Nebraska Legislative Update - April 21, 2022

Environment
Farm and Food
Rural Health
Small Business
Small Towns

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On April 20, the second session of the 107th Legislature of the State of Nebraska came to a close. The Center was instrumental in passing three bills this year and helped advocate for many issues that rural communities care about. The policy priorities in Legislative Bills (LB) 755, 759 and 1090 will enhance economic development opportunities for underserved Nebraskans across the state. All three bills saw broad support in the unicameral.

LB 755 was developed with Sen. Tom Brandt, and passed under LB 1014. This law provides $10 million for the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which was established last year with the unanimous passage of LB 324. The program will provide financial assistance for buildings, equipment, technology, and workforce training so small meat processors can better serve Nebraskans looking for healthy, affordable, and local food options. 

LB 759 was developed with Sen. Myron Dorn, and passed under the general budget bill, LB 1012. This law increases the maximum amount of a microloan under the Microenterprise Assistance Program, a Business Innovation Act initiative focused on the state’s small businesses, from $100,000 to $150,000. This loan limitation was last updated in 2015 and often required lending organizations, such as the Center, to find secondary sources of funding to complete a business loan. This created unnecessary hardship for Nebraska’s entrepreneurs.

LB 1090 also passed as part of LB 1012 and was introduced by Sen. Myron Dorn. This bill will increase the amount of money eligible for allocation to the Microenterprise Assistance Program from $2 million to $3 million. This allows the Center and other community lenders to increase the loans and no-cost technical assistance made available to underserved entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their business.

To learn more read: Funding will help rural entities regain their footing

Additionally, the Center helped successfully advocate for rural health care improvements, which required a line-item veto override in LB 1011. The override passed with 42 votes and included legislation that increases Medicaid provider rates for long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Closing this funding gap is particularly important to rural communities who are fighting to keep their local care facilities open. We also supported LB 1091 which passed under LB 1014 and established a $5 million scholarship fund for students who agree to work as a nurse in Nebraska for two years upon graduation. Nebraska is currently dealing with a nursing shortage crisis and this program will help alleviate that issue. 

We are also proud of the part we played in passing anti-hunger legislation that was introduced as LB 1201 and passed under LB 1014. This legislation secures $20 million for food banks and innovative projects that will help reduce food deserts and shorten the supply chain between local food producers and consumers. Most of the money will be used by food banks to purchase and distribute food to Nebraskans experiencing hunger. This represents an important win for anti-hunger advocacy in Nebraska as many neighboring states did not spend federal recovery dollars on direct food assistance.

Overall, the Center had success on a number of rural priorities. The bills passed this year will help small rural businesses, family farmers, and working rural families. We look forward to the interim where we will ensure these bills are implemented well.

A special thanks goes out to Sens. Tom Brandt and Myron Dorn for their work on LB 755, 759, and 1090, respectively. If you’d like to send a note of thanks you can call or email: 

We also want to thank all of our supporters who participated in the process, especially those who traveled to Lincoln and provided testimony at the committee hearings. Directly engaging on a bill helps show senators that Nebraskans care about an issue. You made a difference.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at timm@cfra.org, 402.687.2100 ext.1032, or 402.870.2681 if you have any questions about these bills.

Food and agriculture

LB 755 (Brandt)—Support: This Center for Rural Affairs legislation, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt, provides $10 million for the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which was established last year with the unanimous passage of LB 324. Funding will come from State Recovery Funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. This bill will help local processors secure additional space, equipment, and staffing to keep up with the demand created by changing consumer preference and work interruptions at regional packing plants. That is especially important to livestock producers, who continue to have a difficult time scheduling locker dates.

Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 1014.

LB 925 (Gragert)—Support: Creates the Resilient Soils and Water Quality Act, which seeks to accelerate the use of best practices for healthy soil management, improve water quality, and protect public health while also protecting agricultural production and profitability. The Center supports and encourages any effort in pursuit of retaining or restoring soil health and water quality, both of which are crucial to keeping our people and land productive and healthy.  

Final status: Signed into law by governor.

Health and safety

LB 697 (Kolterman)—Support: This bill provides for licensure of Rural Emergency Hospitals (REH). In December 2020, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which created a new Medicare provider type called the Rural  Emergency Hospital. The REH will be a new rural hospital type that does not provide inpatient care, rather 24-hour emergency services. The REH comes as a response to an ongoing period of hospital closures in rural communities and to address the concerns about access to emergency services in rural areas. Rural health outcomes are important to the Center and we believe REHs can help fill the gap our communities need when responding to medical emergencies.

Final status: Signed into law by governor.

LB 905 (Walz)—Support: This bill allows the Board of Medicine and Surgery to craft policies with accredited hospitals and licensed health care professionals to ensure that screening for maternal mental health disorders occur using a validated tool at prenatal and postnatal visits, as well as well-child checkups. Nebraska’s greatest resource is its people. Healthy mothers and babies are critical to the future success of our state, particularly in aging rural communities. Every undiagnosed and untreated case of maternal depression can lead to lasting negative impacts for rural families and communities.

Final status: Signed into law by governor.

LB 929 (Wishart)—Support: This bill requires the submission of a Medicaid state plan amendment or waiver to extend postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months. Extending postpartum coverage to one year is important to addressing the continuing needs of mothers, as  more than half of pregnancy-related deaths happen postpartum and 12% occur after six weeks postpartum. The bill will also increase the financial viability of rural health care services: Medicaid paid for an estimated 50 to 60% of births in rural areas in 2017. Extending coverage for new mothers would ensure the necessary follow-up care and provide a further financial incentive for maintaining obstetric services in rural settings.

Final Status: Referred to Health and Human Services Committee.

LB 1091 (Dorn)—Support: This bill creates the Nebraska Nursing Incentive Act, which seeks to alleviate the nursing shortage in Nebraska. This program will provide $5 million toward scholarships to Nebraska residents who agree to work in the state as licensed practical nurses or nurse aides for a period of two years. Rural residents face access to care challenges that are worsened by the current healthcare workforce crisis. This bill will help curb the current nurse shortage that is expected to grow to 5,000 by the year 2025.

Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 1014.

LB 1201 (DeBoer)—Support: This bill would allocate $20 million in funding to nonprofits who focus on food distribution and $20 million to food security innovation grants that will decrease Nebraska's reliance on national supply chains. The COVID-19 pandemic has made food insecurity a real problem for many Nebraska residents. This bill will alleviate immediate need and provide resources that strengthen the state’s future food security. If funded, this money would represent 4% of the total state ARPA budget and would likely be the only money allocated toward direct food assistance and projects intended to reduce food insecurity.

Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 1014. The final dollar amount is $20 million split between food banks and innovative food security projects. The majority of the funds go to the food banks.

Education

LB 721 (Hilkemann)—Support: Appropriates $60 million in State Recovery Funds for the University of Nebraska Medical Center Rural Health Complex. This new facility will be located on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) and will focus on educating healthcare professionals who will work in rural hospitals and clinics. The Center supported this bill because we believe it will help in the recruitment and retention of rural healthcare professionals.

Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 1014.

LB 758 (Brandt)—Support: Amends the Nebraska Farm-to-School Program Act to include early childhood education programs. Created last year under LB 396, this statewide program is administered by the Nebraska Department of Education. It promotes connections between local farmers and schools to procure fresh, locally grown food for school meals. In the interest of providing students with fresh, healthy food and opening a new market to local producers, the Center supports this bill.

Final status: Signed into law by governor.

Economic development

LB 759 (Dorn)—Support: This Center legislation, introduced by Sen. Myron Dorn, will increase the maximum amount of a microloan under the Business Innovation Act (BIA) to $150,000. Our work during the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions helped solidify funding for BIA programs. Allocations to the Microenterprise Assistance Program, a BIA initiative focused on the state’s small businesses, have increased to $1 million annually. Current statute limits the size of loans made with Microenterprise Assistance Program funding to $100,000 or less. Last updated in 2015, this limitation often requires lending organizations to find secondary sources of funding in order to complete a business loan.

Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 1012.

LB 1090 (Dorn)—Support: This bill will increase the amount of money eligible for allocation to the Microenterprise Assistance Program from $2 million to $3 million. The Microenterprise Assistance Program is one of five Business Innovation Act subprograms. Together, these subprograms have accelerated business development across the state. The Legislature has recognized this success and substantially increased appropriations to BIA programming during the 2021 legislative session. Because state statute places a cap on the amount of money these subprograms can receive, legislation is needed to fully utilize new appropriations. 

Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 1012.

LB 914 (Bostleman)—Support: This bill requires the Public Service Commission (PSC) to create and maintain a broadband map and data repository of the state no later than July 1, 2024. Data provided by such a map is an important tool used to determine where broadband access is sufficient and where it can be improved. This information will be used by the PSC and local entities to identify where public resources should be invested. It can also be used to ensure accountability once those investments have been made. Much of rural Nebraska is in need of broadband infrastructure investments and accurate data will be needed to make progress.

Final status: Portions of this bill were signed into law by the governor as part of LB 1144.

LB 935 (Bostar)—Support:
This bill creates the County Minimum Wage Act, which allows individual counties to set the minimum wage above the state minimum wage. The state minimum wage is currently set at $9.00 per hour. This bill includes provisions for employees that do work in multiple counties. Cost of living differences exist across Nebraska and local governments may be better positioned to decide where minimum wage should be set. 

Final status: Referred to the Business and Labor Committee.

Energy and environment

LB 1046 (Bostleman)—Oppose: This bill would change the selection of the board of directors of public power districts by allowing the governor to appoint five members. The Center believes locally elected citizens should lead Nebraska’s public power districts. Local people have the right perspective and insights when it comes to the energy their community uses. This bill would remove power from Nebraskans and instead consolidate more power in the state’s executive branch.

Final status: Indefinitely postponed.

LB 1045 (Bostelman)—Oppose: The Natural Resources Committee, which has prioritized Legislative Bill (LB) 1045, is proposing an amendment that would require public power districts to pay $50 million to a county treasurer each time they decide a power plant should be closed. That $50 million would come from ratepayers themselves. In addition to the fee, the amendment would also require public power districts to pay the salary of everyone working at a power plant that is no longer economical for five more years. This five-year severance package would also be paid for by ratepayers. AM 2081 places undue financial burdens on any public power supplier, which may ultimately jeopardize the affordability and reliability of our system.

Final status: Stalled on general file.

LB 1102 (Bostelman)—Support: This bill creates the Nebraska Environmental Response Act, which will allow the Department of Environment and Energy to establish procedures to protect the environment. The bill will grant additional powers to the department, such as the ability to issue orders to undertake a cleanup of a hazardous materials release, assess the costs of cleanup, pursue cost recovery and assess administrative penalties. Regulatory measures have failed to protect Nebraska communities, particularly in the case of the recent environmental pollution event at the AltEn ethanol plant in Mead. The Center believes regulations should be in place to hold companies accountable and keep our communities safe.

Final status: Signed into law by governor.

LB 1255 (Bostar)—Support: This bill appropriates federal funds to the University of Nebraska to update the Assessing Climate Change report originally released in 2014. Updating this information is critical to equip leaders in the state as they make decisions to improve the state’s resiliency and mitigate future risks of climate change.

Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 1014.

Tax policy

LB 1264 (McDonnell)—Neutral: This bill offers a comprehensive tax plan and incentives meant to help grow our economy. The tax changes include broadening our sales tax base, lowering and streamlining income tax rates for individuals and corporations and eliminating the inheritance tax. Incentives for growth include doubling tax credits associated with research and development work along with creating student loan repayment programs for qualifying degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or trade programs.

Final status: Referred to the Revenue Committee.

LB 939 (Linehan)—Oppose:  This bill will reduce the top individual income tax rate from 6.84% to 5.84% by 2025. The top tax rate starts with income over $29,000 for individuals and $58,000 for couples filing jointly. Because the top bracket begins at this level, the vast majority of benefits under this tax cut will be enjoyed by the most wealthy residents in our state and not middle income families. Because the corporate income tax cuts included in this proposal would apply equally to out-of-state businesses, many are concerned that a substantial portion of this tax relief will flow out of state.

Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 873.

Other bills

LB 710 (McCollister): Changes provisions relating to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility by removing the asset limit, which currently is set at $25,000. Final status: Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee.

LB 760 (Dorn): Appropriates $5 million in federal funds to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services for grants to licensed emergency medical services programs. Final status: Signed into law by governor as part of LB 1014.

LB 890 (Walz): Changes the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA). The changes would provide school districts with money for each student, boost the share of income tax going to school districts and lower property tax levies. Final status: Stalled on general file.

LB 891 (Lindstrom): Change the distribution of sales tax revenue, school levy limitations, and other tax and school provisions. Final status: Referred to Revenue Committee.

LB 1218 (McDonnell): Changes provisions relating to certification of school employees and student loan forgiveness. Final status: Signed into law by governor.

LB 940 (Hansen, M.) LB 1069 LB 1070 & LB 1071 (Williams): These bills appropriate money for state workforce housing programs to include rural workforce housing. All four bills have been heard in committee. Final status: LB 1069 was signed into law by the governor.