Nebraska Association of County Officials

Legislative Report
February 21, 2020 Legislative Report Archive
Priority Bill Designations Set Tone for Second Half of Session
Property taxes, school finance reform, tax incentives, and rural broadband are a few of the issues that are likely to be debated as afternoon committee hearings conclude and the Legislature moves into full days of floor debate on March 3. The debate will focus on measures that have been designated as priority bills. Each senator may designate one personal priority bill and most committees may designate two bills. The Speaker may designate 25 bills as speaker priorities. Speaker priority bills will be announced next week.
 
Some of the priority bills of interest to counties are listed below by number, introducer, one-line description, and senator or committee that prioritized the bill. The full list of priority bills is available here.
 
LB996 (Brandt) Create the Broadband Data Improvement Program. Brandt
LB930 (Briese) Require a minimum amount of tax relief under the Property Tax Credit Act. Briese
LB924 (Chambers) Change provisions relating to racial profiling and require law enforcement training. Chambers
LB1073 (DeBoer) Create the School Financing Review Commission, add basic funding aid, and change adjusted valuations, the local effort rate, and certification dates. DeBoer
LR300CA (Erdman) Constitutional amendment to prohibit all forms of taxation other than a consumption tax. Erdman
LB1021 (Groene) Provide for an expedited review of certain redevelopment plans under the Community Development Law. Groene
LB881 (M. Hansen) Prohibit deductions of fines from bonds. M. Hansen
LB931 (Hughes) Change a harvested products maximum weight overload exception under the Nebraska Rules of the Road. Hughes
LB912 (Brandt) Change provisions relating to examination of witnesses by telephonic, videoconferencing, and similar methods. Lathrop
LR288 (Slama) Urge Congress and the United States Corps of Engineers to prioritize flood control as a top priority for the management of water systems under their authority in the Missouri River Mainstream Reservoir System Water Control Manual. Slama
LB424 (Quick) Change the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act. St inner
LB1056 (Lowe) Provide for temporary expansion of licensed premises under the Nebraska Liquor Control Act. G eneral Affairs Committee
LB1055 (Brewer) Change provisions for voting by mail in certain counties. Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
LB1054 (Kolterman) Define the required beginning date and change deferment of payment provisions under certain retirement plans. N ebraska Retirement Systems Committee
LB1074 (Linehan) Change provisions relating to the assessment of improvements on leased lands and the collection of certain fees and taxes. R evenue Committee
LB974 (Revenue Committee) Change taxation and school funding provisions. Revenue Committee
LB944 (Geist) Change provisions relating to motor vehicles. Transportation and Telecommunications Committee
LB992 (Friesen) Adopt the Broadband Internet Service Infrastructure Act and provide for certain broadband and Internet-related services. Transportation and Telecommunications Committee
LB1003 (Walz) Provide annexation powers to cities of the second class and villages for relocation due to catastrophic flooding. Urban Affairs Committee
Property Tax Relief Bill Stalls on First Round
First-round debate on the Revenue Committee’s property tax relief proposal stalled after three hours of debate this week. As introduced, LB974 would provide additional state funding for schools and lower assessment levels for paying school taxes. The bill would reduce the valuation of ag land from 75 percent of actual value to 55 percent of actual value over a two-year period. Valuations of residential and commercial property would be reduced from 100 percent to 85 percent over a three-year period. The reduced valuations would be used for determining property taxes levied by school districts. Other taxing entities, including counties, would continue to use 100 percent of the actual value for residential and commercial property and 75 percent for ag land. A committee amendment is pending.
 
In order to return the bill to the agenda, Senator Lou Ann Linehan, Revenue Committee chair, must show that there are 33 votes in support of the measure. LB974 was prioritized by the Revenue Committee.
 
Several other property tax relief bills are pending. LB1073 was introduced and prioritized by Senator Wendy DeBoer. The bill would lower the value of agricultural land to 55 percent for the school aid formula. The local effort rate would be reduced and a new source of state aid to schools, basic funding aid, would be created. LB1073 was heard last week and remains in the Education Committee.
 
LB1213, which will be heard by the Revenue Committee on Thursday, February 27, would eliminate inheritance taxes for Class I beneficiaries (direct lineal descendants). The bill would also reduce the valuation of real property for all political subdivisions, change the sales tax rate and apply the tax to certain foods and services, eliminate sales tax exemptions, and enact a new school aid formula.
Committee Hears Bill to Require Public Comment at All Meetings
County boards and other public bodies would have to allow public comments at all meetings under a proposal heard by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday. LB1167 would not require public bodies to open the floor for comments on every agenda item individually, but would require that there is a time for public comments at every meeting. Existing law provides that public bodies are not required to allow public comments at every meeting, but may not forbid public participation at all meetings. 
 
Senator Joni Albrecht, the introducer, said that the bill would increase transparency and allow people who take off work or drive long distances in order to comment at a public meeting to know that they have an opportunity to be heard. She said that LB1167 would not change the board’s authority to set reasonable rules and regulations about the conduct of persons attending and speaking at meetings. Representatives from taxpayer groups and the ACLU testified in support of the bill.
 
NACO and representatives from cities, school boards and natural resources districts testified in opposition to LB1167. They noted concerns about the governing body’s liability for libelous or slanderous comments that could be made at a public hearing. For example, during one city’s public comment period, a citizen asserted that her neighbor was selling drugs due to the number of people coming and going from the neighbor’s house. She publicly identified the neighbor by name and address. The neighbor, who was a cosmetic salesperson distributing products to her sales representatives, had no notice that she was going to be accused of illegal activities at the meeting.
 
Opponents also said that some public bodies require potential speakers to submit advance requests to speak at public meetings that include their topic of discussion. Staff often contact the speaker and help them resolve the issue prior to the meeting.
 
The committee has not reported action on the bill.
Broadband Data Collection Bill Advances from First Round
Crowdsourcing would be used to determine the speed of broadband in all areas of the state under LB996 that was advanced from General File this week. Senator Tom Brandt introduced and prioritized the bill to position Nebraska to receive a share of more than $20 billion in federal funds to improve broadband access. Under the Form 477 process that is currently used to determine coverage, if any area within a census tract has service, the entire tract is considered to have coverage. Although telecommunications companies are likely to have more detailed data, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires state, federal, and tribal authorities to determine coverage. The Public Service Commission would administer the program.
 
Other Bills Debated on First Round
Senators advanced seven other priority bills from General File this week, including LB909 and LB1016.

LB909 is a cleanup bill that was prioritized by the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. A committee amendment that was adopted before the bill advanced from General File includes provisions from six other bills, including LB854 that revises the Public Funds Deposit Security Act and last year’s legislation on the single bank pooled collateral method of holding public funds. It would provide that a financial institution could not retain any deposit of public funds which is required to be secured for more than ten days without having secured the deposits for the benefit of the governmental entity. It would require statements about pledging requirements to be sent to governmental units, rather than custodial officials. If the governmental unit agrees in advance, the reports could be posted on the administrator’s website for access by the governmental entity.
 
LB1016, a Business and Labor Committee priority bill, would prohibit employers from retaliating or discriminating against an employee who files a complaint or participates in an investigation under the Wage Payment Collection Act.
 
LB790, a Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee priority bill, was debated on Thursday but time ran out before a vote was taken. The bill would allow the State of Nebraska to purchase from bids let by political subdivisions in other states. Senator Julie Slama, who introduced the bill, offered an amendment, AM2436, that would bring LB890 into the bill. LB890 would extend the authority of local governments to use a design-build process to the construction of sewer projects. Several senators opposed the original provisions of LB790, arguing that its single-source purchasing method would give too much authority to the Department of Administrative Services, which handles the state’s bidding. The bill appears on Monday’s agenda for continued debate.
Hearing Set on Election of County Election Commissioners
On Thursday, February 27, the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hear LB1022, a bill to require the election of county election commissioners in counties with a population over 40,000. Under existing law, the governor appoints the election commissioner in Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties. In counties between 20,000 and 100,000, the county board can appoint an election commissioner. Buffalo, Cass, Hall, and Platte counties have appointed election commissioners. In all other counties, the county clerk serves as election commissioner.
 
The question of appointing election commissioners was raised this fall when the Attorney General wrote an opinion asserting that the practice was unconstitutional and later filed suit with the Nebraska Supreme Court. When the Attorney General and Secretary of State could not agree on the facts of the case, it was sent to the Lancaster County District Court. In December, a separate lawsuit was filed in Hall County to challenge the appointment of election commissioners in Hall, Buffalo, Cass and Platte counties.
 
The committee will also hear LB744 that would allow for the appointment of a county engineer in counties over 150,000.
Snapshots of Committee Hearings
The Legislature’s standing committees continued to hold hearings on new bills this week.

Partial Payments of Property Taxes
NACO testified in opposition to LB1087, a bill to require county treasurers to accept partial payments for real and personal property taxes, interest, publication costs, and penalties. Existing law allows county boards to pass a resolution authorizing county treasurers to accept partial payments. Treasurers can require minimum, limited, or periodic payments and hold the money in escrow until the accumulated payments are sufficient to pay at least one-half of the real property taxes currently due or the full amount of any delinquency, plus interest, penalties, and any other charges. Partial payments of personal property taxes can be held until the accumulated payments are sufficient to pay the full amount of the delinquency for one year and any interest, penalties or other charged due to the delinquency.
 
LB1087 would eliminate the county board’s authority to pass a resolution to accept partial payments and would require all counties to accept such payments. The Revenue Committee has not reported any action on the bill.
 
Local Public Health Department Funding
LB1018 would appropriate $6.5 million to the Department of Health and Human Services to be distributed to local public health departments. Each of the 18 health departments would receive $150,000 and the remaining $3.8 million would be distributed based upon population. The committee also heard a bill to appropriate $3 million for the seven federally qualified health centers ( LB1019). The Appropriations Committee heard the bills on February 18.
 
Elimination of the Brand Committee
Three county sheriffs, NACO, and members of the Brand Committee testified against a bill that would shift the duties of brand inspectors to local law enforcement officers. LB1165 would eliminate the Brand Committee and transfer administrative roles, such as recording brands, to the Department of Agriculture. County sheriffs would be responsible for selling estray livestock in all areas of the state and county treasurers would hold and distribute the proceeds of the sale. Existing law requires the Brand Committee to perform these functions in areas of the state that are part of the brand inspection area.
 
Tax Increment Financing
Tax increment financing (TIF) would be available for smaller, lower-cost projects under LB1021. Senator Mike Groene introduced and prioritized the bill to encourage the rehabilitation of older homes and business buildings in areas declared extremely blighted in counties of less than 150,000. Amendments are expected to address technical changes that were pointed out during the hearing.
 
The Urban Affairs Committee also heard and advanced LB876 and LB801. LB876 would exempt areas which have been designated as extremely blighted from the maximum percentage of a municipality that can be declared blighted. LB801 would clarify and clean up sections of the Community Development Law related to TIF. It would eliminate the requirement to provide a map of extremely blighted areas in the notice of public hearing on the declaration and consolidate notice requirements.
 
Relocation of Cities Due to Flooding
Cities of the second class and villages would be allowed to annex noncontiguous land to relocate part or all of the city or village due to catastrophic flooding. LB1003, which was introduced by Senator Lynn Walz and prioritized by the Urban Affairs Committee, would require a two-thirds vote of the city council or village board of trustees for the annexation. It was introduced to provide flexibility to the village of Winslow, which was severely damaged in last year’s flooding. NACO worked with Senator Walz on an amendment to further define the term “catastrophic flooding”.
 
Definition of Immediate Family for Accountability and Disclosure
LB878 would revise the definition of immediate family in the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Act so that it would apply to children of public officials, regardless of where they live. Existing law applies to children who reside within the household of the public official, as well as spouses or persons claimed on the official’s tax returns. Public officials are prohibited from taking action or making decisions that could cause financial benefit or detriment to the official, a member of his or her immediate family, or a business with which the official is associated. Officials are prohibited from employing, recommending, or supervising immediate family members without proper disclosures.
 
The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee also heard bills that would allow campaign funds to be used for child care during a public official’s duties ( LB935) and travel for the officeholder’s immediate family members ( LB936). 
Bills Signed by Governor Ricketts
On February 19, Governor Ricketts signed several bills, including LB387, that was introduced on behalf of NACO. LB387 would modernize jury selection statutes and clarify procedures.
 
He also signed bills to regulate liquor in charter bus services ( LB734) and allow state officials and employees to be paid a per diem, rather than actual expenses, for meal and travel reimbursements ( LB381)
Reminder: NACO Scholarship Applications are Due March 1
Each year, NACO awards twelve scholarships to the children and stepchildren of county officials and employees. Click here for details.
Hearing Schedule for Selected Bills
Every bill introduced by the Legislature is the subject of a public hearing. Following is a schedule of bills that are of interest to counties. Note that bills not appearing on this list may be heard during the same hearing. A complete list of hearings is available on the Legislature's website.Hearings will conclude on February 27.

If you are unable or do not wish to testify in person, you may submit a written position letter that will be included in the official hearing record. Such letters must be delivered to the office of the committee conducting the hearing or emailed to the committee chair by 5:00 p.m. on the last work day immediately prior to the hearing. Letters must include your name, address, bill number, position (for, against, neutral), and a request that it be included as part of the public hearing record. For tips about testifying at a hearing, click here.

Monday February 24, 2020
Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee
Room 1507 - 1:30 PM
LB1108 (Gragert) Change provisions relating to property under the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act, the School Employees Retirement Act, and the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act

Tuesday February 25, 2020
Education Committee
Room 1525 - 1:30 PM
LB1156 (Vargas) Provide for a statewide school panic button program

Wednesday February 26, 2020
Judiciary Committee
Room 1113 - 1:30 PM
LB749 (Blood) Adopt the Nebraska Anti-Terrorism Act
LB1113 (Kolowski) Provide that photographing or recording a peace officer is not obstruction of justice

Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
Room 1507 - 1:30 PM
LB1121 (La Grone) Change incumbent filing deadlines and remove obsolete election provisions
LB1122 (La Grone) Change provisions regarding counting boards for early voting
LB1005 (McCollister) Change provisions regarding nomination and election of certain partisan candidates
LR286CA (Cavanaugh) Constitutional amendment to remove felony convictions other than treason from being a disqualification for voting

Thursday February 27, 2020
Judiciary Committee
Room 1113 - 1:30 PM
LB750 (Blood) Prohibit discrimination based on military or veteran status
LB1091 (Vargas) Adopt the Face Surveillance Privacy Act

Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee
Room 1507 - 1:30 PM
LR292CA (La Grone) Constitutional amendment to require verification of identity prior to voting
LB1022 (Hansen, M.) Provide for election of election commissioners and eliminate certain deputy positions
LB744 (Blood) Authorize appointment of county engineer in certain counties and change powers and duties
LB752 (Blood) Provide duties and programs relating to veterans

Revenue Committee
Room 1524 - 1:30 PM
LB1012 (La Grone) Change provisions relating to tax exemptions for property acquired by certain tax-exempt entities
LB1125 (Cavanaugh) Provide a new homestead exemption and authorize the late filing of homestead exemption applications
LB1192 (Linehan) Limit the total amount reimbursed by the state for homestead exemptions
LB1212 (Hansen, B.) Adopt the Property Tax Request Act
LB1213 (Hansen, B.) Change tax and school funding provisions