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The past few months, all of us have faced varying degrees of challenges and adjustments to our lives. Through this, we’ve seen many essential workers and first responders continue to do incredible work the face of unprecedented uncertainty. I’ve been proud of the work that our state government has done in helping Nebraskans get through this difficult time. We are here to help as well. You can still call and email us at (402) 471-2734 and firstname.lastname@example.org. We are working remotely, but checking in regularly.
In March my office compiled a list of frequently asked questions about Coronavirus, and places Nebraskans can go for more information. We’ve recently updated this document, and have added new information on unemployment insurance, elder care, crisis hotlines and small business assistance. To view the May 1 update of the COVID-19 resources Q&A, you can do so here.
Last week week, I shared my thoughts in the Lincoln Journal Star on how to best navigate the challenging budget circumstances that our state faces.
There will be some economic pain ahead as state revenue declines, however, our state a stronger economic position than many others, and now is the time for us to maximize our state resources by addressing emergency needs (including ongoing assistance for flooding recovery and support for healthcare providers), family economic stability, helping businesses and nonprofits move forward, getting people back to work, retaining government institutions, and supporting local governments. If you’d like to read my full editorial, you can do so here.
Reopening Healthcare Exchanges
In the Legislature, we’ve been looking at ways to provide additional help to Nebraskans. Last month, members of the Legislature sent correspondence to our Federal Delegation asking the federal healthcare exchange to be reopened in response to the virus.
For those with short term coverage, opening the marketplace would provide an insurance option for individuals throughout this pandemic, a crucial step to enhancing our community’s general health and ability to control the spread of COVID. To read the letter, click here.
Frontline Worker Safety
Additionally, we’ve sent a letter to Governor Ricketts outlining suggestions for how we can utilize state government resources to help essential workers. This included adding grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, and food production workers the state definition of essential workers.
The past week, we’ve seen this crisis explode at food production sites, and these employees need the same protections that we’ve given to other industries of essential workers. Doing this is critical to the safety of employees, but also to maintain food security statewide.
We’ve also requested that where possible, state employees work remotely and the state expand social distancing at workplaces where remote work is not possible. If you’d like to read the full letter, you can do so here.
Because of the high number of unemployment claims that have been filed with the Nebraska Department of Labor, some claims have taken a long time to be processed. If you’ve waited a significant amount of time for unemployment payments to begin, please reach out to me at email@example.com, and we can work with the Department of Labor to see when you can expect payments to begin.
Recently, the Nebraska Department of Insurance issued guidance to insurance companies, clarifying that they are allowed to relax notice of loss requirements, premium payment provisions, and cancelation for non-renewal in response to COVID-19, as long as these policies are standardized and applied on a fair and consistent basis across all policies. Each insurance company is responding to consumer challenges meeting policy payments individually, but if you have questions about this, you should contact your insurance company directly.
Furthermore, the federal government offers the following information for individuals with lapsed coverage and those whose insurance is provided through the Marketplace at https://www.healthcare.gov/apply-and-enroll/health-insurance-grace-period/
Thank you for all of your support this session. I’ve worked hard to represent your interests and implement good policy for the people of Nebraska.
My priorities continue to include the best interests of kids, workforce education, and promoting access to health care.
I want to share with you a few highlights from this session and note projects and priorities for next year.
First, I’m pleased that we passed a number of bills this session. A few of my favorites include:
LB 174: doubling funding for violence prevention in Nebraska
LB 180: expanding access to community college scholarships
LB 181: developing strategic research and plans to promote access to nursing facilities in Nebraska
LB 330: making the Nebraska Children’s Commission permanent
LB 327: improved reimbursement rates for behavioral health providers
LB 332: expanding access to the Bridge to Independence program to individuals who have experience in the child welfare system but age out of the foster care system
LB 481: creating the Brain Injury Trust fund
LB 564: increasing access to grants for communities building public spaces and multiuse facilities
LB 565: protecting spouse’s rights to retirement funds
The Nebraska State Budget also included a number of priorities, while keeping spending growth to 3% – less than the Governor’s proposed budget. One of the largest increases was to the Property Tax Credit Program. Another increase for property tax payers was in the Homestead Exemption for low and moderate income homeowners. The budget also achieved the following goals of:
In the future, we plan to work on a number of priorities, including promoting the rights of survivors of sexual assault, increasing investments in workforce development, promoting scholarship funds, and ensuring resources for K-12 education.
It’s an honor to serve you. If you have other ideas or issues for our office to consider, please give us a call at (402) 802-8312 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact Sam Huppert, my Administrative Aide at email@example.com, to participate in our next open office hours on Thursday, July 18.
What does democracy mean? To me, it means getting involved and being an active participant in our community, and one way to do that is by lending your voice to the legislative process.
This session, I’ve been thinking about all we covered in hearings, and among these, I’ve had one hearing in particular that has stuck with me. On a bill to create the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights, I was moved by all those who shared personally traumatic and painful experiences in the hope of creating a better state for others.
I’m proud to be part of our shared democracy in the Nebraska Legislature. With this in mind, I’m having a town hall at Union College on May 28 and I hope you’ll join me. If we’ve talked in the past, I’d love to see you again, or if you’re looking to get more engaged in these issues, this would be a great place to start. I’ve included more information below in this newsletter.
Of course, if you can’t make it, you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to call my office at 402-471-2734, as well.
Below is some of what I’ve been working on in recent weeks. If you’d like to watch the legislature as we debate these items, NET has gavel-to-gavel coverage over the air on the NET World channel and streaming online.
May 28th Town Hall
On Tuesday, May 28 at 6:00 PM, I’ll be part of a Southeast Lincoln Town Hall at the Union College Krueger Center Lang Amphitheater. Myself, LPS Board Member Don Mayhew and County Commissioner Roma Amundson will be discussing city, state, and local topics relevant to Southeast Lincoln. To RSVP click here.
I’ll be sending out additional details in a follow up email.
Open Office Hours
The afternoon of Thursday, May 16, I’ll be holding open office hours at the capitol. If there are any legislative or state issues you’d like to share with me, I invite you to get in touch and schedule a time to meet. To do so, you can call or email my administrative assistant, Sam at 402-471-2734 or email@example.com, and he can help with scheduling a time. Parking is available on the west and south sides of the building.
Working to solve Nebraska’s prison staffing crisis
This session, I used my personal priority on LB109, legislation that would improve frontline employee retention at the Nebraska Department of Corrections. LB109 achieves this by creating new pay structures based on skill and experience, providing a career path for employees that currently leave the Department for better career opportunities.
The Department of Corrections has long suffered from high turnover and staffing shortages, which have contributed to a number of security issues at Nebraska’s prisons. By bringing forward these new wage tiers, we can take steps to retain the most highly trained and experienced workers at the Department of Corrections. Recently, officers negotiated a new contract, and this policy is in line with these goals.
Enhancing Nebraska’s Workforce Training
Another bill I’ve introduced, LB180, expands program eligibility for Nebraska’s Community College Gap Assistance Program. In recent years, employees have increasingly highlighted the lack of skilled employees available to fill open positions. LB180 expands the number of fields eligibility for the Gap Assistance Program, which provides financial aid community college students taking non-credit courses that lead to jobs in high-demand fields. Examples of programs include certified nursing assistants and commercial driver’s license programs. LB180 passed through the legislature last week and has been sent to the Governor.
The lack of trained employees to fill Nebraska’s job needs will continue to hurt our state’s economy until we can find ways to link people with the training necessary to fill open jobs. A few weeks ago, Senator Matt Hansen of northeast Lincoln and I reaffirmed the need to seek a variety of solutions for this growing issue, including adequately funding Nebraska’s community and state college system, and seeking the perspectives of both business leaders and employees in finding ways to train Nebraska residents and attract new talent to our state to fill these needs.
Extending the Children’s Commission
Nebraska’s child welfare system is not a single entity. It relies on the work of a number of state agencies, nonprofits, private actors, and families. It’s in the best interests of kids being served to have all these organization on the same page and working in unison to carry out their missions. Since 2012, the Nebraska Children’s Commission has brought stakeholders, service providers, members of the Legislature, Supreme Court, Department of Health and Human Services, and Supreme Court together to coordinate a shared vision for Nebraska’s child welfare system.
Over its six years, the Children’s Commission has recognized a number of gaps in state laws that were harming kids, and has lead to a number of pieces of legislation to improve the lives of Nebraska children. The Children’s Commission is set to sunset in 2019. LB330removes this sunset on the Children’s Commission, clarifies and streamlines its responsibilities, and places the entity under the Nebraska Office of the Public Council. LB330 passed out of the Executive Board on a 9-0 vote, and is currently on General File.
Bridge to Independence
One of the recent recommendations from the Children’s Commission relates to minor changes we can make to the Bridge to Independence program to increase the number of youth assisted. The Bridge to Independence Program was created in 2013 and helps provide support to youth ages 19 through 21 that are aging out of foster care. Some of these services include Independence Coordinators to provide advice, resources and goals, as well as assistance with signing up for eligible health care coverage, such as the ACA exchange or Medicaid. To stay in the program, youth must be working, pursuing an education, or volunteering.
LB332 and the amendment, AM1384, adjust the Bridge to Independence Program by changing the eligibility criteria to expand access to youth who entered into a guardianship from the juvenile justice system before they were 17. These changes are paid for by eliminating duplicative payments and limiting program eligibility to Nebraskans. This allows the program to serve more youth while staying within current funding levels.
We are pleased to be back at work in the 2019 Legislative Session! We continue to work hard to represent your interests in the Nebraska Unicameral. It will be an exciting year continuing to work to balance the budget while protecting priorities like education and health care, and discussing important legislation related to reform of the Department of Correctional Services, tax relief, and more.
We want to share information with you about this legislative session. Please keep in touch with us!
How to Reach District #29
Please feel free to contact us in the following ways:
Senator Kate Bolz
Nebraska State Capitol, 1455 K St.
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Office: (402) 471-2734
Kate’s Cell: (402) 802-8312
Senator Bolz’s Agenda
This year, we will focus on a number of priorities for District #29. They include:
How to Follow Legislation
I have just returned from China as a part of a delegation with the China-United States Exchange Foundation https://www.cusef.org.hk/ . I wanted to share with you a few take-aways from this experience and the position of Nebraska in a global economy.
First, China has a large population and a growing middle class. This represents a significant opportunity to continue to develop a beneficial economic relationship. China has a great workforce and a thriving manufacturing sector. The United States and Nebraska have strengths in the agricultural industry, innovation and development, and more. With thoughtful work, we can maximize the strengths of both countries – and create new opportunities for American workers. I give the Nebraska credit for working on this approach: https://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/nebraska-aiming-for-greater-trade-opportunities-global-engagement/article_0c0a1d83-275d-55f8-9150-48b337cd7484.html
Second, we have much to learn from China’s approach to being a part of a global, interconnected economy. Many businesses illustrate a vision for an interconnected, intelligent world. Nebraska should continue to work to update our economic policy to build on opportunities in digital technologies, agribusiness, and more.
Third, China’s businesses are increasingly incorporating the international human development goals and environmental sustainability into their long term plans. Specifically, they embrace the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ U.S. businesses may be inspired by the triple bottom line approach used by corporations such as Pingdoudou and others to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and do good business.
Fundamentally, I found China to be growing and thriving, with rich history and culture to share, welcoming, open people and traditions that are rooted in community values. Many thanks to the China United States Exchange Foundation for an enlightening and productive experience!
Over the interim, legislators file interim study resolutions to formally study policy areas and issues to better inform legislation next session. Among the topics I’m looking at this interim are how we can reduce violence in our communities and the ways that we can make Nebraska’s business incentives work better for our state economy.
During my time in the Legislature there has been an ongoing discussion of how we can effectively reduce violence in our communities. I consider keeping Lincoln and Nebraska safe to be among my highest priorities, which is why I introduced LR390, which looks at how we can expand the Office of Violence Prevention and improve its effectiveness. Since 2009, Nebraska’s Office of Violence Prevention has offered ways for cities and nonprofits to effectively target violence our communities. This resolution will study how we can build on the success of this program, and expand its impact on the state.
The largest program designed to grow businesses in our state, the Nebraska Advantage Act, expires in 2020. This gives us the opportunity to look at how effective this program is in creating new jobs in Nebraska, and how we can continue to improve and compete in a global economy. I introduced LR388 to examine the best practices to increasing economic growth in our state and find ways to utilize the Nebraska Advantage Act in a manner that best promotes the creation of good jobs for Nebraskans.
Between the 2017 and 2018 sessions, the state’s revenue came in short of initial projections, which led us to reduce state spending beyond what was initially planned in our original two-year budget cycle. As the vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, it was important to me that we did this while protecting our state’s investments in kids, seniors, education, public safety, and job creation.
The 2018 budget adjustments contained necessary cuts as well as funding for state priorities. Among the priorities in the budget were services in child welfare, property tax relief for seniors and individuals with disabilities through the homestead exemption, funding to developmental disability providers to make up for lost federal funds, needed resources for school funding, and dollars needed to shore up Medicaid services to respond to changes on the federal level. I’m also pleased that we were able to reduce the significant cuts to higher education that were proposed by the administration.
I introduced LB104 to establish a process to declare a medical surrogate to make healthcare decisions for those incapable or incapacitated, but who do not have a guardianship in place or medical power of attorney. The current guardianship system will remain in place, but LB104 offers a less restrictive option that allows those with a medical surrogate to maintain their general independence, and avoid the expensive guardianship process, which can often cost up to $5,000. LB104 passed unanimously, and was signed into law by the Governor.
Aging and Disability Resource Centers
Helping seniors and individuals with disabilities find their way to information and services is critical in making sure they receive the care they need. Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC), connect patients, families, caregivers, and advocates with referral and options counseling services to connect those in need with the correct long-term services and supports. The success of the pilot program led me to introduce LB1004 makes the state’s ADRC program permanent. LB1004 was passed and signed into law.
Corrections Reform Package
The Legislature also took steps to address Nebraska’s prison overcrowding and safety issues by passing a corrections reform package that included a number of pieces of legislation, including LB852 legislation I brought forward to establish a protocol for parole of terminally ill offenders that no longer pose a threat to the public, as well as policy changes to promote access to employment and mental health treatment through the parole administration. The corrections reform package includes legislation that requires the Department of Corrections to outline how they will respond to a prison overcrowding emergency, conduct a staffing analysis and authorize the department to utilize additional substance abuse evaluations and treatments. These reforms will help the Department safely and responsibly make prisons safer, while reducing recidivism.
As we begin the 2018 Nebraska Unicameral Legislative session, you, my constituents, are on the top of my mind. It is important to me to continue to stay in touch with you to let you know about the work that I am doing to represent District #29 as well as to hear your thoughts and ideas.
As the session moves forward, please feel free to contact me at (402) 471-2734. You can also reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the end of session, I expect to have another legislative issues forum, where we can walk through the major legislative changes that were enacted and you can give me your input on our district’s priorities moving forward.
This session, some of my priorities include:
The following opinion editorial ran in the Omaha-World Herald on November 19, 2017:
Midlands Voices Nov 19, 2017
Howard, of Omaha, represents District 9 in the Nebraska Legislature. Bolz, of Lincoln, represents District 29.
In Nebraska, the Department of Health and Human Services is trusted with the responsibility to protect children from harm.
As state senators serving on the Health and Human Services and Appropriations Committees, we take our role in providing oversight for children’s safety very seriously. We applaud the caseworkers, foster parents, extended families and others who are working hard to make Nebraska children safe and families successful.
Recently, however, the Department of Health and Human Services submitted documents to the Legislature showing that resources for the Division of Children and Family Services will fall a total of $61.5 million short for fiscal 2018 and 2019.
This follows a session in which the division testified to the Legislature that it did not require additional resources and could take on more responsibilities for kinship care and training.
After a gubernatorial veto that cut child welfare service provider rates, it is now more difficult than ever to guarantee that Nebraska will have the services, and providers, to ensure the safety of children.
Let’s cut to the heart of the matter: The Department of Health and Human Services deserves credit for examining ways to do things more effectively, and we respect the decision to ask for needed funding.
However, there must be a new commitment from both the Legislature and the administration to fund and support the child welfare system moving forward in a way that achieves our child welfare goals of prevention of maltreatment and stability for families.
As a state, we have work to do. The most recent report of the inspector general of child welfare cites nine reports of death or serious injury to a child in the custody of our state foster care system. It further notes a disturbing increase in sexual abuse cases and a need for an investigation into mental health needs and suicide attempts by state wards.
Also, while our state succeeds on some federal benchmarks, we fall short on measures relating to timeliness to reunification of children with family members and preventing recurring maltreatment in foster care.
As state senators, we are also mindful of the long-running problem of an overburdened protection and safety workforce. High caseloads, staff turnover and vacancies remain a source of stress for our child welfare system.
Finally, we know that parental substance use is a challenge in our child welfare system, and we need to look at opportunities for our child welfare system and our behavioral health system to partner in prevention and treatment.
As a state, we must do our part to prevent tragedies for children in the first place. The most pressing and obvious strategy is to provide adequate resources to serve the children entering the system and to ensure that there are enough caseworkers to appropriately support families.
Another is not to over-promise the ability and capacity of our current system or to underestimate future needs.
Specifically, we urge this administration to invest in a strong and efficient protection and safety workforce, to review data in order to accurately predict utilization and to embrace focused public-private partnerships that help serve children. This may mean investing more in caseworkers, reworking existing contracts and building stronger partnerships with service providers and the Divisions of Behavioral Health and Medicaid.
We also call on our colleagues in the Legislature. In this time of fiscal shortfall, the Legislature has an extraordinarily tough job of deciding who must do more with less. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services should not be on that list.
As the adults entrusted with responsibility for our kids, let’s rebuild our commitment to partnership, budget reality and problem-solving in our child welfare system.
Howard, of Omaha, represents District 9 in the Nebraska Legislature. Bolz, of Lincoln, represents District 29.
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