All posts by Mark Zimmermann

Update on Unicam Budget & Tax Issues

What’s new with property taxes? What’s the progress on Medicaid expansion in Nebraska? Will the Legislature pass another business tax giveaway incentive? Here is an excellent opportunity to get up to speed on these and other policy issues.

OpenSky Policy Institute will provide an update about the state tax and budget debate at a fiscal policy forum on Friday, Feb. 14 at The Living Room in the Mastercraft Building at 1111 N. 13th St., in Omaha. The forum — which is sponsored by the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands — will run from 9 a.m. to 10:30 am and is open to the public. The forum also will be streamed live on NAM’s Facebook page.

At the forum, OpenSky will discuss what is happening in our state fiscal debate, including the most up-to-date discussions around the state tax and budget debate, implementation of Medicaid Expansion and more. OpenSky will help attendees understand what the tax and budget debate means for our state and for Nebraska’s nonprofits.

Register for the forum here.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT RSVPS: If you are not a NAM member, please register as a guest

State Council Meeting

The Nebraska Green Party’s state council will meet in Lincoln on Sunday June 23 beginning at 11 am. The meeting will be held at the Mill Coffee at Telegram, 330 S. 21st St. Agenda items will include outreach and ballot access. Meetings are open to the public so feel free to drop in and join the conversation.

Earth Days, OPPD

Earth Day weekend coincides with Easter weekend this year and it appears that Lincoln and Omaha have scheduled their Earth Day events for the weekends before and after. Omaha is up first on April 13 in Elmwood Park with details at Lincoln follows on April 27th from 10 am to 3 pm at Union Plaza on UNL campus. More info is at http://Lincoln Earth Day website .

“The Path Forward” is the title of a talk to be given by Craig Moody, one of the clean energy majority on the OPPD Board of Directors. He will be discussing the Board’s plans for implementation of renewables at OPPD. The event is free and open to the public and will take place at the Barbara Weitz Engagement Center, Room 205, on the UNO campus on Tuesday April 30th at 7:00 pm.

Energy Office Transition

It’s worth noting that recently the Legislature unanimously voted (LB 302, 45-0-4) to merge the Nebraska Energy Office (NEO) into the Department of Environmental Quality.

The bill, introduced at the request of Governor Ricketts, would rename the agency the Department of Environment and Energy.

It’s not the first transition for the energy office which was begun in 1977 in response to the Middle East oil embargoes of the time. In 1987 Gov. Kay Orr annexed it into her Policy Research Office until 1991 when Gov. Ben Nelson moved it back to an independent agency. This lasted until the next Governor, Mike Johanns. arrived and again made it a part of his cabinet in the Policy Research Office. Finally in 2008 under Gov. Heineman it was changed back to an independent code agency. While the NEO still has its own website ( and maybe after the merger but who knows?) there’s an interesting graphic that charts this and the various directors of the agency which you can get to here .

The NEO has typically had little budget of its own and primarily works to administer federal funds and programs like low income weatherization efforts and low interest loans for energy efficiency projects, some 30,000 of them over its history. With its limited funding it also manages to collect state energy statistics, put on an annual solar and wind conference and recently began helping small communities improve the energy efficiency of their wastewater treatment plants -this latter with help from a federal grant the office secured.

It’s not automatically clear whether this merger will help or hinder the cause of clean energy in Nebraska. It seems to have been presented as a typical case of business efficiencies when you read the testimony at the bill’s public hearing.

Maybe because its budget is about 98% federal funds the merger won’t make that much difference. It is staying as part of an independent agency, as opposed to the Orr and Johanns years. Perhaps its’s a development that’s worth noting and monitoring as the transition to a clean energy economy slowly moves forward . It’s certainly worth checking out their website before the merger and seeing what’s presented afterwards.

Maybe the real question isn’t just will it maintain its current size and funding and programs within the DEQ. As helpful as the NEOs work is, the status quo is really not enough. The real question is how much and how quickly can state energy policy & practice evolve to speed us toward a clean energy future before climate change wreaks even more havoc like the recent flooding? And of course that would have been true merger or not.

Nebraska Climate Summit

The Nebraska State Climate Office and Nebraska Extension are holding a climate summit to discuss results from the 4th National Climate Assessment (released last fall) and its impact on our state. The event will take place on Thursday March 21st from 8:30 am to 5 pm at the UNL Innovation Campus 2021 Transformation Drive in Lincoln.

According to the climate office press release topics will include:

  • Highlights of climate projections and impacts from the NCA4 (includes a panel discussion);
  • The future of climate and expected affects for Nebraskans;
  • Weather and climate monitoring;
  • Climate scenario planning by Nebraska Extension;
  • Climate and agriculture;
  • Climate and health; and
  • Climate and municipalities.

Because they are expecting a large attendance they are asking people to register for the event but there is no charge to attend. For more information and to register go to the Climate Office’s website

Next Meeting

The State Council of the Nebraska Green Party will meet on Sunday March 17th at 11 am. The meeting will be held at the Cultiva Coffeehouse located at 11th and G Streets in Lincoln. State Council meetings are held on the third Sunday of the month and rotate between Omaha and Lincoln. The meetings are open to the public.

Green Local Deal

Recently the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee had a hearing for LB 621, introduced by Omaha Senator Rick Kolowski.

LB 621 is a proposed solar access law which would prohibit home owners associations (HOAs) from banning solar projects in the neighborhoods or developments they control.

It’s worth noting that it adds language to the relevant statutes (66-901 to 66-914) emphasizing the “utmost importance” of encouraging not just wind and solar energy but their “distributed generation” which appears to be the first time that phrase would be mentioned in state law. For those of us who are interested not only in renewable energy but in energy democracy, that is a positive step.

The bill would amend 66-913 to give cities and counties some leeway in granting variances or waivers to local zoning and land use ordinances to encourage solar installation. It introduces the phrase “the right to direct sunlight “ in relation to allowing regulation of shading by neighboring property owners including the issuance of “solar access permits” for solar owners.

The heart of the bill prohibits covenants by HOAs from outright banning PV installations and prohibits them from assessing fees for solar installations (which might be used as an end run around the ban if the fees are so high they make it cost prohibitive.) The bill does not address the question of whether or to what extent HOAs can place restrictions on solar installations without banning them outright, such as in historic districts or by requiring placement away from the street side of a house. It does however give the solar owner/proposer standing to bring civil action if they feel the HOA is being unfair or misinterpreting the intent of the law.

Currently 25 states have some type of solar access law and federal laws have been proposed but not passed.

How Sen. Kolowski’s bill would compare to other state laws I’m not able to answer at this point but the language certainly seems encouraging.

If you have further information to share on this subject, email me and I’ll include it in future updates.


Addressing climate change does not seem to be much on the minds of the Legislature this year (after year). One exception will get a public hearing Monday February 11 when the legislature’s Executive Board hears testimony on Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks proposal LB 283.

283 would direct the University to develop a “ strategic action plan” to find ways of adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change in the state. The plan, not to exceed more than $250 thousand, would be due 12/15/20. It would be funded through the Waste Reduction and Recycling Incentive Fund. That fund comes primarily from tire and landfill fees and generates 3-4 million dollars annually. It gave out more than 4 million in grants to local communities in 2017 so it seems like it could afford this one time expense.

Coincidentally (or not) LB 367, which extends the Fund another 5 years, would prohibit the Legislature from transferring money out of that fund to the General Fund. Now maybe this can be read as protecting the recycling fund from Senators trying to balance the state budget. I don’t have info on whether it’s been raided before. But, it also might be used to prevent funding for 283 which would be harder to pass with a straight up appropriation by a tax fearing legislature. As bills are numbered chronologically 283 came first and so it is possible that that part of 367 is in response. Regardless, this appropriation is going to look like pretty small potatoes before very long if elected representatives at all levels don’t get serious about global warming today .

The hearing starts at noon in Room 1525 of the state capitol. If you can’t make it but want to express your thoughts you need to email them to the chair of the Executive Board,,  by 5pm Friday Feb 8th. If you do go and arrive right at noon you get the bonus of also hearing testimony on designating corn as the state vegetable.