Nebraska Legislative Update - Jan. 24, 2023

Environment
Farm and Food
Rural Health
Small Business
Small Towns

Last week marked the end of bill introduction in the Nebraska Legislature. Senators introduced 812 new bills and 31 resolutions during the 10-day period. Committee hearings begin this week. Each bill introduced will be scheduled for a hearing in 1 of 14 standing committees.

Working alongside the Center, Sen. Tony Vargas introduced Legislative Bill (LB) 740, which would make it easier for food truck owners to obtain the necessary operating and inspection permits.  Nebraska is currently operating under an outdated set of rules and regulations that were originally developed for brick and mortar restaurants. This bill proposes a set of changes that will streamline the permitting process and help food truck operators to more easily take advantage of their mobile nature and expand their markets. If you are a food truck owner and would like to offer support for this bill through written or in-person testimony, please contact me.

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 carliej@cfra.org or 402.687.2100 ext. 1032.

Food and agriculture

Legislative Bill (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. Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee.

Read: Bill seeks to keep food access changes permanent

LB 116 (Brandt) – Support: This bill would expand eligibility for the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit by eliminating the minimum acre requirement for farms, which is currently 10 acres. The bill also makes clear that a pension, retirement, or any other deferred benefit account should not be considered when calculating the net worth of an individual interested in utilizing this program. Finally, the bill increases the net worth threshold, which is used to determine eligibility, from no more than $200,000 to no more than $1 million. We have concerns about the largesse of this increase and will be urging lawmakers to revise it to $500,000. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7 before the Agriculture Committee. 

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. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31 before the Agriculture Committee.

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. Referred to 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. Referred to the Agriculture Committee.

Read: Legislation encourages streamlining of food truck permitting, inspection process

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 lack of available translation services. These services include, but are not limited to, laboratory, clinic, physician, pregnancy-related, and mental health. Referred to 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. Referred to the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee.

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. Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee.

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. Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee.

Education

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. Referred to the Education Committee.

Economic development

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 to 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. Referred to 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 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. Referred to 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 is scheduled for Jan. 31 before the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee.

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 is scheduled for Feb. 7 before the Transportation and Telecommunications 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 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 diminish their chance for success. Referred to the Natural Resources Committee.

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 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. Referred to the Natural Resources Committee.

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. Referred to the Appropriations Committee.