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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.