By Nathan Beacom, former staff member
Welcome back to the Center for Rural Affairs Unicameral Update.
The past two weeks have been a whirlwind, with 10 or 11 hearings a day at the state Legislature. A number of these hearings focused on bills that are priorities for the Center for Rural Affairs, and featured testimony from our staff.
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Here are the bills we are following:
Legislative Bill 366 (Briese)—Support: Expands and improves the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit, including in the following ways:
- Increase the maximum credit from $10,000 over an applicant’s lifetime to $20,000. This simply reflects the increased cost of doing business since 2005.
- Update restrictions on related parties. Current eligibility limits prohibit any linear family member from using the program once it has been used by another relative. This update would allow family members to use the credit so long as the businesses and ownership are completely separate.
Hearing held Feb. 4 in the Revenue Committee. Proponents, including the Center, argued this targeted relief to Nebraska’s smallest businesses is an important and unique tool for rural economic development. Many representatives of small business and rural economic development also testified to the importance of retaining this program.
LB 74 (Geist)—Oppose: Eliminates funding for the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit Act. This bill places an early sunset on the tax credit established by the act, which provides up to $10,000 in refundable tax credits to microbusiness owners for investment in the growth of their businesses. The $2 million saved would be dedicated instead to the Business Innovation Act.
Hearing held Feb. 4 in the Revenue Committee. Opponents, including the Center, defended the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit, pointing out that the vast majority of Nebraska businesses—more than 80%—fit into the microbusiness category, Buhr said elimination of the tax credit would be inappropriate, saying it is crucial now, perhaps more than at any other time, that we support Nebraska microbusinesses.
LB 388/ LB 456 (Friesen)—Support: Establishes the Broadband Bridge Program/Nebraska Enhancing Broadband Act to fund the development of broadband networks in unserved or underserved areas in the state. Under this act, a cooperative, internet provider, or political subdivision may apply for grants to develop these networks. Both bills rely upon the Broadband Data Improvement Program, which was developed by the Center for Rural Affairs in cooperation with Sen. Tom Brandt, to identify where grant funds should be allocated. LB 388 would appropriate $20 million for this effort, and LB 456 would appropriate $10 million.
Hearing was held Monday, Feb. 8, by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. The Center testified in support, noting the crucial role of crowdsourcing data on broadband needs in underserved areas for using broadband funds efficiently.
LB 324 (Brandt)—Support: Amends the Nebraska Meat and Poultry Inspection Law to support small, independent processors in the wake of the challenges they face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would support independent processors, farmers, and consumers by making it easier for customers to purchase individual packages of meat directly from local processors and producers, by creating the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which would provide grants for small, independent processors to grow their businesses, and by creating a roadmap for expanding local meat markets.
Hearing held Feb. 2 by the Agriculture Committee. Proponents, including the Center, meat processors, and livestock producers, argued that this bill would be critical for helping farmers and butchers deal with the current livestock bottleneck, and to support strong development in the Nebraska meat sector in the long term.
LB 254 (Williams)—Support: Extends the application for the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit. This credit is an important tool to aid in the generational transfer of farm land, giving tax credits to both landowners and young renters alike, and providing three-year leases and financial education to beginning farmers.
Hearing held Feb. 4 by the Revenue Committee. Proponents, including the Center, argued that this is an important incentive for older landowners to work with young farmers in starting new businesses, ensuring that a new generation of farmers is able to take up where the aging generation is leaving off.
LB 83 (Flood)—Support: Updates the Open Meetings Act to provide for new virtual conferencing technologies and to increase the availability of such technologies during emergencies. In a typical year, only half of the public meetings of a given public body may be held virtually. Under an emergency declaration, this bill removes that limitation.
Hearing held Jan. 27 by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. The Center testified in favor of this bill, recommending that teleconference participation be required at public meetings so rural people with poor internet access have a guaranteed means of participation.
LB 132 (DeBoer)—Support: Creates the School Financing Review Commission within the Department of Education to bring together administrators, financial experts, members of the public, and education officials to study better ways to finance public education in the state.
Hearing held Feb. 2 by the Education Committee. The Center testified in favor of this bill, citing the need to solve the complex problems in school financing in a way that adequately supports our schools without putting undue burden on farmers.
LR 5 (Gragert)—Support: Accepts the findings and recommendations of the Healthy Soils Task Force submitted to the governor and the Agriculture Committee. The Center supports the efforts of the Task Force and encourages the state to act upon its recommendations in pursuit of retaining and restoring the soil health crucial to keeping our land productive and healthy.
Hearing held by the Agriculture Committee on Feb. 2.
LB 40 (Groene): Establishes the Nebraska Rural Projects Act, which provides state matching funds for industrial rail access to business parks constructed by economic development corporations. Referred to the Revenue Committee.
LB 79 (Briese): Establishes that the minimum amount of relief provided by the Property Tax Credit Act grows by the percentage of growth in the value of the property taxed. Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb.10.
LB 98 (Walz): Establishes a special valuation for agricultural or horticultural land 5 acres and fewer, such that property taxes for that land would be 75% of the residential valuation. Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing scheduled before the Revenue Committee, Feb. 10.
LB 176 (Lindstrom): Establishes a tax credit for farmers participating in federal conservation programs. Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing held on Feb. 4.
LB 235 (Brewer): Expresses the intent of the Legislature that the director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture create a state meat and poultry inspection program. Referred to the Agriculture Committee. Hearing held on Feb. 2.
LB 266 (McCollister): Encourages the development of clean energy and requires that public power suppliers achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Referred to the Natural Resources Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 11.
LB 306 (Brandt): Raises the income eligibility threshold for assistance with heating and cooling a home to 150% of the federal poverty level, and dedicates funds to home weatherizing. Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Hearing held on Jan. 29.
LB 338 (Bostelman): Allows the Public Service Commission to consider community-based plans for the reallocation of funds for wireless service from the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund. Referred to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 9.
LB 455 (Friesen): Removes barriers to placing broadband attachments on existing electrical utility poles. Referred to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Hearing held Feb. 8.
LB 482 (J. Cavanaugh): Prohibits the use of public resources for contributions to candidates or committees or for memberships in certain private organizations. Referred to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 10.
LB 483 (J. Cavanaugh): Provides for a climate change study and action plan. Referred to the Natural Resources Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 11.
LB 506 (J. Cavanaugh): Requires distribution utilities to provide net-metering to customers with solar panels that will measure the amount of energy put back into the grid against energy used and reduce billing proportionately. Referred to the Natural Resources Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 10.
LB 543 (Brandt): Requires agricultural equipment manufacturers to provide information, equipment, or tools for the repair of products sold to farmers themselves or to equipment repair businesses. Referred to the Judiciary Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 25.
LB 672 (Murman): Exempts certain agricultural equipment from sales and use tax.
Referred to the Revenue Committee.
We encourage you to be involved in the legislative process by communicating with your representatives about issues that are important to you. During our live “Rural Rapport,” we offered some tips for engaging with your legislators and also recorded a quick tutorial on how to navigate the state’s legislative website. You can find those videos below.