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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at (402) 471-2802.