About 25 people attended the town hall meeting held by Nebraska senator Tom Brewer at Valentine on March 25th.
During the first half of the meeting, senator Brewer summarized pertinent legislative activities during the first 53 days of the session, noting the 13 bills he’d introduced and mentioning that he was a sponsor of 26 others.
He indicated there has been a “battle” between those that want to increase taxes (property, income and sales) and those that want to reduce the tax burden. Property taxes were specifically noted as they are “bleeding people” and putting “in jeopardy farms and ranches” that struggle on limited income to have the money needed to pay yearly taxes.
Senator Brewer’s priority bill was LB 340, and this legislation has been approved. An especially “radioactive bill” has been LB 505, or the refugee resettlement act. Dialog has been “ugly,” he said, indicating he has been called a “racist” and “horrible human being,” he said. The intent of the legislation is not to stop refugee resettlement, but to get some accountability. The ongoing influx of refugees has made it difficult to balance the state’s budget, he said.
A question and answer period followed.
A particular point of discussion was why one particular legislator has such an influence on legislative proceedings. This Omaha senator has used filibusters to delay action on legislative bills and kept other legislative measures from being considered. Sen. Brewer noted that this was because the eastern Nebraskan uses every means of legally available means to act, based upon his more than 40 years of legislative involvement.
Whiteclay was another topic of a question, and sen. Brewer indicated that $100,000 is available to clean up the place, which would include removal of abandoned buildings. There is also the potential that the liquor licenses may be revoked by early summer, which could result in other businesses being established, he said.
Brewer was supportive of a request by the Niobrara Council for additional funding. No action has been taken on this, since the revenue committee has not submitted state funding proposals, so any action by the appropriations committee is stalled. The budgetary request is very minimal.
A west-Cherry county rancher asked why LB 504 would be a legislative priority for Brewer in 2018, noting how the bill would affect local control, such as county zoning regulations.
This legislation – which is stalled in committee – would place a moratorium on the development of wind turbine facilities in the sandhill’s region and allow detailed consideration of associated aspects.
Wind energy development is “disjointed,” in the region, Brewer said, adding that more information is needed to for there to be proper decisions.
Brewer and his legislative assistance Tony Baker, then gave special recognition to the many sandhill residents that came to Lincoln to present testimony at the committee hearing for LB 504. At the recent legislative hearing in Lincoln with the natural resources committee, Brewer said there were 21 lawyers present, including some from Omaha firms and others from prominent wind-turbine developers. They spoke against this legislative bill as they are in favor developing wind turbine facilities, with money a primary topic, personally heard at the hearing in Lincoln.
Because of the decision by the committee chairman, this bill is being held in committee, despite the majority of personal and written testimony asking that the bill be presented to the full legislature for consideration.
“There will be no more wind energy once subsidies are gone,” Brewer said. Tax subsidies for wind turbine facilities are now being reduced every year by 20%, and by 2020, according to known details, there will no longer be any sort of subsidy provided by U.S.A. taxpayers in support of these sorts of facilities.
Brewer also commented that a potential change in the placement of the R-Project to a southerly corridor would influence any placement of turbines in Cherry county.
A draft environmental impact assessment prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates such a potential corridor, based upon a draft copy, available in early March. A final version of this document is expected to be made available for public review in June?
The situation with lobbyists working to influence legislators was also conveyed in response to a question from a Valentine resident. There are 49 senators and 488 lobbyists, Brewer said, noting that there are regular events held for the senators so a particular interest group can present a perspective in favor of legislation. Lobbyists take every opportunity available to express their particular view, he said, and they are especially prevalent in the capitol rotunda outside the legislative chamber.
A bit of discussion was given two other items, including enacting legislation that would require Country-Of-Origin-Labeling for beef in Nebraska and bringing an end to the change in the spring and autumn time changes.
Brewer noted that a special feature in his office is a mounted buffalo-head, and visitors enjoy getting their picture of them and the senator with the shaggy mount in the background. The stuffed head came from a bison taken by his daughter and had been a “Butch” Shadbolt animal. It took particular effort to get it properly placed in a manner that conformed to building strictures, he said.
Sen. Brewer suggested that if there are any local or regional issues that may require legislation, effort should be made to define the needs in the next few months so legislation can be written for consideration during the legislative session in 2018.
People from Ainsworth, Wood Lake, Valentine, Kilgore, Nenzel, Cody and Thedford attended the meeting. Prominent among the crowd at a Valentine restaurant, early on a Saturday morning, were numerous opponents and a few proponents of wind turbines in Cherry county. Sen. Brewer answered every question asked during the 70 minute meeting.