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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.