Nebraska lawmakers will return to Lincoln to kick-off the 2019 legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 9. This year marks the first session of the 106th Legislature, meaning lawmakers will work through a 90-day session slated to end the first week of June.
State senators will also be charged with electing leadership positions that will carry through the 2019 and 2020 sessions, including Speaker of the Legislature and committee chair positions. Eight committees are guaranteed to have new leadership, as the previous chairs are no longer serving in the legislature due to term-limits or legislative turnover. Those committees include the Agriculture; General Affairs; Government, Military and Veterans Affairs; Health and Human Services; Judiciary; and Revenue Committees.
In addition to new leadership, the body will also have several new faces. Thirteen of the 49-member legislature will be new, several of which received the Nebraska Farm Bureau – PAC, “Friend of Agriculture” designation in the general election. Among those are Myron Dorn of Adams in Dist. 30, Ben Hansen of Blair in Dist. 16, Tom Brandt of Plymouth in Dist. 32, Dave Murman of Glenvil in Dist. 38, and Tim Gragert of Creighton in Dist. 40.
Other new faces will include Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha in Dist. 6, Megan Hunt of Omaha in Dist. 8, Wendy DeBoer of Bennington in Dist. 10, Steve Lathrop of Omaha in Dist. 12, John Arch of La Vista in Dist. 14, and Mike Moser of Columbus in Dist. 22.
The election of Dist. 1 Sen. Dan Watermeier to the Public Service Commission and Dist. 49 Sen. John Murante to Nebraska State Treasurer in the middle of their legislative terms will require replacements for those two seats to be appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Those appointments are expected to happen shortly after the start of the 2019 session.
Farm Bureau to Tackle Taxes, Livestock, and Broadband
Taxes, livestock issues, and working to improve broadband across Nebraska will be at the center of Nebraska Farm Bureau’s efforts during the 2019 legislative session.
“Fixing Nebraska’s overreliance on property taxes, which has made us one of the highest property tax states in the nation, is our top priority,” said Bruce Rieker, Nebraska Farm Bureau vice president of governmental relations, Dec. 14.
“We’ve been working through the interim, engaging with all the parties who are critical to getting a legislative package together that can include property tax relief. It will take a collaborative effort to get the 33 votes needed to get something passed this session. That’s our focus,” said Rieker.
According to Rieker, Nebraska Farm Bureau will also be working on other tax issues, including a permanent fix to ensure Nebraska farmers and ranchers don’t pay more in personal property taxes as a result of federal tax law changes.
“Last year we were able to pass a temporary fix to ensure changes to the federal tax code on section 1031 like-kind exchanges didn’t result in a personal property tax increase for farmers and ranchers. In short, we made sure the trade-in value of a used piece of equipment was given credit on the valuation of a new piece of equipment,” said Rieker. “We’ll be working to make that a permanent fix this session.”
Livestock issues will also be a priority, according to Ansley Mick, Nebraska Farm Bureau director of NEFB-PAC and state governmental relations.
“We’ll be working to make updates to Nebraska’s laws to make sure they respect the property rights of farmers and ranchers. Agriculture is continuing to change, and farmers and ranchers need the flexibility to change their operations to stay relevant whether that’s using advancements in technology or changing the makeup of their operation, such as adding livestock,” said Mick. “We’ve seen actions in other states where there have been efforts to undermine those abilities. We want to make sure our laws are sound in that area.”
Mick says there will also be considerable discussion this session about the future of state business incentives, including those for agriculture.
“Livestock production and agriculture processing is at the heart of what we do in Nebraska. It’s important any new business incentive package recognized the importance of our beef, dairy, pork, and growing poultry industry as a part of the next generation of state business incentives,” said Mick.
Last session, state senators passed legislation creating the Nebraska Broadband Task Force to look for ways to improve high-speed internet connection across the state. Efforts in that area are expected to continue in 2019.
“The key will be to more accurately and adequately map broadband availability across Nebraska, so we can make sure the Broadband Task Force is able to make solid recommendations to state and federal policymakers. The task force is required to report back to the legislature in November of 2019,” said Mick.
Rieker says he’s looking forward to a productive legislative session, recognizing there will be new leadership on some key committees, as well as several new faces in the legislative body in 2019.
“We’re here to look out for our members and implement their policy positions. That’s why it’s so important Farm Bureau has a daily presence at the State Capitol,” said Rieker.