Bill to continue additional NRD levy falls short

Thursday, March 8, 2018

McCOOK, Neb. — A bill that would have extended natural resource districts’ ability to levy a 3-cent tax came up short in Nebraska Legislature, much to Dist. 44 State Senator Dan Hughes’ dismay.

Hughes said this morning that LB 98 was important to Southwest Nebraska as a method to be more efficient with water usage and would have been a way to preserve the aquifer. The bill garnered 28 votes, with 33 needed to proceed.

Introduced by Dist. 34 Sen. Curt Friesen of York County, the bill would have extended the maximum three-cent levy authority for fully or over-appropriated districts, as determined by the Department of Natural Resources, from the fiscal year 2017-18 to 2025-26. The levy would only be used to implement groundwater management activities and integrated management activities under the Nebraska Ground Water Management and Protection Act.

Other bills this past week in the Unicameral that Hughes spoke about at the legislative conference call this morning at the McCook Chamber of Commerce include:

* although LB 117 passed by a wide margin and is now on select file, Sen. Hughes said he did not support it. LB 117, the Investigational Drug Use Act, is more commonly called “Right to Try.” The bill allows eligible patients under the Act to be treated with any drug, biological product, or device that has successfully completed Phase 1 of a clinical trial but has not yet been approved for general use by the USFDA and remains in a clinical trial approved by the USFDA.

* LB 44 has been placed on final reading and would adopt the “Remote Seller Sales Tax Collection Act.” It would require remote sellers (online retailers without a physical presence in Nebraska) to collect and remit sales tax if their gross revenue in Nebraska exceeds $100,000 or their sales in Nebraska consist of 200 or more separate transactions. Both the governor and Sen. Ernie Chambers are in opposition to this bill, although he was not certain why Sen. Hughes said. He said he supports the bill as a “matter of fairness,” as local storefront merchants are not just selling products but also heavily involved in their communities, be it through local advertising or donating for school functions and other local events. If implemented, the tax would go into effect in January 2019.

* Sen. Hughes said he would not be supporting LB 42, that would require the use of a child passenger restraint system for children up to seven years old when being transported in a motor vehicle. LB 42 would change the age of requiring an occupant protection system to age 8 years to under 18 years. Hughes said he didn’t vote in favor of it as he felt the age was an arbitrary number and “at what age are kids big enough to sit in a seat with a seatbelt? … eight years old, 15, 100 pounds?”

* LB 822, that Sen. Hughes introduced, would make a clarification in the statute that lists the power and duties of the Department of Natural Resources. The clarification is not substantive and is intended to be a simple clean-up of the language. It comes as a result of a recent Nebraska Supreme Court ruling, based on wording in a Nebraska state statute, that said Nebraska Public Power District must reveal costs of operations. At the hearing for the bill, Hughes said proponents of the bill came from Nebraska Public Power and opponents were the press, who did not want more information shielded.

But revealing the costs of operations gives competitors an unfair advantage to other power providers, he said, allowing them to undercut NPPD’s prices. A compromise appears to have been reached, Hughes said, who equated it to allow people to know the salary of (Nebraska Husker football coach) Scott Frost but not the playbook.

* state lawmakers were anticipating discussion on LB 596, Hughes said, that provides an exemption for those involved in the practice of equine massage from

regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill defines specific actions that someone in equine massage therapy can perform and amusing commentary ensued, he said, prompting one participant at the McCook conference call to quip, “ But how did the horse feel about it?”

State senators will debate the budget beginning next week, Hughes said. He’s expecting “a full court press” from the University of Nebraska system to minimize proposed cuts. These have included a 2 percent decrease this year to the university and one percent next year, with the governor proposing a four percent cut next year.

“We’ll be rolling up our sleeves ... do a little wrestling to come up with numbers we can all agree upon,” Hughes said.

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