• Chamber hosts pair of governmental affairs events

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    March 22, 2019

    We know it can be intimidating to begin a conversation with an elected official. Our goal is to help facilitate Chamber members with opportunities to meet with our government representatives in a more relaxed atmosphere, so they can have the chance to talk about issues facing their business, community and state.

    In March, we offered two such events to our members. We hosted Congressman Adrian Smith, Rep., Nebraska's third district, for a sitdown conversation at the Chamber office. We also had local state senators Steve Halloran, Dan Quick and Curt Friesen for our second Coffee With Your Senators event of 2019. More than 60 individuals were on hand at Riverside Golf Club to hear updates on the latest session in the Unicameral, as well as the current status of flood relief from that trio.

    It is important to note that our representatives are very approachable, and willing to take your input or questions on issues. We encourage you to visit www.nebraskalegislature.gov to contact our state senators and read more about what they're currently working. Additionally, you can follow Congressmen Smith's doings at his site, adriansmith.house.gov.

    A portion of Smith's conversation revolved around the recent devastating floods across the state of Nebraska. Smith reported that state officials requested an expedited process for a disaster declaration. A day after Smith's visit, United States President Donald J. Trump followed through on the declaration - a much-needed answer to what is expected to be more than $1 billion in damages and revenue loss from the storm.

    "We have to be prepared moving forward to have the agility to address needs," Smith said regarding the floods. "The damage is so vast.

    "In rural parts, one road out or one bridge out can be a huge problem. (In Congress), we are trying to get infrastructure funding in place. Infrastructure is not just roads, bridges or levies; it also includes things such as broadband.

    Smith mentioned he was concerned about the proposed Green New Deal from New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the bill's verbiage regarding agriculture and livestock.

    "(Ocasio-Cortez) calls it 'factory farming', but that's just a bad term from modern farming practices," Smith said. "Farmers are actually using less land, less chemicals and less water yet are still producing high yields."

    On trade, Smith said it's a positive sign that President Trump has begun communications with Japan in regards to developing a bi-lateral trade agreement.

    On the recent college admission scandal, in which a number of celebrities and other wealthy individuals were caught paying bribes to get their children into colleges, Smith said: "I hope this actually sheds more light on the high price of college for normal people. The "student loan bubble" concerns me a lot. I tell high school students all the time that they should not take out more in loans than what they'll need to pay for room, board and tuition."

    During the Coffee With The Senators event, Friesen, who serves as chair of the Nebraska legislature's telecommunications/transportation board, said that the floods caused roughly $400 million in damages to Nebraska roads. He also said that seven bridges thus far will need to be replaced. That does not include the bridges that are still under water, since damage assesments haven't taken place in those spots.

    "This will take a lot of time," Friesen said.

    Halloran said the disaster funds that the federal government will provide to Nebraska should cover 75 percent of the damage costs. But, echoing the sentiment of Senator Friesen, he also said the whole recovery process will take time.

    "There will be some farm land that won't be farmed this year," Halloran said.

    Each Senator also provided updates on key bills they have a hand on. Halloran, chair of the agriculture committee, said one of the bills that passed through committee and on to the floor regards the production of hemp in Nebraska. Another one includes the "right to farm" bill, which will help limit the number of negligent lawsuits against farmers.

    Senator Quick was proud to announce that LB160,  which will include early childhood infrastructure development and early childhood care/education programs under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, was signed by Governor Pete Ricketts. Quick also discussed his priority bill, which was to raise the age limit of vaping from 18 to 21.

    "I think (vaping) is an epidemic in our school system and I don't think kids understand that they're smoking high amounts of nicotine," he said.

    Another bill Quick reported on was LB424, which will extend land banks across parts of Nebraska.

    "In Grand Island, we have about 250 properties alone that have been abandoned or neglected," he said. "It takes a lot of tax money for a community to demolish that property...now, with the use of a land bank, we can redevelop them."

    Michael Zimmerman, Communications Coordinator
    (308) 382-9210