There were 698 bills and 51 constitutional amendments introduced during the first 10 days of this 90 day legislative session. I remain on the Agriculture, where I was elected Vice Chairman, Business and Labor, and Health and Human Services Committees. We now have floor debate in the morning and hearings in the afternoons until mid March. This past week’s snow storm created hazardous travel conditions for all Nebraskans but with the prompt snow removal by the Department of Roads, not one legislative day was cancelled. I drove Highway 77 from Cortland to Lincoln with no problems and am very appreciative of the long hours and intensive work provided so the rest of us can reach our destinations.
One of the first bills heard before the Health and Human Services Committee was LB68 that would add certified nurse midwives to the list of practitioners who cannot be denied clinical privileges based on their credentials by any hospital licensed under the Health Care Facility Licensure Act. Certified nurse midwives who have a practice agreement with a supervising physician may practice midwifery at the physician’s office or facility where they have been granted privileges. However, there seems to be cases where midwives have been denied privileges at hospitals for no other reason than belonging to the category of certified nurse midwife. The demand for midwives is continuing to grow, not only in Nebraska, but many states in our country. I was born at home and think this law will help Nebraskans access the kind of care they want. In Committee, I made the motion to advance the bill to general file with a 6-0 vote and the entire body moved LB 68 on the first round of debate with a 40-0 vote.
In 1997, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and the Department of Interior formed a unique partnership with the goal of managing the Platte River. Water users from the three states and local and national conservation groups joined the effort. Together, they developed an approach for improving the management of the Platte — for the health of the ecosystem and the people that depend on it. This year Senator Fischer introduced LB 229 that would divert $7 million (half the lottery profits) annually from the NE Environmental Trust Fund for 10 years toward the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, which is estimated to cost the state about $53 to $100 million through 2018-19. However, a constitutional amendment that passed by Nebraska voters in 1992 called for lottery proceeds to be spent on education and the environment, and in 2004, voters modified the original setup by designating 44.5% for education, 10% for the Nebraska State Fair and the remainder for compulsive gamblers. I am concerned there could be legal action taken with the passage of this bill.
Other bills introduced this session that are of interest include:
LB 493 – Senator Pahls introduced this bill that will keep children on health insurance policies until age 26.
LB 554 – Senator Harms’s bill prohibits open containers of alcohol in or on a vessel, motorboat, or personal watercraft.
LB 508 – Senator Bloomfield introduced this bill that says convicted sex offenders could not live within 500 feet of a park.
LB 199 – Senator Dubas’s bill is aimed at ensuring that foster parents are paid sufficiently to cover basic needs.
LB 521 – Senator Fulton’s bill would block Nebraska abortion providers from duplicating an Iowa program that makes drug induced abortions available in rural areas.
LB 123 – Senator Heidemann’s measure would allow schools to discipline students cyber-bullying.
LB 438 – Senator Howard’s bill would increase fines for those parked illegally in a handicapped parking space.
LB 428 – Senator Cornett’s bill would adopt the Ag Tax Credit Act to Nebraska farmers and ranchers where property tax payments are deemed too great for the income they receive.
LB 565 – Senator Ashford wants secure storage of firearms and notice of such requirement by retailers upon sale and creates the offense of improper storage of a firearm.
LB 569 – Senator Coash’s measure would require employers to e-verify the immigration status of new employees.
There were a few measures introduced dealing with drunken driving that imposes tougher DUI penalties, requiring ignition interlocks and making bars legally liable when they serve intoxicated patrons. I think some of these bills are due to three high-profile cases in Omaha last fall where innocent people were killed by drunken drivers. LB625 would mandate that drunken drivers have their licenses revoked and require judges to order them to use interlocks while LB 693 would make bars liable for damages caused by drunken patrons they serve. LB 675 would double the fines for drunken driving convictions and LB 659 would make it a crime to drive after using a controlled substance.
Several bills were introduced the last day of bill introduction ranging from eliminating the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations, which resolves labor disputes between public employees unions and state or local governments, to curbing its powers. There have been ongoing talks aimed at developing a compromise and Senator Lathrop, the Business and Labor Chairman, introduced LB 397 to serve as a vehicle to that reform. The Committee will make our decisions to best resolve their differences after hearing all the bills in this area that come before us.