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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 email@example.com 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.
As we enter the month of March, the clock keeps ticking in the Nebraska Legislature. We are already 40% of the way through this year’s session. Hearings will continue until the end of the month, and full-day sessions will begin on April 2.
The Appropriations Committee has entered the agency hearings portion of the budget cycle. In the last week of February, the Committee published a preliminary budget that would be used as a starting point to discuss each agency’s allotment of state funds for the next biennium. When I presented the budget to the floor of the Legislature, I stated that “the world may change” when the Forecasting Board released its revenue forecast on Feb. 28. It did: the Board revised its forecast to an $80 million shortfall for the remainder of the current fiscal year ending on June 30, 2019. The Board also predicted a decrease in tax revenue of $20 million in fiscal year 2019-2020 and of $10 million in fiscal year 2020-2021.
Agency hearings will continue with the understanding that preliminary budget numbers will have to be adjusted to account for both the immediate shortfall and the long-term shortfall. After that, the Appropriations Committee will have until May 2 (legislative day 70) to adjust their original numbers and present their revised budget recommendation to the entire Legislature.
Outside of the Appropriations Committee, I’ve introduced 18 bills for this session, including three placeholder bills and excluding one procedural bill. Before I go in-depth with these bills, let me summarize the process that every bill goes through. First, most bills are drafted before session begins. This is because new bills can only be introduced during the first ten days of session. Each proposed bill has a hearing in a committee, and bills that garner a majority vote there move to General File.
There are three stages that involve the entire Legislature’s action for every bill passed out of committee. The first is General File which is considered the most crucial stage, because many compromises and amendments are offered. If a bill receives 25 yes votes, it moves on to Select File. The legislation goes through a similar (yet usually shorter) process before another vote is offered.
Next, a bill advances to Final Reading and a final vote. Passage requires 25 votes for a normal bill or 33 votes if there is an emergency clause attached. Bills can be sent back to a previous stage to correct errors or add amendments. If it passes, it goes to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law, vetoed, or left unsigned (in which case, the respective bill would become a law by default after five calendar days).
One of my bills was signed into law by the Governor. LB 49 would authorize the ownership of public accounting firms by Employee Stock Ownership plans. Under this bill, Non-Certified Public Accountants are not allowed to exceed 49% of total equity interest. The bill passed Final Reading on Feb. 28 by a vote of 47-0 and was signed on Mar. 6.
Of my remaining bills, one awaits the Governor’s approval, two await a vote on Final Reading, six await further action by their respective committees, and eight await their hearing dates.
One of these bills is LB 639, which would provide additional scholarship aid for students working in H3 (high wage, high skill and high demand) fields. Specifically, state financial obligations to this bill would be $10 million in its first year, $20 million in its second and $30 million every year thereafter. A common topic here in the state is Nebraska’s brain drain. We need to retain our best and brightest – this is a way for us to focus on that. This bill is and will probably stay in committee this session because of its fiscal demand, but it’s meant to start a conversation.
Another priority of mine is LB 52. This legislation responds to an audit published last summer which revealed that the State Treasurer’s office had maintained an outside bank account for seven years, worth $2.6 million. This bill 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. A hearing was held on this subject last fall, and the bill is currently awaiting approval from the Governor after passing Final Reading by a vote of 46-0.
Briefly, here are a few other of my bills. LB 48, which sits on Select File, would protect conservation property owners from forfeiting water they don’t use. Water appropriations for owners of land in the conservation reserve program can protect their water rights for up to 30 years under this bill. LB 337 awaits further action by the Government, Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. This bill would require a report of federal receipts with the annual state budget report. The last bill I will mention is LB 562, which states the Legislature’s intent to reserve future money for facility renovations across the multiple campuses of the University of Nebraska system.
Constituents are more than welcome to contact my office at any time with any questions you may have by using the contact information below. Stay safe, and have a happy month of March.
The Legislature has jumped into a full 90-day session that will last until June 6th. Committee hearings have commenced in nearly every committee, and they will continue until March 28th. Full-day floor debate will begin the following week on April 2nd, and extended floor debate will begin on April 29th.
At the beginning of session, I was honored to be re-elected by my peers as Chair of the Appropriations Committee, which is a position I also held during the previous biennium. As Chair, my major focus is fulfilling the only requirement we have as a Legislature, which is to pass a fair and balanced budget subsequent to the Governor’s recommendations. Over the past few weeks, the Appropriations Committee has been reviewing the Governor’s recommendations and evaluating each agency’s budget requests.
Nebraska passes budgets each biennium, meaning that a proposed budget will fund the state for two consecutive fiscal years, each beginning on the first day of July and ending on the last day of June. These budgets are proposed, debated and passed in odd-numbered years, such as this year.
On the 15th of July prior to a long session, the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) sends forms to each state agency to request funding for the next budget. These forms are returned to the Department of Administrative Services to be forwarded to the Budget Office and the Fiscal Office by September 15th.
The fiscal office staff then review each agency’s requests. The DAS will also do its own analysis of the requests for the Governor, who proposes his own budget. The fiscal office then works with the Appropriations Committee during meetings held in January and February to understand all of the state agencies’ requests. The committee may create their own budget or alter the Governor’s suggestions.
Just like any household, it is important for legislators to know how much money they have to spend. This is where the Economic Forecasting Board comes in. This board projects how much revenue the state will receive. Their meeting on October 26th of last year projected revenue for the remainder of FY 2018-19, as well as FY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21. The board meets again on February 28th.
With those estimations, the Committee creates a “Preliminary Report” which combines those estimates with the agency requests. This report is used as a basis for each Appropriations hearing. Every Nebraska agency will get an opportunity to come before the Committee and testify in explanation of their funding request. Constituents are also given the opportunity to testify at these hearings. After all the hearings are complete, the Committee must meet a deadline (the 70th legislative day) to pass a final recommendation in the form of multiple bills to General File (the first stage of debate for the entire legislative body). Otherwise, the Legislature is required to consider the Governor’s suggested budget instead
The Legislature must pass the appropriations bills by the deadline (legislative day 80). Since nearly every appropriations budget bill contains an Emergency Clause, the bill must pass with 33 votes. An Emergency Clause activates a bill earlier than the default date, and that requires a higher threshold of approval.
After the Legislature passes a budget, the bills are presented to the Governor to sign. The Governor can veto the whole or parts of the bills, or he could choose to sign it and make it law. If vetoed, the Legislature can either override the Governor’s veto or amend the bills to fit the Governor’s requests. Once signed by the Governor, the process is complete.
Actual tax receipts from October-January are $80 million below the current forecast. The Forecasting Board will meet again on February 28th to revise its revenue projections for fiscal years 2019-21, which align with the upcoming biennial budget. Based on October-January tax receipts and expected revenue projections for February, I am not optimistic on the outlook.
In addition to the current and expected budget shortfalls, there are a number of signature budget challenges facing the Committee. Medicaid Expansion will be a significant cost item, costing an estimated $63 million a biennium. The Committee also expects to have some significant challenges in funding K-12 education and higher education. There is a significant challenge in the funding of the 384-bed maximum security prison under Corrections. Also, provider rates in numerous segments of the healthcare sector such as nursing homes and mental and behavioral health will present some significant budgetary challenges. Saving money for Nebraska’s Rainy Day Fund is also a high priority for me, as the State has drawn down its reserves and faces a potential economic downturn in the near future.
I am always open to your feedback about how to address the issues that mean the most to you. You are more than welcome to contact my office with any questions you may have, and I thank everybody who has already taken the time to express their views on various issues. Below, you can find all my contact information:
Senator John P. Stinner
District 48, State Capitol
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68209
Telephone: (402) 471-2802
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
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