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POLICY WATCH

All-Day Legislative Debate Heating Up, Budget Proposal Drops

All-day floor debate began at the Nebraska Legislature this week, with much of the first day spent on consent calendar bills and several bills not affecting agriculture moved forward. Following two hours of debate, LB 773 (Brewer), a bill supported by Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB), was pulled out of the Judiciary Committee by a vote of the body. This bill is referred to as the Constitutional Carry bill and would authorize concealed carry without a permit. That bill was then fully debated on General File on Thursday and Friday and was advanced to Select File by a vote of 35 “Yeas”, nine “Nays”, and four “Not Voting.”

This week, the body also focused on water infrastructure by debating legislation supported by Governor Ricketts and Speaker Hilgers to build a canal in Perkins County and a lake between Lincoln and Omaha. LB 1015 (Hilgers), known as the Perkins County Canal Project Act, advanced to Select File. LB 1023 (Hilgers), nicknamed the STAR WARS bill, would build a lake near Ashland, make improvements to Lake McConaughy and Niobrara State Park, and provide for other improvements with a goal of increasing recreation opportunities also advanced to Select File

The Appropriations Committee advanced a budget plan to the full Legislature. This plan makes changes to the two-year budget passed last year. The proposed budget would appropriate $53.5 million from the state’s cash reserve to the state Department of Natural Resources to begin design and engineering studies and buy options on land for the Perkins County Canal Project. Based on recent projections of state revenue, the proposal would leave an estimated $453.6 million of state general funds available for tax cuts or other spending priorities. The release of the proposed budget provides a much clearer view of the legislative landscape and path forward to property tax relief. The NEFB governmental relations team is going through the budget plan to identify funding of agriculture related measures.

Next week, senators are expected to begin late night debate sessions, and the fireworks may get brighter on the floor. On Tuesday, they will begin debate of the budget bills. Completing all three stages of debate on both the state budget and the ARPA budget will be the priority for the next two weeks. Between the separate stages of debate on the budget bills, the Speaker will also be scheduling some tax and spending bills that are on both general file and select file. We will let you know as more updates happen. Please reach out with any questions you may have.

Congress Passes Omnibus Spending Package 

This week, Congress sent a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package to President Biden’s desk averting a government shutdown as funding for the federal government was set to lapse on Friday, March 11. After a number of continuing resolutions were passed, the package, which is comprised of all 12 appropriations bills with $730 billion in non-defense funding, is a $46 billion or 6.7 increase over fiscal year 2021 (FY21). Also included is $13.6 billion in supplemental funding to support Ukraine. From an agriculture standpoint, the package includes a number of important provisions including $486.6 million for USDA’s broadband expansion program, $1 million for USDA to create a cattle contract library pilot program, a one year moratorium on enforcing the electronic logging device mandate for livestock and insect haulers, as well as a significant $3.5 billion boost for agricultural research programs. In terms of provisions specific to Nebraska, the University of Nebraska received additional funding for the creation of a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility on the UNL campus.  

@NEAgLobbyDC’s View from The Hill

By Jordan D. Dux, Director of National Affairs, Twitter: @NEAgLobbyDC

I am often asked by NEFB members as well as members of my own family, my wife and kids included, “what do you actually do when you’re in D.C.?” While I could go into a long explanation and make it sound much more complicated than what it is, but the short truth is that I talk with people. Lobbying is really all about relationships and being able to communicate your particular policy objectives to decisionmakers. What makes those conversations even easier is that those folks I’m meeting with know that the message I’m communicating comes directly from Nebraska’s farm and ranch families. Whether I’m talking about the need to expand our nation’s agricultural trade relationships, farm bill programs, or environmental regulations, those conversations are based in the policy passed by our members and the stories I gather from each and every one of you.

This week, Nebraska Farm Bureau President Mark McHargue, Chief Administrator Rob Robertson, and myself traveled to Washington to meet with members of Nebraska’s Congressional Delegation as well as leaders in the livestock industry and those working in federal agencies. Obviously, the situation in Ukraine and the subsequent price of energy and inputs was top of mind in all of those meetings. Also discussed was again the need to work to find a solution to reform how cattle are marketed in the United States. Sen. Fischer has done tremendous work on developing legislation and finding a path forward toward passage. More to come on that topic, but needless to say, things are moving in the right direction. In our meeting with Congressman Smith we discussed his run to serve as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee should the Republicans take control after this year’s election. The benefits Nebraska and our farmers and ranchers could see from him leading the most powerful Committee in the House which is in charge of tax policy, trade, and health care can’t be understated. Lastly, I had the opportunity to sit down with the lead agricultural advisor to the EPA. It is clear that farmers and ranchers will continue to face an uphill climb on a number of regulatory issues including WOTUS, pesticide approvals, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. However, we hope that producers will soon be receiving some good news on the Enlist and Enlist Duo front as the ban that was put in place for 32 Nebraska counties could be lifted in the weeks ahead. Again, more on that when we know more.

I hope you find these more informal updates useful. As always, if you have a question about anything happening at the federal level, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at jordand@nefb.org. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter at @NEAgLobbyDC.

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