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.