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The following op-ed, submitted by Senator Gragert and I, appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star on December 4.
Water is the lifeblood of Nebraska. It fuels our economy and sustains our quality of life.
Despite floods, droughts, pests and economic challenges, our valuable water resources and their effective management have made Nebraska a global leader in agriculture. In fact, we have more irrigated acres than any other state, including California.
Yet even as Nebraska has maintained its water resources, food and water insecurity is becoming an increasingly urgent global challenge. Almost 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night – making this both a quality of life and international security issue.
Closer to home, this year’s devastating floods across Nebraska are a powerful reminder of the importance of effective water management, particularly in the face of an unpredictable climate.
As the Appropriations Committee heard in a recent hearing on water research at our university, the people of our state are fortunate that our University of Nebraska is leading the way in developing solutions.
This year the university is celebrating 150 years of research and education. Since the beginning, the university has focused on water, agriculture and the management of critical resources. Researchers and students have a rich history of working closely with our farmers, ranchers and resource managers to develop new technology and find better ways of managing water to achieve maximum production, without over-using this precious resource.
We deepened our investment over a decade ago when a founding gift from the Robert B. Daugherty Foundation helped create the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska, a system-wide effort to bring the talents and expertise of faculty across the campuses to address the enormous challenge of achieving water and food security for our growing world.
In just 10 years, the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute has developed a reputation as the go-to resource for water and agriculture productivity innovations. Senators heard just a few examples of the interconnected issues our university tackles on a daily basis, including drought, floods and other weather extremes; water and soil contamination; changing diets and demands for more water-intensive foods; economic disparities and conflict; and the infrastructure needed for sustainable agricultural production and effective water management.
We’re already seeing new innovations borne of partnerships between the university and farmers and ranchers. For example, many Nebraska farmers are now using drones to keep an eye on their fields and see the pockets of crops that need water. They use soil moisture probes that send data to satellites and accessed by smartphone. They have specialized meters attached to their wells, measuring the energy used to pump water for irrigation.
Our ranchers are also doing remarkable work with the university, implementing new practices for producing beef, chicken and dairy products that are served at Michelin star restaurants around the world – but with significantly less water than it took 25 years ago.
We have much to be proud of in our agricultural heritage, but Nebraska’s continued global leadership will require more work and more investment. All of us should have a goal to make certain families have dinner on the table every night. That’s a future we think we can achieve – through continued support of University of Nebraska research and with the engagement of Nebraskans who have made our agriculture and natural resources management so successful.
Senator Kate Bolz represents District 29. Senator Tim Gragert Represents District 40.
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.