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We have had another exciting week at the Unicameral, over 325 bills and 21 legislative resolutions have been submitted since convening on January 3rd. We have been moving through debate on many bills in General File that carried over from last year, while committees prepare to hold hearing for newly introduced bills.
On Wednesday, Governor Ricketts delivered his State of the State address highlighting his priorities and hopes for 2018. He pointed to the many successes Nebraska had last year, including winning the Governor’s Cup for most economic development projects per capita of any state in the country, Forbes’ ranking of Nebraska as the fourth best state for business, and achieving the lowest unemployment rate in the state since 1999 at 2.7 percent. As revenue continues to come in below projections and we face a $200 million shortfall, Governor Ricketts’ proposed budget dictates across-the-board budget cuts to close the gap without raising taxes while still protecting state priorities, including K-12 education, developmental disability services, child welfare and corrections.
Governor Ricketts also released a plan to address Nebraska’s crushing property taxes, through the Nebraska Property Tax Cuts and Opportunity Act (LB947) proposed by Senator Smith. While this is a work in progress, I am excited to work together to pass bipartisan legislation for much-needed property tax relief.
Also on Wednesday, our office was delighted to welcome many guests from District 17, including South Sioux City School Board members and students, the South Sioux City Chamber of Commerce, South Sioux City, Dakota City, Dakota County, and 2018 Teacher of the Year Michelle Helt to the Capitol to watch the Governor’s speech. Senator Brewer and I also welcomed Tribal leaders from across the state to watch the State of the State address followed by coffee and a productive discussion.
I was proud to stand with Attorney General Doug Peterson, Governor Pete Ricketts, fellow Senators, and law enforcement at the reveal of the “Demand an End” awareness campaign on Thursday. The awareness campaign is the latest step Nebraska is taking to end the sale of minors and adults coerced or forced into sex. Awareness posters targeting the buyers of trafficking victims will be placed at all rest stops along I-80 and many more around the state. Governor Ricketts also declared January Human Trafficking Awareness Month to solidify Nebraska’s commitment to ending this heinous crime. Thank you to the brave men and women who have already begun this fight on the front lines.
This week I also introduced three additional bills, LB 949, LB 952, and LB 953:
LB 949 aims to rename the Nebraska Educational, Health, and Social Services Finance Authority Act to include cultural institutions, allowing for cultural institutions such as museums or visual arts centers to finance or refinance cultural assets they deem important to the economic vitality of their locality.
LB 952 protects businesses by limiting the number of times an employee can file and dismiss the same case in Workers’ Compensation Court.
LB 953 corrects language in current Nebraska statutes regarding workers’ compensation to allow penalties for late payments to injured workers. LB 953 also allows parties in Workers’ Compensation Court to settle their case without court approval when there may be unpaid medical bills or the employee is a Medicare beneficiary. Court approval would still be needed if the employee is not represented by an attorney.
The Business and Labor Committee’s hearings for this legislative session will be on January 22nd, February 5th, February 12th, and February 26th. The hearings will begin promptly at 1:30 p.m.
If you would like to submit written testimony for the committee to consider and you will not be personally testifying at the hearing, it is strongly encouraged that you turn your written testimony in to the committee clerk, Beverly Neel, no later than 5:00 p.m. on the business day prior to the relevant hearing. Please let Beverly know if you would like your submission to be formally on the committee’s hearing record.
You may submit your written testimony by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to:
Senator Joni Albrecht
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-4604
I want to encourage my constituents to reach out to me at 402-471-2716 or to write me at the address above.
I look forward to hearing from you!
We have had an exciting start to the New Year here at the Unicameral! I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. As the holidays come to an end, I am excited to start the 2018 session as I proudly represent the people from District 17 and serve as the Chair of the Business and Labor Committee.
We are starting off 2018 with two new additions to our staff. Amara Meyer is working as Legal Counsel for the Business and Labor Committee and Lauren McCarthy is working as our Legislative Aide for District 17. Beverly Neel of Wayne, who has served Legislative District 17 for seven years, will continue serving as my Administrative Assistant and Committee Clerk.
We have been preparing to go full strength into session to tackle looming budget issues, high property taxes, and our struggling corrections system. Nebraska will again be facing a large budget shortfall of $200 million due to revenues coming in below initial projections. As the session continues, I am committed to producing a balanced budget that ensures responsible government spending without raising taxes on hard working Nebraskans. I look forward to working with fellow senators and Governor Ricketts on his budget proposal, which he will unveil at the January 10th State of the State address. It is also essential for the Legislature to work towards tackling high property taxes. I expect this to be a high priority and controversial issue, considering the $200 million budget shortfall. Additionally, as we work to addresses the growing problems facing our corrections facilities, I am committed to ensuring dangerous criminals remain behind bars.
As Chair of Business and Labor Committee, I will continue to fairly consider every bill that comes to the committee and work to produce legislation to benefit Nebraska businesses and grow our economy. The Business and Labor Committee oversees legislation relating to workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, labor conditions, fair employment practices, health and safety regulations and claims against the state. We meet on Mondays, beginning January 22nd, in Room 2102 in the Capitol Building in Lincoln.
The senators serving on Business and Labor Committee include Senators Ernie Chambers (Omaha), Sue Crawford (Bellevue), Steve Halloran (Hastings), Matt Hansen (Lincoln), Sara Howard (Omaha), and John Lowe (Kearney). It is a good mixture of rural and urban Senators and ideologies.
In addition to Business and Labor, I serve on the Agriculture Committee, chaired by my good friend Sen. Lydia Brasch, and the Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Dan Hughes. I also serve on the State-Tribal Relations special committee, chaired by Sen. Tom Brewer.
Committee hearings begin the week of January 17th and will be streamed live by NET at the following address: http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live coverage of the full session of the Unicameral is also available from that page.
During the first week of session, Senators submit proposed legislation and resolutions. These are then referenced to committees to await a hearing. Last week I submitted LB 712, which protects our employers and communities and encourages healthy and capable employees by disallowing unemployment benefits if the unemployment applicant was fired or denied a job due to illegal drug use. I also submitted two resolutions congratulating South Sioux City Cardinal Elementary School teacher, Michelle Helt, for being named Nebraska’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, and Pender Elementary School for being recognized as a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. I look forward to introducing more legislation in the next week, in addition to passing important legislation that was carried over from last year.
I want to encourage my constituents to reach out to me at 402-471-2716 or to write me at:
Sen. Joni Albrecht
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509-4604
I look forward to hearing from you!
Fall is a wonderful time of the year. Harvest is coming along and the school year is in full swing. I’m proud of the schools in my district, and I wanted to begin this column with a hearty “congratulations!” to Pender Elementary School for being selected as a National Blue Ribbon School.
Every year, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes outstanding schools throughout America which are demonstrating that all students can achieve to high levels and affirms the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming educational environments.
In its application, Pender Schools pointed out its work with the Teammates Mentoring Program, its efforts to recognize positive behavior and classroom success, and its high quality instruction to students. Only four Nebraska schools were selected and only 342 schools nationwide earned this recognition, putting Pender in some pretty good company.
Congratulations are also in order for Michelle Helt, of Cardinal Elementary School in South Sioux City who has been named Nebraska Teacher of the Year. She has spent her entire career working at Cardinal Elementary in various capacities. Later this year, she will participate in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
I’m proud of all of the schools and educators in my district that make such an impact and I love it when Nebraska schools can get these sort of national accolades.
Fall also brings the start of the severe weather season, which means it is time for the Nebraska Severe Weather Awareness/Preparedness Public Service Announcement (PSA) contest, sponsored by the Nebraska Association of Emergency Management, the National Weather Service, and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.
Open to all seventh and eighth grade media classes, the contest calls for multimedia products that promote preparedness, storm readiness, tornado safety, fire safety and other emergency topics. Entries may be a 30-60 second video or audio PSA, a 2-5 minute instructional video, or a digital image/educational graphic.
Contest rules and other information can be obtained at the Nebraska Association of Emergency Management website at www.naem.us. All submittals must be in by November 20, 2017.
While we are on the topic of safety, please remember that as the days grow shorter and the leaves fall off the trees, we are entering into Halloween season. To help ensure adults and children have a safe holiday, here are some tips to keep in mind:
• A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children as they go from house to house.
• If your older children are going out without you, plan and review the route the trick-or-treaters will follow and agree on a specific time for them to come home.
• Trick-or-treaters young and old should stay in populated, well-lit areas.
• Only walk on the sidewalk, and only cross the street at crosswalks.
• Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to ensure visibility. Glow sticks are also a handy item to have along.
• Trick-or-treaters should never enter a stranger’s home and they should never consume unwrapped food items or beverages.
• For motorists, enter and exit driveways and alleys carefully.
• Watch for children walking on medians and especially for young children darting between houses.
With students going back to school, farm equipment on the road, and Halloween coming up, drivers should be cautious and aware on our roads. Be safe!
I consider myself fortunate that I married into a farming family. It has truly been an eye-opening experience. I discovered early on that it is not easy. But I love the hard work, the early mornings and late hours. I have never doubted – nor regretted – my love for the farm for a second.
With nearly 50,000 farms and ranches across the state – combined with other agriculture related businesses – I’m proud to be part of the team that makes this state great. Our agriculture industry is the economic engine for our state.
One great example of Nebraskans working to grow our agriculture economy was on display Monday, October 2nd, when Thurston County received it’s designation as a Livestock Friendly County. This designation is given to counties that actively support the livestock industry. Since 2003, when it was first adopted, Nebraska has had 43 counties receive this designation.
Nebraska also leads the nation in a number of agriculture-related metrics:
Nebraska ranks first in commercial red meat production, first in Great Northern bean production, and first in popcorn production. Our state ranks near the top in ethanol production, alfalfa, sorghum, and soybeans– the list goes on and on.
In 2015, Nebraska exported $6.4 billion worth of agricultural goods. We rank number one in the nation for beef and veal exports, bringing in $1.1 billion.
Governor Ricketts has just returned from a trade mission to Japan to expand our trade opportunities and I have worked with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development on ways that the legislative branch can encourage Nebraska’s export opportunities.
While we want to encourage growth of our agriculture industry, I’m also committed to making sure family farm operations are able to compete. I want to find ways to encourage the next generation of farmers – to keep younger Nebraskans in their small downs and combat the “brain drain” that is happening in so many areas of our state.
As Chair of the Nebraska Legislature’s Business & Labor Industry and a member of the Agriculture Committee, one of my main goals is to make sure our state’s agriculture producers and businesses have the resources and freedom they need to survive and thrive.
The ag industry generates 25 percent of all jobs in Nebraska, and creates employment in other industries such as construction, finance, insurance, technology and law. If this is going to continue, we need to find ways to bring younger farmers into the fold.
Yes, hard times come and go and right now we are facing a downturn in the agriculture economy. This has created a lot of sleepless nights for many throughout our state.
I’m concerned about weak prices and tight margins, both as a state senator and as an agriculture producer myself. Unfortunately, there is no way to legislate success. My goal is to work to ensure that the opportunity for success is available to all.
The second half of the 105th Legislature will kick off in early January. It will be a short, 60-day session, but there will be time for us to discuss issues that impact our agriculture industry.
If there is one thing I’ve learned is that our ag producers are resilient. We are going to keep working to feed the world and keep Nebraska strong.
Nebraska will continue to be an agriculture leader thanks to the thousands of farmers and ranchers in our state. I’m proud of what you have accomplished and I look forward to working with them to strengthen our ag economy.
Harvest is just around the corner, so I want to make sure that everyone has a safe and bountiful year!
Next year will be on us before we know it, which means the second session of the Legislature will be underway. In preparation, I’m pleased to announce I have brought on Amara Meyer as Legal Counsel for the Business & Labor Committee.
Amara is originally from a farm near Brule, Nebraska. She holds a juris doctor degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law. Amara began her legislative career while still in college by serving as a Legislative Page. Since then, she has spent almost seven years working for the Unicameral in various capacities in the office of the Clerk of the Legislature.
She has also clerked for firms in Holdrege and Beloit, Kansas. Additionally, Amara has spent significant amounts of time serving the community through the Juvenile Re-Entry Project, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, and Community Legal Education Project.
In my office, she will work with the members of the Business & Labor Committee to draft bills and amendments, analyze legislation, and perform legal research on committee subject matters which broadly include workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, labor and employment relations, fair employment practices, labor conditions, and other matters that fall under the Committee’s jurisdiction. She will also write the bill summaries and any special reports put out by the Committee which will be available on the Legislature’s website.
She will also work with my Committee Clerk Beverly Neel to ensure our committee meeting, hearings, and interactions happen smoothly and without a hitch.
I am confident that Amara will be a wonderful addition to our team and will effectively and efficiently serve the people of Nebraska.
For younger leaders, the Nebraska Department of Education recently announced two students will be selected to join 102 other delegates in Washington D.C. for the United States Senate Youth Program’s 56th Annual Washington Week in early March.
This merit-based leadership program brings two students from each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity to Washington each year to experience an intensive, week-long educational program about the workings of the Senate and the federal government overall.
Most notably, each of the 104 student delegates will receive a $10,000 undergraduate college scholarship in addition to the expenses paid for the trip to the nation’s capital. This fantastic opportunity for qualifying students.
Commissioner of Education, Matthew L. Blomstedt, in cooperation with high school principals, will select Nebraska’s delegates from juniors or seniors, elected student offices and those belonging to a district, regional or state-level civic or educational organization who hold a high-level leadership position for the entire 2017-2018 academic year.
Interested students can find more information and an application at https://www.education.ne.gov/ss/ussyp.html. Applications are due to the Nebraska Department of Education by 4:00 p.m. CST on October 4, 2017. To see more information about the program itself, visit the USSYP website at http://www.usssenateyouth.org.
Finally, our hearts go out to those impacted by the forest fires and horrendous storms impacting our county. Nebraskans have historically been known to rise to the occasion and to help our neighbors.
But you should be aware that there are those who would capitalize on such tragedy. Never give any personal information to someone who calls you out of the blue, even if they claim to be from a charity. Also, beware of attachments in e-mails as these may contain viruses that could hurt your computer or worse.
The Federal Trade Commission is a wonderful resource if you have questions about a disaster relief charity. More information can be found at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0074-giving-charity#Checklist
It is a wonderful time of the year. Students are back to school, and those of us involved in agriculture are counting the days until harvest.
Even though the weather has been cooperating this year, sometimes disaster strikes. When a storm is declared a Federal Disaster, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is there to help individuals, businesses, and tribes deal with the aftermath.
There was a Federal Disaster declaration on August 1, 2017, for the June 12 through June 17 severe storms, tornadoes, and straight-line winds. Public assistance and 406 Mitigation was declared for the counties of Banner, Box Butte, Butler, Cass, Cuming, Dodge, Douglas, Fillmore, Gage, Jefferson, Morrill, Polk, Sarpy, Saunders, Sheridan, Sioux, Thurston and Wayne.
To apply for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding, send a letter of intent to NEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Office. Information can be found at https://nema.nebraska.gov/recovery/state-hazard-mitigation-program. Letters of intent are due to NEMA by September 29, and applications are due on January 31.
With fall comes back to school, and with back to school comes a number of opportunities for students to grow as well as help their communities.
One distinguished opportunity available to college students is working with the Nebraska Legislature during our upcoming session.
Nebraska college students interested in becoming a page for the Nebraska Legislature for the 2018 Legislative session are encouraged to apply through my office or through the Clerk of the Legislature.
Legislative pages are selected in the fall each year to work in the state Capitol beginning in January 2018.
Pages do a lot of tasks such as running errands, delivering messages, photo copying materials, and assist the presiding officer. Another big role pages have is during committee hearings. Pages are responsible for setting up hearing chambers and have a role in making sure the hearings go off without a hitch. As a chair, I know that the page assigned to my committee last session was wonderful to work with. It wasn’t glamourous, but the work they did was important and appreciated.
Pages must be high school graduates who are currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school with a minimum grade point averages of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. They must be able to work 20 hours a week during session. It is preferred that pages work the same four-hour shift each day. The legislative session will begin in early January. This is a paid position and you may also be able to receive credit hours through your college.
Applications are available through the Clerk of the Legislature’s office, Room 2018, in the State Capitol or through my office. A page applicant is also encouraged to contact his or her home district state senator for a letter of recommendation. If you do not know who your senator is, you can contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office for assistance.
The deadline for submitting page applications and letters of recommendation for the 2018 legislative session will be Friday, September 29 at 5:00 p.m.
I strongly encourage all interested college students to consider this wonderful opportunity. For more information, please feel free to contact my office.
It has been a busy summer for me, as I am sure it has been for my constituents. Summer has been flying by!
In just a few short weeks, on August 21, Nebraska will be ground central for an amazing celestial event as we celebrate the Great American Eclipse. Though unfortunately, those of us in northeast Nebraska will not have much of a view of the eclipse, there are many areas of our great state that will offer tremendous viewing opportunities.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected, so if catching the eclipse is on your to-do list, I would recommend planning early. The Nebraska Tourism Commission has been working with communities along the path of the eclipse, and there will be a variety of events taking place before, during, and after the event in many areas of our state.
More information can be found on the Nebraska Tourism’s website at http://neclipse17.com/.
Earlier this year, I was appointed by Speaker Jim Scheer to serve as a member of the Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee of the Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Legislative Conference (MLC).
Since 1933, the Council of State Governments has served officials in all 50 states and the U.S. territories. It is a non-partisan organization which promotes excellence in state government through the exchange of ideas and best practices to help state officials advance public policy.
In July, I was able to attend the MLC – the only event designed for state and local lawmakers from the Midwest – with several colleagues from the Unicameral. We heard from a mix of speakers, held professional development workshops, and had policy discussions on issues of critical importance to Nebraska and the surrounding states.
Closer to home, fair season is upon us and it was great to get out and meet up with folks. Thankfully, the weather has cooperated for the most part, and I got to see a lot of you at various events over the past two weeks. I’m looking forward to the Thurston County Fair, which is only a few days away as I write this.
One question I was asked recently was how my constituents could use their professional expertise to serve the state. While there are many ways an interested individual can donate their time and effort to help their community, one specific way to apply to serve on one of Nebraska’s state board and commissions. These boards and commissions meet regularly and offer a way for citizens to become engaged in both policy and rule-making efforts without requiring an unreasonable commitment.
Each board and commission is unique, and not all have vacancies currently. More information can be found at: https://governor.nebraska.gov/board-comm-req
Finally, recently I had the opportunity to sit down with many business, education, and local leaders. I recently had the chance to grab coffee with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Chancellor Ronnie Green. With a record high enrollment of 25,897 in 2016 and a fourth straight year of enrollment, the University is excited about the upcoming year. The University system is the largest employer in Nebraska, and it was interesting having the chance to speak one-on-one with the man who is steering the ship.
The first session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature is now officially adjourned. The past few months have been quite an exciting ride and I appreciate everyone who reached out to me through phone, e-mail or even on the street. We may not always see eye-to-eye on issues, but I take all of your comments to heart.
Though we finished a little earlier than our target adjournment date, we accomplished a lot and have a lot more work to do. We balanced the budget, but there are some very real challenges ahead of us as our state’s fiscal situation still remains uncertain. We are keeping an eye on the state’s revenue stream, and the possibility of a special session to deal with a budgetary shortfall remains a very real possibility.
I was disappointed we cut off debate on finding ways to reduce the property tax burden on Nebraskans. Though the bill that was brought forward was not perfect by any means, we ended debate before any real changes could be made that provided some tax relief for Nebraskans without causing any sort of budget shortfall.
Some of my colleagues have already put forth ideas for next session, and I look forward to working with them as we take up this challenge.
Earlier this year I was elected Chair of the Business & Labor Committee. We had a good year, one that I would call a success. We heard 32 bills through the first session and advanced 16 bills to the floor. Of those, ten became law.
One of the bills which was passed through the committee and was signed into law was LB 518, a bill introduced by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg which would adopt the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act. The Committee designated this bill a priority, and it should have a positive impact on rural areas in need of workforce housing.
The other Committee priority bill was LB 203. Introduced by Sen. John Kuehn of Hastings, this bill changes the requirements for receiving unemployment benefits for individuals who voluntarily leave a job without good cause. It would require an individual who does so to earn four times their weekly benefit amount to be eligible for unemployment benefits. Nebraska now joins 47 other states with a requalification requirement.
During bill debate, I introduced an amendment to include two other bills which advanced from my committee unanimously that are related to unemployment. My amendment added LBs 273 and 301 to LB 203. LB 273 was introduced by Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings and allows the Department of Labor to round down in unemployment calculations for the minimum earnings requirement. My bill, LB 301, allows the Department of Labor to notify claimants of unemployment electronically, if they elect that method. Unemployment claimants will have the power to choose to receive notifications either electronically or by postal mail under this bill. LB203 was signed into law by Governor Ricketts.
I’m pleased to say that my personal priority bill, LB 506 – the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act – passed unanimously and was signed into law. This bill tasks the Department of Health and Human Services to post information on perinatal hospice on their website and allows physicians who diagnose a lethal fetal anomaly to provide information on perinatal hospice services.
Another of my personal bills which updated the definition of hybrid seed corn was selected by the Agriculture Committee as one of their priority bills. LB 276 clarifies the definition of hybrid seed corn and the process of cross fertilization, which hasn’t been updated in decades. Also under the bill, a district court in the county where the violation occurs has jurisdiction to grant a restraining order if necessary. This bill gave me a chance to work with my colleagues and the Department of Agriculture to amend the original bill as needed, a lesson I’m sure will prove valuable as we move forward.
Today, May 23rd, is the last day of the first half of the 105th legislature. We were slated to be in session through June 2nd, which would allow time for Governor Pete Ricketts and the state Senators to work on any last minute legislation or to deal with any bills the Governor vetoed. Beyond the line-item vetoes (meaning he vetoed specific funding without vetoing the entire bill) of the state budget package last week, Governor Ricketts has stated that he will not veto any other piece of legislation, meaning we can end the session early.
As I mentioned, last week we took up overriding the line-item vetoes in the state budget package. Two weeks ago, the Unicameral passed several bills that comprised the $8.9 billion budget package, of which Governor Ricketts vetoed $56.5 million in line-items from the budget. In the end, I chose to vote against the override motion brought by the Appropriations Committee. This was not a vote I took lightly and I heard from constituents on both sides of the issue – those who wanted us to override the vetoes and those who supported the cuts.
One of the main issues facing Senators was the fact that without these spending cuts, Nebraska would have to rely on our cash reserve (or “rainy day” fund) in order to balance the budget. The cash reserve is intended to provide a cushion in case our state faces an unprecedented or unexpected hardship (such as a major drought or other disaster). It is not there to make up the difference in the budget.
Among the provisions vetoed in LB327 was $33.6 million in general funds approved for Medicaid, child welfare, behavioral health, and developmental disability providers.
Overall, for the Nebraska Medicaid program received $1.69 billion in the two-year funding bill, of which Governor Ricketts made a line-item veto of $11.8 million in each of the two fiscal years (roughly 1.62%). I have received assurances from the Administration the line-item veto of funding in the Medicaid aid budget will not result in across-the-board reductions to providers. The Medicaid aid budget is a block appropriation based on forecasts of need and Medicaid has the responsibility to manage the program within its appropriation and minimize adverse access-to-service issues for Medicaid eligible individuals and families.
This does not impact services not covered by Medicaid – such as long-term care, nursing home care, and assisted-living care services. The Medicaid program will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical services such as long-term care, and as your Senator I will be monitoring this situation to ensure this promise is kept.
The Division of Developmental Disabilities program was budgeted to receive $303 million over the next two years. Governor Ricketts line-item vetoed $3.2 million in each of the next two fiscal years. Again, I have received assurances the line-item veto in funding will not mean providers will receive across-the-board reductions and that the department will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical health.
From the $333 million two-year funding for the Division of Children & Family Services (CFS), Governor Ricketts vetoed $1.2 million. CFS has identified efficiencies in how it administers drug testing contracts that will garner savings in excess of the amount included in the line-item veto.
Monday, May 15th is the 82nd day of our 90 day session. With only a few more days left, I am pleased to say that much of the heavy lifting has been done for the session. Though we may still have some contentious issues come up between now and the last day of session, the Unicameral has accomplished our main duty, which is to pass a budget package which contains the mainline budget (the “main” budget that contains most of the governmental spending) as well as bills which make funds transfers as needed.
We started debate on our state’s $8.9 billion budget package on April 25, but the actual process began much earlier with hearings held by the Appropriations Committee. The package provides for increases in the Property Tax Credit Fund, K-12 education, our state’s Department of Corrections, among others. It reduces funds for the University of Nebraska and some state agencies.
The Unicameral gave final approval to the three components of the two-year budget late last week. Among the measures passed was LB331, which creates funds, makes fund transfers and lowers our “rainy day fund (the minimum cash reserve requirement) from 3 to 2.5 percent. LB 327, which is the state’s mainline budget bill, also passed on a vote of 36-12.
During the debate I voiced my concerns that this budget was taking us down a path that is just not sustainable. I agree with many who felt that, in the face of a significant budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, we needed to take a harder look at the levels of spending in some areas.
I joined with several of my colleagues to demonstrate our concern with state spending levels, and to express our misgivings at how little attention curtailing state spending was given during the budget process. I also had strong misgivings about lowering our state’s minimum cash reserve requirement.
I offered an amendment to cut spending by 1 percent across the board. Though my measure did not have the votes to pass, it allowed us to have a discussion about our levels of spending and what we are going to do if our budget shortfall continues to expand. Too often, we target one source of spending, such as the University of Nebraska system, with the idea that those smaller cuts will be enough. Or, as I stated earlier, we use budget gimmicks like borrowing from the cash reserve.
While this budget was balanced and did cut some spending, there were a lot of areas untouched and the methods that were used to balance the budget will not be there in the future.
Our state simply cannot keep borrowing from other areas to make up the difference between expenses and revenues. If we are not willing to curtail spending, then the only other option will be to increase taxes, which is something I cannot support. I feel that many members feel just as strongly.
So far, Governor Ricketts has vetoed $11 million in spending intended for a project that will replace the Capitol’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning replacement project. There may be more spending vetoes that will be announced in the coming days. We will get a report on the fiscal impact of this and any other line item vetoes and there may be a motion to override any or all of them, which requires thirty votes. It will be an interesting week.