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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Friday, January 27th marks the 17th day of our 90 day session.
Committee meetings are underway, the Legislature is currently debating the rules that will govern the chamber for the next two years, and some legislation is starting to make its way to the floor.
However, this legislative session was threatened to be hijacked due to the anger directed at a colleague, Senator Bill Kintner.
Senator Kintner’s actions have been well documented, and I feel he did the right thing this week when he announced his resignation. While in my heart I wish this situation could have been resolved earlier, by choosing to resign Senator Kintner has helped restore Nebraskans’ faith in our institution and will allow us to continue to do the work of the people.
I hope his action marks the end the divisive rhetoric that has entered our debates in recent days. But no matter what, it remains my goal to work with my colleagues to help District 17 and all of Nebraska thrive.
This week I introduced my first bill in the Agriculture Committee, LB 276, a bill to update that statute sections first adopted in 1937 relating to hybrid seed corn, specifically to include modern processes of producing hybrid seed corn.
The methods of hybrid breeding have evolved. Some of the methods listed in the current statute have fallen out of favor, while others have emerged. This legislation is the result of conversations between the Department of Agriculture, my colleagues and industry leaders on the best way to update the statutes.
The legislative process allows us to change and tweak bills both on the committee level and during floor debate. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my colleagues on various bills before the Business and Labor Committee which I chair and my own personal bills.
That is actually one of the great things about this process. It allows Senators the chance to engage in a fruitful discussion with our colleagues to make the best legislation possible and to come to an agreement on the best way forward.
This, to me, is one of the Nebraska legislature’s core strengths and I look forward to working with my colleagues this session.
I’m also proud to announce that I have recently been selected by my colleagues to serve on the Committee on State-Tribal Relations, which works to build a high-quality working relationship with the Native American Tribes in Nebraska.
My predecessor Sen. Dave Bloomfield served on this Committee, and I’m pleased that Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon and a member of the Sioux nation who grew up near Pine Ridge Reservation has been chosen as Chair.
District 17 Weekly Report
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
It has been an exciting few days here in Lincoln!
Since my election in November, I have been working diligently to prepare for the 105th Session of the Nebraska Legislature.
I have had a number of meetings with constituents in Legislative District 17, and I’ve been able to attend briefings by Attorney General Doug Peterson and the Nebraska Legislature’s Speaker Jim Scheer.
Through these meetings, it became clear to me that there are a number of challenges facing our state. I decided I wanted to do my part to confront these hurdles face on.
After many conversations with my colleagues and my family, I choose to run for Chair of the Business and Labor Committee. This wasn’t an effort that I took on lightly.
I will make sure the Committee works for the benefit of Nebraska businesses, as we grow our economy, both in urban and rural areas.
I’m going to take a fair, hard look at every bill which is referenced to our committee. The Business and Labor Committee oversees legislation relating to workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, labor conditions, fair employment practices, health and safety regulations and claims against the state. We meet on Mondays, beginning January 23rd in Room 2102 in the Capitol Building in Lincoln.
Other Senators serving on my committee include Sens. Ernie Chambers (Omaha), Sue Crawford (Bellevue), Steve Halloran (Hastings), Matt Hansen (Lincoln), Sara Howard (Omaha), and John Lowe (Kearney). It is a good mixture of rural and urban Senators and we span the ideological spectrum.
Besides my chairmanship, I will be serving on the Agriculture Committee, chaired by my good friend Sen. Lydia Brasch, and the Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Dan Hughes. All three committees will be very active and I look forward to taking up the issues before each.
Committee hearings begin the week of January 17th, and will be streamed live by NET at the following address: http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live coverage of the full session of the Unicameral is also available from that page.
The first week of session is reserved for leadership elections and procedural matters. Bills will begin appearing on the floor of the Unicameral once the committees have begun.
One of the major issues facing us this year is the nearly $900 million budget gap looming. Over the past several months, tax receipts have been lagging, and Governor Ricketts, in an unusual move, has unveiled his budget proposal earlier than normal. With only six months left in the fiscal year, the Legislature must act to put forth a responsible budget. This is a topic I will write more on in the future, but rest assured I will do everything I can to help put together a responsible budget package to the Governor this year.
Finally, I am here in Lincoln to represent you. I am blessed to have a wonderful, experienced staff helping me navigate my first session in the Unicameral.
Beverly Neel of Wayne, who has served Legislative District 17 for six years working with my predecessor Sen. Dave Bloomfield, will continue serving as my Administrative Assistant and Committee Clerk. She will handle my schedule and will usually be the first person constituents talk to when they call. Charles Isom has started as my Legislative Assistant and, having worked for Sens. Nicole Fox and John Murante, he brings a wealth of knowledge about the Unicameral and the legislative process. Finally, Meghan Chaffee has agreed to remain with the Business and Labor Committee as Legal Council, a roll she has had since 2015.
I want to encourage my constituents to reach out to me at 402-471-2716 or to write me at:
Sen. Joni Albrecht
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509-4604
I look forward to hearing from you!
Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 17th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Joni Albrecht