The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.
Disabled graduates. Nebraska had a job coach waiting for Spencer Mitchell when he graduated high school at age 21. That coach helped the young man get a job and learn the duties, then backed out of the picture over the course of two years.
On Thursday, Loveda Mitchell of Lincoln said her son continues working as a checker at Target and has remained largely independent for the last 20 years. She credited Nebraska’s guarantee of transition services to help students with developmental disabilities when they age out of school.
“This is the way it should work,” she told members of the Health and Human Services Committee.
Mitchell joined other parents, advocates and developmental disability service providers in backing a bill that would continue that guarantee for future young people.
But Courtney Miller, developmental disabilities director at the Department of Health and Human Services, opposed the measure, saying it could pit people needing services on an emergency basis against the guarantee of services for those students.
Legislative Bill 540, introduced by State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, would eliminate a June 30, 2021, sunset for the youth transition services.
The sunset was adopted last year as a legislative compromise. It was intended to ensure that young people could continue getting services under a new priority system for determining who would get developmental disability services.
As mandated by the federal government, the system gives first priority to people in immediate crisis because of a caregiver’s death or homelessness or a threat to life and safety. Services for youth leaving school is fourth priority under that system.
Miller said the state has been able to provide services for all of the top priority cases as well as all students reaching age 21 during the last two years. But she said that’s only been because of good planning.
She said LB 540 could put Nebraska at risk with the federal government if more people than anticipated need services on an emergency basis. She noted that Nebraska’s population is aging, meaning more parents are reaching an age they may not be able to care for a disabled adult child.
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Tax relief for farmers. Lawmakers gave first-round approval Thursday to a measure that would lower the tax load on farmers and ranchers when it comes to paying off school bonds. LB 183, if passed, would value agricultural land at 50 percent of its value (instead of the current 75 percent) when it comes to assessing costs for school construction and renovation bonds, thus shifting more costs onto homeowners and commercial property.
State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said his bill addresses a common complaint in rural areas — that farmers pay most of the property taxes but residents of cities and villages have most of the votes and decide whether school bond issues pass. That results in a minority paying most of the cost of new schools, he said, making it easier for city residents to pass bond issues.
Briese’s bill initially called for ag land to be valued at 1 percent of its actual value for school bonds, but he amended it Thursday to 50 percent in the face of opposition by education groups.
He said the impact in urban districts would be negligible under LB 183, but in a rural school district in his area the owner of a $150,000 home would pay $117 a year, rather than $94 a year. Meanwhile, the owner of a $4 million farm would pay about $1,700 a year rather than $2,531.
The senator said further debate on LB 183 will be delayed until the Revenue Committee decides what property tax relief measures might be coming forward. Then, Briese said, legislators can decide if his bill becomes part of that package.
— Paul Hammel and Martha Stoddard