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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Center for Rural Affairs March 14, 2005 NE Legislative Update

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

Legislative Update
March 14, 2005

Priority Bills Set Remainder of Legislative Agenda

Friday, March 11 was the deadline for Senators and Committees to designate their Priority Bills (we had earlier mistakenly stated March 16 was the deadline – sorry for the confusion). With the session nearing the halfway point (that is March 16), the remainder of the session will be devoted primarily to Priority Bills and completing the state budget.

Any bill that is designated a Priority Bill has a better chance of becoming law because the legislative rules give Priority Bills an advance for floor debate. There is, however, no guarantee that Priority Bills will become law or even receive debate before the entire Legislature – they must first be advanced by committees. But the Priority Bills list does give us glimpse to what the Legislature will be devoting their time in the remainder of the session.

If the bills prioritized are advanced by committees, the list contains many controversial issues that will require extensive debate. The subjects of the Priority Bills include: smoking bans, economic development and tax incentives, gay rights, concealed weapons, Medicaid reform, penalties for injuries to unborn children, prairie dogs, motorcycle helmets, school finance and structure, and repealing legislative term limits.

As of March 11, only 23 of the 49 individual Senator Priority Bills had advanced out of committee. Committees will be meeting over the next couple of weeks in Executive sessions to determine the fate of the Priority Bills and other bills that are still locked up in committee. Generally, any bill that does not advance out of committee (Priority Bill or not) in the next couple of weeks is dead for the session.

Appropriation Committee Hearings

The Appropriations Committee continues it's hearings on agency and program budgets. Highlights of hearing dates over the next week include:

March 14 – Higher Education I: state colleges and community colleges

March 15 – Higher Education II: University of Nebraska

March 16 – Departments of Insurance, Labor and Administrative Services and the Accountability and Disclosure Commission

March 17 – State elected officials and their offices, the Public Service Commission and the Legislative Council

After these hearings are completed, the Appropriations Committee will work on it's final budget recommendation to the Legislature.


Bills Update

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.

NOTE: Once a bill is Indefinitely Postponed (killed) or signed into law, we will remove it from the Legislative Update list.

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 bill sits on Select File. 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 March 9, the Governor approved the bill and signed it into law. Support

LB 273P (Cunningham) – Would create the “Building Entrepreneurial Communities” program through a grant program for each of the next two years. The bill sits on General File. Senator Cunningham designated this as his Priority Bill. Support

Agriculture/Livestock

LB 71P (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. Sen. Stuhr has designated this as her Priority Bill. On March 11, the bill was advanced to Final Reading. During Select File debate, Sen. Mines attached an amendment to the bill that would have deleted individual net worth as a qualifying factor for agricultural project credit under the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority – the current limit is $300,000 in net worth. Sen. Beutler filed an amendment that would have reinstated a $500,000 net worth as a qualifying factor for NIFA credit eligibility. The Mines amendment was primarily intended to allow agricultural projects to qualify for support under the federal New Market Tax Credits. The Mines amendment as amended by the Beutler amendment was adopted. 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). The bill sits on General File. Support

LB 346P (Agriculture Committee) – Would modify several provisions of the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act all with the goal to increase utilization of the tax credit. The Agriculture Committee has designated this as one of their Priority Bills. The bill sits on General File. 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 awaits action on Select File. Oppose.

LB 129P (Education Committee) – An overhaul of the formula for state aid to schools. The bill is pending in the Education Committee. The Education Committee designated this as a Priority Bill.

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. The bill is pending in the Revenue Committee.

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. The bill is pending in the Revenue Committee. 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

Senator Connealy designated LB 312 as his priority bill. That bill modified LB 775’s job and investment requirements and links LB 775 benefits to wages paid relative to the state’s average weekly wage. From public statements by Sen. Connealy, LB 312 may become the vehicle for a negotiated modification of the state’s business tax incentive laws and include a provision specifically targeted to rural businesses.

Other

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). The bill is pending in the Appropriations Committee. 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. The bill awaits action by the Health and Human Services Committee.

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 pending in the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. Support.

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