ZW Legislative Weekly July 24, 2020
Friday, July 24, 2020
The Nebraska Legislature returned from its four-month COVID-caused recess on Monday to finish out the remaining 17 days of the year’s 60-day session. It was an action-packed week that included advancement of a substantial number of priority bills and consideration of key legislative agenda items of property tax relief and business tax incentives.
Budget Forecast Better Than Expected
The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board met Thursday to revise budget estimates. The board reduced the estimate for the 2020-21 fiscal year’s tax collections by $50 million, leaving about $88 million for possible spending (or saving) this session.
“It was an optimistic forecast,” said Appropriations Chairman John Stinner. But he cautioned that the outlook after this biennium is stark and that the current $388 million in the state’s rainy-day fund is too low.
Governor Ricketts said the new forecast reflects the ongoing strength of Nebraska’s economy in spite of the impacts of the pandemic. “Today’s news sets the Legislature up to accomplish key priorities including property tax relief and business incentives in the remaining days of the session,” he said.
Deadlock Remains on Property Taxes, Business Incentives
While an optimistic fiscal forecast is helpful, there is still no consensus on property tax relief legislation. A group of Senators is still insisting that property tax relief advances before moving updates to business tax incentives that will expire at the end of the year. This package is also being amended to add in LB1084
to commit $300 million in state funding to help attract a $2.6 billion mega-project at the Med Center. In the wake of the deadlock, Speaker Jim Scheer said he will wait to see if proponents of the proposals are able to negotiate some sort of compromise agreement to unlock the logjam before considering whether to attempt to step in himself.
Animal Health Updates Passed to Final Reading
Senators gave second-round approval to LB344
, a bill introduced by the Ag Committee to update laws designed to protect the health of livestock in Nebraska.The legislation consolidates related provisions for duties and authorities of the Department, duties for persons with disease-affected animals, penalty provisions and unlawful acts, carcass disposal, and other concepts. It emphasizes purposes to support agricultural growth and also includes legislative intent that the Department utilize USDA/APHIS/VS program standards as available and appropriate to guide disease prevention and eradication. A section-by-section summary is available in the committee statement
Health Data Oversight Board, Population Health Bill Advances
Creation of a new board to oversee the state’s health information exchange advanced from Select File. LB1183, introduced by Senator John Arch, would create the Health Information Technology Board, composed of health care professionals and other stakeholders, including one veterinarian. The 17-member board would establish criteria for data collection and disbursement by the statewide health information exchange. The board would assure that information contained in the exchange was accessed, used and disclosed in accordance with the HIPAA and also would oversee Nebraska’s prescription drug monitoring protocol. The bill was amended on first-round to include LB1058, the Population Health Information Act, which provides a statutory framework for the operation of a state health information exchange.
Opioid Addiction Treatment, Prevention Fund Advanced from General File
Senator Sara Howard was emotional as the Legislature advanced her final opioid bill this week. LB1124 would create the Nebraska Opioid Recovery Fund as the repository of any money that the state may receive from a federal Department of Justice lawsuit against opioid manufacturers accused of deceptive advertising. The bill also would require the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to report annually to the Legislature, Governor, and Attorney General regarding how funds were distributed and the outcomes achieved.
While COVID is generally keeping lobbyists out of the Capitol for now, electronic communication and meeting with Senators outdoors has become our new norm. While we miss being in the Rotunda, we have instead been eating popcorn in our office as we watch the drama unfold on screen. And there has been plenty: from Senators Chamber and Slama clashing
over campaign tactics to Senator Groene telling Senator Pansing Brooks to shut up
during debate on an abortion bill. We are hopeful the weekend break will help refresh everyone, restore collegiality, and return a Unicameral ready to get important work across the finish line.
Michelle and Katie