From the Legislature

By Kate Sullivan

District #41 State Senator

It’s been a hectic two weeks since I last wrote this column.  I presented two of my bills before committees, both of which were well-received at the hearings and address issues of need and concern to District 41.  

LB 531 raises the net worth threshold for farmers and ranchers to qualify for a tax credit under the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit Act.  I stressed to the committee that agriculture should not be held to different standard than other businesses as we encourage entrepreneurial and value-added enterprises on existing farms and ranches.

In LB 489, I’m asking the state to provide funding to Nebraska’s Area Health Education Centers (AHECs).  AHECs help strengthen the health care workforce and infrastructure.  We must address the shortage of health care workers.  Recruiting students into health care careers and retaining them as practioners in Nebraska once they’ve completed their education is vital to our quality of life in rural areas.  AHECs are already doing this work across the state.

Out and About in the District

On Presidents’ Day, February 16, I had the great pleasure of speaking to a large group of students at Burwell Senior High School.  My visit was arranged by Social Sciences teacher Melissa Konicek.  The students were well-informed, attentive and very interested in the legislative process.  I spent part of the afternoon talking with the students about the Nebraska Legislature and my experiences in my first six weeks.  I really enjoyed the give and take and the sharp questions they posed on different issues.  As my visit came to end, I was surprised to see that nearly two hours had passed –what fun!  

If you’re a teacher and would like me to visit your classroom, please contact Anna Wolf in my legislative office at (402) 471-2631 to make arrangements.  My schedule allows me to make school visits only on recess days when the Legislature is in session.  Recess days always fall on a Friday or a Monday.  There’s at least one recess day per week through the end of the session on June 4.

Federal Funds for Nebraska

With passage and signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), President Obama’s federal stimulus plan, Nebraska will be receiving a portion of the federal stimulus funds allocated to states.  

After an in-depth review of the Nebraska Constitution, state statutes and case law, Speaker Flood and the members of the Appropriations Committee have agreed that the stimulus funds must be allocated through the Legislature’s appropriations process and approved by the full Legislature. As a result, the Appropriations Committee has developed guidelines for ARRA stimulus funds as part of the budget process and will issue a preliminary report on how the funds will be used in the next few weeks.  Once the preliminary report is issued, the Appropriations Committee will hold agency and bill hearings to gather public input.  

Plans are also in the works for a dedicated page on the legislative website which will allow citizens to track the use of federal stimulus funds in our state.

States are restricted in how they can use stimulus funds. The funds can’t be used to supplant existing or ongoing state budgetary obligations.  They must be utilized for improvement of education and educational infrastructure; to save and create quality jobs through public works and infrastructure investments; and to preserve critical human service programs designed to protect Nebraska’s vulnerable citizens during the economic downturn.  ARRA requires compliance monitoring, reporting and public access to information about how states are using the stimulus funds.

Legislative rules require the Appropriations Committee to send their budget recommendation to the full Legislature for consideration by April 29 this year, the 70th legislative day.  I will continue to monitor plans for the stimulus funds as we move through the budget process and provide updates to you when available.

Disaster Relief 

I want all local political subdivisions in District 41 to be aware of the availability of $5.5 million in Community Development Block Grant public assistance funding approved in 2008.  The funding is for long-term disaster recovery efforts due to damage caused by severe storms, tornadoes and flooding across Nebraska from May 22 to June 24, 2008.  Boone, Garfield, Greeley, Hall, Howard, Sherman, Valley and Wheeler Counties were included in FEMA’s disaster declaration 1770-DR issued in July 2008.  

The funds will be administered by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Community and Rural Development Division based on an action plan that will be adopted in the next few weeks.

Public assistance is targeted to local governments for repair of roads, bridges, public buildings and other facilities damaged by nature during specific time periods.  It may also be used for costs such as police, fire and public works employee salaries.  The federal government pays 75% of all eligible public costs.  State and local governments split the remaining 25%.

Federal disaster relief funding requires compliance with fair housing, nondiscrimination, labor standards and environmental assessment and review requirements applicable to the Community Development Block Grant program and must be used for disaster relief, long-term recovery and restoration of public infrastructure.

Counties, cities and villages in the designated disaster area may submit applications for funds beginning later this spring.  Priority categories are public infrastructure and hazard mitigation planning.  The public infrastructure category funding will be 70-85% of the $5.5 million.  Applications will be accepted beginning June 1, 2009 and will cease when all funds are awarded.  Ten percent of the funds will be allocated for hazard mitigation planning with a June 1, 2009 application acceptance date and will cease when all funds are awarded.  Housing impact assistance may be available November 1, 2009 if applications for the first two categories don’t use all the funds.  

I strongly encourage village, city and county officials to apply for assistance to help them repair and replace public property damaged or destroyed during the specified time frame.  

It’s important to apply in a timely manner because grants will be awarded to those projects which qualify until the allocated funds are expended.  

In these days of tight budgets, it would be a shame if a political subdivision missed an opportunity for outside assistance because an application deadline wasn’t met.

Contact Information

If you have questions regarding this newsletter, legislation or state issues, please call my legislative office at (402) 471-2631.  My mailing address is:  P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE  68509.  

You may send email to:  

Please include your full name and mailing address in your message.  

As always, if you’re in Lincoln over the next few months, please stop by the Capitol to see your Nebraska Legislature at work.

Inscription from the Nebraska State Capitol – South Facade Parapet:  

Political Society Exists For The Sake of Noble Living — Aristotle