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This past week marked the deadline for priority bill designation. Every senator is allowed to designate one bill as a priority bill, every committee can designate two bills, and the speaker is authorized to choose up to twenty-five bills as speaker priority bills. Typically after the deadline date, only bills with priority status are debated by the Legislature.
Topics of bills chosen as priorities include proposals to lower income taxes, reduce the valuation of agricultural land, authorize the issuance of highway construction bonds, restructure the process used when releasing inmates from prison, and to expand Medicaid to newly eligible adults with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level. A priority designation does not assure that a bill will advance from committee, meaning that some of the bills designated as priority bills may not be debated by the Legislature.
I designated LB 916 as my priority bill. LB 916, which was introduced by Bellevue Senator Sue Crawford, would eliminate the integrated practice agreement (IPA) between a nurse practitioner and a physician. Under the 407 review process, which studies proposals for change in scope of practice for health professionals, both the Technical Review Board and the State Board of Health supported this proposal for nurse practitioners. As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, I heard about the difficulties nurse practitioners face in securing an IPA, particularly in rural communities.
LB 916, as amended by committee amendments, requires that in order to practice as a nurse practitioner, such person shall submit a “transition-to-practice agreement” or evidence of completion of 2,000 hours of practice. Under the “transition-to-practice agreement”, a nurse practitioner and the supervising provider shall practice collaboratively within the framework of their respective scopes of practice. A supervising provider could be a physician or a nurse practitioner with 10,000 hours of practice.
Nurse practitioners have full practice authority in nineteen states, including neighboring Iowa, Colorado, and Wyoming. Kansas currently has a collaborative agreement for the first year of practice, similar to what is proposed in the amended version of LB 916.
I believe that nurse practitioners are providing safe and effective health care and that they will continue to consult with other professionals when needed. I also believe that this change will help alleviate the current health care shortage problem that many rural areas of the state are experiencing.
The public hearings were held before the Appropriations Committee this past week on LB 1046, which would appropriate $50 million annually in general funds for water projects, and LB 940, which proposes a one-time transfer of $50 million from the cash reserve to fund projects this first year. Many testifiers expressed their support for the bills and stressed the importance of achieving water sustainability. Only one person testified against the bills. However, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee made it clear that this proposal would be competing against other requests, including increasing the property tax credit, income tax cuts, state park maintenance, and prison reform.
The public hearing process will be completed by the end of February. Beginning March 4, legislators will meet in full-day session. The Appropriations Committee must present their recommendations for mid-biennium adjustments in the budget to the Legislature by March 10. We have just hit the half-way mark in this legislative session and will have a full agenda for the next thirty days.
If you have any comments on the legislation that has been designated as priority bills, I encourage you to contact me. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2733.
Last year, the Legislature passed LB 517, which created the Nebraska Water Funding Task Force. I was appointed to serve on the task force, which met throughout the interim. The task force was to focus on the long-term sustainability of water resources in our state.
The strategic plan established by the task force expresses a vision for funding priorities and financing mechanisms. It identifies options for a significant, stable source of funding, which will be used to help pay for water programs, projects, and activities. It also identifies a system to distribute funds across the state for projects that rank high using a new set of evaluation criteria that emphasizes sustainability.
Three bills were introduced as a result of the task force’s recommendations. LB 940, introduced by task force member Senator Ken Schilz of Ogallala, would create the Water Sustainability Fund. It seeks a one-time $50 million transfer from the Cash Reserve Fund in 2014 to be used to fund programs, projects, and activities identified by the task force. LB 1046, introduced by Holdrege Senator Tom Carlson, the chair of the task force, seeks an annual appropriation of $50 million in general funds, beginning in 2015.
LB 1098, also introduced by Senator Carlson, restructures the Natural Resources Commission. It authorizes the commission to adopt rules and regulations to ensure that the funding process establishes and utilizes criteria upon which projects, programs, and activities will be ranked and prioritized according to the water sustainability goals established by the commission.
Agriculture is the number one industry in Nebraska. Farmers in our state irrigate more acres than any other state in the United States. Although, on average only 1% of groundwater storage has been depleted in Nebraska, models show that groundwater pumping has reduced base flow in the Platte and other rivers by up to 15%. Withdrawing groundwater can have long-term impacts on surface water by reducing discharge to streams, as well as lasting effects on groundwater-dependent users, ecosystems, and surface water and groundwater quality. This reiterates the importance of reaching water sustainability, which means that on average, we don’t use any more water than what our supply gives us.
Furthermore, we must keep in mind that we have to protect the domestic use of water, which is our primary priority. Declining water supplies threaten not only the agriculture industry, but the production of electricity and energy, municipal drinking water and wells, recreation, tourism, and conservation, as well as Nebraska’s ability to comply with compacts, contracts, and agreements.
Currently, the state funds approximately $3 million annually through the Resources Development Fund for water-related projects. However, there are more than $900 million of proposed water sustainability projects that need funding throughout the state. Projects that have committed local and partner resources and funding will be given additional consideration.
The public hearing on LB 940 and LB 1046 will be held before the Appropriations Committee on February 18. The hearing on LB 1098 will be held before the Natural Resources Committee on February 26.
If you have any comments on the water bills or any other legislation before the Legislature, I encourage you to contact my office. I can be reached at District #1, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My telephone number is (402) 471-2733 and my email address is email@example.com.