Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to johnc@cfra.org.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Center for Rural Affairs February 9, 2005 Nebraska Legislative Update

-- from the desk of Jon Bailey, Director, Rural Research and Analysis Program
Center for Rural Affairs

Legislative Update - February 9, 2005

Priority Bills

Each Senator and each committee has the right to designate bills as Priority Bills. That is an important designation for any bill because, in general, Priority Bills receive preferential treatment in scheduling floor debate. With the number of bills introduced annually in the Unicameral and with a finite number of days in a legislative session, bills receiving Priority Bill status are ones not only more likely to receive time for debate, but are also the bills most likely to become law.

Speaker Brashear has instituted a new process for scheduling Priority Bills for debate. There are still generally three categories of Priority Bills – individual Senator Priority Bills, Committee Priority Bills, and Speaker Priority Bills. However, the Speaker has instituted a new hierarchy of Priority Bills for scheduling purposes. In the following order, Priority Bills will receive consideration for scheduling:

Committee “First Choice” Priority Bills
Senator Priority Bills
Committee “Second Choice” Priority Bills and Speaker Priority Bills as time allows

In addition, past practice allowed Senator Priority Bills to be scheduled on a “first come-first served” process – Senator Priority Bills were scheduled for debate according to when they were designated by Senators. Speaker Brashear is also changing that practice. The Speaker will use his discretion in deciding the scheduling order of Senator Priority Bills. The Speaker will use numerous criteria in making his decision – those include when the bill was advanced by the committee of jurisdiction, the level of opposition to the bill, the degree to “which differences have been addressed off the floor,” the level of substantive and technical issues addressed by the committee, and the “public policy implications” if the bill is not adopted in the session.

Priority Bills must be designated by the 45th day of a 90-day session, which is March 16 in the 2005 session.

Legislative Lingo Update

As committee hearings continue and committees begin making decisions on which bills to advance to the entire Legislature, below is a brief guide to legislative terms you will read in future Legislative Updates.

Committees have a number of options for each bill – send as introduced to the full Legislature for General File, send to General File with amendments, Indefinitely Postpone (or kill) the bill, or hold the bill over to the 2006 session .
Once a bill is sent to the full Legislature out of committee, it faces three possible stages – General File, Select File and Final Reading.
At the General File and Select File stages a bill can be amended; a bill cannot be amended at the Final Reading stage.

Bills Update

As in the past, we will divide the bills we are working on or tracking into categories. Any bill designated a Priority Bill will also have a “P” attached to its number (for example, LB 123P). The chief sponsor of the bill is listed in parentheses.

The words Support or Oppose after a bill description indicate where the Center for Rural Affairs has taken a position on the bill. If neither word is indicated, the Center has not taken a position at this time.

Rural Development

LB 28 (Connealy) – The “Endow Nebraska Act.” The bill would provide a tax credit for a contribution to a qualified charitable organization. The primary purpose is to provide an incentive for contributions to local and community endowments and foundations, thus providing greater resources for rural economic and community development. During General File debate on February 8, an amendment was adopted that would reduce the amount of the credit to reduce the revenue impact of the bill from $4.6 million to $1.67 million. The bill was advanced to second round debate by a 32-9 vote. Support

LB 59 (Mines) – Would change the provision in the Microenterprise Development Act defining “microenterprise to allow for microenterprise loans up to $35,000 (from $25,000). On January 26 the bill was advanced from General File to Select File. Support

LB 273 (Cunningham) – Would create the “Building Entrepreneurial Communities” program through a $1 million grant program for each of the next two years. Communities and neighborhoods in “chronic economic distress” (high unemployment, low income or population loss) would be eligible for grants up to $75,000 for projects that seek to build entrepreneurial communities. A hearing was held before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on February 4; the Center for Rural Affairs was among those providing testimony in support of the bill. Support

Agriculture/Livestock

LB 71 (Stuhr) – Would re-authorize the Agricultural Opportunities and Value-Added Partnership Act (formerly the LB 1348 grant program). This program was terminated through budget cuts in 2001 and 2002. This bill would reauthorize the program through 2009. The bill is pending in the Agriculture Committee. Support

LB 132 (Cunningham) – This bill modifies the Nebraska Pasteurized Milk Law by providing exemptions to small-scale dairies and processors to the often-expensive bottling and processing requirements, and by allowing dairies and farmers to advertise on-farm sales of non-pasteurized milk (currently, the sale of non-pasteurized milk cannot be advertised). A hearing before the Agriculture Committee was held on February 1; the Center for Rural Affairs was among those providing testimony in support of the bill. Support

LB 346 (Agriculture Committee) – Would modify several provisions of the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act all with the goal to increase utilization of the tax credit. A hearing before the Agriculture Committee was held on February 8; the Center for Rural Affairs was among those providing testimony in support of the bill. Support

Education/Schools

LB 126P (Raikes) – Would mandate the “assimilation” of Class I schools (elementary-only schools) into K-12 school districts for the 2006-07 school year. The bill would eliminate Class I school districts, and would likely end many of the actual school buildings. The bill sits on General File. The Education Committee has designated this as their “First Choice” Priority Bill – debate is scheduled to begin on February 9. Oppose – we believe this bill is forced consolidation of rural schools and sets a bad precedent for state mandated closures of rural schools.

LB 129 (Education Committee) – An overhaul of the formula for state aid to schools. The bill is pending in the Education Committee.

Taxes

LB 133 (Connealy) – Would provide a renewable energy sales tax credit, and would provide any generator of electricity from a renewable resource a credit against any sales and use tax. A hearing is scheduled before the Revenue Committee on February 16.

LB 309 (Connealy) – Would establish the Small Business Rural Microenterprise Tax Credit. The bill would provide for $2 million worth of tax credits annually for small business (with five or fewer employees or beginning farmers/ranchers) in areas with declining population or low incomes or federal enterprise zones. A hearing is scheduled before the Revenue Committee on February 9. Support

LB 404 (Wehrbein) – Would create a tax credit for modernization and expansion of livestock facilities. The goal of the bill is to “attract and retain investment in Nebraska’s livestock industry.” The bill is pending in the Agriculture Committee.

Business Tax Incentives

In this year’s session there are numerous bills relating to amending Nebraska’s business tax incentive laws or creating new tax incentive programs. The primary bill is LB 646, the Advantage Nebraska Act, which would create a new, more generous tax incentive program to take the place of LB 775. It is scheduled for hearing before the Revenue Committee on February 9. A host of other tax incentive bills are scheduled for hearing before the Revenue Committee on February 10 – LBs 482, 224, 313, 312, 696, 520, and 571.

Other

LB 189 (Preister) – Would mandate an electricity portfolio from renewable sources of 1% in 2007 and increasing 1% every year until it reaches 10% in 2017. This would apply to all electricity produced in the state. The bill also creates a mechanism for the buying and selling of credits to meet the portfolio standard. A hearing is scheduled before the Natural Resources Committee on February 10.

LB 208 (Stuthman) – Provides for the appropriation of $1.75 million annually for the next two years to the state’s five federally qualified health clinics to provide services to the uninsured (the clinics are in Omaha, Lincoln and Scottsbluff). Support

LB 550 (Jensen) – Requires a plan to be submitted by December 1, 2005, for the financial support of community health centers and emergency medical services in the state. A hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled for February 9.

LB 655 (Beutler) – Would create the Task Force on Small Employers Health Plans that would review data and policy ideas concerning health care plans for small employers and recommend policy steps for the state on this issue. The bill is scheduled for hearing before the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee on February 22. Support.

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