“The salvation of the state is in the watchfulness of the citizen.” —Hartley Burr Alexander
Last week was an eventful one in the Nebraska Legislature. Debate on two controversial bills led to continued filibustering. With only 26 days remaining in the session, the Legislature is adopting a “Christmas tree” method of passing legislation this year, with parts of, or entire bills, being added as amendments to committee priority bills. With parts of the biennial budget still needing to be debated, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Last Friday, Legislative Bill (LB) 753 advanced from select file. This bill would give up to $25 million in income tax credits from the state’s general fund to any individual or corporation that donates to a private school scholarship fund. This will be disadvantageous for rural property owners. Of the 10% of students attending private schools in Nebraska, only 3% are in rural communities. Furthermore, more than half of Nebraska’s counties do not even have a private school option.
We value your input as we engage with the legislative process. If you would like to share your support, concerns, insights, or opposition via phone call or email, or by visiting with your senator, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402.687.2100 ext. 1032.
Food and agriculture
LB 84 (Day) – Support: In 2021, the Legislature addressed the “cliff effect” by amending the threshold used to determine eligibility under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from 130% of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 165%. Without action, this change will expire on Sept. 30. This would result in a family of three earning more than $29,000 annually losing these benefits during a time when inflation is impacting every aspect of life and particularly groceries. LB 84 would keep the income eligibility for SNAP benefits at 165% of FPL. A hearing was held on March 2 before the Health and Human Services Committee. The Center provided testimony in support. This bill has been prioritized by Sen. Day.
Read: Bill seeks to keep food access changes permanent
Read: Medicaid translation services, permanent SNAP expansion vital to rural communities
LB 321 (Brandt) – Support: This bill would expand the cottage food law to include refrigerated baked goods and other temperature-sensitive foods. Small, food-based businesses create economic development opportunities in rural Nebraska, and LB 321 can help reduce many of the regulatory burdens facing these entrepreneurs. In order to ensure food safety, it is important for bill sponsors to work with local retailers and public health officials before and after this hearing to strike an appropriate balance. Amendment 483 was filed to provide clarification on which foods are excluded from cottage food sales. A hearing was held on Jan. 31 before the Agriculture Committee. The Center submitted a statement of support. The bill was placed on general file with Amendment 483.
LB 662 (Ballard) – Oppose: This bill would significantly weaken nuisance law in and around rural communities. As proposed, it would prohibit any individual from filing a nuisance claim in response to air or water pollution unless that person lives within one-half mile of the source of pollution, owns a majority interest in land affected by the pollution, and the farming operation causing the pollution has “materially violated a federal, state, or local law.” A neighboring resident would also only be able to file a lawsuit within one year of the agriculture operation beginning, rather than within two years as in the current law. Renters and those living more than a half- mile away who may be impacted would not be able to file a nuisance lawsuit. A hearing was held on Feb. 14 before the Agriculture Committee.
LB 740 (Vargas) – Support: This Center for Rural Affairs legislation would modernize and improve the process used to inspect and permit mobile food units (food trucks) in Nebraska. Currently, regulations for mobile food units can vary widely between health departments, counties, and municipalities. Furthermore, if a mobile food unit has met all licensing requirements in one of these political subdivisions, that license will not be recognized if it travels outside of that jurisdiction. This bill encourages the use of reciprocity agreements between organizations with authority to issue permits so mobile food unit operators can more readily take advantage of their portable nature. It would also require the Department of Agriculture to maintain a registry containing information about local ordinances and forms the operators will need to complete to operate in each municipality that regulates mobile food units. A hearing was held on Feb. 14 before the Agriculture Committee. The Center provided testimony in support. The bill was placed on general file with Amendment 619, which eliminates a potential conflict with LB 262. LB 740 was amended to Agriculture Committee priority bill LB 262 with Amendment 719 and was placed on general file on March 13.
Read: Food truck owners encourage lawmakers to update permitting process
Read: Nebraska lawmaker revives attempt to support, streamline permits for food trucks
Read: Legislation encourages streamlining of food truck permitting, inspection process
Watch: Rural Rapport: Streamlining the Permitting Process for Food Trucks in Nebraska
Health and safety
LB 62 (Cavanaugh, M.) – Support: LB 62 would provide Medicaid coverage for all necessary translation and interpretation services for eligible recipients using a medical assistance program. Medicaid providers and patients in rural clinics have struggled with giving and receiving care due to a lack of available translation services. These services include, but are not limited to, laboratory, clinic, physician, pregnancy-related, and mental health. A hearing was held on March 1 before the Health and Human Services Committee. The Center provided testimony in support.
Read: Medicaid translation services, permanent SNAP expansion vital to rural communities
LB 108 (McDonnell) – Support: This bill would create two programs for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC). One would distribute $200,000 to FQHCs to develop or expand behavioral health care services. The other program would create a grant program for FQHCs to make capital improvements to their facilities and to invest in their workforce. In rural communities, where access to healthcare services is limited, FQHCs are often the only or most affordable option. The programs LB 108 would implement would go toward enhancing the quality of care for individuals and families living in rural areas. A hearing was held on March 24 before the Appropriations Committee. The Center submitted a letter of support.
LB 256 (Brewer) – Support: LB 256 would require insurance companies to reimburse telehealth services at a comparable rate to in-person health care services. In rural communities, where medical clinics are not always readily accessible, telehealth is a way to receive health care services for issues not requiring immediate medical attention. Telehealth services are not consistently covered by health insurance companies and plans. A hearing was held on Feb. 13 before the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee. The Center submitted a letter of support. Amendment 681 was filed to specify that only health care providers who also practice at physical locations in Nebraska are eligible for comparable telehealth reimbursement. This bill has been prioritized by Sen. John Fredrickson. On April 5, LB 256 was placed on general file.
Read: Payment parity needed for telehealth services
LB 503 (Aguilar) – Support: The bill would establish the Rural Nebraska Nursing Workforce Act, a scholarship fund to train and educate nurses. With a majority of Nebraska’s 93 counties having been deemed medically- underserved and 13 counties having one or no registered nurses, Nebraska is projected to face a shortage of more than 5,000 nurses by 2025. This bill would expand clinical opportunities for nursing students enrolled in accelerated nursing programs. Nurses receiving this scholarship would agree to work for three years in Nebraska upon completion of their nursing program. A hearing was held on Feb. 24 before the Health and Human Services Committee. The Center submitted a letter of support.
LB 586 (Hughes) – Support: This bill would appropriate $3 million in 2023-24 and $7 million in 2024-25 to expand clinical training sites throughout Nebraska. Areas that now have fewer registered nurses, as compared to the state average, will be given priority for these funds. Currently, it can be difficult to find in-person clinical training opportunities outside Nebraska’s bigger cities. This bill will incentivize nurses to obtain certification to teach clinical components of education courses in rural areas, thus expanding clinical opportunities for students and continuing education for nurses throughout the state. A hearing was held on Feb. 22 before the Health and Human Services Committee. The Center submitted a letter of support. This bill was prioritized by Sen. Merv Riepe.
Read: Expanded training opportunities one avenue to address nursing shortage
LB 320 (Brandt) – Support: This bill would change property valuations only within the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA ) equalization aid formula. Under the proposal, agricultural and horticultural land would be valued at 42% rather than 72% of its market value while other real property, mainly residential and commercial, would be valued at 86% rather than the current 96% of market value.This change within the TEEOSA formula would increase equalization aid for schools which would allow schools to lower their property tax request. This bill would also create the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act Trust Fund, which would provide up to 10% of basic funding to each local school district. A hearing was held on Feb. 14 before the Education Committee.
LB 753 (Linehan) – Oppose: This bill, prioritized by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, would create a new income tax credit for any individual or corporation that donates to a private school scholarship fund. At least $25 million of taxpayer money would be made available for this purpose every year. This would be especially disadvantageous for rural students in Nebraska - rural students make up only about 3% of private school students throughout the state and residents in 48 of Nebraska’s 93 counties do not have private schools as an option to enroll their children. A hearing was held on Feb. 3 before the Revenue Committee and placed on general file on Feb. 10 and was placed on select file on March 13. On April 13, the bill advanced to enrollment and review.
LB 45 (Dorn) – Support: LB 45 establishes the Revitalize Rural Nebraska Grant Fund, which would provide funds for communities to demolish dilapidated buildings. Second class cities (cities with a population greater than 800, but less than 5,000) and villages (communities with a population of less than 800) applying for these funds are prioritized; remaining funds are made available to first class cities (cities with a population greater than 5,000 and less than 100,000). If there are excess funds left at the end of the year, they will roll over to the Revitalize Rural Nebraska Grant Fund for the next fiscal year. LB 45 appropriates $10 million annually to be transferred from the General Fund to the Revitalize Rural Nebraska Fund, which will be overseen by the Department of Environment and Energy. A hearing was held on Feb. 21 before the Urban Affairs Committee. The bill was placed on general file on March 7.
LB 349 (Wayne) – Support: This bill would increase grant funds available for each of the Business Innovation Act’s five programs which accelerate business development across the state. One of these programs is the Microenterprise Assistance Program, which allows organizations, such as the Center, to provide technical assistance and loans to entrepreneurs who are unable to secure bank financing due to a lack of collateral, credit obstacles, or a local bank’s inability to fund business startups. An increase to $9 million annually, from $3 million, will give more small businesses the opportunities to grow and invest in their operations. A hearing is scheduled for March 7 before the Appropriations Committee. The Center provided testimony in support.
LB 515 (Walz) – Support: The Rural Economic Development Initiative Act would establish a grant program to help economic development organizations expand services in rural areas. Funds would be prioritized for counties with a population less than 50,000, second-class cities (cities with a population greater than 800, but less than 5,000), and villages (communities with a population of less than 800). To qualify, an employee hired with funding from this program must be engaged in business development, housing improvement, workforce retention, and relocation assistance. A hearing was held on Jan. 31 before the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee. The Center provided testimony in support. We would like to say thank you to the economic development professionals who showed their support.
Watch: Rural Rapport: Expanding Economic Development Services in Rural Nebraska
Read: REDI Act: help with economic development for Nebraska small towns
Read: Bill would expand economic development efforts to rural communities
Watch: Ag advocates supporting legislation to expand economic development in rural communities
LB 683 (Transportation and Telecommunications Committee) – Support: This bill establishes the Nebraska Broadband Office as part of the Nebraska Department of Transportation The department would be overseen by the Director of Broadband, who would be appointed by the governor. The office would collaborate at all levels of the government to develop a strategic plan relating to broadband planning, including the building of infrastructure, maintenance, coordination of programs for broadband users, and disseminating information to the public. A hearing was held on Feb. 7 before the Transportation and Communications Committee. The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee prioritized this bill, which was placed on general file with Amendment 870 on March 16. AM 870 provided clarity for how the funds would be used to establish an office, stated that state and federal highway funds may be used for technology infrastructure along state owned highways, added the requirement of an annual report on broadband status by the Office, and gives precedence to any broadband projects that are appealed to any district court. The bill was placed on select file on April 4 and advanced to enrollment and review on April 5. On April 13, it was placed on final reading.
Energy and environment
LB 255 (Brewer) – Oppose: This bill would change eminent domain and renewable energy generation provisions relating to certain power suppliers. While prohibiting the use of eminent domain to construct energy generation facilities is reasonable, this bill mistakenly limits this prohibition to renewable energy facilities only. The bill could be improved by extending this prohibition to all generation facilities. The bill also discourages public power utilities from investing in renewable energy. This is to the detriment of Nebraska's ratepayers, who currently benefit from the low-cost renewable energy produced in this state. Finally, the bill also prohibits public power utilities from participating in community-based energy development projects. C-BED projects are a way for communities and landowners to share in the profits of renewable energy development. Prohibiting local utilities from taking part in these agreements diminishes their chance for success. A hearing was held on Feb. 22 before the Natural Resources Committee. The Center submitted a comment in opposition.
LB 399 (Brewer) – Oppose: This legislation would change the approval requirements for privately developed renewable energy generation facilities. Under this proposal, the owner of the planned facility must file an application with the Nebraska Power Review Board, go through a public hearing process, and receive approval from the Board in order to construct the generation facility. The Power Review Board is an unelected body appointed by the governor. We believe siting decisions should be made at the local level by individuals accountable to local voters. A hearing was held on Feb. 22 before the Natural Resources Committee. The Center submitted a comment in opposition.
LB 560 (Blood) – Support: This bill would use funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to increase energy efficiency in homes and businesses, upgrade utility infrastructure, support electric vehicle infrastructure, support drought-resistant agricultural practices, and create jobs and stimulate the economy. A hearing was held on March 6 before the Appropriations Committee.
LB 566 (Bostelman) – Neutral: This bill would appropriate $30,000 to conduct a study on the economic impact of renewable energy, evaluate the risks of replacing baseload generation with renewable energy, and evaluate the economic benefits of maintaining coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. We will encourage lawmakers to consider a Value of Solar study to better understand solar's economic impact. These studies can more accurately show that privately generated solar offers numerous benefits to utilities and the grid, such as providing greater electrical reliability and reducing energy demand during peak hours. A hearing was held on Feb. 24 before the Executive Board. The Center provided neutral testimony. The bill was placed on general file on March 21.