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The second session of the 102nd Unicameral Legislature came to a close on April 18th and much had been accomplished. We have started to fix some of the many problems with the Child Welfare division of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as well as provided a tax cut to the people of Nebraska. Also, a consensus was reached on how to site pipelines and laws were passed that help local businesses.
The Child Welfare reform package was the result of an interim study conducted last year (LR37) and included 6 different bills: LB821, LB1160, LB820, LB949, LB961, and LB998.
LB821 establishes a 22-member Nebraska Children’s Commission charged with creating a statewide plan to reform child welfare services. The bill also creates a position within the Ombudsman’s office to specifically deal with child-related issues and DHHS.
LB1160 requires DHHS to develop a web-based automated information system to facilitate the flow of information relevant to child welfare data. DHHS is also charged with bringing a nationally recognized entity in to evaluate the state’s child welfare system. The first report is due on Dec. 15th 2012.
LB820 requires the creation of a Foster Care Reimbursement Committee, under DHHS, in order to standardize the rate structure for children in foster care. It also requires standard licenses for all foster parents not related to the child by blood, marriage, or adoption.
LB949 is a budgetary bill dealing with DHHS. It stems from a performance audit of the child welfare privatization efforts and requires a strategic plan to be included in its annual budget request to the Legislature. This plan will include the main purpose of each program as well as how progress will be measured and a time line for meeting goals.
LB961 reduces the welfare caseload size to between 12 and 17 cases per worker, moves case management back to DHHS and authorizes a pilot program to privatize the eastern service area. A review of the pilot program must be completed before April 1, 2013 with the recommendations going to the Legislature for consideration.
LB998 replaces the Foster Care Review Board with a Foster Care Review Office and a Foster Care Advisory Committee. The Committee appointees will be nominated by the Legislature and submitted to the governor for approval.
These bills represent many hours of negotiations and deliberations to fix some significant problems within the Department of Health and Human services. Much more work is needed to ensure our foster children have the highest care possible but we are aware of the problems and are looking for the best solutions.
A tax cut for Nebraskans was also passed this session (LB970). The bill, proposed by Governor Heineman, would alter income tax brackets in 2014 as follows:
|1||0 – 5,999||0 – 2,999||2.46%|
|2||6,000 – 35,999||3,000 – 17,999||3.51%|
|3||36,000 – 57,999||18,000 – 28,999||5.01%|
|4||Over 58,000||Over 29,000||6.84%|
Translated, this means a married couple that makes $100,000 adjusted gross income will get an estimated $145 tax cut.
The pipeline consensus was reached with my priority bill, LB1161, and allows the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to study oil pipeline routes that go around the Sandhills as promised to Nebraska Citizens. The bill would tighten up eminent domain procedures for carriers, require carriers to reimburse the state for studies and provide for transparency in the process.
Two bills were passed that will directly impact local businesses. The first is LB1080 which provides a tax break for data centers, exempting items that are assembled in Nebraska but shipped outside of the state to be put into service. Yahoo in La Vista has mentioned they could take advantage of this exemption to create more jobs in our community and relocate its factory to Nebraska.
Finally, LB780, is a bill I introduced that will allow microbreweries to expand their capacity. Nebraska has a large number of brewpubs and microbreweries including Empyrean of Lincoln, Schilling Bridge of Pawnee City, and my personal favorite, Lucky Bucket of La Vista. Lucky Bucket was going to reach the 10,000 gallon capacity in the near future, this bill allows them to continue expanding local business and enjoy continued success.
The 2012 session saw many interesting bills, some that passed, more that didn’t. I look forward to what the 2013 session has to offer with new senators, new bills, and new issues. Please contact my office if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Thank you for allowing me to serve for another year in the Nebraska Unicameral.
Since the beginning of the legislative session, I have been contacted by constituents who are in favor of Governor Heineman’s tax-cut proposal and by those who are in favor of fully-funding our local school districts. As a fiscal conservative I am in complete support of letting taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned dollars, but I am also a very strong believer in a quality education system. Unfortunately, from the looks of a preliminary proposal released by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, our wish list will have to be trimmed.
The $7.2 billion budget includes funding for important state obligations such as child welfare reform, capitol construction, and services for the developmentally disabled. The 2011-2013 budget’s biggest expenditure is state aid to schools, but it is considerably less than anticipated and the recommendation leaves only $17.6 million available for a number of other proposals, including the Governor’s tax reduction plan. Despite recent improvements in the economy, it is projected that the state will be facing a $461 million shortfall for the 2013-2015 budget.
In crafting the two-year budget last year, the state aid formula provided for $880 million in aid going to Nebraska school districts. However, more recent projections for the 2012-13 school year have lowered that number, due in part to higher property valuations, and the Appropriations Committee has recommended providing only $837 million. In addition, next year will be the first time in four years that the school districts will not be receiving assistance from federal funds.
Recognizing the competing needs for state funds, the Governor has offered to trim his tax-cut package by almost a third. As originally proposed, the plan would expand the tax brackets, lower individual income tax rates, lower the corporate tax rates to assist small businesses and eliminate the inheritance tax. It was estimated to cost $317 million over the next three years. Under the most recent proposal, the inheritance tax and the corporate income tax rate would not change, but low-and middle-income taxpayers would still realize some tax relief.
The Legislature will be discussing the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation in the coming weeks and adjustments may certainly be made; however, I praise the committee for taking the fist steps in the daunting task of holding the line on spending while adequately funding the state’s many needs.
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