BRAINARD – State Sen. Bruce Bostleman wasn’t particularly pleased with the outcome of the recent legislative session when it came to the budget.
The Brainard resident, who represents Saunders County in District 23, said the biennial $9.3 billion budget passed by the legislature did not have enough property tax reduction for Nebraskans.
“We cannot continue to increase the budget and not do any relief to our property taxes,” he said.
However, the budget will fund some things that the state needs, including long term health care, Bostleman added.
In all, 294 bills were passed out of the 739 introduced during the 90-day legislative session, which ended six days early.
One of the most important bills that was passed, according to Bostleman, included LB519, which concerns human trafficking. Bostleman co-sponsored the bill.
“It’s something we need to continually be educating people on because it happens in our district,” he said.
The bill includes harsher penalties for those who participate in human trafficking and funding for educating Nebraskans about the growing problem.
“People need to be aware of it and report it if things just don’t look right,” he said.
The senator was also pleased that the legislature passed LB512, providing early property tax relief for people who were affected by the flooding and blizzard that took place in March. He wanted to make sure everyone knows about the bill and the deadline for application, which is July 15.
“It’s an important thing that people need to be aware of and take a look at,” he said.
Bostleman introduced LB698 in response to complaints from constituents about trash and debris falling from trucks as they travel on local highways. Most of the complaints in Saunders County are about the haulers going to the Butler County landfill near David City. More than 300 trucks a day go into the landfill, he said.
The senator said he sees the situation first hand when he participates in roadside cleanup events in the district.
The bill, which took effect immediately after it was signed by the governor on May 1, provides stricter penalties to ensure commercial haulers properly secure their vehicles or loads, Bostleman said.
The senator worked with law enforcement officials on the law. The trucking industry supported the bill as well, he said.
“Hopefully as we drive down local highways in coming months and years we won’t see as much trash and items in the fields and ditches,” he added.
Bostleman also worked on several bills regarding license plate designations for veterans. One bill, which was rolled into another bill, allowed Merchant Marines to receive veteran designation on license plates. Another bill created license plates that will have a specific emblem for the Nebraska Air National Guard. Previously, the Army National Guard was the only National Guard branch that had special license plates in Nebraska.
A third bill eliminates the $3.50 fee for military honor plates for veterans who earned the Purple Heart medal, were prisoners of war, Pearl Harbor survivors, disabled veterans and for Gold Star family members. Bostleman said he had hoped to reduce a larger portion of the fee for these veterans, but did not because the money from these plates funds the Nebraska Veterans Cemetery at Alliance.
“The $3.50 fee does not have a fiscal impact on the cemetery,” he added.
An Air Force veteran himself, Bostleman is working on a number of bills for next session to provide relief and opportunities for veterans, he said.
One bill he is working on would allow veterans organizations that operate clubs to sell food at their locations without charging taxes.
“That money stays in the community,” he said.
Another bill provides 100 percent tax exemption for vehicles owned by disabled veterans. Bostleman said this bill has a more significant fiscal impact and may be harder to move through committee.
“I’m not overly confident,” he said.
He is also working on a bill he introduced early last session about electric vehicles. Bostleman said the increase in popularity of all-electric vehicles needs to be studied to determine how the loss of revenue from fuel taxes will affect the state’s ability to maintain and build roads and bridges.
“I ran the bill to begin the conversation as to what we’re going to do with this,” he said.
The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee will do a legislative resolution study on the bill during the break between legislative sessions. The second session of the 106th Legislature will convene Jan. 8, 2020.
One of the most important events that took place during the session was the flooding and blizzard that devastated the state in March. Bostleman introduced LR203 as a way to express the legislature’s gratitude to the agencies and individuals who responded during the natural disaster.
“With all the flooding and disaster we’ve had in the state, it’s just been an enormous outpouring of people helping people,” he said.
Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and county emergency managers “did a great job” during the event and continue their work long after the snow melted and the floodwaters receded, he said.
“We will continue to work with emergency managers and county officials to help them understand what to do in the recovery process,” Bostleman said.
Bostleman is touring the district with county highway superintendents this week to see the damage to levees and bridges.
He will also spend the time between sessions to meet with constituents in the district, travel for conferences and catch up on work at his rural Brainard home.
“It doesn’t slow down,” he said.