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

SEN. BRANDT RECOGNIZED WITH CENTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS AWARD

CONTACTS: Johnathan Hladik, policy director, johnathanh@cfra.org, 402.687.2100 ext. 1014; Teresa Hoffman, policy communications associate, teresah@cfra.org, 402.687.2100 ext. 1012; or Rhea Landholm, brand marketing and communications manager, rheal@cfra.org, 402.687.2100 ext 1025

 

LYONS, NEBRASKA – The Center for Rural Affairs has chosen Sen. Tom Brandt, of Plymouth, Nebraska, to receive the 2020 George Norris Policymaker Award.

The George Norris Policymaker Award is given to a policymaker who employs bipartisanship, compromise, and consensus to improve policy outcomes for family farms and rural communities.

Sen. Brandt was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 2018. He represents District 32 which includes Fillmore, Jefferson, Saline, Thayer, and parts of southern Lancaster counties.

“Sen. Brandt shares our values and priorities,” said Johnathan Hladik, policy director with the Center for Rural Affairs. “In 2020, we worked together to draft, introduce, and pass Legislative Bill (LB) 996, a bill to improve broadband in rural areas.”

The senator has also introduced legislation to improve broadband mapping, remove regulations for value-added food producers, and promote transparency in government.

“A strong supporter of local foods, Sen. Brandt introduced LB 324 which will help local meat producers expand their capacity, create new markets for small livestock producers, and give consumers more options,” Hladik said. “LB 324 is another bill we crafted side-by-side.”

In front of the Nebraska Legislature this session, LB 324 would create the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which provides a roadmap for increasing local processing capacity and expanding market access for small producers. It would also ease the process for the consumer who wishes to purchase individual packages of meat directly from the producer or processor and allow the producer and consumer more flexibility when deciding where their meat is processed.

In addition to legislation, the senator has been featured in Center-sponsored town hall events on many topics, most recently to explore expanded opportunities for local meat processing facilities.

No award ceremony will be held this year due to the pandemic.

# # #

From the Unicameral Update:

Statewide farm-to-school program proposed

A Nebraska farm-to-school program would provide locally grown and minimally processed food to elementary and secondary school students under a proposal considered Feb. 23 by the Education Committee.

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

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 statewide farm-to-school program would benefit local producers, improve the quality and quantity of local food served in Nebraska schools and teach students where their food comes from and how it is made.

“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.”

Sarah Smith, local foods consultant and fresh fruit and vegetable program coordinator at the state Department of Education, testified in support of the bill on the department’s behalf. She said the department’s current farm-to-school programs are limited and that a statewide network would provide the structure needed to help more schools and farmers navigate the complex food procurement system.

“Nebraska can lead the nation in community health and well-being,” Smith said, “celebrating our agricultural heritage and cultural diversity, with farm-to-school as the vehicle.”

Marcus Urban testified in support of the bill on behalf of seven agricultural organizations. He said the lack of direct and consistent access to local farms prevents some large, urban school districts from participating more fully in current farm-to-school programs. A statewide coordinator would address that problem, Urban said.

“We especially appreciate that this bill promotes a farm-to-school model in both an economic and educational package that can be maximized in school districts and communities all across Nebraska,” he said.

Joan Ruskamp, who farms and feeds cattle with her husband near Dodge, also testified in support. For the past 15 years, she said, they have held tours for students at their farm as part of a Nebraska Farm Bureau program. Ruskamp said LB396 would introduce more students to the people who raise and grow their food and show them the variety of career opportunities in agriculture.

“In addition to providing a healthy diet,” she said, “we can benefit our school kids and families by introducing them to agriculture through more direct interaction with farmers and ranchers.”

Also in support was Nathan Beacom of the Center for Rural Affairs. Approximately 30 percent of Nebraska schools participate in current farm-to-school programs, he said, but they spend less than 20 percent of their food budgets on locally grown food.

Beacom suggested that LB396 could increase that amount if it also required the coordinator to study food supply chain obstacles.

“With more streamlined distribution, consistent supply and processing that could extend the life of foods,” he said, “the price point for local foods could be lowered, thereby making it easier for schools to purchase greater quantities of produce locally.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

 

Additional LB396 hearing coverage:

1011 NOW

News Channel Nebraska

Hearings are wrapping up
February 19th, 2021

Nebraska continues to acquire its share of COVID-19 vaccines and remains in Phase 1B which includes people over age 65, younger Nebraskans with certain medical conditions and some essential workers. Certain pharmacies in Nebraska, including Walmart in Fairbury and Crete and Weaver Pharmacy in Geneva, have started carrying vaccinations through the U.S. Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Those eligible can schedule a vaccine appointment on Walmart’s website when appointments are available and while allocation lasts. Consult the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website for more information on obtaining a vaccine.

The Nebraska Legislature’s all-day hearings have only a few weeks left, with the exception of the Judiciary Committee, the committees will wrap up their bill hearings in mid-March and then all-day debate on bills will begin.

The General Affairs and Agriculture Committees have finished their hearings for the Session. In General Affairs we heard many bills related to gambling due to the passing of the ballot initiative to allow gambling at race tracks. We also heard many alcohol-related bills as COVID-19 continues to present many challenges for our restaurants and bars. 

Over in the Ag Committee, we had lively hearings on Sen. Brewer’s state meat inspections bill, and my bill LB324 that would create an animal share program, as well as bills on branding. All of these bills remain in committee at this time.

However, there has been movement on two of my bills. LB91, which would change the testing interval for native seeds, and LB242, which would allow counties to pay for bridges over a period of years after they are built instead of in full before a project starts, have both advanced to General File and will be debated on the Floor. 

A few of my bills still have hearings:

  • LB524, which would change provisions relating to the calculation of credits under the Nebraska Property Tax Incentive Act, has its hearing on February 17th at 9:30am in the Revenue Committee.  
  • LB396, which would create a statewide farm to school network and program administrator, has its hearing on February 23rd at 1:30pm in the Education Committee.
  • LB543, which would allow farmers to fix their own machinery under the Agricultural Equipment Right-To-Repair Act, has its hearing on February 25th at 9:30am in the Judiciary Committee.

Senator Tom Brandt of Plymouth and Legislative District 32 has continued working to address the issue of getting rural broadband to all Nebraskans. With COVID-19 and many rural Nebraskans needing faster speeds and greater bandwidth for everything from Zoom calls to telehealth to precision farming to Netflix, reliable broadband has become more important than ever. As Senator Brandt was quoted as saying in the Lincoln Journal Star’s Editorial on January 30th: “COVID really exposed a lot of weaknesses in the system, and I think everybody just wants to speed it up.”

Last session, Senator Brandt brought LB996 which passed and was signed into law by the Governor. It created the Broadband Data Improvement Program to ensure that the State of Nebraska is accurately represented in federal broadband grant programs.

This Session, Senator Brandt introduced two bills to tackle the issue. On January 15, he introduced LB460, which would enable public power to lease their dark fiber and would lift major hurdles for utilities to partner with internet providers to provide high-speed connectivity to unserved and underserved communities. On January 20th, he introduced LB600 which would expand financial resources and tools for the development of broadband infrastructure and facilities in rural areas by allowing public power districts and electric cooperatives financing authority, and by repurposing the Municipal Infrastructure Redevelopment Act for financing broadband infrastructure and facilities in rural communities.

“These bills put us well on the way to getting high-speed Internet, not just in unserved rural areas but also in underserved urban communities as well,” Senator Brandt said. “The telecoms have worked hard for twenty years to address this, and there is still a lot of work left to do in our rural areas. I’d like to see public power use its immense resources to partner with the telecoms to solve this technology problem.”

In addition to introducing these bills, Senator Brandt has co-sponsored Sen. Curt Friesen’s LB388 which was introduced at the request of the Governor. It would create the Broadband Bridge Program to allocate $40 million over two fiscal years in grants to underserved and unserved communities.

Dennis Houston, CEO of the Nebraska Rural Electric Association stated, “I believe that partnering together, putting the people of rural Nebraska ahead of profits, and eliminating red tape might ultimately be the recipe for providing connectivity to every Nebraskan.

We thank Senator Brandt and the Governor for introducing legislation that strives towards this vision, and look forward to the opportunity to help facilitate better connectivity across rural Nebraska.”

“I’m happy to see so many bills from my colleagues with their sights set on rural broadband expansion,” Senator Brandt continued, “Higher internet speeds will help my constituents better compete with their counterparts in Omaha, Lincoln and other better served communities as well as weather the covid storm, and it will help to bring younger folks back to rural Nebraska which will revitalize rural communities.”

NET coverage of LB306 hearing
February 1st, 2021

“Also Friday, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services opposed a proposal to make more people eligible for low-income heating assistance. Sen. Tom Brandt wants to raise the income limits to qualify. Right now, a family of 3 qualifies up to an annual income of about 28,000. Brandt wants to raise that to about $33,000. He said the federally-funded program provides important help for expenses like fuel costs and emergency furnace repairs. “It is essential in keeping our state’s most vulnerable population safe from extreme weather conditions,” Brandt said.

Read the entire NET article here. Radio coverage begins around the four minute mark.

The Legislative Session has begun and we are now preparing for committee hearings for the bills that I have introduced this Session. 

Here is a list of the bills I have introduced and a short description of each one:

 

  • LB91 – LB91 is a bill to change the frequency of testing native flower and grass seed germination percentage from every nine months to every fifteen months and to allow tetrazolium (TZ) testing in lieu of germination testing for native seeds.

 

  • LB134 – Require the posting and reporting of tax incentive information under the Taxpayer Transparency Act. This bill would change the Taxpayer Transparency Act to require the posting and reporting of information relating to tax incentive programs including the Nebraska Imagine Act.

 

  • LB242 – This bill allows political subdivisions to utilize design-build in the cases of repair, retrofit, reconstruct, or to replace a bridge. Under this bill, political subdivisions may commit dollars in current budgets to get to work building bridges right away but be able to pay for it in full later. This does not increase property taxes or give any additional spending authority to political subdivisions but allows them to pay for these bridges over a longer period. This will benefit our rural counties with bridge problems.

 

  • LB306 – LB306 would expand eligibility to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program from 130% of the federal poverty level to 150%, making more Nebraska households eligible. LIHEAP provides federal financial assistance to those in need to offset the costs of heating and cooling. It would also stipulate that not less than 10% of LIHEAP funds be allocated to weatherization assistance.

 

  • LB324 – LB324 makes it easier for the consumer to purchase individual packages of meat directly from the producer or processor. The bill allows the producer and consumer more flexibility when deciding where their meat is processed. It also creates the Independent Processor Assistance Program which provides a roadmap for increasing local processing capacity and expanding market access for small producers. Implementation of this program is not mandated and no funding is requested. 

 

  • LB396Adopt the Nebraska Farm-to-School Program Act. This bill would expand the scale and reach of Nebraska-produced food by providing networking resources for Nebraska schools, local vegetable and fruit growers, and meat and dairy producers to increase the quantity of quality local food purchased by and served in our schools.

 

  • LB460Authorize leasing of dark fiber and eliminate certain powers of the Public Service Commission. This bill would enable public power to lease their dark fiber and would lift major hurdles for utilities to partner with internet providers to provide high-speed connectivity to unserved and underserved communities. 

 

  • LB524Change provisions relating to the calculation of credits under the Nebraska Property Tax Incentive Act. This bill would allow any 2019 school district taxes that were both levied and paid during calendar year 2019 be deemed to have been paid in calendar year 2020.

 

  • LB543 – This bill would allow farmers to fix their own machinery under the Agricultural Equipment Right-To-Repair Act by enabling independent mechanics to access what they need for a repair, within reason. The bill would require the mechanic to purchase the needed tools or software from the local franchisee.

 

  • LB600 – Provide powers and duties for political subdivisions regarding broadband facilities and infrastructure. This bill would expand financial resources and tools for the development of broadband infrastructure and facilities in rural areas by allowing public power districts and electric cooperatives financing authority, and by repurposing the Municipal Infrastructure Redevelopment Act for financing broadband.

 

  • LR9Congratulate the Bruning-Davenport-Shickley Eagles football team for winning the 2020 Class D-2 state championship. This resolution has been adopted.

 

If you have questions or comments about these bills or others, feel free contact me or  my legislative staff. You can also stay up to speed by subscribing to the Unicameral Update free of charge by sending an email to uio@leg.ne.gov or calling 402-471-2788. If you feel strongly about a bill, I encourage you to testify in support or against it either by attending the hearing in person, or by the other options made available due to COVID-19. Stay safe out there!

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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