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Protecting rural courts

February 18, 2011

By Deb Fischer, Senator,
District 43

The projected budget shortfall is going to affect all areas of state government, including the court system. I have received
quite a few emails and letters from people who are concerned about
possible court closures in our counties. While I understand the
hardships facing the Supreme Court system, I am committed to protecting
our access to governmental services, including our fundamental right to
justice through court services in our sparsely populated areas. I
worked hard to retain our county judge in our Eighth Judicial District.
I also worked to reduce budget cuts to the Supreme Court during the 2009
Special Session. While other agencies took a 2.5% cut in FY 2009-10 and
5% in FY 2010-11, the Supreme Court took a 1.5% in FY 2009-10 and 3% in
FY 2010-11. These measures helped ensure our local courts could stay
open.
Several bills have been introduced in the Legislature to address this issue, including LB302 by Senator Brad Ashford of Omaha. I always
closely monitor these bills to see how they could possibly affect access
to court services in rural areas. The purpose of LB 302 was to have the
Supreme Court analyze the structure of our court system and develop
recommendations to improve quality and efficiencies of the courts. This
bill immediately caught my attention as a possible move to consolidate
and close our courts. I raised my concerns in debate with Senator
Ashford on the floor of the Legislature after his opening on the bill.
Other senators then entered the discussion on the bill and I was pleased
when Senator Ashford ultimately withdrew the proposal.

A bill to ban the sale of chemicals used to make the drug commonly known as K2, LB 19, was introduced by Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha. K2 is
essentially synthetic marijuana which can cause serious side effects in
users including panic attacks, hallucinations and seizures. I supported
this bill to ban the sale of K2 and believe it is important that people
are aware of this substance and the detrimental affects it can have.
The bill was passed by the Legislature and is awaiting the Governor's
signature.

A bill I introduced dealing with the telecommunications occupation tax, LB 165, has been advanced by the Revenue Committee. In July of 2010, Nebraska was ranked by the Committee on State Taxation as having the highest average taxes and fees on wireless services, at over 18%. To
have the highest tax rate in the country for anything, in my opinion, is
simply not where Nebraska wants to be. For this reason I introduced LB
165 which, as amended at my suggestion by the Revenue Committee, places
several restrictions on this occupation tax. The bill caps the tax at
6.25%, limits the tax to only services, not equipment, and calls for a
vote of the people if a municipality wants to override the cap. I
believe this bill places appropriate restrictions on this type of tax
and offers more accountability and transparency to the public.

The communities of Arnold and Atkinson were recently featured in the
Omaha World Herald and received praise for the excellent care of their
recreation areas. Last year I introduced LB 743 that transferred state
recreation areas to these communities. I am pleased to see them
receiving statewide recognition for their stewardship. The article
highlighted the work of local volunteers to help maintain the parks and
the economic benefits the recreation areas provide to these communities.
Because of the leadership Arnold and Atkinson exemplified, several other
Nebraska towns are now pursuing ownership of their local state parks.
Congratulations on your great work.

As always, thank you for sharing in our legislative process, and I'll
visit with you again next week.

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