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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!
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.
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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