Nebraska Legislative Update—Feb. 8, 2022

Environment
Farm and Food
Rural Health
Small Business
Small Towns

Floor debate and committee hearings are in full swing. The Nebraska Legislature has a lot of work to do in this short session and it is expected that bills will need a priority designation to see any time on the floor for debate. So far, 19 bills have been prioritized from individual senators, while committees have designated six priority bills. The deadline to request one of the Speaker’s 25 priority designations is Feb. 17, while senators and committees have until Feb. 22 to do so. The tight timeline may lead to more consent calendar applications, which is an efficient way to pass non-controversial bills that don’t spend money from the general fund.

The Center is supporting three bills with in-person testimony this week. Legislative Bill (LB) 759 and LB 1090, both introduced by Sen. Myron Dorn, will be heard by the Appropriations Committee today, Tuesday, Feb. 8. These bills will strengthen programs in the Business Innovation Act (BIA) by increasing the maximum amount of microloans from $100,000 to $150,000 and increasing the allocation of the Microenterprise Assistance Program from $2 million to $3 million. The BIA program enables the Department of Economic Development to provide grants to community-based organizations, like the Center, to encourage the development and growth of microenterprises throughout Nebraska.

LB 755 will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, at 1:30 p.m. This Center for Rural Affairs legislation, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt, would provide $10 million for the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which was established last year with the unanimous passage of LB 324. Currently, local meat processors are having a hard time keeping up with demand due disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic in large plants and a shift  in consumer sentiment toward locally-sourced meat.

LB 1046 was met with substantial opposition during the Jan. 27 Natural Resources Committee hearing. This bill changes the selection of the board of directors of public power districts by allowing the governor to appoint five members. We recently alerted our supporters on how they can help defeat this bill. Read that action alert here.

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 timm@cfra.org, 402.687.2100 ext. 1032, or 402.870.2681.

Food and agriculture

LB 755 (Brandt)—Support: This Center for Rural Affairs legislation, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt, would provide $10 million for the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which was established last year with the unanimous passage of LB 324. Funding would come from State Recovery Funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. This bill would 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.

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ ARPA spending plan includes $10 million for small- to medium-sized meat processors which mirror’s LB 755.

This bill will be heard in the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 9. 

LB 783 (Groene)—Support: Appropriates $75 million in State Recovery Funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. The funding will be used to create a grant program to aid in the creation of beef slaughter and packing plant facilities. This is likely in connection to a new large-scale facility proposed for the North Platte area. Supporting livestock producers with more and geographically-diverse processing capacity is a good thing for the state.

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ ARPA spending recommendations include $15 million for wastewater and runoff control in meat processing plant site development.

Four senators have co-signed this bill and it will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 9.

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.  

This bill was heard on Jan. 26 by the Natural Resources Committee. The Center submitted a statement in support. The bill is currently on general file and has been prioritized by Sen. Tim Gragert.

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.

This bill was heard by the Health and Human Services Committee on Jan. 20 and was  placed on general file on Feb. 1.

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.

This bill was heard by the Health and Human Services Committee on Jan. 19 and was placed on general file as of Feb. 1.

LB 1091 (Dorn)—Support: This bill creates the Nebraska Nursing Incentive Act, which seeks to alleviate the nursing shortage in Nebraska. This program would 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 would help curb the current nurse shortage that is expected to grow to 5,000 by the year 2025.

This bill will be heard by the Health and Human Services Committee on Feb. 11. The Center plans to submit a letter of support.

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.

This bill will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on March 2. The Center will support this bill with in-person testimony.

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 and will focus on educating healthcare professionals who will work in rural hospitals and clinics. The Center supports this bill because we believe it will help in the recruitment and retention of rural healthcare professionals.

Gov. Pete Ricketts’ recommendations include $10 million for a rural health complex.

This bill will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 17. The Center will submit a letter of support.

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.

Hearing was held Jan. 18, by the Education Committee. No testimony was provided in opposition to the bill. This bill was placed on general file on Jan. 27.

Economic development

LB 759 (Dorn)—Support: This Center for Rural Affairs legislation, introduced by Sen. Myron Dorn, would 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.

This bill will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 8.

LB 1090 (Dorn)—Support: This bill would 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.

This bill will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 8.

Read: Lawmakers have a chance to unburden small businesses

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.

This bill will be heard by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on Feb. 8.

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. 

This bill will be heard by the Business and Labor Committee on Feb. 14.

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.

A hearing was held on Jan. 27 with the Natural Resources Committee. The Center submitted a statement in opposition.

Action Alert: Ask your senator to keep public power in the hands of Nebraskans

LB 1102 (Bostelman)—Support: This bill creates the Nebraska Environmental Response Act, which would allow the Department of Environment and Energy to establish procedures to protect the environment. The bill would 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.

This bill was heard in the Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 3. The Center submitted a letter of support.

Other bills we are monitoring

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. Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 23.

LB 760 (Dorn): Appropriates federal funds to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services for grants to licensed emergency medical services programs.  Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 23.

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. Referred to the Education Committee. Hearing held on Jan. 25. Designated an Education Committee priority bill. Place on General File with AM 1756 on Feb. 3.

LB 891 (Lindstrom): Change the distribution of sales tax revenue, school levy limitations, and other tax and school provisions. Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing held Jan. 26.

LB 929 (Wishart): Require submission of a Medicaid state plan amendment or waiver to extend postpartum coverage to 12 months. Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Hearing held Jan. 26.

LB 1218 (McDonnell): Changes provisions relating to certification of school employees and student loan forgiveness. Referred to the Education Committee. Hearing held Jan. 31. Education Committee priority bill. 

LB 940 (Hansen, M.), LB 1069, LB 1070, and LB 1071 (Williams): These bills appropriate money for state workforce housing programs to include rural workforce housing.