Nebraska legislative speaker talks upcoming priorities for session

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) Many different topics will be on the minds of all 49 state legislators as they wade through the 90-day 106th Legislative Session at the capitol building in Lincoln.

Jim Scheer, newly reelected speaker of the legislature, said crafting a budget and funding medicaid expansion are obvious top priorities for lawmakers.

In November, Nebraska voters approved medicaid expansion by an 8-point margin, which allows an additional 90,000 low income Nebraskans be covered, who weren't eligible before. Its passage essentially prompted lawmakers to come up with ways to operate and fund the program, with an estimated cost of about $19 million in the first year, according to numbers from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

It could take another year before fully taking effect.

The Nebraska DHHS analysis also found the cost of the expansion would likely increase in subsequent years, but Scheer said the hope would be that the initial cost would be offset by savings to local hospitals and the state itself in the long term.

"I suspect the second year we'll have to make adjustments and that cost either plus or minus depending on the actual number of participants that sign up for that coverage," Scheer said.

Even without medicaid expansion, Scheer warned declining state revenues, shown in projections, would've already posed a tough task for lawmakers when crafting a budget. He added that no additional revenue source could spell cuts to other areas of the budget.

In the next few weeks, lawmakers will get a better understanding of what ideas Governor Pete Ricketts has in mind, in terms of funding the state. State senators could use his plan as a starting point for how they want to move forward.

Another proposal that Scheer is confident will be brought up is tax relief for Nebraska property owners. A 2018 analysis by WalletHub found that Nebraska had the seventh highest property tax burden among all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In all of his six years in the legislature, Scheer said property tax relief has been brought to the table, failing each time to gain traction, a move he said he's deeply regretted.

"Property taxes has always been at the forefront," Scheer said. "Unfortunately we haven't been able to develop something that a majority of the floor could support."

"We continue to not do anything because we aren't feeling that we're doing enough, and to me, we have to start somewhere," Scheer added.

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