Nebraska Legislative Update - Jan. 25, 2022

Environment
Farm and Food
Rural Health
Small Business
Small Towns

Welcome again to the Center for Rural Affairs’ Unicameral update. Bill introduction wrapped up last week, with 593 introduced. The Legislature’s morning business has been devoted to floor debate of senator priority bills, while afternoon’s have seen a number of committee hearings. At this time, none of the priority bills being monitored by the Center have been scheduled for floor debates. Legislative Bill (LB) 758, which amends the Nebraska Farm-to-School Program Act to include early childhood education programs was heard by the Education Committee on Jan.18. There was no opposition to this bill during the hearing. 

Many of the new bills this session seek funding from the state’s $1 billion allotment from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Last week,  Sen. John Stinner, chairman of the appropriations committee, said the committee had received $3 billion in requests so far. Gov. Pete Ricketts’ recommendations on spending the funds are part of LB 1014. The governor’s plan includes $10 million for small to medium sized meat processors which mirror’s LB 755, a Center priority for this session.

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.

Are you a livestock producer whose business has suffered due to locker limitations? If you would like to help support this bill, please contact me at timm@cfra.org or 402.870.2681.

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’ recommendations include $15 million for wastewater and runoff control in meat processing plant site development.

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.  

A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 26 with the Natural Resources Committee. The Center will submit a statement in support.

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.

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.

A hearing was held on Jan. 19 with the Health and Human Services Committee. The Center submitted a statement in support.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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 is scheduled for Jan. 27 with the Natural Resources Committee. The Center will submit a statement in opposition.

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.

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

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.

LB 891 (Lindstrom): Change the distribution of sales tax revenue, school levy limitations, and other tax and school provisions.

LB 929 (Wishart): Require submission of a Medicaid state plan amendment or waiver to extend postpartum coverage to 12 months.

LB 935 (Bostar): Adopts the County Minimum Wage Act, which allows individual counties to set the minimum wage above the state minimum wage.

LB 940 (Hansen, M.) LB 1069, LB1070, and LB 1071 (Williams): These bills appropriate money for state workforce housing programs to include rural workforce housing. LB 1069 increases the amount available to use on a single project.

LB 1218 (McDonnell): Changes provisions relating to certification of school employees and student loan forgiveness.