Sen. Tanya Cook
District 13

Welcome

February 28th, 2014

A Message to Constituents

Effective governance is solution-based. In my experience, identifying common interests brings positive change. I have advocated extensively for improved workforce development, wider access to quality health care, and the importance of public education. There are several bills of which I am particularly proud, as each one makes an improvement in a critical area of Nebraska’s well-being.

Education

LB366 (2013) – There are more than 40,000 people in the Omaha area without a high-school diploma, severely limiting career advancement. Those in need of GED preparation and certification through Metropolitan Community College and 48 other certification sites in Nebraska deserve support that will help ensure that they are ready for career training. LB366 achieves this end while reducing property tax burdens on homeowners.

LB502 (2011) – Health care careers are high-paying and in demand. This law adds a health care employer to the State Workforce Development Board and adds a duty for that board to develop a plan to reduce the current shortage of health care workers in the state and create these high-paying careers.

LB628 (2011) – This law enables political subdivisions (counties, cities and public utilities) to donate surplus vehicles to Nebraska non-profit organizations. These vehicles will aid in the missions of our non-profits and provide reliable transportation to those in need.

LB500 (2011) – This law ensures no one is burdened with a criminal record for the simple and common act of hanging an air-freshener or a parking permit from their rear-view mirror.

LB329 (2011) – Nebraska’s energy code was outdated. This law adopts the most current national building standards that will save home and building owners up to 30% on their energy costs. LB 329 gives Nebraskan owners and renters the highest standards of energy efficiency.

Accountability in Education

LB262 (2013) – This law gives accurate and innovative tools to policymakers and community organizations interested in closing the achievement gap in public education. Across Nebraska there are thriving and struggling students, thriving and struggling schools. Why, and what are we going to do about it? While Nebraska makes funding education a priority, there were no reliable mechanisms to judge the effectiveness of our investments. With the passage of LB262, for the first time we will have accurate, reliable, and complete information about the success of our students and effectiveness of our school districts.

Access to Quality, Affordable Health Care

LB1063 (2012) – The Children’s Health and Treatment Act seeks to end the tragic and longstanding practice of Medicaid wrongly denying behavioral health treatment to Nebraska’s youth.

LB157 (2013) – Nebraska has a very strong public health infrastructure, but it has the potential to be even better. LB157 makes sure Nebraskans have access to dental care services by equipping public health clinics throughout the state with dental professionals.

LB119 (2013) – When public health clinics are able to meet the specific needs of the community we are a healthier and more productive state. LB119 empowers local public health districts to address real needs in the community like never before by adequately funding targeted prevention efforts. Building on our state’s public health system and providing access to dental care improves overall health, well-being and productivity in our community.

LB543 (2011)LB543 helps the almost one in ten Nebraskan families, elderly, and people with disabilities who struggle with food insecurity. This law enrolls Nebraska in a Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach program operated through a public-private partnership and funded by Nebraska non-profits.

LB543 also removes an existing policy that prevented Nebraskans in need of temporary nutrition assistance from building long-term assets that will help them out of poverty.

LB406 (2011) – One-half of Nebraska counties have a shortage of primary care physicians. This law allows for physicians who may have left the practice of medicine to raise a family or to serve as a medical volunteer to have a means to become re-licensed to practice in the State of Nebraska.

My firm belief that public service is the highest honor has been reaffirmed during my service in the Unicameral, and I look forward to continuing to live out that honor. As I continue my work as your Nebraska State Senator, I hope you will feel free to give me your input and to share your concerns with me.

Very truly yours,

Senator Tanya D. Cook
Legislative District 13

Educational Accomplishments

March 21st, 2014

Dear Constituents:

I am writing you with an update about the steps taken to enhance public education’s culture of excellence. One of my core principles in governing is the belief that quality educational opportunities are a key component to full and fulfilled participation in the world.

I am poised to pass legislation addressing state funding of poverty initiatives in public schools. My LB 958 creates a Student Achievement Coordinator position, charged with evaluation and coordination of existing resources for programs targeting achievement, reviewing poverty plans submitted by school districts, and assisting school districts in improving their plans.

Previously, I passed LB 262 to give accurate and innovative tools to policymakers and community organizations interested in closing the achievement gap in public education. While Nebraska makes funding education a priority, there were no reliable mechanisms to judge the effectiveness of our investments. With the passage of LB 262, for the first time we will have accurate, reliable, and complete information about the success of our students and effectiveness of our school districts.

Your Legislature, for its part, is quickly realizing the importance of early learning on the future population of the state. Additionally, the Legislature is advancing proposals to reach children through universal Pre-K throughout our diverse and geographically large state. The Legislature’s Education Committee is also undertaking a process to provide a statewide vision for education in Nebraska.

I am confident that these developments will reinforce the state’s commitment to our public education system, and I will continue to advocate for quality education in every community.

Very truly yours,

State Senator Tanya D. Cook
Legislative District 13

2014 Priority Bill – Fostering economic development in east Omaha

February 21st, 2014

Dear Constituents,

I am making economic development in eastern Omaha my priority this legislative session.

Last week I prioritized LB 800, originally introduced by State Senator Heath Mello (District 5). LB 800 will create Enterprise Zones across Nebraska, including parts of Legislative District 13. The Enterprise Zone will encourage investment and economic growth in our community by giving preference for projects located here under a multitude of state government programs.
Limited state resources for economic development should be targeted to the areas of the state that deserve the most support to combat joblessness and housing concerns, and promote career readiness.

Upon passage of the bill, east Omaha will receive preference for projects seeking incentives and grants from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Business Innovation Act, the Job Training Cash Fund, the Nebraska Advantage Microenterprise Tax Credit Act, and the Site & Building Development Fund.

Under the criteria outlined in the legislation, the Omaha Enterprise Zone will undoubtedly include most of North Omaha, including Florence, Miller Park, and Minne Lusa. The criteria for inclusion in the Enterprise Zone include population decline, high unemployment, and a high poverty rate.

The Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee unanimously voted to advance LB 800. This important economic development legislation is currently awaiting debate by the full legislature; with my decision to prioritize it, the bill is expected to come up for advancement in the coming weeks.

Very truly yours,

State Senator Tanya D. Cook
Legislative District 13

2014 Legislative Agenda

January 16th, 2014

Dear Constituents,

The second session of the 103rd Nebraska Legislature has arrived, and with it comes a new set of priorities. This session, I will continue my focus on improving public education, job creation, and access to quality health care for all Nebraskans.

Public Education
As a member of the Legislature’s Education Committee, I am committed to protecting and emphasizing Nebraska’s only constitutional obligation which is to provide for the education of our children.

To this end, I advocate that school funding should place extra emphasis, and demand extra accountability, to tax dollars being invested to combat the impact of poverty in Nebraska.

During the summer and fall of 2013, the Education Committee met in the State Capitol and at hearings across the State. School districts, large and small, cited poverty as a prevalent issue and potential barrier to student learning.

LB 958 will ensure schools that seek funds to address poverty have a specific, actionable plan and the support of the Nebraska Department of Education to ensure that tax dollars are spend wisely.

I will advocate for Education investments in response to tax proposals that may surface as a result of the work of the Tax Modernization Committee. Based on the preliminary report, I do not think there will be seismic changes to the tax code. But it is my strong belief that the Legislature must avoid passing tax policy that will put the state’s budget in perpetual crisis. I recognize that if that happens, we would be forced to compromise our obligation to provide for public education, and local school districts will fill their needs by increasing property taxes.

Job Creation
In addition to prioritizing school funding, a debate of the tax competitiveness of Nebraska should include tax incentive programs for businesses that build on and invest in employees’ skills and talents. A Performance Audit recently completed on our tax credit statutes and programs shows the glaring absence of any job-training tax credits. This is especially troublesome because states we are in direct competition with do offer these types of programs.

LB 897, the proposed Employment First Program Credit, would permit employers to claim a credit of 20% of annual expenditures made to provide eligible services for their employees who receive public assistance pursuant to the program. Examples include child care services, job training toward career advancement and transportation costs.

Healthcare Access
I am also a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. As a committee, we have undertaken a great deal of research about the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in our State. Since we adjourned last year, we’ve been looking at what other states have proposed in terms of waivers.

I am advocating in support of LB 887 for Nebraska to expand Medicaid to ensure that up to 55,000 working Nebraskans who cannot afford private insurance and are not eligible for subsidized care on the private health insurance market have an option for coverage.

Rural hospital administrators and medical professionals across the board are in support of this change. Employers, also, know the positive impact that Medicaid expansion can have for their workers. Importantly, those employees eligible for coverage under Medicaid expansion deserve to live without fear that illness will place them in bankruptcy.

Nebraska’s Medicaid program is being run efficiently. Managed care contracts are being implemented throughout the system and our state is a national leader in Medicaid fraud prevention.

Affordable Child Care
Access to affordable, licensed child care is crucial for working families in Nebraska. When child care is not available, parents may be unable to work and children lose out on valuable learning opportunities. It hurts everyone when hard-working parents have to choose between losing access to quality child care and accepting even minimal raises at work.

LB 359 creates a system whereby working parents are not punished for small gains in their income. The bill allows up to 10% of increased income over two years to be disregarded. This preserves the family’s ability to access affordable, high-quality care while also allowing pay increases that can help them achieve self-sufficiency. I believe state assistance programs should offer a hand up rather than punish personal progress, and this bill works toward that goal.

When health care, employment, and education work together, everyone benefits. It is my goal to bolster all three so that Nebraska can move forward a stronger, more competitive state. As always, it is an honor to represent all my constituents.

Very truly yours,

State Senator Tanya D. Cook
Legislative District 13

October 2013 Education Committee Public Hearings

September 27th, 2013

Dear Constituents and fellow Nebraskans,

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage community members to attend a public hearing of the Nebraska State Legislature’s Education Committee on Monday, October 7, 2013. The hearing will take place from 10 AM until noon at the Omaha Public Schools’ Teacher Administrative Center at 3215 Cuming Street. As Nebraska residents and stakeholders in the education system, you are invited to attend and testify.

The primary purpose of the hearing is to collect verbal and written testimony about education financing and the factors contributing to equity and adequacy of funding. The committee would like to hear concerns, suggestions for improvement, and other relevant thoughts on funding and delivering quality public education for Nebraskans. Testifiers should bring 12 copies of any written materials they wish the committee to consider.

The Legislature sets the rules, parameters, and institutions governing how public education dollars are raised. Though the legislature is not in session at the moment, I am still working for my constituents to build the best educational policy possible. Hearing from a range of Nebraskans, especially those in the Omaha area, is a vital part of that process.

If you are unable to attend the Omaha hearing, the committee is also meeting on the following days and locations:

October 2, Hastings, 10:00 AM
October 2, McCook, 7:00 PM
October 3, Dunning, 1:30 PM
October 7, Crete, 4:00 PM
October 8, Macy, 1:30 PM

I look forward to hearing your input on this critical issue.

Very truly yours,

State Senator Tanya D. Cook
Legislative District 13

2013 End of Session Review

June 20th, 2013

Dear Constituents:

I am writing you with my 2013 End of Session Report.  I am proud to report the first session of my second term as your State Senator was a success.  The Legislature adjourned after passing a balanced budget, providing $230 million in property tax relief, and replenishing Nebraska’s “rainy day” fund.  I advanced the priorities that you expressed to me through conversations, correspondence, and the confidence to make me your representative.  Those specific areas of focus are workforce development, accountability in public education, and access to quality, affordable health care.

Workforce Development
There are more than 40,000 people in the Omaha area without a high-school diploma, severely limiting career advancement. Those in need of GED preparation and certification through Metropolitan Community College and 48 other certification sites in Nebraska deserve support that will help ensure that they are ready for career training.  LB366 (Cook) will achieve this end while reducing property tax burdens on homeowners.

Accountability in Education
LB262 (Cook) gives accurate and innovative tools to policymakers and community organizations interested in closing the achievement gap in public education.  Across Nebraska there are thriving and struggling students, thriving schools and struggling schools.  Why, and what are we going to do about it?  While Nebraska makes funding education a priority, there were no reliable mechanisms to judge the effectiveness of our investments.  With the passage of LB262, for the first time we will have accurate, reliable, and complete information about the success of our students and effectiveness of our school districts.

Access to Quality, Affordable Health Care
Nebraska has a very strong public health infrastructure. This strong infrastructure shows even greater potential. LB157 (Cook) makes sure Nebraskans will have access to dental care services by equipping public health clinics throughout the state with dental professionals.
Additionally, when public health clinics are able to meet the specific needs of the community we are a healthier and more productive state. LB119 (Cook) empowers local public health districts to address real needs in the community like never before by adequately funding targeted prevention efforts. Building on our state’s public health system and providing access to dental care improves overall health, well-being and productivity in our community.

These laws, and others that I introduced and sponsored, advance my promises to you to address the real and specific needs of our District.  My work to reform state government and make targeted investments in the real needs our our District and the State continues.

If you have any questions about these laws or any other issues before the Legislature please contact me.  As always, it is an honor to represent you.

Very Truly Yours,

State Senator Tanya D. Cook
Legislative District 13

2013 Public Health Update

May 7th, 2013

Dear Constituents:

I am writing to give you an update on important progress to strengthen public health in Nebraska. I have made supporting and strengthening your public health system a top priority. This year is no different.

Taking advantage of, and building upon, our previous investments in a strong, dynamic, and adaptable public health system provides a real opportunity to slow the growth in the health care budget and improve quality of life. Two proposals I introduced this year are set to become law. One would enable dental professionals to serve thousands in need of basic, preventative dental care in public health centers. Another will empower local public health districts across the state to address specific needs within their districts.

By adopting my proposals, the Legislature will address the severe lack of access to dental care for low-income Nebraskans and recognize the importance of dental care to overall health and productivity. There is a real need for this access to basic, preventative dental care and staffing public health clinics with dental professionals is a real solution.

Additionally, I advocate to empower Nebraska’s 18 local public health departments to address specific needs of their service areas through preventative health programs. These preventative health programs are designed to address the specific public health needs of each of our communities. My proposal is targeted to improve access to medical homes and dental homes, increasing work site wellness initiatives and assuring preventative health services are available to all Nebraskans.

Investments in preventative health measures save money in the long-term. Building on our state’s public health system and providing access to dental care will improve overall health, well-being and productivity in our community.

Thank you all for your interest and input this legislative session. As always, it is an honor to represent you.

Very Truly Yours,

Senator Tanya D. Cook
Legislative District 13

2013 Spring Legislative Update

April 4th, 2013

Dear Constituents:

I am writing to give you all an update about exciting progress to bring innovation and accountability to education in Nebraska.

I chose LB366 as my personal priority bill this legislative session. LB366 will help ensure that Nebraskans in need of GED training and testing achieve that important life goal. Metropolitan Community College provides the critical training and testing that helps get our neighbors on track for a prosperous career. LB366 will, for the first time, create a state-wide system for the funding of GED training and testing. Importantly, state funding for this critical training will support Metropolitan Community College and the other community colleges in the state in their mission while reducing pressures on property tax.

With LB366, those in need of basic remedial education and GED certification through Metropolitan Community College deserve support that will help ensure that they are ready for career training.

Additionally, I am proud to announce the passage of LB262. This legislation will give accurate and innovative tools to policymakers and community organizations interested in closing the achievement gap between thriving and struggling students, thriving schools and struggling schools. While Nebraska makes funding education a priority, there are no reliable mechanisms to judge the effectiveness of our investments.

For the first time in Nebraska we will have consistent, state-wide information about how are kids’ schools are serving them. As law, LB262 makes accountability in education a priority in Nebraska.

Innovation and accountability in Nebraska’s investment in education is my commitment. Prioritization of LB366 and passage of LB262 show that this commitment is paying off.

Very Truly Yours,

State Senator Tanya D. Cook
Legislative District 13

2013 Priority Legislation

February 25th, 2013

Dear Constituents:

I am writing to give you each an update about my priorities this 2013 legislative session. My priorities invest in the real needs of our district and state will help build a stronger community.

Accountability in Education
Those in need of basic remedial education and GED certification through Metropolitan Community College deserve support that will help ensure that they are ready for career training. LB366 and LB367 will achieve this end while reducing property tax burdens on homeowners.

LB 626 will give accurate and innovative tools to policymakers and community organizations interested in closing the achievement gap between the thriving and struggling students, thriving schools and struggling schools. While Nebraska makes funding education a priority, there are no reliable mechanisms to judge the effectiveness of our investments.

Removing Barriers to Success
In my time in office I have consistently looked to remove institutional barriers to success. LB 539 will give continuing access to quality, safe, and affordable childcare while encouraging career growth for the working poor.

I introduced LB 492, which will continue the Youth Conservation Program, a successful initiative that empowers at-risk youth with meaningful jobs and training through the Nebraska Game and Parks.

An Ounce of Prevention
Nebraska has a very strong public health infrastructure. This strong infrastructure shows even greater potential. LB 157 makes sure Nebraskans will have access to dental care services by equipping public health clinics throughout the state with dental professionals.

Additionally, when public health clinics are able to meet the specific needs of the community we are a healthier and more productive state. LB 119 will empower local public health districts to address real needs in the community like never before by adequately funding targeted prevention efforts.

I am proud of these proposals and am working tirelessly towards their passage. If you have any questions about these bills or any others before the Legislature please contact me. It is an honor to represent you.

Very truly yours,

Senator Tanya D. Cook

2012 Priority Legislation

September 21st, 2012

Dear Constituents:

I am writing to give you an update on the great progress made by the Legislature this year to reform Nebraska’s child welfare system and behavioral health system. I am proud to let you know that the passage of my priority legislation, The Children’s Health and Treatment Act (2012), seeks to end the tragic and longstanding practice of Medicaid wrongly denying behavioral health treatment to Nebraska’s youth.

For decades, the denial of behavioral healthcare for Nebraskan children lead to this tragedy: A doctor’s diagnosis and recommended treatment is denied by Medicaid and the family is placed in the untenable position of having to make their child a ward of the state. Can you imagine giving up custody of your child so that he or she can receive the care they require, the care prescribed by their physician?

The Children’s Health and Treatment Act will help end this practice by requiring that the definition of “medical necessity,” which is currently used as a means to deny care, be made using a transparent, public process. This new law will provide continued oversight and accountability when Medicaid denies prescribed care. Parents, doctors, and the Legislature will now be informed about the exact reasons that a child’s care has been denied.

This law and others passed this year make needed reforms to ensure that your government works. Thank you all for your input during this legislative session. I appreciate your engagement in the lawmaking process and, as always, it is an honor to represent you.

Very Truly Yours,

State Senator Tanya D. Cook