Nebraska Association of County Officials

Legislative Report
COVID-19 Concerns Change Legislative Procedures
In response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, the Legislature has implemented new procedures for visitors and lobbyists. Visitors will not be allowed in the chamber or in the balconies. Schools will be encouraged to postpone visits until next year. Lobbyists will not use notes to ask senators to go to the rotunda for conversation but will instead use the notes as a message service to which senators can reply in writing or schedule a meeting.
 
If there is one confirmed community spread case in Lincoln, the Legislature will recess for an indeterminate time. The Nebraska Constitution requires the Legislature to convene on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January for a session not to exceed 90 legislative days in odd-numbered years nor more than 60 legislative days in even-numbered years, unless extended by a four-fifths vote of the elected members of the Legislature. The Constitution does not set a date to adjourn. The decision whether the Legislature will convene will be made on a day-by-day basis. Information will be posted on the Legislature’s website.
 
County officials are encouraged to monitor the situation, review preparedness plans, and communicate with their health directors. The NACO/MIPS office will remain open to respond to calls and emails and provide support. The NACO website provides links to the Center for Disease Control and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Mid-Biennium Budget Advanced from General File
After eight hours of debate and two cloture motions, the Legislature advanced two state budget bills from General File on Thursday. What was expected to be a routine comparison of the Appropriations Committee’s recommendations to the governor’s proposed budget became a rural-urban debate on topics ranging from property tax relief to drinking water and irrigation district repairs to workforce development.
 
As introduced, LB1008 contains mid-biennium budget adjustments and $53 million for FY20 for the Governor’s Emergency Fund. Appropriations Committee amendments would reduce the amount to $46 million. In addition, the amendment includes the $9.2 million recommended by the Governor to help counties affected by last year’s flooding to pay their 12.5 percent share to receive FEMA matching funds.
 
The amendment added provisions from a number of bills, including LB1018, which would provide funding for public health departments. As introduced, LB1018 would have appropriated $6.5 million for the 18 public health departments. As amended into LB1008, the appropriation was reduced to $1.5 million. Several senators noted the need for to re-evaluate the reduced appropriation in light of the duties of health departments in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Appropriations Committee chair John Stinner offered an amendment for debate on Select File that would make $10 million available for a public health emergency response to the virus.
 
LB1009 would authorize the fund transfers needed for the mainline budget bill.
 
During a short session, the Legislature’s rules require the budget to be placed on General File by the 40 th day, which was March 12 this year. The budget bills are scheduled for Select File debate on Tuesday and Final Reading is tentatively planned for Friday. More amendments and extended debate are expected on Select File. The rules require the appropriations bills to be passed by the 50 th day of a 60-day session.
Bills Debated on General File this Week
The Legislature debated and advanced bills from General File this week.
 
Annexation Authority for Flooded Cities and Villages
LB1003, which would allow cities of the second class and villages to annex noncontiguous land to relocate after catastrophic flooding, was advanced from General File on Tuesday. The bill was introduced by Senator Lynn Walz and prioritized by the Urban Affairs Committee to provide an option for the village of Winslow, which was flooded last spring. If the village rebuilds at the same location and is destroyed again, it will not be eligible for FEMA funds to rebuild again. If property is annexed but the city or village has not been relocated in whole or part within five years, disconnection procedures must be started.
 
The bill also includes provisions from a tax increment financing clean-up bill ( LB801), a 97-page clean-up of statutes related to primary class cities ( LB799), and several other bills on municipal issues.
 
Electronic Small Claims Court Filings
LB1028 would eliminate a requirement for small claims court filings to be made in front of a judge, clerk, or notary. Removing this requirement would allow filings to be made electronically. Some of the other bills amended into LB1028 include LB1029 that would allow preservation duplicates of court records to be retained electronically, rather than in microfilm, and LB1030 that would increase the time frame for state courts to transmit funds from fines, costs, and forfeited recognizances to counties from 10 days to 30 days.
 
Electronic Testimony in Civil Cases
LB912, as introduced, would allow judges in civil cases to authorize experts and other witnesses in civil cases to provide testimony electronically. Senator Tom Brandt, the introducer, said counties might see a slight cost savings from not having to transport inmates to civil proceedings. A Judiciary Committee amendment was adopted that would incorporate provisions from LB869 to allow the Supreme Court to adopt rules to provide uniform methods for clerks of the district court to issue deposition and discovery subpoenas for out of state civil lawsuits. Other bills included in the committee amendment would create processes to expedite civil actions ( LB1027) and revise duties for attorneys acting as parenting plan mediators ( LB868).
 
Mutual Finance Organization Levy Clarification
LB1130 would provide clarification to legislation adopted last year on levies by mutual finance organizations. Mutual finance organizations are groups of fire districts, cities, or villages that enter into interlocal agreements to provide fire emergency responses or training for a joint area of operation. The participants must agree to levy the same property tax rate within the boundaries to jointly fund the operation of all its members at least once every three years. Funding is provided at a rate of $10 per person within the assumed population of the organization’s area. LB1130 would change the dates to apply for funds to more closely align with budget timelines. It would clarify the duration of agreements and the timing of levying the same rate.
 
Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center Package
Four bills directed at placement of juveniles and services provided at the youth rehabilitation and treatment centers (YRTCs), were advanced from General File on Tuesday. LB1188 would clarify the division of responsibilities for education and facilities between the Office of Juvenile Services, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Administrative Services. LB1140 would statutorily define the roles and responsibilities of YTRCs. A committee amendment would require the development of operations plans and emergency placement plans that could include placement at criminal detention facilities, if allowed by law. LB1144 would require additional reporting to the Office of the Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare and create a special oversight committee of the Legislature to review YRTC issues. LB1148 would require courts to specifically commit juveniles to the YRTC in Kearney or Geneva. Treatment plans for each juvenile would be provided to the court.
 
Bills Debated but not Advanced
Debate on LB1056, a bill to create a streamlined process for issuing liquor licenses to temporarily expand the location of the permit to an area adjacent to a draft brewery, winery, or other permit holder, began on Friday, March 6 and was scheduled for further debate on Monday, March 9. It was passed over and has not appeared on the agenda since then.
 
LB910 , a bill to consolidate four administrative fees charged by the Secretary of State to reduce reliance on the state’s General Fund, was debated on General File on March 11. Senators debated the merits of user fees and whether they should be used to offset property taxes. No vote on advancement was taken after three hours of debate.