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Sen. Joni Albrecht

Sen. Joni Albrecht

District 17

Weekly Report – April 7

April 12th, 2017

This week, the Nebraska Legislature passed the 60th legislative day, meaning we are now 2/3rds of the way through the session. Things are heating up, and my entire day is spent on the floor of the Unicameral debating legislation.

We are starting to deal with some of the more high-profile bills this week including LB 46, a bill by Senator Dan Watermeier of Syracuse which allows Nebraskans to order special “Choose Life” license plates. Another bill, LB 173 by Senator Adam Morfeld (Lincoln), would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

On a less controversial note, by priority bill – LB506 – advanced to the final stage by voice vote and should be voted on one last time in the next week or so.

Another bill which I was proud to work on was LB639, a bill that will help military families become established in Nebraska. Introduced by my colleague Sen. Bruce Bostelman (Brainard), and referred to the Business and Labor Committee, the bill will give preference to active duty service members when seeking employment with the state or its governmental subdivisions. Military veterans are already eligible for such a preference. I was able to introduce an amendment which would allow military spouses to be eligible as well.

I also want to make sure youth in my district are aware of two different opportunities to get involved in public policy.

Agriculture is a way of life here in Nebraska, and a great way for youth to learn about agriculture is through the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute (NAYI). NAYI is celebrating its 46th anniversary this year. The five-day program is designed to teach current high school juniors and seniors about the agriculture industry and all the career possibilities available. NAYI is the longest running youth event of its kinds in the country and is free of charge.

The 2017 Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute will be held in Lincoln from July 10-14th. The selection of delegates to this Institute can be found online at www.nda.nebraska.gov/nayi.

For youth who are interested in getting a better understanding of public power, electricity, power generation, and the rural electric program, the Nebraska Rural Electric Association will be holding its Youth Energy Leadership Camp in July.

The Youth Energy Leadership Camp is open to high school freshman, sophomores, and juniors whose families are customers of NREA member-systems may apply. The camp is also being held July 10-14th in Lincoln. Contact your local rural electric provider or call the NREA at 402-475-0835 for more information.

Weekly Report – March 31

April 12th, 2017

Friday, March 31st marks the 57th day of the 105th Legislative Session. This week we moved into all day floor debate, which has resulted in a number of bills moving quickly through the first stage of the process. Once a bill has been voted on initially, it will still face two more rounds of voting before becoming a law.

This is both exciting and a bit overwhelming. Throughout the course of the week we have taken up more than 40 bills, not to mention dozens of amendments. I am learning a great deal every day.

This week has been especially gratifying in that I was able to put forward three of my legislative priority bills for debate by the body. I’m pleased to announce that this week I am 3-0 when it comes to my legislation passing.

First up was LB 506, which would adopt the Care and Compassion for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act, which passed by a vote of 38-0.

As prenatal testing becomes increasingly routine and diagnostic methods have improved significantly over the last few years, more fetal anomalies are being detected. In these very rare, but tragic circumstances, parents are given minimal options. Perinatal hospice is an innovative and compassionate model of support for families who find out a pregnancy has a life-limiting condition. This support helps parents embrace whatever life their baby might be able to have and also enables families to make meaningful plans to honor their child.

My bill asks the Department of Health and Human Services to host on their website information that medical professionals may share with these parents. The purpose of this bill is to raise awareness of perinatal hospice care and provide readily available information to help women and families through one of life’s most difficult stages.

This bill was the result of a lot of hard work with multiple stakeholders, and I’m proud to have the support of groups such as the Nebraska Medical Association.

Next up was LB 172, which is a cleanup bill to Nebraska’s Employment Security Law which eliminates obsolete language and clarifies other provisions to make the law easier to understand, without making any substantive changes to the law. This was a needed modernization of the statute which is why I chose this bill as one of two priority bills from the Business and Labor Committee.

LB 172 passed 34-0, which I feel was a testament to the hard work by staff from the Department of Labor as well as my Legal Counsel Meghan Chaffee with my committee.

Immediately after LB 172, the Unicameral took up LB 276, which I brought on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. This bill updates sections of Nebraska law first adopted in the 1930s that deal with hybrid seed corn, specifically to include modern processes of producing hybrid seed corn.

Some of the methods listed in current statute are no longer used and other processes have emerged since the law was first written, necessitating a modernization of the language.

There is still some work to be done but this bill passed with strong support, 39-0.

Weekly Report – March 24

March 30th, 2017

Friday, March 24th marks the 54th day of the 105th Legislative Session. We spent most of the day on Final Reading, which is the final passage of bills that have worked their way through the first two rounds of votes. These bills were for the most part non-controversial, and included the final passage of LB 203, which included language from my bill LB 301. Both bills advanced through the Business and Labor Committee, which I chair.

Speaking of the Committee, we have finished with our public hearings this week. All in all, we’ve heard 32 bills in our committee, with 16 bills advancing to the floor. Of the others, there is still work that needs to be done and we may revisit them next year.

One of the bills which was passed through the committee and to the floor was LB 518, a bill introduced by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg which would adopt the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act.

One of my main goals is to help grow and strengthen Nebraska’s entire state-wide economy. This includes both rural and urban economies. One of the major hurdles for our rural areas is the access to quality, affordable housing. During my conversations with economic development professionals, I have heard that many jobs in rural Nebraska go unfilled due to this lack of housing.

A report from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA) shows the cost of new construction for single family homes was highest in the Panhandle region of the state. The report also shows that the cost of new construction homes in that area averaged $248,000 compared to $198,000 in the metro areas such as Lincoln and Omaha.

This bill is designed to expand the availability of housing options by creating a grant program to stimulate housing development in rural areas of our state. A nonprofit development organization would apply to the Department of Economic Development for funds to develop workforce housing through new construction, rehabbing existing homes, or building rental units. The bill requires a one-to-one match with local funds to ensure communities are behind such housing and that it is needed.

One of my considerations with each and every bill is how fiscally responsible it is. This bill transfers $7 million in unallocated funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Established in 1996 in response to concerns about the effect of poor quality housing on the economic development of the state, the fund has supported 524 grants totaling more than $120 million for low-income housing.

A recent report from the Legislature’s Performance Audit Committee states there is currently more than $11 million in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund above the existing commitments for grants. According to Sen. Williams, the Department of Economic Development is comfortable the funds transferred by LB 518 would not adversely impact any current or future obligations or needs.

During our Committee hearing, a number of groups testified in support of the bill – including the Nebraska Economic Developers Association, the State Chamber, Nebraska Bankers Association, the Nebraska Housing Developers Association and others. The bill advanced from committee by a vote of 7-0 and shortly after, I named this bill as one of the Committee’s priority bills.

This bill will help rural areas of our state provide the housing they need to help Nebraska grow.

Weekly Report – March 17

March 22nd, 2017

The Nebraska Legislature has passed the halfway point in this year’s session, and committee hearings are beginning to wrap up. Some committees are already done for the year. My committee, the Business and Labor Committee, has one more hearing on March 20. After the week of March 20, the legislature will move into full day debate on the floor of the Unicameral.

I’m looking forward to celebrating National Agriculture Week from March 21-23. Agriculture and family farms are tremendously important to Nebraska’s economy. It is estimated that one in four jobs and a quarter of our state’s economic activity is related in some way to agriculture. Healthy farms and ranches are integral to our state’s economic success now and in the future.

According to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, in the last two years our state has seen a 9.3 percent increase in our beef cow inventory and an 11.1 percent increase in our state’s dairy herds. Our growth in the pork industry is outpacing national trends.

It is great to see that Governor Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s Director Greg Ibach will be touring the state to celebrate Ag Week and even swinging by our neck of the woods. They will be touring Wakefield Farms in Emerson and taking part in the National Ag Day Celebration Dinner in Wakefield.

I’m proud of my family farming operation with my husband, Mike, and being a member of the Agriculture Committee has been fascinating, educational and illuminating. Every hearing is an opportunity to take part in issues that, as I’ve said, directly impact our state’s economy.

Serving in Nebraska’s state legislature has been such a wonderful experience, and I’m thrilled to help announce an opportunity for Nebraska students to learn more about the nation’s only Unicameral.

Each June, the Clerk of the Legislature’s Office coordinates a four-day legislative simulation, which offers high school students a hands-on opportunity to experience the legislative process. The Unicameral Youth Legislature meets in the historic Warner Chamber (the former home of the Nebraska Senate) from June 11- 14 and provides young Nebraskans an in-depth learning experience. Student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and using the same processes and rules that I and every other state senator use every day we are in session.

This four-day event gives a behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will also have the opportunity to interact with senators and staff to learn how the legislature functions.

Applications are due by May 15. Registration includes lodging, meals (including a luncheon at the Governor’s Residence) and daily transportation from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus to the State Capitol.

There is a cost of $350 to attend, but registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship which covers the full cost of the session. Other scholarships are also available.

The Unicameral Youth Legislature is jointly sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development office and the University of Nebraska Big Red Summer Camps program.

More information is available at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or by calling (402)-471-2788. Interested students can also contact my office.

Weekly Report – March 10

March 22nd, 2017

Things are beginning to heat up in Lincoln as a number of high profile bills are beginning to make their way to the Unicameral floor for debate by state senators.

One of the more contentious bills that have been debated so far this year was LB 477, a bill which would have repealed the state’s mandatory minimum sentences of three to five years for all offenses but rape and child molestation. These aren’t non-violent drug users who pose little threat, these are serious criminals.

As the debate on the bill moved forward, it was clear that it did not have the votes to pass. An attempt was made to scale down the legislation so that it applies only to drug offenses, but to many of us, this didn’t clear up our concerns.

Under current law, dealers who sell cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine (also known as meth) to minors or within 1000 feet of a school, college or university can face mandatory minimum penalties.

As amended the bill would allow those caught dealing heroin, cocaine or meth – even to children or near school property – would no longer face mandatory minimums. The bill still faces two more rounds of consideration before it will go to Governor Ricketts, who has indicated he will veto this bill. If he were to veto the measure, it will need 30 votes to override.

Listening to my constituents, I am not comfortable with removing the penalties for those caught with dealer-level quantities of meth, cocaine and heroin.

I agree that Nebraska’s prison system is overcrowded, but I am hesitant to look to a solution that reduces mandatory minimums with such a sweeping action. As always, if any of my constituents want to weigh in on this or other bills making their way through the Nebraska Legislature, please reach out to me (contact info below).

I’m pleased to report that my priority bill LB 506, to Adopt the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act, has been passed out of the Health and Human Services Committee with unanimous support. My bill would task the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to place on their website information that may be shared by physicians to expectant parents whose unborn child has been diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly. This is a relatively simple bill which will have a big impact on families going through such a horrible situation.

Also the Agriculture Committee prioritized my bill, LB 276, which will update sections of Nebraska law first adopted in 1937 relating to hybrid seed corn to specifically to include modern processes of producing seed corn. The bill was passed out of committee without opposition.

I wanted to make sure my constituents knew of the Unclaimed Property program, administered by the State Treasurer’s office. State Treasurer Don Stenberg is currently holding more than $170 million in unclaimed property from more than 350,000 owners. The Treasurer publishes a newsletter which breaks down the unclaimed property by county. My office has copies available for my constituents or you can look it up online by going to www.treasurer.nebraska.gov and clicking on the “unclaimed property” link. Last year a record $16.3 million was returned to Nebraskans and it would be great to see more of our neighbors be reunited with unclaimed or forgotten assets.

Finally, it has been another active week for visitors to my office. I was pleased to have former State Senator Dave Bloomfield stop by on Thursday. I was also able to visit with some folks from Wayne and Pender hospitals who were in Lincoln as part of the Nebraska Hospital Association.

On Friday, the Unicameral took up LB 203, which was the Business & Labor Committee’s first priority bill. As chair of the committee, I am able to pick two bills which I feel are important enough to jump ahead of other bills to be heard by the full legislature.

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.

The amendment was successful and the overall bill passed 39-0. With such a limited amount of time left in the session, combining legislation which has no opposition is one method to keep the body moving forward.

Another bill I supported earlier this week was LB 62, introduced by Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk. This bill repeals a nearly 100 year-old statute that prohibits teachers from wearing religious garb in the classroom. This law was originally passed in 1919 at the urging of anti-Catholic interest groups. Thirty-five other states passed similar prohibitions and since, thirty-four have since repealed their ban. Only Nebraska’s and Pennsylvania’s ban remain in effect.

Speaker Scheer’s bill simply removes these archaic statutes and says that the State of Nebraska does not discriminate against people simply because of the clothes they wear or their religious beliefs. These individuals are professionals and fully capable of wearing garb that expresses their First Amendment rights while remaining religiously neutral in the classroom.

The bill had overwhelming support in the first round of voting, and now must be voted on two more times before going to Governor Ricketts for his signature.

We also passed LB 19, a bill originally introduced last year by then-Sen. Nicole Fox of Omaha and reintroduced by Sen. Kolterman. This bill will allow licenses acupuncturists to treat patients without a referral from a doctor or chiropractor. It also requires acupuncturists to refer patients to the appropriate medical practitioner for any problem outside their training and abilities to treat.
It was one of the few bills last year which had a priority designation – which usually guarantees a bill at least has a chance to be heard by the full legislature – but was not able to be brought up because the Unicameral ran out of time. This time around, however, the bill should have a quick resolution.

Lastly, I wanted to congratulate the Pender Flames on winning two state titles from the 10th annual Nebraska State High School Cheer and Dance Championships in Grand Island last week. Good job, girls!

Weekly report – February 21

February 23rd, 2017

This past week, the body finally agreed to adopt a set of temporary rules which should allow us to begin hearing legislation on the floor of the Unicameral, a welcome development. Now the bills which have passed out of committee will be given debate on the unicameral floor.

In the Business and Labor Committee, we are now halfway through our committee public hearings. We’ve heard 16 of the 32 bills in our committee. Seven of bills have advanced to general file.

On Monday, February 13th the Committee heard several bills. Among them were LB 518, a bill sponsored by Senator Williams to adopt the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act. This bill creates grants to support the development of workforce housing necessary to recruit and retain employees in rural and underserved communities.

We also heard Sen. Bruce Bostelman testify on LB 639, a bill which changes when a preference is required for certain government employment relating to service members and their spouses and veterans. This bill includes service member as a person who would be “preference eligible” when seeking employment with the State of Nebraska or its governmental subdivisions. (Service member is defined as a person who serves on active duty in the armed forces of the United States.) It also includes the spouse of a service member while the service member is on active duty and for 180 days following the service member’s discharge or separation from service.

We also heard about a bill introduced by my colleague Senator Kate Bolz to create the Nebraska Integrated Education & Training Grant Program. This bill addresses the need for developing and implementing integrated education and training initiatives, which include instruction that provides adult education and literacy or remedial education concurrently and in the context of workforce preparation and occupational training.

Finally, Senator Matt Hansen talked to us about LB 261, the Nebraska Water Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. This bill uses the federal WARN Act as a guide to provide state-level legislation for the purpose of protecting workers by requiring advance notification of large-scale employment loss.

We did not have a committee hearing Monday, February 20th as the Legislature was not in session due to President’s Day.

Our next hearing is Monday, February 27th when we will hear from Senators and the public about such bills as the Adopt the Wage Disclosure Act and bills which will change provisions relating to mental injury and mental illness for workers’ compensation. We will also be taking up my bill to eliminate the Farm Labor Contractors Act.

Click here for a great article about LB 506,  the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act.

Weekly Report – February 13

February 13th, 2017

I recently had a Nebraskan e-mail my office asking why the Unicameral adjourns every day at noon instead of staying in session through the entire day.

While I appreciate their frustration at the lack of progress being made on the floor, we adjourn at noon or 1:00 p.m. in order to hold committee hearings every afternoon at 1:30 p.m. These are important opportunities for Senators to take a close look at legislation and to get feedback not only from the introducer, but from Nebraskans who take the time to travel to Lincoln to testify in favor or opposition to a particular piece of legislation.

On Friday, February 10, my bill, LB 506 – the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act – was heard by the Health and Human Services Committee. While it may seem like a small bill, it will mean a great deal for the families dealing with a devastating, life changing ordeal.

The purpose of LB 506 is to raise awareness of perinatal hospice care and provide readily available information to help women and their families through one of life’s most difficult stages.

As prenatal testing becomes increasingly routine and diagnostic methods have improved significantly over the last few decades, more lethal fetal anomalies such as anencephaly, sever heart defects and others are being detected. Just as the prevalence of prenatal diagnosis increase, so should the information available to parents.

Perinatal hospice and palliative care are innovative and compassionate models of support for families who find out a pregnancy has a life-limiting condition. This care begins at diagnosis and continues through the baby’s birth and death. Perinatal hospice is not a place, but it is a model of care and support that is incorporated into pregnancy and birth care.

When given a serious medical diagnosis, parents are sometimes given minimal options. Unfortunately, this may mean families are not aware of the compassionate care available to them through perinatal hospice services. Many parents faced with this horrible situation find themselves adrift without a life raft and having to find out for themselves what resources are available.

My bill asks the Department of Health and Human Services to host on their website information about perinatal hospice care and organizations which specifically specialize in and offer this care that medical professionals may share with these parents.

Over the last few months I have had wonderful, eye-opening and emotional conversations with experts, medical professionals, and families – and I want to thank them for the input as we put this legislation together.

In the most devastating and difficult circumstances, women and families deserve to know about the exceptional care and support they can receive for themselves and their child.

Friday was an emotional day, and I appreciated each and every “Warrior Mom” who testified in favor of my bill.

Shawna Hoffman, cofounder of HEALing Embrace in Omaha and the mother of a son who died in childbirth, shared with the committee her experience and her support for LB 506. She is one of the bravest women I have ever met, and her story touched us all. Now, we will wait to see if the Health and Human Services Committee votes to send the bill to the floor.

Weekly Report – February 3

February 13th, 2017

It has been an exciting, educational and slightly frustrating start to the session. I was warned that things move slowly at first, but I am surprised at the pace so far. Hopefully the Unicameral will be able to move on from debating updates to the rules that govern debate to substantive legislation soon.

But while the Unicameral floor may look like a glacier, the Committees which meet in the afternoons are charging full speed ahead.

The Business and Labor Committee, which I chair, meets on Mondays and it has been fascinating work so far.

I’m looking forward to a busy and productive year in the Business and Labor Committee and so far we have had just that. We have 32 bills under the Committee’s jurisdiction this year, and the issues and subjects span from bills requested by the Department of Labor, bills regarding workforce development, and bills dealing with wages and labor conditions to name just a few areas.

When I became Chair of the Committee, I expressed my commitment that every bill would receive a fair hearing and consideration by the Committee.

We’ve had two hearings so far. During those hearings we heard testimony regarding bills like LB 203 introduced by Senator John Kuehn, which dealt with benefits for employers leaving a job without good cause, LB 248 introduced by Senator Burke Harr which creates the Youth Opportunities in Learning and Occupations Act, and my bill, LB 264 which updates a section of the Boiler Inspection Act to account for changes in boiler inspection industry terminology and changes Nebraska’s language to match the industry’s standard language.

In the coming weeks, we will be hearing a bill which deals with the Family Medical Leave Act. We will also hear about a bill which provides protections for employees with family care responsibilities under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act.

Following our hearings, committee members meet in what is known as an executive session, which allows us to discuss each bill further and in more depth, to make necessary amendments if needed, and to possibly advance a bill to the Unicameral floor for debate before the full body.

We have had one executive session so far and voted to move several bills, including LB 264 to the floor. Over the next few weeks, as we hear more bills in committee, it is my goal to work with my colleagues who have legislation before my committee to move the legislative process along in an efficient manner as possible. While I can’t guarantee a bill will have the support necessary to pass through my committee, each bill will get consideration.

Sen. Joni Albrecht

District 17
Room #2010
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2716
Email: jalbrecht@leg.ne.gov
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