LINCON — With 17 days left in the second session of the 106th Legislature upcoming, Senator Matt Williams discussed priority bills, property taxes and the effects of COVID-19 on Monday.
Speaking with the Lexington Clipper-Herald, Williams said much time has been spent on the three major issues of the state, which includes property taxes, economic development incentives and the NExT project in Omaha.
All of these bills need to get done and can be done if the legislature comes together, said Williams.
There are stumbling blocks for a bill that supports property tax relief, many senators question the structure of the relief and how it will affect the state’s school systems.
Williams said the bill is struggling to get 33 votes and many senators will not vote against their school districts. He added a group of senators is trying to find alternatives for a new way forward.
The current legislative session was bisected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the second half is set to start on July 20 and last through Aug. 13.
Despite the pandemic, Williams said the three major issues remain at the forefront and were known quantities before the virus struck.
Some property tax relief has been delivered, but not to the extent many feel it should, Williams said. It remains a high priority.
The budget bill remains on select file and has not been fully completed, Williams said.
At the moment there are unknowns surrounding the revenue which is coming into the state. Williams said before the pandemic hit, the economy was doing well, but after the virus, business slowed and almost stopped.
The burning question is how quickly business will ramp back up, said Williams.
The legislature will have a better picture of revenue streams after July 22, when the appropriations committee delivers its report. Williams said at the moment there is, “trepidation,” about spending money the state might not have.
Williams believes it will be several years before the economy can recover to a point it was at before the pandemic.
Williams is on the banking, commerce and insurance committee and said there are three bills they are considering which are non-controversial and need to get past so business can continue to thrive in the state.
Among all these pressing bills, Williams also feels considerable floor time will be taken up discussing the authority surrounding the distribution of federal COVID-19 aid, as well as the issues the Black Lives Matter movement has stated as a result of the George Floyd protests.
Williams said these are critical issues, but they could take up a good deal of floor time.
The bills Williams is in support of is LB 720 which will adopt the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, Renewable Chemical Production Tax Credit Act, Customized Job Training Act and Community Economic Opportunities Act and provide tax incentives.
Another is LB 1084, which will adopt the Nebraska Transformational Projects Act, this includes the NExT project in Omaha.
Williams said he looks forward to supporting property tax reduction, but feels the current bill, LB 1108, doesn’t have enough support, but hopes an alternate proposal can be found. He said he also supports the budget which has been put together by the appropriations committee.
In addition Williams is also supportive of the bills in his committee, he said they are not, “earth shattering legislation,” but are important to the continued health of Nebraska business.
Looking ahead to new legislative sessions, Williams said they will likely be supportive of stimulus programs from both the federal and state governments which will help the recovery from COVID-19’s hit to the economy. The next sessions will likely frame how the funds are used.
Williams said he wants to make sure to preserve the programs in place on which people depend on. Senators will closely monitor revenue streams and the health of the state economy to create a positive environment for business in the state.
Looking forward, Williams said the state can likely never return to the state it was in before the pandemic and this should be seen a good thing.
The growth of tele-medicine to reach patients during the pandemic is something which can benefit the state in the long term, especially for rural areas which lack close access to healthcare, Williams said.
There is also a renewed interest in broadband expansion in the state.
When schools closed down in the spring due to COVID-19, the deficiencies in providing tele-education due to spotty internet service, especially in rural areas of the state, became apparent, Williams said. It is important to look at how a quality education can be provided to all in the state, he added.
“There’s a lot we can learn and build for the future,” Williams said.
Addressing the 36th District, Williams said while the directed health measures are being relaxed, there has been a recent ramp up in COVID-19 cases.
“We need to be vigilant,” said Williams, “this is still a highly infectious disease and very deadly, we need to continue to protect our friends, neighbors and communities.”
Williams is also hopeful for schools to reopen in the fall, he said there is a psychological toll on children not being in school.