Wednesday saw the last day of the 103rd legislative session and the adjournment of the Nebraska Legislature. I’m pleased with the work my colleagues and I accomplished this year, including balancing the state’s $7.8 billion budget. In Nebraska, our constitution requires us to balance the budget every year. This year we did it by rejecting the unnecessary expansion of government while taking care of our obligations to the people of Nebraska, including funding education and state employee retirement.
On Tuesday, Governor Heineman signed into law a bill I sponsored to require all newborns in Nebraska to undergo screening for critical congenital heart disease. Congenital heart disease is a leading cause of death in newborns, and this inexpensive test will save lives and save the state money long term.
The accomplishment I’m most proud of this session is passage of legislation to reform the Learning Community. This bill was my priority, and the governor signed it into law last month. Its passage means the Learning Community will see significant changes, including decreased transportation costs and reduced levy authority, with new investments made in early childhood education.
Although the next legislative session will not begin until January 2014, we will spend the interim period studying issues that may result in future legislation. This year I’ve introduced resolutions that include a study of how school boundaries impact community development and a study of renewable energy policy in Nebraska.
Please contact my office if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Thank you for allowing me to serve another year in the Nebraska Legislature.
Last week brought the clearing of a major hurdle, with an amended version of LB 585 being advanced by the Education Committee for consideration by the full Legislature. LB 585 is the bill I introduced to address the deficiencies of the Learning Community. The seven votes to advance the bill came after weeks of negotiations with Education Committee members.
As amended, LB 585 reduces the overall levy authority of the Learning Community and ensures allocation of funds to early childhood education for children in poverty. Studies show investing in early childhood education significantly improves the long-term academic success of students. In its amended form, the bill reduces transportation costs by eliminating the requirement that school districts pay for transportation if a student is transferring within a district or to a district that is not contiguous to his or her own district. This allows more money to go directly to the classroom.
Most importantly, the advancement of LB 585 will provide an opportunity for the full Legislature to discuss the Learning Community. There has not been an in-depth discussion on the floor of the Legislature regarding the Learning Community since the early years of its existence, and a majority of the body had not yet taken office when the Learning Community was put in place. I look forward to familiarizing my colleagues with the issue as we debate the benefits of this legislation.
The 2013 session is well underway, with 655 bills introduced for consideration by the Legislature. The Legislature has been meeting on the floor in the mornings, while afternoons are occupied with committee assignments. March 21 is the last day for committee hearings, and the Legislature will then begin full-day floor debate.
Among the 655 bills, were two bills introduced on the behalf of Governor Heineman that would have significantly reformed the way Nebraska collects taxes. Last month, Governor Heineman pulled the legislation, instead ordering a study of the state’s tax system over the next year. I’m disappointed the 2013 session will not bring a solution for comprehensive tax reform in Nebraska, but I’m encouraged by the prospect of the study. As an employer, I see first-hand the burden personal income taxes place on our families, and I believe Nebraska needs to be more competitive with respect to taxes.
On February 26, my Learning Community bill was heard before the Education Committee. While there have been multiple bills brought before the Legislature to address the Learning Community, including one to eliminate it (LB 178, which I co-sponsored), LB 585 addresses its deficiencies without calling for its elimination. Instead, the bill reduces the size of its government, reduces transportation costs, and reduces levy authority, saving taxpayers money. I believe this bill is an acceptable compromise and has a reasonable chance of being debated by the full Legislature this session.
I’m pleased that LB 225 is awaiting Final Reading before the Legislature. LB 225 requires all newborns in the state to be screened for Critical Congenital Heart Disease (CCHD). CCHD is one of the leading causes of newborn morbidity and death, and early detection is key to getting infants with CCHD the care that is necessary. I generally do not support government mandates, but requiring screening for CCHD will save the state money in the long run and, most importantly, will save lives.
Much work has been done already this session, and I anticipate more accomplishments in the next several weeks. I continue to appreciate your emails and phone calls as the Legislature takes on the issues that matter to you.
The 103rd Legislature has convened, and this session promises to be a busy one for me and my colleagues. 2013 is a budget year, the first year in a two-year cycle. This means a long, 90-day session, during which we must set the two-year budget for fiscal year 2014-2015.
Setting the budget will involve debating education spending and inheritance tax, along with property, income, and sales tax. The Legislature will also face difficult decisions regarding health care and Medicaid expansion. Water funding is set to become a top issue as the drought continues across Nebraska.
This session I am pleased to join the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee as Vice Chair. I look forward to my new duties on Transportation and Telecommunications, along with continuing to serve on the Natural Resources Committee.
Our work is cut out for us this year, but I am hopeful this session will provide positive results for Nebraska. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Unicameral to serve you and your families.
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