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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.