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Senator Hansen’s “Cottage Foods” Bill Up For Debate Soon


Greetings to all in District 16 and the surrounding region.  As the recovery from the flooding progresses I want to thank all the volunteers who’ve donated time, money, and resources to the victims of the flooding.  I’ve seen many stories on social media and in the newspapers about the incredible support pouring into Nebraska from around the country.  Times like these are good reminders that treating people with love, respect, and dignity is still the foundation of our culture.  I hope you all are as encouraged as I am by the response people have had to those affected by the flood.  We are all truly blessed to live in America, and specifically Nebraska!

This was the final week of public hearings in the legislature.  I greatly enjoyed being part of the Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Business and Labor Committees this year.  In each of these committees, I was able to utilize my education and experience to represent the many interests of our district.  It was a great learning experience and I am excited about serving on these committees during the next session.

Since committee hearings have wrapped up for the year we will move to full days of debate starting on April 2nd.  Though we’ve accomplished a fair amount so far, we have quite a ways to go before the session ends on June 6th.  We can expect the remainder of the session to filled with debate on property tax relief, corrections issues, industrial hemp, a new business tax incentive package, and budget issues.  The Revenue Committee has yet to release its package of property tax relief bills and neither has the Appropriations Committee released its proposed state budget.  These two topics alone will be the subject of vigorous and extended debate.  On the floor this week I made a statement about the time that is wasted in the Legislature when we could be discussing important topics like property tax relief.  I’m hopeful we can begin discussing tax relief soon now that committee hearings have ended.

My priority bill, LB 304, will be up for debate soon on the floor.  Though I wrote about it briefly in last week’s column, I want to refresh everyone a bit.  This bill is referred to as a “cottage foods” bill and would allow producers to sell the same low-risk cottage foods already sold at farmers markets from their homes or at other events.  The foods sold must be shelf-stable baked goods or other products not required to be time or temperature controlled.  To bring this bill out of committee, I worked on an amendment that would require producers to take and pass a food handler’s class, have their well water tested if served by a private well, and register with the Department of Agriculture.  By including these non-burdensome requirements, I was able to ensure senator and stakeholder concerns were met and there was no opposition to the bill.  I expect this bill will face little opposition during debate, and I’m excited about the positive effect it will have for many constituents in District 16.

If you have questions or comments, please contact the District 16 office at (402)-471-2728 to speak with my Administrative Assistant, Ellie Stangl; or my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell.  You can also email me at bhansen@leg.ne.gov.  To follow along with the session please visit nebraskalegislature.gov or you may watch the live stream when available at netnebraska.org

 

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Budget Deal has Implications on Agriculture


This week, the White House and Congressional leaders struck a tentative budget deal that provides a framework and additional funding needed to allow Congress to complete the annual appropriations funding legislative process.
According to Traci Bruckner, Senior Policy Associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, the budget deal contains significant implications for agricultural and Farm Bill programs. “This bill takes a small step in reforming federally subsidized crop insurance programs by reducing the cap on the profits that crop insurance companies extract from administering the program from 14.5 percent to 8.9 percent,” said Bruckner. “In addition, it also indicates that the Standard Reinsurance Agreement must be renegotiated by December 31, 2016 and once every five years thereafter.”
“This is a small but a positive step forward,” noted Bruckner. “Insurance companies have been one of the largest beneficiaries of the subsidized crop insurance program. They witnessed double digit returns over the last decade or more, with one year being as high as 34%. During belt-tightening times, it is most appropriate to ask crop insurance companies to accept a reduction in the profits from federal subsidies that they receive.”
“Moreover, the budget deal scraps the Farm Bill provision that prevented taxpayers from benefiting from government negotiations with the private sector over the delivery of crop insurance,” added Bruckner. “This was an outrageous gift to the crop insurance lobby and it is a policy that should never have seen the light of day.”
Bruckner noted further that while there is a great deal more crop insurance subsidy reform needed to support and protect family farmers and the environment, renegotiation is a small but important first step toward much needed comprehensive reform.
“And with the additional funding the budget deal provides to the appropriators to finish the fiscal year 2016 funding bills, Congress has the opportunity to turn back the tide on cuts to conservation,” Bruckner continued. “Congress should move quickly to eliminate the 23 percent cut to the Conservation Stewardship Program in the pending House bill and the $300 million cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that is currently included in both the House and Senate bills.”
“Opponents of cuts to crop insurance company profits have criticized ‘opening up the Farm Bill’ but those criticisms ring hollow when compared to how often Congress has opened up the Farm Bill to cut conservation programs,” concluded Bruckner. “It is disingenuous to use rhetoric about family farmers to protect crop insurance company profits while at the same time cutting the conservation programs that farmers and ranchers depend upon to improve soil and water quality, conserve water, and prepare for extreme weather events.”

Reviewing the Legislative Session, tax relief and agriculture


By Senator Lydia Brasch

With the legislative session completed for over a week now, the Capitol is a much quieter place mostly populated by visitors from near and far on hourly tours of this magnificent institution and structure. The hallways are no longer filled with the voices of student visitors from across the State with exception of Boys and Girls State and Unicam Youth Legislature students. Lobbyists are not watching the legislative chambers attentively from the rotunda or walking the hallways in search of a senator to discuss their interests on specific legislation. Most Senators living a distance from Lincoln are working remotely with out-of-session business. Trips to Lincoln for us include scheduled meetings, office needs, or interim hearings. Our District 16 office staff continues to keep busy with constituent services and research for next year’s legislative proposals.

 

This first interim update provides a brief overview of some key legislation debated during session worth repeating or received little or no coverage during session. Other updates will follow leading into what issues we may expect to see in 2016.

 

As this year was the beginning of the biennium (two-year period), the Legislature’s priority was the constitutional duty to pass a budget. The budget passed with an average 3.3 percent increase in annual spending over the next two years which is the fifth lowest increase over the last thirty years. Most of the spending goes toward education, Medicaid, university/college system, health and human services, corrections, and special education. The budget also leaves a projected $718 million in the cash reserve or “rainy day fund.”

 

Regarding tax relief, the Legislature granted two forms of tax relief, added an additional tax burden, and left unaddressed a number of other areas. The Legislature provided relief by increasing the property tax credit relief fund. As well, businesses and farmers will receive a partial property tax break on machinery, computers, and other personal property. However, the gas tax will increase 6 cents a gallon over the next four years. Unfortunately, the Legislature did not address the property tax burden shouldered by our farmers and ranchers which I attempted to address with LB350.

 

As for agriculture, the Legislature ended the session by addressing the issue whether to allow meatpacker ownership of hogs (LB176). The bill had significant opposition from some rural senators arguing this would be a death blow to small, independent hog producers and eventually lead to loss of independent cattle producers. The bill did not survive a second-round filibuster as it fell two votes short of cloture.

 

Next week’s column will continue covering legislation from criminal justice, the death penalty, education, health and human services.

 

As always, please contact me, administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or legislative aide, Tom Venzor, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or e-mail at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.

 

Keeping the Good Life Growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Bill Passes to Continue Education Requirements for Apprentice Electricians


Monday, March 9, marked Day 41 of our 90-day session. With almost half the legislative session behind us, the Legislature steadily marches forward to address a variety of issues. At this point, there are 148 bills due for first round debate, 6 for second round debate, and 82 bills priority bills. In addition, 25 bills have been passed by the Legislature awaiting the Governor’s signature and another 58 already approved by the Governor.

 

I am happy to announce the passage of my first bill for the session. LB179 provides for continuing education requirements for apprentice electricians. It passed through the Legislature with relative ease with some amendments added to ensure apprentice electricians not wanting to advance further in their career to journeyman will not be negatively affected. It currently awaits the Governor’s signature to become law.

 

I also introduced LB569 to the Appropriations Committee. In my five years representing you at the Legislature, this was my first time before Appropriations. They have the important and difficult task of proposing a budget to the rest of the Legislature. LB569 makes some changes to the Business Innovation Act (BIA). The BIA encourages and supports the development of Nebraska-based technology and innovation in rural and urban areas through a variety of programs, such as the Value-Added Agriculture Program and Research and Development Program. LB569 increases the amount maximums allowed for grants offered through the BIA programs. This change gives the Department of Economic Development more flexibility in allocating the $7 million given to them for grant funding.

 

Unfortunately, LB350, my bill to decrease the valuation on agricultural and horticultural land for property tax purposes from 75% to 65%, was not voted out of the Revenue Committee. Only Senator Jim Scheer voiced support for the bill during executive session. Many other senators voiced concern LB350 would not provide enough relief farmers and ranchers. However, I have heard overwhelming support for this bill from those in the district, as well as statewide. Since 2008, agricultural land has shot up in assessments by 180% and placed a tremendously disproportionate burden on farmers and ranchers. This is deeply disappointing and unfair for a state built on agriculture, and continues to be sustained by agriculture as our #1 industry. I hope the committee will reconsider LB350 and support its advancement to the floor for debate.

 

As winter sports wrap up, a few special congratulations are due. Congratulations to Bancroft-Rosalie for taking second place in an amazingly close, yet heartbreaking double overtime loss in the D-2 Boys State Basketball Championship game. Also, congratulations to Guardian Angels Central Catholic (WestPoint) on taking third place in the C-2 Girls State Basketball Tournament. Additionally, congratulations to Oakland-Craig and the West Point-Beemer wrestling teams for both finishing in the top 5 team rankings at State Wrestling. It was nice to have District 16 visitors: Ed Hernandez (Nebraskans for Founders Values); Judy Mutzenberger and John Ross (Cuming County Supervisors); and Gayle Roberts, Aaron Loyd, Celeste Lux (Blair) and Nancy Black (Tekamah) attending Nebraska Library Advocacy Day. We were also blessed to have Pastor Lewis Miller of Beemer Mennonite Church serve as Chaplain of the Day on Tuesday leading the Legislature in grace-filled prayer.

 

Please contact me, administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or legislative aide, Tom Venzor, with questions or thoughts at (402)471-2728 or e-mail at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.

 

Keeping the Good Life Growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Senator Lydia Brasch

Senator Lydia Brasch

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