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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.