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During my time in the Legislature, I have focused on children, education, seniors, jobs, public safety and taxes. Here is a short list of legislation from the 2015-2016 biennium which works to build a stronger Nebraska by implementing solutions for specific needs across the state.
I introduced the Nebraska ABLE Act, which allows families to set up tax-exempt 529A savings accounts for disability-related expenses. The legislature overwhelming passed LB591. Launching sometime this summer, the ABLE program will help families shoulder the costs associated with disabilities. If you are interested in the program, Nebraska’s program, titled “Enable” can be found at https://enablenebraska.com/.
All kids in our state deserve stable and supportive households. With this in mind, I introduced LB243, which created a statewide project for Family Finding services for children in foster care. Research consistently proves that children do better in family-based settings than out of home care. The family finding model finds relatives for children who are in out of home care, with the goal of finding lifelong connections to families and permanent homes. The legislature passed LB243 on a 35-9 vote.
After school programing provides kids with opportunities to learn and grow outside of the classroom. In 2015, I introduced LB379, which provides funding for expanded after school and out of school programing through school-community partnership grants. In addition to funding for existing learning centers, LB379 provides expanded learning opportunity programs in areas of the state with a high percentage of at risk children. LB397 was amended into a broader bill on school funding, LB519, and passed by the legislature.
As Nebraska’s population ages, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias is increasing. By 2025 it is expected that over 40,000 Nebraskans will be diagnosed with these diseases. I introduced LB708, which creates a high quality standard endorsement for assisted living facilities that want to serve individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The optional endorsement would reflect a facility’s commitment to high-quality staffing, programming, safety and other factors, and helps provide a greater degree of information for those seeking to find care for their loved ones. LB708 was amended into LB698, and passed by the Legislature.
Many times, people that wish to obtain noncollege professional certificates cannot afford the programs needed to find work. Not only does this restrict opportunities for Nebraskans to find quality jobs, it also makes it increasingly challenging for employers to find qualified employees to fill their openings. LB36, which I introduced in 2015 created the Community College Gap Assistance Program. The program provides financial aid to low-income students for professional certificate programs, filling a gap in skills for many Nebraskans seeking employment. The Community College Gap Assistance Program provisions were amended into LB519, which was passed by the Legislature.
LB592 and LB910
As part of a continuing effort to increase public safety, it’s important that there is an independent parole board structure. Following recommendations from the LR424 Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee, I introduced LB592 and LB910, which provides the Board of Parole with the tools it needs to be the independent body that it must be to oversee of the process in which those in the correctional system are paroled into our communities. LB592 was passed by the legislature in 2015, and LB910 was amended into LB1094, which was passed by Legislature this year.
LB931 Amendment (2016)
People with serious mental health issues often have a difficult time finding stable housing. I introduced LB931, a bill to expand a program for people who are very low income and who have serious mental health problems. When people have a safe place to call home, they are more likely to comply with their doctor’s recommendations, and to lead productive lives. Failure to address housing for those with mental illnesses can lead to greater incarceration of them. Significant portions of LB931 were included in this year’s budget.
One of my goals while in the legislature has been to shape our state’s tax discussion to include the burden that property taxes have on residential property taxpayers. Last year, I introduced LB186 to provide a “circuit-break” in the event that property taxes take a certain amount of a person’s income. While this legislation did not advance, it’s my hope that the continued discussion on property tax will include the real and serious effect that rising property taxes have on working families.
In Nebraska, each senator may select one bill to receive a priority designation, which generally moves the bill ahead of others in debate. In order to develop a workforce that can compete in the global economy, it’s important to make smart decisions that maximize the efficiency of our educational investments. With this in mind, I am excited about my priority designation for the 2016 session, LB371, which was originally introduced by Senator Kate Sullivan.
LB371 creates a holistic approach to education by establishing the Nebraska Council for Educational Success, a twenty-one member council that will make recommendations to the legislature and educational governing bodies with the goal of strengthening collaboration of publicly funded programs from early childhood through post-secondary education.
By creating a more cohesive plan that focuses on student success and giving the Nebraska Council for Education Success the tools to monitor progress, we can ensure that Nebraskans’ tax dollars are being well spent.
If you have thoughts on this bill, or others that are being considered by the legislature, please do not hesitate to call my office at (402) 471-2734, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Note from Kate
Summer is here, and with it comes the conclusion to the 2015 Session of the Nebraska Legislature. This session was an important one, as we passed legislation that will positively effect all Nebraskans. I am proud of the progress the Legislature has made, and I look forward to continuing work during the interim and the next session. Below are some of my legislative priorities during the most recent session, as well as my continued priorities for the future. I am honored to continue to serve your interests in the Nebraska Unicameral.
Sincerely, Senator Kate Bolz
One of the primary goals of the Legislature this session has been to reduce the tax burden on Nebraskans. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I supported providing $200 million in our property tax relief—that’s a $60 million increase in the Property Tax Relief Fund, which provides tax relief directly to homeowners and other property owners. I’m proud that we were able to promote tax relief while also protecting the core functions of government. I also introduced legislation to increase child care tax credits for working families. I will continue to work on this issue over the interim.
Kids & Seniors
One of my primary topics of focus in the Legislature continues to be working on behalf of Nebraska’s children and senior populations. Principal among these interests was the introduction and passage into law of LB243, which helps to ensure that children who are wards of the state can be placed with family members. Research has shown that children who live with family are more likely to achieve their educational goals. I am proud to support legislation to ensure that children are given every opportunity to succeed. I also supported legislation that prohibits the distribution and sale of powdered alcohol in Nebraska. This product is potentially dangerous and a ban is appropriate at this time. I continue to chair the Aging Nebraskans Task Force. In this role, I worked to pass LB 320 to develop Aging and Disability Resource Centers to help seniors in our state access assistance and plan for the future. Children and seniors will continue to be a part of my agenda in the Nebraska Unicameral.
Last year, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce’s statewide survey of 1,200 respondents found that more than half-52 percent-said they had experienced difficulty in hiring qualified employees over a 12-month period. Workforce development is key to job growth in our state.
This session, the Legislature adopted the Community College Gap Assistance Program Act, which I introduced. The act will help to ensure that students who are pursuing education and certification in high-demand fields can access tuition assistance—and that, in turn, will help ensure that qualified Nebraska workers are able to fill job openings in our state.
One of my primary topics of focus in the Legislature continues to be working on behalf of Nebraska’s children and senior populations. Principal among these interests was the introduction and passage into law of LB243, which helps to ensure that children who are wards of the state can be placed with family members. Research has shown that children who live with family are more likely to achieve their educational goals. I am proud to support legislation to ensure that children are given every opportunity to succeed.
I also supported legislation that prohibits the distribution and sale of powdered alcohol in Nebraska. This product is potentially dangerous and a ban is appropriate at this time. I continue to chair the Aging Nebraskans Task Force. In this role, I worked to pass LB 320 to develop Aging and Disability Resource Centers to help seniors in our state access assistance and plan for the future. Children and seniors will continue to be a part of my agenda in the Nebraska Unicameral.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, it is among my top priorities to ensure that children in Nebraska receive a top quality education that provides them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. The Legislature agreed with that priority, increasing funding for K-12 programs, including increased funding for Special Education and High Ability Learner programs. I’m also pleased to report that my bill, LB 185, The Master Teacher Program Act, will provide teachers the opportunity to pursue certification in specialized areas, such as science and math. Research shows that teacher quality has a significant impact on student outcomes. Promoting teacher excellence is a good investment in our educational system.
The ABLE Act
I am pleased to report on the passage of LB591. I introduced this legislation to allow for the establishment of Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts for individuals with disabilities that developed prior to age 26. ABLE accounts offer tax free savings options for education, housing, assistive technology and other needs of a disabled beneficiary. This is a significant step forward for families of individuals with disabilities and, indeed, for those individual Nebraskans
The 103rd legislature, 2nd Session is officially underway and there are many important issues to address. This session will be just 60 days in length, ending in early April, and will require focus on the parts of Nebraska’s senators to afford each issue adequate consideration.
The session began on January 8, 2014. Each senator has the opportunity to introduce new bills for the first 10 days of session. As was the case last year, my priorities rest with those issues concerning your District: care of our children, education at all levels, the long-term care needs of our seniors, ensuring the safety of our communities, and monitoring the fiscal responsibilities of our state. I have introduced several bills on these issues, here are four of my top priorities this year:
LB 1026: This bill creates the Educational Trust Fund, which will assist with deficits in state aid to education when there is a significant decline in income and sales tax revenue.
LB 689: LB 689 provides more sustainable resources for Area Agencies on Aging, which provide a safety net for our aging Nebraskans. Services provided include personal care, meals and nutrition, chores and minor home repairs, transportation, care coordination, family caregiver supports and respite, senior center programming, and many more.
LB 691: This bill increases the child care tax credit currently available to Nebraskans by 3%.
LB 936: LB 936 creates the State Ward Permanency Pilot Program, which will provide developmental disabilities services to foster children in need of these services as they move towards a reunification with their families or a permanent home.
It is very important to me to know your thoughts on the bills I have researched and developed on your behalf. My office is always open! We will work diligently to find a time to discuss your ideas on these and other issues.
2013 Consumer Presentation: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByIRL2Ddsdo5dU8zVlFwUDZOZ0k/edit?usp=sharing
Priority Bill – LB 507 – Quality Child Care
LB 507, my 2013 priority bill, was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Dave Heineman. LB 507, introduced by Senator Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, will require a five-step quality rating and improvement system for child care centers with children whose parents qualify for assistance and a voluntary system for others. This legislation will help working parents access high-quality child care that promotes education and safety for kids.
LB 507 requires child care centers to participate in the five-step quality rating system if they receive state assistance on behalf of low-income working parents. Other child care providers may voluntarily participate in the program if they so choose. The bill phases in the participation requirements over a three year period, beginning in 2014, depending on the amount of subsidy the center receives. Child care programs would be rated based on curriculum, health and safety, professional staff development and outreach to families. These ratings will be published online starting in 2017. Participating programs that meet certain quality standards would earn bonuses and increased subsidy rates.
The cost of child care for an infant is approximately $7,600 per year. In 2012, the State of Nebraska paid $95 million to assist low-income working parents pay for child care. Until the passage of LB 507, there were no minimum standards of quality for these child care facilities.
Nebraska ranks second in the nation for the number of working parents. Parents deserve a system in which they can easily compare the quality of available child care. The first three years of life are the most crucial in the development of our children. I am pleased that this bill will improve the overall quality of child care in the state, help parents in all income levels to compare child care centers, and ensure that our tax dollars are subsidizing good, quality programs for our children.
My bill related to family re-entry programs for incarcerated parents, LB 483, passed on final reading today. It designates $500,000 to the Department of Corrections to establish a two-year pilot program to help children and families by teaching relationship and parenting skills.
When the legislative session began, I had no plans of introducing a bill that would fund programs in Nebraska’s correctional facilities. When the ideas found in LB 483 were presented to me, however, I became convinced that this bill is a very worthy and cost-effective measure.
Men and women who commit crimes should be punished. As a social worker, however, I can see the effects of separation on family members – especially the children. Children want to spend time with their parents. Many additional hardships are created for the remaining family members when a loved one is incarcerated. According to the 2008 Bureau of Justice Statistics Report, 90% of the children in foster care today are growing up without their biological fathers playing a role in their lives. Children who have incarcerated parents are six times more likely than other children to be incarcerated at some point in their lives.
Christian Heritage, a non-profit group, has developed a series of programs that are offered at Nebraska correctional facilities today. They received a federal grant in 2009 to create and offer programs that encourage parents to be involved in the lives of their spouses and children. Since these programs began, 407 inmates have completed the programs and reentered society. Only 31 of the 407 participants have re-offended, which is a rate of 7.6%. This number is much lower than the average 25% of general population inmates who are released, then commit crimes and return to the correctional system.
Successful programs, like the ones developed by Christian Heritage, help save taxpayer dollars. The Nebraska Department of Corrections estimates the average yearly cost of incarcerating one inmate is $28,179. Christian Heritage believes they have helped taxpayers save approximately $950,000 by lowering the recidivism rate of those who have participated in these programs.
Federal grant money is no longer available for these programs to continue in Nebraska. The bill would allow the Department of Corrections to either establish the programs on their own, or offer competitive bids allowing another entity to offer evidence-based programming and collect outcome data.
The Nebraska Department of Corrections has the following mission statement: “To serve and protect the public by providing control, humane care and program opportunities for those individuals placed in its custody and supervision, thereby facilitating their return to society as responsible persons.” LB 483 helps the Department of Corrections achieve their mission, saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the recidivism rate, and allows children and spouses to bond with family members.
A serious and somber debate about repeal of the death penalty was held by the Nebraska Legislature last week. A filibuster by proponents of the death penalty prevented a vote to advance LB 543, the bill that would have abolished Nebraska’s death penalty. State senators spent eight hours discussing the issue. I was among the 28 senators who voted for cloture, a procedural vote that would stop debate and allow a vote on amendments and the bill. Unfortunately, there were not enough senators in favor of advancing the bill and ending the filibuster. When a cloture motion fails, debate on the bill ends for the day. LB 543, remains on General File, and is available for discussion again.
LB 543 is an important bill, and I appreciate the opportunity to debate the issue. Currently, Nebraska is one of thirty-two states that has retained capital punishment. The average death penalty case costs $3 million to prosecute, compared to $1.1 million for cases of life without parole. In Nebraska, there have been 260 first-degree murder convictions since 1973. Thirty-three of these offenders were given the death penalty. Of those 33 cases, only three men have been executed during the past 30 years. There are eleven men on death row in Nebraska today.
There are many arguments on both sides of this issue. I oppose the death penalty for several reasons, including cost, concern regarding the fair implementation of the law, and the risk of error. In the United States alone, 306 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence to date, and 18 of these individuals had served time on death row. The death penalty is permanent; we cannot risk the possibility of making an irreversible mistake.
Importantly, I have also heard from an overwhelming number of constituents who support repeal of the death penalty, and their moral conviction is compelling to me. Thank you to all of the constituents who contacted my office in opposition to the death penalty. Thank you also to Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the Nebraska Innocence Project, and the Nebraska Catholic Conference for providing supporting documentation that was very helpful to me in preparing for this debate.
Budget is Debated
The Appropriation Committee’s budget was debated and advanced last week. I’m proud of our moderate, strategic budget. As a post-recession budget, we have included moderate investments in line with the administration’s proposals.
It has been a very informative and rewarding experience for me to be a member of the Appropriations Committee. Several issues were very important to me while debating the state’s budget. One such item in the budget honors a two-year freeze on tuition for students who attend the University of Nebraska (Lincoln, Omaha, and Kearney) and the three State Colleges (Chadron, Peru, and Wayne). Also, more money was designated for people on a waiting list for developmental disabilities services. Of course, we also invested in the basics, ranging from ensuring that the state patrol members have gas in their cars to making sure that libraries have adequate funding to continue on-line services.
We also kept a healthy amount of money (nearly $625 million) in the cash reserve for the future. This is perhaps the most important part of the budget to me, it will help us meet our state obligations while preventing need for discussion of tax increases in the future.
After four days of debate, the Appropriation Committee’s plan for a two-year, $7.8 billion dollar budget was advanced. Ten amendments were introduced and discussed at length on the main budget bill, LB 195. Two of these amendments, offered by Senator Heath Mello, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, were adopted. The two amendments were late additions to the budget that were adopted after the bills were being printed. They include an upgrade to the state’s emergency radio system and an adjustment to the state aid formula bill as agreed to when that bill, LB 407, was advanced to the second round of debate. Four amendments were withdrawn after debate, and four others were voted down. Several amendments involved property tax relief, which is an issue that constituents in every legislative district have requested. The majority of senators decided to wait for the major tax study that is scheduled for the interim before changing the current tax policy.
There are two more rounds of debate, then the seven budget bills, as amended, go to the Governor Heineman for his review. The Governor can sign the bills, or make individual line-item adjustments in these bills. We are required to pass a budget must by day Eightieth of session this year, which is May 20th. We are well on our way to meeting this requirement.
LB 407 – School Aid
School aid, a top priority of the State’s biennial budget, was recently discussed at the Nebraska Legislature. The bill, LB 407, had an extensive debate. All state senators, myself included, are deeply concerned with providing children with the best education possible.
Every year, state senators work hard to figure out how to fairly appropriate school aid between Nebraska’s diverse school districts and this year was no different. The school funding formula, officially known as the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA), was drafted to distribute “equalized” aid to schools. TEEOSA uses an equation to determine a schools’ needs, then subtracts their resources. Determining the needs and resources for each of Nebraska’s 249 school districts is not an easy task.
LB 407, as it has been agreed to, distributes the funds based on needs and resources and gives more money to school districts that hold a longer school year and employ more highly educated teachers.
As a Lincoln state senator, I watched to see how this compromise will affect Lincoln Public Schools (LPS). One of the most important parts of the compromise for LPS is that it retained an averaging adjustment for districts, which gives funding to districts that are close to or at the tax levy limits. Lincoln is at the $1.05 limit. Lincoln Public Schools takes in just more than $5,000 per year in property taxes for each of its 36,000 students. LB 407, with the compromise, will amount to an increase of approximately $14 million to LPS. State senators have tried to be fair to Nebraska’s many school districts, and all senators want the best education possible for our children.
Education is a top priority for me and for District 29. I encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas at (402) 802-8312 or email@example.com. We’ll keep working hard for our kids!
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