Nebraska Unicameral Update- Feb. 25, 2020

Budget and tax   |   Economic and community development 
Energy and environment    |   Food and agriculture    |   Good government ​    |​   Health care

Welcome back!

Today is day 30 of the Nebraska Legislative session. We have hit the half-way mark in the “short,” 60 day session. The Legislature is tentatively scheduled to adjourn on April 23, 2020. Hearings for 482 new bills introduced during the second year of the biennium will wrap up later this week.

Last week, LB 996 which will create the Broadband Data Improvement Program was debated on the floor of the legislature. This program will make sure the state is able to fully access federal broadband grant programs by complying with data verification requirements set forth by the Federal Communications Commission. The legislation seeks to ensure the accuracy of broadband service mapping to improve opportunities for investment and deployment.

With calls and emails to senators generated by Center supporters and much discussion on the floor as to the importance of improved broadband access in the state, the bill passed the first round vote (37 yea, 0 nay, 11 present, not voting). The bill is now on Select File. We anticipate that LB 996 will be back on the Speaker’s agenda soon. 

Bills to watch this week:

LB 815 (Morfeld) Support → Prohibit certain section 1115 waivers under the Medical Assistance Act.
Hearing scheduled for Feb. 27 before the Health and Human Services Committee.

LB 1214 (Friesen) Watch Support → Adopt the Rural Economic Development Grant Act.
Hearing scheduled for Feb. 26 before the Revenue Committee. 

Read more about these and other bills we are watching below.
*New developments are italicized and bolded.

 
 Budget and tax

LB 974 (Revenue Committee) Oppose → Change taxation and school funding provisions.
Introduced and prioritized by the Revenue Committee, LB 974 stands as a revised property tax relief/school funding bill. As outlined prior to the hearing, the bill would use $405 million in projected revenue surpluses over three years, but with a cost of more than $535 million.
The bill would also lower the taxable value of agricultural land by 20 percent over two years—both in and out of the school funding formula—for school taxing purposes. This would also be replicated for residential and commercial property, at a reduced rate of 15 percent over three years. Replacing some of the funds lost, foundation aid up to 15 percent of state net sales and income taxes would be allocated on a per-student basis to provide each school with up to 15 percent of basic funding. Foundation aid would be graduated from 5 percent in year one, to 10 percent in year two, and 15 percent in year three and beyond. Significant changes would also be made to the way in which schools would be able to spend, including limiting school spending growth to the consumer price index, reducing the building fund from 14 to 6 cents and a loss in unused budget authority. 
Amendment (AM)2433 would revise estimated costs to $500 million,which is still in excess of projected revenue surpluses. AM 2499, 2500, 2518, 2519, 2520, 2521 provide minor corrective language. AM 2452 would strike sections 1, 8, and 10-34 and replace these sections with language providing $380 million to the Property Tax Credit Fund.
Following three hours of debate on the floor, no vote was taken. It is unknown if the bill will return to the agenda for further debate.
This upturning of the state’s education formula and the unstainable revenue sources would create further instability for schools and do little to address the structural issues of Nebraska’s property tax-school funding issu
Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing held Jan. 22. The Center for Rural Affairs testified in opposition.
Placed on General File. AM 2433 filed. Prioritized by the Revenue Committee. Motion (MO) 152 to recommit filed. MO 152 withdrawn, MO 153 to bracket until April 23 filed. MO 153 withdrawn. AM 2500 filed and pending. AM 2499 filed. AMs 2518, 2519, 2520, 2521 filed. MO 154 to bracket until Feb. 25 filed and pending. AM 2452 filed. 

LB 1073 (DeBoer) 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 ag-land 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.

 Economic and community development

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.

See our op-ed that appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star

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 Initial. Placed on Select File.

Center for Rural Affairs legislation.
See our op-ed that appeared in the Omaha World-Herald 

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.

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.

LB 1214 (Friesen) Watch → 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 non-profit 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 five 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. In order 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 scheduled for Feb. 26.

LB 1216 (Vargas) Support → Adopt the H3 Rural Renewal Award Act.
This bill would create the H3 Rural Renewal Act to help attract and keep high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand jobs and qualified workers in H3 jobs in rural areas of the state where there has been population loss and a shortage of a skilled labor force. Qualified employees, within five years of completing some post-secondary education and/or long-term job training, apprenticeship or certifications, while living in specified rural area, with wages exceeding specified wage metrics, would receive a monthly award proportional to their hourly wage. Moreover, the employee would be required to remain in a rural residence/community for two months for each month of participation in the program. Under this bill, $2 million would be appropriated from the General Fund in 2020, along with donations, to establish an endowment to create the H3 Rural Renewal Award Cash Fund. The program would terminate in 2031. 
Referred to the Business and Labor Committee. Hearing held Feb 10. 

LB 1049 (Bolz) Support → Provide for participation in federal Child Care Subsidy assistance as prescribed.
This legislation seeks to mitigate the child care subsidy cliff effect by increasing family eligibility for assistance from 125 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 150 percent.. Increasing eligibility allows families to continue to receive subsidies for child care costs, while parents transition to better employment and wages. Funding would be drawn from carryover dollars within the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. LB 1049 also outlines reporting guidelines to measure the impact and effectiveness.
Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Hearing held Feb. 21. The Center for Rural Affairs submitted a letter of support.
 
 Energy and environment

LB 818 (Brewer) Oppose → Adjust the nameplate capacity tax for inflation.
This bill would adjust the nameplate capacity tax based upon the Consumer Price Index on an annual basis. The nameplate capacity tax is imposed on facilities that generate electricity through wind, solar, biomass, or landfill gas, currently at a rate of $3,518 per megawatt. There is concern that this additional and variable tax will be a detraction for developers and limit the ability of communities and counties to grow their tax base through renewable energy development.
Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing held Jan. 24. The Center for Rural Affairs testified in opposition.

Resources: Fact sheet: Nebraska wind energy tax revenue

LB 823 (Brewer) Oppose → Provide for a special election prior to the exercise of eminent domain for transmission lines in certain circumstances.
Under LB 823, cities, villages, counties, municipalities, districts, or agencies as political subdivisions would be subject to a special election, should a public power district seek to use the eminent domain on a project funded by more than one-half by an out-of-state organization. These elections would create unnecessary costs and regulation. 
Referred to the Judiciary Committee. Hearing held Jan. 22. 

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 filed.

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.

 Food and agriculture

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. Amendment (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 Amendment 2281. 

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 1039 (Cavanaugh) Support → Adopt the Hunger-Free Schools Act.
The Hunger-Free Schools Act, as outlined by LB 1039, would provide an eligible free breakfast and lunch for all students in Nebraska’s public schools participating in either the breakfast or lunch programs under the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. Schools would be required to maximize federal reimbursements for meals through the community eligibility provision if more than 62.1 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, with the Nebraska Department of Education offsetting costs for both schools that meet or fall outside of the community eligibility provision. The Act would be funded through the state’s general fund. 
Referred to the Education Committee. Hearing held Feb. 18.

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.

 Good government

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. 

 Health care

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


LB 810 (McCollister) Support → Impose sales tax on bottled water, candy, and soft drinks.
Complimenting our efforts to mitigate the long-term impacts of obesity on Nebraskans, LB 810 would impose standard sales and use taxes on the purchase of candy, soft drinks, and bottled water. Funds from this tax would be deposited in the Nebraska Health Care Cash fund, which is utilized for health-care-related expenditures. 
Referred to the Revenue Committee. Hearing held Jan. 30. Center for Rural Affairs submitted a letter of support.

LB 815 (Morfeld) Support → Prohibit certain section 1115 waivers under the Medical Assistance Act.
LB 815 adds language to the law enacted through the passage of Medicaid expansion. This bill would restrict the Department of Health and Human Services from pursuing, applying for or implementing a demonstration waiver under section 1115 of the Social Security Act, which would modify eligibility for medical assistance.
Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Hearing scheduled for Feb. 27.

LB 877 (Walz) Support → State intent regarding appropriations for aging and disability resource centers.
Nebraska’s Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC), housed within local Area Agencies on Aging, serve as a resource navigation hub for elders and Nebraskans with disabilities and their families. LB 877 would provide funding to the ADRCs to expand collaborations and marketing efforts.
Referred to the Appropriations Committee. Hearing held Feb. 10. The Center for Rural Affairs submitted a letter of support.

LB 932 (Wishart) Support → Require expansion of the medical assistance program as prescribed.
LB 932 seeks to codify the start date for the expansion of Medicaid for those eligible on or before Oct. 1, 2020. Passage of this legislation would hinder the Department of Health and Human Services from further delaying the implementation of Medicaid expansion, which was passed into law in 2018. 
Referred to the Health and Human Services Committee. Hearing held  Jan 29. Center for Rural Affairs testified in support.


Are you interested in any of these bills? Would you like to share your support, concerns, insights, or opposition by testifying in person or through a written letter of testimony? Center staff are here to walk you through and assist you through the process--from draft to delivery. Please contact Jordan Rasmussen at jordanr@cfra.org or 402.687.2100 ext. 1032 for more information.

Advocacy tip
Unable to testify in person? Check out our blog that outlines the process of submitting a letter of testimony for the official hearing record. 
 

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