NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Tim Gragert

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40

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 tgragert@leg.ne.gov

Welcome
January 6th, 2021

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.

Sincerely,
Sen. Tim Gragert

The Legislature completed their work and adjourned sine die on May 27, 2021, six days early in the 90-day session. Our final days were spent on redistricting guidelines, motions to override gubernatorial vetoes, and procedural matters.

LR 134, a resolution introduced by the Redistricting Committee, defines the guidelines to be used by the Legislature during the 2021 redistricting process. The Redistricting Committee is established as a special committee of the Legislature in January of each year ending in the number 1. The committee is authorized to introduce and exercise jurisdiction over legislative bills and resolutions relating to redistricting and hold hearings regarding such legislation. The Redistricting Committee for the 2021 process was appointed by the Executive Board and consists of 9 senators, chaired by Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn.

The Legislature is responsible for drawing the district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, Legislature, Nebraska Supreme Court, University of Nebraska Board of Regents, Public Service Commission, and State Board of Education. The guidelines are designed to help ensure that the redistricting plans yet to be developed by the Legislature are constitutionally acceptable. The guidelines require the Legislature to use population data from the 2020 U.S. Census, to follow county lines whenever practicable, define districts that are compact and contiguous, follow traditional districting principles, not favor a political party or consider political affiliations of registered voters, not dilute the voting strength of any minority population, and to create districts that are substantially equal in population. LR 134 was adopted by the Legislature. After the census data becomes available in mid-August, it is anticipated that the Legislature will meet in Special Session this fall to carry out their redistricting responsibilities.

The Governor vetoed three bills. All three bills were passed easily by the Legislature. The motions to override the Governor’s vetoes were all successful, but by a much smaller margin. LB 108 attempts to address the cliff effect in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. LB 306 expands eligibility to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, offering federal financial assistance to those in need. LB 147 transfers the duties and responsibilities for management of the Omaha Public Schools retirement system to the Public Employees Retirement Board, who already manages the retirement funds for all other school employees, as well as for judges, county workers, and state employees. The legislation spells out that the state would NOT take on the debt of the OPS troubled pension system.

This session was different than the first two sessions I experienced, as there was revenue available to address some priority issues, such as expanding high speed broadband services to underserved areas of the state, reducing the value of agricultural land for school bond purposes, reducing the top corporate income tax rate, phasing out the income tax on social security benefits, eliminating the income tax on military retirement benefits, and eliminating the sales tax on some agricultural equipment and ethanol inputs. Even with the tax reductions, the Legislature limited the two-year average growth in spending to 2% and has a projected surplus of $27 million above the required 3% minimum reserve. I felt the Legislature passed a responsible budget.

I was selected to serve on the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability (STAR WARS) Special Committee, created by the passage of LB 406. The committee is authorized to hire a consultant to study three areas of the state, one being northern Knox County.  A Request for Proposal (RFP) for contractual services is being prepared. This study will look at the recreational and tourism opportunities and public investment necessary to enhance economic development and catalyze private investment in our area. We have already held one “idea raiser” in Knox County and I expect more meetings will be held in the area. I am excited to see the direction this study takes.

I will be back in Creighton now that the Legislature has adjourned. During the interim, I will try to get around the district as much as possible. I will still travel to Lincoln periodically for meetings and office work. If I’m not in Lincoln, my staff will be able to assist you. My contact information is District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my office telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

The Speaker of the Legislature has announced that senators will complete their work a few days early, adjourning sine die on May 27th rather than June 10th. This is partially due to the many late nights that were worked in order to complete our business and knowing that we will be meeting again in a couple months.

Every ten years, the Legislature must complete the redistricting process to reflect population changes after the U.S. Census is complete. Due to the pandemic, states didn’t get the census data in March, as they typically do. The data should be available by mid-August, forcing the Legislature to meet in a special session this fall to redraw the governmental district boundary lines.

This past week, seventy-three bills were read on Final Reading and passed into law. The following are some of the bills that passed.

LB 2 reduces the value of agricultural land from 75% to 50% of its actual value for school bond issues. This legislation seeks to more evenly balance the responsibility for paying for school bonds amongst farmers and residential homeowners.

LB 51 increases certification and training standards for law enforcement officers. The Crime Commission is directed to post information on its website regarding law enforcement officers who have their certification revoked or have been convicted of a serious crime.

LB 64 phases out the taxation of all social security income over a 10-year period. The 50% exemption over the first 5 years is spelled out in statute. The increase to 100% over the next 5 years is included in intent language, allowing a future Legislature to revisit the issue to determine if there is sufficient revenue at that time.

LB 324 allows for herd-share arrangements with a producer prior to slaughter, in an effort to make it easier for consumers to purchase individual packages of meat directly from the producer or processor.

LB 387 will exempt 100% of military retirement from state income taxes. This bill was introduced at the request of the governor and I selected it as my priority bill.

LB 388 authorizes the Public Service Commission to issue $20 million in grants annually to increase access to high speed broadband across the state. Unserved and underserved areas will be prioritized.

LB 396 adopts the Nebraska farm-to-school program. Administered by the Nebraska Department of Education, the program encourages schools to use locally and regionally produced or minimally processed food in an effort to improve child nutrition and strengthen the farm economy. The program may also include activities to provide students with hands-on learning opportunities.

LB 406 creates the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resource Sustainability Special Committee of the Legislature. The committee is authorized to hire a consultant to study three areas of the state, including northern Knox County. The study will look at the socioeconomic conditions, recreational and tourism opportunities, and public investment necessary to enhance economic development in our area.

LB 644 requires counties, cities, school districts, and community colleges to send a brightly colored postcard to affected property taxpayers notifying them of a joint public hearing if they propose to increase their property tax request by more than the allowable growth percentage. The allowable growth percentage is set at 2% plus real growth.

Senators discussed but did not vote on LB 542, which would have authorized the State Highway Commission to issue up to $400 million in bonds over the next six years to speed up the completion of Nebraska’s expressway system. One-third of the state’s 600-mile expressway plan to link major cities with four-lane expressways remains unfinished more than 30 years after it was approved by the Legislature. The cost of the project continues to increase due to inflation and rising construction costs. Segments waiting to be completed include Fremont to Columbus and Fremont to Norfolk.

It was decided to hold LB 542 until next year, but retain its priority status. This would allow the Legislature to have a better idea of what will happen with the infrastructure bill in U.S. Congress that could send a significant amount of funding to states to improve highways. Furthermore, it was recently announced that the Department of Transportation has received bids on expanding Highway 275 between West Point and Scribner into a four-lane system.

As we finish this legislative session, I still encourage you to contact me. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE  68509. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

Nebraskans will once again reap the benefits of the energy and creativity of Nebraska young people as they serve as interns in their local public libraries. The Nebraska Library Commission recently awarded Nebraska Library Internship Grants totaling $25,000 to twenty-four Nebraska public libraries. These internship grants will support public library interns who will contribute to the scope and value of the diverse programs and activities in Nebraska’s public libraries.

“The internships are a great opportunity for students to get involved in library work. Beyond earning money and gaining valuable work experience, the student is exposed to the broad range of library services and programming. Internships provide an opportunity for the student to view the library as a viable and satisfying career choice. In addition, interns bring a fresh perspective and their own unique talents to the library,” said Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner.

Student interns will learn about library work as they shadow staff, assist with day-to-day library operations, and implement special projects. Some of the activities that students will participate in include:

  • plan and implement programs such as summer reading programs for all ages, story time sessions, book discussions, and teen/tween activities;
  • assist with computer classes for adults and seniors;
  • organize Makerspaces and Maker Clubs, as well as other STEAM learning activities, programs, and crafts;
  • work with Summer Youth Outreach Services to provide Bookmobile services at locations throughout the city and county;
  • facilitate partnerships with Doane University, the Bassett Old Feed Store Art Center, the Ponca State Park, and Nebraska Extension;
  • assist with outreach events outside the library;
  • update the library’s website and social media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, etc.) or in some situations designing and coding a new website;
  • assist with circulation activities, book selection, and collection management; and
  • work on newspaper digitization projects.

The following 24 Nebraska public libraries were awarded 2021 internship grant funding:

  • Hoesch Memorial Library, Alma
  • Atkinson Public Library
  • Rock County Public Library, Bassett
  • Bayard Public Library
  • Blair Public Library and Technology Center
  • Bridgeport Public Library
  • Central City Public Library
  • Clarkson Public Library
  • Clearwater Public Library
  • Columbus Public Library
  • Crete Public Library
  • Franklin Public Library
  • Kimball Public Library
  • Madison Public Library
  • Morrill Public Library
  • Norfolk Public Library
  • Cordelia B Preston Memorial Library, Orleans
  • Oxford Public Library
  • Papillion Sump Memorial Library
  • Plainview Public Library
  • Ponca Carnegie Library
  • Stromsburg Public Library
  • Verdigre Public Library
  • Kilgore Memorial Library, York

Additionally, three public libraries participating in the Library Innovation Studios: Transforming Rural Communities (LIS) project have also received 2021 internship grant funding. The interns hired in these libraries will primarily be working with this LIS makerspace grant. These libraries include:

  • Bellevue Public Library
  • McCook Public Library
  • Lied Randolph Public Library

Funding for the project is supported and administered by the Nebraska Library Commission, in partnership with the Nebraska Library Systems.

As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, “bringing together people and information.”

Nebraska’s Regional Library Systems consist of four non-profit corporations governed by boards representative of libraries and citizens in the region. The four systems were established to provide access to improved library services through the cooperation of all types of libraries and media centers within the counties included in each System area.

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The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission Website, http://nlc.nebraska.gov/publications/newsreleases.

 

FOR MORE

INFORMATION:                            
Christa Porter
402-471-3107
800-307-2665

Legislative bills proposing to decrease the corporate income tax rate and phase-out the income tax on social security benefits both received second-round approval this past week after amendments were added to require the Legislature to revisit these issues prior to full implementation. This would allow a future Legislature to determine whether revenue is sufficient at that time to carry out the Legislature’s intent.

Under LB 64, taxation of all social security income would be phased-out over a 10-year period.  Nebraska is one of only 13 states to tax social security income. Senators questioned whether the Legislature could afford the $168 million price tag once it is fully implemented. The Appropriations Committee chair offered an amendment that kept the 50% exemption achieved over the first five years in place, but used intent language to increase the exemption from 60% to 100% over the following five years. Even though LB 64 advanced to Final Reading, an amendment may still be offered to impose an income cap.

As advanced from the Revenue Committee, LB 432 proposed to reduce the top corporate income tax rate on taxable income in excess of $100,000 from 7.81% to 6.84%, which is the top individual income tax rate. The intent was to create parity between businesses regardless of the legal form. Subchapter S Corporations and Limited Liability Companies don’t pay corporate income tax. Instead they distribute income to their partners or shareholders, who then pay individual income tax on their distributions. Once again, some senators questioned whether the Legislature could afford this tax decrease and whether it was the best use for this money. Under a compromise amendment, the top corporate tax rate would be reduced in phases, decreasing to 7.5% the first year and 7.25% the second. The final decreases to 7.0% and 6.84% in the following two years are included in intent language. After adoption of this amendment, LB 432 was advanced to Final Reading.

Senators debated LB 474, which proposed to legalize medical marijuana, for eight hours this past week. Senator Anna Wishart offered legislation again this year to adopt the Medicinal Cannabis Act. She worked on the initiative petition last year that collected 196,000 signatures, far more than needed to place it on the ballot despite the hardship in gathering signatures due to the pandemic. Although the Secretary of State approved the proposal for the November 2020 ballot, a lawsuit was filed at the last minute, alleging that the initiative language violated the single subject requirement of our constitution. The lawsuit was successful and the initiative was removed from the ballot. Senator Wishart told of broad support for the ballot measure from all areas of the state, from all age groups, and across the political parties. She predicted that another ballot measure will be successful and that it will be approved by voters if LB 474 is not passed by the Legislature. Although focused on “medical marijuana”, the initiative petition may simply refer to “marijuana”, to make sure the single subject provision is not violated again. This could open Nebraska up to recreational marijuana as well.

Thirty-six states have comprehensive medical cannabis programs or have fully legalized cannabis for adult nonmedical and medical purposes. An additional 11 states allow the use of low THC high CBD products for medical reasons in limited situations or as a legal defense. This leaves Nebraska, Arkansas, and Kansas with no medical cannabis program.

LB 474 was described as the most conservative medical marijuana legislation in the United States. Under LB 474, patients must have a qualifying medical condition and written certification issued by a health care professional, with whom they have a bonafide relationship. The written certification must be renewed every 90 days. Health practitioners must perform a physical exam on patients prior to providing a certification for medical cannabis, complete continuing education requirements, and are limited in the number of certifications they can issue. Patients could possess no more than 2.5 ounces of cannabis and must purchase it from state-licensed dispensaries, which are prohibited from selling edible products. Patients could not smoke it or operate a vehicle while under the influence. Furthermore, municipalities could ban or adopt zoning restrictions on the locations of medical cannabis businesses, although the receipt of mailed products could not be prohibited.

This was a difficult issue for me. I have heard from and met with parents, pleading for the ability to use marijuana as an alternative for harsh drugs with terrible side effects for their children who were experiencing severe seizures. However, the cloture motion on LB 474 was not successful, meaning that LB 474 will not be debated again. The Legislature won’t have the same control over how an initiative petition is implemented.

Senators are meeting into the evenings as we attempt to finish our business prior to the end of session. I still encourage you to contact me with your opinions 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 tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

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 tgragert@leg.ne.gov 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 tgragert@leg.ne.gov 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 tgragert@leg.ne.gov 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 tgragert@leg.ne.gov 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 tgragert@leg.ne.gov. 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 tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40
Room 11th Floor
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2801
Email: tgragert@leg.ne.gov
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