FAIRBURY, NE – State senator Laura Ebke, the Libertarian incumbent for Nebraska Legislative District 32, debated her opponent Tom Brandt of Plymouth for the second time on Wednesday night.
The candidates spoke to more than a few dozen people at the auditorium of Fairbury High School during the Community Candidate Forum. They’re vying for the senate seat that covers Fillmore, Thayer, Saline and Jefferson Counties, and the rural southwest corner of Lancaster County.
Ebke and Brandt answered questions submitted by the public, covering topics like property tax relief, medicaid expansion, corrections, medical marijuana and more.
Ebke, a former Republican who turned Libertarian in 2016, shares many stances with her Republican opponent Brandt. However, she’s hoping to get reelected based on the relationships she’s forged over the last four years with the people of her district.
“You already know me,” said Ebke, who’s a Fairbury native. “My political philosophy in a nutshell: government spends too much, government regulates too much, government taxes too much, because it has to pay for the first two things. Combined, those three things make us less free.”
Brandt meanwhile is running on the key focuses of lowering property taxes, supporting fair and equal funding in K-12 education and improving broadband signal in rural areas of the district.
“I’ve been asked why I’ve entered the race,” Brandt said. “The bottom line is a lack of leadership on the property tax issue. It’s a property tax crisis now, folks.”
Nebraska has a 1.83 percent effective property tax rate – the fifth highest in the nation.
A petition for $1.1 billion in property tax relief was nixed by the Yes To Property Tax Relief Committee, halting efforts to collect signatures on the proposed ballot measure.
Ebke says on her website the key to cutting taxes, property and otherwise, is “limiting government…but that will require citizens and private groups taking on some of the roles that government now takes on.”
One issue Ebke has made a priority on the campaign is fixing Nebraska’s correctional system. She’s dealt with that issue intimately in the Legislature as the chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Nebraska’s ten state prisons are 157.5 percent over capacity as of June, making it the second most overcrowded prison system in the nation.
“This is a real public health concern and public safety concern,” Ebke said. “We have a responsibility to those work at our correctional facilities, and we have a responsibility to make sure they’re safe.”
Brandt said he wants to find money to increase depleted prison staffs, in order to get the overcrowding below 140 percent by July 1, 2020.
The statutory definition of overcrowding in Nebraska is a prison population exceeding 140 percent of capacity on or after July 1, 2020. If that’s the case, a prison overcrowding emergency could trigger the parole of a large number of inmates.
Tax Cuts for Rural Nebraskans
Both candidates expressed their opposition of the Nebraska Advantage Act, or LB 312, which was made to encourage certain Nebraska businesses that expand their current investment and employment by providing credits and refunds to offset income, sales/use or withholding taxes .
However, the Nebraska Advantage Act mostly benefits larger businesses like data centers and software developers – not the type of companies found in Fairbury, Crete, Hebron or the surrounding communities.
Both candidates said they’re in favor of expanding legalized gambling in the state if the people vote to do so. They both site legal gambling as a legitimate revenue stream, but there’s no gambling ballot measure in 2018 for Nebraska.
In 2018, the Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports gambling by striking down a 1992 federal law that had prohibited most states from authorizing sports betting.
Ebke, who spoke to News Channel Nebraska last week on this issue, again said Wednesday that medical marijuana “should be an option” for patients that may benefit from it, like those with epilepsy.
Ebke sponsored a bill, LB167, in 2017 that would reschedule drugs containing cannabidiol that have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration as Schedule V drugs, putting them on the same level as cough syrup.
Brandt had no rebuttal, citing the 22 states that have already legalized marijuana in some form.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @Tommy_NCN.