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POLICY WATCH

A report from Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Governmental Relations team.

Broadband Comments

This week Nebraska Farm Bureau submitted comments to the Rural Broadband Task Force. The Task Force was created by Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson’s LB 994, which was passed by the Legislature in 2018. The Task Force is charged with analyzing issues relating to availability, adoption, and affordability of broadband services in rural areas of Nebraska.

The Committee is required to submit its findings and recommendations in a report to the Legislature by Nov. 1, 2019 and November 1 every odd-numbered year thereafter. Among Nebraska Farm Bureau’s comments, were:

  • requests that internet service providers be required to meet the basic definition of “broadband” in terms of upload and download speeds to receive taxpayer support;
  • encouragement for the Public Service Commission to be receptive to new technologies to address logistical problems facing rural broadband deployment;
  • support for the development of cooperatives to deploy broadband;
  • emphasis on the need for more accurate data and mapping of broadband service to ensure financial assistance is directed to places in greatest need;
  • support for the establishment of a Subcommittee on Agriculture.

Livestock, Brand Committee Hearings

This week the Legislature’s Agriculture and Appropriations Committees met in a joint hearing on LR 212, introduced by Sen. John Stinner of Scottsbluff to assess the financial situation of the Nebraska Brand Committee and to identify operational needs as well as opportunities for efficiency improvement. The Committees also heard testimony on LR 222, introduced by Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings to review implementation of the electronic brand document and reporting system by the Brand Committee. Testimony was provided by invitation only. Testifiers included Brand Committee Chair John Widdowson, along with the current Executive Director and Director of Information Technology, Melody Benjamin with the Nebraska Cattlemen, and Jack Lawless with Gottsch Cattle Company. Senators on the Agriculture Committee also heard from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture on the agency’s animal health responsibilities and resources.

Real Property Valuation Appeals

The Revenue Committee met Friday, Oct. 4 to hear invited testimony on LR 232. Introduced by Sen. John McCollister of Omaha and cosigned by several rural senators, the study is to examine the process of assessment and valuation of real property and in appeals before the Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC). Specifics of the hearing included:

  • how to save taxpayer dollars by eliminating redundant mailings from county treasurers and assessors;
  • extending the property valuation appeal process to more closely match the income tax filing season;
  • standardizing the protest form statewide for all counties;
  • realigning the representation on TERC to better serve constituents;
  • consolidation of county assessors;
  • and reducing the acceptable range for real property from ninety-two to one hundred percent to ninety-six to one hundred percent of actual value.

Examining ESUs

The Education Committee held a hearing on LR 63, introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn to examine educational service units (ESUs). In 2018, Nebraska’s 17 ESUs levied $36.8 million in property taxes. Nebraska Farm Bureau policy supports ESUs being funded entirely by the state’s general fund.

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