significant challenge for the state, there will be an increased focus on Correctional Services and an increase in funding for staffing at our state’s prisons. The budget recommendation includes an $8 million increase in the proposed biennial budget. This does not include the Governor’s and Committee’s budget proposal for staffing level increases to address the shortage at the Department of Corrections.

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) provider rates will be another item of contention as the Legislature debates budgetary issues. Behavioral health, developmental disability, and Medicaid will all be debated. These rates are typically raised each year, but in order to shore up the budget deficit, the Committee has proposed a net 0 increase in provider rates, with an exception of a 3% reduction for hospitals and physicians.

As the Legislature debates its priorities and accounts for all incoming bills which will affect the budget, there will be debate on how much we pull from the Rainy Day Fund. The current proposal includes a $173 million transfer to the General Fund to shore up the deficit and a $75 million transfer to the Department of Corrections for its Reception and Treatment Center project. This would bring our reserve down to $370 million. But that number will likely change as yesterday’s Forecasting Board reported a net decrease of nearly $50 million after April tax receipts.

Outside of the budget, the Legislature passed a good number of bills on Monday, sending them to the Governor’s desk for his signature to officially become law. Three of my bills, LB101, LB151 & LB222 were among those passed by the Legislature.

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 was 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 restructures 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.

On Tuesday, the Legislature debated an amendment I introduced – AM998 – to one of Senator Smith’s bills, LB233. AM998 is a part of my efforts to shore up the state’s biennial budget. My amendment is an attempt to put on hold tax credit programs for two years to help us taper down the $173 million proposal to draw from the Rainy Day Fund. The Legislature is working on some changes with the Governor on my amendment. We hope to bring the state an additional $35.4 million.

One of my major concerns lies in balancing the budget for the next biennium. Using available opportunities in 2017 and 2018 will achieve that end. Neither of these options are favorable. But this is not “business as usual.” Stay tuned. There will be a lot of political theater in the coming days.

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.

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.

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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