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 email@example.com
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
This week I will continue talking about the bills that either passed or failed in this legislative session. One that passed was LB 147. The Governor correctly vetoed the bill, but the legislature voted to override his veto. I voted against the bill. LB 147 is a very bad idea for the taxpayers of Nebraska. Let me explain.
The Omaha Public Schools (OPS) pension system is in trouble. LB 147 is a bill designed to bail-out this pension fund by merging it into and transferring the management of the School Employees Retirement System to the Public Employees Retirement Board. This bill will eventually make the State of Nebraska responsible for all the liabilities in the OPS pension fund.
This is taxation without representation. A citizen in Cherry County, for example, shouldn’t have their income and sales tax dollars used to bail-out a school district they have absolutely no control over. District 43 voters cannot vote in the election of the board members who made these bad decisions. I think the veto override vote is a good indicator of just how much money and power the education lobby has in our legislature.
One of the legislature’s rules stipulates that a bill cannot “bind the hands of a future legislature.” I think LB 147 breaks this rule. There are $848 million dollars of unfunded liabilities in the OPS pension system and the people of Nebraska are going to get stuck with the tab. As written, future legislatures will not have a choice and will be forced to pay that enormous bill.
It’s worth considering that nationally, about forty percent of K-12 public education is paid for with property taxes. In Nebraska, that number is greater than sixty percent, and many rural school districts are over seventy percent. My resolution (LR13CA) which would have proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit to 33 percent of how much a school district could use property taxes to fund its operations. The liberal-controlled education committee indefinitely postponed (killed) LR13CA because they knew if it was ever put on the ballot and left up to the people to decide, it would pass.
If LR13CA had passed, the other 66 percent of the funding for public schools would have to come from the general fund. The legislature would have to find about $670 million dollars to make up the difference. This money would go directly into the pockets of the property tax payers of the whole state of Nebraska. Instead, we’re going to give at least $848 million to a single school district’s mismanaged pension fund. Which one is more important to you? I believe LB 147 takes away our ability to deliver property tax relief.
The education lobby spends millions of dollars on campaigns to make sure there are never enough votes to limit how much property taxes our Nebraska schools can levy, collect and spend. A review of the mandatory filings at the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission is a real eye-opener. Does this money directly translate into green lights (votes) on the big board that tallies the Senator’s votes? Nebraskans need to pay close attention to what their elected representatives are doing in their name.
This past session, a number of good bills failed to pass. LB 364 is a bill from Senator Lou Ann Linehan called the Opportunity Scholarship Act. Senator Linehan and I both came into the legislature in 2017. She introduces this bill every session. In her bill individual and corporate taxpayers would qualify for a non-refundable tax credit equal to the amount the taxpayer contributed to a scholarship-granting organization. No taxpayer would receive a tax credit exceeding 50 percent of their state income tax. The idea is pretty simple. Nebraskans could donate money to a scholarship-granting organization and lower their income tax liability a little. Low income families with children in a public school would have the option to apply for a grant to send their kids to a private school.
The bill was controversial because of its “fiscal note.” In the forecast prepared by the Department of Revenue, the bill would mean $10–15 million in lost income tax revenue in the next four years. The bill was filibustered and to end the debate a vote of thirty-three ayes was needed. The vote fell short again, with twenty-nine voting yes, eighteen voting no, and two present and not voting.
I was very disappointed to see senators who have their own children enrolled in private schools voting against this bill. It showed their hypocrisy. Another reason this bill failed is because of the wrong-headed philosophy of someone not paying their “fair share” in taxation, even when the money being spent is going to pay for a charitable purpose. This kind of thinking is anti-American. Promoting this sort of class warfare comes right out of the Communist Manifesto. Some of the senators voting against the bill will argue “we can’t afford it” suggesting the lost income tax revenue will “cost” the legislature money they would prefer to see spent on something else.
I am amazed by the number of senators and a lot of regular citizens who think they can be generous with other people’s money. For something to cost you money, first the money needs to actually belong to you. The tax revenue the Legislature spends does not belong to the senators — it belongs to the Nebraskans who got out of bed and went out and worked for and earned it. Government in all its forms doesn’t produce a penny of wealth. It has nothing it did not first take from the citizens by threat of force. There are too many senators who believe allowing some Nebraskans to keep more of what rightfully belongs to them is “costing” the Legislature money. In order to think this way, you have to believe a politician knows how to spend the money you worked for and earned better than you do. That thinking is immoral and it has caused Nebraska to be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation.
The Legislature adjourned “Sine Die” (the end of the session) this past Thursday. I will devote the next few weekly updates to an in-depth look at the bills that passed and failed during this first session of the one hundred and seventh Nebraska legislature. This week, I want to talk about the Convention of States (COS) resolution.
As many know, Article V of the US Constitution provides two different ways to propose amendments to it. Two-thirds of congress may propose an amendment, and so can two-thirds of the states. It requires two-thirds of the states (34) to make identical applications to congress to call the convention. If LR 14 is successful next year, Nebraska will become the sixteenth state to do so.
The COS resolution (LR 14) came to our Government committee. At this time four liberal, four conservative members serve on the committee which makes it politically deadlocked. The intensely political process of staffing committees saw to that when the session first started in January. As LR 14 was stuck in committee on a 4-4 vote, Sen. Halloran invoked the “pull motion” rule. Rarely used, it can “pull” a bill out of committee if it receives twenty-five votes from the senators on the floor. LR 14 fell two votes short with only twenty-three. Bills and resolutions that fail pull motions are dead then and there. LR 14 stood “indefinitely postponed” (IPP) on the 23rd of April.
Senator Flood then made a motion to suspend the IPP rules. The motion required thirty votes to pass and that is what it received. This caused LR 14 to rise from the grave. I have never seen a piece of legislation navigate such a difficult path.
The chief opposition to the COS idea comes from Sen. Morfeld. He believes that were the convention to ever happen, the whole constitution will be re-written by the States. This is a very old myth that is utterly false yet it is heard every time COS is on the agenda. The briefest study of the constitutional convention makes it very clear the delegates in Philadelphia wanted there to be TWO ways for amendments to the constitution to be proposed. I am forced to conclude opponents must trust congress more than they trust the states.
How can states not be trusted to propose amendments when the constitution requires three-fourths (38) of the states to ratify amendments to the constitution? The states have ratified twenty-seven amendments since our country was founded.
Next January thirty-three votes will be needed to end the filibuster that is certain to come. Those votes are far from a sure thing at this point. Senators have made a very large investment of political capital on this. The vote-trading that happened so the Convention of States could be back in front of the whole legislature concerns me a great deal. The Senators have got the ball down to the twenty yard line. The legislature has done all it can do on this issue. I believe the people are the only way to get this across the goal line. If you are a COS supporter, it’s time to step up.
The first session of the one-hundred seventh Nebraska Legislature is drawing to a close. The Speaker has announced that we will adjourn “sine die” on Thursday the 27th of May. Sine die is a Latin phrase that means “without day.” To adjourn sine die indicates the final adjournment of a regular legislative session for the year. We are adjourning six legislative days early.
The Governor will need to call the Legislature into special session in September for the purpose of re-drawing all of the political boundaries following the census. The six days we saved by adjourning early will offset part of the cost of that special session.
Nine of my bills have been passed by the Legislature and sent to the governor for his approval. LB 93 trimmed a little government red tape and removed a report county clerks have to file with the state. LB 94 cleaned up some pandemic-related issues with implementation of the new Online Notary Public law. LB 185 directs some of the federal COVID funding Nebraska has received to medical facilities in Nebraska operated by the Indian Health Service.
LB 236 was a bill about local control. The idea behind it was leaving the enforcement of Nebraska’s concealed carry law up to the ninety-three counties to decide. Under that proposal, a county could become a “permitless concealed carry” county by ordinance. Unfortunately the Attorney General wrote an opinion that described the bill as likely being unconstitutional. I negotiated with the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and we reached an agreement to substitute language from three other gun rights-related bills instead of the original LB 236 proposal. I plan to introduce a statewide constitutional carry bill next year.
LB 275 starts the process of planning for Nebraska’s participation in the 150th birthday of the United States called the “semiquincentennial” in 2026. This bill will be funded by donations through History Nebraska. LB 285 and LB 514 were bills that helped Nebraska maintain an accurate voter file and made important changes to election law to account for the Federal Government’s gross violation of federal law delivering the census data four months late.
LB 387 exempts military retired pay from state income taxes. Every state Nebraska shares a border with doesn’t tax this income the way we do in Nebraska. Veterans finishing a career in the military do not choose Nebraska as their post-military home because of it. Our state has been losing these new residents to our neighbors for decades. I have been part of efforts to change this law for nearly fifty years. With a lot of help from my colleagues on both sides of the political aisle, we finally got this done. Next spring will be the last time retired military taxpayers in Nebraska will pay income tax on their retirement benefits.
Every session has its successes and its disappointments. I am proud to say that we scored some important victories for Nebraskans. Now it is time to reset for the special session, prepare for interim study hearings, and begin to draft legislative proposals for next year.
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson administered the first United States Census in 1790. The census has been conducted every ten years since then in accordance with Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. Accurate population figures are necessary for determining each state’s representation in Congress.
Census data is also important for the process of redistricting. In Nebraska, that is a task that must be completed every decade in the year following the federal census. Each congressional district in Nebraska has to be drawn to contain the same number of people, with very little deviation from that standard. State legislative districts must be redrawn to account for shifts in population.
In redistricting years, the Unicameral creates a Redistricting Committee to guide this process and to propose maps to the rest of the senators for their consideration. I am serving on the Redistricting Committee this year along with eight other senators. Senator Lou Ann Linehan is the chair of the committee. The redistricting debate is always a contentious one, in part because the stakes are so high. People’s representation in their government is on the line, and we all have to live with the results for ten years.
Under normal circumstances, redistricting happens during the regular legislative session. However, this year is different. For the first time in American history, the United States Census results were not delivered to the states on time. Federal law requires that these results go to the states no later than April 1st. We still do not have the data. As of right now, the federal government is in open and notorious violation of federal law. We do think we know when the numbers are coming, though. Secretary of State Bob Evnen and his office have successfully gotten a written commitment from the Census Bureau to deliver the raw 2020 census data to Nebraska no later than August 16th.
We are required to conduct elections next year. Nebraska law requires that we use district boundaries based on the new census data to do that. Because the census results will not be delivered until after the Unicameral adjourns for the year, Governor Ricketts will have to call us back for a special session for redistricting this fall. My office has been working with the Secretary of State to adjust election law deadlines to accommodate our later start this year. Even after the Legislature does its work, county election officials and those in other political subdivisions have to redraw their own local boundaries.
The unprecedented late delivery of census data presents a tough challenge. I am confident that if the Census Bureau gets us the numbers in mid-August as promised, we can get the job done. Our election officials in Nebraska have done a tremendous job over the last year. I believe we are on-track to get the new districts into place for next year’s elections.
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.