Hamilton County Farm Bureau member Zach Hunnicutt testified before the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee this week to offer Nebraska Farm Bureau’s support for LB 992. Introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, the bill would implement several provisions recommended by the Nebraska Rural Broadband Task Force last November. In testimony, NEFB supported the creation of a broadband coordinator position, but suggested housing that position in the Department of Economic Development, similar to other states. NEFB also encouraged the addition of language to ensure a priority of coordinator position is to focus on securing federal dollars for state deployment of rural broadband. NEFB also registered support for the new position assisting in the formation of broadband cooperatives.
Nebraska Farm Bureau also supported LB 996 this week. Introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, the bill deals with broadband mapping and data verification. In testimony, NEFB suggested that the Public Service Commission work with the University of Nebraska at Kearney which has deployed a project to measure the quality of internet services that rural customers are truly receiving. We believe such partnerships could result in better data than crowdsourcing alone.
Farm Bureau shared support this week for a bill targeted to helping those expanding their livestock farms. Sen. Tom Briese of Albion introduced LB 1174 to add certain licenses under the State Electrical Act. The goal of the bill is to address a restrictive licensing requirement which dramatically increases cost without enhancing the safety or structural integrity of livestock and other buildings.
Nebraska Farm Bureau testified in opposition this week to a bill that could dramatically change the process for appealing county decisions as it relates to conditional use permits. Introduced by Sen. John Lowe of Kearney, on behalf of the Nebraska Association of County Officials (NACO), LB 1057 would require that a judicial review of a zoning decision by a planning commission or county board involving a conditional use or special exception only be obtained through the petition in error process. Nebraska Farm Bureau opposed the bill over concerns the bill would limit the ability for members to justly appeal local board decisions.
Nebraska Farm Bureau is backing a bill that would modify the makeup of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. LB 859 would require at least three members of the Commission to be “actively engaged in farming or livestock production” versus simply being involved in “agricultural pursuits.” The bill was introduced by Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango. NEFB shared support for the bill under consideration by the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee.
Nebraska Farm Bureau offered support this week for a bill that would harmonize federal and state regulations as it relates to industrial hemp production. Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings introduced LB 1152 on behalf of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. In offering support, NEFB did share concerns outlined by American Farm Bureau Federation in its comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding its Interim Final Regulations on Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program.
A bill that would establish an automatic approval process for qualifying hemp producer applicants also garnered support from the Nebraska Farm Bureau this week. LB 919 would clarify that hemp applications could only be denied if they are incomplete or deficient. NEFB testified that, not unlike environmental regulations and permit qualifications, if an applicant meets the standard outlined by the permitting process, their application should be approved. LB 919 was introduced by Sen. Justine Wayne of Omaha.
A proposed constitutional amendment to give the Legislature the option to add up to six new legislative districts was debated this week but failed to advance. LR279CA was introduced by Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk. Nebraska Farm Bureau supported the measure believing that rural areas would benefit by shrinking the size of legislative districts. If enacted, the number of legislative districts could jump from 49 to 55. The measure will remain on first round floor debate until the speaker can bring it back by showing 33 votes to overcome a filibuster.
Property Taxes and Business Incentives
A pair of bills linked to property tax relief efforts in the Legislature were up for hearing before the Legislature’s Revenue Committee this week. LB 1084 and AM2207 to LB 720 are likely to both play a role in how things move forward through this short session. Most senators, including the Speaker, say that property taxes must advance first with the economic incentive package moving forward closely behind the property tax relief measures. In play is how property tax relief and business incentives fit within the state’s budget. LB 974, the property tax relief proposal supported by Nebraska Farm Bureau, has had its public hearing and awaits action by the Revenue Committee.
Introduced by Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, LB 1084 would establish the Nebraska Transformational Project Act and create the Nebraska Transformational Project Fund. This proposal would allow the University of Nebraska Medical Center to apply for $300 million of state matching funds. Depending on how fast the federal government makes up its mind if this facility will be built in Nebraska, the state’s share could be needed as early as 2021 and would likely be payable over a period of 5-6 years.
AM2207, is an amendment to LB 720 (a bill to replace the state’s business incentives under the Nebraska Advantage Act). AM2207 would create the Key Employer and Jobs Retention Act, designed to help Nebraska retain employees of businesses in Nebraska that are purchased by companies outside of the state