Pillen budget plan calls for tax cuts, spending restraint and school aid boost
A package of property tax changes worth more than $3 billion over the next six years continued its path through the Legislature Thursday.
Lawmakers advanced LB243 through its second round of debate in a 41-0 vote. The bill needs to make it through one more round of debate before it goes to Gov. Jim Pillen's desk, where it is expected to be signed into law.
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, would increase Nebraska’s two property tax credit programs, cap school property tax growth and eliminate almost all community college property taxes.
The package represents the second piece of Pillen’s tax plan. The first piece would cut the state’s top income tax rate by one-third and make other income tax changes.
Proponents say the individual components of the plan are equally necessary, and must work together to bring the full benefits to taxpayers.
"With this bill, we have a whole lot at stake here … they're all tied together," Briese said.
Under LB243, the 5% growth cap would be removed on what is often referred to as the LB1107 program, named for the bill that created it. It provides income tax credits to offset a portion of school property taxes paid. Current law allows the amount earmarked for the program to grow at the same rate as the assessed valuation of property statewide, but only up to 5%. If the bill passes, the income tax credits could grow more than 5% in years when valuations do as well.
And under an amendment adopted Thursday, an additional $75 million would be added to the program for 2029.
Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln raised concerns about the sustainability of the income tax credit plan, referring back to the Legislature's budget debates this week in which lawmakers voted to take about $170 million in dollars previously meant to go into the state's rainy day fund, and use them to cover costs in the general fund.
Dungan said the change indicates that the state budget doesn't have as much money as lawmakers previously thought. He questioned whether removing the 5% cap on the LB1107 program could cause its growth to "snowball," and deplete revenues to a point where the state can't fulfill existing financial obligations.
High revenue projections over the last several years put Nebraska's cash reserve on a path to exceed $2 billion by June 30, 2025, according to October projections. Under the current two-year budget plan that includes tax cuts and spending increases, the reserve would be about $779 million by that point.
Sen. Brad von Gillern of the Omaha area argued the state has so much revenue to work with because it has been collecting too much in taxes. Now, he said, lawmakers have the obligation to give that excess money back to residents.
"Cutting taxes begins with giving back the money that we have," Von Gillern said.
The property tax package would also ratchet up the size of Nebraska’s long-standing property tax credit program, which uses state money to offset a portion of property owners’ bills. LB243 would gradually increase the program from $313 million this year to more than $550 million by tax year 2029, after which the credit program would grow by the same percentage as the assessed valuation of property statewide.
In addition, the package would limit the growth of school revenues to 3%, with some exceptions, with the goal of forcing schools to reduce property taxes when they get more state aid. School districts can override this cap through a 70% vote of the school board, or a 60% vote by the public.
Several lawmakers took issue with this aspect of the plan, arguing it added unnecessary restrictions on local control and would hinder fast-growing districts. Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln said requiring more than a simple majority vote of the public was "anti-democratic."
"You are watering down the power of individual voters," said Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha.
Briese said the amendment would expand the cap for the state's fast-growing school districts at varying levels.
Finally, LB243 would end community colleges’ ability to levy property taxes, except for building needs, starting in 2024. The bill would replace those tax revenues with state aid. State aid to the colleges would increase by 3.5% annually, with additional money available based on enrollment growth. Community colleges could levy property taxes to fill the gap if the state does not meet its funding obligations.
Here are the Nebraska state senators making laws during the 108th legislative session.
World-Herald staff writer Martha Stoddard contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON — An experimental skin patch is showing promise to treat toddlers who are highly allergic to peanuts — training their bodies to handle an accidental bite.
Peanut allergy is one of the most common and dangerous food allergies. Parents of allergic tots are constantly on guard against exposures that can turn birthday parties and play dates into emergency room visits.
There is no cure. The only treatment is for children 4 and older who can consume a special peanut powder to protect against a severe reaction.
The patch, named Viaskin, aims to deliver that kind of treatment through the skin instead. In a major test with youngsters ages 1 to 3, it helped those who couldn’t tolerate even a small fraction of a peanut to eventually safely eat a few, researchers reported.
If additional testing pans out, “this would fill a huge unmet need,” said Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, an allergist at Children’s Hospital Colorado who helped lead the study.
About 2% of U.S. children are allergic to peanuts, some so severely than even a tiny amount can cause a life-threatening reaction. Their immune system overreacts to peanut-containing foods, triggering an inflammatory cascade that causes hives, wheezing or worse. Some youngsters outgrow the allergy but most must avoid peanuts for life and carry rescue medicine to stave off a severe reaction if they accidentally ingest some.
In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first treatment to induce tolerance to peanuts — an “oral immunotherapy” named Palforzia that children ages 4 to 17 consume daily to keep up the protection. Aimmune Therapeutics' Palforzia also is being tested in toddlers.
France’s DBV Technologies is pursuing skin-based immunotherapy as an alternative way to desensitize the body to allergens.
The Viaskin patch is coated with a small amount of peanut protein that is absorbed into the skin. A daily patch is worn between the shoulder blades, where toddlers can’t pull it off.
In the new study, 362 toddlers with peanut allergy first were tested to see how high a dose of peanut protein they could tolerate. Then they were randomly assigned to use the Viaskin patch or a lookalike dummy patch every day.
After a year of treatment, they were tested again and about two-thirds of the toddlers who used the real patch could safely ingest more peanuts, the equivalent of three to four, researchers concluded.
That compares to about a third of youngsters given the dummy patches. Greenhawt said they likely include children who are outgrowing the allergy.
As for safety, four Viaskin recipients experienced an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that was deemed related to the patch. Three were treated with epinephrine to calm the reaction, and one dropped out of the study.
Some youngsters also accidentally ate peanut-containing foods during the study, and researchers said allergic reactions were less frequent among the Viaskin users than those wearing the dummy patches. The most common side effect was skin irritation at the patch site.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The results “are very good news for toddlers and their families as the next step toward a future with more treatments for food allergies,” Dr. Alkis Togias of the National Institutes of Health, which wasn’t involved with the study, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
Togias cautioned that it’s too early to compare oral and skin treatments, but pointed to data suggesting each might have different pros and cons — raising the possibility that oral therapy might be stronger but also cause more side effects.
DBV Technologies has struggled for several years to bring the peanut patch to market. Last month the company announced the FDA wants some additional safety data for toddlers, and a separate study already is tracking longer treatment. A study of 4- to 7-year-olds also is underway.
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Nebraska's Chief Standing Bear will be honored Friday with a ceremony celebrating the release of his Forever stamp.
Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who won a landmark 1879 court case that ruled Native Americans were people under the law with inherent rights, was nominated by the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee in 2017.
Now, more than five years after the original conception, the USPS has printed 18 million copies of the stamp.
The first-day-of-issue event is free and open to the public.
The ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. in the Centennial Mall — between P and Q streets.
Anton Hajjar, vice chairman of the USPS Board of Governors, Candace Schmidt, chairwoman of Nebraska's Ponca Tribe, and Judi gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission of Indian Affairs, and Steve Laravie Jr., a descendant of Chief Standing Bear, will speak at the event.
Follow news of the stamp as it's shared on social media with the hashtag #ChiefStandingBearStamp.
The stamp features a portrait of Chief Standing Bear by illustrator Thomas Blackshear II. Blackshear created the portrait based on a photograph taken of Standing Bear in 1877 while he was in Washington, D.C., as part of a delegation of Ponca chiefs appealing to government officials for the right to return to their homeland. Art director Derry Noyes designed the stamp.
Stacker ranked the states with the biggest Native American populations and looked at some of the characteristics and conditions of each commun…
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On Twitter @laurenpenington
On May 11, the Biden administration is set to lift Title 42, which has allowed authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border to rapidly expel migrants…
WASHINGTON — House Republicans passed a sweeping bill Thursday to build more U.S.-Mexico border wall and impose new restrictions on asylum seekers, creating a hard-line counter to President Joe Biden's policies just as migrants amassed along the border with the end of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
The bill has virtually no chance of becoming law. Democrats, who have a narrow hold on the Senate, decried the aggressive measures in the bill as "cruel" and "anti-immigrant." Biden promised he would veto it.
The legislation passed 219-213, with all present Democrats and two Republicans, Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and John Duarte of California, voting against it.
The House GOP voted on the bill the same day as the expiration of Title 42, a public health emergency rule that allowed border authorities to quickly return many migrants who crossed the border illegally. Biden conceded the southern border will be "chaotic for a while" as migrants weigh whether to cross and U.S. officials use a new set of policies that aim to clamp down on illegal immigration while offering more legal pathways.
Migrants rushed across the border Thursday in hopes of entering the U.S. before the asylum restrictions are lifted. After that, migrants face being barred from entering the U.S. for five years and possible criminal prosecution.
With a midnight deadline looming, migrants in Mexico shed clothing before descending into the Rio Grande, clutching bags full of clothes. One man held a baby in an open suitcase on his head. On the U.S. side of the river, migrants put on dry clothes and picked their way through razor wire. Many surrendered immediately to authorities. Holding facilities along the border were already far beyond capacity this week.
It was not clear how many migrants were on the move, but a U.S. official reported that daily encounters on Tuesday hit 10,000 — nearly twice the level from March and only slightly below the 11,000 figure that authorities have said is the upper limit of the surge they anticipate after Title 42 ends.
“Our buses are full. Our planes are full,” said Pedro Cardenas, a city commissioner in Brownsville, Texas, just north of Matamoros.
Biden's administration unveiled strict new measures to replace Title 42. The new policies crack down on illegal crossings while also setting up legal pathways for migrants who apply online, seek a sponsor and undergo background checks. If successful, the reforms could fundamentally alter how migrants arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border, but it will take time to see results.
Republicans slammed Biden for the increase in illegal immigration during his tenure. Passing the bill ensures House GOP lawmakers can say they did their part to deliver on a campaign promise to secure the border.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called the package "the strongest border security bill this country has ever seen," saying in a speech on the House floor that "meanwhile, we are seeing a very different record from President Biden."
It took months for Republicans to push the bill through the House amid sometimes public feuds between GOP lawmakers. Even as the bill neared final form Wednesday, it had to be amended to appease concerns from the House Freedom Caucus and other lawmakers.
The 213-page bill represents a compromise between mainstream GOP lawmakers, who wanted to focus on beefing up border enforcement, and hard-line conservatives, who want drastic changes to U.S. asylum and immigration law.
The package would return to many of the policies pursued by former President Donald Trump, such as building walls along the border. It also would restrict asylum by requiring migrants to cross legally, pay a $50 fee and meet more stringent requirements to show in initial interviews that they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country.
"This extreme MAGA Republican piece of legislation will throw out children who are fleeing, in many cases, extreme violence and persecution," Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, said at a Thursday news conference. "It will build a medieval border wall that is a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century problem."
The bill would also scrap a program that allowed U.S. officials to accept or quickly turn away some migrants from Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua. The program is a cornerstone of Biden's immigration efforts, allowing migrants from those countries to apply to come to the U.S. for two years legally and work.
A small group of House and Senate lawmakers hopes the House bill could give momentum for a separate package in the works that would incorporate aggressive border enforcement with expanding legal immigration through work visas, as well as potentially a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
"The bill that we're getting, I think, is a good starting point," said Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican.
Any final bill would need bipartisan support to pass the Senate and agreement from House Republicans on significant changes.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, is introducing legislation that would assist border officials and speed up the asylum application process. And Tillis joined with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent, to push a bill that would resurrect the government's power to quickly expel migrants, without processing their asylum claims, for another two years.
"It's clear that the Biden administration, while it had two years to prepare for the end of Title 42, failed to do so," Sinema told reporters.
U.S. cities already struggling to shelter thousands of migrants are calling for federal help and an end to some Republican governors’ politica…