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POLICY WATCH

Tax Relief Debate Takes Center Stage at Capitol

This week, senators took up floor debate on a proposal centered around tax relief. This comes after Governor Pete Ricketts called on the Legislature to deliver tax relief this session.

A hotly contested bill, LB 939 (Linehan) would reduce individual income taxes. While many senators agree tax relief is needed, they differ on how it should be delivered. During this debate, your Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) governmental relations team will ensure that sight is not lost of our main goal of property tax relief.

While not opposed to income tax relief, Nebraska farmers and ranchers will benefit from relief in this area too. It is our first priority to ensure the Legislature acts to protect the property tax relief it has provided to Nebraskans, including LB 1107 Refundable Income Tax Credit (RITC) for property taxes paid to schools. It’s critical the Legislature pass LB 723 (Briese) to ensure the RITC stays near its current level of $548 million, with the ability to grow, while ensuring this relief does not roll back to lower amounts in future years.  

To continue to make progress in the property tax relief area, any broader tax relief package passed by the Legislature this session should split the relief equally (50/50) between income and property taxes. 

Nebraska Farm Bureau also weighed in on several proposals at public hearings throughout the week. Hamilton County Farm Bureau member Brandon Hunnicutt testified on behalf of the Agricultural Leaders Working Group in support of LB 761 (Dorn), a bill that would establish a precision agriculture infrastructure grant program within the Department of Economic Development.

NEFB submitted a letter of support for LB 1070 (Williams), a proposal to appropriate federal funds to the Department of Economic Development for infrastructure related to rural workforce housing.

NEFB testified in support of LB 1207 (Groene), an attempt to boost state aid for rural school districts. The bill would phase in new property valuations over three years for agricultural, residential, commercial, and centrally assessed property while also establishing a per-student foundation aid for schools.

NEFB also provided testimony in support of LB 904 (Dorn), which would appropriate federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the University of Nebraska for an Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, and Holland Computer Center facility.

As we near the mid-point of the session, a lot can still happen in the remaining days. The Nebraska Farm Bureau team is consistently working toward ensuring our policy positions and priorities are represented and enacted at the Capitol. We will continue to need your help through this process when priority bills are center stage. Please reach out with any questions or concerns.

Nebraska Farm Bureau Opposes Repeal of Navigable Waters Protection Rule

Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) President Mark McHargue provided testimony to both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) on their plan to repeal and replace the Trump administration’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule entitled the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR). NEFB also submitted detailed comments to both agencies on February 7 laying out the case against repealing the NWPR. The Biden administration’s plan is to 1) repeal the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, 2) move back to pre-2015 WOTUS regulations, and then 3) provide a rewrite of the rule.

In his testimony to both the EPA and Corps, President McHargue said, “as I’m sure you’ve already heard and as you will likely continue to hear, the 2015 WOTUS rule was a complete disaster which looked to greatly expand the regulatory reach of the federal government into the daily lives of farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and virtually anyone who turns the earth with a shovel.”

The official comments provided by NEFB to both the EPA and Corps laid out six points of contention with their desire to repeal the NWPR. “The regulation of low spots on farmlands and pastures as jurisdictional ‘waters’ means that any activity on those lands that moves dirt or applies any product to that land could be subject to regulation. Everyday activities such as plowing, planting, or fence building in or near ephemeral drainages, ditches, or low spots could trigger the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) harsh civil or even criminal penalties unless a permit is obtained,” McHargue said.

“Unfortunately, farmers and ranchers across Nebraska are disappointed by the Agencies’ proposed rule. We feel strongly that the NWPR was a clear, defensible rule that appropriately balanced the objective, goals, and policies of the CWA. The Agencies should keep the NWPR in place, rather than revert to definitions of WOTUS that test the limits of federal authority under the Commerce Clause and are not necessary to protect the Nation’s water resources. The Agencies can ensure clean water for all Americans through a blend of the CWA’s regulatory and non-regulatory approaches, just as Congress intended. It is unnecessary (and unlawful) to define non-navigable, intrastate, mostly dry features that are far removed from navigable waters as “waters of the United States” to try to achieve the Act’s objective,” McHargue said.

Hamilton County Farm Bureau Member Reappointed to Connectivity Taskforce

Zach Hunnicutt, a Hamilton County Farm Bureau member who farms near Gilter, has been reappointed to the FCC Precision Agriculture Connectivity Taskforce. For the last two years, Hunnicutt has served on the taskforce’s Accelerating Broadband Deployment on Unserved Agricultural Lands Working Group. Hunnicutt is proficient in the needs of precision agriculture and has championed policy recommendations to connect unserved agricultural land. Hunnicutt’s first-hand knowledge of the benefits of broadband and the negative impact of not having connectivity on agricultural land provides a valuable perspective to the taskforce.

The taskforce is charged with mapping and analyzing connectivity on agricultural lands; examining current and future connectivity demand for precision agriculture; encouraging adoption of precision agriculture and availability of high-quality jobs on connected farms; and accelerating broadband deployment on unserved agricultural lands. Hunnicutt also serves on the Nebraska Rural Broadband Taskforce.

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