The 2011 Legislative Session wrapped up a month ago and I’d like to share with you some of the accomplishments, and challenges, of the year. This session was particularly draining with tough decisions having to be made in the budget and redistricting.
The Legislature carried out its constitutional duty of balancing our complex budget. We embraced the task of doing this without raising taxes and keeping necessary services available to our most vulnerable citizens.
On another note, my colleagues re-elected me as Chairwoman of the Urban Affairs Committee, and I am honored to serve in this leadership position again for the next two years. I hope you will take a few moments to scan over the bills I passed and the issues we worked on in the Urban Affairs Committee.
I have also attached a few press releases from the last month highlighting my participation in a briefing and reception at the White House and an upcoming educational exchange I am a part of with Turkey. Even once session is over, legislative matters keep me very busy, as does my job as Executive Director of the YWCA Lincoln.
Have a great summer!
MY BILLS PASSED
LB 524- PRIZE-LINKED SAVINGS! (My priority bill)
The Legislature unanimously sent LB 524 to the Governor and on April 26, he signed it. This bill gave Nebraska credit unions the ability to offer savings promotion raffles. Saving raffles are a financially safe way to promote savings among Nebraska families while allowing them a chance to win a prize. We live in a society where people don’t save money like they used to, and when an unexpected expense pops up, it brings turmoil to the family. Last summer, I listened to a Harvard Professor talk about the impact this product had in motivating non-savers and low-income people to save. In Michigan, people saved $1.6 million dollars in 11 months. This new product has the potential to boost savings amongst all Nebraskans, specifically those that are most financially vulnerable.
LB 79- EXPANDING CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)
CASAs serve as the one constant helping abused and neglected children in foster care navigate through the court system. My bill creates a grant program administered by the Nebraska Supreme Court to help CASA expand into counties that are not already served and recruit volunteers to help kids on the waiting list. When a child in the system has a CASA, they spend less time in out of home care, saving the state millions. I believe CASA’s are a vital resource in our community.
LB 80- ACCOUNTABILITY FOR CHILD WELFARE
This bill was attached onto another bill and was signed by the Governor on May 4. Before the passage of LB 80, there was an imbalance in our courts, which hurt families. When the Department of Health and Human Services takes a child out of a home, they should have to prove that their plan for that child is in the child’s best interest. The burden was on the parent(s) to prove the state is not doing what is in the best interest of the child. The State should be held accountable, especially when making decisions about our children. We all want to keep kids safe, and we need to uphold families’ rights in the process.
LB 146- HELP FOR NON-PROFIT EXPANSION
This bill will implement Amendment 1 that was approved by you, the voters, in May of 2010. Amendment 1 was a constitutional amendment that allows cities to issue bonds on behalf of non-profit institutions, so they can expand the services they offer, and this bill moves that process forward.
LB 335- HELPING CITIES ACCESS FEDERAL GRANT DOLLARS
This is a bill that creates language to allow cities to waive their bidding requirements when necessary to receive federal money. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, cities were eligible to apply for federal stimulus grants. A requirement of the grant was to “Buy American” during the bidding process. There was concern that this requirement could conflict with a “lowest responsible bidder” requirement in state statute, and the intent of LB 335 is to remove the possible conflict so cities can access federal grant money.
MY BILLS ADVANCED BY COMMITTEE – TO BE DEBATED NEXT YEAR
LB 304- EXPEDITED PARTNER THERAPY
LB 304 was advanced out of the Health and Human Services Committee March 9, 2011. This bill expedites the treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. This gives healthcare professionals a new tool to combat rising rates of STDs in Nebraska and the epidemic levels in Douglas County.
LB 310- UPDATING OUR DEFINITIONS OF ABUSE
Unanimously advanced out of the Judiciary Committee, LB 310 allows a victim of abuse, law enforcement, and prosecutors to take steps toward preventing a threat of domestic violence from becoming a reality. This bill also would enhance the penalties for violating a domestic or harassment protection order.
BILLS HELD IN COMMITTEE
LB 553 – REGULATING PAYDAY LENDERS
Over my 4 years as state senator, I have talked to many people in Northeast Lincoln and the rest of Nebraska who have experienced the nightmare of being stuck in a cycle of debt with payday lenders. A database would help us enforce our current laws, rules and regulations regarding this industry, at no cost to the taxpayer. I want to keep payday lending available to those who really need them, while protecting consumers.
LB 630- TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR CHILDREN WITH BEHAVIORAL DISORDERS
This bill creates a licensing mechanism for the practice of Applied Behavioral Analysis. Currently, applied behavioral analysis can be used to help treat children with feeding disorders, children with autism, and children with severe and persistent self-injurious or outward injurious behavioral disorders. Licensing is a first step to help families have more options.
BILLS PASSED BY THE URBAN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
LB 159 – BETTER SUBDIVISION DEVELOPMENT!
This bill extends the use of Planned Unit Developments to cities of the second class and villages. Previously, only larger cities like Omaha and Lincoln were able to use this development tool in conjunction with zoning to make the best use of the land when planning new subdivisions. We think extending this power to all municipalities in Nebraska is fair and will help cities as they develop.
LB 329 – UPDATE THE NEBRASKA ENERGY CODE
This was one of the committee priority bills this year, and it updated our statutes to the 2009 version of the International Energy Conservation Code as the Nebraska Energy Code. This update will help our state to reduce energy consumption in our homes and public buildings, and will create a consistent energy conservation policy throughout the state.
LB 437- CHANGES TO BUILDING CODE ADOPTION
LB 437 makes changes to the process we use in the adoption of the state building code. Currently, the legislature adopts newly produced versions of the code automatically when they are issued every 3 years. The Attorney General has told us it is unconstitutional to adopt codes this way, and this bill changes the statute to eliminate the automatic code adoption provision. This bill was amended onto LB546, which dealt with a different aspect of the state building code, listed below.
LB 546- NO MANDATORY FIRE SPRINKLERS IN NEW HOMES
This was the most controversial issue we faced in the Urban Affairs Committee this year. This bill adopted the 2009 version of the International Residential Code, WITHOUT the mandatory fire sprinkler provision. It allows for cities to amend their local building codes to include the fire sprinkler provision if the city council should vote to add it back in to the code. There were many testifiers in favor of and against this bill at the hearing, and the committee worked very carefully to create the policy best suited for Nebraskans.
ISSUES FOR NEXT YEAR
LR 243 HUMAN TRAFFICKING
This is an interim study to examine the extent of human trafficking in Nebraska in connection with labor and sex trafficking. I used to believe human trafficking was not an issue in Nebraska. However, this past year, I have learned this horrific practice is in fact happening in our own backyard. We will work with groups around the state who are conducting in-depth research on what the picture of human trafficking in Nebraska looks like and what we can do to combat it.
LR 208 TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR CHILDREN WITH BEHAVIORAL DISORDERS
The goal of this interim study is to determine the best manner in which to license certified applied behavioral analysts. Over the summer, I plan to expand this interim study to address the challenges families face when trying to get much needed services for their children. I have talked with several constituents who have faced endless hurdles and brick walls in trying to get the proper care for their autistic children. Other states have made changes in their laws to help these families, and Nebraska needs to join the movement.
LB 298 FINDING EFFICIENCIES IN JUVENILE JUSTICE THROUGH STATE AGENCY COLLABORATION
I introduced this interim study to explore ways state agencies can work together when providing services to children and families. We will look at a successful project in Omaha where Probation and the Department of HHS collaborated with significant results. I believe this type of program, if implemented statewide, could produce meaningful cost savings to the taxpayers and improve the quality of services we are providing to children at a critical point in their lives.
Do you have an issue you would like me to study this summer? Please let me know!
THANK YOU for being engaged constituents. Please let me know if there are any other issues on your mind. I always appreciate your feedback.