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Legislative Report Week 5

Hope you all had a great weekend! February 14th at 2:10pm, in the Chamber Board Room, you are welcome to listen in on the Nebraska Chamber Legislative Conference Call. The call will include updates about legislation and activity at the Nebraska Legislature, as well as time for questions. Calls usually last around 20 minutes. There is no cost to you, they are part of your Chamber membership.

Nebraska lawmakers this week continued to hold morning floor debate and afternoon committee hearings on new legislation. The Nebraska Legislature’s 2019 session is now nearly 25% complete. Legislative committees have already advanced numerous measures to General File, the first of three stages in which a bill is considered by the full Legislature. As of Thursday, February 7, there were 70 bills on General File or Select File, and another 14 on Final Reading. Among the bills advanced this week by the full Legislature was LB82, introduced by Henderson Senator Curt Friesen to streamline certain Nebraska Department of Transportation processes and allow more flexibility in road design.

Bills that the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce are keeping a close eye on:

Two workforce bills were heard by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee last Friday, February 1. The first bill, LB272 by Lincoln Senator Adam Morfeld, would provide for a non-refundable income tax credit to an employer for wages paid to apprentices as part of a qualified apprenticeship training program. A qualified program would consist of 1,200 to 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. The credit would be equal to $1 for each hour worked by an apprentice during the year, while the tax credit would be capped at the lesser of $2,000 or 50% of the wages paid to the apprentice. The Department of Revenue would award tax credits in the order in which they are received up to $2.5 million per year. Credits claimed but not used in a taxable year could be carried forward. Bruce Bohrer with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the State Chamber’s Public Affairs Council, testified on behalf of the Nebraska Chamber in support of LB272. Bohrer noted that the bill should be amended to remove the trustee administration requirement. He also told the committee that a growing number of states have turned to apprenticeships as a potential solution to their labor shortages, and that a tax credit could convince more companies to utilize apprenticeships. Bohrer said LB272 was broad enough to encompass different types of apprenticeships, from traditional careers to IT and health care – an important feature as Nebraska seeks to bolster its workforce needs.

A second bill heard by the committee was Omaha Senator Brett Lindstrom’s LB266 to amend the 2016 School Readiness Tax Credit Act, which allows eligible staff members of early childhood education programs to apply for a refundable state income tax credit of up to $1,500. LB266 would allow self employed individuals who provide early childhood education to be eligible to claim the credit. It also would allow tax credits awarded to eligible providers that have formed as pass-through entities to be distributed as income.

LB122 by Bellevue Senator Sue Crawford would allow veterans receiving vocational rehabilitation as permitted by federal law to be considered Nebraska residents for the purposes of in-state tuition and fees charged by public college or universities.

On February 5, the Legislature’s Revenue Committee heard testimony on legislation that aims to enhance Nebraska’s workforce by establishing scholarships focused on high-demand jobs and career fields. Under Gering Senator John Stinner’s LB639, known as the H3 Careers Scholarship Act, scholarships would be awarded to students at post-secondary educational institutions in Nebraska. Under the bill, eligible students would need to pursue majors leading to careers in an “H3” (high demand, high wage, and high skill) occupation, as designated by the Nebraska Department of Labor. Post-secondary educational institutions would need to designate majors of study the lead to an H3 career and receive approval from the Department of Labor. The bill would appropriate $10 million in fiscal year 2019-20, $20 million in fiscal year 2020-21, and $30 million each fiscal year thereafter. LB639 would require matching funds from the participating educational institutions. Testifying in support of the bill was Nebraska Chamber President Bryan Slone. Slone told the committee that his meetings with business leaders statewide have made it clear that workforce is their most pressing concern. He said the state’s aging demographics combined with the need for more tech based skills in the workplace mean Nebraska’s workforce shortage could become an even larger obstacle to growth in the immediate future. “We have a 50-state competition for workers,” Slone said. Slone told the committee that LB639 addresses Nebraska’s workforce challenge in two key ways: The bill gives post-secondary institutions the ability to award competitive scholarships to promising students, while allowing labor experts to determine which jobs are most in demand. LB639 also requires that eligible students take part in internships to connect them with the business community, which increases the likelihood of young people staying in Nebraska. The Education Committee also received testimony on LB563, a proposal by Lincoln Senator Kate Bolz. Titled the Access College Early (ACE) Tech Promise Program Act, LB563 would provide financial aid to students who meet eligibility criteria as specified in the bill. Eligible students would be those who have been awarded or qualified for ACE scholarships for dual credit courses while in high school. An eligible student would need attend a Nebraska community college, tribally controlled community college in Nebraska, or the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis and enroll in an approved, in-demand occupation (as determined by the Nebraska Community College Student Performance and Occupational Education Grant Committee). Awards could not to exceed the sum of tuition and fees, plus $1,500. The minimum award under the program would be $1,500. Students could receive awards for no more than two academic years. The Nebraska Chamber submitted a letter in support of the concept of LB563. The Chamber wrote: “The shortage of qualified, skilled workers has become an urgent issue since the end of the last national recession and is clearly hindering our ability to grow as a state. … States and communities across the country are employing new, creative programs to enhance their workforce. The first place to start is to keep our talented people here in Nebraska. Senator Bolz’s LB563 is a worthwhile proposal to help Nebraska expand its pool of skilled workers by encouraging students to participate early in career education programs related to in-demand occupations. This bill correctly identifies the need for more 39 emphasis on high-skill, high-demand jobs – jobs that will help expand and diversify Nebraska’s economy.” The committee took no immediate action on either LB563 or LB639.

This week, Lincoln Senators Adam Morfeld and Anna Wishart filed with the Secretary of State a proposed constitutional ballot initiative that would appear on Nebraska’s November 2020 ballot to legalize “medical marijuana.” If the initiative were to be approved by Nebraska voters, a doctor or nurse practitioner could recommend the use of cannabis, products and equipment to alleviate serious medical conditions. Individuals would also have the right to safely and discreetly produce an adequate supply of cannabis. The ballot initiative would need an estimated 130,000 to 140,000 signatures, depending on voter registration numbers. The signatures would need to be collected and submitted by July 2020. The ballot initiative language is similar to Senator Wishart’s LB110, which currently before the Nebraska Legislature. As reported in last week’s issue of the Legislative Report, the Nebraska Chamber has communicated its concerns regarding LB110 to the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, noting that legalized medical marijuana could significantly increase liabilities and business costs for employers.

KACC is also watching: LB644: Adopt the Nebraska Workforce Diploma Act. LB664: Provide for certain income tax deductions and LB720: Adopt the ImagiNE Nebraska Act and provide tax incentives.

The following are the key 2019 dates for Nebraska lawmakers this session:

● March 14 - Deadline for speaker priority bill requests.

● March 19 - Deadline for committee & senator priority bill designations.

● March 20 - Speaker priority bills announced.

● March 28 - Deadline to complete bill hearings.

● April 2 - Full-day floor debate begins.

● May 2 - Budget bills must be on General File.

● May 22 - Budget bills must be passed.

● June 6 - Sine die adjournment.

Reminder: The Chamber will be hosting a morning “Legislative Report” with Senator Lowe on February 18th at 8 am.

Have a great week!

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