Nebraska Association of County Officials

Legislative Report
April 2, 2021 Legislative Report Archive View the video Legislative Report here
General File Priority Bills Debated
Senators spent much of this week debating and advancing priority bills from General File, the first round of debate. Monday morning started with a short list of General File consent calendar bills, including LB41 that would add townships to the list of entities that automatically receive their distribution of tax dollars rather than having to make a request for distribution. Cities, schools, educational service units, county agricultural societies, and fire districts already receive distributions automatically.
 
Later, senators advanced a bill to allow first class cities to annex property that is separated from the city by property owned by the federal government or a natural resources district. LB9 would also allow land within flood zones and air use zones to be eligible for special valuation.
 
LB247, a bill to create the Mental Health Crisis Hotline Task Force, was advanced from General File on Wednesday. The task force would develop a plan to integrate existing hotlines with the new federally-approved 988 mental health crisis hotline number. The federal legislation allows states to impose a surcharge on wireless devices to fund the 988 hotline. Senators discussed whether the new service should be connected to existing public safety answering points and NextGen 911 since 911 is the traditional emergency number. Other senators said channeling mental health calls to a dedicated hotline would free up time for law enforcement to deal with other kinds of emergencies.
 
When the Legislature returns from recess on Tuesday, the day will begin with another General File consent calendar. Among the bills on the agenda are LB224, which would eliminate a requirement to appoint a surveyor from “any other” county, and LB105, which would clarify dates used for reporting unpaid claims that appear on the semiannual statements published by treasurers. Other bills would allow political subdivisions to use design-build and construction manager at-risk contracts for water, wastewater, utility, and sewer construction (LB414) and require the minutes of cemetery association meetings to be delivered to the county clerk in the county where the cemetery is located (LB312).
 
The General File consent calendar will be followed by a Select File consent calendar that includes LB41.
 
Among the bills that appear on the regular agenda and may be debated later in the week are measures to extend virtual meeting authority beyond the pandemic (LB83) and the Property Tax Request Act (LB644). The latter would require counties, cities, school districts and community colleges to hold a joint hearing if their property tax requests exceed the prior year. Counties would have to send a personalized postcard notice of the hearing and proposed changes to all property owners.

Appropriations Committee Sends Budget to Full Legislature
On Thursday the Appropriations Committees released the proposed budget for the coming biennium. It includes $706,000 for riparian vegetation grants and funding for local public health departments, law enforcement training, and problem-solving courts for mental health.

When the 2020 session adjourned, the state's projected financial status was $787.5 million below the minimum reserves. Since then, the state's financial status has improved due to changed forecasts, increased receipts, lower spending, shifts due to the suspended 2020 session, and the use of coronavirus funds, among other factors. The proposed budget projects an ending balance of $211 million that can be spent by the Legislature.

Debate on the budget will begin next Thursday, April 8, and is expected to be concluded by the following Thursday. After the budget is finalized, debate will move to taxation and spending measures. LB408, a bill to limit annual property tax increases to three percent, is expected to be one of the primary bills to be debated.   

Broadband Bill Advanced from First Round
New broadband deployments that receive state funding or local support from broadband stimulus funds would have to meet higher speed thresholds under an amendment to LB338. The new thresholds of 100 megabits per second for both uploading and downloading significantly exceed existing standards of 25 megabits per second for uploading and 3 megabits per second for downloading. Funding recipients would have to submit random speed tests from consumers in locations where high-cost support is received. The amendment adds a rural-based option for redistributing funds withdrawn from companies that do not meet the Public Service Commission’s criteria for successful investment of funds to deploy high-speed internet services in unserved and underserved areas.
 
Senators debated whether the new standards might lead providers to cherry-pick areas to provide service and leave other areas unserved. Senator Justin Wayne offered and withdrew an amendment based on LB656 that would allow cities to provide broadband service. LB338 was advanced from General File on Wednesday.
 
Further discussion of broadband deployment will occur when debate is scheduled on LB388 that would provide $20 million in grant funding annually as part of the Broadband Bridge Program. LB388 was introduced by Senator Curt Friesen at the request of Governor Ricketts and prioritized by Speaker Mike Hilgers.
Consumption Tax Constitutional Amendment Sent to Floor
The Revenue Committee sent LR11CA, a proposed constitutional amendment to enact a consumption tax, to the full body of the Legislature this week. The consumption tax would replace individual and corporate income taxes, personal and real property taxes, inheritance taxes, and sales taxes. The Tax Equalization and Review Commission would be eliminated. The Legislature would be required to enact a state consumption tax on the purchases of services and new goods except for fuel. It could also authorize political subdivisions to enact their own consumption taxes. The question would be presented to voters at the November 2022 general election and, if passed, would begin no later than January 1, 2024. Senator Steve Erdman introduced and prioritized LR11CA. He also introduced LB133, the Nebraska EPIC Consumption Tax Act, which would implement the concepts in LR11CA. LB133 remains in committee and did not receive a priority designation.
 
The committee also reported out LB542, which would authorize the state to issue up to $400 million in bonds to complete highway projects identified for funding under the Build Nebraska Act. A committee amendment would increase the cap to $450 million and designate 75 percent for the expressway system and high priority corridors. Senator Lynne Walz designated LB542 as her priority bill.
 
The School Property Tax Stabilization Act, LB454, would provide state funding to schools when their property tax requirement exceeds 70 percent of the formula need calculated for the district. As introduced, agricultural and horticultural land would be valued at 65 percent of actual value for tax year 2022 and 55 percent thereafter. A committee amendment would strike the valuation portion of the bill. Senator Curt Friesen introduced and prioritized LB454.
 
None of these bills have been scheduled for debate.

Law Enforcement Certification Bill Advanced by Judiciary Committee
LB51, a bill to revise law enforcement certification and training requirements, was reported to the floor by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Under the proposed committee amendment, the current 20 hours of continuing education for law enforcement officers would be expanded to 32 hours in 2023 with education required in de-escalation, mental health, and substance abuse, as well as implicit bias, firearms, pursuit policies, and other topics. Entry-level law enforcement officers could serve for 16 weeks before attending training but their public interaction would be restricted until their training and certification is complete. Unless a new officer hired by a law enforcement agency has already served in Nebraska, a psychological evaluation would be required. Law enforcement agencies would be required to have a policy regarding accepting and investigating complaints of officer misconduct. The use of chokeholds and carotid restraint control holds would be prohibited. Law enforcement agencies would have to be certified by the Crime Commission. Agencies without accreditation would not be eligible for loans, grants, or other funds administered by the Commission. A list of officers who have had their certifications revoked, have certain criminal convictions, or have engaged in serious misconduct would be posted on the Commission’s website. LB51 is a Judiciary Committee priority bill and has not yet been scheduled for debate.
 
The committee also advanced the Medicinal Cannabis Act (LB474) and a measure regarding transitional housing for recently-released inmates (LB525). LB474 would create a regulatory structure for the sale and distribution of medical marijuana. Counties, cities, and villages could not enact ordinances or regulations to prohibit the delivery of cannabis, products, or accessories for use under the act or make it impractical. LB474 was introduced and prioritized by Senator Anna Wishart.
 
LB525 would require providers of transitional housing that receive money from the state or a county to abide by all zoning and occupancy standards of the jurisdiction where it is located. The occupancy limit would have to be posted in conspicuous place on the exterior of the facility. Contact information would need to be posted and made available to residents and the supervising public agency. LB525 did not receive a priority designation.

Bills Passed by the Legislature
County clerks would no longer issue locksmith registration certificates under LB169 that was passed by the Legislature on Thursday. Existing laws do not address background checks for applicants, periodic renewals, and other issues typically found in licensing laws. Governor Ricketts has five days, excluding Sunday, to decide whether to sign the bill.
 
Some of the other bills that passed would change the filing deadline to perfect liens on fertilizer and ag chemicals (LB177) and facilitate the issuance of teaching certificates to military spouses (LB389).

Bills Signed by Governor Ricketts
On March 31, Governor Pete Ricketts signed the following bills of interest to counties. Most bills become law three calendar months after the session adjourns.
 
County clerks will not have to submit a monthly marriage license report to the Department of Health and Human Services under LB93. The report is not necessary because the information is available electronically. The bill was introduced by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee at NACO’s request.
 
LB94 ratifies actions taken pursuant to Governor Ricketts’ Executive Order 20-13 which allowed early implementation of the Online Notary Public Act during the pandemic.
 
LB368 and LB369 add authority for the State Auditor to obtain access to working papers and audit reports. A late fee of $20 per day could be imposed for failure to provide access or file reports.
 
LB66 makes technical cleanups to laws passed in 2019 to allow financial institutions to use a single-bank pooled collateral system to provide security for deposits of public funds in excess of FDIC coverage. Because the bill carries an emergency clause, it is already in effect.
 
LB113 updates motor vehicle statutes and creates a funding mechanism for a new Motor Carrier Division computer system within the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). DMV is allowed to charge postage and handling fees on all specialty license plates mailed directly from production to the customer. Counties are already allowed to charge for postage to mail license plates to customers. It allows transfer-on-death beneficiary designations to be added, changed, or removed from electronic motor vehicle and boat titles without printing the title.
 
LB509 revises statutes related to the State Treasurer’s office, including replacing language requiring the State Treasurer to “draw a warrant on the State Treasurer in favor of” counties with a requirement to “make payments to” counties.