The final two main issues of the 2014 session were resolved last week as we passed LB 1098 and LB 907, which address water policy and our criminal justice system.
LB 1098 encompasses the Legislature’s work throughout the past year to address comprehensive water policy. This bill creates a Water Sustainability Fund to identify efforts that will maximize water efficiency and utilization. Through LB 1098 and the budget bills, $32 million will be set aside for projects that the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission will select.
In order to ensure the best use of these funds, the number of commission members will be increased. New members will represent agribusiness, agriculture, ground water irrigators, irrigation districts, manufacturing, metropolitan utilities districts, municipal water users, outdoor recreation users, public power districts, irrigation districts, range livestock owners, surface water irrigators, and wildlife conservation.
Projects will be competitively bid and cooperation between private land owners and government entities will be required before any project will go forward. To encourage future responsible policy, any river basin in Nebraska which has three or more natural resource districts operating under an integrated management plan will be required to develop a basin-wide plan for any areas with hydrologically connected water supplies. We do not want efforts on one end of a basin to negatively impact efforts on the opposite end of the basin.
With the amount of resources committed to this bill, the Legislature included accountability measures to review how the $32 million is being spent. The Appropriations Committee will conduct a specific analysis of the fund before developing each two-year state budget to make sure we are receiving maximum return on our investment.
This legislation will help Nebraska better prepare for floods, drought, and water quality problems. I am encouraged by the cooperation and commitment we have seen so far on this measure and hope that future efforts will continue in that spirit.
We also passed LB 907 last week to reform our prison system. This legislation seeks to reduce the recidivism rate of persons who have previously committed criminal offenses. We studied this issue in great detail the past summer and fall due to overcapacity concerns in our correctional system institutions. There was little interest in spending over one hundred million dollars on a new institution, so the Judiciary Committee spent their time figuring out how to prevent repeat offenders.
LB 907 focused on five areas of need. The bill will expand mental health services for inmates. It will also create a vocational and life skills program for inmates. It requires the Department of Corrections to develop reentry plans for all inmates before their sentences are 80% complete which explain in detail how they will obtain jobs, housing, and health care services after their release. It also permits more GPS tracking of parolees. Finally, it creates a Nebraska Justice Reinvestment Working Group that will work with the Council of State Governments to comprehensively review other states’ efforts to reduce their prison populations and develop Nebraska-specific solutions for future consideration. Our work is not finished in this area, but LB 907 is a good start on tackling our capacity and reentry issues.
Please continue to share your thoughts with me on issues before the Legislature. I can be reached at 402.471.2625, email@example.com, and District 15, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509.