Week three at your Legislature got even busier, with Session until noon and Committee hearings all around the Capitol beginning at 1:30.
The final day to introduce bills was Thursday, January 23. There have been 482 new bills introduced in the 2020 Session, bringing the total number of Bills introduced in the 106th Legislature to 1,221.
The Legislature heard from Chief Justice Heavican about the State of the Judiciary. He described the many accomplishments the courts have made over the past year to provide everyone in Nebraska greater access to the Courts. Part of the Supreme Court’s practice, for instance, is to hold oral arguments in each of the Law Schools in the State. The Court now also includes rural Nebraska by holding oral arguments at high schools like South Sioux City High School, where the Supreme Court met on November 1, 2019. The Chief Justice also discussed improvements in the Juvenile Justice System. I am proud to have taken part in those improvements through LB595 that I introduced in 2019. LB595, provides for an emphasis on restorative justice under the Dispute Resolution Act. The Chief Justice informed the Legislature that the law has already helped over 300 youth and their families.
LB768, which I introduced on the first day of the 2020 Session was the first Bill heard in the Transportation and Telecommunication Committee on Tuesday, January 21. LB 768 provides for an annual update to harmonize Nebraska law with federal regulations related to commercial motor vehicles and odometer readings, and motor carrier licensure, etc. A 49-page document addressing changes in 33 sections, the Committee was provided with a summary of the changes and heard testimony regarding the update and had questions answered by Rhonda Lahm, Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles and Captain Gerald Krolikowski of the Nebraska State Patrol. I anticipate that the Bill will be voted out of Committee and advance to the floor soon.
On Thursday, I introduced LB1167, which would require that members of the public be allowed an opportunity to speak at any meeting of a governing body that is subject to the Open Meetings Act. It would still allow governing bodies to make reasonable rules concerning the timing and length of each member of the public’s testimony but would require that the public have opportunity to heard at every meeting. I feel strongly that elected officials at all levels should be accountable to constituents and should be willing, and in fact required, to hear from members of the public who have an interest in policies involving how they are governed and how their tax dollars are being spent. At the Legislature, every Bill introduced receives a public hearing. Some of those hearings take a very long time but if they do, it is because we, as elected officials, are hearing the voice of those affected by the policies and laws we are considering. The same should be true for any school board, city council, village or county board, or natural resource district board, or any other local governing body that accepts funds and is elected to manage those funds. Only by hearing and considering the voices of the people who we have been elected to represent, can we make effective and responsive decisions. LB11667 has not yet been referred to a Committee for hearing, but I am already hearing support from District 17. I would appreciate hearing from other residents of the District with opinions about LB1167 and invite those interested to write or testify at the hearing once scheduled.
THE BIG NEWS of the week was the introduction of LB974 addressing Property Tax Relief. LB974, in its current form, provides a 3-year plan that will result in sustainable relief by reducing property taxes without adding any new taxes.
- No new taxes. Uses $520 million in the budget to increase State aid to schools and reduce school funding reliance on local property taxes. The $520 million is already available in the budget based upon projections that consider the revenue growth of the state at the past historical rate of 4.0 to 4.5%.
- Per pupil funding. Increases the percentage of school funding provided by the State, reducing the burden of local property owners and provides per pupil funding so that every school district in the State receives State funding for its schools, whether urban or rural.
- Reduces Valuation subject to Taxation. Reduces the amount of property valuations available to be taxed by school district levies from 75% to 55% over the three years for agricultural and horticultural properties and from 100% to 85% for residential and commercial properties during the same period. Since 2008, property valuations have increased nearly 80% and property taxes levied have increased approximately 54%, while the average income of Nebraskans has risen only 18%.
- Caps school spending increases at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) plus real growth. CPI and average income for Nebraskans have traced one another fairly closely since 2008, while valuations have grown by nearly 80% and property taxes collected by local governments have increased by about 54% based on those increased valuations. Property taxes are collected at the local level, the largest percentage is collected for schools. While Nebraska’s student enrollment has grown about five percent over the last 15 years, education spending has grown at a compounded rate of 138 percent during the same timeframe. Despite the windfall benefits local governments have received because of increased valuations, local governments have only reduced their levies by about 12% cumulatively on average during that same period.
There is no doubt that Nebraskans want and deserve property tax relief. I appreciate the hard work that members of the Revenue Committee have put in over the interim to address the issue. LB974 increases the percentage of State funding for schools, reducing reliance on property taxes, while also addressing the need to reign in spending in order to make sure the taxpayer relief from property taxes continues.
I support LB974 in its current form. I most certainly support the measured and commonsense approach to crafting a sustainable solution, and intend to continue to work with other Senators in any way needed to help make the Bill better.
DATES YOU SHOULD KNOW:
January 31, 2020 (Friday) is Veterans’ Legislative Day at the Capitol, with registration at 7:45 AM at the Warner Chamber; program at 8:15 AM. Visit the Legislature in Session at 9 AM. Veterans are encouraged to attend and take time to visit with your Senator.
February 13, 2020 South Sioux City Legislative visit by local leaders. Attendees will hear from the Governor, the State Chamber, and others in state leadership positions.
February 26, 2020 the Northeast Nebraska Chamber group is visiting the Capitol. I
As always, it is of great importance that I hear from my constituents to effectively do my job as your voice in the Legislature. I encourage you to contact me and I look forward to hearing from you. You can reach me by phone at 402-471-2716 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org