NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Tom Brandt

Sen. Tom Brandt

District 32

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 tbrandt@leg.ne.gov

Welcome
January 6th, 2021

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 32nd legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Tom Brandt

Omaha Public Power District The Wire‘s coverage of LB306:

More Nebraskans to be eligible for heating assistance

JUNE 7, 2021 | JASON KUIPER |
More Nebraskans in need will be eligible for energy assistance thanks to passage of a bill to provide expanded access to federal funds.
LB 306, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt (District 32), raises the income limit for receiving assistance to 150% of the federal poverty level, up from 130%. Funding for the assistance comes from Nebraska’s federal aid. The new law also increases the amount of money going to the state’s weatherization program.
Brandt said the bill makes the program more efficient. Currently, he said, LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is funded through a federal block grant, and funds left over at the end of the year must be returned to the federal government. To avoid this, the Department of Health and Human Services allocates supplemental payments to homeowners, he said.

“LB 306 will make the program more efficient by eliminating the supplemental payments away from those customers who do not need them and reallocating the funds to more people who actually need assistance,” Brandt said.

The bill had an interesting path to enactment. It was passed by the legislature, vetoed by the Governor, and overriden on a 32-15 vote.

“It’s a good change for the state and those who are in need,” said Britton Gabel, senior product specialist at OPPD. “Estimations show it could increase access to more than 8,000 households.”

Gabel said the funding is now in place. He added that it will positively impact the lives of those families struggling to make ends meet.

Anyone wishing to apply for assistance from LIHEAP can do so by phone, or through electronic or paper application. They can apply by filling out an application via the ACCESSNebraska website, or by calling 800-383-4278.

Heating assistance season runs from Oct. 1 to March 31. Cooling assistance runs from June 1 to Aug. 31.

Legislative Update
June 10th, 2021

The first session of the 107th Legislature has come to an end. Senators have adjourned until September when we will reconvene for a special session to work out the new redistricting map for the next ten years. Census data was delayed getting to us because of covid-19. Shifts in population and a vastly-growing Sarpy County mean that it is possible that the Legislature may lose one rural seat and add one urban seat, which is what will be debated when we return.

There were some developments on my bills during the closing days of the session. LB306 (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) was vetoed by the Governor but my colleagues and I voted to override the veto on a vote of 32-15. The new law will address federal funding and utility customer payment issues by allowing more people to get help that need it while less people will receive extra payments that they don’t need. It will also provide more funding to community action partnerships such as Blue Valley to weatherize homes. Two of my other bills LB324 (animal share program and processor’s assistance fund) and LB396 (farm to school network) were signed by the Governor into law. 

In covid news, covid-19 rates continue to drop as more people choose to get vaccinated. Nebraska has one of the nation’s lowest per capita COVID-19 rates, second only to Oklahoma, who we should strive to beat at everything. Over the past four weeks, no state has seen a steeper percentage drop in cases than the Cornhusker state so kudos to everyone doing their part by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and social distancing. Governor Ricketts proclaimed an end to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, declaring it time to “return to normalcy” which means we will see restaurants and venues operating at full capacity again. However, vaccination rates still need to increase to at least 70% of the population to reach herd immunity. A covid vaccine is now available to everyone aged 12 and older that wants one. I encourage you to get one if you haven’t already so we don’t have a resurgence in the fall and can finally move past this disease. Getting back to normal is as important for our economy as it is for our health.

Read about Sen. Brandt’s LR168 honoring Friend’s Ray Page for its 150th anniversary in the Lincoln Journal Star’s 6/6/21 story.

From their coverage:

Losh drafted a resolution based on her research, and Hromadka-Ernst submitted it to their state senator. Earlier this month — the day before the Legislature adjourned — senators passed a resolution recognizing Friend as the home of Ray Page and celebrating his contributions to aviation.

On July 4, Friend will celebrate its 150th anniversary.

There will be fireworks and music, a parade and food and a tractor pull that will draw many of the town’s 1,000 or so residents.

Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth will present the resolution to the town, a recognition the two women who’ve come to love the dusty Opera House on the second floor of the Warren Building hope will help preserve it.

From National Public Radio’s story on right to repair:

BERLINER: The industry as a whole has fought against political efforts to force changes on manufacturers through what are called right-to-repair bills. Tom Brandt is a farmer and state senator who introduced Nebraska’s right-to-repair bill.

TOM BRANDT: So let’s say you’ve got a couple hundred thousand dollars and you buy a bright, shiny new tractor. You only own the hardware. Today that software is still controlled by the original equipment manufacturer.

BERLINER: Nebraska’s bill would change that. It would unlock software and allow farmers and independent shops to make the same repairs as dealers. An industry group, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, tells NPR these kind of right-to-repair bills, they permit illegal tampering and create safety and environmental risks. And that’s why states have rejected such bills in the past. But those right-to-repair bills, they keep coming.

 

From the Omaha World Herald on the veto override to LB306:

LB 306 was passed over the governor’s veto on a 32-15 vote. The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, will provide federally funded heating and cooling assistance to more Nebraskans.

It raises the income limit from 130% of the federal poverty level to 150% and requires that a larger share of the federal grant be used to help weatherize homes of low-income Nebraskans.

Brandt said the change will make better use of the state’s federal dollars. Currently, he said, the state has enough money left each year to give supplemental aid payments for previous recipients. Under the bill, that money will be used to help more people.

I am excited to have reached the end of the 2021 Legislative Session. We will be adjourning sine die on Thursday May 27th. Senators are not done meeting for the year however, because, due to the covid-delay of census information being reported, the Legislature will reconvene in the fall for a special session to work out the new redistricting map for the next ten years. There is talk of the Legislature losing one rural seat and adding one urban seat which is what will be debated when we return.

Last week, many bills passed final reading and are heading to the Governor’s desk for a signature and the following are some of the bills that I supported and am looking forward to being implemented:

  • LB64, introduced by Sen. Brett Lindstrom, would achieve a 50% tax reduction on Social Security by 2025 and a 100% reduction by 2030.
  • LB388, sponsored by Sen. Curt Friesen on behalf of Gov. Pete Ricketts, provides $40 million in state funds over two years to expand high-speed broadband internet, focusing on unserved and underserved primarily rural areas.
  • LB103, sponsored by Sen. Myron Dorn, is the Beatrice 6 settlement bill. The state will contribute $4 million toward paying off a $28 million court judgment against Gage County for the wrongful conviction of six people in 1985.
  • LB561, sponsored by Sen. Tom Briese, was the gambling bill passed after following a long and winding road through amendments, objections and revisions. One last-minute change bans casino sports betting on games involving college teams when they are competing within the state such as Husker football home games. Casinos are planned at racetracks in Lincoln, Omaha, Grand Island, South Sioux City, Columbus and Hastings. 
  • LB236, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer, combined three other bills into one. The new version of the bill would provide a postcard reminder to concealed handgun permit holders four months before their permit expires, provide a thirty day grace period after the permit expires, allow for secure transport of guns and make clear that an unloaded firearm in a gun case is not a concealed weapon.

Three of my bills LB306 (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), LB324 (animal share program and processor’s assistance fund) and LB396 (farm to school network) passed and are awaiting the Governor’s signature. Two of my bills LB91 (changing the duration of native seed testing) and LB242 (allowing counties to pay for bridges on an installment plan) are on General File and will be on the legislative agenda in January. Two other bills of mine LB460 (allowing public power to lease fiber for broadband) and LB524 (right to repair farm equipment) are still in committees but I plan to work on them further next year.

Lastly, Senator John Stinner, the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, provided us with some allocation funding estimates from the American Rescue Plan Act that passed earlier this year. Just a few of the school funding estimates include $310,418 for Deshler Public Schools, $441,998 for Thayer Central Community Schools, $517,929 for Wilber-Clatonia Public Schools, $173,917 for Friend Public Schools and $273,404 for Dorchester Public Schools. My legislative staff can provide more estimates for schools, counties, and villages if you are interested. They will be working hard during the interim so feel free to call, email or stop by.

From the Unicameral Update: 

Introduced by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, LB324 allows the acquisition of meat through an animal share — an ownership interest in an animal or herd of animals created by a written contract between a consumer and a farmer or rancher — under certain conditions.

Among other requirements, the animal share owner, or someone acting on their behalf, must receive the meat, and the farmer or rancher must provide the consumer with a description of their livestock health and processing standards.

A farmer or rancher who offers an animal share must be a Nebraska resident and maintain a record of each animal share sold. The name and address of each individual with an ownership interest in the particular livestock must be presented to the processor prior to slaughter.

LB324 also creates an independent processor assistance program that, if funds are made available, will provide funding to certain federally inspected, state inspected or custom-exempt slaughter and processing facilities in Nebraska that employ fewer than 25 people.

Recipients may use the funds to pay for capital improvements, utilities upgrades, equipment, technology, building rentals, costs associated with increased inspections and educational and workforce training.

Lawmakers voted 48-0 to pass LB324.

 

From the Center for Rural Affairs:

The Center for Rural Affairs is applauding Nebraska and Iowa lawmakers for their unanimous approval of bills to assist small meat processors and livestock producers as they work to clear obstacles brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has tested and challenged both processors and producers across the country,” said Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center. “Seeing lawmakers from Nebraska and Iowa approve their respective bills on the same day shows a strong level of support for our small family farms and gives processors the tools they need to grow their businesses, create jobs and increase activity on our main streets.”

LB 324, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt, makes it easier for consumers to buy meat directly from producers or processors. It also creates the Independent Processor Assistance Program to help processors with expansion, modification, or construction of buildings; efficient packaging, processing, and storage equipment; technology to improve logistics or enable e-commerce; and educational or workforce training programs. Passage came on a 48-0 vote.

Hladik thanked Sen. Brandt and Rep. Ingels for leading the effort to address backlogs that began in 2020 when outbreaks of COVID-19 impeded work at many regional packing plants.

“When those plants paused, large-scale beef and pork producers turned to local processors to fill the void. This created a debilitating bottleneck at local meat lockers,” Hladik said. “Lawmakers have cleared the way to bring needed solutions for producers, local small business owners and consumers of quality beef and pork and we eagerly await the signatures of Govs. Ricketts and Reynolds.”

 

 

Legislative Update
May 14th, 2021

Starting with a covid-19 update, vaccines are available to all Nebraskans 12 and older either through their county health department, participating pharmacies including the Wal-Mart in Crete, and Public Health Solutions in Fillmore, Jefferson, Saline, and Thayer counties. The Pfizer vaccination is also available to children 12 years old and older. The vaccination rate in Nebraska is levelling off but we have not yet reached herd immunity. I encourage everyone to get a vaccine so we can get back to normal. 

Moving to the Legislature, last week we heard debate on many revenue bills including Senator Friesen’s LB454, which would have created a School Property Tax Stabilization Program which would have directed state aid to rural school districts who use property taxes to fund the majority needs. The state aid would have equaled 50% of the difference of the property taxes paid over 70% of formula needs. The bill also would have reduced the assessed value of agricultural land for purposes of funding schools over a four-year period from 75% of actual value to 55% of actual value. I’m very disappointed that the bill failed to advance but I will continue to work with my colleagues to direct more state aid to school districts who are overly reliant on property taxes.

On a related note, I voted for Senator DeBoer’s LB132 which advanced to the second round and will create the School Financing Review Commission, amended to only include Senators on the Commission. The commission will conduct an in-depth review of the financing of public schools, including methods to offer alternatives to heavy reliance on property taxes and provide equitable education opportunities across the state. In a surprising turn of events, an amendment from Sen. Wayne to sunset the school aid formula TEEOSA received over twenty votes so I expect we’ll see that provision again in some form in the future.

As for property tax relief, in the proposed biennial budget, the Property Tax Credit Fund will go up by $63 million (from $275 to $300-313 million) over the next two years, which is the second largest increase in the budget. That is split up to $25 million in fiscal year 21-22 and $38 million in FY22-23. The second fund known as the Property Tax Incentive Act starts from a fixed amount of $125 million and will go up to almost $314 million the next two fiscal years, meaning your refundable state income tax credit should be two and a half times bigger next year. And the Homestead exemption will have a 3% increase each of the next two years which works out to an extra $3.2 million in FY21-22 and $5.3 million in FY22-23. In addition to all of this, when gambling starts in Nebraska, you can expect at least another 2-3% property tax relief.

Two of my bills – LB306 and LB396 – advanced to Final Reading (the third round) this week. LB 306 – The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – is my personal priority bill. LB 396, which would create a statewide farm to school program, was designated a Speaker Priority bill by Speaker Hilgers, who announced yesterday that the Legislative Session will adjourn sine die on Thursday May 27th.

Excerpts from Tom Venzor’s article “Connecting schools to farms”

LB396 has the overarching goal of helping Nebraska elementary and secondary schools—both public and non-public—have greater access to locally- and regionally-produced food. The hope is that this will promote healthy eating habits among children and improve our local agricultural economy by local schools purchasing from local farmers.

As Sen. Brandt noted during the legislative committee hearing and first round of legislative debate, far too often our schools are purchasing their food in bulk from out-of-state providers. This does a disservice to our local economy by sending our hard-earned dollars to other states. It also inhibits access to fresher fruits, vegetables, and meats which are healthier options for Nebraska’s students. Sen. Brandt has demonstrated that while buying locally can sometimes be perceived as more expensive, the truth is that the prices of buying locally, even when not in bulk, are competitive.

LB396 also has an educational component for students. The legislation is not merely about getting food on the table but it is also about helping students understand how that food gets to the table. The bill will help students with “hand-on learning opportunities, including, but not limited to, farm visits, cooking demonstrations, and school gardening and composting programs, and that integrate nutrition and agricultural education into the school curricula.”

Our schools thrive on community relationships, built upon a bedrock of local control and family engagement. Knowing the friends and community members who help our schools and communities thrive is critical to human flourishing. Pope Francis has often spoken on the theme of “alienation.” Whether the alienation is from our own family and friends who surround us or the land that we work around us, this alienation is contrary to our human spirit which seeks community with others and seeks to know God through the work of our hands.

LB396 also helps focus student attention on the basics of food production, gardening, composting, and nutrition. These themes, among many others, can help students gain a better respect for—as Pope Francis puts its—our common home. As the Holy Father states: “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” It is through this working together that we can have a better respect for environmental issues and gain a true sense of stewardship for creation.

LB396 passed with an overwhelming amount of support and we anticipate that it will continue to do so in the following rounds of legislative debate. In the meanwhile, I invite our families and farmers in our schools to think about how you might connect with your local schools to advance the work of LB396.

LB396 coverage in the Unicameral Update:

Statewide farm-to-school program clears first round

A Nebraska farm-to-school program would provide locally grown and minimally processed food to elementary and secondary school students under a proposal advanced from general file April 26.

Sen. Tom Brandt

LB396, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, would require the state Department of Education to hire a coordinator to administer the program, which also could provide students with hands-on learning activities, such as farm visits, cooking demonstrations and school gardening and composting programs.

The coordinator would partner with public agencies and nonprofits on a public engagement campaign and build a communication network that links farmers and schools.

They also would encourage schools to develop and improve their nutrition plans using locally grown or processed food and provide technical assistance to school food services staff, farmers, processors and distributors regarding the demand for and availability of Nebraska food products.

Brandt said a localized food production and distribution system would increase the likelihood that current and future generations always will have plenty to eat.

“By providing a stable, reliable market for local produce,” he said, “farm-to-school enables Nebraska communities to start recapturing a portion of the 90 percent of our school food dollars that are currently leaving the state.”

Senators voted 43-0 to advance LB396 to select file.

LB396 Passes First Round
April 27th, 2021

Excerpts from Chris Dunker’s article in the Lincoln Journal Star on Senator Brandt’s farm to school bill:

Lawmakers advance bill creating statewide Farm to School network

CHRIS DUNKER of the Lincoln Journal Star

April 26, 2021

State lawmakers advanced a bill to create a statewide Farm to School network that would put locally grown vegetables, dairy and meat on school lunch trays.

The bill (LB396) from Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth would help connect school administrators and cafeteria managers with local farmers, gardeners and livestock producers to supply school lunches.

Brandt said the Farm to School program would create a “huge economic opportunity” for Nebraska farmers.

About 90% of the vegetables used in school lunches are imported from other states.

“I want to keep our food dollars in Nebraska, not send them to California,” he said.

In addition to providing a boost to local economies, allowing schools to source food from neighboring farmers could also create educational opportunities for students, Brandt added.

Both LB396 and an accompanying bill appropriating funds to hire a statewide coordinator for the Farm to School program at the Nebraska Department of Education passed on a 43-0 vote.

Sen. Tom Brandt

District 32
Room 1528
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2711
Email: tbrandt@leg.ne.gov
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