NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. John Stinner

Sen. John Stinner

District 48

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at jstinner@leg.ne.gov

Committee Priority Bills
April 17th, 2019

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.

jstinner@leg.ne.gov

(402) 471-2802

This Year’s Budget Process
February 26th, 2019

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

Email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov

The Legislature has been convened for about four months now, but there have been a lot of things happening in the Capitol.

Major renovations are being done to the old heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the Capitol building. Construction crews will be working on one quadrant at a time, meaning that many senators’ and committee offices will have to shift around the building to accommodate the project. This will be a long process that will take roughly 10 years to complete. While my office will not be affected at this time, two of the four public hearing rooms will be.

While the Capitol building is being prepared for HVAC renovations; I have been meeting with constituents, attending summits, and have been honored with a few awards.

One of the first honors I received was the American Psychological Association’s 2018 State Legislator of the Year award. Every year, an honoree is selected for the award who has improved psychological practice and the lives of those who use their services. I believe if we are going to establish a strong mental and behavioral health workforce and adequate programs in Nebraska, psychologists can help lead the way.

In June the Nebraska School Mental Health Forum, as part of the National Center for Mental Health, honored me with the 2018 Nebraska School Mental Health Champion award. One of the biggest challenges that students face after being in a psychiatric setting is reintegrating into the school environment. In addition, rural schools face barriers to access with mental and behavioral health providers. That is why I introduced legislation to establish a pilot program in the Panhandle to partner with our schools for essential mental and behavioral health reintegration services.

In July I attended the Governor’s Economic Development Summit. The event highlighted Nebraska’s transportation infrastructure, talent development, workforce housing, and partnerships for international trade. It is an annual summit that provides leaders from businesses, trades, and the public to address the challenges and opportunities facing Nebraska’s economy. At this Summit I had the opportunity to learn from an array of speakers discussing the economy and how it relates to agriculture, education, and housing.

There has been a lot of talk about property tax relief lately, with another petition drive announced earlier this month. This interim I have been spending a lot of time studying the various proposals on the table and believe it will be one of the main issues next session. I also serve on the Economic Development Task Force and will be studying issues related to business incentives under the Nebraska Advantage Act, which sunsets in 2020.

For the 2018 fiscal year, the State was approximately $60 million over its revenue forecast. These funds are automatically deposited to the Cash Reserve Fund, or Rainy Day Fund. Currently, the Rainy Day Fund contains roughly $350 million. Restoration of the Rainy Day Fund will be a focus of the Appropriations Committee and the Legislature this session. A fully funded reserve is approximately $750 million so there will be a lot of discussion on what to do with those funds.

One of the interim studies I introduced, Legislative Resolution 442, examines the financial hardships experienced by rural long-term care providers across the State. On March 23rd, Lancaster County Court placed 21 long-term care facilities into receivership until a management plan is established. This included nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and rehabilitation centers; including Scottsbluff Care and Rehabilitation Center.

This isn’t the first time that a handful of long-term facilities have closed due to financial hardship. This is partially due to cost-saving strategies that have been implemented at the state level. LR442 will assess the adequacy of state appropriations, other related problems, workforce issues, the cost of regulations, and the mechanisms put in place by the state that affect funding sources for long-term care providers.

My other interim study, Legislative Resolution 455, will examine ways of developing an early warning system to identify and respond to fiscal distress among local government entities such as municipalities, counties, and other subdivisions. This warning system would use a series of metrics to diagnose fiscal health, of our municipalities and counties alert the state as to fiscal stress.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

End of Session Update
May 11th, 2018

With legislative session finally over, there are many accomplishments to discuss.

One of my major priorities for the 105th legislative session was to address workforce housing needs.

According to a Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce survey, nearly 70% of respondents indicated there is a housing shortage in their communities. Numerous housing studies have been conducted including Western Nebraska Economic Development in the Panhandle, Norfolk, Kearney, South Central Nebraska, and others. LB496 was a targeted piece of legislation created to address this need.

As an important tool, there are many benefits to this piece of legislation. It gives municipalities the ability to authorize tax-increment-financing, or TIF, for the construction of workforce housing.

TIF enhances development projects without making any changes to the property tax baseline. Any increase in property assessments come from the development project only, and are used to pay for the TIF assessment. It also broadens the tax base from the additional properties added once TIF projects are paid off. Average time to pay off TIF projects is typically 7.5 years, much lower than the 15 year cap. School districts’ tax base remains unchanged, along with other property tax entities.

TIF is an incredibly important tool. In rural communities and certain urban areas, there simply won’t be affordable housing constructed without incentive for developers. Unlike other areas of the country, the Midwest actually has more jobs than workers. In order for companies to fill those jobs, we need suitable housing available for workers to live and raise their families.

The Legislature has also addressed a number of important measures which will provide accountability and transparency to the process. Under LB496, public hearings for workforce housing incentive plans will be separate from the public hearings for TIF redevelopment plans. This should complement LB518, passed last year, which establishes the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act.

LB874, passed this year, adds additional safeguards to ensure TIF is used responsibly. It requires additional reporting on TIF projects to the Department of Revenue, provides for auditing of TIF projects and notice for public hearings, enhances record keeping processes, and strengthens the “but for” designation when establishing its necessity.

There were a number of other important items passed this year, including $200 million in budget adjustments. This is in addition to the $900 million budget deficit from last year, for a total biennial budget deficit of $1.1 billion.

Over the biennium, I introduced nineteen bills. One was withdrawn and four were procedural, effectively making fourteen in total. Out of those fourteen, nine were either passed outright or amended into other bills before passing.

LB803 will start the process for the Department of Education to provide waivers on early childhood education certification requirements to address workforce shortages in the industry, like the Head Start program being run by Educational Service Unit 13 in Scottsbluff. I would like to thank the Administrator Jeff West for bringing this issue to my attention and for all his hard work for Western Nebraska.

LB802 establishes industry best practices for administering ad revenues received by the Nebraska Tourism Commission. It creates a separate fund, which the Tourism Commission can administer to attract visitors to our state.

LB775 authorizes the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission to use Design Build for its construction and development projects. Design Build will save the state money by allowing the Commission to use more efficient methods of managing projects. It allows the Commission to hire a single managing contractor, instead of requiring it to manage each sub-contractor separately.

Finally, LB100 was signed into law by the Governor which will establish standards of proof for mental health boards when removing disqualifications on the possession of firearms for petitioners. Thank you to Dr. Thomas Perkins of Scottsbluff for his diligence and hard work for our community.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

With only 11 legislative days left, there will be a lot to work on before the close of session on April 18th.

Last Friday the Legislature debated the State’s $8.8 billion two-year budget on Select File, the second round of debate, after failing to advance on Wednesday. So far the Legislature has advanced a proposal to take $100 million from the State’s Cash Reserve Fund, also called the Rainy Day Fund. This leaves $296 million in the Fund.

Included in the budget are provisions to transfer $14.7 million from various cash funds into the General Fund to shore up the State’s $173 million shortfall. These funds were determined as sustainable and stable, coming from a source of revenue that is at least equal to expenditures.

For the mainline budget, the Appropriations Committee recommended reductions to the Governor’s across-the-board second year biennium cuts from 4% to 2% for state agencies and 4% to 1% for higher education. This was due to a more favorable state revenue forecast. The Committee also had to address approximately $83 million in deficit increases. Within the Department of Health and Human Services, Child Welfare’s request for an additional $55 million was the largest.

Unfortunately, the Legislature came to an impasse for a second time on Friday and failed to receive the votes necessary to advance, despite receiving a 9-0 vote to advance from committee and being advanced by the Legislature from General File, the first round of debate. There will be continued debate until the Legislature meets its obligation to pass a budget.

The language being debated would bar health clinics from receiving federal Title X funding if they perform, assist, provide counsel in favor of, or refer for abortions. There was lengthy debate on concerns for access to services and concerns over the State losing Title X funding due to violations under federal law.

A few of my bills have also been addressed by the Legislature over the past few weeks.

LB775, the State Park System Construction Alternatives Act, was signed into law last Wednesday. It would allow the use of Design Build for Nebraska Game & Parks construction projects. Design Build will allow Game & Parks to contract with a single entity to handle all subcontracts instead of managing all subcontractors itself. This method will save the State time and money on more efficient construction methods.

LB802 was another one of my bills which was amended into the budget and sits on Select File. It would create the Promotional Cash Fund for the Tourism Commission. It establishes a better method of handling ad revenues and puts them into a designated fund, implementing industry best practices.

LB803 was also advanced to Select File earlier this month. As amended, it would grant the Department of Education the authority to grant a waiver to certification requirements for early childhood educators. If signed into law, the Department will have to develop new rules and regulations to carry out the waiver process and otherwise keep early childhood education programs in compliance. This bill addresses workforce shortages, such as the one we see with the Head Start Program in Western Nebraska.

The Legislature debated a bill that I had prioritized in early March, LB98, introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen to extend the sunset on Natural Resources Districts’ 3¢ levy authority for groundwater management projects. Unfortunately, it was defeated. Without this levy authority, NRDs will have to resort to other methods such as water use restrictions or user fees.

Finally, LB496 sits on Select File. It would allow the use of tax increment financing for the construction of workforce housing. It was debated last year, but fell just one vote short of passing a filibuster. I am looking forward to debate later in the session.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

2018 Legislative Update
March 2nd, 2018

Session is short this year but we have a full docket of legislative items to accomplish. Public hearings finished this week and we move on to all-day debate. Things will pick up speed as we proceed to late night session beginning on March 12th.

This year I’ve introduced 7 bills. 2 of those to-date have been advanced out of committee. That brings my total to 14 introduced since last year, excluding budget bills and one which was withdrawn. In all, 5 have passed outright or by amendment, 1 is on the last round of debate, 2 on the second round, 1 on the first round, and 5 held in committee.

So far the Legislature has passed one of my carryover bills, LB100, which standardizes proof of evidence needed in restoral of rights revoked by mental health boards. Thanks to the important work of Dr. Thomas Perkins from Scottsbluff and Jerry Ostdiek from Gering on mental health issues, this legislation was made possible.

LB775 sits on the last round of debate, Final Reading. I introduced it this year to adopt the State Park System Construction Alternatives Act, which allows Game & Parks to use design build as a cost effective and efficient construction alternative. Design build works by allowing the State to contract a project out to one managing entity versus contracting with each individual subcontractor.

LB611 and LB496 have both made it to the second round of debate, Select File. I introduced LB611 last year in partnership with the Platte Institute, an organization that advocates for tax and regulatory reform. It would have required state agencies to provide a detailed inventory of federal funds including contingency plans in the event of a drawback in funding. Unfortunately, it has been held back procedurally due to a state agency’s fiscal note.

LB496 also sits on Select File, which would allow the use of tax increment financing for the construction of workforce housing. It was debated last year, but fell just one vote short of passing a filibuster. I am grateful that my friend and colleague, Sen. Matt Williams, used his Senator designation priority to give it the time needed to address concerns and work with our fellow Senators.

LB803 was recently advanced to the first round of debate, General File, and given a Speaker priority designation. With the amendment, it would give the Education Department authority to provide a waiver on early childhood education certification requirements. As part of the Buffett Institute’s Early Childhood Workforce Commission, I want to ensure our families have access to early childhood education programs by addressing workforce shortages in rural areas and maintain quality.

This year I introduced LB801, the Panhandle Beginnings Act, which would fund an innovative day school/day treatment pilot project to address mental health issues for school-aged children in the Panhandle. With all the tragic mental health issues experienced across the country, a comprehensive program capable of reintegration can get to the problem early on.

Thank you to Educational Services Unit 13 Administrator Jeff West, his staff, and Region 1 Behavioral Health Authority Administrator Barbara Vogel for all their hard work on LB801. I’d also like to thank Scottsbluff Public Schools Superintendent Rick Myles and all 21 school superintendents from the Panhandle for their support, as well as support from the Scottsbluff City Council, Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer, and many others in the community.

Lastly, I used my Senator designation priority to support the passage of LB98, introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen to extend the sunset on Natural Resources Districts’ 3¢ levy authority, which is restricted to groundwater projects. Nebraska has a tradition of responsible water management, and this levy authority is a crucial tool to allow our NRDs to address the Department of Natural Resource’s second increment.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

As Chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, part of my responsibility is to hedge “mission-critical” state services against the effects of a slowing economy. A struggling farm economy and a sluggish U.S. and global economy all have left their mark on Nebraska’s budget.

However, these factors are not the only budgeting issues. Changes in Washington also affect Nebraska’s fiscal health.

Many of Nebraska’s daily commitments to healthcare, education, the military, and other state services come from your federal tax dollars. Roughly 30 percent of Nebraska’s total budget depends on these tax dollars.

The level of dependency on Washington varies from state to state. This is why other states have put processes in place to make information on federal funds easier to access and understand. State lawmakers need this process codified in law to ensure that long-term decisions are well informed.

Receiving federal funds can be costly if the obligations are not fully understood or if the federal government draws back its funding. In some cases, participating in a federal grant may require Nebraska to spend more state tax dollars on a specific program than it otherwise would.

State agencies that regularly interact with federal departments have access to information about the contractual obligations, or “strings” attached. Often times, however, the Legislature does not.

LB611 will give future legislators a mechanism to easily access information on federal programs. This bill will give more detail on the impact of federal programs, how they affect individual agencies, and what that means for the state’s total budget.

I want to provide transparency and adequate information on our state’s fiscal health to Nebraska taxpayers and decision makers. That’s why LB611 became a committee priority and the Legislature voted in favor of the bill earlier in January with broad bipartisan support.

LB611 creates a federal funding inventory for Nebraska. It would require most state agencies to submit a report that will allow the Legislature and Nebraskans we represent to keep track of the federal grants and obligations we’ve committed to. LB611 would take the information our various state agencies already have on federal grants and inventory them into a report.

The report would also provide a risk assessment and contingency plans in the event of significant reductions in federal funding. This information will help future committee members assess changes to be made when new administrations enter into the White House.

For example, President Trump plans to introduce new welfare reform policies this year. That means Nebraska is likely to see cuts to programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Legislature needs to be able to plan for these changes.

Government shutdowns, sequesters, or significant cuts in the budget following federal tax reform may also pose future threats to Nebraska’s own budget certainty.

LB611 will give the Legislature the needed data to see which programs are mandatory and which are optional. It will also allow the Legislature to see which programs have sunset dates and ensure that the optional federal programs fulfill state agencies’ purpose. Once the Legislature has that information, lawmakers can measure the strings attached to these funds and evaluate the impact of the programs currently being funded.

LB611 will make it easier to act on the interests of constituents, instead of being guided only by what Washington mandates. With higher quality information, a better informed approach can be made about which services our constituents expect and what the budget will allow.

The Legislature has already taken its first vote on LB611, with a strong showing of bipartisan support. Legislative bills must go through three successful rounds of voting to be sent to the Governor. I would greatly appreciate your efforts in contacting state senators to ask them to continue their support of LB611.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is:  Senator John P. Stinner, District 48 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE  68209-4604; telephone: 402-471-2802; email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov.

I’m ready for a brand new year in the Legislature. There’s going to be a lot on our plate this session and very little time to accomplish our priorities.

My #1 priority as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee will be balancing the budget. The Legislature is facing another budget shortfall, this time to the tune of $200 million.

The Governor has been doing his due diligence in making sure the state runs as efficiently as possible to address the shortfall. Since last year, the Governor has put a hiring freeze on state personnel except for essential positions, reducing agency headcount by approximately 500 and eliminating another 1,500 open positions. The Governor has also been promoting process improvement initiatives in licensing divisions, the Department of Labor, and state call centers.

As we get into the session, I expect the Governor will likely promote property and income tax reform, K-12 funding, justice reinvestment programs, and fixing an ailing corrections system. As the Appropriations Committee begins its work in balancing the budget, we will have to start with these priorities as we address others in the Legislature.

One of the biggest topics this year will be property tax reform. There are different approaches with various groups proposing their ideas on how it should be done. As a state government, we must live within our means and balance the budget, but as policy makers we must also consider the implications of the decisions and cuts that we make. The work that we do always has long-term side effects.

It’s important to think of property tax reform as a comprehensive package. We have to ensure that our revenue sources are sustainable and weigh the pros and cons of the cuts we make so that we do not create more problems than we solve. One of the best ways we can do this is by giving over as much local control as possible. This is at the core of my philosophy in governance.

Two bills currently on the legislative docket that follow this philosophy are LB98 and LB496. LB98, introduced by Senator Curt Friesen, would extend the 3₵ levy authority for Natural Resource Districts which are fully or over-appropriated in their respective river basins. Currently, the levy limit is set to sunset.

Another bill following this local governance principle is my bill allowing the use of tax increment financing (TIF) for workforce housing in rural Nebraska: LB496. In rural Nebraska, lack of workforce housing presents a significant barrier to the growth of our communities. The problem is that many of these housing projects simply will not happen without TIF.

Contributing to this issue is the issue of outmigration and difficulty attracting talent to live and work in our communities because of the housing shortage. A study commissioned by the Western Nebraska Economic Development group, of which Scottsbluff City is a member, it was concluded that the Panhandle region significantly lacks supply of affordable housing. LB496 will give developers the tools they need to grow our communities.

Investment in early childhood education will be another topic of lengthy discussion this session.

Research studies indicate that quality early childhood education can lead to significant improvement down the road. The Brookings Institution published “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects.” This report concludes that preschool has a uniformly positive impact on Kindergarten readiness, as well as potential long-term benefits. The report recommends, “…a continued investment toward improving preschool programs…”

Earlier this year, I was part of a panel discussion on early childhood education in Nebraska, hosted by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. During the discussion, I shared with the panel my experience on the school board in Gering. What we have seen in rural Nebraska is a significant portion of the population that isn’t ready for school upon entering kindergarten.

That’s the results of a statewide survey conducted by Gallup in cooperation with the Buffett Institute. Over 7,100 residents in Nebraska participated. Of those participants, 68% of respondents recognize the positive long-term impact of early childhood education, while only 10% felt Nebraska’s youth are adequately prepared for school when they start in Kindergarten.

I look forward to debate on legislative priorities this year and hearing from you on what those should be.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

Sen. John Stinner

District 48
Room #1004
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2802
Email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov
Search Senator Page:
Topics
Archives

You are currently browsing the archives for the Uncategorized category.

Committee Assignments
Search Current Bills
Search Laws
Live Video Streaming
Find Your Senator
To Top