Last week we passed the 73rd day of the legislative session. We are currently working on the state’s $8.9 billion budget package. Nebraska’s state budget is structured on a two-year basis, with emergency budget sessions called as necessary.
Gering Senator John Stinner and the Appropriations Committee has spent months preparing the budget proposal, even going so far as to prepare a “mini-budget” earlier in the session to address the shortfall we were facing at the time.
This is a long process. The goal is prepare a balanced budget that encourages growth without being a burden on Nebraska tax-payers.
Among other provisions, the budget includes increases to educational funding through the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) of $62.4 million, $35.6 million for Medicaid, and $15.4 million for the Department of Corrections.
The proposed budget would cut $24.7 million to other state agencies and $13 million to the university system, among other cuts.
There is still a lot of work left to do and over the next week I expect this issue to take us well into the evenings. The budget should be passed by May 10 and sent to the Governor for his signature.
On another topic, I’m proud to announce my priority bill, LB 506 – the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act – was signed into law by Governor Ricketts last week.
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.
No parent prepares to hear the news that the child they are carrying is going to die before or shortly after birth. Until today, families in this heartbreaking situation had to leave their doctor’s office in shock with no help, no hope, and feeling they have nowhere to turn.
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.
This care begins at diagnosis and continues through the baby’s birth and death.
Unfortunately, many parents faced with this horrible situation find themselves adrift without a life raft and having to find out for themselves what resources there are.
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.
That is why I introduced LB 506 and that is why I’m proud to have worked with so many who helped make today possible.
Over the last few months I have had wonderful, eye-opening and emotional conversations with experts, medical professionals, and families. The most challenging situation faced by mothers should be met with the most readily available information, compassion and care.
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.
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.
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