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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.