State Legislative Happenings

3/21/2013 1:52:16 PM

With the legislative hearing process for bills wrapping up in mid-March, Nebraska state senators now turn their full attention to developing the state’s two-year budget and handling priority bills. Each session state senators are allowed to designate one bill as their priority which if advanced from committee helps ensure that it will receive time for debate on the floor. In addition to senator priority bills, each standing legislative committee is allowed to designate two bills as priorities during the session. The Speaker of the Legislature also has the power to designate priority bills.

Tax Reform Talks
Members of the Legislature’s Executive Committee have unanimously advanced LB 613. Introduced by Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus and prioritized by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, the bill would serve as the main vehicle for broader discussion about the state’s overall tax policy. The bill moved into the spotlight after the Revenue Committee opted to go a different direction than the income tax elimination proposals offered earlier this session by the Governor.

The bill, as advanced by Executive Committee members, would create the Tax Modernization Committee comprised of 11 members of the Legislature. In addition to members of the Revenue Committee, the chairs of the Appropriations, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Planning Committees would also serve on the Committee. The Committee’s purpose is to “review and study Nebraska’s tax law, including, but not limited to, sales and use taxes, income taxes, property taxes and other miscellaneous taxes and credits.” As of this writing, senators are debating the bill on General File. If passed, it is expected the Committee would study Nebraska tax policy and report its recommendations to the full Legislature for consideration in 2014.

In related news, members of the Revenue Committee have advanced LB 96. The bill would remove sales tax on repair or replacement parts for agricultural machinery and equipment. Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton introduced the bill, and Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte has named it his priority for the session. These items are exempt from taxation in many states surrounding Nebraska. This difference in tax policy between Nebraska and its neighbors creates competitive problems for Nebraska farmers and ranchers. Nebraska Farm Bureau supports the bill.

Corn Checkoff Program
The Legislature’s Agriculture Committee has voted to advance LB 354 to the full Legislature for discussion. The bill, introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson, would make changes to Nebraska’s corn checkoff program patterned after Iowa’s checkoff program.

Under the bill, the Corn Checkoff Board would be changed to be a quasi-state agency and require the election of board members. The bill would continue the mandatory checkoff but provide a refund mechanism. The amount of the checkoff would continue to be 1/2 cent per bushel, with a cap of 1 cent per bushel. Any changes to the rate would require a producer referendum for approval.

An issue of concern related to the bill was whether or not the Corn Checkoff Board could continue to use checkoff funds to lobby on federal legislation. Under current law, up to 25 percent of the funds can be used for lobbying purposes at the federal level. Farm Bureau policy opposes the use of checkoff funds for lobbying.

Under a compromise reached prior to the bill’s advancement, the Corn Checkoff Board would be prohibited from lobbying on state legislation in Nebraska and engaging in political activities. The bill would be silent on federal lobbying, however, regulations would be adopted allowing the Corn Checkoff Board to share information, research or other materials with federal officials concerning market development, product utilization or foreign trade issues with federal agencies for informational purposes. The board could not publically take a position on federal legislation or regulations. Farm Bureau supports the committee amendment and bill. Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha has named LB 354 his priority bill for the session.

Water Task Force
The Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee has advanced LB 517 to the full Legislature. Introduced and prioritized by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, the bill would create a short-lived, 28 member task force to develop priorities for water funding to be presented to the Legislature by the end of the year. The Committee Amendment would charge the task force with identifying water projects and categorizing them into funding areas. It would also be charged with creating a map of the projects identified and recommend project priorities to the Legislature. Farm Bureau supports the measure.

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