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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 40th 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.
Sen. Tim Gragert
Two major pieces of legislation that would have provided property tax relief were defeated this past week. Generally, I am supportive of proposals that attempt to lower property taxes.
LR 11, introduced by Bayard Senator Steve Erdman, is a constitutional amendment proposing to replace all taxation with a consumption tax on the purchase of services and new goods. Nebraska residents would no longer pay property taxes, income taxes, sales and use taxes, inheritance taxes, or estate taxes. LR 11 was advanced from the Revenue Committee on a 6-2 vote and was prioritized by Senator Erdman.
To implement the constitutional amendment and provide more information on how the consumption tax would work, Senator Erdman also introduced LB 133. However, this bill was not advanced from the Revenue Committee.
As proposed in LB 133, taxable property and services would be taxed at a rate of 10.64%. The following items would be exempt from the consumption tax: the sale of land; the purchase of fuel; the purchase of used property; and the purchase of taxable property or services for business, investment, or educational purposes. The consumption tax would tax all services with no exemptions and would also tax only new goods. Households would receive a monthly pre-bate, which would compensate them for taxes paid up to the poverty level. The state would collect the tax revenue above the poverty level.
The consumption tax proposal is a bold idea. No other state has adopted this tax system. Some senators stated that it was not ready for prime time. After senators debated the pros and cons of LR 11 for several hours, a vote on the advancement of the proposed constitutional amendment fell short.
LB 454, introduced by Henderson Senator Curt Friesen, would adopt the School Property Tax Stabilization Act. The purpose of this act is to increase the state’s share of the cost of education in school districts that are primarily funded from property tax revenue. Stabilization payments would be directed to schools where property taxes required to fully fund formula needs exceeds 70% of formula needs. Under the committee amendments, the percentage would be lowered to 55% by the fourth year. Stabilization payments would equal 50% of the difference between the property tax requirement and the formula needs threshold.
Currently two-thirds of our school districts do not receive equalization aid through the school state aid formula. This results in a disproportionate burden placed on rural landowners when funding school districts. Under LB 454, $65 million in stabilization payments would have assisted 177 schools in the first year, increasing to $167 million by the fourth year, assisting 207 schools. After several hours of debate, the vote on the advancement of LB 454 also fell two votes short.
There is general agreement that the school state aid formula needs to be reworked. When the formula was originally developed, it was not envisioned that agricultural land valuation would increase so greatly over the years. LB 132, introduced by Bennington Senator Wendy DeBoer, would create the School Financing Review Commission. The commission would be tasked with conducting an in-depth review of the financing of public elementary and secondary schools, including methods to offer alternatives to the heavy reliance on property taxes and to provide equitable education opportunities across the state. LB 132 received first-round approval after the sponsor promised to work on an amendment to adjust the make-up of the commission.
The Legislature still has some major issues to debate during the last weeks of this legislative session. I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts and opinions. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
Governor Ricketts signed the budget bills this past week with no line-item vetoes. He praised the Legislature for passing a budget that limited spending growth and placed an emphasis on increased funding for property tax relief measures.
The Legislature gave first-round approval to LB 64, which addresses the taxation of social security benefits. LB 64 was introduced by Omaha Senator Brett Lindstrom and prioritized by Seward Senator Mark Kolterman. Only 13 states tax social security benefits.
Currently, the social security benefits of individuals with incomes less than $43,000, and couples with joint incomes of less than $58,000, are exempt from taxation. Under LB 64 as introduced, the taxation of all social security income would be phased-out over a 5-year period. The committee amendments extended the phase-out period to 10 years. Because the elimination of taxation on social security income would reduce state revenue by more than $130 million per year when fully implemented, Norfolk Senator Mike Flood offered an amendment that would cap the phase-out provisions at a certain income level in an effort to lessen the fiscal impact. Under the amendment, which contained the provisions of LB 237, the social security tax exemption would only be available to individuals with a federal adjusted gross income of less than $80,000 ($95,000 for those married filing jointly), with individuals making less than $60,000 ($75,000 for those married filing jointly) getting a full exemption by the 5th year. Senator Flood withdrew his amendment after a pledge was made to work on an income cap prior to the next stage of debate. The amount of the income cap may be increased, depending on the outcome of the Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meeting on April 29. After this agreement was made, LB 64 advanced on a 47-0 vote.
LB 364 would adopt the Opportunity Scholarships Act. Introduced by Elkhorn Senator Lou Ann Linehan, it would allow individuals and corporate taxpayers to qualify for a non-refundable tax credit equal to the amount the taxpayer contributed to a scholarship-granting organization. Donors can contribute up to 50% of their state income tax liability. The scholarship-granting organization would provide education scholarships to eligible students to attend private schools. Eligible students are defined as those that qualify for free or reduced price lunches. As introduced, the credits would be capped at $10 million annually.
The Revenue Committee amendments reduced the amount of credits to $5 million and eliminated the annual increase in the amount. The committee amendments also contained the provisions of LB 531, introduced by Albion Senator Tom Briese. LB 531 creates the Nebraska Child Care Contribution Tax Credit Act. As amended, this program would be capped at $5 million as well. A taxpayer who makes a qualifying contribution to a child care or early childhood program may apply for a nonrefundable income tax credit equal to either 50% or 75% of the contribution made, not to exceed $100,000. The credit would be available for the next 5 years.
Those in support of LB 364 pleaded that all parents, regardless of their income, should be able to choose between a public and private school, based on what is in the best interest of their children. Opponents argued that state funding should not be directed to private schools and were concerned that private schools don’t accept all students, including those with special needs.
After 8 hours of debate, a cloture motion was offered by Senator Linehan. A cloture motion requires 33 votes to end debate and allow for a vote on the advancement of the bill. However, the motion for closure fell 4 votes short, meaning that the bill will not be debated again this year.
LB 388, which was introduced at the request of the Governor, would adopt the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act. The Act provides $20 million in grants annually to increase access to high speed broadband across the state. LB 388 received first-round approval this past week on a 44-0 vote.
I was excited that LB 406 received first-round approval on April 29 with a 42-2 vote. Norfolk Senator Mike Flood and I worked on an amendment to LB 406 to appropriate funding for a consultant to study economic development in Northern Knox County. The study will look at recreational and tourism opportunities and what public investment is necessary to enhance economic development in the area.
As the Legislature enters the last few weeks of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the issues before us. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
The Legislature passed the budget bills this past week. Governor Ricketts has 5 days (not counting Sunday) to decide whether to sign the legislation. The governor has the authority to line-item veto specific items on budget bills, without vetoing the entire bill. Once the budget bills have been passed, other legislation that appropriates General Funds or results in the reduction of revenue to the General Fund, and all other tax expenditure bills, can be read on Final Reading.
LB 2, introduced by Senator Tom Briese, would reduce the valuation of agricultural land from 75% to 50% of actual value for the purpose of educational bonds. As introduced, LB 2 would have reduced agricultural land to 30% of its actual value for school bond issues but the Revenue Committee amendments changed it to 50% of actual value. The committee amendments also included the provisions of LB 79, as amended, which proposed to increase the funding for the Property Tax Credit Fund by 3% each year. However, the 3% annual increase in the Property Tax Credit Fund was removed in an effort to retain enough support for the advancement of the bill.
The purpose behind LB 2 is to more evenly balance the responsibility for paying for new school buildings between agricultural landowners and those living in town or owning businesses. Currently in rural areas, agricultural landowners may represent a small percentage of voters in a school bond election. However, they may end up paying for the majority of the debt. The Legislature debated LB 2 for more than 5 hours this past week, prior to giving the bill first-round approval with 38 senators voting aye, 3 voting nay, and 8 not voting on the advancement of the bill.
Another property tax measure was also debated by the Legislature this past week. LB 408 proposed to limit a political subdivision’s property tax request to no more than 3% over the prior year. The 3% increase would not apply to property taxes used for bonded indebtedness or property taxes raised from real growth. The 3% lid would sunset after 2027.
After 8 hours of debate on LB 408, a cloture motion was made by the bill’s sponsor. Cloture motions require 33 votes to cut off debate, thereby allowing a vote to be taken on the advancement of the bill. The cloture motion was not successful, falling four votes shy. Political subdivisions, such as schools, cities, and counties, opposed this bill. The Governor proposed a similar lid, but wanted it in the constitution, rather than in statute, which would have been more difficult to alter if needed.
Property taxes are the number one concern I hear from constituents. The Legislature has increased the funding for the Property Tax Credit Fund and last year we passed a new income tax credit program based on the amount of property taxes paid to school districts. However, even though the Legislature appropriates approximately $700 million annually for property tax relief, it has not resolved Nebraskan’s property tax burden. Therefore, I was supportive of LB 408.
One day after a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd, the Legislature gave first-round approval to LB 51 on a 39-0 vote. LB 51 would require all law enforcement agencies to be accredited by January 1, 2023. It would require agencies to adopt policies on the use of force and would increase annual training requirements for law enforcement officers. Chokeholds would generally be prohibited. Law enforcement agencies are to adopt policies requiring an officer to intervene when they believe another officer is engaged in the use of excessive force.
As introduced, continuing education requirements would have been increased from 24 hours to 40 hours. The committee amendments reduce the requirement to 32 hours, which will be phased-in. Furthermore, the 10-hour limit on online training is removed. The Crime Commission would be required to develop a database of law enforcement officers that have had their certification revoked or have been convicted of a serious crime. The reserve officer program is replaced with conditional training officers, who would be able to carry a firearm, wear a badge, and interact with the public, after completing specified training, and if under the direct supervision of a field training officer, as they await the next basic training class. Prior to the second stage of debate, the sponsor of the bill has pledged to work with rural senators who voiced concern on some of the bill’s provisions. My support for this measure depends on whether these concerns are adequately resolved.
As we enter the final weeks of this legislative session, senators have begun working into the evenings in order to finish our work. The Legislature will begin discussing taxation and spending measures over the next two weeks. I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on these measures. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
The Legislature gave the budget bills second-round approval this past week, making only minor adjustments. After the budget is passed, the speaker plans to schedule taxation and spending measures. The session is more than two-thirds complete, but we still have many significant issues to discuss.
As introduced, LB 406 focused on flood-control infrastructure projects along the lower Platte River. Senator Mike McDonnell, the primary sponsor of LB 406, has offered an amendment to strike the original provisions of LB 406 and replace it with a measure creating the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability Special Committee. I worked with Senator McDonnell, Speaker Mike Hilgers, Senator Dan Hughes, and Senator Mike Flood on the amendment. The special committee will focus on three areas of the state – along the Platte River from Columbus to Plattsmouth, the Lake McConaughy region of Keith County, and the portion of Knox County that lies north of Highway 12. The special committee, made up of the speaker and two senators from each congressional district, will hold hearings and request information from state, county, and city agencies. The committee is authorized to enter into contracts for consulting, engineering, and development studies. Two million dollars would be appropriated to carry out these provisions.
In addition to studying how to protect property along the lower Platte River and provide for public infrastructure in the Lake McConaughy region, the studies would also focus on the socioeconomic conditions, recreational and tourism opportunities, and public investment necessary to enhance economic development and to catalyze private investment in Northern Knox County, including the Lewis and Clark Lake and Niobrara State Park. The studies, which are to be completed by the end of the year, will evaluate the outcomes and the economic benefits of proposed development and improvements to residents, the local region, and state tourism.
When Senator Flood and I first discussed this vision for Northeast Nebraska, I jumped on board. Our area was hit hard by the flood two years ago and then suffered with the rest of the state through the pandemic. However, Nebraskans are resilient and hardships tend to bring out the best in people, generating great examples of residents working together to rebuild their communities.
Having lived in Northeast Nebraska my entire life, I can vouch for the beauty of the area. As an avid fisherman, I can also attest to amazing fishing opportunities. I believe Northeast Nebraska has a lot to offer, but there is the potential to offer a great deal more with creative thinking and planning. This area is underdeveloped and underused, but could attract more visitors and tourism to the area with the right investments, which would enhance the economies of our local communities.
The public hearing on the amendment to LB 406 will be held on Tuesday, April 20 at noon before the Natural Resources Committee, of which I am a member. Senator Mike Hilgers has designated LB 406 as a speaker priority bill, meaning that if the amendment is adopted by the committee and the bill advanced to the floor of the Legislature, it will be debated by the entire body. I am excited and hopeful that this could be the first step of some major investment in economic development for Northeast Nebraska.
I would like to encourage any high school student with an interest in government, law, leadership, or public speaking to register for the 2021 Unicameral Youth Legislature. It will be held on June 13-16, 2021 at the Nebraska State Capitol. The Unicameral Youth Legislature is a four-day legislative simulation in which high school students take on the role of lawmakers. Student senators sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation, and discover the unique process of our nation’s only unicameral. Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. More information can be found at: www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl.
Again I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the legislation before us. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
The Appropriations Committee advanced their finalized recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2021-22 and 2022-23 biennial budget to the full Legislature. First-round debate took place this past week and all bills were advanced unanimously except LB383, dealing with capital construction. Under the $9.7 billion biennial budget proposal, the two-year average estimated revenue growth is 3.0%, whereas the two-year average growth in spending is just 1.6%. The committee was able to control the growth of spending due to a higher federal match for Medicaid, a lower than expected increase in the formula for state aid to schools, and federal coronavirus relief funding.
The chair of the Appropriations Committee stated that their priorities in fashioning the budget were to replenish the Cash Reserve Fund, to increase service provider rates, to enhance property tax relief, and to provide for job training and economic development. They also left some funding available for priority bills.
Under the committee’s proposal, the Cash Reserve Fund will increase from $412 million to $763 million, as a result of automatic transfers due to current law and a $50 million transfer from the General Fund each year to replenish the fund. The Cash Reserve Fund balance at the end of the current biennium represented 7.5% of revenues. The balance will increase to 15% of revenues at the end of the first fiscal year and 14.2% by the end of 2022-23. This is still below the 16% target of what the balance should be at the end of a positive growth revenue cycle, but is significantly better than our current level.
The single largest increase in the budget was a 2% per year increase for service providers, amounting to an $89.3 million increase over the two-year period. This would apply to the Department of Health and Human Services providers, such as those providing behavior health services and services to persons with developmental disabilities, as well as providers of community corrections and juvenile services.
The committee recommended a 2% increase to the Property Tax Credit Fund (shown on your property tax statement), which amounts to $63 million over the two-year period. This would increase the annual appropriation from $275 million to $310 million by the second year in the biennium.
The Property Tax Incentive Act (LB 1107) was passed by the Legislature last year. It provides a refundable income tax credit for taxpayers based on the amount of property taxes paid to their school district. For this year the amount appropriated for the income tax credit was $125 million. The amount was to increase based on the amount in the Cash Reserve Fund and the revenue growth, reaching $375 million by the fifth year. Because the Cash Reserve Fund is greater than $500 million, 100% of the growth over 3.5% is distributed to the LB 1107 income tax credit, increasing it to an estimated $313.7 million in both years of the biennium.
Combining the funding for the Property Tax Credit, the LB 1107 income tax credit and the homestead exemption, the Legislature is providing more than $1.4 billion in property tax relief over the two-year budget period.
The budget recommendations include $17 million in funding for Nebraska Career Scholarships for students attending the University of Nebraska, State Colleges, or Community Colleges and $15 million for the Business Innovation Act, which helps businesses develop new technologies that lead to quality job opportunities across the state. The recommended budget also leaves $211 million for legislation pending before the Legislature.
The Governor requested funding for a $230 million correctional facility to house approximately 1,500 inmates, in an effort to deal with the overcrowding situation and the aging Nebraska State Penitentiary. The Appropriations Committee’s recommendations set aside $115 million in the Nebraska Capital Construction Fund for addressing prison overcrowding but did not actually appropriate the money. However, an amendment offered by the chair of the Appropriations Committee would, among other things, appropriate $14.9 million to the Department of Corrections to prepare designs and plans for the new multi-custody-level correctional facility. The amendment was adopted by the body prior to LB 383 receiving first-round approval on a 37-3 vote.
As we finish up the debate on the budget bills, I encourage your input on the spending proposals, as well as other issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at email@example.com. My mailing address is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509 and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
The question of whether Nebraska should legalize medical marijuana will be debated by the Legislature this year. LB 474, the Medicinal Cannabis Act, was advanced this past week from the Judiciary Committee on a 5-2-1 vote. It has been prioritized by Senator Anna Wishart, the primary sponsor of LB 474. The bill, 62 pages in length, provides the regulatory framework to establish access to cannabis for medical purposes. It limits the allowable amount of cannabis, requires a patient to have a bona fide relationship with the health care practitioner, and prohibits the smoking of marijuana.
The committee amendments define qualifying medical condition as a current diagnosis of any of the conditions specifically listed, such as autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or terminal illness. Furthermore, eight hours of continuing medical education would be required prior to a health care practitioner issuing a patient a written certification.
The Nebraska Pharmacists Association, ACLU, the Epilepsy Foundation of Nebraska, and representatives from the Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis submitted written testimony in support of LB 474, while several individuals told Judiciary Committee members their personal stories of how medical marijuana would help their loved ones. Parents of young children affected by seizures have fought for more than 8 years to be able to use marijuana as an alternative to harsh drugs with many side effects. Thirty-six other states have legalized marijuana for medical use.
Those opposing the legalization of medical marijuana include the Governor, the Attorney General, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Medical Association, the Nebraska State Patrol, and the Nebraska Sheriffs Association. Standards do not exist to give either providers or patients information about the identity, purity, or quality of any cannabis product. The FDA process for approval of drugs cannot be used, as marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Many fear that the legalization of medical marijuana will open the door for recreational marijuana. Studies have confirmed that casual use of marijuana causes harm in the brain of young users and can have a long-term impact on the mental health of our young people, making them more susceptible to serious mental health conditions and suicide.
In 2020, despite the pandemic, a petition drive to place medical marijuana on the ballot gathered approximately 196,000 signatures, far more than the 122,000 required. The Secretary of State, Bob Evnen, ruled that the proposal should be placed on the November 2020 ballot, but his ruling was challenged by the Lancaster County Sheriff, arguing that it violated the single subject requirement of the Nebraska Constitution. The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the Secretary of State and ordered Mr. Evnen to withhold the initiative from the ballot.
Another petition drive is currently underway, which seeks to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational uses. Most likely, it will be successful and the question placed on the November 2022 ballot. One item that will be considered during the debate on LB 474 is whether the Legislature should pass a bill prior to this happening, where marijuana could be limited to medical use and lawmakers would have more authority to regulate its production, processing and distribution.
This is just one of the many controversial issues before the Legislature. I encourage your input. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
The Legislature has completed Day 50 of this 90-day legislative session and is in the middle of debate on bills that have been designated as a priority by senators, committees, and the speaker. As a general rule, only bills that have been designated as a priority are placed on the agenda at this point in the session. There is an exception to this rule for a procedure called consent calendar. This process allows non-controversial non-prioritized bills to be considered in an efficient manner. Senators must send a letter to the Speaker of the Legislature requesting that a bill be placed on consent calendar. If three or more senators object to any bill chosen, it will be removed from the agenda. Debate is limited to 15 minutes per bill. Not only do the bills have to be non-controversial, the topic that they pertain to must also be non-controversial. These bills must be fairly simple and cannot have a general fund impact. One of the bills that I introduced was selected for the first consent calendar. LB 78 would require applicants for four veteran specific license plates (Gold Star Family, Ex-Prisoner of War, Disabled American Veteran and Purple Heart) to register with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, thereby allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles to verify their eligibility through the DVA registry.
This past week, the Legislature gave initial approval to LB 572, pertaining to the Livestock Brand Act. The Nebraska Brand Committee was created by the Legislature in 1941 to inspect cattle and investigate missing or stolen cattle. Although cattle management practices have evolved, the rules and regulations pertaining to Nebraska’s Brand Law have remained mostly unchanged. Part of Nebraska is located within a brand inspection area, with the line running through the eastern portion of Knox County and including Holt, Boyd, and Rock Counties. Cedar and Dixon Counties are not located in a brand inspection area. I believe that having part of the state in a livestock inspection area and part outside of it, creates a disadvantage for producers and livestock markets.
LB 572 allows electronic inspections as a means to meet brand inspection requirements. As amended, the bill would lower the per head brand inspection fee for physical inspection from $1.00 to $0.85 per head for the next two years in order to reduce the cash reserves of the Nebraska Brand Committee. I realize that LB 572 is not the final answer, but I think it is a step in the right direction. I would like to explore the voluntary brand inspection system used in Kansas, as I think a statewide voluntary model could help unify our state. This system would be more cost-effective, would retain brand inspection, but would eliminate the boundary line.
Another bill receiving first-round approval was LB 529. This bill deals with the distribution of the 44.5% of lottery proceeds that are dedicated for education purposes. As required by law, a study was conducted by the Education Committee in 2019, to devise recommendations for the allocation of these lottery funds for the next five years. LB 529 contains the majority of the adopted recommendations.
The biggest recipient of lottery proceeds is the Nebraska Opportunity Grant, which is Nebraska’s only need-based financial aid program for postsecondary students. It also receives an annual General Fund appropriation. Nearly 13,000 students per year benefit from this program. Some new funding initiatives include a Department of Education technology update to automate enrollment option processes statewide and a teacher support system, giving teachers a person to call when they need guidance in dealing with classroom challenges.
If there are issues of concern to you, I encourage you to inform me of your opinion. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
The Legislature gave first-round approval to a bill that attempts to make it easier for the consumer to purchase individual packages of meat directly from the producer or processor. LB 324 authorizes herd-share agreements with a producer prior to slaughter, thereby giving the consumer an ownership interest in the animal. The farmer and consumer will develop a bill of sale that decides where the animal will be processed, which cuts of meat will be available, and at what price. Then the farmer will deliver the animal to the processor, providing the processor with a list of all share owners and the cut instructions. The meat would be processed through a custom-exempt facility and the consumer could pick it up at the processor or on the farm. LB 324 is fashioned after legislation passed in Wyoming. Currently, persons are able to purchase a quarter or half of beef, but some may find this too costly or that they don’t have enough freezer space. LB 324 will allow consumers to purchase smaller shares than currently allowed. The processing under the herd-share agreement is exempt from USDA inspection because the meat is not sold at retail, as the consumer is a part-owner of the animal. However, the facility must still be inspected and meet safety and sanitation standards.
LB 324 also creates the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which provides a roadmap for increasing local processing capacity and expanding market access for small producers. Although this portion was not funded, Senator Tom Brandt, the sponsor of LB 324, informed legislators that U.S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry contacted him about his interest in this bill and pledged to help him find funding for it.
Last November, voters approved three ballot initiatives allowing casino gambling at licensed horse racetracks across the state and imposing a 20% tax on gross gambling revenue, of which 70% would be devoted to property tax relief. One of the ballot initiatives, approved by 65% of voters, changed the Nebraska Constitution to allow for the licensing, authorization, taxation, and regulation of all forms of games of chance to be conducted by authorized gaming operators within licensed racetrack enclosures.
LB 561 contains the necessary statutory framework to enact the initiative language. It merges the current Nebraska Racing Commission with the Nebraska Gaming Commission so the combined commission can administer both gaming and horseracing regulatory authority. It creates powers and duties for the commission and establishes penalties for violating the act. LB 561 increases the age for wagering on horseracing from 19 to 21 years of age, to make it consistent with casino gambling.
The committee amendments were divided into three portions for debate. The first portion would allow keno to be played on an electronic ticket as well as paper tickets. Payment would be limited to cash, a debit card, or a direct link to an account with a financial institution, such as Venmo. Credit cards would not be accepted. Purchase of a ticket for a keno game could only be made in person on site. The intent of this amendment was to modernize how keno is played, in order to remain competitive, as many communities are concerned that casino gambling will lower their keno revenue. This portion was adopted on a 26-18 vote.
The second portion of the committee amendments acknowledges that sports wagering is allowed with the passage of the constitutional amendment legalizing games of chance. There have been at least two Attorney General Opinions as well as several court cases stating that sports wagering is a game of chance. The amendments place restrictions on sports wagering, such as limiting it to a specific wagering area of the casino. This section was adopted on a 31-10 vote.
The final portion contained the remainder of the regulatory provisions and was adopted on a 35-4 vote. Following the adoption of the committee amendments, LB 561 received first-round approval on a 37-5 vote.
As the Legislature begins discussing bills that have been designated as priority bills, I encourage your input on these issues. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.
I ran for the position of state senator on four main issues: pro-life, veterans, property taxes, and water quality. Since I was sworn in as a state senator in 2019, I have sponsored or co-sponsored the following bills:
| Senator Gragert – Legislation 2021 (as of 3/16/21)
|Bill #||Description||Committee||Hearing Date||Status|
|LB 75||Township libraries||General Affairs||1-25-21||General File|
|LB 77||Patriot penalty||Banking||1-25-21||Passed|
|LB 78||License plates – Veterans Affairs registry||Transportation||1-25-21||General File|
|LB 395||Game & Parks depredation||Natural Resources||1-28-21||GF – in LB 507
|LR 5||Healthy Soils report||Agriculture||2-2-21||General File|
|Bill #||Primary Sponsor||Description||Status|
|LB 4||Briese||Tuition credits for reserves 50% to 75% community colleges||Passed|
|LB 5||Blood||Purple Stars School Act||General File|
|LB 6||Blood||Tweak of LB 153 to cover all military retirees||Amended into LB 387|
|LB 10||Blood||Disabled veteran definition changed to federal (more lenient)||IPP|
|LB 36||Erdman||National motto in schools||In Education|
|LB 134||Brandt||Require posting & reporting of tax incentive program information||In Revenue|
|LB 195||Halloran||Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act||In Government|
|LB 211||Murman||Reflexologist Registration Act||General File|
|LB 259||Halloran||Civil action for damages sustained by public safety officers||In Judiciary|
|LB 261||Linehan||Grave markers for National Guard||General File|
|LB 300||Slama||Extend justification for the use of force to motor vehicles||In Judiciary|
|LB 306||Brandt||Eligibility requirements low-income home energy assistance pgm.||General File
|LB 324||Brandt||Nebraska Meat and Poultry Inspection Law||General File
Ag Com. priority
|LB 362||Halloran||Ballot harvesting – allow 3rd party to collect and deliver ballots||In Government|
|LB 387||Brewer (req. Gov.)||Military retirement – 100% exempt from income tax||Select File
|LB 389||Sanders (req. Gov.)||Teaching certificates military spouses||Select File
|LB 396||Brandt||Nebraska Farm-to-School Program Act||General File
|LB 404||Lowe||Concealed weapon permit – good for 10 years (was 5)||In Judiciary|
|LB 417||Halloran||Firearms on school grounds by full-time off-duty law enforcement||In Judiciary|
|LB 418||Murman||Solemn Covenant of the States to Award Prizes for Curing Diseases||In HHS|
|LB 512||Brewer||Critical Infrastructure Utility Worker Protection Act||In Bus. & Labor|
|LB 543||Brandt||Agriculture Equipment Right-To-Repair Act||In Judiciary|
|LB 567||Bus. & Labor||Changes benefits for unemployment insurance||In Bus. & Labor|
|LB 581||Ben Hansen||Motorcycle helmets||In Transp & Tel|
|LB 583||Murman||Electronic prescriptions for controlled substances||General File
|LB 665||Bus. & Labor||Deny claims against the state||In Bus. & Labor|
|LB 666||Bus. & Labor||Payment of claims against the state||In Bus. & Labor|
|LB 670||Murman||Design and placement of highway memorial signs||In Transp & Tel|
|LB 671||Murman||$300,000/year for assistive technology & equipment for farmers||In Appropriation|
|LB 673||Murman||Education Behavioral Awareness & Support Act||In Education|
|LR 1||Blood||Support for U.S. Space Command headquarters at Offutt||Adopted|
|LR 14||Halloran||Convention of States||In Government
|Senator Gragert – Legislation 2020
|Bill #||Description||Committee||Hearing Date||Status|
|LB 769||Natural Resources Commission – resident||Nat. Resources||Jan. 29, 2020||Amended into LB 632 and passed|
|LB 770||Free park permits – disabled veterans||Nat. Resources||Jan. 30, 2020||Passed|
|LB 771||One license plate – pickups||Transportation||Jan. 28, 2020||In committee|
|LB 995||Loan assistance – rural attorneys||Appropriations||In budget – passed|
|LB 1108||Unclaimed property update||Banking||Feb. 24, 2020||In committee|
|Bill #||Primary Sponsor||Description||Status|
|LB 752||Blood||Service providers ask question if veteran||Amended into LB 755 and passed|
|LB 814||Geist||Prohibit dismemberment abortion||Passed|
|LB 835||Halloran||Update Nebr. Pure Food Act (obsolete egg handlers)||Passed|
|LB 899||Hughes||Public Power Districts – biofuels||Passed|
|LB 904||Bolz||Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute||Withdrawn – in budget|
|LB 911||Quick||Veterans Cemetery Grand Island||Passed|
|LB 931||Halloran||Seasonally harvested products maximum weight overload||Passed|
|LB 937||Brewer||Tribal flags – State Capitol||Amended into LB 848 and passed|
|LB 946||Briese||Impose sales tax on services, lower rate||In Revenue|
|LB 963||Brewer||First responders, frontline state employees – workers comp||Passed|
|LB 1084||Kolterman||UNMC – Nebr. Transformational Projects Act||Amended into LB 1107 and passed|
|LB 1150||Brandt||YRTC – Fully staff Geneva & Kearney||Amended into LB 1188 and passed|
|LR 288||Slama||Urge Congress and Corps of Eng. To prioritize flood control||Adopted|
|LR 292 CA||La Grone||Voter ID||In Government|
|LR 300 CA||Erdman||Consumption tax (eliminate sales, income and property taxes)||In Revenue|
|Senator Gragert – Legislation 2019
|Bill #||Description||Committee||Hearing Date||Status|
|LB 243||Healthy Soils Task Force||Agriculture||Jan. 29, 2019||Passed|
|LB 406||Unclaimed property||Government||Jan. 31, 2019||Passed|
|Bill #||Primary Sponsor||Description||Status|
|LB 5||Blood||Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act – veterans||Revenue 1/23|
|LB 6||Blood||In-state residency of military family for college purposes||Passed|
|LB 12||Blood||Real Estate license fee exemption for military||Passed|
|LB 15||Blood||Children of Nebr. Hearing Aid Act||Passed|
|LB 115||Blood||Military on fedr. property, residents where property located||Passed|
|LB 153||Brewer (at request of Gov.)||Exclude 50% of military retirement benefits from state income tax||Passed
|LB 154||Brewer||State Patrol collect data on missing Native American women||Passed|
|LB 209||Albrecht||Woman told possibility of reversing medication abortions||Passed|
|LB 261||DeBoer||Redistricting maps must use state-issued computer software||Exec. Board 2/14|
|LB 263||Clements||Fix 7 year option in current military retirement tax benefits||Revenue 2/7|
|LB 279||Bostelman||Sales tax exemption for food sold by veterans service org.||Revenue 3/7|
|LB 291||Linehan||Internet Sales tax – economic nexus, marketplace||LB 284 Passed|
|LB 378||B. Hansen||Repeal motorcycle helmet law for those 21 & older||General File|
|LB 399||Slama||Require civics portion of the Naturalization examination in 8th and 11th grade||Passed|
|LB 413||Brandt||Change Nebr. Advantage Act deadlines from 2020 to 2019||Revenue 3/6|
|LB 418||Cavanaugh||Prohibit collecting medical debt if case pending in workers comp||Passed|
|LB 424||Quick||Nebr. Municipal Land Bank Act||Passed|
|LB 451||Halloran||Provide rules & procedures to create/guide a delegation to Article V convention||Government 2/1|
|LB 477||Vargas||Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards – tax exemption||Passed|
|LB 497||Friesen||Property tax relief plan||Revenue 2/14|
|LB 511||Brewer||Allow state employees to participate in youth mentoring program||Passed|
|LB 575||Brewer||Adopt school policy re: access of student info to military recruiters||Passed|
|LB 611||Brandt||Trains – two crew members||Transp. 3/5|
|LB 626||Pansing-Brooks||Create a Veterans Workforce Development Coordinator||LB 138 Passed|
|LB 634||Hilkemann||Require seat belts in new school buses||Transp. 3/4|
|LB 660||Brewer||Nebr. Brand Committee employ a chief investigator||Passed|
|LB 693||Halloran||Neighbor Spoofing Protection Act||Passed|
|LB 696||Bostelman||Provide for military honor plates–Army & Air National Guard||LB 138 Passed|
|LB 697||Bostelman||Military license plates – eliminate $5 & $40 fee||LB 138 Passed|
|LR 7||Halloran||Convention of States – impose fiscal restraints & limit powers of federal government and term limits||Government 2/1|
|LR 13||Murman||Urge federal government to establish & enforce standards and product labeling for milk||Adopted|
Due to the pandemic, the Legislature has been holding full-day public hearings in an effort to limit the number of senators in one location. With more vaccinations underway, senators will begin full-day debate on Monday, March 15. This past week also marked the deadline for the designation of priority bills. Senators are allowed one personal priority bill and committees can select two bills as committee priority bills. The Speaker of the Legislature can designate up to 25 bills as speaker priority bills.
Among the bills given priority status are the following: LB 408 – limits annual growth in local government property taxes to no more than 3% a year; LB 388 – introduced at the request of the governor, seeks to appropriate $20 million in grants annually to increase access to high speed broadband across the state; LR 14 – proposes to apply to Congress to call a convention of the states, which would be limited to proposed amendments dealing with fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and term limits for officials and members of Congress; and LB 561 – provides regulatory authority over casino gambling, which was legalized by voters last year.
I designated LB 387 as my priority bill. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill to exempt 50% of military retirement benefits from the Nebraska income tax. LB 387, introduced by Senator Tom Brewer, at the request of the Governor, would fully exempt military pensions from state income taxes. Although this bill is important to military families, I felt it is also important to our state because it will be an investment to keep a quality workforce in Nebraska. I chose LB 387 as my priority bill because not only will it retain more veterans in Nebraska, it will also attract more veterans to our state when they retire from the military and are ready to begin their next career. The increased revenue the state will receive from income taxes paid at their new jobs will more than offset the income tax exemption for their military retirement benefits. Twenty-one states exempt military retirement pay from state income taxes and nine states have no state income tax. We must be competitive with these thirty states, including all of our surrounding states except Colorado, in order to attract military retirees. This legislation was an opportunity for legislators to show their gratitude as well as their wisdom. LB 387 was given first-round approval this past week on a 45-0 vote.
The Revenue Committee advanced LB 64, which as amended, would exempt social security benefits from the state income tax, through a ten-year phased-in approach. Only a dozen states currently tax social security benefits. Numerous attempts have been made in the past to exempt social security income but due to the fiscal impact, they have been unsuccessful. I believe it is time to discuss this issue again. LB 64 has been designated as a priority by Senator Mark Kolterman.
LB 680 was also advanced by the Revenue Committee this past week. It reduces the top corporate income tax rate from 7.81% to 6.84%, making it equal to the top rate paid by individuals and most small businesses.
During the last week of public hearings, LB 474 was heard before the Judiciary Committee. LB 474 would legalize the use of medical marijuana. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Anna Wishart, noted that this is the 5th year she has brought this bill before the Legislature. She also was a leader in the petition drive, which collected more than the necessary signatures to place it on last year’s ballot, but was struck down by the Nebraska Supreme Court for violating the single subject rule. With another petition drive already started, Senator Wishart pointed out that LB 474 contains far more restrictions than what would be passed by voters.
Proponents of LB 474 gave sometimes emotional testimony promoting the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and severe seizures in children. Former Husker football player, Grant Wistrom informed the committee how medical cannabis improved his quality of life when he played in the NFL.
Opponents of the measure included the state’s Chief Medical Officer, a representative of the Nebraska Medical Association, and the superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. They emphasized the need for drugs to be approved through the FDA process. The governor held a press conference prior to the start of the hearing, warning that marijuana use affects the chemical makeup of the brain, particularly in our youth.
As the Legislature begins full-day debate, I encourage your input on issues that are before us. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is email@example.com and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.