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Last Thursday marked day 28 of the 2018 Legislative Session. As we approach the halfway point of the session, we are wrapping up most Committee hearings. We are also approaching the deadline for designating priority bills. As many of you know, the Rules of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature allow each senator to designate one bill each year as their priority bill. Senators may prioritize a bill they introduced or legislation introduced by another Member or Committee. In addition to individual Senator priority bills, each standing Committee may prioritize two bills that it advances. The Speaker of the Legislature is permitted to prioritize 25 bills.
Prioritized bills that have been advanced out of a committee will be heard by the Legislature before bills that have not been prioritized. During this short 60-day session, it is unlikely that a bill advanced out of a committee will make it to floor debate without being prioritized. With 49 Senator priority bills, 33 Committee priority bills, and 25 Speaker Priority Bills, we are looking at the possibility of 107 total prioritized bills. Since we have already debated a handful of prioritized bills, the remaining bills will be debated over the course of the next 32 legislative days.
I selected LB439, introduced by Senator Anna Wishart, as my priority bill for this session. LB439 would allow a nurse employed by an assisted-living facility to provide healthcare services to residents. It would limit the services to 10-hours per week for no more than 21 consecutive days. Under current law, nurses are prohibited from performing simple nursing tasks to meet residents’ healthcare needs. Nurses may only assess residents and oversee the management of their medications. The restrictions placed on nurses was intended to establish a bright line between nursing and assisted living facilities. As an unintended consequence, residents requiring short-term nursing care in an assisted-living facility have to hire their own nurses or temporarily transfer to a nursing facility. This seems an ineffective and inefficient way to deliver long-term health care services in Nebraska.
During the hearing last March, representatives from AARP, Nebraska Health Care Association, Nebraska Assisted Living Association and Nebraska Nursing Association testified in support of LB439. By allowing assisted-living facilities to meet the additional medical needs of their resident, I believe we will improve the quality of life for thousands of Nebraskans living in assisted-facilities. For this reason, I prioritized LB439 and will work with my colleagues to get it passed and signed by the Governor.
As Chair of the Nebraska Retirement Systems Committee, I prioritized LB548 and LB1005. LB548 was introduced by Senator Brett Lindstrom last year to begin the discussion about consolidating the Class V (Omaha) School Employees Retirement Plan with the School Employees Retirement Plan which is administered by the Nebraska Public Employees Retirement System (NPERS). LB548 was held in Committee so we could continue working with Omaha Public Schools (OPS) and other interested groups to identify how to increase the funding status of the plan which is currently at 65% funding. The plan currently has $712 million in unfunded liabilities.
This year Senator Lindstrom introduced an amendment to LB548 that would authorize OPS to issue pension obligation bonds without a vote of the people, to pay the district’s contributions over the next 30-years which are currently projected to equal $882 million. I also introduced an amendment to LB548 which would authorize the Nebraska Department of Education to annually withhold state aid from Omaha unless the district has paid the full amount of its annual contribution. Though I believe OPS fully intends to pay these obligations each year, I also believe a mechanism like this is needed to ensure that these pension obligations are met. I am supportive of pension obligation bonds if it can save the school district money and if the question is submitted to Omaha citizens for a vote. The hearing was last week and the Committee has not met since then to discuss what provisions may be advanced to the floor for debate.
LB1005 establishes a financial obligation to provide retirement benefits for affected plan members and assesses actuarial and administrative costs for County and School Plan governmental entities that elect to withdraw from the plan, in whole or in part, for business purposes. Under the bill, affected members are considered fully vested prior to termination from the plan. Within 90 days of the entity’s withdrawal, the affected members will be considered inactive. LB 1005 ensures that the withdrawing employer – not the retirement system – is financially liable for all the costs to the plan for the entity’s business transaction. It minimizes the risk that the State, other entities covered by the plan, or the members of the plan, will bear the cost of any one entity’s business transaction.
As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. Please stop by any time. My e-mail address is email@example.com, and the office phone number is 402-471-2756. Todd and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address any issues that you may need assistance.