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Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 43rd 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. Tom Brewer
We are in that season of every legislative session where the desire of senators to cooperate and compromise with each other is just about gone. Several really good bills have been killed because of vote-trading schemes between senators across three factions (conservatives, liberals, moderates). None of these three factions have enough votes to get anything done by themselves, so coalitions have to be built. It is this time of the session when you get to see exactly who a senator really is. It is easy to see what is important to them and what is not. The votes on the board do not lie.
I often speak of policy issues in this update, but today I want to talk about philosophy.
My friend Senator Mike Groene of North Platte introduced a resolution that reaffirmed the Nebraska Legislature’s commitment to the rule of law under the constitution. The first paragraph of LR 107 reads,
“That we hereby reaffirm our solemn oaths of office by expressing a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Nebraska against every act of aggression whether foreign or domestic, including every act of unconstitutional abuse of power arising from the state or federal government.”
I was one of the thirty senators who co-sponsored this resolution. In view of a number of recent federal actions by the congress and the executive branch, I (and many fellow senators) felt it was appropriate for Nebraska to make loud and clear the point we will not be bullied by the federal leviathan. It has become increasingly obvious to many that our government in Washington is unmoored from its limited, constitutionally enumerated role. The looming threat to liberty has prompted a growing number of states to pass resolutions like this.
Senator Megan Hunt of Omaha has taken a number of opportunities during floor debate to express her strong opposition to this resolution. She has introduced LR 118 requesting cooperation relating to defending the United States Capitol building and our democratic election process. She also introduced LR 121 requesting cooperation relating to defending the Constitution of the United States and the American people against future pandemics.
I hope every Nebraskan reads Senator Hunt and Senator Groene’s resolutions. The difference in the philosophy behind each of them is stark. I worry that much of our political discourse these days reflects an alarming move backwards as a society. We are reforming old divisions by breaking people apart into racial and other groups. Many assign a value to people based on these arbitrary differences. Not wearing a facemask outside, for example, means (to some) that you are threatening their life. We are watching “equality before the law” (celebrated in our state motto) disappearing and slowly being replaced by woke mob rule.
About thirty years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the country of Yugoslavia broke apart into a number of different nations. Ancient distrust quickly devolved into simmering hatred between these factions which led to a civil war that claimed over 140,000 lives, and over 2 million refugees. America’s adversaries see our growing social division. They watch us with hungry eyes.
We need to settle our differences through a return to limited government, one of federalism that lets different states cooperate productively on matters of national importance while leaving local issues to state and local control. The states gave birth to the federal creature. They are no longer it’s master. It’s creeping expansion breeds infighting. Liberty brings a return to peace.
This week the Legislature debated Legislative Bill 364. This is a bill that promotes parents having more choices in the education of their children. Under LB 364, a limited tax credit would be authorized for people who donate money to provide scholarships to kids in poverty whose educational needs are not being met by their government school. This is especially important in those districts with failing public schools, where parents may understandably want their sons and daughters to attend a better performing private school.
Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn first introduced this bill in 2017, and every session since then. After an eight-hour filibuster it failed to receive the necessary thirty-three votes to stop debate. The vote was twenty-nine yes, eighteen no, and two senators not voting.
During the debate, my colleague Senator Justin Wayne (D) from Omaha said, “The only people who are opposing school choice today are the same people who have choice. And many of them exercise that choice.” He absolutely nailed it with this statement.
A number of the twenty senators who opposed the bill have their own children attending private schools because they can afford it. Their objection to the bill was based on the wrong-headed idea that a privately-funded scholarship program for poor kids somehow harms public schools in Nebraska. LB 364 does not change anything for public schools. This bill would not take one penny of funding from any public school.
The senators opposed to this bill care more about preventing educational competition than they care about helping some poor kid who is not being served in his government school. The best evidence suggests that private schools are often able to achieve better results with less money. That means that LB 364 is not just about getting a better education for at-risk kids and supporting the authority of parents to make the best decisions for their kids — it is about conserving taxpayer resources, too.
Nebraskans pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation, most of that going to the public schools. While I admire the work that schoolteachers do in Nebraska public schools, the administration frustrates a lot of their efforts. Spending more does not mean that we are delivering a higher quality education. My constituents are in an uproar over the high cost of government schools in Nebraska and want to know what we are doing about it.
The people of Lincoln will soon see if their school board votes to give their superintendent a nice pay raise of $329,539 in annual salary. At the same time, senators in the legislature are killing bills that would help a poor kid get into the same private school their own children attend. It suffices to say, the Legislature needs to hear from the people. Consider the fact a number of these senators opposing this bill will face the voters again when they run for re-election in 2022 and 2024. I encourage citizens to learn how their senators voted on this.
There are senators in this group of “no” votes who received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the teachers union. They strongly oppose any school choice legislation because it threatens their public school monopoly. I hope folks think about that the next time they have a ballot in front of them. Elections have consequences, and we are seeing that plain as day.
There have been three property tax reduction bills debated on the floor of the legislature this month. There will be more coming up. Two of these bills advanced to the next round of debate, and one has been killed. LB 408 by Senator Briese was killed by a filibuster on a 29–8 vote. Thirty-three votes (two-thirds of all 49 senators) are required to invoke cloture and defeat a filibuster.
This bill is very simple and easy to understand. Here is a quote from the bill’s “statement of intent.”
LB 408 would limit the annual increase in property taxes, excluding approved bonds, for all political subdivisions to three percent. The voters of the political subdivision could override the limit with a majority vote at an election. The limit would not apply to real growth value.
Virus protocols in the capitol have severely limited the activities of lobbyists this year. But in spite of these difficulties, the rotunda of the capitol was buzzing with activity when LB 408 was being debated this week. The reason for this extra effort by the lobby was easy to see: the legislature was talking about limiting how much property taxes could be raised in any given year to just three percent.
This was not a property tax reduction bill. This bill did not take a penny out of any local unit of government’s pocket, nor did it reduce property taxes whatsoever. All the bill did was try to limit how much a taxing authority could raise property taxes from one year to the next. The 29–8 vote was a stunning display of the power these groups have over a decisive number of senators. Their message to the legislature was loud and clear; do not attempt to limit how much property tax we can levy, collect and spend.
Looking at the votes cast for these three bills revealed something I found very interesting. Look at the vote for LB 2, LB 408, and LB 644. In each case, the same eight senators voted “no.” Six of these eight senators will face the voters again. Two of them are termed-out and can vote as they please without repercussions. It is no surprise these are all Lincoln and Omaha senators who come from left-leaning districts. To put this in perspective, were a rural senator from west of Lincoln to vote this way, they would face a serious challenge in their reelection campaign, and stand a good chance of losing their seat. These eight senators however can comfortably vote against property tax relief bills without fearing the consequences at the ballot box.
Every senator in the body has campaigned, to one degree or another, on a pledge to help reduce our crushing property tax burden in Nebraska. It has been the #1 priority of conservative senators since long before I first came to the Legislature. It is plain to see it is not every senator’s priority. Forget about reducing property taxes, these senators will not even vote to slow their growth. That is something that has to change.
LB 51 is a bill introduced by Senator Steve Lathrop. He is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and this bill is one that he made a committee priority. LB 51 will change the requirements for the certification law enforcement officers and accreditation of law enforcement agencies in Nebraska. It will end the reserve officer program in Nebraska and mandate a number of new police policies concerning the use of force.
The version of the bill advanced by the committee will cause significant problems for small town police departments and rural sheriff departments. I will be proposing an amendment to this bill that will address these problems. It is my hope I can reason with the supporters of this bill, but I will filibuster this bill if it comes to that. It is a solution designed for Lincoln and Omaha that just does not fit in rural Nebraska.
For some small, rural law enforcement agencies, ending the reserve officer program will mean the difference between a police officer or sheriff’s deputy going on a call all alone or with a partner. I was once a reserve officer myself, so I know how important the reserve officer program is to smaller departments. Oftentimes the position of chaplain in a police or sheriff’s department is held by a reserve officer. These gracious officers are often clergy from the local community who have volunteered to do this important work. They are the ones who are the knock on the door with the notification of a death in the family. Reserve officers are a vital resource for our small rural communities in Western Nebraska. Losing this important capability is totally unacceptable.
Senator Lathrop’s bill would result in a sixty percent increase in the training required for law enforcement officers (LEOs) to maintain their certification in Nebraska. This is another under-funded mandate from the Legislature on the counties and municipalities. There will be a grant program to cover some of the increased costs, but there is no guarantee that those grants will cover the costs. Some of these additional hours are going to come at the cost of an increase in property taxes which are already much too high.
As the law is written today, a newly hired LEO has a one year period of time to complete their certification training. For most agencies, this training occurs at the police academy in Grand Island. New officers frequently encounter delays in getting a seat in the next class. In the meantime, departments can use a new LEO to help with a number of things. Properly supervised they can serve as back-up for a veteran officer while they watch and learn.
LB 51 requires new hires to complete eighty hours of training before they can do anything to support field operations. It even prohibits them from riding in a police vehicle or speaking to the public. Even more challenging, the provisional period is shortened from one year to sixteen weeks. This will make it impossible for small departments to bring a new hire up to speed, and it forces them to have someone on the payroll who is prevented from doing much useful for the department. This is wasteful, and it prevents the new hire from getting a real world understanding of what the job is about.
I support our law enforcement agencies 100 percent. If Lincoln, Omaha, and the State Patrol can live with the provisions of LB 51, that is fine with me. That said, the bill will impose a severe hardship on our small rural law enforcement agencies. It must be changed to accommodate the different conditions faced by our counties and municipalities in the less crowded parts of our state.
The Nebraska Constitution requires the Legislature to do only two things: meet on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January, and pass a budget once every two years. Technically, the Legislature only has to pass this package of budget bills and nothing else. Legislatures are two years long. Much of the first session following the election is devoted to the budget. As I write this, we are in the middle of that debate right now.
The proposed budget for the State of Nebraska’s 2021–2022 fiscal year is more than $4.7 billion. It is broken into three broad groups of expenses. Operating the various agencies of state government costs about $1.6 billion. The largest expense in this category is the university system at almost $700 million. This category of spending is 2.2 percent more than the last budget.
State aid to individuals is the second category, costing almost $1.5 billion. Medicaid is the largest expense in this category at almost $1 billion. This category of spending is 0.6 percent more than the last budget. Nebraska has one of the most generous welfare systems in the country.
State aid to local governments is the third category. The TEEOSA formula (how the Legislature funds K–12 schools) is a little more than $1 billion. This category of spending has decreased 3.3 percent compared to the last budget.
Lastly we are going to spend about $40 million on construction in the capitol building to convert the 1930’s steam heat system to a modern geothermal HVAC heating and cooling system. This work is progressing on schedule and the contractors are doing a quality job that does justice to our historic state capitol building.
Thirty-one percent of all appropriations are of money we received from the federal government. This worries me because the federal government is printing a breath-taking amount of money out of thin air. According to the Federal Reserve, it has created 20 percent of the total money supply just since last February. All of this monetary inflation will drive up prices, and if the money from the feds ever dries up, the Legislature will face a serious budget crisis.
The efforts we have made to reduce property taxes continues to be my number one priority. I agree with Senator Erdman who likes to say that most of what we have done to reduce property taxes in Nebraska “is just a decrease in the increase.”
Property taxes continue to rise because we rely too much on them to fund our schools. To make property taxes just equal to the national average, we would need to appropriate another $700 million for schools on top of the $1 billion we already spend. There are not the votes in the Legislature to do this. Senator Erdman’s LR 11CA could be the answer in my opinion. I encourage everyone to check out this unique proposal. I am also very interested in the creative education reform proposed by Senator Lou Ann Linehan in her LB 364. That could help us save money and deliver a better education to Nebraska kids.
The Nebraska Department of Education has produced a school curriculum document called ‘Nebraska Health Education Standards.’ The purpose of this curriculum is to teach Nebraska’s preschool through grade twelve children.
“The comprehensive health education program motivates students to maintain and improve their health; advocate for self and others; prevent disease; form healthy relationships; and avoid or reduced health-related risk behaviors.”
I encourage Nebraskans, especially those with children attending our public schools, to read this document. It has a number of things in it that I find shocking and unacceptable. It can be found on the Department’s website at education.ne.gov.
Of particular interest is the portion of this proposed curriculum called “Human Growth and Development” which includes the sex education portion of the curriculum. This material is taken from the National Sex Education Standards which “…reflect advancements in research regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, social, racial, and reproductive justice, and the long-term consequences of stigma and discrimination.”
I do not believe that the framing of these curriculum items as “advancements in research” is honest. From what I can see, this is non-scientific political dogma that comes from the wrong-headed “woke” agenda. It has no place in Nebraska’s schools. When the discussion proceeds past biology to religious and moral instruction, these topics are best addressed in the home by the child’s parents. These topics strongly implicate the sincerely held religious beliefs of many Nebraskans, including my own. Government schools should not be telling students that “science” requires them to reject the moral teachings of their faith. I strongly support parental rights and religious freedom. Those cherished values should not be under attack by taxpayer-funded government schools.
Much of this proposed curriculum material is clearly age-inappropriate. For example, it teaches kindergarten students about same-sex relationships, and first graders about gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, and gender stereotypes. It would ask fourth graders to “differentiate between sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The whole mindset behind these teachings completely ignores the objective truth that sex is biologically binary. You are either a male or female. Some people are born with ambiguous anatomy, and this has long been recognized for what it is: a physical developmental disability. According to the “woke” orthodoxy, we are supposed to believe both (1) that gender is fluid and a social construct and (2) that gender is such an essential part of a person’s identity that healthy body parts should be surgically removed or modified to accommodate it.
In its current form this document is unacceptable. It indoctrinates school children with concepts and ideas that are at best unproven, and in my view craven and depraved. It puts parents in a place where they will have to un-teach things their children are taught in school. This is way out of step with Nebraska values, but there is a remedy available to the public.
The good news is this document is currently in a draft form. It will not be finalized and voted on until September. Citizens interested in providing feedback to this proposed curriculum have a way to do that. The State Board of Education is elected by the voters. They oversee the Nebraska Department of Education and hire the commissioner of education. The state has seven districts. The western half of Nebraska is represented by Mr. Robin Stevens. He can be reached by phone at (402) 615-4095 or email at; firstname.lastname@example.org.
These radical ideas on gender are way out of step with Nebraska values. I urge people to share their feelings with their elected representative on the State School Board.
I recently learned of a site in western Nebraska where the remains of obsolete wind turbines are being temporarily stored. This concerned me very much because I do not want any new landfill created in Nebraska for the disposal of wind turbine blades.
There are about 58,000 wind turbines in the U.S. according to the U.S. Wind Turbine Database. There are plans to build an additional 3,000 more wind turbines by the end of this year. Turbine blades need to be replaced as often as every ten years, so the more wind turbines they build, the more this problem grows. It is estimated that over eight thousand old blades will be discarded every year around the United States.
This growing problem is compounded by the fact the number of landfills willing to accept them in neighboring states is decreasing. This is happening in Colorado. There is a bill in the Wyoming legislature that would prohibit state landfills from accepting the blades. New locations must be found so this problem will find its way to Nebraska soon enough. I understand why the residents of Colorado and Wyoming feel this way, and I share the same concerns about having wind turbine landfills in Nebraska.
I know of no plan to dispose of or recycle obsolete wind turbine blades in an environmentally responsible way. Digging what amounts to a mass grave for old blades is the current process being used. This is totally unacceptable for Nebraska.
I believe it is dangerous and irresponsible to continue building wind turbines in Nebraska until suitable options for worn-out blades are found. The current policy of using landfills is short-sighted and reckless. I know of no scientific study on the effects caused by filtering rain water through a landfill full of chopped up fiberglass. No one knows the impact this will have on our water quality. What about all the exotic epoxy resins and industrial-strength glue in these blades? Do we want this poison in the Ogallala Aquifer?
The public needs to be aware of this looming disaster. People have been fed the propaganda that wind energy is good for the environment. In reality, all it does is line the pockets of a handful of wind energy companies and a few landowners. The rest of us are forced to deal with all the negative effects of wind energy. People forced to be neighbors to this public menace suffer a loss of property value. They suffer a sharp reduction in the quality of rural life. These massive industrial facilities slaughter wildlife including endangered species. The noise and vibration they cause makes some people sick. Wind energy cannot replace “base load” generation, and the recent cold snap and rolling blackouts gave us all a stark reminder of this fact.
On top of everything else, Nebraskans will soon face the question of having a potentially toxic waste dump so a few people can make money off of the wind energy scam. This is unacceptable. It reminds me of why counties need to have zoning that regulates wind energy such as the bill I introduced, LB 424. Wind turbine landfills should be out-lawed in Nebraska.
Since I first began my service in the Nebraska Legislature in 2017, I have introduced and strongly supported legislation over the years to legalize the permitless carry of concealed weapons. This is commonly referred to as a “constitutional carry” law. The idea is that the Second Amendment is the only permit a free American citizen should need to carry a gun. Four of our six neighboring states (WY, SD, KS, MO) have legalized constitutional carry, and it is currently being considered in the Iowa legislature.
My bill, LB 236, is not a state-wide constitutional carry law. Instead LB 236 proposes allowing Nebraskans to choose constitutional carry one county at a time. I wrote the bill this way because of Nebraska’s long history of strong local control at the county level. County boards have contacted my office asking what they can do to protect the right to keep and bear arms. LB 236 would give county boards the power to authorize permitless carry of concealed weapons within their respective counties.
LB 236 has advanced from committee, and Senator Rob Clements has made it his priority bill. That means that we will be guaranteed the opportunity to debate this bill before the end of the session this year. I am honored that sixteen of my colleagues have chosen to co-sponsor this bill and stand alongside me as we carry out our sworn duty to protect and defend the constitutional rights of those we serve. I encourage all Nebraskans to contact my colleagues at the Legislature to ask them to support LB 236 when it comes to the floor.
There are a lot of good bills relating to the right to keep and bear arms that are still held up in committee. We need to encourage the Judiciary Committee to report a number of bills to General File. These include Senator Bostelman’s LB 85 (providing notice before expiration of concealed handgun permits), Senator Clements’ LB 244 (creating a thirty day grace period for renewal of concealed handgun permits), Senator Ben Hansen’s LB 173 (providing that cased, unloaded firearms are not treated as concealed weapons), and Senator Julie Slama’s enhanced castle doctrine bill, LB 300. I would also like to see the Judiciary Committee advance Senator Steve Halloran’s common sense school safety proposal, LB 417, which would authorize off-duty law enforcement officers to go armed when working school security.
I am afraid it is not just the Judiciary Committee that is holding up good bills. The committee that I chair, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, is still sitting on another of Senator Halloran’s bills, LB 188. That bill would declare Nebraska a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State.” It would also forbid the use of Nebraska law enforcement in enforcing federal gun control schemes that do not reflect Nebraska values. With what is going on in Washington, D.C. right now, LB 188 may be the most important gun rights bill introduced this year.
The hearings phase of this first session of the 107th Nebraska legislature has finally come to an end. This year our new Speaker chose to schedule all-day bill hearings, something that hasn’t happened in decades. We had 684 bills introduced this session, along with a number of resolutions and executive branch appointments. COVID restrictions made the process of holding public hearings much more complicated and time-consuming. Scores of people behind the scenes made all this possible. To all the committee clerks, legal counsels, research analysts, and other legislative staff that did such a great job of getting the people’s business taken care of, I say, “job well done!”
Now that hearings are over and the deadline for designating individual and committee priorities has passed, senators are looking for ways to get their proposals voted out of committees and advanced to the full legislature for debate. A number of committees are equally split between conservatives and liberals, so bills from either end of the political spectrum often remain trapped in committee on a tied vote. I am reminded that elections have consequences and the political ideology of the senators in the body reflect that of the population of our state.
There is a legislative rule that allows a senator to make a motion to “pull” a bill from a deadlocked committee. This motion requires a simple majority of senators (twenty-five votes) to be adopted. Use of this rule is rare because it generates hard feelings — especially with committee chairs — and lengthy, contentious floor debate.
Many will object to the pull motion arguing it weakens the power of our committee system. The idea behind the rule allowing pull motions is simple to understand: if a majority of senators think a committee has made a mistake in not advancing a bill, a motion to pull the bill is a remedy for that. The speaker informed us recently that at least thirty-five priority bills are still stuck in committee, so I expect to see this sort of motion used before we adjourn for the year.
One last note: of the new features we implemented in the committees this year, my favorite was a new way for citizens to leave comments on the legislative website for the senators to read. I believe this new feature will be very useful in the next phase of our work. Full-day debate on the floor of the legislature has begun. With Senator Chambers no longer in the body, the pace will be more brisk than any time in the last eight years. Senators will have less time to sort through all the information on each bill. I believe this new comment feature will be very informative and useful for senators and gives us a head start on understanding each bill. Brief, timely comments from the public are very helpful as we review legislation. I encourage citizens interested in a bill to look it up on the website and leave a comment.
This past week, I heard a bill introduced in the Government, Military and Veterans Committee by Senator Justin Wayne. He believes the executive branch of our state government should not testify against bills introduced in the Legislature. He believes people testifying on behalf of executive branch agencies should testify in the “neutral” capacity and not express an opinion for or against the bill. In his view, the executive branch is bound by oath to follow the laws passed by the Legislature. It calls into question their willingness to faithfully follow the laws and encroaches on the constitutional sovereignty of the legislature as a separate branch of State government. I think Senator Wayne makes a valid point with his proposal.
A common reason a state agency might testify against a bill is that the bill in question will cause them more work. I was given a recent example of this by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture with my state meat inspection bill. States all over the country are passing state meat inspection programs to help make it easier to expand slaughter capacity in the states, and also provide much-needed economic development to small rural towns. Unfortunately, the Department opposed my bill.
There are other ways for a state agency to kill a bill. Agencies are given the opportunity to submit “fiscal notes” predicting the financial impact of a bill on their operations. This is basically a price tag that is supposed to indicate the fiscal impact on the state from running a particular program. In the case of my bill, I believe the fiscal note was intended to frighten the senators on the committee with a shocking price tag. We call this “death by fiscal note.”
But there is a significant difference opposing a bill in a hearing and submitting an inflated fiscal note. When an agency provides operational information and financial projections in a fiscal note based on their expertise, I think that is within their designated mission, even if I think their numbers are incorrect. In the Legislature, we can choose to trust that information or not, and we also make the policy decision about whether a bill is worth the price tag.
However, when an agency testifies in opposition to a bill, something important happens. Under the legislative rules, a bill cannot be fast-tracked as a “consent calendar” item if it received any opposition in the public hearing. This practice is really a preemptive veto by the executive branch. I support the power granted by the Nebraska Constitution to the governor to veto legislation. I believe that veto power is an important check within our system of government. However, I do not think the executive branch should be able to veto bills until after they are presented to the governor. I think Senator Wayne’s idea deserves more discussion.