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Lawmakers divided on tax package; move forward with other proposals 

Lawmakers divided on tax package; move forward with other proposals 
Courtesy/Nebraska News Service.

During the Nebraska Legislature’s second to last week, lawmakers proposed amendments for the property tax compromise and advanced anti-abortion and hair discrimination bills to final reading. Although senators focused on the tax package, debates on other bills such as parole reform and Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) requirements were heard as well.

Property Tax and Business Package

Nebraska lawmakers remain divided on the tax compromise package, LB1107,  introduced by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee on Aug. 4.

The Revenue Committee introduced LB1107, a renewed version of LB1106, which will offer state income tax credit for school property taxes paid, $275 million property tax relief, $300 million for the University of Nebraska Medical Center expansion and $25 million for the ImagiNE Nebraska Act.

LB1107 advanced with a 43-2 vote on Wednesday.

However, senators are divided because of the cost for communities recovering from the pandemic. The largest issue is the insignificant relief the package would provide to property owners.

“This is a minuscule, unrecognizable reduction in your taxes,” Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said.

This bill is written so that owners of homes, businesses and farmland will receive $125 million in new state income tax credits within the first year. As it continues, this amount will increase to $375 million a year after five years.

Despite the financial increase, lawmakers mentioned worries of an economic downfall would cut the spending on state agencies but not property tax credits. Several amendments are still developing, and senators are continuing to find the ideal property tax package for Nebraskans.

Human Trafficking 

Nebraska lawmakers advanced Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan’s bill called the Support for Trafficking Survivors Act to final reading. This bill, LB518, would create the Support for Trafficking Survivors advisory board.

The amendment was adopted 40-0.

The original bill was meant to formalize a statewide plan to provide services to victims of sex trafficking with the support of law enforcement. However, senators voted to return the bill to a select file to consider an amendment that would remove financial provisions the legislature thought were not affordable at the moment.

“Unfortunately, those things come at a cost,” she said, “and this is not the time [that] our state is able to take on those costs.”

Student-Teacher Relationship Policy 

Nebraska schools must now follow a policy that prohibits sexual contact between teachers and students with the approval of LB1080.

Senators voted 47-0 and passed the bill that school boards must adopt before June 30, 2021. This policy prohibits any relationship involving sexual contact between a student and a school employee, student-teacher or intern while a student is enrolled. The proposal also includes a minimum of one year after a student graduates or ceases enrollment.

The policy includes contact using cell phones, email services and/or social media platforms.

If the policy is violated or there is any suspicion of violation, the case would be referred to the State Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and law enforcement.

Ban on Hair Discrimination

The definition of race employment discrimination may soon include hair texture and protective hairstyles after Omaha’s Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh’s bill was voted to final reading.

LB1060 was approved 34-0 after Cavanaugh introduced an amendment that would align the bill’s language with the legally accepted definition of race. Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair opposed LB1060 because he said it represents government overreach.

“Are we, as a government, encroaching too much on the employer/employee relationship and disproportionately affecting employers and their ability to (do) what’s best for their business?” Hansen said.

A date for the final voting has not been set.

Parole Reform

The overcrowding crisis in Nebraska’s correctional system may be improved with the advancement of LB1004.

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha presented his bill that will make offenders eligible for patrol within two years of their mandatory discharge date. In addition to improving the overcrowding issues, Lathrop said the plan will incentivize inmates to complete their programming and be released on parole.

“The solution to overcrowding ultimately is going to be some thoughtful combination of reforms and building,” Lathrop said. “But we can’t possibly build our way out of it [alone].”

However, the bill is prospective, so it would not apply to people already serving sentences.

Lathrop’s bill advanced with a 29-2 vote.

Senators voting on the bill opposed the regulations of the bill because some believed it would not fix the temporary overcrowding issue and needed other provisions.

“When you sit down with [inmates] and talk to them … it almost always comes back to programming and how frustrated they are,” Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon said. “We have to think outside of the box. To just simply say that we can’t do it because it’s too hard isn’t the answer.”

Tax-Increment Financing

Senators advanced North Platte Sen. Mike Groene’s bill that would create an expedited review of tax-increment financing for redevelopment projects under the state’s Community Development Law.

LB1021 and its amendment would be available if it fits under the following criteria:

  • involves repair, rehabilitation or replacement of an existing structure in an existing substandard or blighted area;
  •  is in a county with a population of less than 100,000 or in an area that has been declared extremely blighted;
  •  involves a structure that is at least 60 years old; and
  •  does not exceed $250,000 for a single-family structure, $1 million for a multi-family or commercial structure or $10 million for a structure on the National Register of Historic Places.

LB1021 was advanced on a 41-0 vote.

FAFSA Completion Requirement

LB1089, a bill proposed by Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, advanced after much discussion on its usefulness.

Vargas introduced LB1089, which would require Nebraska students to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application before they graduate from high school, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. Vargas said many states have the policy in their high schools, and it has increased the completion rate. This will also ensure that all students have financial resources to pursue higher education.

The bill advanced with a 28-9 vote.

Several senators recommended having an amendment to the bill where the guardians of students can decline the FAFSA by filling out a waiver. Groene said having this graduation requirement would be useless for students pursuing military duty or the workforce after high school.

“(LB1089) is a mandate to parents to fill out a form for a … voluntary government program,” he said.

Vargas said the bill would also help with data since the bill requires Nebraska high school principles or designees to provide information on the students that completed the FAFSA and those that waivered.

Students 19 or older can sign and submit the FAFSA waiver without a guardian’s signature.

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