Nebraska Association of County Officials

Legislative Report
Three Days Remain in Reconvened Legislative Session
When the Legislature meets on Tuesday, August 11 after a four-day break, senators will have three days to wrap up the state’s business before adjourning sine die on August 13. Debate during the session’s final 17 days has been marked by tension, emotion, and accusations of partisanship.
 
Despite this session’s challenges, the number of bills passed compares favorably to the data from 2018, the most recent 60-day session. Thus far, the Legislature has passed 55 bills, with 28 remaining on Select File and 36 on Final Reading. On the 57th day in 2018, 60 bills had been passed, 34 were on Select File and none were on Final Reading.
 
When the session reconvened after a four-month suspension, one of highest priorities was adopting the state budget. The budget is on a two-year cycle, with the mainline appropriations adopted in the first year of the biennium. During the second year, adjustments are adopted to reflect changes in the state’s fiscal situation, deficit appropriations, and other necessary spending. This year’s budget bills, LB1008 and LB1009, were passed by the Legislature last week and signed by Governor Ricketts on Thursday. The budget appropriates an additional $1.5 million for local public health departments. Unallocated coronavirus relief funds will be reoffered through a grant process and excess federal coronavirus funds will be transferred to the state’s cash reserves, if allowed.
 
Tuesday’s agenda starts with debate on LB1107, a property tax relief and business incentive package, followed by LB814, a bill to prohibit certain kinds of abortion. Later, after debate on a handful of bills on Select File, all of the bills on Final Reading appear on the agenda.

Property Tax "Grand Compromise" Advanced from First Round
A “grand compromise” property tax package was advanced from General File on Wednesday on a 43-2 vote. The 149-page amendment to LB1107 would create refundable income tax credits based upon the amount of school property taxes paid, gradually increase the state property tax relief fund, increase funding for business tax incentives, and allocate funding for a project at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. A coalition of senators, referred to as the “Super Seven”, developed the amendment to garner buy-in from supporters of property tax relief who insisted that property tax relief must be adopted before tax incentives are approved. Several property tax bills and amendments had been debated earlier in the session but failed to advance.
 
Several amendments were pending when a cloture vote was taken and further revisions are expected to be proposed during Select File debate on Tuesday. As it now stands, the bill would set a minimum of $275 million in the Property Tax Credit Fund that appears on property owners’ tax statements and create a $125 million refundable income tax credit. Depending on the state’s net receipts and the amount held in the state’s cash reserves, additional funding for the programs could be required. By the end of the fifth year, the amount available for credit would have to be $375 million. After that, increases would be tied to the amount of overall statewide growth in valuations. The $10,000 personal property tax credit exemption would be eliminated. New caps would be set for the ImagiNE tax incentive act. The bill assumes growth in state revenues and would need to be adjusted by future legislatures if revenues do not grow.
 
In February, LB1107 was designated as a Speaker priority bill. On Tuesday, after it was sent to the floor by the Revenue Committee with AM3316, it was designated as a Speaker’s major proposal. Senator Justin Wayne contested the authority for the latter designation under the body’s rules. Other senators questioned the constitutionality of combining diverse bills into a single amendment. Procedural motions were offered to rearrange the agenda, temporarily recess debate, and overrule decisions of the chair on the motions, among others. Much of the rules discussion occurred during the time allotted for floor debate on LB814, a bill to ban certain kinds of abortions. LB814 eventually advanced from General File after a cloture vote to end debate was successful.
 
On Thursday, senators debated to a bill to decouple Nebraska’s taxes from federal taxes in response to changes made by the CARES Act. The change was expected to add $82 million to state coffers by eliminating a deduction for business losses for high-income business owners.  Time ran out before a vote was taken.  Because LB1074 was on General File, there is not time for the bill to pass this year.
Treasurer Continuing Education Advances from Select File
County treasurers would be required to annually complete continuing education approved by the Auditor of Public Accounts in consultation with NACO under LB781. Counties would be responsible for the costs of attending the program. The Auditor would maintain attendance records and notify the county board, county attorney, and Attorney General if a treasurer did not complete the annual training.
 
The bill contains provisions from LB1047 that would allow posting of the semiannual statement of accounts on a county’s website to be considered compliance with publication requirements if timely newspaper publication is not possible. It would consolidate and modernize the list of funds that must be published.
 
LB781 advanced from Select File, the second round of debate, on Monday.  It appears on next Tuesday’s Final Reading agenda.

Broadband Bill Debated on Select File
Other bills discussed during the second round debate this week include the following:
 
LB992 would enact the Broadband Internet Service Infrastructure Act to facilitate the use of electric utility easements and electric utility infrastructure for commercial broadband facilities. It creates the position of state broadband coordinator, beginning on July 1, 2022. It would enact recommendations from the Broadband Task Force and create a program through the Public Service Commission to provide incentives for fiber option cable to be constructed to benefit public libraries.
 
LB1056 would allow farm wineries and certain other liquor license holders to apply for a temporary expansion of their premises for special events. Counties and cities issuing the permits could establish criteria for approving or denying the applications. LB992 and LB1056 advanced from Select File and are scheduled for Final Reading next week.
 
Senators debated LB632, a bill that would prohibit counties and cities from enacting ordinances or resolutions that prohibit the use of fees, prohibitions, or requirements regarding the sale, use, or marketing of containers. Debate focused on limiting the authority of local governments to ban the use of plastic bags. Time ran out before a vote on cloture or advancement could be taken. LB632 appears on Tuesday’s agenda for continued Select File debate.
MicroTIF Advances from First Round
Tax increment financing would be available for smaller “microTIF” projects under the amended version of a bill advanced from first-round debate on Tuesday. Only properties in substandard and blighted areas in counties under 100,000 would be eligible. Structures would have to be at least 60 years old. Redevelopers would submit redevelopment plans, including permits and an application fee, directly to the city council for an expedited review. When the work is finished, the redeveloper would notify the county assessor to determine whether the project is complete and set the assessed value of the redeveloped property. Taxes for microTIF projects would be divided for a period not to exceed 10 years, compared to 15 years for other TIF projects.
 
Among the other bills advanced from the first round of debate this week was LB1004 which would revise parole eligibility to address prison overcrowding. Persons with an indeterminate sentence would be parole-eligible within two years of their mandatory discharge date. It is intended to encourage prisoners to complete their programming earlier so they can be released earlier.
Election Omnibus Bill Passed by Legislature
The Legislature passed the following bills of interest to counties this week:
 
LB1055 is an omnibus election bill that sets guidelines for poll watchers, requires all counties to have a secure ballot drop box, and prohibits special elections in certain months close to statewide primary or general elections.
 
LB881 is an omnibus criminal procedure bill. It addresses automatic deductions of fines from bonds, defines the availability of copies of transcripts of grand jury proceedings for deaths in custody or detention, and requires the appointment of counsel when bonds are set for indigent defendants.
 
LB1130 would provide clarification to legislation adopted last year to require members of mutual finance organizations to levy the same property tax rate. Mutual finance organizations are groups of fire districts, cities, or villages that sign interlocal agreements to provide fire emergency responses or training for a joint area of operation.

Bills Signed by Governor Ricketts
Although not yet officially reported by the Legislature, on Thursday Governor Ricketts signed bills to require law enforcement officers to annually attend two hours of anti-bias training (LB924) and a series of bills requiring strategic plans for the youth rehabilitation and treatment centers and Kearney and Geneva and halting movement of some youth to the Hasting Regional Center (LB1140 and LB1148).