Property tax relief and the student discipline bill being crafted by state Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte are two of the main issues he plans to address in the state legislative session that begins Jan. 8, 2020.
On Monday evening, Groene outlined some of the progress he is making in getting bills passed concerning both subjects. About 35 people attended the town hall meeting at the West Central Research and Extension Center.
“I was in Lincoln this morning again,” Groene said. “Sen. (Lou Ann) Linehan and I met with the governor this morning about property taxes and how we fund our schools. He’s working with us and I think we’re getting closer.”
Groene said the Legislature needs to be favorable to rural Nebraska.
“Everybody was so excited when we put another $51 million into the property tax credit fund last year, that was a big thing,” Groene said. “Rural Nebraska got $10 million of it, because what’s happening is it’s based on total valuation statewide.”
He pointed out that ag land valuations are going down, but valuations in eastern Nebraska are going up.
“Guess what’s going up,” Groene said. “Houses in Omaha, Lincoln, Elkhorn and new construction. So total valuation is getting bigger, but ag’s portion is less.”
Groene said he and other senators are trying to give foundation aid to schools.
“Every student gets so much money and it follows the student, it’s a resource,” Groene said. “So every small school, every school district will get state aid, and it should drive down the property taxes that they need.”
He said there are 165 school districts that don’t tax what they could.
“The school boards are conservative enough to say we need this much money,” Groene said. “But the point is they had to give all the money because they weren’t getting any state aid. I had to explain that to the governor — he thinks they were all just taxing to the limit, but they aren’t.”
But there is a caveat to the proposal.
“The thing is, we don’t want to start giving them state aid and they tell their school boards, well hey, we can tweak this, we can take more property taxes,” Groene said. “At least for a couple of years, it needs to be a dollar-for-dollar property tax relief.”
Groene said he will be speaking to the state School Board Association in a couple of weeks.
“That’s going to be my message to them: ‘Come on, guys, you need to pass it on,’” Groene said. “We give you state aid, you have got to pass it on to the taxpayer.”
On another education issue, Groene said he is getting closer on what is known as the “discipline bill.”
“We’ve come to find out we’re one of only seven states that doesn’t have statute that protects the teacher, that protects the administrator, that protects the janitor, protects the school district from lawsuit if a teacher steps in and does the right thing,” Groene said. “They step in and break up a fight and save Susie from getting beat up by Johnny or Johnny getting beat up by Susie, whatever, without worrying about losing their job, being disciplined by administration, or they’re going to be sued by the parents.”
Groene touched on other subjects including tax increment financing and the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project and answered questions on several other issues.