NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Kate Bolz

Sen. Kate Bolz

District 29

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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.

For the Lincoln Journal-Star’s version of the op-ed by Senator Williams and I wrote, you can visit this link.

Local View: Rules debate should be deliberate

BY SEN. KATE BOLZ and SEN. MATT WILLIAMS      January 30, 2017

The Nebraska Nonpartisan Unicameral Legislature is a unique institution that is designed to place high importance on the participation of the public and on public policy over partisanship. It allows for the development of unique alliances related to specific geographies and issues.

The rules debate is not about partisanship or the majority or minority party of the day, year, or session. It is about something much bigger than that: the institution. Our institution has unique rules, like allowing media access and ensuring that each bill gets a hearing. This allows for public participation, which is especially important in a one house system. The cloture process is one of those rules that protects the ability of the public to simply and clearly ask for support or opposition of a particular bill and allows for intense debate as well as the “watchfulness of the citizen” on the most controversial of issues. It is important that any changes to this long-standing process be taken seriously.

Rules debate should be slow and deliberate, especially on the processes that allow for the engagement of citizens. We applaud the members of the Legislature for continuing under the existing rules which allow us a fair framework under which to begin debate on the most important issue of the session: how we balance the budget in a responsible manner.

To quote George Norris, founder of our Unicameral, “To get a good government, and to retain it, it is necessary that a liberty-loving, educated, intelligent people should be ever watchful, to carefully guard and protect their rights and liberties.” We would add that to get good government, the rules must allow the people to be a part of the process in a meaningful way. As members of the Legislature, we will continue to uphold the traditions of Norris and work for the best interests of the state, in rules, in policy, and in our partnership with the people of Nebraska.

Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln represents District 29. Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg represents District 36.

Sen. Kate Bolz

District 29
Room #1015
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2734
Email: kbolz@leg.ne.gov
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