State senators resumed the legislative session on July 20, after breaking for almost four months due to the coronavirus. We are set to complete this 60-day session on Aug. 13.
During this first week back, we immediately began debating the major issues left pending. Senators voted 30-8 to pull LB 814 from the Judiciary Committee and place it on General File so that it can be debated. LB 814 would prohibit live dismemberment abortion and provide for criminal penalties for physicians who perform such abortions. I am a co-sponsor of LB 814.
LB 1106 is the current vehicle for property tax relief. It was discussed for three hours, and due to the speaker’s rules, it won’t be placed on the agenda again unless the sponsor can show there are 33 votes in support. As amended, LB 1106 proposes to lower the taxable valuation for school districts over a three-year period. Residential and commercial property would be lowered from 100% to 87% and agricultural land would be lowered from 75% to 55%. It also incorporates a foundation aid factor into the school finance formula. Every school would receive this per pupil funding, which would increase over a three-year period to approximately $2,340 per pupil (based on current figures), and must be at least 15% of a school district’s basic funding. The basic allowable growth rate for schools would be 2% under LB 1106. School districts oppose this portion, but over the last 10 years, budget growth has averaged about 1.45%. It also assures that new construction would require a vote of the people.
During the debate on LB 1106, the chair of the Appropriations Committee pointed out that the state already spends a significant amount on property tax relief. Increased by $51 million last year, the Legislature now appropriates $275 million per year to the Property Tax Credit Fund, making it the fourth largest item in the state’s budget.
LB 720, the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, was debated for 1½ hours during the second stage of debate, before the speaker pulled the bill according to his rules. Thirty-three votes will be necessary for it to be placed on the agenda again. This is the revamped business incentives package, replacing the Nebraska Advantage Act, which expires at the end of this year. In order to remain competitive with other states, I believe we need some sort of business tax incentives. However, I also believe that rural senators need to stay strong and not allow LB 720 to pass unless LB 1106 is also approved. By joining them together, I feel this is our best chance for property tax relief yet this year.
LB 424 would enable any municipality in the state to join a Municipal Land Bank. LB 424 received first-round approval this past week on a 26-11 vote. Currently, only cities in Douglas and Sarpy counties are authorized to create land banks. A land bank is a tax-exempt political subdivision that acquires, manages, and develops vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties into productive use. I signed on as a co-sponsor to LB 424 because I believe this bill will benefit all communities, not just the larger ones. It can be too costly or time-consuming for private investors to rehabilitate blighted properties, which become an eyesore and an expense for cities to provide basic upkeep.
LB 147, which would change the Student Discipline Act, also was debated for three hours, after being successfully pulled from the Education Committee last year. The legislation would direct all school districts to have a policy on the process of removing and returning a student to a classroom, allowing the teacher to decide if a student should be removed for intervention purposes. It authorizes the use of physical intervention to manage the behavior of a student when a child engages in dangerous behavior that places the student, other students, or the teacher in danger, but prohibits its use as a penalty for disapproved behavior. Parents are to be notified if physical intervention is used or if a student is removed from a classroom. As I understand, school administrators, school boards and teachers are all in support of this legislation.
My priority bill, LB 770, was passed by the Legislature on a 48-0 vote. LB 770 allows disabled veterans a lifetime park permit at no charge. Eligible recipients must be a Nebraska resident, honorably discharged and rated 50% or more service-connected disabled or 100% disabled non-service connected. I believe this unanimous vote sent a great message to those who have sacrificed for our country.
The Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met this past week, after the Governor and the Executive Board chair requested an additional meeting, to update state revenue projections based on COVID-19. The board lowered projections, but not as much as predicted based on data presented. Rather than having $138 million for spending on bills with a fiscal impact, lawmakers will now have $90 million to spend. This is less than the $95 million estimated in first year costs for just the property tax relief bill. Furthermore, projections for state revenue for the following biennium have been decreased from a positive $400 million to a $400 million shortfall.
As the Legislature works during the next three weeks to complete this session, I encourage your input. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.