With less than a month left (18 legislative days) the 106th Legislature has been making progress on some lower profile measures that don’t often take THE spotlight like property taxes and the budget.
A sampling of measures passed ranges from relief for Gage County in a massive federal judgment stemming from a botched murder investigation 34 years ago to allowing the Tourism Commission to capitalize on an advertising campaign that has, honestly, taken the country by storm.
Lawmakers gave 43-6 final approval to a measure stemming from the “Beatrice Six” case in which a federal judge awarded more than $28 million in damages to six men and women wrongfully convicted of the rape and homicide of a Beatrice woman in 1985. After they were exonerated by DNA evidence, the six sued in 2016 and the county was unable to pay after it learned its insurance policies had either lapsed or otherwise wouldn’t cover the expense.
The bill (LB472) was brought by former County Board member Myron Dorn of Adams who was just elected to the Legislature. It authorizes a county board to adopt a resolution to impose a sales and use tax of 0.5 percent on transactions within the county to pay a qualified judgment rendered against a county by a federal court for a violation of federal law.
The state tax commissioner will administer and collect the tax for a three percent fee. The money may be used only for the judgment and the tax will end after the judgment is paid or after seven years, whichever is earlier. The bill further requires that the county property tax levy be set at the 50-cent maximum for each year it imposes the tax.
This appears to be the only way out of the unfortunate mess for the county.
Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner of Gering offered a bill (LB637) to allow the Nebraska Tourism Commission to develop and approve state marketing campaigns and develop and sell tourism products such as cups and T-shirts and banners and whatever in the wake of one of the state’s most successful tourism campaigns. Revenue will go to the commission’s promotional cash fund.
Stinner told his colleagues that the department was swamped with requests for such items after the “Nebraska, Honestly it’s not for everyone!” campaign went viral before it was even launched. The Commission realized it didn’t have the authority to create and sell such items. The 49-0 vote approved the measure, which takes effect immediately, just in time for peak summer travel season.
That’s better than nice.
Two measures that will help economically disadvantaged areas of the state were offered by Omaha Senator Justin Wayne and passed by his colleagues. The first, Legislative Resolution 14, passed 43-2, will allow voters to approve a Constitutional Amendment in 2020 to extend the maximum length of time to repay tax-increment financing indebtedness in certain cases. If approved, the amendment will authorize the Legislature to extend the maximum repayment period for TIF indebtedness from 15 to 20 years if, due to a high rate of unemployment combined with a high poverty rate as determined by law, more than half of the property in a project area is designated as extremely blighted (a census tract with an average unemployment rate that is at least 200 percent of the average state unemployment rate and an average poverty rate of more than 20 percent).
Wayne also offered a bill (LB87) to require the state Department of Economic Development to provide a preference for grant applications at least partially located within an opportunity zone as designated by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The bill passed 49-0.
This is an opportunity to erase the black eye that TIF has earned over the years.
Lawmakers also passed LB713, sponsored by Omaha Senator Tony Vargas, to require the legislative fiscal analyst to create additional revenue and budget reports throughout the biennium to provide sustainable funding for projects into the future.
This is essential planning that transcends the edict that one Legislature cannot bind a subsequent one.
Also passed was LB390, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, to require the state Department of Education to develop a model memorandum of understanding to govern the use of school resource officers or security guards. The document will include training requirements for the officers and requires the school to maintain records of each student referral for prosecution, including the reason for each referral and federally identified demographic characteristics of each student.
This, too, just makes sense.
J.L. Schmidt has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered Independent for 20 years.