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As we move further into the interim, we continue working with constituent issues and research to prepare legislation for the 2016 session. We also want to continue reflecting on this past session and further discuss key issues our legislature addressed. As promised, this week’s column will cover legislation from criminal justice, health and human services, business, general affairs, education and revenue.
Regarding criminal justice issues, the Legislature made significant progress through amending and passing LB605 and LB598. Both bills address the issue of prison overcrowding and cost inefficiencies by establishing stronger alternatives to incarceration with tools such as drug courts, more robust probation system, and reduced use of solitary confinement. However, the Legislature did a disservice to the justice system by repealing the death penalty. As well, it came very close to further undermining our strong stance on serious crime by attempting to reduce the penalties for habitual criminals.
In the area of health care, the Legislature passed a law allowing nurse practitioners to treat patients independently from doctors which will help alleviate the problem of access to healthcare in rural communities. Additionally, while the Legislature did not outright establish a medical marijuana industry, the Legislature did create a pilot study for hemp oil to address the issue of uncontrollable seizures in children and adults.
With regard to businesses, the Legislature passed a number of pro-business bills. One of those bills enhances rural economic development by providing limited liability for landowners in agri-tourism. We also passed a bill allowing private employers to voluntarily adopt a hiring preference program for military veterans. Further, the Legislature updated the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act to clarify workplace protections for pregnant workers. However, the Legislature failed to gain the needed support to reduce the minimum wage for high school workers as a response to the negative effects the new minimum wage law has had on small, rural businesses.
In the area of general affairs, the Legislature reinstated the cigar bar exemption to the state smoking ban after being struck down by the Supreme Court last year. While the Legislature did good work to oppose measures that might expand gambling in our state, there is another bill that will be debated when we return to legalize certain forms of poker as games of skill, rather than games of chance which are banned under our state Constitution.
As for revenue and education, the Legislature did not address one of the key concerns of many Nebraskans: rethinking our sources of funding for education. Throughout the State, there has been a demand to lower our skyrocketing agricultural property taxes, among a desire for lower taxes in general. While the Legislature did not tackle this issue, both the Revenue and Education Committees adopted legislative resolutions to study the issue more closely over the interim period. Hopefully this will prove to be a fruitful endeavor so we can provide the much needed relief desired by Nebraskans.
As always, please contact me, administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or legislative aide, Tom Venzor, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keeping the Good Life Growing in Nebraska,
Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16