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The number of meetings, events, and activities are picking up as the 2017 Legislative session draws nearer. The ninety-day session begins on Wednesday, January 4 and will conclude around the end of May. Due to term limits, there will be a minimum of twelve new senators, and, pending election results, as many as fifteen or sixteen.
It appears we will be faced with revenue shortfalls. This will certainly not be the first time that has happened in this State. It will be challenging to accomplish any significant tax relief. There will be a look at eliminating some sales tax exemptions in order to alleviate property and/or income tax burdens. I have attended numerous events, including the State Chamber of Commerce meetings, that focused on economic development and tax reform. There are many ideas out there.
During the summer and fall months, I have been involved in hearings on interim studies related to the Education, and Health and Human Services Committees. There may or may not be bills introduced pursuant to the matters explored in the interim studies. One topic explored could lead to a Silver Alert system for vulnerable adults who go missing, similar to the Amber Alert for children.
The Developmentally Disabled Special Investigative Committee met on October 19 to gather information about the circumstances that have the Federal Government calling for Nebraska to refund around $32,000,000. Since the new guidelines implemented in 2014, some agencies incorrectly billed separately and additionally for services the Feds now say were included in the basic daily billing. None of that has anything to do with the future of Beatrice State Developmental Center. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is to complete a report to be delivered in the fall of 2017.
I attended an event hosted by the Community Alliance in Omaha, titled “Breaking the Silence.” Tom Arnold was the keynote speaker. The mission of the Community Alliance is to help men and women who experience a major mental illness to live, work, learn, and contribute within the community. The purpose of the event was to increase public awareness of mental illness, and to move toward ending the stigma and stereotypes that surround mental illness. Hope and recovery are possible.
In September, I was part of a contingent that travelled to Whiteclay, NE, which is on the South Dakota border and just outside the Pine Ridge Reservation. The problems at Whiteclay are well documented. Some 10,000 cans of beer are sold daily from the four off sale beer establishments in Whiteclay. The Reservation is dry, yet the common belief is that the beer sold in Whiteclay is being consumed by residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation. The rate of alcoholism among the residents is high, and one out of four children born suffer from irreversible fetal alcohol syndrome. The matter of beer sales in Whiteclay may well be addressed in legislation. Most recently, the Nebraska Liquor Commission is going to take a hard look at the licenses of those four establishments in the unincorporated town of 14. One of the stipulations for granting a license normally is the assurance of the presence of law enforcement. Sheridan County officials state they are unable to provide that needed law enforcement.
Scott Harrington’s Norris High School government class came to the Capitol and my staff and I helped show them around. The class is a semester class, so they were not able to see the Legislature in session, but it did afford an opportunity for the students to look around inside the Legislative Chamber.
When the 2017 Legislative Session begins, Doug Kennedy of KWBE will again interview me each week, with the programs airing Friday mornings. My staff and I will also be resuming our weekly newspaper columns which are printed in the Voice News and Beatrice Daily Sun.
“Stories of Champions” at NET Television on Sept 14th celebrated individuals and non-profit organizations dedicated to helping youth stay on track to graduate from high school.
Among the honorees were Tom and Nancy Osborne, co-founders of TeamMates.
Previous honorees also received plaques, including retired Crete Superintendent Kyle McGowan.
Nice hot weather for the dedication of the new splash pad in Firth on Saturday. Jill Hoefler addressed the crowd. Great community involvement!
The family and friends of Vonnie Higgins, long time Beatrice Hospital employee and volunteer, gather on what would have been her 81st birthday, to dedicate a bronze sculpture placed in the Exmark Healing Garden at BCH, July 15th. Artist Sondra Jonson of Cambridge, NE (holding blue umbrella) was also present for the dedication, sponsored by the Beatrice Hospital Foundation.
New Nebraska brand: Nebraska. Good Life. Great Opportunity.
With my former Norris fellow administrators Galen Boldt (just retired from Wahoo), and Matt Rice, and Beatrice’s Pat Nauroth at the annual Nebraska Council of School Administrators -NCSA golf event at Yankee Hill CC. We took 2nd place in the 2nd flight.
Today (June 13/14) I am on the Nebraska Natural Resources District Blue River Basin Tour. First stop: Upper Blue NRD Recharge Lake near York. 2nd: farm with wetlands near Giltner. 3rd: City of Hastings, heard how they are partnering with NRD to address challenges over nitrate pollution, 4th: seeing water remediation project on the grounds of the WWII Naval Ammunition Depot. This morning we were welcomed at the NRD by the York Ambassadors.
The 2016 Cattlemen’s Ball, bringing thousands of people to District 30, will be held at the Lienemann’s on Highway 77 north of Cortland, on Saturday, June 4. For a complete schedule including Friday night events at Nebraska Innovation Campus and special activities in District 30, a chance to stay at the Governor’s Mansion, the Clint Black concert, ticket information for both days and all the details about this benefit for cancer research follow the link to the website: https://cattlemensball.com/
The One-Hundredth and Fourth Legislature by the numbers.
Sixty days does not seem like a long time for the legislature to meet. Yet there were days where debates dragged on for hours on seemingly inconsequential issues and then days where the pace of voting was swift and sure. This year there were 24 filibusters compared to only 14 last year.
In this short session, 446 bills were introduced; and 664 bills were introduced in 2015, for a total of 1110 bills. Of these, 210 bills were passed into law this year along with 243 bills from last year. With all the filibusters, only those bills with priority designations were heard in the last three or four weeks of the session. 107 bills were designated as priorities and eventually 78 of those priority bills were passed by the Unicameral.
Eleven senators are term-limited out of office this year. Senators Bloomfield, Campbell, Coash, Cook, Gloor, Haar, Hadley, McCoy, Mello, Schilz and Sullivan have served their two term limit. Five of these senators are chairpersons of a committee and one is the Speaker. They leave with a great deal of knowledge on issues and a passion to work hard for the citizens of this state. They will be missed.
April 20th was the sixtieth and final day of this session. Vetoes made by the governor were taken up that day. Three appropriation bills had line item vetoes (the bills passed but only after the Governor made selective cuts in these spending bills). The Governor vetoed several bills, but LB 947, allowing immigrants with lawful presence in the United States to apply for professional licenses, received two hours of debate before senators overrode the gubernatorial veto with 31 ayes, 13 nays, and 5 present and not voting.
The Governor made closing statements to the Legislature. Senators indefinitely postponed (killed) all bills not enacted this session according to the rules, so those issues will need to be introduced again in the future to be acted upon. Other motions were made regarding directives to the Clerk of the Legislature for the final postings of the Legislative Journal – and with that a final motion was made to adjourn sine die which formally ended the session.
The lights in the chamber were turned off, desks cleared, and senators headed home. The interim months of 2016 begin the work of researching potential legislation, working on interim studies and constituent issues.
I would like to make the constituents of District 30 aware of opportunities available to youth and adults alike. The Unicameral Youth Legislature is an opportunity for high school students to attend a four-day camp, June 5-8. Held at the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral. Senators’ staff take an active role in the camp and work as advisors to the student senators. More information can be found at: www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-2788.
For the adults in the district, the Governor is always looking for good people to fill vacancies on various boards and commission. To see positions available, follow this link:
www.governor.nebraska.gov/board-comm-req. Applications can be filled out on-line.
Please continue to contact me at any time throughout the interim with any issues that concern you. firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2620.
The 104th Session of the Nebraska Legislature is drawing to a close. For these past two years, I have served on the Education Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee.
In the education realm, I came into the 2016 legislative session believing the most imperative issue was changing the Learning Community provisions – especially eliminating the common levy. The Learning Community was created by the Nebraska Legislature and began on January 1, 2009. The Omaha Public Schools attempted to make all eleven school districts part of OPS under an old ‘one city – one school district’ law that had never been used in the past. The Learning Community accomplished the freezing of school district boundaries. However, the common tax levy proved to be untenable to the districts involved. In 2014 the member schools all agreed on changes that should be made. We failed to enact any of those changes in the 2015 legislative session. The eleven superintendents came to me in the summer of 2015 and asked me to use my influence to make important changes in the 2016 session. I was able to work this bill through the process and consider my involvement in the passage of LB 1067 my greatest accomplishment of the year.
In the Health and Human Services Committee, I introduced three bills, all of which passed. LB 722, my priority bill, establishes the Stroke System of Care Act. The main provision of this act establishes a statewide system by designating hospitals as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, a Primary Stroke Center or an Acute Stroke Ready Hospital. The purpose of the Act is to improve the overall outcomes of stroke patients.
LB 721 provides for the licensure of surgical first assistants who help the surgeon in the operating room. As the result of a credentialing review, referred to as the 407 process, completed by the Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Division in January, 2016, LB 721 was introduced. It creates a process for licensure of surgical first assistants and sets the education and training requirements. A grandfather clause allows former assistants to go through an approval process with the department to begin practicing again.
LB 899 brought Nebraska statues into compliance with lead free federal regulations regarding materials used in public water systems. The department has been in compliance with the new regulations for a few years but needed the state statute to mirror the federal law.
I appreciate that many of you reached out to my staff and me on issues that were important to you. On most of the significant issues, public opinion was divided and it was impossible to please everyone. We were always open to listening to the thoughts of District 30 citizens and those from all parts of Nebraska. Please continue to contact me over the summer and fall months if there are state government issues you want to discuss. email@example.com 402-471-2620.
The big story of the week was the decision by Senator Ernie Chambers to slow down the law-making process for the remainder of this 104th Legislative Session. Senator Chambers was able to accomplish that by using the rules of the Legislature.
According to those rules, up to six hours of debate time can be consumed the first time a bill is debated, before a cloture vote can be taken. Thirty three votes are required for cloture (cease all debate). If the thirty three votes are attained, then the bill can be voted on for advancement. On Select File, four more hours of debate are allowed before cloture. If a bill advances to Final Reading, two more hours of debate are allowed.
With the stall tactic employed by Senator Chambers earlier this week, little will be accomplished in our remaining days. Some important, good bills will not make it in 2016. Speaker Galen Hadley has moved to suspend the rules to get some of the most important bills through final reading, including the two property tax relief bills, LB 958 and LB 959, so those bills will be voted up or down this session.
LB 958 directs $20 million to farm and ranch land owners. LB 959 removes the minimum levy requirement for qualification for state equalization aid. This benefits primarily rural school districts. I support both LB 958 and LB 959.
Another bill that will be fully heard is LB 1067, which would change the Learning Community of the Douglas and Sarpy County school districts. An important provision is the elimination of the common levy – that levy is harmful to the rural Springfield-Platteview and Douglas County West districts.
Senator Chambers was upset by the defeat of LB 1056, The Patient Choice at End of Life Act, (Die with Dignity) and the passage of LB 10, making Nebraska a winner take all state with regard to presidential elections. LB 1056 had no chance and I was present and not voting.
While the Unicameral is officially nonpartisan, the nature of LB 10 was partisan. I voted for LB 10 along with the Republicans, and the Democrats voted against the bill. Senator Chambers was convinced that Governor Ricketts had contacted the Republican senators to pass the bill. Neither the Governor nor anyone from his office contacted me at all. “Winner take all” is the practice in all other states except Maine.
The Legislature ended its work week on April 7 and we come back on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 12th and 13 to try to get a few more bills across the finish line. We then recess for five days and return on April 20th. The Governor is given five days (not counting Sunday) to return any bills with vetoes to the legislature. On April 20th, the last day of session, overrides will be taken up if desired. At the end of that business, the Legislature will close out the 104th Session and adjourn sine die (the final adjournment of the session).
As we approach the end of the session, your contact is as important as ever. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2620.
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