Protecting rural courts

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 receivedquite a few emails and letters from people who are concerned aboutpossible court closures in our counties. While I understand thehardships facing the Supreme Court system, I am committed to protectingour access to governmental services, including our fundamental right tojustice through court services in our sparsely populated areas. Iworked hard to retain our county judge in our Eighth Judicial District.I also worked to reduce budget cuts to the Supreme Court during the 2009Special Session. While other agencies took a 2.5% cut in FY 2009-10 and5% in FY 2010-11, the Supreme Court took a 1.5% in FY 2009-10 and 3% inFY 2010-11. These measures helped ensure our local courts could stayopen. Several bills have been introduced in the Legislature to address this issue, including LB302 by Senator Brad Ashford of Omaha. I alwaysclosely monitor these bills to see how they could possibly affect accessto court services in rural areas. The purpose of LB 302 was to have theSupreme Court analyze the structure of our court system and developrecommendations to improve quality and efficiencies of the courts. Thisbill immediately caught my attention as a possible move to consolidateand close our courts. I raised my concerns in debate with SenatorAshford on the floor of the Legislature after his opening on the bill.Other senators then entered the discussion on the bill and I was pleasedwhen 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 isessentially synthetic marijuana which can cause serious side effects inusers including panic attacks, hallucinations and seizures. I supportedthis bill to ban the sale of K2 and believe it is important that peopleare aware of this substance and the detrimental affects it can have.The bill was passed by the Legislature and is awaiting the Governor'ssignature. 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%. Tohave the highest tax rate in the country for anything, in my opinion, issimply not where Nebraska wants to be. For this reason I introduced LB165 which, as amended at my suggestion by the Revenue Committee, placesseveral restrictions on this occupation tax. The bill caps the tax at6.25%, limits the tax to only services, not equipment, and calls for avote of the people if a municipality wants to override the cap. Ibelieve this bill places appropriate restrictions on this type of taxand offers more accountability and transparency to the public. The communities of Arnold and Atkinson were recently featured in theOmaha World Herald and received praise for the excellent care of theirrecreation areas. Last year I introduced LB 743 that transferred staterecreation areas to these communities. I am pleased to see themreceiving statewide recognition for their stewardship. The articlehighlighted the work of local volunteers to help maintain the parks andthe economic benefits the recreation areas provide to these communities.Because of the leadership Arnold and Atkinson exemplified, several otherNebraska 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'llvisit with you again next week.