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With recess days on Friday and Monday, I am excited to spend another four day weekend in the district. I had the pleasure of participating in the Wayne Legislative and Government Affairs 27th Annual Forum on Friday, as well as meeting with Pender Community Schools’ leaders. I look forward to attending more events over the weekend and on Monday.
This week we began the long process of debating the budget. The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee advanced three budget bills, containing modifications to Governor Ricketts’ proposed mid-biennium budget adjustments to the 2017-2019 biennium. Due to the near $175 million revenue shortfall, we are faced with having to make tough across-the-board budget cuts again this year.
On Tuesday, March 13th, we discussed three bills that appropriate funds in the state budget, starting with LB 945 and LB 946, then ended the day with a controversial debate on LB 944. LB 945, as amended by the Appropriations Committee, contains the Appropriations Committee’s recommendations to fund transfers, the creation of funds, and use of funds. Senator Krist offered an amendment that increased transfers from the Charitable Gaming Operations Fund to the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund from $50,000 to $100,000, which passed narrowly. LB 946, as amended by the Appropriations Committee, transfers $100 million from the Cash Reserve Fund (commonly referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund”) to the General Fund (which acts as the state’s checking account) to supplement the budget in addressing the revenue shortfall. Both LB 945 and LB 946 passed without much opposition.
LB 944, as amended by the Appropriations Committee, makes adjustments to appropriations and re-appropriations for state operations, makes adjustments to aid and construction programs, provides for fund transfers, and designates accompanying appropriations approved last year by the Legislature. While this bill contains many provisions, the debate on Tuesday was dominated by Title X funding language. Title X is a federal grant program, fueled by your federal tax dollars, that provides funds to the Department of Health and Human Services to be distributed among clinics to provide family planning and preventative health services. Governor Ricketts added language in his budget proposal that mandates no “funds disbursed under such program shall be paid or granted to an organization that performs, assists with the performance of, provides directive counseling in favor of, or refers for abortion.” Title X funds have always been intended to be kept separate and distinct from abortion-related activities, this new provision will provide accountability and ensure that this is the case. This gives organizations that currently provide abortion-related services the option to physically, legally, and financially separate its abortion-related activities from its Title X services, or completely stop its abortion-related activities and remain a clinic providing Title X family planning and preventative health services that receives Title X funding. It is a common myth that some clinics will lose funding due to this new budget provision, this is a false statement as clinics that do not aid in or perform abortion will not be affected and communities will not lose access to affordable health care. This measure is put in place to enforce an existing law that requires that no taxpayer money is used for abortion. Should an organization decide not to comply with current and new laws, they have made a calculated decision to refuse to separate their abortion activity from their Title X activity, therefore voluntarily cutting themselves out of the program. I am strongly in support of maintaining this language in the budget and ensuring that tax dollars do not go to abortion-related services. It is essential that as a Pro-Life state we continue to protect life from conception. After hours of debate going late into the evening, LB 944 passed 38/4 (6 senators not voting) with the expectation that we will be discussing amendments and additional budget topics, such as university system budget cuts, on Select File.
On Wednesday we had another long day of debate on Senator Pansing Brooks’ LB 157, Change provisions relating to appointment of counsel for juveniles. This bill would require attorneys for all juvenile offenders across the state. LB 157 failed to receive the needed 33 votes to invoke cloture to stop a filibuster of the bill. I did not support the cloture motion as I believe this bill would put an unfair mandate on rural communities and families to pay for the attorney fees.
Live coverage of the full session of the Unicameral is also available at www.netnebraska.org/capitol
I want to encourage my constituents to reach out to me at 402-471-2716, email me at email@example.com or to write me at:
Senator Joni Albrecht
State Capitol, Room 2010
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509-4604
I take into consideration every letter, email, and phone call my office receives when I consider legislation. I truly value your input and suggestions on the issues before the Legislature. It is of great importance that I hear from you in order to do my job.
I look forward to hearing from you!