Putting the Brakes on Bad Bills
By Governor Pete Ricketts
April 13, 2021
Governor’s official photo here.
The Nebraska Legislature is two-thirds of the way through the 2021 legislative session. Over the next several weeks, Senators will vote on a number of key bills. As they do, I encourage Nebraskans to follow closely debate at the State Capitol.
Senators have already made good progress on a number of Nebraskans’ priorities. The Appropriations Committee has issued its final report on a budget that would control spending to deliver over $1.45 billion of property tax relief over the next two years. The Unicameral advanced veterans tax relief (LB 387) to final reading on a unanimous vote. Speaker Hilgers has prioritized a bill I requested (LB 388) to build critical broadband infrastructure.
Along with this promising work, however, Senators are considering a few bills that would be bad for Nebraska. I want to call your attention to these bills and share my reasons for opposing them.
Legalizing Dangerous Drugs (LR 2CA and LB 474)
In recent years, marijuana corporations have tried to make inroads into the Good Life. Well-funded marijuana groups are again pressuring Legislators to legalize the drug. LR 2CA would put full legalization of marijuana on the ballot in 2022. Another bill, LB 474, would partially legalize marijuana now.
Bringing marijuana into Nebraska will hurt kids. In neighboring Colorado, marijuana was the substance most likely to be present in adolescent suicides (age 10-19) during 2016. Marijuana was found in over 30% of cases where toxicology data was available. Suicide is now the leading cause of death of adolescents in Colorado. Among the 15-19 age group, the presence of marijuana in suicide toxicology reports increased almost threefold from 2013 to 2017. The link between marijuana and depression among teens is especially alarming given the rising number of adolescents who frequently use the drug. More than 1 in 15 high school seniors use marijuana on a daily basis. Over 21% of 12th graders have used the drug in the past month.
Nebraska will experience the same heart-wrenching outcomes as Colorado if we legalize marijuana in our state. The American Psychiatric Association’s statement on marijuana says, “there is no current scientific evidence that cannabis is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In contrast, current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm, given the effects of cannabis on neurological development.” Legislators should stand by the science, protect our kids, and oppose efforts by marijuana lobbyists to open our state to this unhealthy and dangerous drug.
Taking on Major Debt (LB 542)
Nebraska is the least indebted state in the country. That’s because, like Nebraska families, we only spend the money we have. Some Senators want to change that. LB 542 would abandon our proven pay-as-we-go approach. Instead, it would load the State with up to $450 million of debt for new spending on highways.
Senators increased funding for roads just a few years ago with the passage of the Transportation Innovation Act. It authorized $450 million to speed construction of the state’s expressway system and to repair or replace county bridges. Nebraskans will be paying the tab on this legislation all the way until 2033 through state motor fuel taxes.
With LB 542, the State of Nebraska would be taking on major debt and big interest payments. Taking on debt is forever; it never gets paid off. Funds spent on interest payments are essentially wasted. They won’t go to build roads; they’ll go to pay creditors. Taking on a huge amount of debt could also jeopardize our strong credit rating as a state. Anyone who has dealt with debt knows how quickly it can get out of control. Senators should slam the brakes on LB 542 and vote against taking on hundreds of millions of dollars of debt—money that will come out of your wallet.
Food Stamps for Felons (LB 108 and LB 121)
Nebraska law does not allow drug dealers and criminals with three or more felony drug convictions to collect food stamps. LB 121 would change this provision, extending food stamps to felons—regardless of their number of prior drug offenses. Crime has consequences. In Nebraska, multiple drug felonies rightly disqualify individuals from receiving taxpayer-funded food benefits. Nebraskans shouldn’t be expected to subsidize the food budgets of drug dealers who repeatedly violate the law and undermine our society.
LB 108 would increase the gross income eligibility limit to apply for food stamps from 130% to 185% of the federal poverty level (FPL). However, the vast majority of expected new applicants would not be eligible to receive additional benefits. That’s because the federal government limits granting benefits to applicants with a net income at or below 100% of the FPL. In other words, LB 108 promises benefits that most applicants won’t be eligible to receive. The bill would result in widespread disappointment among applicants and lots of wasted effort by the State to process applications for people ineligible for benefits.
Our state has successfully regained jobs and restored growth after the disruptions of the pandemic. We had the lowest average unemployment rate of any state in 2020, and our current unemployment rate of 3.1% is the third-lowest in the nation. The State of Nebraska offers programs like SNAP Next Step to help families in need gain job skills to live better lives. On average, participants who complete SNAP Next Step receive more than a $20,500 annual increase in their income. We should continue to empower families to achieve greater financial independence.
State Senators represent the people. Their job is to do the work Nebraskans elected them to perform. As Senators decide how to vote on important bills, I encourage you to share your input with them. You can find contact information for your State Senator at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov. If you have questions about any bills under consideration, please email me at email@example.com or call 402-471-2244.