LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers passed bills Wednesday to exempt military retirement benefits from income taxes, create a school safety hotline and give farmers and ranchers a break on school bond payments.
The measures were among a slew of bills given final approval on a day marked by continued rancor over the filibuster that blocked services for 850 severely disabled children the night before.
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, who introduced the disability services bill, used procedural motions to drag out debate Wednesday, during which she chastised colleagues for not helping the “most vulnerable children.”
She said she had heard from many parents who were devastated after Legislative Bill 376 fell three votes short on a motion to end the filibuster against it Tuesday.
“You did a bad thing yesterday for bad reasons,” she said, charging opponents with killing the bill on behalf of Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Taylor Gage, the governor’s communications director, said the administration testified against the bill at its hearing and remains in opposition.
LB 376 would have made family support services available to as many as 850 children with developmental disabilities whose needs could qualify them for institutions. It also would have allowed more such children to qualify for Medicaid and thus be able to seek the specialized new services.
On Tuesday, Sen. Julie Slama of Peru and other opponents had argued that the bill’s two-year, $11.6 million cost wasn’t among the state’s top priorities. They said the state already spends $167 million a year on services for people with developmental disabilities.
Among the bills passed Wednesday:
Military taxation. Military retirement benefits would be 100% free of income taxes under LB 387, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon on behalf of the governor. The bill, which passed on a 47-0 vote, increases the income tax exemption from the 50% level passed last year. It is estimated to reduce state revenues by about $20 million a year when fully implemented.
Property taxes. Owners of farm and ranch land would pay less toward future school bonds under LB 2, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion and passed 36-6 Wednesday.
The measure would reduce the valuation of agriculture land from 75% of its actual value to 50% when it comes to paying for new school bond issues. The change means residential and commercial property owners would have to pick up more of the cost for those bonds.
A second measure, LB 644, would require local governments to mail notices to property owners if they expect to increase property tax collections more than a specified amount. The bill, introduced by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, passed on a 42-0 vote.
School safety. People could anonymously report concerns about students who may be thinking about harming themselves or other people on a statewide hotline under LB 322, introduced by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg and passed on 41-5 vote Wednesday.
The bill expands the Safe2HelpNE hotline, launched on a pilot basis last year in Douglas County. The hotline connects callers to trained crisis counselors at Boys Town, who can offer help and resources and can alert threat assessment teams set up in the participating school districts.
LB 639, introduced by Sen. Jen Day of Omaha and passed 44-3, would require that all public and private schools have someone on staff able to respond to students suffering seizures. It also would require an hour of training about seizures for school staff.
Meat and poultry. Consumers could buy shares of an animal or a herd directly from a farmer or rancher and get part of the meat when the animal is slaughtered under LB 324, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth and passed on a 48-0 vote Wednesday.
Animals sold this way could be processed at a custom butcher shop and be exempt from the federal meat inspections required for meat sold at retail. The bill also would set up a grant program to help small processing plants, with fewer than 25 employees, expand or improve their facilities.
Unemployment. Nebraskans forced to quit a job to care for a seriously ill family member could get unemployment benefits under LB 260, introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha and passed on a 33-11 vote.
The bill would make caregivers eligible for benefits while they look for a new job that fits with their family duties. People could get benefits only if they had made reasonable efforts to work out conflicts between their jobs and their caregiving before quitting.
Child care. More families could qualify for state child care assistance over the next two years under LB 485, introduced by Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington and passed 31-6.
The bill would use federal block grant funds to expand eligibility to families making less than 185% of the federal poverty level, or $31,894 per year for a single parent and one child, up from 130% currently. The bill also would allow more families to qualify for transitional aid as their incomes grow.
Rail parks. The state would provide up to $50 million over 10 years to help nonmetro counties develop business parks linked to railroad lines under LB 40, introduced by Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte and passed 49-0 Wednesday.
The bill would help North Platte develop a multimillion-dollar “rail park” linked to the Union Pacific main line that runs through the city. Grants provided through LB 40 would be limited to no more than $30 million each and would require matching local funds.