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Gragert introduces five bills in legislature

 

January 30, 2020



Almost 500 new bills were introduced by members of the Legislature during the first 10 days of the legislative session. Each proposed legislation will have a public hearing before the relevant committee. The public hearing process has already started and will continue through February.

I introduced five bills this year. The first three will have public hearings next week before the Natural Resources Committee and the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

LB 769 requires that each member of the Natural Resources Commission be a resident of the State of Nebraska.

LB 770 would provide a free park permit to disabled veterans.

LB 771 expands current law, which allows owners of passenger vehicles to purchase a decal in lieu of a front license plate if the vehicle does not have a front license plate bracket, to also apply to pickups.

LB 995 proposes to appropriate $150,000 for the Legal Education for Public Service and Rural Practice Loan Repayment Assistance Aid, so that funding can continue for this loan repayment assistance program, in an effort to encourage lawyers to seek employment in rural communities or by working for Legal Aid.

LB 1108 updates the unclaimed property statutes in an effort to return unclaimed property to its rightful owners in a more timely manner.

Chief Justice Michael Heavican gave his annual State of the Judiciary address this past week. He noted that the primary goal of the judiciary is access to justice for all Nebraska citizens. The Nebraska Supreme Court created an Access to Justice Commission in an effort to fulfill this goal. The purpose of the commission is to provide equal access to expeditious and fair justice for all Nebraskans, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age or language. He reviewed how the court system is addressing language barriers, fostering conversations with Native American communities, focusing on the welfare of children and the elderly, and providing educational events. He also highlighted the work of the Office of the Public Guardian.

Chief Justice Heavican informed senators that there are now 32 problem-solving courts, including drug and DUI courts, veterans treatment courts, re-entry courts and young adult courts. These courts have shown that they effectively reduce recidivism and increase community safety, while also being very cost-effective. The average annual cost to supervise a problem-solving court participant is approximately $2,865, compared with the average cost to incarcerate a prisoner which can reach as high as $38,000 per year.

This past week, the Revenue Committee held a public hearing on LB 974, the committee’s proposal for property tax relief. The legislation would reduce the valuation of property for school district taxing purposes and add a foundation-aid factor to the state-aid formula. By the 2022/2023 school year, it would guarantee a certain amount of basic funding for every school district.

Proponents of LB 974 at the public hearing included the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Soybean Association, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska Dairy, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom and the Nebraska Platte Institute. Opponents included Nebraska Association of School Boards, Nebraska Council of School Administrators, Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, Nebraska State Education Association, Omaha Public Schools and Lincoln Public Schools, as well as schools of various sizes, the Center for Rural Affairs and OpenSky Policy Institute.

Supporters stressed that property taxes are too high, that our state-aid formula is too heavily dependent on property taxes, and that something needs to be done this year. Opponents voiced concern that state revenues won’t be able to pay for this in the future without a new revenue source and schools feared that they would lose state aid, as well as local control.

The Revenue Committee will try to get LB 974 advanced quickly, so the full Legislature can debate this important issue. I realize that the proposal isn’t perfect, but I believe we should work together to get property tax relief passed this year. When fully implemented in three years, it is projected that taxpayers, on average, will pay 11.8% less than what they would have paid in property taxes. This is in addition to the approximate 11% reduction in property taxes attributed to the Property Tax Credit fund, which is left intact with LB 974.

If you have any thoughts or concerns with legislation before us, I welcome your input. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is 402-471-2801.

 

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