This past week started out being very productive. The Legislature passed the budget bills on final reading and sent them to the Governor. He has five days to decide whether to sign them or to line-item veto specific items. The budget bills are the only bills that must pass this year, as the Nebraska Constitution states that each Legislature shall make appropriations for the expenses of the Government.

The Legislature also voted to pull LB 147 from the Education Committee and place it on General File. LB 147 was stuck in committee with a 4-4 vote. The motion to pull the bill was made by the chair of the Education Committee, Sen. Mike Groene. It received 25 votes, the minimum required. LB 147 proposes to amend the Student Discipline Act. It would allow an administrator, teacher or other school personnel to use reasonable physical contact to protect a student, staff or other person from physical injury. If physical contact is used, school personnel must notify the parents of the student and inform them of the incident. The bill would also require an administrator to remove a student from a class upon request by a teacher or other school personnel if the student’s behavior is so disruptive that it seriously interferes with the learning environment. The goal is to return the student to class as soon as possible after appropriate interventions or supports have been implemented. The teachers’ union is supportive of LB 147, recognizing the need for such legislation. However administrators have concerns and feel the bill may create more problems than it resolves. I thought it was a good idea to bring the bill to the floor of the Legislature in an effort to encourage the administrators and teachers to work together on a compromise over the interim. 

The Revenue Committee worked for months on a proposal contained in LB 289. It provided significant property tax relief by establishing a foundation aid factor in the school state aid formula, guaranteeing that every school district receive at least one-third of its formula needs from state aid. To ensure that the increased state aid resulted in property tax relief and school spending would be limited to the CPI inflation rate plus growth. To provide revenue for the proposal the state sales tax rate would be increased, a couple of sales tax exemptions eliminated and the sales tax imposed on a limited number of services. During a seven-hour public hearing on the proposal, only four people testified in support and more than 50 testified in opposition. The committee worked on revisions prior to advancing LB 289 including lowering the proposed increase in the sales tax rate and increasing the number of services taxed, but the larger school districts remained opposed to the proposal. After three hours of debate, the sponsor of LB 289 could not come up with the necessary 33 votes to place the bill on the agenda again, as required by the policy of the Speaker of the Legislature.

After it appeared that LB 289 would not be discussed again this session, Albion Sen. Tom Briese offered an amendment to LB 183, a bill already advanced to the second stage of debate. The amendment proposed to place an additional $100 million in the Property Tax Credit fund bringing the total to approximately $375 million in property tax relief reflected on a taxpayer’s property tax statement. This amount would be appropriated to the Property Tax Credit fund annually until the school state aid formula is reworked and state aid is increased by at least 20 percent, thereby incentivizing the Legislature to work on reforming the formula which is currently too dependent on property tax revenue. To fund the property tax relief the proposal would have eliminated a number of sales tax exemptions and the personal property tax exemption while increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit to assist the lower income with the broadened sales tax. After three hours of debate, Senator Briese offered a motion to invoke cloture, allowing for a vote to be taken on the advancement of the bill. However  the cloture motion fell 10 votes short and LB 183 was removed from the agenda.

I supported LB 289 and LB 183. Even though I didn’t agree with everything in these bills. I would have preferred further broadening the sales tax base rather than an increase in the sales tax rate. They did present an opportunity to offer property tax relief to Nebraskans. I also supported the passage of the budget bills which contained an additional $51 million in annual funding for the Property Tax Credit fund. Although this past week was disappointing, I will continue to work to bring property tax relief to taxpayers. 

I was happy to see that the Nebraska Department of Transportation has awarded the contract to Hawkins Construction of Omaha allowing them to begin immediate work on the Highway 281 Bridge over the Niobrara River south of Spencer. A temporary single lane shoofly is anticipated to be in service by Aug. 1 with work scheduled to start on May 28.

As we enter the final week of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts. I can be reached at District 40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801. 

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