Nebraska Unicameral Update-Jan. 26, 2021

Environment
Farm and Food
Small Business
Small Towns

Welcome back to the Center for Rural Affairs Unicameral Update. Last week marked the end of the introduction of new bills in the Nebraska Legislature. This week an adjusted hearing schedule starts, with hearings being held all day, rather than the typical half-day. Speaker Mike Hilgers is hoping to move through hearings more quickly than usual in the interest of limiting the spread of COVID-19.

The guidelines for public participation in hearings can be found here

Over the past two weeks, a number of bills the Center will be following were introduced.

Here are the bills we are following. 

Economic development

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 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. 

In the wake of COVID-19 business closures and revenue losses last year, small businesses need all the help they can get. Increasing this credit will give our smallest businesses —businesses at the heart of the rural economy—necessary support after a historically tough year. 
Referred to the Revenue Committee.  

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

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. Last session, Sen. Suzanne Geist introduced LB879 with the same aim, but it did not advance. These programs need not compete, and both serve an important purpose for small businesses. 
Referred to the Revenue Committee.

If you are interested in opposing this bill and preserving this important program, please contact Trenton Buhr, policy associate, via email at trentonb@cfra.org

LB 526 (Wishart) Support: Increases the funding appropriated to the Business Innovation Act, which is designed to support businesses with fewer than 500 employees engaged in proof-of-concept activities. In other words, to support Nebraska-based businesses that are developing innovative ideas. The grants apply specifically to small businesses receiving federal grants, businesses creating new products or processes in collaboration with a Nebraska college or university, agricultural businesses innovating in value-added products, and to developing microenterprises. Microenterprise funding would be increased from $2 million to $5 million a year. Each of the other sections will be increased from $4 million to $10 million a year. We support this bill, especially in regard to its effort to target increased grant funds to microbusinesses, which play an essential role in rural economic development. 
Referred to the Appropriations Committee.

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. 
Referred to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

Food and agriculture

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, and 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.
Referred to the Agriculture Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 2, 1:30 p.m.  

If you are interested in supporting this bill, please contact
Nathan Beacom, policy associate, via email at nathanb@cfra.org

LB 396 (Brandt) Support: Establishes a statewide program, to be administered by the Department of Education, that will promote connections between local farmers and schools to procure fresh, locally grown food for school meals. This bill will fund a position in the Education Department to administer the program with the support of staff from the departments of Education and Agriculture. In the interest of providing students with fresh, healthy food, and opening a new market to local producers, the Center supports this bill.
Referred to the Education Committee

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. The Center supports the measure because it will help more beginning farmers and landowners access this important program.
Referred to the Revenue Committee

Governance

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. The Center supports this bill as a reasonable good-governance measure that allows the public to better participate in public meetings, particularly during extraordinary times.
Referred to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Hearing scheduled for Jan. 27, 1:30 p.m.

Education

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. School financing, especially as it is tied with the property tax debate, has been a matter of contention in the state for years. This commission would organize that debate into a concerted investigation into a solution that would sustainably finance quality public education services, including examining alternative tax funding structures and looking to successful examples in other states. The Center supports this effort to arrive at well-researched answers to the challenges associated with adequately funding public schools in the state.
Referred to the Education Committee. Hearing will be held Feb. 2, 9:30 a.m. 

Health and safety

LB 241 (Vargas) Support: Establishes the Meatpacking Employees COVID-19 Protection Act. It has been well reported that conditions in large meatpacking facilities are especially conducive to the spread of COVID-19, and that workers were affected in disproportionately large numbers. This bill would establish certain requirements for meatpacking facilities with 100 employees or more to ensure workers are offered reasonable precautions against contracting or transmitting this disease. The Center supports this bill in the interest of safe working conditions for employees in Nebraska.
Referred to the Business and Labor Committee.

Energy and environment

LB 424 (Brewer) Neutral: Stipulates that wind energy projects may not be undertaken unless a county has passed zoning restrictions on the construction of such projects. This includes setback and noise requirements and a decommissioning plan. While the Center is neutral on the particular standards outlined in the bill, we believe the process of establishing reasonable zoning measures for wind projects is necessary.
Referred to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. 

Other bills we are monitoring

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.

LB 98 (Walz): Establishes a special valuation for agricultural or horticultural land 5 acres and under, such that property taxes for that land would be 75% of the residential valuation. Referred to the Revenue Committee.

LB 176 (Lindstrom): Establishes a tax credit for farmers participating in federal conservation programs. Referred to the Revenue Committee.

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 set for Feb. 2, 1:30 p.m. 

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

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 scheduled for Jan. 29, 9:30 a.m. 

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.

LB 455 (Friesen): Removes barriers to placing broadband attachments to existing electrical utility poles. Referred to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. 

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.

LB 483 (J. Cavanaugh):
Provides for a climate change study and action plan. Referred to the Natural Resources Committee. 

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. 

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. 

LB 672 (Murman): Exempts certain agricultural equipment from sales and use tax.
Referred to the Revenue Committee. 

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. 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. 

How to be a rural advocate
Engaging with the Nebraska Legislature
Find your senator 
 

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 Nathan Beacom at nathanb@cfra.org or 402.687.2100 ext.1032.