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Now that all day public hearings have completed, the Legislature has moved on to all day debate on legislation. In addition to the Legislature’s work considering legislative proposals, the Appropriations Committee is finalizing its budget proposal as we prepare to present it to the full Legislature.
This has certainly been an unprecedented time for the Committee, with many challenges we haven’t seen before. First and foremost on everyone’s mind is how we have adjusted to the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March of last year, the Legislature passed emergency funding to secure supplies and other resources for healthcare providers. Since then, we have gone from concerns of a 10% revenue shortfall to a $500 million surplus, due in large part to federal relief and stimulus funds throughout the course of the pandemic.
Some of the major budget priorities being considered include an increase in property tax credits by $574 million, setting aside $115 million in funding for the Governor’s plan to build a new prison, and building up our Rainy Day Fund by $100 million to a total of $763 million, or 14.2% or state revenue. In addition, the Committee has made $210 million available “on the floor” to be used for other legislative proposals outside of the budget.
In addition to my work on the budget, there were 6 bills that I introduced which were referenced to the Committee and amended into the budget for the Legislature’s consideration.
LB141 appropriates $7.5 million to the Nebraska Arts Council as matching funds to assist in renovation of the Museum of Nebraska Art Collection at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. This would include existing and additional gallery space for the museum.
LB142 increases the appropriation to the Nebraska Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund by $500 thousand annually until 2030 to provide a sustainable and robust endowment. The Cultural Endowment was created to support the arts and humanities in Nebraska, and has shown incredible success in its ability to leverage private donations for the arts.
LB264 provides $100 thousand in funding for a competitive grant program established last year to award grants to certified cultural districts. These districts are based on a geographical area and feature artistic or cultural activities to promote various communities across Nebraska.
LB342 provides $2.5 million annually to the Sixpence Fund to make more widely available quality early childhood care for Nebraska’s at risk infants and toddlers. The Sixpence Fund was established as a public-private framework to provide funding for high-quality early childhood programs, specifically for developmental interventions.
LB421, as amended into the budget proposal, provides $1.5 million annually in funding for student loan repayment of rural health professionals. The legislation will help to shore up the waitlist for a state program that assists in student loan repayment for health professionals who make a commitment to remain in state-designated shortage areas. This is part of an effort to attract and retain health professionals for our rural areas of the state.
LB588 extends existing appropriations for deferred maintenance under facilities programs for the University of Nebraska and State Colleges. It increases the appropriation to the University’s program by $2.5 million and requires a 2% contribution of expended funds in the program to establish a revolving facility maintenance fund. This will put the University on a path to self-sustainability.
I also have two other bills outside of the Appropriations Committee which have advanced from their respective committees to the floor of the Legislature for debate.
LB59, advanced with wide agreement, authorizes the Nebraska Tourism Commission to enter into agreements with retailers to sell the Commission’s merchandise. This legislation will be important to marketing Nebraska as a tourism destination, especially after a tough year for the industry during the pandemic. I have requested a “consent agenda” designation from the Speaker of the Legislature to fast-track it to consideration on the floor.
LB592 allows the Western Nebraska Veterans’ Home, located in Scottsbluff, to utilize automated medication distribution machines to dispense medications to residents in its assisted living facility. This will improve the facility’s efficiency and reduce human error. The bill was advanced with wide support as well and is being considered for the Speaker’s “consent agenda” designation.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.