LINCOLN – Since the legislature reunited in Nebraska on Jan. 6, the state Senators have introduced new laws ranging from reducing tax breaks for military retirees to providing scholarships for private schools to improving youth rights in state care. Here is a brief overview of the bills introduced in the fourth week of the legislative period, which begins on January 24th.
Private school scholarships
Elkhorn Senator Lou Ann Linehan introduced LB364, a bill that would allow taxpayers to apply for a non-refundable tax credit of up to 50% of their contributions to grant providers.
The bill is intended to cover private school tuition and fees for low-income students. Grant recipients must be a Nebraska resident and from a household whose gross income does not exceed the discounted meal eligibility guidelines for the National School Lunch Program.
The governor had previously expressed his support for LB364 during a press conference on January 25 and increased funding for private and home schools. Opponents of the bill, however, said the bill would redirect tax money and priority from Nebraska’s public schools to the private school system.
Youth in state care
The Judiciary Committee is considering LB357, a bill sponsored by Senator Megan Hunt of Omaha to protect the rights of foster youth in Nebraska.
The law would give young people special rights in government institutions and rehabilitation centers. It ensures that caseworkers repeatedly inform young people of their rights and use age-appropriate language, and protects a young person’s family ties.
Property tax relief
Linehan also introduced LR22CA, a change that would allow Nebraskans to vote on capping local property tax growth to 3%.
If passed, Nebraska voters would see that change in the November 2022 general election. This bill was also proposed at the request of the governor, who had previously expressed support for capping Nebraskan property taxes.
Military pensioner benefits
LB387, introduced by Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon, would allow Nebraskans to exclude their entire military retirement pension from state income tax. The bill requested by Governor Pete Ricketts would help military retirees.
Legislators approved an earlier exclusion in 2020. This new addition to the law would allow Nebraskans to exclude 100% of military pension income instead of the previous 50%. Other surrounding states, such as Iowa and South Dakota, have similar laws and don’t tax military retirees.
Flood protection projects
Omaha Senator Mike McDonnell proposed LB406 to set up a nine-person task force to collect information on the construction of reservoirs and flood control structures along the Platte River.
The proposal is in response to the historic floods in 2019 that caused $ 3.4 billion in damage. Floods occurred along the Platte as well as the Elkhorn, Big Blue and Missouri Rivers. Previously, the legislature had instructed the Ministry of Natural Resources to draw up a flood protection plan, which is expected in late 2021.
The Natural Resources Committee is reviewing the bill while considering the potential impact of reservoirs on Ashland and other adjacent communities on the Platte River.
Protection for student journalists
A bill proposed by Senator Adam Morfeld of Lincoln would give student journalists full first-time adjustment rights.
While student journalists would get more press rights, they would be expected to adhere to journalistic ethical standards set out in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Student media advisors would also be instructed to use the resources and advice of professional media organizations on mass media law and ethics.
Several students and advisors from the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln testified before the judicial committee in support of the bill.
A previous bill, LB206, extended full freedom of speech and press freedom to media professionals for high school and upper secondary journalists. This new bill extends those rights and further protects student journalists and school-sponsored press.