Sen. Bill Avery
District 28

Summer Update

November 14th, 2012

Greetings from District 28!

It’s been a very busy summer here in Legislative District 28, and it has been a real pleasure to attend many events with you. I am especially thrilled that Lincoln is experiencing unprecedented community growth, and the sight of construction cranes on the horizon is exciting!

In June, I attended the Lincoln Parks Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Celebration. The Foundation helps support Lincoln’s impressive community-wide parks and recreation system, which includes 125 parks, 128 miles of trails, 10 pools, 7 recreation centers, and 5 public golf courses. Woods Pool, Irvingdale Recreation Center, the Sunken Gardens, Jim Ager Junior Golf Course, Antelope Valley and Taylor Park are just some of the wonderful treasures found in District 28, and the donations and grants citizens generously bequest to the Foundation help keep our community beautiful.

I was fortunate to take a tour of the new Pinnacle Bank Haymarket Arena with other Lincoln-area Senators. The 16,000-seat facility will be distributed over approximately 450,000 square feet on four concourse levels. It will feature the University of Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball teams as anchor tenants, and will host other national acts as they tour the nation. As the author of legislation aimed at arena financing, I’m proud to be a part of this amazing economic development.

Later in the summer, I was pleased to be present at the groundbreaking ceremonies of Canopy Street, the West Haymarket expansion project. Canopy Street will include 8 blocks of retail, condos, hotels, festival space and pedestrian walkways. The development includes nearly $500 million of public and private investment to complement the Pinnacle Bank Haymarket Arena. During the last session, I was pleased to support a bill which authorized “entertainment district” designation of this area for future, flexible mixed-use purposes.

I joined my neighbors and we participated in Streets Alive! – an event sponsored by HealthyLincoln.org to promote healthful living. Our friends walked, biked, skateboarded and uni-cycled their way through core of our district to share the streets in movement. I was pleased to see thousands of Lincolnites take advantage of a blue-sky Sunday to show that community involvement is important to us.

Later in September, I attended the Grand Opening Ceremonies of Lincoln’s new Union Plaza. The Plaza is a 6-acre urban park designed to attract community events, artists, musicians, hikers, bikers and families. The Plaza is part of the Antelope Valley restoration project. The Jayne Snyder Trails Center was dedicated to the memory of my late friend and City Councilwoman, Jayne Snyder, who was committed to a safer, greener Lincoln for all of us.

It’s been a wonderful – hot! – summer here in Lincoln, and I’m glad I could participate with citizens in events that make our community great. As we head into fall, please be assured that I will continue to work hard to promote Lincoln’s potential and protect our interests.

I hope to see you at an upcoming Husker homegame!

Sincerely,
Bill Avery

Redistricting Committee Videoconferencing Info

May 9th, 2011

On Friday, May 13, the Redistricting Committee will be holding a public hearing at the State Capitol in Lincoln. If you can’t make it to the hearing, but are still interested in participating, there will be a number of videoconferencing locations set up across the state. A list of these sites is provided below:

 

Friday, May 13, 2011 (9:00 a.m.)

 

Northeast Community College

801 East Benjamin Avenue

Maclay Building Room 167A

Norfolk, NE 68701

 

Columbus Public Library

2504 14th Street

Second floor

Columbus, NE 68601


Omaha State Office Building

1313 Farnam

Room 207

Omaha, NE 68102


Vocational Rehabilitation Center

1517 Broadway

Suite 131

Scottsbluff, NE 69131

 

Friday, May 13, 2011 (1:00 p.m.)


Hastings Public Library

517 West 4th Street

Second Floor

Hastings, NE 68901


ESU #16

1221 West 17th Street

Front Room

North Platte, NE 69101

 

McCook Community College

McMillen Hall Room 213

1205 East Third Street

McCook, NE 69101

 

Alliance Public Schools Main Administration Building

1604 Sweetwater Avenue

Alliance, NE 69301

Attention Students!

March 24th, 2011

Each year, the Clerk of the Legislature’s Office coordinates a program called the Unicameral Youth Legislature. This four-day legislative simulation offers 9th to 12th graders a chance to take on the role of state senators and experience the legislative process firsthand.

Playing the role of state senators, students will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, and debate legislation. Working alongside actual senators, students will discover the unique process and procedures of the nation’s only unicameral legislature.

This year, the Unicameral Youth Legislature is being held from June 12 to 15. Any students with an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking would be ideal participants.

To learn more about the program, visit www.nebraskalegislature.gov/education/unicamyouth.php or call (402) 471-2788. The deadline for registration is May 15.

CONTACT:

Logan Seacrest

lseacrest@leg.ne.gov

(402) 471-2633

Budget likely to dominate 102nd Session

January 13th, 2011

Dear Friends & Neighbors:

The 102nd Legislature is currently underway, and this year is shaping up to be the single most challenging of my tenure here.

There’s no point sugarcoating it – the budget outlook is bleak. During the next six months, my colleagues and I need to close a $1 billion-wide hole that the recent recession punched in the state budget. We are dedicated to solving the state’s financial woes without raising taxes, a challenge that will necessitate some very tough decisions.

Over the summer, the Legislature’s various standing committees poured over every inch of the state’s fiscal picture in an effort to identify areas where money can be saved. This undertaking came to be known as the LR 542 process, named after the resolution that created it. The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee (which I chair) examined a slew of options. These include reducing redundancies, streamlining operations, and yes, even eliminating entire programs.

The metaphor “tighten the belt” is often used in describing budget cuts. But for the state workers who will inevitably be laid off later this year, I realize our actions may feel more like a punch in the gut. Please know, my aversion to raising taxes does not stem from political expediency. I am simply reluctant to further burden Nebraskans at a crucial moment in our economic recovery.

As we head into this difficult legislative session, I want to thank all of you for your continued support. Without it, my work as a state senator would not be possible. The budget will no doubt consume much of our energy over the next few weeks and months, but I have introduced a number of other bills that I am equally passionate about. Please find a few of them outlined below:

Kids’ Meals


According to the Centers for Disease Control, 14% on Nebraska’s children are overweight and an additional 11% are considered obese – that’s more than one in four kids. The health and financial consequences of our state’s childhood obesity epidemic cannot be overstated. Today, many children have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Part of the problem can be traced back to the highly sophisticated efforts of corporate marketing experts. The insidious tactics used to advertise unhealthful food to young children can only be described as predatory. To curb this practice, I have introduced LB 126, which will limit the kind of incentives companies can offer with meals that do not meet certain nutritional requirements.

Online Voter Registration


In the United States, voting is not a privilege, it is one our most fundamental and cherished rights. Such rights should be as easy to exercise as possible, free of artificial barriers or antiquated restrictions. That is why it is imperative that state government move into the 21st century and provide more governmental services online, including voter registration.

To this end, I have introduced LB 168, which will develop a website to allow for electronic voter registration and updating of voter registration records. An applicant who has a valid Nebraska driver’s license or state identification card may use the web site to register to vote.

Recall Elections

As our state and national political climate has grown more polarized over the past few years, so has the frequency of recall elections. These recall efforts are increasingly political in nature, devoid of the malfeasance which has traditionally been a prerequisite for recalls in the past.

I believe that recall elections should be reserved for serious ethical transgressions and abuses of power that go beyond controversial decisions. Elected leaders must be free to make tough choices without fear of getting arbitrarily yanked out of office by unhappy voters, whose dissatisfaction can, and should, be expressed during the next election cycle.

LB 224 will limit recalls to serious misdeeds – unlawful actions, negligent performance, or failure to fulfill the requirements of a public office.

School Lobbying

In the past ten years, the number of school districts lobbying the state legislature has gone from four to ten. Last year alone, Lincoln Public Schools spent nearly $80,000 on various lobbying firms.

This practice – where school districts dole out large sums of taxpayer money in an effort to secure even more taxpayer money – just doesn’t seem right. State funds should be used to educate our kids, not to fund insular battles over provincial interests. To that end, I have introduced a bill that would prohibit school districts from spending state aid money on lobbyists.

Sen. Bill Avery

District 28

Lancaster County Townhall

November 8th, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 5, 2010

Contact: Sheila Page, 402-471-2632

The Lancaster County Delegation will be hosting a town hall meeting on November 17, 2010. Senators Kathy Campbell, Colby Coash, Danielle Conrad, Tony Fulton, Ken Haar, Amanda McGill and Norm Wallman will be present. Sen. Bill Avery has a prior engagement and will be unable to attend.

LOCATION: LPS District Office, 5901 “O” Street (Board Room)

DATE: Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TIME: 5 PM to 8 PM

SCHEDULE:

5-6:30 PM: Discussion on Child Welfare- Due the impending changes and the citizens’ expressed concerns regarding the administration of child welfare services in Nebraska, we welcome a dialogue with our constituents on this matter.

6:30-8 PM: Open

CONTACT:

Logan Seacrest

lseacrest@leg.ne.gov

(402) 471-2633

Senator Bill Avery Announces Support for Threatened Industrial Arts Building

November 8th, 2010

For Immediate Release

Contact: Senator Bill Avery, (402) 525-3399

October 6, 2010

LINCOLN – State Senator Bill Avery today expressed his opposition to the proposed demolition of the historic  Industrial Arts Building on the University of Nebraska’s planned Innovation Campus.

“As the University prepares to embark on one of its largest expansions in decades, it is my hope that a place can be found for the Industrial Arts Building. Doing so would be a valuable demonstration that the University is committed to the concepts of ‘innovation’ and ‘sustainability’ that are at the heart of the project,” Avery said.

The IAB has been nationally recognized as a building worth saving. Earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the building to its 2010 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, and on Sept. 24, the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Board voted to recommend the IAB be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to take into account the effects that their federally funded activities and programs have on significant historic properties.

“I am strong supporter of Innovation Campus,” Avery said. “So I am quite concerned that a Section 106 review could potentially jeopardize federal funding or the ability of federal tenants, such as the USDA, to locate on the new campus.”

Despite University estimates that a renovation would be cost prohibitive, an October 2009 study done for Heritage Nebraska and the Preservation Association of Lincoln found that the building is actually a good candidate for rehabilitation.

Avery also expressed concerns about the financial and environmental costs of demolishing the IAB. Recent estimates by Heritage Nebraska place the cost of renovating the building between $90 and $125 per square ft., while the cost of tearing it down and starting over could be as much as $175 to $250 per square ft. New construction also uses more materials, and is less environmentally friendly than renovation.

“The impulse to save the IAB goes beyond mere nostalgia. It comes from our shared responsibility to preserve Nebraska’s agricultural heritage, to protect the future of Innovation Campus, and to conserve the energy embedded in all that brick and steel,” Avery said. “After all, it’s been said that old buildings aren’t good because they’re old, they’re old because they’re good.”

CONTACT:

Logan Seacrest

lseacrest@leg.ne.gov

(402) 471-2633

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Scholarships available for District 28 residents!

October 21st, 2010

BU

If you live in central Lincoln and have been thinking about furthering your education, listen up.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of their online learning program, Bellvue University is issuing 1500 tuition grants of $500 each.  In a unique twist, the University has asked members of the legislature to nominate grant recipients.

To make things fair, we’ve decided to solicit nominations from District 28 constituents. The first ten prospective students to send an email to bavery@leg.ne.gov will be awarded one of the grants. Please include your name, phone number and email address.

This is a ground breaking, first-time program for educational institutions in the State of Nebraska.  It could just take a few minutes to change your life, or the life of someone you know.

To qualify, recipients must:

  • Be a new student to the University (not currently enrolled)
  • Be a U.S. citizen, legal U.S. resident or in the Military
  • Enroll and take 9 course hours in one year (one course per term)
  • One $500 grant per recipient
  • Be enrolled by June 30, 2011

CONTACT:

Logan Seacrest

lseacrest@leg.ne.gov

(402) 471-2633

Legislative Wrap-Up

April 21st, 2010

Legislative Wrap-up Banner

Dear Friends & Neighbors:

As we close the 101st Legislature, Second Session, I’d like to reflect on the major issues that have shaped the 2010 Legislature’s 60-day debate.

MAINTAINING A RESPONSIBLE BUDGET.

  • Despite the brevity of this year’s session, I am pleased to report that the 101st Legislature tackled many significant issues and did so while maintaining fiscal responsibility.  In the final days, Appropriations Chairman Senator LaVon Heidemann introduced Legislative Resolution 542 (LR542) to address the projected $650 million budget shortfall during the next two-year budget cycle. LR542 directs each Standing Committees to evaluate and review respective state agencies and commissions during the summer interim to identify where cuts to services and programs can be made. As Chairman of the Government Committee, I anticipate many hard budget cutting decisions in the months ahead, but I am hopeful Nebraska can continue to maintain a balanced budget and that we will experience an economic boost in the coming years.

PROMOTING FLEXIBLE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES.

  • I supported Legislative Bill 1018 (LB1018) introduced by my colleague, Senator Abbie Cornett, which would allow cities to use flexible local “turnback” sales tax to entice tax incentives to developers for the promotion of new tourist attractions. With boundless natural wonders like the Niobrara River and the Sandhills, it is no surprise that tourism is the state’s 3rd largest industry.
  • I also voted in support of Legislative Bill 779 (LB779), as amended, which would allow cities the opportunity to again utilize “turnback” sales tax dollars to finance new construction of arena facilities. This bill is largely aimed at providing financing options for Ralston’s proposed $20 million ice hockey and arena facilities as well as provide financing options to the construction of the proposed joint Goldenrod Downs and University of Nebraska equine facility in east Lincoln.
  • Legislative Bill 1048 (LB1048) is a measure which allows Nebraska to export wind energy to other states. I supported this bill because allowing exportation of the construction of wind-farm operations is a creative approach to capturing wind energy potential and can bolster our state’s economic development through land leases. Nebraska ranks 4th in wind energy potential but 22nd in wind energy production and as such, I think it is in Nebraska’s best economical and environmental interest to invite and encourage neighboring states to maximize our wind potential which will ultimately result in the promotion of sound environmental policy.

ADVOCATING FOR CONTINUED PRENATAL CARE FOR MOTHERS AND BABIES.

  • I joined several of my colleagues in negotiations to rescue from termination a 20-year old Medicaid program that had provided prenatal care for nearly 900 immigrant women. Legislative Bill 1110 (LB1110) would have created a new Medicaid program under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to finance and provide prenatal care for unborn children. Negotiations between Governor Heineman, the Legislature and the University were unsuccessful, and in the end, I voted on a watered-down version that only extends prenatal care to women who are victims of domestic abuse. This was and remains to be a health care issue; I believe protection of the unborn should have prevailed in discussions.

ADVANCING THE USE OF FORENSIC EVIDENCE IN SOLVING CRIMES

  • The centerpiece of my legislation was the product of negotiations between the Attorney General, the State Patrol and the Department of Corrections. Legislative Bill 190 (LB190) brings Nebraska in line with 47 other states and extends mandatory DNA testing to all individuals convicted of a felony. I believe this is a critical step in exonerating the innocent, convicting the guilty and identifying missing persons. The Attorney General’s office was a pivotal player in identifying state settlement funds to serve as start-up financing for this program. LB190 was signed into law on March 3, 2010.

PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN.

  • As a key drafter of last year’s groundbreaking legislation to expand the State Childrens’ Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), I was eager to support Legislative Bill 1106 (LB1106), which makes administrative changes to Nebraska’s Medicaid statutes to allow school-based health centers to provide treatment to Medicaid-eligible children directly in school. By bringing health care to students who need it, schools can reduce absenteeism, keep kids engaged in academics and plan effective management strategies for chronic childhood illnesses, such as asthma. LB1006 will allow Nebraska to become eligible for additional federal Medicaid matching funds.

ADVOCATING FOR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS.

  • As a member of the Education Committee, I supported Legislative Bill 1072 (LB1072), which directly addressed the ongoing dispute between the state’s six community colleges. The dispute revolved around community colleges’ differing characterizations of “financial need” when calculating state aid. LB1072 will eliminate the current funding structure by July 2011 requires that the community colleges negotiate a state-aid formula that will install a new method for allocating funds based on need. LB1072 was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature. 
  • My colleague, Senator Ken Haar, prioritized Legislative Bill 1014 (LB1014), which earmarks up to $10 million in performance-based pay plans for school districts. An amendment requires that 75% of Nebraska Schools must have a merit-based plan in place by 2015.  The earmarked funds would come out of new leases for solar and wind powered energy, as designated by the Board of Educational Lands and Funds. This bill is the result of a conversation we had last year regarding Nebraska’s dismal ranking in the bottom 10% of teacher pay. As a former educator, I understand the unique role teachers play in shaping the lives of our youth, and I fully advocate increased and merit-based teacher pay.

ENCOURAGING A RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT.

  • As Chairman of the Government, Military & Veteran’s Affairs Committee, I appreciated the spirited debate from my rural and urban committee members on several bills that were vital to the continued integrity of open and transparent government.  Following the revelation of a clandestine settlement in the City of Papillion, Legislative Bill 742 (LB742) was introduced by Senator Beau McCoy.  LB742 requires that cities and other governmental agencies report legal settlements issued for $50,000 or more to individuals in exchange for not filing a lawsuit against the entity. I proposed a successful amendment that clarified the bill does not apply to claims made in connection with insured or self-insured health insurance contracts. Finally, the use of Confidentiality Agreements will not exclude a governmental entity from reporting a settlement. This bill is consistent with the principle of fair and open government and was signed by the Governor on April 5, 2010.
  • Legislative Bill 717 (LB717), which was ultimately adopted as a Legislative Rule, requires that the Legislative Journal – the official daily record of the Legislature – publish all Conflict of Interest Statements filed by Senators. A conflict of interest arises on bills in which a Senator or his or her family members have a direct personal or financial gain.  This Legislative Rule will allow the public to review recorded conflicts and have a better understanding of a Senator’s potential personal gain on a bill.
  • As the 101st Legislature has come to an end, I plan to spend time with my family and begin to research and develop new initiatives for the 102nd Legislature, which will convene January 5, 2011. Please do not hesitate to email or call my office with your thoughts, concerns or ideas. Have a wonderful summer!

AverySig (Transparent Background)

Senator Bill Avery

District 28

A look ahead at 2010

January 7th, 2010

By Senator Bill Avery

Here’s a little glimpse of some things I’m working on for the 2010 Legislative Session, which began at the start of January.

NSAA

The Nebraska Schools Activities Association has come under increasing scrutiny for their perceived improper management of high school sports and activities. I have introduced an Interim Study to investigate the NSAA’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and its governing body and structure. I believe we need to hold accountable any agency that regulates our children’s education, health, activities or sports.

Centennial Mall

As guardians of Nebraska’s Statehouse, my colleagues and I have a responsibility to ensure that we protect the history and integrity of Centennial Mall. I have introduced a study to consider and recommend additional funding and architectural strategies for the Mall, which Lincoln’s two great institutions, the Capitol and the University.

DNA Testing

DNA analysis is one of the most accurate tools we have for determining guilt or innocence. Post-conviction DNA testing allows the criminal justice system an opportunity to close cold-case investigations and fix mistakes, particularly wrongful convictions. To ensure we have this raw genetic data, I am introducing a bill that will require the collection of DNA samples from all felons convicted in Nebraska.

Tough times call for smart fiscal leadership

December 7th, 2009

pieces-of-the-money-puzzle

By Senator Bill Avery

Last October, my colleagues and I were alarmed to learn of a sharp 11.2 percent downturn in September tax receipts. The State Forecasting Board estimated the two-year budget we approved last spring would eventually be $334 million in the red because of diminished revenue.

After a valiant resistance, Nebraska had finally fallen victim to the national economic downturn. The Governor quickly called a Special Session of the
Unicameral. After some late nights and extraordinary efforts by the Appropriations Committee, I am happy to report my colleagues and I produced a sensible, fiscally-responsible budget that reduces spending without raising taxes.

Cutting the budget is ugly, unpopular work and it is a task that no state senator relishes. We attempted to spread the pain around evenly, including here in the legislature, where everything from travel expenses to computer upgrades are on the chopping block.

Because in the end, we’re all in this together.

Furloughs

During the Special Session, one of my main goals was to protect state employees. To that end, I introduced LR 4, a non-binding resolution that encouraged state agencies to utilize temporary leave without pay (known as furloughs) instead of layoffs when trimming personnel budgets.

It’s important to understand that I do not love the idea of cutting back hours for state employees. But when it comes to budget cuts, furloughs are better than layoffs, not only for workers but for state government as well. For one, furloughed employees continue paying back into the system through income and sales taxes, instead of simply falling off the grid. In this way, we cut the budget without exacerbating the very revenue shortfalls that got us here in the first place.

Furloughs can also produce the same fiscal savings as laying off hundreds of workers. By preserving those jobs, important state agencies will emerge from the recession better able to serve Nebraskans. The economic downturn will eventually swing the other way, and it is important to be prudent without
overreacting.

Furloughs represent a surgical approach to budgets cuts as opposed to blindly firing employees across the board – a scalpel instead of an axe.

Education

Despite the objections of some in my party, I was one of only a handful of Democrats who supported LB 5, the revised school aid formula. According to my calculations, aid to educational institutions represents half of all state expenditures. When a single expense comprises half of your total budget, it cannot be off the table when it comes time for cuts.

That said, education is our biggest expenditure for a reason – it is crucial to the future of our state. While schools were not spared, cuts came in the form of eliminating budgetary increases, rather than actual reductions. This will allow adequate time for schools to plan for the lean years ahead.

Rainy Day Fund

I’ve repeatedly been asked why we didn’t use the State Cash Reserve Fund to plug the budget gap. I realize this looks like an attractive option in the short
term. However, we are looking at the real possibility of even bigger budget shortfalls in the next biennium. And in these so-called “out” years, we won’t have federal stimulus money to rely on.

In other words, the rain is not over yet.

The 2012-2013 budget may require we tap into the reserve fund. Draining it prematurely would have simply been a Band-Aid, postponing the hard decisions for, at most, a few years. Leaving it alone gives us a cushion – emergency padding that can mean the difference between a crisis situation and a tolerable one.