Legislative Happenings

Bill to Expand Hi-Speed Internet Approved
A bill targeted to helping expand hi-speed internet access to rural areas across the state was approved by the Nebraska Legislature. Introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, the bill creates a Rural Broadband Task Force to study issues relating to the availability, adoption, and affordability of broadband services in rural Nebraska. The bill as amended also included language to exempt the sale, lease, or rental of and the storage, use, or consumption of dark fiber from state sales and use taxes. Nebraska Farm Bureau supported LB 994 and broadband expansion continues to be one of our top state policy priorities.

LB 1000 Closes Loophole in Public Facilities Construction and Finance Act
LB 1000, sponsored by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, requires a bond invoked under the Public Facilities Construction and Finance Act to be voted on by the taxpayers. Last year, two property taxing entities came together to utilize bonding authority under the Act to complete different projects, without a vote. Nebraska Farm Bureau appreciates help from Sen. Briese as well as Chairman of the Government Committee, Sen. Murante, to pass LB 1000 and close this loophole.

Federal Tax Law Changes Impacting the State
The federal tax law (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) enacted last year, repealed 1031 exchanges for any property that is not real property. Previously, 1031 exchanges allowed personal property taxes to be based on the difference between the trade-in value of the piece and cost of the new piece. Without a “fix,” personal property taxes in Nebraska would be based on full cost of the new equipment. In a real-world example, if a new combine is $400,000, and the trade-in is $300,000, under the old law (assuming the old combine was fully depreciated), the new combine would have a tax basis of $100,000. Under the new law, that combine would have a tax basis of $400,000. Nebraska Farm Bureau along with other agricultural and business stakeholders secured a two-year extension of current policy as part of LB 1089 – the annual administrative clean-up bill for the Department of Revenue. Next session will present an opportunity to pursue a permanent fix.

Sales and Use Tax Exemption
LB 907 was sponsored by Sen. Roy Baker to change provisions relating to a sale and use tax exemption for agricultural machinery and equipment. The bill clarifies the definition of agricultural machinery, specifically as it relates to livestock equipment, for purposes of sales tax exemption. The Department of Revenue is beginning to look at potentially taxing ag equipment, which is attached to real property (e.g. in livestock barns) which is not currently taxed. Farm Bureau believes this would be inconsistent with the intent of the law. The bill draws language from the Department of Revenue regulations verbatim, with the addition of one phrase that emphasizes that machinery used to care for animal life includes that which supports animal health and welfare. While the bill was not advanced by the Revenue Committee, Farm Bureau along will continue working with ag stakeholders, the Governor, and the Department of Revenue to ensure the Department does not move forward with efforts to tax ag equipment.

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program
Nebraska Farm Bureau expressed its support of the extension of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program in a letter to Governor Ricketts. Nebraska Farm Bureau supported the initial increment of the program begun in 2007 which is set to expire in 2019. The three states involved, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are seeking the extension of the program for another 13-year period. An extension will need Congressional approval and federal dollars. Farm Bureau supports the extension because it provides regulatory coverage under the Endangered Special Act for water users in the Platte basin. Without the program, any water activity with a federal nexus in the basin would need to consult with the Service to assure the activity does not jeopardize endangered species in the basin—an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

National Happenings

President Trump Supports Blending of E15 Year-Round
Following months of uncertainty, President Trump announced the administration would allow year-round sales of E15 ethanol blends in gasoline, a move strongly supported by the Nebraska Farm Bureau. "We're going to raise it up to 15 percent and raise it to a 12-month period," President Trump told reporters in a meeting held at the White House recently with farm-state lawmakers on trade. The President added, “that makes a lot of farmers very happy.” The change, supported in legislation introduced by Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer and Third District Congressman Adrian Smith, alters a statute within the Clean Air Act which restricts the blending of ethanol above 10 percent to non-summer months in order to reduce air pollution. The announcement comes as controversy over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) granting of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) exemptions for at least 25 small oil refineries, at least twice the typical number.

Pruitt Wants Reset on Greenhouse Gas Regs
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is halting Obama administration regulations on vehicle emissions, saying the previous EPA went too far. Pruitt said April 2 that the agency will team up with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on a rulemaking process for new vehicle emission standards. The previous goals set by the Obama administration called for vehicle mileage to hit an average of 54.4 miles per gallon for model year 2022-2025 vehicles. Pruitt said the decision to uphold those standards was based on a process cut short due to “politically charged expediency” that “made assumptions that didn’t comport with reality.” But what does this mean for biofuels? Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said the move presents an opportunity for higher octane renewable fuels to help automakers reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Ethanol-enriched, high-octane fuel enables automakers to simultaneously reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and improve fuel economy,” Jennings said. “We are confident E25-30 blends will be the most affordable way to thread that needle.”