After a nearly four month recess due to COVID-19 concerns, the Nebraska Legislature reconvened its 2020 session on Monday.
Lawmakers returned to the legislative chambers with several safety measures in place, including plexiglass dividers and restrictions on who could be on the floor during the proceedings. Restrictions are also in place for members of the public and lobbyists, who will not be permitted in the balconies of the chamber or the hallway between the west stairs and the clerk’s office.
As they get back to business, key priorities for the remaining work days are expected to center around bills related to property tax relief and business tax incentives.
On Tuesday, legislation drafted by the Center, in partnership with Sen. Tom Brandt’s office, was approved on final reading. Legislative Bill 996 would create the Broadband Data Improvement Program. This legislation was brought forth as a result of Center constituents expressing concerns about inaccuracies in broadband map data and lack of service access. The bill now heads to the governor.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Aug. 13.
Read more about these and other bills we are watching below. *New developments are bolded.
LB 1073 (Scheer) Support → Create the School Financing Review Commission, add basic funding aid, and change adjusted valuations, the local effort rate, and certification dates.
LB 1073 offers a means to reduce the state’s reliance on property tax for school funding while also establishing the School Financing Review Commission to conduct an in-depth review of financing K-12 public schools and the current school funding model, to be reported upon no later than fall 2021. Three mechanisms will be used to create a reduction in the state’s reliance on property taxes for the funding of schools: basic funding aid, lowering of agricultural land valuations in the current school funding formula, and a reduction of the local effort rate. Under the bill, all school districts would receive 7.5 percent of basic funding as outlined in the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Act (TEEOSA), which will benefit non-equalized schools while not harming equalized districts. Further increasing equalization aid to districts, especially those with large tracts of agricultural land, LB 1073 would reduce agland valuations from 75 percent to 52 percent within the TEEOSA formula—effectively lowering the available resources side of the formula. Moreover, the bill would lower the local effort rate from $1 to 99 cents, six cents below the maximum level, increasing state aid for equalized school districts.
Referred to the Education Committee. Hearing held Feb. 11. The Center for Rural Affairs testified in support. Prioritized by Sen. DeBoer.
LB 1106 (Scheer) Oppose → Change taxation and school funding provisions.
LB 1106 is the latest property tax relief/school funding proposal. The legislation aims to reduce the state’s reliance on property tax by putting more state revenue from sales and income tax toward school funding. The primary vehicle for providing the funding is foundation aid of up to 15 percent of total sales and income tax the state collects. Foundation aid is allocated on a per-student basis and the legislation ensures that every school will receive at least 15 percent of its basic funding from foundation aid.
Significant changes would also be made to the way in which schools would be able to spend. Starting in fiscal year 2024, after the three year transition period, schools can only levy the lower of $1.05 or the previous year’s contribution plus a limited amount of spending growth using the consumer price index. Some other changes include the elimination of averaging adjustment and the allocated income tax and lowering the building fund levy cap from 14 to 6 cents.
To provide for property tax relief, the bill will lower the taxable value of agricultural land by 20 percent over three years for school property taxes. It will also decrease residential and commercial property taxable value by 13 percent over three years. The bill, estimated at $519 over three years, was to be paid for with projected revenue surpluses. The surplus has eroded, leaving the source for funding up to debate.
The Center testified in opposition to the previous version of the bill, LB 974, and remains opposed to this bill. With a shortfall in projected revenue, the state would need to pull money from other sources to fund the new formula, placing vital programs at risk. It also places restrictions on school spending growth that do not reflect the cost of operating a school. Although property tax relief is greatly needed, without a new source of revenue, it will do more harm than good.
Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing held Feb. 19. Prioritized by Sen. Scheer. Placed on General File, with Amendment (AM) 2870, AM 2872, AM 2871, AM 2873, AM 3065, AM 3063.
LB 879 (Geist) Oppose → Eliminate funding for the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit Act and change the termination date for applications.
LB 879 would bring an early sunset to the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit and redirect the roughly $2 million in funds to the Business Innovation Act under the Department of Economic Development. The Microenterprise Tax Credit, established in 2005, provides a 20 percent refundable income tax credit up to $10,000 to businesses with five or fewer employees, based on designated investments in their business. This tax credit has been a critical asset to rural and small business owners who are not eligible for larger tax credit programs.
Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing held Jan. 23. The Center for Rural Affairs testified in opposition. Center board members and supporters authored and submitted opposition letters of testimony. Placed on General File.
LB 996 (Brandt) Support → Create the Broadband Data Improvement Program.
This legislation, drafted by the Center in partnership with Sen. Brandt’s office, would create the Broadband Data Improvement Program. Passage of this bill will help ensure the state is able to fully access federal broadband grant programs by complying with data verification requirements set forth by the Federal Communications Commission. Should no federal guidelines be established for crowdsourcing data to better complete Nebraska’s broadband map, the Public Service Commission would create a crowdsourcing program, promote the program and allow for feedback on inaccuracies on federal broadband data. This legislation was brought forth as a result of Center constituents expressing concerns about inaccuracies in broadband map data and lack of service access.
Referred to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Hearing held Feb. 3. The Center for Rural Affairs testified in support. Three Center supporters testified in person and nine submitted a letter of support. Prioritized by Sen. Brandt. Placed on General File. MO 151 to recommit to committee filed. MO 1051 withdrawn. Advanced to Enrollment and Review for Engrossment on March 6. Passed 47-0 on final reading and presented to the governor on July 21.
Center for Rural Affairs legislation.
See our op-ed that appeared in the Omaha World-Herald.
Omaha World-Herald Editorial: Virus emergency shows need for increased focus on rural broadband
LB 773 (Williams) Support → Appropriate funds for the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund.
This bill would appropriate $10 million from the General Fund to the Department of Economic Development for fiscal year 2020-21 for the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund. This fund has supported workforce housing projects in communities across the state since it was enacted in 2017.
Referred to the Appropriations Committee. Hearing held Feb. 12. The Center for Rural Affairs submitted a letter of support.
LB 992 (Friesen) Support → Adopt the Broadband Internet Service Infrastructure Act and provide for certain broadband and Internet-related services.
Like LB 996, this bill seeks to implement elements of the Rural Broadband Task Force report released in late 2019. This would be achieved by allowing broadband providers to utilize electric utility easements in order to expand infrastructure. The bill would also create the position of a state broadband coordinator to encourage county-based solutions to broadband development and explore the creation of cooperatives in underserved areas of the state. It would also require the Nebraska Library Commission to employ regional technicians in order to assist public libraries with digital training and E-Rate filings. Finally, the bill would establish a separate fund in order to support the construction of fiber optic networks for public libraries across the state.
Referred to the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Hearing held Feb. 3. Prioritized by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Attorney General Opinion sent to Sen. Friesen on Feb. 27. Placed on General File on July 20, with AM 3055, filed by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
LB 1003 (Walz) Watch → Provide annexation powers to cities of the second class and villages for relocation due to catastrophic flooding.
In the wake of the 2019 floods, some small towns were devastated and residents were forced to consider the physical relocation of their community. Yet, the current state statute does not allow for this relocation. LB 1003 would allow second class cities or villages, with a vote of the mayor or chairperson and two-thirds of the city council or village board, by ordinance, to annex land for the purpose of relocating part or all of the city and village that was damaged by catastrophic flooding.
This authority would not allow for the annexation of any urban or suburban land and land annexed would need to be redeveloped as a community within five years.
Referred to the Urban Affairs Committee. Hearing held Feb. 18. Prioritized by the Urban Affairs Committee.
Placed on General File with AM 2651, filed by the Urban Affairs Committee. Advanced to Enrollment and Review for Engrossment on July 20.
LB 1214 (Friesen) Support → Adopt the Rural Economic Development Grant Act.
This bill creates the Rural Economic Development Grant Program to provide assistance grants to businesses located in micropolitan areas that are not eligible for the state's primary business incentive (i.e. Nebraska Advantage or ImagiNE Act.) Beyond these eligibility requirements, the existing or start-up business would need to create new jobs or make a new investment in a micropolitan area or be a nonprofit or political subdivision assisting businesses in a micropolitan area. The program would be administered by the Department of Economic Development and may annually distribute grants equal to 5 percent of tax credits used in the previous tax year under the primary business incentive program.
An important change is needed. The Rural Economic Development Grant Program would appropriately fill a gap left by the prospective ImagiNE Nebraska Act. However, the program’s scope is limited. LB 1214 admirably recognizes that the ImagiNE Nebraska Act will leave an important segment of our business community behind. However, we are concerned that this proposal’s focus on micropolitan statistical areas is too narrow and will leave out much of rural Nebraska. We applaud Sen. Friesen and others for moving forward with this proposal. To be effective, however, the bill must be amended to account for Nebraska’s most rural and remote counties.
Referred to the Urban Affairs Committee. Hearing held Feb. 18. Prioritized by the Urban Affairs Committee. Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing held Feb. 26. The Center testified in support and argued that the program must be expanded beyond micropolitan areas to include all of rural Nebraska.
LB 899 (Hughes) Support → Provide certain powers to public power districts relating to biofuels and biofuel byproducts.
Under LB 899, public power districts would be allowed to develop, manufacture, use, purchase, and sell biofuel and biofuel products for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Referred to the Natural Resources Committee. Hearing held Jan. 23. Prioritized by Sen. Moser. Placed on General File. AM 2487 adopted. MO 160 filed and later withdrawn. Advanced to Enrollment and Review Initial. Placed on Select File on March 9. Placed on Select File and Enrollment and Review on March 9. Advanced to Enrollment and Review for Engrossment on July 20.
LB 933 (Crawford) Support → Change provisions relating to discontinuance of utility service.
LB 933 would limit a public or private utility company from charging an excessive fee for disconnection or reconnection of service due to nonpayment by the customer. Moreover, the bill also would prohibit a utility from shutting off services for nonpayment for at least 60 days for a customer with a known illness or disability, as attested to by a doctor, physician’s assistant or advanced practice registered nurse. Service termination information should be posted for the public on the utility’s website or upon request by mail.
Referred to the Natural Resources Committee. Hearing held Feb. 13. The Center for Rural Affairs submitted a letter of support. Placed on General File with AM 2394, filed by the Natural Resources Committee. Placed on General File with AM 2394, filed by the Natural Resources Committee
LB 283 (Pansing Brooks) Support → Provide for a climate change study,
Under LB 283, the University of Nebraska would develop an evidence-based, data-driven, strategic action plan to provide methods for adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change, including a baseline measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, also known as a carbon footprint of the state. It would also examine the impacts of climate change on agriculture, water resources, health care and public health, energy generation and use, ecosystems and forestry, rural and urban communities, and the transportation and commerce and industry. Under the bill, development of the action plan would include extensive opportunities for public comment and engagement and input from entomological, climate, water, agricultural, and natural resource experts in Nebraska.
Referred to the Executive Board. Hearing held Feb. 11, 2019. Carried over from 2019. Placed on General File with AM 2481, filed by the Executive Board. Prioritized by Sen. McCollister.
LB 28 (Kolterman) Support → Authorize damages for property taxes and special assessments paid on property lost through adverse possession.
The doctrine of adverse possession, which can result in landowners losing all or part of their land, has not been updated since 1869. The bill would make needed changes to this principle, allowing a landowner, who in good faith pays all of their property taxes, to be compensated for those payments when doing so is the fair and equitable outcome. AM 2281 alters the implementation date from 2020 to 2021. The impetus for this legislation came from Center supporters.
Referred to the Judiciary Committee. Hearing held Jan. 24, 2019. The Center for Rural Affairs testified in support. Constituents testified in support. Carried over from 2019. Placed on General File with AM 2281, filed by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 10.
Center for Rural Affairs legislation
Resources: Adverse to change: a modern look at adverse possession
LB 255 (McCollister) Support → Change provisions relating to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
LB 255 would mitigate the SNAP cliff effect by increasing the gross income limit to 140 percent of the federal poverty level from the current 130 percent of federal poverty level. While retaining net income requirements, this legislation would allow families to maintain SNAP eligibility with incremental income increases.
Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Hearing held Feb. 7, 2019. The Center for Rural Affairs submitted a letter of support. Carried over from 2019. Placed on General File.
LB 972 (Brandt) Support → Change germination seed testing provisions under the Nebraska Seed Law.
LB 972 would extend the testing period for native flower and grass seed germination from 9 months to 15 months. This extended testing period accounts for the dormancy of native seeds and allows those who grow and sell native seedstock to reduce the number of testings required for the limited quantity of seeds they produce.
Referred to the Agriculture Committee. Hearing held Jan. 28. Placed on General File.
LB 1040 (Vargas) Support → Provide for a state food insecurity nutrition incentive grant program.
LB 1040 would give the Nebraska Department of Agriculture the authority to manage and expand the state’s Double Up Food Bucks program. The Double Up Food Bucks program doubles the value of SNAP dollars, when spent on fresh fruits and vegetables at qualifying farmers markets and grocery stores. This allows Nebraskans receiving federal food assistance to stretch their food dollars, while buying healthy foods grown in Nebraska and sold by local retailers. The expansion of the program would allow for growth into more rural markets across the state.
Referred to the Agriculture Committee. Hearing held Feb. 11. The Center for Rural Affairs testified in support. Center constituents testified and offered letters of support.
LB 809 (Wayne) Support → Adopt 2018 Uniform Plumbing Code standards.
Passage of LB 809 would allow for the updating of plumbing codes in cities and villages without specified ordinances or resolutions, through the state adoption of the 2018 Uniform Plumbing Code as designated by the American National Standards Institute as an American National Standard. This legislation would codify the current national standards and practices for plumbing and ensure the health and wellbeing of residents.
Referred to the Urban Affairs Committee. Hearing held Jan. 28. Placed on General File.
LB 1207 (McCollister) Support → Adopt the Redistricting Act.
Following the 2020 Census, legislative, judicial, and other districts of elected or appointed representation will need to be redrawn in Nebraska. LB 1207 seeks to establish procedures for drawing these districts in a manner in which there is equality in population, without regard for political affiliation or previous voting data and with consideration of county and community boundary lines. The bill also sets forth the process for the adoption of the completed maps by the legislature.
Referred to the Executive Board. Hearing held Feb. 12. Placed on General File. Attorney general opinion sent to McCollister on July 20.
LB 1116 (Morfeld) Support → Adopt the New School Construction and Water Access Act.
The school buildings where Nebraska students spend much of their day can help shape habits and curb our state’s levels of obesity by increasing access to and the consumption of water by students. Right now, schools are asked to follow two conflicting requirements when planning for new school construction. LB 1116 sets one standard. The bill would also ensure at least one drinking fountain be installed on each floor of a new school building, a practice widely accepted among Nebraska schools. The bill only applies to new school construction. Moreover, the Act will require water fountains to be regularly cleaned and maintained, in order to dispense clean drinking water. These small actions will help form the lifelong behaviors that will make for a healthier Nebraska.
Referred to the Urban Affairs Committee. Hearing held Feb. 11. The Center for Rural Affairs testified in support. Center constituents testified and offered letters of support.
Center for Rural Affairs Legislation
Read more about the hearing: Bill seeks to add more school water fountains