LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers are set to kick off a new session Wednesday with proposals to balance a tight state budget, lower property taxes and legalize medical marijuana in the face of a potential ballot measure.
The new, 90-day session will also usher in 13 new state senators who will reshape the officially nonpartisan Legislature in ways not yet known.
Here are some things to watch:
A persistent state revenue shortfall could create budget headaches once again for lawmakers, who have relied on Nebraska's rainy-day fund the last several years.
Nebraska faces a projected $95.1 million revenue shortfall in its upcoming two-year, general fund budget.
It's a tiny fraction of the roughly $9 billion total state budget and smaller than other recent shortfalls, but some lawmakers worry the downturn will continue and they won't have enough money left in the rainy-day fund to cover state expenses. The fund holds about $296 million, down sharply from the $729 million stashed away in 2016.
"I think we may be getting to the point where we can't afford to use any more of that," said Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer, of Norfolk.
In an interview last week, Gov. Pete Ricketts said tapping the cash reserve was appropriate given the downturn in agriculture, the state's largest industry. Ricketts has previously said he'd like to keep about $500 million in the rainy-day fund.
"The reason you have a rainy-day fund is to help cushion against economic downtimes," he said. "In agriculture, it's clearly raining."
Lawmakers will also debate how to pay for a voter-approved measure to expand Medicaid to an estimated 90,000 low-income residents. Ricketts said he will fit that expense into his budget proposal to lawmakers, but it's likely to crowd out other priorities over time.
Lawmakers will try once again to address the complaints of farmers, ranchers and homeowners who have seen sharp increases in their local property tax bills.
The issue rises to the forefront nearly every year, but lawmakers seldom agree on how to pay for property tax cuts and who should receive most of the benefits.
"I'm relatively optimistic we can get something done this year," said Sen. Tom Briese, an Albion farmer who has introduced numerous property-tax proposals. "A lot more folks are realizing the gravity of the situation."
The biggest recipient of property tax dollars are K-12 public schools, particularly in rural districts that no longer qualify for state equalization aid because they contain too much valuable land. Farmers argue that they're paying higher property taxes even though lower commodity prices have reduced their incomes.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, of Lincoln, said she understands the pressure farmers are facing and wants to help, but she also sees needs in her urban district.
"We have to work together," she said. "The conservative and rural members need to work with the urban senators and the progressives to really get something done."
ELECTING NEW LEADERS, SETTING THE RULES... AND MORE GRIDLOCK?
Lawmakers will choose new committee leaders in a secret-ballot election that's often full of surprises.
During the last elections in 2017, conservative Republicans won nearly all of the Legislature's leadership positions and tried to force through a change that would have made it harder for Democrats to win committee chairmanships in the future. Democrats and even some moderate Republicans blasted the moves as a partisan power grab, and the dispute brought the Legislature to a virtual standstill for 30 days.
The leadership votes were highly unusual in an officially nonpartisan Legislature, where committees are traditionally led by a mix of Republicans and Democrats. The new session will mark the first time lawmakers have formally addressed those issues since 2017.
Pansing Brooks said she's hopeful lawmakers will try to build coalitions more than they have in previous years.
"The original my-way-or-the-highway approach doesn't work," she said. "People are starting to realize it takes coalitions, it takes people working together."
Nebraska lawmakers could face more pressure to legalize medical marijuana in some form, thanks to a group of senators and activists who are promising to put the issue on the 2020 ballot if nothing passes this year.
A newly formed ballot committee, Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, plans to launch a signature-gathering campaign, although organizers said they'd prefer that lawmakers address the issue. Sen. Anna Wishart, of Lincoln, a leading proponent, will introduce a medical marijuana bill this year.
Similar measures won approval last year in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah, bringing the total to 33 states that have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes. Unlike past efforts in Nebraska that have faltered, the latest campaign is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that has helped lead five successful marijuana-related ballot measures.
How’d It Happen
Back in May of 2018 a phone call was made to Kenny Ogier of Wallace from Carla Beck of Hometown Family Radio. The Phone call was made for two reasons. One, to congratulate Ogier on his new business venture "Knucklehead's Garage" which he was running out of a shop on his farm; and Two, to see if Kenny, who Carla knew was an avid Rock 100.7 radio listener would like to sponsor a daily request hour on the radio station. Ogier, has said that the phone call made his day. He couldn’t believe that a radio station in North Platte “cared about his little shop” south of Wallace. Kenny jumped at the opportunity to sponsor a show on “His” favorite radio station. That also opened the door for another idea. Carla jokingly asked “what do you think about building a bike for Rock 100?” Ken replied that “he and his builders had already discussed that idea” and that they really wanted to if they could find a way to pay for the hard costs of a build.
Two weeks after that conversation, Beck phoned Ogier again and said “how about we build a bike and raffle it off for a local non-profit group?” Beck noting that they should be able to sell more than enough raffle tickets to not only cover Knucklehead’s Garage material costs, but also be able to support the community by making a generous contribution to whomever was selected. At the end of the conversation, Ogier said “Let’s Do This!”
Work started almost immediately on picking out a frame for the bike, and choosing which accessories it would have. Earlier in the year, Ogier and some of his team had taken a road trip to the west coast. Unbeknownst to them at the time, they would be picking many of the future parts for Scarlett. They would fit the bike with an Indian Larry gas tank, a Jesse James Fender and of course a Harley Davidson power plant. The Knuckleheads were adamant the bike needed an “old school” look. Mission Accomplished!
Saturday, August 4th. The Bike didn’t yet have a name, and still didn’t have her custom rims and tires, but she was built and August 4th had already been the day selected to unveil her to the public. Yes, we keep referring to the bike as a “She”; that’s a Knucklehead’s Tradition to name ALL their builds after pretty ladies. This Bike was no exception. A little after 6pm on this cloudy late afternoon day the crowd at The Platte Bar in North Platte got to see her for the first time as employee and builder Rob Durfee rode “Scarlett” into the bar’s beer garden. Tickets were immediately available for purchase for the raffle to win the bike. That night alone almost 200 tickets had been purchased to win the bike.
Scarlett got her name the week after the unveiling when ROCK 100 listeners made nominations for a name on the stations Facebook Page. The ROCK 100 staff and Knuckleheads Garage decided on the name from those suggestions.
Guardians Of The Children
“The Guardians were the first name brought up when this idea hatched”, according to Derek Beck, manager at ROCK 100. “We knew we wanted to help children, we really wanted to partner with a biker organization since we were building and giving away a motorcycle. It Just made sense.” The Guardians would help sell raffle tickets at many of the ROCK 100 events that would follow in the next few month. In return, their organization would receive a substantial split of the raffle money to use towards their Mission in the future. “Many people that were not bikers, or even owned a motorcycle bought raffle tickets because they wanted to contribute to what the Guardians stood for” Derek Beck said.
On Wednesday, December 12, 100 names from the box that held All The Raffle Tickets were drawn at Great Western Bank, who served as the Title Sponsor of the Giveaway on ROCK 100. “We were surprised a few names were pulled out of the raffle box twice” said Shari Cecil, who also works for ROCK 100 as a Marketing Consultant. “I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised, some people spent over $200 on raffle tickets at once”. The Raffle tickets were $20 per ticket. The people who had their names drawn were personally invited to the final drawing which was also held at The Platte Bar in North Platte on Saturday, December 15th.
Most of the qualifiers were present for the announcement of the winner, but you did not have to be present to win. When Derek Beck and Miss Knuckle, Michelle James, drew the winning raffle ticket. It was Jake Dancer of Sutherland. Jake was not present, but was watching on ROCK 100’s Facebook Live Feed at the time.
After hard expenses to build Scarlett, the Knuckleheads Garage and ROCK 100 made a $5,977 donation to the Flatrock Chapter of Guardians Of The Children on Friday, December 28. “We want to thank the Guardians, Great Western Bank and all of the local businesses this fall that hosted Scarlett as we tried to raise as much money as we could for the Guardians” Derek Beck said after the check presentation. “And Thank You To Kenny Ogier and his guys at Knuckleheads Garage for all the work they put in on this project. We were able to pay for all the parts and still make a nice donation to an amazing North Platte area organization.” Beck says that they are already planning a similar giveaway next year. “We’re planning a summer promotion around a NEW bike that the Knuckleheads are already building. We are going to start a search inquiry in the next few weeks to select the 2019 beneficiary of the proceeds. We would ideally like to contribute to a different organization every year as long as we’re fortunate to have a great partner like Knuckleheads Garage and Great Western Bank.”
Because of this successful promotion, Knuckleheads outgrew their shop in Wallace in the short 4 months of this promotion and now have a new North Platte location located just South of Wyman’s Welding off of East 4th Street.
To Be Continued in 2019...
Troopers Kick-Off Holiday You Drink & Drive, You Lose Campaign
DECEMBER 14, 2018 (LINCOLN, NEB.) — Troopers with the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) will be looking to remove drunk drivers from the road during the final two weeks of 2018 as part of a nationwide “You Drink & Drive, You Lose” campaign.
“The holidays are a wonderful time to travel, be with family, and celebrate,” said Colonel John Bolduc, Superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. “The last thing we want is for this festive time to be marred by tragedy. That’s why our troopers will be diligently watching for drunk drivers and taking them off the road.”
The “You Drink & Drive, You Lose” enforcement runs from Friday, December 14 through Tuesday, January 1. Troopers across all regions of the state are participating, along with many other law enforcement agencies in Nebraska. NSP’s portion of the enforcement effort is made possible thanks in part to a grant for $25,000 from the Nebraska Department of Transportation – Highway Safety Office.
“Drunk drivers present a danger to anyone on the road,” said Bolduc. “Anyone who plans to drink should plan ahead and take advantage of many options available to get home safely without getting behind the wheel.”
Motorists who see a reckless, impaired, or dangerous driver are encouraged to report it to the Nebraska State Patrol by calling *55 from any cell phone. During a similar enforcement in 2017, troopers arrested 67 impaired drivers and another 28 for reckless driving.
Mary & Jazz