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POLICY WATCH

Hearings End, Priority Bills Named

This week was the last for Legislative Committees to hold hearings on bills. Every bill introduced is required to have a public hearing. With hearings over, the Legislature will move to all-day floor debate next week. The deadline for priority bill designations by the Speaker of the Legislature, committees, and senators passed last week, meaning the stage is set for what floor debate will look like for the remainder of the session as priority designations largely dictate what bills will be taken up on the legislative floor. Check out this week’s happenings below.

Click HERE for NEFB’s updated Bill Summary

LB 344 (Animal Health and Disease Control Act)

 Senators have given first round approval to a bill to streamline and consolidate the animal disease control authorities of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA). Introduced by the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee, LB 344 updates NDA’s duties in carrying out control of disease outbreaks including authority to issue quarantines, regulate animal movement, require testing, treatment or euthanasia, and inspections. The bill also provides for NDA to adopt protocols and standards consistent with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Several other topics are also addressed in the bill including provisions related to dead animal disposal, veterinary inspections for livestock entering the state, animal disease traceability requirements, as well as fines for violations. Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings prioritized the bill. NEFB supports the legislation following several updates by NDA.

LB 791 (Livestock Animal Welfare)

The Legislature’s Agriculture Committee has designated LB 791 as a priority bill. The legislation clarifies that if a person is convicted of livestock abuse or neglect and is sentenced, a court may also order the person to be prohibited from owning or possessing other non-livestock animals. Sen. Julie Slama of Peru introduced the legislation. Nebraska Farm Bureau testified in a neutral position and is monitoring the bill, which remains in the Agriculture Committee.

LB 803 (Pulse Crop Checkoff)

The Speaker of the Legislature has designated LB 803 as a Speaker priority for the session. The bill establishes a state checkoff program for pulse crops like dry peas, lentils, chickpeas or garbanzo beans, faba beans, and lupine. It also establishes a check off rate of one percent of the net market value of pulse crops sold. The bill has advanced to General File and awaits first round floor debate. Nebraska Farm Bureau supports the bill. The measure was introduced by Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango.

LB 829 (Game & Parks/In Lieu of Taxes)

The Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee recently held a public hearing on a bill to change payments the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) makes to offset the loss of tax revenues to local political subdivisions when NGPC land acquires land and takes it off of local tax rolls. Current law requires NGPC to make in-lieu of tax payments for land acquired for wildlife management purposes on or after Jan. 1, 1977. LB 829 would require the Commission to make in-lieu of payments on all land EVER acquired by NGPC for wildlife management purposes. The bill also changes the valuations of such lands for calculating payments in that they would be made on an assumption the land was being used “at its highest and best use”. Current state law states the value is to be determined by how the land was used immediately before acquisition excluding any improvements on the land before or after the acquisition. Nebraska Farm Bureau supports LB 829.

LB 930 (Property Tax Credit Fund)

Nebraska Farm Bureau is supporting a bill introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion to set a floor under the amount of property tax relief to be provided by the state’s Property Tax Credit Act. Today, the Property Tax Credit Fund (PTCF) provides $275 million per year in tax relief to Nebraskans. LB 930 specifies that for tax year 2020 and for each year thereafter the minimum amount of relief from the PTCF would be $275 million. The bill also requires the minimum amount to increase to match any additional monies that might be added to the PTCF in the future. Sen. Briese has designated LB 930 as his priority bill for the session. This bill awaits action by the Revenue Committee.

LB 931 (Overweight Exemption for Farm Trucks)

A Farm Bureau supported bill to clarify ag producers are exempt from having to obtain an overweight permit when moving grain from “farm storage” to market, if they meet certain conditions, has advanced unanimously from the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings introduced LB 931 and Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango has made it his priority bill for the session. While Nebraska Farm Bureau and senators are still working with the Nebraska Department of Transportation to address a few concerns, the bill has been added to the agenda for first round floor debate.

LB 974 (Main Property Tax Relief and School Funding Reform)

Negotiations are ongoing on LB 974, the main property tax relief and school funding reform bill. Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, a main author of the bill and Chair of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee has been meeting with senators and school representatives to discuss concerns related to the proposal. The bill would provide roughly $490 million in new state dollars for schools while providing more than $336 million in property tax relief for Nebraska taxpayers. It’s possible the bill could come back to the floor for continued debate as early as next week. The passage of LB 974 is directly connected to the passage of business tax incentives (LB 720) and LB 1084 – the bill which would allow the state to match up to $300 million for projects that have a multibillion dollar economic impact, which is aimed at helping fund the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s $2.6 billion NExT project.

LB 1212 (Notice/Hearings for Property Tax Asking)

Nebraska Farm Bureau offered support this week for a bill to increase transparency for taxpayers regarding tax requests made by political subdivisions. Introduced by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, LB 1212 requires political subdivisions (counties, cities, villages, school districts, learning communities, sanitary and improvement districts, natural resources districts, educational service units, and community colleges) to comply with certain notice and hearing requirements prior to setting the subdivisions property tax request, if the request is set at an amount exceeding the property tax request for the prior year.

LB 1213 (Taxes and School Funding)

The Legislature’s Revenue Committee heard testimony this week on a tax and school funding reform bill offered by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair. LB 1213 would replace the current TEEOSA state aid to school formula with a new school aid act that increases state aid to schools by more than $550 million per year. In turn the bill would lower valuations of real property decreasing the tax base for political subdivisions. The bill would also broaden the sales tax base (including sales tax on ag machinery and equipment), as well as eliminate the inheritance tax. Nebraska Farm Bureau is neutral on LB 1213 due to the amount of modeling required to fully understand the impact, but we appreciate Sen. Hansen’s work on this bill and attention to the issue.

LB 1214 (Rural Economic Development)

Nebraska Farm Bureau offered support this week for a rural economic development bill introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson. LB 1214 adopts the Rural Economic Development Grant Act establishing a grant program to aid businesses that were either located in a micropolitan statistical area or did not qualify for the main tax incentive program offered by the state. Funds for the grants would come from taxpayers who used tax credits under the main tax incentive program in the preceding year and any funds appropriated by the Legislature. The bill would authorize the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to begin accepting applications for grants Jan. 1, 2022.

LR 288 (Flood Control)

Senators have adopted a legislative resolution offered by Sen. Julie Slama of Peru this week that urges Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make flood control a top priority for the management of water systems under their authority in the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System Master Water Control Manual. Currently, flood control is not prioritized over fish and wildlife protection. LR 288 was Sen. Slama’s priority designation for the session. Nebraska Farm Bureau supported the resolution.

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