NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Jim Smith

Sen. Jim Smith

District 14

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2012 Session Ends

April 30th, 2012

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:

 

Bracket Married Single Rate
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.

 

 

Committee hearings have concluded and the Legislature is now spending full days debating those measures that have been identified as priorities.  Each senator is allowed to designate one bill as his or her priority bill and the committees are allotted two priorities.  In addition, the Speaker of the Legislature has the option of designating 25 priority bills.  Fortunately for District #14, Speaker Mike Flood designated a bill I introduced, LB 589, as one of his priority bills for this session.

LB 589 is not only very important to my legislative district, it is important to communities across the entire state.  Recently, the Nebraska Department of Roads adopted a policy that would prohibit cities, counties and villages from using state highways with speed limits over 45 M.P.H. for special events such as parades, marathons, street dances and bike races.  This new rule effectively ends Papillion’s Dualthon and the Triathlon; events that attract participants from all over the country and bring thousands of dollars into the community and into the state. 

According to the Department of Roads, the concern is that of liability.  My bill addresses this issue by requiring the Department to authorize the encroachment of the state highway system if the city, county, or village waives all rights of recovery against the state for any damages or liability.   A public hearing on LB 589 was held in front of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on March 8th.  The committee has not yet advanced the bill to the entire Legislature for consideration, but the Speaker’s priority designation should help get the bill moving.

These special events are important to Nebraska.  These events celebrate our heritage, they strengthen our communities, they attract people from other states and they are valuable to the economy.  Passage of LB 589 will ensure that these events continue throughout our state for years to come.

The 90-day session of the 102nd Legislature has reached the halfway point, but there is still a lot of work to do and serious policy decisions to be made.  Since the beginning of the session in January, legislators have been spending their afternoons in committee hearings and listening to testimony on over 700 bills and proposed amendments to the constitution. The public hearings will be concluding and the Legislature will now be spending full days discussing those measures that have been advanced from the various committees.

Given the time constraints of the session, there is simply not enough time to discuss all the proposals that have been introduced.  Those issues that have been identified as priorities for the state are moved ahead of other bills, but there is still no guarantee a particular bill will be debated and passed.

Among the topics that will be the focus of the Legislature’s deliberations include our tax policy, the child welfare system, state aid to schools, abortion, roads funding, DUI laws, collective bargaining for public employees and water management.  Of course, the other big issue will be the state’s budget.  Before the end of the session in June, the Legislature must also find a way to close a nearly $1 billion budget gap.

The progress of these various measures can be monitored from the Legislature’s website “http://nebraskalegislature.gov/”.  Debate on legislation is also broadcast via live video stream on this site.  Your opinion is important to me, so I encourage you to pay attention to these issues and provide your input as a Nebraska citizen.

Sen. Jim Smith

District 14
Room #1116
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2730
Email: jsmith@leg.ne.gov
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