President Signs COVID-19 Stimulus Package
President Joe Biden signed the latest round of COVID-19 aid into law this week. The $1.9 trillion package includes $1,400 checks for individuals who earn up to $75,000 or $2,800 for couples who make $150,000. The legislation also includes money for vaccine distribution, schools, enhanced unemployment benefits, the expansion of Obamacare subsidies, and substantial funds to local and state governments. The bill passed both the House and Senate on purely partisan votes without a single Republican voting in favor of the legislation. From an agriculture standpoint, the legislation does not provide additional funding to farmers and ranchers in a fashion similar to previous COVID-19 packages. The bill does include funding to cover overtime costs of very small and small meat processing facilities through the year 2032; an item Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) has asked for in previous COVID-19 legislation. NEFB has substantial concerns with this legislation given the size of the package, the lack of funding for agriculture priorities, as well as the fact that most of the bill’s funds are scheduled to be spent years into the future. Fiscal responsibility has always been a major focus of NEFB, and this package fails in a big way to limit unnecessary government spending. All five members of the Nebraska congressional delegation voted against the measure.
Tax Reform Bills in House, Senate
Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to repeal the estate tax. H.R. 1712, Death Tax Repeal Act, introduced by Reps. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) has 122 original cosponsors including Nebraska Congressmen Adrian Smith and Don Bacon. The senate version, S. 617, Death Tax Repeal Act of 2021– introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has 26 original cosponsors including Sen. Deb Fischer. The current estate tax exemption is temporary. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act temporarily doubled the estate tax exemption to $11 million per person indexed for inflation through 2025. In addition, it continues stepped-up basis and the transfer of any unused exemption to the surviving spouse. While step-up and the spousal transfer are permanent law, the estate tax exemption will revert back to $5.5 million per person in 2026. The current estate tax exemption is under pressure. Upon completion of the COVID-19 rescue bill, Congress is expected to turn to a recovery package that will focus on policies such as infrastructure. That bill is expected to contain revenue raisers to pay for spending programs. Rolling back the estate tax exemption has been suggested as one way to raise revenue. Farm Bureau supports the legislation and NEFB will soon send official letters to Nebraska’s congressional delegation in support.
Seeking Answers on Biden 30 x 30 Climate Goals
Nebraska Farm Bureau is joining with American Farm Bureau (AFBF) in supporting a letter being passed around in the House and Senate that expresses concerns and requests significant details about the January 27, 2021, Executive Order (EO) on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. President Biden signed the EO which supports the establishment of a goal to conserve at least 30 percent of our land and waters by 2030. The effort will be led by a new National Climate Task Force with input from federal agencies including the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior. Secretary of the Interior nominee Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM) introduced a resolution in 2020 to support this “30×30” goal. Senator Daines questioned Haaland for more details during her confirmation hearing, and she confirmed her support for the goal without discussing how the department would recommend achieving the goal. The letter requests meaningful stakeholder engagement, including the agriculture sector, in developing the proposal, as well as recognizes the legacy of conservation and stewardship and the impact this goal could have on the U.S. economy. The letter also requests a briefing on the issue from the administration for members who sign the letter. NEFB is asking all five members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation to sign on.
The Nebraska Legislature began debate on the first set of senator priority bills this week, as legislative hearings wrapped up. Each senator can designate a “priority bill” for the session improving its chances of being debated on the floor the Legislature. Committees and the Speaker of the Legislature are also allowed to designate priority bills. Friday, March 12 is the deadline for senators and committee priority bill designations. The Speaker will announce his priority bill designations Wednesday, March 17. As of this writing, two bills of interest to Farm Bureau (LB 408 and LB 507) have been designated priorities. Sen. Tom Briese of Albion introduced LB 408, which would limit the annual increase in property taxes to 3 percent for all political subdivisions, excluding approved bonds. Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln prioritized LB 408. Nebraska Farm Bureau supports the bill. Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard introduced LB 507 which would prohibit the use of treated seed corn in the production of ethanol in certain circumstances. The bill was prioritized by the Natural Resources Committee. Farm Bureau is monitoring the legislation.
State Legislation on the Move
Among the priority bills debated on the floor this week were LB 387, which would reduce taxes on military retirement benefits. The bill was introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon and prioritized by Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton. Lawmakers also debated LB 400 which would change requirements related to coverage of telehealth by insurers and Medicaid. The bill was introduced and prioritized by Sen. John Arch of La Vista. Senators also debated LB 274 which would provide for a promotional farmers market liquor license for farm wineries, craft breweries, and micro-distilleries. The bill was introduced by Sen. John Lowe of Kearney and prioritized by the General Affairs Committee. All three bills passed the first round of debate.