Stinner looks at upcoming legislative session

September 20, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF – If legislation that requires new spending has a chance of passage during the upcoming legislative session, it will probably need to be “emergency legislation.”

That’s how Nebraska District 48 State Sen. John Stinner described the requirement for new bills to be considered when the Nebraska Legislature begins its 90-day session on Jan. 9, 2019. Tentatively, the last day is scheduled for June 6.

For the last two sessions, the Speaker of the Legislature said that any bill with a fiscal note attached (requiring spending) doesn’t get beyond Select File.

“I presume a lot of that legislation will come up again next session,” Stinner said. “How we prioritize those bills will be interesting.”

The next set of numbers from the state’s Economic Forecasting Board, due out in October, will have an impact on what legislation gets passed.

“I’m not too terribly optimistic for the next biennium,” Stinner said. “All the economists I’ve listened to say the business downturn will continue and those numbers could filter into our projections.”

Keith Ellis, Community Development Director with Twin Cities Development, also said there’s a growing concern locally the Panhandle could lose its reputation as a retail hub due to several store closings over the last few years, including Herberger’s and K-Mart.

Stinner said the Planning Committee, of which he’s a member, is looking at outmigration from rural Nebraska and what that demographic looks like.

“We’re looking at population growth and stability,” he said. “It’s about jobs, wages and all the things that keep people here.”

Stinner is also working on a legislative review of how outmigration is affecting the viability of nursing homes in rural parts of the state.

“This review is something that’s close to my heart,” he said. “It speaks a little bit about the need for population growth. It all blends together.”

Another major issue the Legislature must potentially deal with is if voters approve the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in November.

If approved, the legislation could possibly add 45,000 more Nebraskans that currently don’t qualify for Medicaid.

“From the research we’ve done, it looks like it would be an $80 million figure the state picks up,” Stinner said. “But if Congress changes its mind about reimbursement rates, that number could go up substantially. That’s one of my nightmares about this whole thing.”

One of Stinner’s bills that will be reintroduced next session would authorize all state agencies to perform a cost analysis of federal funding they receive.

“The legislation would examine all the strings attached to accepting federal money and how it all ties back to the agencies performing their missions,” he said. “Agencies will also develop a contingency plan on how they can continue providing essential services when federal funding gets cut.”

Stinner said the bill has broad support because all the senators understand how obligated they are to the federal government. About 30 percent of the state’s total budget is being financed by the feds.

Property tax relief is another issue to be considered. Stinner said he’s more favorable to finding a source of revenue rather than just reducing taxes. That could include broadening the current sales tax base by eliminating several exemptions and also reducing the tax rate, which could be used for property tax relief.

“We could also see how some of the incentive programs are working or look at some things on the income tax side,” Stinner said. “We need a more comprehensive approach to dealing with property taxes. A possible solution could be more acceptable but it would also require bringing more people to the table to get it done.”

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