NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Steve Erdman

Sen. Steve Erdman

District 47

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 serdman@leg.ne.gov

Welcome
January 3rd, 2024

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 47th 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. Steve Erdman

On Friday May 3, 2024 citizens concerned about Nebraska’s overly burdensome tax system packed the Warner Chamber at the Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln to hear an honest debate and exchange of ideas about the EPIC Option Consumption Tax.  While we invited numerous representatives from those organizations who openly oppose the EPIC Option Consumption Tax, such as the Open Sky Institute, the State Chamber of Commerce, the League of Municipalities, the Nebraska Farm Bureau, and No New Taxes Nebraska, none of these organizations accepted our invitation to the debate.  So, instead we invited a few select citizens who oppose our plan to represent and defend the most common arguments against the EPIC Option Consumption Tax. So, today I would like to give my response to the three most common complaints we hear about the EPIC Option Consumption Tax.

The first complaint that we often hear is that the EPIC Option Consumption Tax would require a consumption tax rate of 22 percent, instead of a rate of 7.5 percent as per the Beacon Hill Institute.  We invited Dr. Ernie Goss, Nebraska’s most renown economist from Creighton University to be on the panel. Dr. Goss fielded that question and argued that the reports of 22 percent made by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Tax Foundation were based on erroneous assumptions about the EPIC Option Consumption Tax and are wrong.  Although Dr. Goss could not say with precision exactly what the consumption tax rate would be, he insisted that it would be much closer to 7.5 percent than the 22 percent which is being advertised by the Open Sky Institute, the State Chamber of Commerce, the League of Municipalities, and No New Taxes Nebraska.  So, both the Beacon Hill Institute, which did the only dynamic study on the EPIC Option consumption Tax, and Dr. Ernie Goss both agree that the consumption tax rate would be somewhere around 7.5 percent.

The second complaint we often hear is that the EPIC Option Consumption Tax would result in the loss of local control.  Under the EPIC Option Consumption Tax local units of government would maintain control over their budgets.  However, their budgets would be capped in the following way: Budgets would be determined by a five-year average of a government entity’s budgets plus two percent. This would require local units of government to begin living within their means.

Under the current tax system numerous government entities have the authority to raise property taxes.  These government entities with tax asking authority include local school boards, county boards, and Natural Resources Districts (NRDs). Consequently, a concerned citizen wishing to voice their opinion about their property taxes would have to attend the meetings of each of these different boards.  Moreover, the current tax system has proven to be a failure because according to the organization tax-rates.org, Nebraska ranks as the fourth highest state in the country for its median property tax rate.

A third complaint we often hear is that the EPIC Option Consumption Tax would no longer collect revenue from billionaires, such as Bill Gates, who now owns 20,000 acres of farmland across Nebraska. Because the EPIC Option Consumption Tax would eliminate property taxes altogether, it is true that Bill Gates would no longer have to pay property taxes in Nebraska.  However, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded to promote programs addressing sustainability and climate change.  Reducing the number of farms and ranches are some of the foundation’s core principles.  If their long-range goal is to donate these lands to non-profit organizations, then these acres would be taken off the property tax rolls and other landowners would have to make up the difference.   So, the argument that Nebraska would no longer collect revenue from billionaires is a short-sighted argument and is really based upon greed, rather than on what is best for the State of Nebraska.

One of the most important bills that I ever introduced in my career as a Nebraska State Senator was my destroyed property bill, originally LB 482. The contents of that bill were later amended into LB 512 and passed as a Christmas Tree bill back in 2019. The bill enables landowners with destroyed or damaged properties to have their valuations readjusted for property tax purposes, provided that the damage exceeds 20 percent of the property’s value during the current assessment year and the paperwork gets filed by the deadline of July 15th of the current assessment year.

No one who has had their property destroyed or damaged mid-year should have to pay property taxes based upon the assessment of their property on January 1 of that same year. So, this law makes the property tax system fair for those who may be suffering from such things as tornado, flood, or fire damage.

The timing of my destroyed property bill back in 2019 could not have been better. That year Nebraska experienced widespread flooding and many Nebraskans saw their homes and other structures get washed out by the floodwaters. Because LB 512 passed with an emergency clause, the law went into effect immediately after the governor signed it on May 30, 2019. Consequently, many landowners were able to take immediate advantage of the new law and have their destroyed or damaged properties re-valuated for property tax purposes, saving some people thousands of dollars in taxes.

We have a similar situation occurring again this year. The high winds, hail, and tornadoes which have swept across Nebraska this spring have resulted in many properties being destroyed. Consequently, landowners need to be reminded of the new law, so they can file the necessary paperwork and have their destroyed or damaged properties readjusted before the deadline of July 15. The property valuation readjustment applies only to properties that were destroyed or damaged prior to July 1.

In order to take advantage of the new destroyed or damaged property law, landowners will need to fill out and submit a Report of Destroyed Real Property, which is available on the Nebraska Department of Revenue’s website: www.revenue.nebraska.gov. Once at the website, click on “Property Assessment” and scroll down to “Forms & Calendars”. Click on “Forms,” then click on “Real Property and Personal Property”. Form 425 will be tenth form from the top of the list.

Form 425 must be filed with both the County Clerk and the Assessor/Register of Deeds, and separate forms must be filed for each parcel of destroyed real property. Additional questions should be directed to the County Clerk’s Office or the Assessor/Register of Deeds Office.

The bill that I introduced which paved the way for property owners to have their destroyed or damaged properties revaluated for property tax purposes is what I like to call, “common sense legislation.” The Unicameral Legislature passes a lot of legislation. Most of those bills never affect the average person, but the bills that make life better for Nebraskans are, by far, the most important and the most valuable.

It is my hope that many landowners with destroyed or damaged properties will take advantage of the destroyed property law this year. It is bad enough to have a home wiped out by a tornado, washed away in a flood, or burned to the ground by a wildfire. My heart and my prayers truly go out to those who have suffered such loses this year. As Nebraskans, let us be reminded to help our neighbors during times of crisis because, after all, it is the people of Nebraska who make Nebraska the Good Life.

Straight Talk From Steve…
April 29th, 2024

April 18th was the last day of the 108th Legislature and marked the end of my days as a legislator, even though my term won’t officially expire until January 5 of next year. For those who may be wondering about my future in politics, I have no plans to return to the Unicameral Legislature, except for a possible special session later this year; however, it has been a pleasure to represent the good people of Legislative District 47 for the past eight years.

I never anticipated the depth of the friendships that I have made while being a Nebraska State Senator. The comradery that State Senators share is unique. Prior to my election as a State Senator, I never imagined that I would ever agree on a bill with a north Omaha Senator or go fishing with Sen. Justin Wayne. I will go fishing with him later this summer. Although State Senators often disagree with each other in debate, filibuster each other’s bills, and introduce dilatory amendments to kill their bills, off the floor of the Legislature we care deeply for one another and those are the kinds of friends you make.

Over the course of the last eight years, I have learned not to become too emotionally tied to a bill. This year was the first time my priority bill ever made it past General File, which is only the first round of floor debate. The reason my bills never advanced was due to their significant changes to the tax code. As a State Senator, one can pour himself or herself into a bill only see it get killed on the floor of the Legislature. So, it pays to remind oneself that the battle isn’t over; there will yet be another day to fight.

I recently shared a conversation with Gov. Jim Pillen, where we talked about our work in politics. The work we do in Lincoln is important, because it is usually timely and urgent, but it is also very temporal. Most of what we do in this life does not carry over into the afterlife. The laws we make for Nebraska won’t be valid in heaven. What matters so much more is what we do that affects eternity. That is especially true when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ. So, when I delivered my farewell remarks to the members of the Legislature, I asked them what would they do with Jesus?

A person’s personal identity transcends the work he or she does for a living. Too often we allow our work or our career to define who we are, but that is not true. I was a farmer for 45 years and thought of myself as a farmer. I had to work through who I was when I retired from farming. Similarly, when I exited the Norris Chamber for the last time, I did not change. Being a State Senator is something I did, but it is not who I am. As I transition out of life as a State Senator over the course of the next eight months, I will miss being a State Senator because it will become something I have done, but it won’t define who I am.

If I will be remembered for anything I ever said as a State Senator, I imagine it will be that “Common sense is a flower that does not grow in everyone’s garden.” I like this little proverb because it so aptly describes how many of us feel about politicians.

Serving as the State Senator for Legislative District 47 has been the most demanding work I have ever done! It has also been a very rewarding experience. Helping Nebraskans solve their problems with state agencies and introducing and passing legislation that improves lives has made serving as your State Senator an honor. Thank you for electing me and providing me with such a great opportunity to serve the good folks of Western Nebraska.

Straight Talk From Steve…
April 18th, 2024

April 18th was the final day of the 108th Legislature. This was the shorter 60-day session and, save for a special session of the Legislature later this summer, this completes my tenure as a Nebraska State Senator. It has been a pleasure for me to serve the good people of Legislative District 47 for the past eight years.

When I came into the Unicameral Legislature eight years ago my number one goal was to provide the people of Nebraska with meaningful and significant property tax relief. First, I tried to reform the way agricultural lands get valuated for tax purposes by introducing a couple of bills to change Nebraska over to a production-based system. However, due to Nebraska’s varying rainfall and diverse soil and terrain, no capitalization rate could be found that would treat each part of the state fairly.

Then, a gentleman by the name of Rob Rorhbough came to visit me at the Capitol and introduced me to the idea of a consumption tax. After Sen. McDonnell of Omaha, Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, and I listened to Mr. Rohrbough explain the consumption tax idea to us for about an hour, we were immediately sold on the idea. Nebraska’s tax system is broken. State Senators have been trying to fix our broken tax system ever since we created it back in 1967, but with no success. Ever since 1967 taxes have increased faster than the household incomes of Nebraskans and many Nebraskans are now beyond the breaking point.

Nebraska’s property tax system is a complete failure. Consider for example that the median annual property taxes for a single-family home in Nebraska is one of the highest in the nation and is higher than all of our surrounding states: Nebraska’s is $3,017, South Dakota’s is $2,794, Iowa’s is $2,512, Colorado’s is $2,430, Wyoming’s is $1,884 and Missouri’s is only $1,623. As you can see, Nebraskans pay almost twice as much money in property taxes as people living in Missouri. As a result of these high property taxes, Nebraska ranks third in the Nation for the most farm bankruptcies and tenth in the nation among states that people are leaving.

This year’s big property tax solution proposed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee was LB 388. The bill was pulled by the introducer last Thursday. The bill failed because it did not result in meaningful and significant property tax relief. Instead, the bill raised taxes on such things as veterinary care, storage unit fees, hemp products, tobacco products, lottery tickets, skill games, soda pop, and candy.

When I ran the numbers for LB 388 on properties in Legislative District 47, the results were not good. Contrary to the projected 22 percent in property tax relief that Lee Will reported to the Nebraska Examiner, folks living in Legislative District 47 would have only received a two to three percent reduction in their property taxes. For these reasons, I voted against LB 388.

Because LB 388 failed last week, the Governor will most assuredly call the Senators back to Lincoln later this summer for a special session of the Legislature in order to address Nebraska’s ever-growing property tax problem. However, if the Governor and the chair of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee continue to write bills with these same failed tax shift policies, the results won’t be good for Nebraskans.

Nebraska needs a new tax system. As Sen. Brian Hardin of Gering said on the floor of the Legislature last Thursday, “Trying to fix our current tax system is like holding a beach ball under water.” The ball will eventually come back up and so will your taxes. Nebraska must abandon its current tax system and start over with something different and something that works. The best answer to Nebraska’s tax problems remains the EPIC Option Consumption Tax.

Straight Talk From Steve…
April 11th, 2024

On the 58th day of this year’s shorter 60-day legislative session Nebraska State Senators debated the Governor’s actual tax plan. That plan was amended into the Revenue Committee’s shell bill (LB 388) with an amendment (AM 3468). I have been saying throughout the legislative session that the Governor’s plan would not deliver 40 percent property tax relief, as per his promise, and that amendment only proved my point when the bill advanced to Final Reading late last Wednesday night. The Governor may call the Legislature back for a special session later this summer to fix the bill.

The Governor’s tax plan doesn’t come anywhere close to giving Nebraskans a 40 percent reduction in their property taxes. The Governor’s budget director, Lee Will, told the Nebraska Examiner, that the amendment to LB 388 would result in about a 22 percent reduction in property taxes, a far cry from the 40 percent reduction promised by the Governor. However, when I ran the numbers in my district, it resulted in only a two percent reduction in property taxes. So, the bill as it currently stands is meaningless and insignificant as far as property tax relief is concerned.

The Governor’s tax plan ignores one of the most fundamental principles of good tax policy, namely the principle of broadening the tax base. Daniel J. Pilla is tax policy expert, who has identified the ten most important principles of good tax policy. Pilla’s eighth principle states that “Broad tax bases allow rates to be kept low, which in turn encourages voluntary compliance.” Pilla’s point is that people don’t cheat on their taxes when they believe the rate is fair. This broadens the tax base and generates more revenue for the state. Similarly, the economists, Art Laffer and Stephen Moore, have both visited me in my office and told me that lower tax rates generate more revenue for the state. Because the Governor’s tax plan raises rates on such things as veterinary services, tobacco products, hemp products, skill games, soda pop, candy, lottery tickets, and self-storage fees, the plan fails to broaden the tax base.

So, what does the Governor’s plan do? First, the Governor’s tax plan would front load the property tax relief credits granted under LB 1107 from 2020. Too many residential homeowners are not claiming the property tax credits afforded to them under this bill. Many homeowners still don’t know about these property tax credits while others simply don’t know how to file the necessary paperwork when they do their income taxes. Under the Governor’s new tax plan property owners would not have to submit the necessary paperwork when they file their state income tax return in order to get their property tax credit.

Second, the Governor’s new tax plan would place a three percent cap on the levies of local units of government.

Third, the Governor’s plan would increase the state’s earned income credit from the current 10 percent to 15 percent. The higher rate would benefit lower income Nebraskans.

These fixes don’t go far enough. Each of these fixes is like putting another Band-Aid on an amputation. The bottom line is that Nebraskans will get a two percent reduction in their property taxes while the Governor and the Chair of the Revenue Committee continue to ignore the EPIC Option Consumption Tax, which is the real solution to all of Nebraska’s tax problems.

Straight Talk From Steve…
April 5th, 2024

Last Wednesday was a very busy day at the Capitol in Lincoln. Every State Senator’s phone and email lit up with messages concerning LB 764, a bill commonly referred to as the “Winner Take All” bill. Nebraska is one of only two states which splits its electoral college votes during a presidential election. Current Nebraska State law allows voters to choose one presidential elector for each of Nebraska’s three congressional districts and for two additional presidential electors to be chosen at large. Sen. Loren Lippincott’s bill, LB 764, would change it so that the presidential candidate receiving the most votes statewide would receive all five presidential electors in the electoral college.

With only six legislative days remaining in the 2024 legislative session, former President Donald Trump decided to try to change Nebraska’s election laws to favor a “Winner Take All” system. With help from Gov. Jim Pillen, U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, and conservative radio talk show host, Charlie Kirk, calls went out for constituents to contact their State Senators, asking them to advance LB 764. There was just one problem: LB 764 was already dead.

LB 764 was deader than a door nail. Sen. Lippincott’s bill had never advanced out of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee to which it had been assigned. No vote by the committee members had ever been requested by Sen. Lippincott because he knew that he did not have enough votes to advance the bill out of committee. So, the bill had already effectively died in committee.

LB 764 had no path forward. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the bill had no priority status. No State Senator had declared LB 764 as his or her priority bill. Because the bill never advanced out of committee, Sen. Lippincott never recommended the bill as a Speaker priority bill. The Speaker of the Legislature gets to declare 25 bills as Speaker priority bills every year. Since the bill did not have enough votes to advance out of committee, the bill could not become a committee priority bill for the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee. Even if the bill had advanced out of committee, without a priority status, LB 764 would have gone to the back of the line behind 230 other bills waiting to be debated on the floor of the Legislature. With only five days remaining, and three rounds of debate required, the chances of this happening were zero.

Sen. Julie Slama to the rescue! Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar rode into the Legislature’s Norris Chamber like the cavalry ready to save the day with an amendment in hand. Sen. Slama’s strategy was to amend the contents of her former bill from 2022, LB 76, into Sen. Beau Ballard’s personal priority bill, LB 1300. There was just one question remaining: Was Sen. Slama’s amendment germane to the bill? In order for an amendment to be germane to a bill it must address the same subject matter as the bill.

Sen. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln challenged Sen. Slama’s amendment, AM 3339, on the grounds that it was not germane to the subject matter of LB 1300, a bill designed to prepare Nebraska’s supply chain and critical infrastructure for the potential outbreak of a military conflict in the Pacific Rim. The presiding officer sided with Sen. Bostar and declared that the amendment was not germane to the bill. Sen. Slama moved to override the decision of the presiding officer, but the vote failed. I was one of only eight Senators who voted unsuccessfully with Sen. Slama to override the decision of the presiding officer.

Finally, in a last effort on Friday to save the movement, some considered amending “Winner Take All” into Sen. John Lowe’s bill, LB 541, a bill that would make power district elections partisan. The “Winner Take All” amendment was germane to Sen. Lowe’s bill and the bill had already advanced to Select File, so it seemed like a good fit. However, there was just one problem: Sen. Lowe did not have enough votes to advance his bill to Final Reading without the “Winner Take All” amendment attached to it. Adding the amendment would have only made the bill even more difficult to advance. So, the “Winner Take All” idea finally died at the end of last week.

I believe the majority of Nebraskans would like to switch back to a “Winner Take All” system when it comes to voting for presidential electors to the electoral college. Unfortunately, the legislative session is quickly coming to a close, all of the available options for the Legislature have now run out, and the idea will have to wait for another legislative session or even a special session. In the meantime, Nebraskans may still give all of their electors to a single presidential candidate when the voters in all three congressional districts vote for the same person.

Straight Talk From Steve…
April 2nd, 2024

When it comes to the generation of power, Nebraska does a lot of things right. Nebraska ranks as the number one state in the nation for residential electricity reliability, and Nebraska ranks as the fifth best state in the Union for the overall cost of electricity. Electrical utilities in Nebraska are completely owned by the public; there are no privately owned power companies in Nebraska. Nebraska has been a leader in power generation ever since the State Legislature passed its first public power bill back in 1933, but recent developments in wind energy have created new threats and a new need for legislation.

In case you haven’t noticed, wind farms are popping up all across the State. Many folks believe that these wind turbines are destroying the beautiful landscape of Nebraska, especially when they pop up in their own neck of the woods, and they wished they had an opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns about them. For example, folks living near the Nebraska-Colorado border just south of Sidney recently had to witness the collapse of a wind turbine along with an ensuing fire. In addition, these same residents have to daily behold the ugly sight of an enormous and ever-growing pile of used and discarded blades from dismantled wind turbines.

The language of our current state statutes is also threatening the public’s control of our state’s wind farms. Current state law allows private developers operating intermittent generators to sell their electricity to companies in other states in competition with Nebraska’s public power companies. This practice undermines the intent of the Legislature to keep Nebraska as a 100 percent public power state. In order to protect the public nature of our state’s power industry new legislation is needed, and that is what LB 399 is designed to do.

LB 399 is a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, which addresses these two problems. The bill currently sits on General File and will likely get debated on the floor of the Legislature early this week. Sen. Brewer has worked on this bill for the past seven years and is anxious to pass it before the end of his tenure in the Nebraska Legislature at the end of this year.

First, LB 399 fixes the people problem. Current state law requires a renewable energy developer to hold a public meeting with the County Board of Commissioners when applying for a conditional permit for the installation of a wind turbine, but members of the public are never permitted to speak at the public hearing or to interact with the developer. Sen. Brewer’s bill, on the other hand, would require that public notice of the meeting be posted in advance of the hearing and that members of the public would be invited to speak at the hearing and to interact with the developer.

Second, Sen. Brewer’s bill fixes the public power problem. Sen. Brewer’s bill transfers authority for privately owned wind generation projects over to the Nebraska Power and Review Board. Because we have 100 percent public power, Nebraska is the only state in the country with a Power and Review Board, instead of a regulatory power commission. Sen. Brewer’s bill would keep electricity in Nebraska. According to the bill, the Power and Review Board would not be able to grant a permit to a private developer until a power purchase agreement has been made with a Nebraska Public Power utility company. This step is important for preventing the sale of power to companies outside the state of Nebraska.

LB 399 is an important bill for protecting Nebraska public power. The people should always have a voice before a wind farm goes up and no private renewable energy developer should ever be able to undermine the system by selling our electricity to companies out-of-state. For these reasons, I co-signed LB 399 and will continue to support it for the good of all Nebraskans.

Straight Talk From Steve…
March 22nd, 2024

During the days of the pandemic religious leaders were told to do many things to inhibit the spreading of the coronavirus, including closing the doors of their churches. Most obliged the orders of their state and local governments, while a few did not. One of those ministers who refused was John MacArthur, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA. MacArthur believed that his constitutional rights had been violated, so he sued and his case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court ruled in his favor and ordered the State of California and the County of Los Angeles to pay him $400,000.

Constitutions still matter. As Bill Barr, the former U.S. Attorney General said, “The Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.” He was right. So, when smallpox came to the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts back in 1902, the Board of Health mandated the vaccination of all of its citizens. When a citizen named Jacobson refused to get a free vaccination from the city, he sued and his case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court ruled in that case that governments could only “reasonably restrict” the rights of its citizens. That case is known as Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), and it set the precedent for the next 120 years.

That court precedent remained loosely in place leading up to the days of the coronavirus pandemic. According to SCOTUS, governments could only reasonably restrict churches, and governments could not single out churches, treating them differently than secular businesses or other institutions. In other words, if the churches had to close their doors, then so did all of the other businesses in town, and an order to shut the doors could not be made for an indefinite period of time.

The big problem with the SCOTUS ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts was that it was a court precedent, but not a law. That is why the Nebraska State Legislature needed to act this year. LB 277 clarifies and codifies what governments can and cannot do in regards to religious freedom during times of a crisis.

If the wheels of justice move slowly, then the wheels of the Legislature sometimes move even slower. In this case, it took the Nebraska State Legislature 119 years to finally pass a law to protect religious freedom during a time of crisis. That law is now known as the First Freedom Act.

LB 277 traveled a slow and winding road through the State Legislature. LB 277 was the original bill for the First Freedom Act, and it was introduced last year by Sen. Tom Brewer and was adopted by Sen. Brian Hardin as his personal priority bill. After the bill advanced out of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, several dilatory amendments were filed on the bill preventing it from going forward. The bill was laid over until this year, and then was finally amended into LB 43, where it found a new home, and passed in the Legislature late last week.

The First Freedom Act now clarifies how the State of Nebraska cannot restrict the private exercise of religion. The state government and its political subdivisions will now be prohibited from restricting a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it can be demonstrated that the burden is essential to a compelling government interest and that the action required of the private citizen constitutes the least restrictive means of furthering that government interest.

The First Freedom Act also clarifies how the State of Nebraska cannot restrict churches. The State government and its political subdivisions will be prohibited by law from restricting churches from holding worship services during a state of emergency to a greater extent than it restricts other secular businesses or institutions.

Finally, the bill stipulates that a person or a church that believes that the state has imposed an unnecessary burden upon them in violation of the First Freedom Act, may bring civil action against the State of Nebraska or any of its political subdivisions.

Protecting religious freedom is one of the most important functions of government. Religious freedom forms the very foundation of our republic. Our founding fathers believed this wholeheartedly. So, when Samuel Adams signed the Declaration of Independence on August 1, 1776, he delivered a speech at the State House in Philadelphia and said, “Be this the seat of unbounded religious freedom.”

Visiting Independence Hall - Independence National Historical Park (U.S.  National Park Service)

Straight Talk From Steve…
March 14th, 2024

One of Rush Limbaugh’s undeniable truths of life was that “words mean things.” Such is the case with words such as “destroyed property’ and ‘calamity’. According to Nebraska State Statute 77-1307, “Calamity means a disastrous event, including, but not limited to a fire, an earthquake, a flood, a tornado or other natural event which significantly affects the assessed value of real property.” This definition should not require a disastrous event to have a natural cause, but not everyone sees it this way. This definition is important because of how the word ‘calamity’ relates to a former piece of legislation of mine, which allows owners of damaged property to have their real property reassessed for property tax purposes.

Property owners should not be taxed on property that has been damaged. In 2019 I introduced a bill to allow owners of destroyed property to have their real estate reassessed for property tax purposes provided that the disastrous event occurs before July 1. In order to qualify for the re-evaluation, damage to the property has to exceed 20 percent of the property’s previously assessed value and the cause of the damage cannot be attributed to the owner of the property. The bill was amended into the Revenue Committee’s bill, LB 512, and became law shortly before the floods of 2019. As a result, many with flooded properties had their valuations reduced for tax purposes in 2019.

Arson should count as a kind of calamity. In the Spring of 2020 protestors associated with the Black Lives Matter movement marched throughout the City of Lincoln. On May 30 or 31 of that year they set fire to a building owned by the Inland Insurance Company. Damage done to the building was significant and should have qualified the owner of the property to have the building reassessed for property tax purposes. Indeed, the Inland Insurance Company filed a report of destroyed real property with the county assessor and the county clerk of Lancaster County.

Politicians can sometimes make words mean whatever they want them to mean. The Lancaster County Board of Equalization considered the damaged property report by the Inland Insurance Company but left the value of the building unchanged. So, Inland filed an appeal with the Tax Equalization and Review Commission, otherwise known as TERC. The TERC board held a hearing and then concluded that the building did not qualify as “destroyed real property” because the fire that caused the damage was not a calamity. The operative word here is the word caused. The TERC board had limited their definition of a calamity to only disasters caused by natural events.

Nebraska’s justice system still works. TERC was created in order to lessen the burden of the Nebraska Supreme Court, but the Nebraska Supreme Court still gets the final word on controversial matters. Inland filed an appeal with the Nebraska Supreme Court, which heard their case. The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the ruling of TERC on March 8, 2024. This was a major victory for my original bill! The Nebraska Supreme Court decided that a natural event could be understood as the type as well as the cause of a natural event. Because the definition of a calamity in Nebraska State Statute 77-1307 lists “fire” separately from “other natural events” it should be viewed as another kind of natural event.

No new legislation is needed. Last year I had introduced a new bill to correct what had happened to the Inland Insurance Company. That bill is LB 29 and it currently sits on General File in the Legislature. That bill would change “destroyed property” to “damaged property” in order to better include situations such as arson, which are not always viewed as naturally caused events. However, the ruling of the Nebraska Supreme Court means that my original bill will now include instances of arson.

Straight Talk From Steve…
March 9th, 2024

In 2021 the Fufeng Group, a Chinese food manufacturer, bought 300 acres of farmland near Grand Forks, North Dakota in order to build a milling plant. They paid 2.6 million dollars for the land. That land is only twelve miles from the Grand Forks Air Base, which is home to some of America’s most sensitive military secrets. Last year both the BBC and NPR reported that the Chinese had already purchased 380,000 acres of farmland in the United States.

After the purchase of land was made near the Grand Forks Air Base, a memo circulated throughout the air base classifying the purchase as a national security threat to the United States and alleging that the purchase fits a pattern of Chinese subnational espionage campaigns seeking to use commercial economic development projects to get close to Department of Defense installations.

Nebraska is one of the states where China wants to purchase more farmland. Without going into too much detail, we have already seen nefarious Chinese characters disguised as Americans arrive in Western Nebraska with suitcases full of cash ready to purchase farmland on the spot, especially near our missile silos. One such character even tried to masquerade as the leader of a new Christian sect.

I share these things today in order to alert the public about this growing threat to our national security and to inform the good people of Western Nebraska that the Legislature is addressing the issue this year. Sen. Brian Hardin of Gering is leading the way. LB 1120 is Sen. Hardin’s personal priority bill and last week the bill was debated on the floor of the Legislature and it advanced to the next round of debate on Select File with strong support in the Legislature.

Once it becomes law, Sen. Hardin’s bill will require those seeking to purchase land within a ten-mile radius of a military installation to file an affidavit with the register of deeds in the county stating under penalty of perjury that the purchaser is not affiliated with any foreign government or a nongovernment person determined to be a foreign adversary. The sale of the land will get held until the affidavit has been filed.

Sen. Hardin attached an amendment to the bill making it the sole responsibility of the purchaser to determine whether or not the affidavit is required. The reason for the amendment is to protect innocent landowners in Nebraska, who should not be tasked with the burden of having to determine if the affidavit is required. That burden of responsibility will reside solely with the purchaser.

Sen. Hardin also amended the bill in order to require that a copy of the affidavit be sent to the Nebraska Attorney General. Dislodging nefarious Chinese agents from real estate can get expensive, especially for sparsely populated counties in rural Nebraska. These matters should be adjudicated by the State Attorney General, and Sen. Hardin’s amendment will make that point clear.

The time to act on matters of national security is before it ever becomes a problem. We know that our enemies want to infiltrate our country. We have seen spy balloons crossing our nation, foreign agents entering the country through our porous southern border, cybersecurity threats, and now purchasing our farmland. Once LB 1120 passes into law, Nebraska’s counties will have an important tool for deterring these kinds of threats to our national security, and for these reasons I co-sponsored the bill along with 18 other State Senators, who all see the need for this bill.

In Nebraska Panhandle, missile silos' presence thwarts wind energy  development | | hastingstribune.com

Sen. Steve Erdman

District 47
Room 1124
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2616
Email: serdman@leg.ne.gov
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