Nebraska Unicameral Update-Jan. 12, 2021

Farm and Food

The Unicameral convened its long, 90-day, session on Jan. 4, and is scheduled to adjourn June 10.

This week, bills began to be introduced and committee chairpersons named. Each bill introduced will be heard in one of 14 standing committees. Committee hearings begin Jan. 25 and will last through mid-March. Sen. Mike Hilgers, who represents the 21st district, was elected the new Speaker on Wednesday, without opposition.

Here is a selection of bills and issues the Center is following.

If you have an interest in any of these bills and 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 nathanb@cfra.org or 402.687.2100 ext. 1032. 

Budget and Tax

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 business. The $2 million saved would be dedicated instead to the Business Innovation Act. Last session, Sen. Geist introduced LB879 with the same aim, but it did not advance.

LB 334, which was introduced in 2019, however, will increase funds for the Business Innovation Act by $4 million this year and each year thereafter, nearly doubling the size of that fund this year. Both the Business Innovation Act and the Microenterprise Tax Credit are useful tools for economic development in the state, but the latter provides much needed, targeted support for the smallest businesses.

The Center is working with legislators to introduce a bill to improve the Microenterprise Tax Credit Act - In a year that has been particularly hard on the bottom line of the smallest companies, it is a crucial time not only to preserve the program but to improve it. Based on the recommendations of small business owners and economic development professionals, this bill will preserve the credit until 2024 and make, among others, the following changes:

  • 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 already 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. 

If you are interested in supporting this bill, please contact Trenton Buhr, policy associate, via email at trentonb@cfra.org

Food and Agriculture

Supporting Small Meat Processors: The Center is working with legislators to introduce a bill amending the Nebraska Meat and Poultry Inspection law to support small, independent processing in the wake of the challenges they face as a result of the pandemic.

The bill would support independent processors, farmers, and consumers by making it easier for customers to purchase individual packages of meat directly from the local processor and producer, and by creating the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which would provide grants for small, independent processors to grow their business, and a roadmap for expanding local meat markets.

If you are interested in supporting this bill, please contact me at nathanb@cfra.org

Food Access

LB 108 (McCollister) Support→ This bill addresses what is known as the SNAP “cliff effect”. The cliff effect occurs when a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) beneficiary reaches a certain threshold of income that causes them to lose their assistance, but not to make enough money to replace the benefit, resulting in a net loss in income. As a result, it may discourage people from seeking wage increases. LB 108 will raise the level of income an individual can earn while remaining eligible for the benefit just high enough to account for this unintended effect.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left more people underemployed and in need of food assistance. It is especially important, in these difficult times, that this cliff effect issue be addressed by raising the gross income threshold on SNAP eligibility.

Resources for Engaging with the Legislature

We encourage you to be involved in the legislative process by communicating with your representatives about issues that are important to you. Last week 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. If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can find them at this link.

How to be a Rural Advocate
Engaging with the Nebraska Legislature
2021 Legislative Priorities