March 18, 2016                                                                        Legislative Report Archive 

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proptaxMarch 24 Hearing Set for Property Tax Relief Bills
The Revenue Committee has scheduled a March 24 hearing on new property tax relief proposals that would become LB958. As originally introduced at the request of Governor Pete Ricketts, the bill would have capped aggregated valuation growth at 3 percent, removed budget exceptions for interlocal agreements and capital improvements, restricted the use of unused budget authority, and eliminated the authority for governmental entities to use a townhall meeting to exceed levy authority.
After much internal discussion, the committee chose to pursue a solution that would direct about $29 million in property tax relief to agland owners through a property tax credit. The amendment does not contain a funding mechanism but would state the intent of the Legislature to sufficiently fund the Property Tax Credit Act to increase agland tax credits and maintain the current amount of credits for other real property.
The second piece of the proposal would limit unused budget authority for community colleges. Another section of the proposal would exempt from budget limits restricted funds used by a governmental until to pay for judgments to the extent the judgment is not covered by a pool of funds maintained by the governmental until to self-insure against such liabilities. Existing law already provides an exemption from such judgments if they are not paid by liability insurance coverage of the governmental unit.
The new language, which would replace the introduced bill, is found in AM2617. It was offered by Revenue Committee Chair Mike Gloor. The committee will formally take action after the hearing. The hearing will begin at 2:00 p.m. in Room 1524 of the State Capitol.
During its discussion of possible property tax relief options, the committee had considered setting a five year sales history. Currently, state regulations require a review every three years for agricultural and commercial properties and every two years for residential property. A five year history, excluding the lowest 20 percent of ratios, was proposed in Senator Mike Groene's priority bill, LB717. On Thursday, the Attorney General issued an opinion on the constitutionality of several concepts in LB717, including a five year history, a freeze of 2016 values at the 2015 level, and amendment to define "actual value". The opinion concluded that much of the bill could violate the Nebraska Constitution's uniformity clause. The full text of the opinion is available here or on the Attorney General's website.
The Education Committee advanced another piece of the property tax relief package, LB959, on Thursday. The committee amendment would replace the original bill and make adjustments to the school aid formula.

infbankInfrastructure Bank Advanced from First Round
A new approach to expedite road, bridge, and economic development projects advanced from General File on Tuesday. LB960, the Transportation Innovation Act, would create three new programs funded by a $50 million transfer from the state's cash reserves and more than $400 million of additional revenue generated from last year's gas tax increase.
Up to $40 million from the infrastructure bank would be made available through the County Bridge Match Program to promote innovative solutions and provide additional funding to accelerate the repair and replacement of deficient bridges in the county road system. The Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) would develop the program, including participation criteria and matching fund requirements, in conjunction with a statewide association representing county officials. Participation by counties would be voluntary. The program would terminate on June 20, 2023.

The Accelerated State Highway Capital Improvement Program would provide funding for construction of the expressway system and federally designated high priority corridors and needs-driven capacity improvements across the state.

The Economic Opportunity Program would earmark up to $20 million to finance transportation improvements to attract and support new business and business expansions by connecting them to the transportation network, increasing jobs, and revitalizing rural areas. NDOR would develop the plan in conjunction with statewide associations representing municipal and county officials, economic developers, and the Department of Economic Development. The program, as well as the expressway funding, would terminate on June 30, 2033.

The bill would also give NDOR authority for alternative methods of contracting for public projects, such as design-build or construction manager-general contractor contracts.
LB960 appears on Monday's agenda for second round debate.
Another road bill, LB977, may appear on the agenda for second round debate next week. As advanced from General File, the bill would exempt implements of husbandry, specifically including manure spreaders, from weight limits on roads. The exemption would not apply to bridges or culverts with posted weight limits.
Senator Jim Smith, the bill's introducer, has filed a compromise amendment that would expand the time frame for existing county authority to regulate the operation of vehicles or impose weight limits on county roads. Currently counties may impose such limits on certain roads for 90 days by resolution or ordinance. The amendment would extend that authority to 180 days. The amendment also includes technical language to revise county ordinance statutes.
As advanced from General File, LB977 contains language from several other bills, including a measure to shift one percent of motor vehicle tax proceeds to a fund to help replace the aging motor vehicle titling and registration system. Other new language would allow, but not require, the Department of Roads and road maintenance vehicles operated by political subdivisions to use blue and amber rotating or flashing lights for road work.
budgetBudget, Easement Bills Advanced from General File
Counties could have more access to funds during the period between July 1 and the adoption of the budget on September 20 under a bill advanced from General File. LB784 would harmonize conflicting sections in the Nebraska Budget Act and the County Budget Act. Both Acts limit expenditures to a proportion of the budgeted amount during this period but the Nebraska Budget Act also allows the governing body to approve additional expenditures from the budgeted funds upon a showing of necessity. LB784 would add this language to the County Budget Act. The bill does not increase budgets or taxes but allows expenditures to be made at the most beneficial time for the county. For example, counties could use more budgeted road funds in July and August, which is the optimal time for road projects. Senator Curt Friesen introduced the bill on behalf of NACO.
A bill to exempt utility easements from filing requirements for real estate transfer statements, commonly referred to as a Form 521, was also advanced from General File. NACO asked Senator Paul Schumacher to introduce LB725 to clear up questions about when the forms are needed. A committee amendment was adopted that would exempt all easements from the filing except certain conservation and preservation easements.
Both bills were advanced through a consent calendar process. Some of the other bills advanced through the consent calendar and regular debate this week follow:
LB783, as amended, would allow permanent public power district license plates to be issued for public power districts with a gross annual revenue of at least $40 million, as determined by the Nebraska Power Review Board. The plates would be issued by the county in which the district is headquartered.
LB952, as introduced, would require counties to ensure that emergency medical services are available to county residents and revise the number of members on the Board of Emergency Medical Services. A committee amendment was adopted that eliminated the proposed new county responsibility. As advanced, the bill would require three emergency responders to serve on the board.
LB 843 would protect victims of human trafficking by giving them immunity from prosecution for prostitution. A committee amendment would establish an affirmative defense for trafficking victims. Another portion of the committee amendment was based on LB1097 that would pay the full out-of-pocket cost charged to a sexual assault victim for a forensic medical exam through the Sexual Assault Payment Program cash fund. LB843 was prioritized by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks.
snapSnapshots of County Issues
Daily Legislative Activities
On Tuesday senators wrapped up first round debate on a bill to increase fees collected by the Game and Parks Commission (LB745) before advancing two budget bills (LB956 and LB957). A cloture motion was needed to end the discussion on LB745 and successfully vote to advance the bill. A cloture motion may only be made by the introducer and after full and fair debate has occurred in the opinion of the presiding officer. This year, a bill is considered to have had full and fair debate after six hours of debate on General File, four hours of debate on Select File, and two hours of debate on Final Reading. A two-thirds majority of the elected members (33 votes) is needed for a cloture motion to be successful and a vote to be taken on the pending matter. If a cloture motion is unsuccessful, debate on the bill ends for the day. If the Speaker chooses to place the bill on the agenda again, an additional two hours of debate are needed before another cloture motion may be offered during that round of debate.

The budget bills contain appropriations for infrastructure, prison reform, and levy improvements near Offutt Air Force Base, as well as regular spending adjustments for the second half of the biennium. The proposed $50 million appropriation for the Transportation Infrastructure Fund that would be created by LB960 is found in LB957. The Appropriations Committee's budget recommendations are available here. The state's budget status is updated each day to show the impact of pending bills.
On Wednesday and Thursday, first round debate on a repeal of the motorcycle helmet law, LB900, took six hours before a cloture motion failed on a 30-18 vote.
Later on Thursday, senators advanced a series of priority bills from Select File. Amendments were adopted to LB894, a bill to require counsel to be provided for juveniles involved in the judicial system. One amendment, AM2610, would allow counties to create a guardian ad litem division. The amendment was based upon LB673. Another amendment would require information about staffing levels to be reported when juveniles are placed on room confinement. An amendment that was offered and withdrawn due to the threat of a filibuster would have added a juvenile court judge in Douglas County. An amendment is pending that would change the process for determining whether counties would be responsible for the costs of counsel. LB894 appears on Monday's agenda for continued Select File debate.
On Friday, senators advanced noncontroversial bills from General File through a consent calendar process.
On Monday, senators will convene at 9:00 a.m. for second round debate on the budget. In a short session, the budget must be passed by the 50th day, which is March 29. The session will be in recess on March 25 and 28. Other bills on Monday's agenda include LB938, which would create the 911 Service System Act to begin developing next generation 911, and LB1038, a water appropriations bills that would be amended to include LB711 to provide funding for riparian weed management.

Right to Farm Amendments Filed
Five amendments to a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to farm were filed this week.As introduced, LR378CA would prohibit the Legislature from further restricting farming and ranching practices in the state without a compelling state interest. A committee amendment would limit the effect of the constitutional language to ordinances adopted on or before December 31, 2015.
In addition to the committee amendment, Senator Jerry Johnson has offered language that would rewrite the measure to specify that the constitutional language could not be construed to modify provisions of law relating to trespass, eminent domain, dominance of mineral interests, easements, rights of way, or any other property rights. In addition, it could not be construed to modify, limit or preclude existing laws, rules and regulations by local authorities for a number of purposes, including land use regulations.
An amendment to the committee amendment offered by the measure's introducer, Senator John Kuehn, would clarify that the committee amendment applies to actions taken by the Nebraska Legislature.
Senator Burke Harr filed three amendments that would define the term "agricultural technology", replace the standard of compelling state interest with a rational basis, and prohibit the Legislature from passing laws which abridge the property rights of citizens and residents of Nebraska.
The measure appears near the end of Monday's agenda for General File debate but it is not likely to be debated until later in the session.

Bills Advanced from Select File
Second round debate on senator, committee, and speaker priority bills continued this week. Among the bills advanced from Select File are measures to create a commission on military and veterans affairs (LB754) and amend Nebraska's Equal Pay Act to apply to all employers with two or more employees (LB83).
In addition, LB1082 would require counties, cities, villages, and natural resources districts to be given notice and copies of Class II commercial underground injection well permit applications. The bill was introduced in response to concerns last year about fracking and the regulatory authority of the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
LB803 would clean up a section of statute that should have been included in legislation adopted last year to provide a greater share of docket fees for judge's retirement.
LB1009 would create a penalty for the sale of lookalike drugs, such a K2, that are portrayed as producing effects similar to those of a controlled substance.

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