“The salvation of the state is in the watchfulness of the citizen.” —Hartley Burr Alexander
Last week, a hearing for Legislative Bill (LB) 740 was held before the Agriculture Committee. This Center for Rural Affairs legislation, introduced by Sen. Tony Vargas, would streamline the permitting process for food truck operators as well as create an online registry of local food truck ordinances with the Department of Agriculture.
The Center was joined by 14 other supporters providing in-person testimony. There were no opponents. Additionally, there were six letters of support submitted online, as well as two letters written in a neutral capacity.
The Center also provided a letter in support of LB 256, which would create payment parity for telehealth services in the state.
This week, several of the energy and environmental bills we are monitoring have hearings scheduled. The Center will submit comments in opposition to LB 255 and 399.
LB 255 would prohibit the use of eminent domain for renewable energy facilities and prohibit public power utilities from participating in community-based energy development projects. LB 399 would remove renewable energy approval authority from county supervisors, giving it instead to the state’s Power Review Board. The Center will testify in-person in a neutral capacity for LB 566 to encourage lawmakers to consider a “value of solar” study.
Also scheduled for hearings this week, are LB 503 and 586, both focusing on nursing workforce development in Nebraska. The Center will provide letters of support for both bills.
We value your input as we engage with the legislative process. If you would like to share your support, concerns, insights, or opposition by providing testimony in-person, via letter, 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 is scheduled for March 2 before the Health and Human Services Committee.
Read: Bill seeks to keep food access changes permanent
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. 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 136 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.
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 is scheduled for Feb. 14 before the Agriculture Committee. The Center provided testimony in support.
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 is scheduled for March 1 before the Health and Human Services Committee.
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.
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 is scheduled for Feb. 24 before the Health and Human Services Committee. The Center will submit 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 is scheduled for Feb. 22 before the Health and Human Services Committee. The Center will submit a letter of support.
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 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 is scheduled for Feb. 21 before the Urban Affairs Committee.
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.
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.
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.
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 is scheduled for Feb. 22 before the Natural Resources Committee. The Center will submit 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 is scheduled for Feb. 22 before the Natural Resources Committee. The Center will submit 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 is scheduled for 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 is scheduled for Feb. 24 before the Executive Board. The Center will provide neutral testimony.