The Revenue Committee heard testimony this past week on LB 720, which would adopt the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. LB 720 proposes to rewrite Nebraska’s business incentive program. The legislation encourages the creation of higher paying jobs, simplifies the process, improves the transparency and accountability of the program, and reduces the number of years in which credits can be redeemed.

The primary current business incentive program, the Nebraska Advantage Act, is set to sunset next year. Senator Mark Kolterman of Seward, the sponsor of LB 720, stressed the on-going need for incentives to attract top employers while encouraging the growth of existing businesses. Although others questioned whether these incentives were the best use of our state’s tax dollars, Senator Kolterman emphasized that allowing our business incentives to end with no substitute in place would be disastrous for Nebraska.

Under LB 720, applicants would work with the Department of Economic Development, rather than the Department of Revenue, for the purpose of building and sustaining a relationship between businesses and the state. Various tax benefits would be available to taxpayers that meet the required levels of employment and investment. Twenty-two senators have signed on as co-sponsors of LB 720.

The Legislature spent approximately three hours discussing LB 627. Introduced by Lincoln Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, this bill would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Proponents argued that young people are bypassing our state for jobs because we are one of only twelve states that don’t offer this protection for LBGT individuals. Opponents countered that sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a protected class of individuals, that it could encourage lawsuits, and that it could restrict the religious beliefs of business owners. Under the speaker’s rules, the sponsor of LB 627 will have to prove that she has thirty-three votes in order for the bill to be placed on the agenda again, which appears unlikely.

My first bill was passed by the Legislature this past week. LB 406 will assist the State Treasurer’s Office in more efficiently administering the Unclaimed Property Program.

The Corps of Discovery Welcome Center closed last month. It is located on Highway 81 in Nebraska, just across the border from Yankton. I initiated a meeting with representatives of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, the Tourism Commission, and economic development organizations in Northeast Nebraska. The purpose of the meeting was to see if we can find a way to keep this building open and staffed, as it plays a very important role in promoting Nebraska, as tourists cross the river into Nebraska.

The Unicameral Update is a daily source of information, covering legislative activity. It can be found on the homepage of the Legislature’s website at nebraskalegislature.gov. Furthermore, a print publication of the weekly Update contains the same articles that appear online. Interested persons can subscribe to the free publication by calling (402) 471-2788 or by subscribing online.

I wanted to make sure that high school students with an interest in law, government, leadership or public speaking are aware of the 2019 Unicameral Youth Legislature, held June 9-12. It is a 4-day legislative simulation conducted at the State Capitol. Students will act as senators and sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, and debate legislation. Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Speaker Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Registration forms can be obtained at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl.

Although I am in Lincoln during the week, I try to attend functions in my legislative district when I am back home on the weekends. I will be in Wakefield on Saturday, March 23, for a Town Hall meeting at the Legion Hall from 1-3 p.m. If you would like to discuss legislation or another issue and I don’t see

you in the district, please contact my legislative office at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

In other news

This past week will forever be remembered for the historic, devastating flooding our state experienced. In scope of reach, we believe it is the most widespread natural disaster in our state’s history. As Nebraskans, we will get through this together as we always have.

Since my last column our state, and the 41st district in particular, has suffered through flooding of historical proportions. Nebraska has more miles of rivers than any other state in the US, and for the first time ever, every single river in the eastern part of the state has crested at a ne…

Recently, a catastrophic storm swept across the state of Nebraska. The western part of our state was confronted with extreme blizzard conditions, while central and eastern Nebraska are grappling with historic flooding. Entire communities are underwater, roads are closed or washed away, bridg…

Extreme weather has caused devastation in Northeast Nebraska and across the state. My thoughts and prayers are with all those that have been affected, especially farmers and ranchers. Our first responders have gone above and beyond these last few days. The Nebraska National Guard, Nebraska S…

It was another busy week in the House Ways and Means Committee with important hearings on tax policy and the state of our economy. We heard from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in his annual testimony before the committee that the American economy is strong and our efforts at reforming the…

Lincoln – High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 9-12. At the State Capitol student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.

LB 243, the bill I introduced to create the Healthy Soils Task Force, was advanced from the Agriculture Committee on a 7-0 vote. No one testified against it at the public hearing earlier this session. I have designated it as my priority bill, assuring that it will be discussed by the full Le…

Josh Moenning is the Mayor of Norfolk and a close friend of mine. Given the ongoing flooding, over a third of Norfolk had to evacuate because of rising water concerns. I texted Josh, and I called him. He did not answer me­­––and I am glad he didn’t. I know he is busy taking care of things, a…

It is National Ag Week in Nebraska, and we are celebrating our state’s number one industry. This week, the Department of Agriculture and I will be visiting with some of the farm families and ranchers who are building opportunity in communities across our state and growing the food that helps…