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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.