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Merry Christmas! This will obviously be a holiday season different than we would have imagined. So it is really important to remember – we are Nebraskans. All those who came before us worked through trials and difficulties, and showed us how to persevere and have hope. Here’s to better days ahead in the coming year.
With that new year right around the corner, we are gearing up for the next session of the Unicameral. We will convene, as required by the constitution, on January 6th. On that day, we will begin by swearing in the newly elected senators and then choose a new Speaker of the Legislature. I want to take this opportunity to thank outgoing Speaker Jim Scheer for his efforts over the past few years and his service to the state of Nebraska in some very challenging times. Not only were there budget concerns, different viewpoints and large numbers of bills to manage; our state also faced flooding and the pandemic. Sen. Scheer is leaving due to term limits, but his hard work is much appreciated.
After choosing a Speaker, the members will move on to elect committee chairman. There are 14 standing committees. Some chairmanships are contested, with at least two people declaring their intent to lead a committee. I have been diligent to meet with everyone running for these positions, as I want to understand their views on leadership and potential legislation and cast a wise vote for the chairs.
Senators have been encouraged to limit the number of bills introduced, due to concerns about the pandemic. One of the most significant rules of our Unicameral is that every bill introduced gets a public hearing, which is important to the success of our one-house, non-partisan process. However, this means having groups of people together in a hearing room while that bill is heard by the committee, and anyone else wishing to attend.
Finding ways to make the hearing process as safe as possible is crucial. I certainly intend to heed the advice and have reduced the number of issues I will address this year to those that are the most important. As you know, a legislative session spans two years and there will be time in 2022 to bring more bills for introduction.
I applaud the many organizations and businesses that are working hard to create safe environments for both customers and employees. This is so important to our local and state economy. I encourage you to support our local businesses as much as you are able. I especially want to commend our area school administrators, teachers and support staff. They have truly gone the extra mile to make sure our kids are healthy, able to stay in class, and participate in as many of the enriching activities our schools provide as possible.
My contact information for the coming session remains the same, and I welcome your communications. email@example.com 402-471-2620
Please, please continue to follow the simple guidelines recommended by our public health professionals. Wear a mask, wash your hands. Carefully consider how you will manage the holidays and stay safe. Wishing you all the best possible celebration of Christmas, and renewed hope and confidence in the new year.
The holiday season is nearly here. I want to wish everyone in District 30 a Happy Thanksgiving. We have all been saying “what a year!” and there has been much uncertainty and loss and still many unknowns ahead. Yet we can and should take stock of all the things for which we can be thankful in our great state.
Celebrating Veterans Day this week was a great reminder to be thankful for the freedoms we have in this country, and to remember the debt of gratitude we owe to those who served and are serving our country right now.
I also want to take this opportunity to urge you in the strongest terms to follow the guidelines issued by our public health officials. After meeting with hospital administrators and health professionals this week, I can tell you that if we do not act to curb the pandemic, the situation is poised to get much worse than it is even now. Any efforts we can make to slow the spread of the virus will have a direct impact on saving lives, preserving hospital beds, and keeping our communities open.
The only way to keep our schools open is to slow the pandemic. We all know that education is vitally important; but there is also an economic impact when schools have to close and parents are forced to make decisions about going to work. Keeping the teachers, support staff and students all healthy is crucial.
Another consideration is hospital capacity. We need health care workers and hospital staff to stay virus-free. We need hospital rooms and equipment available for both those who contract Covid, and those who have other serious or unexpected health issues. Think about this – if you are involved in an accident, or maybe have a heart attack, you want the hospital to have the staff and space to care for you in an emergency.
Our local businesses need our support, and we need to do that as safely as possible. They have devised creative ways to keep providing goods and services, maintain jobs and keep the area economy going. We absolutely must continue that momentum.
The bottom line is simple – for yourself and for the sake of others, wear a face covering/mask. Wash your hands. Maintain a safe distance from others. Avoid large gatherings and confined spaces of all kinds. If we do this NOW, we can shorten the time frame of ending this pandemic. Please, join me in working together for the benefit of everyone.
Related to the pandemic, and as you may have seen in the news, members of the Legislature were supposed to hold the annual Council meeting in Mullen late last week. Due to the uptick in virus numbers and the quarantine of several members and staff, that event was postponed. It is required by statute that the council meeting be held between 30 to 60 days before session starts in January. Plans are being developed to make that happen as soon as possible with appropriate restrictions.
Two years ago, when I had just been elected, I appreciated the time at the Council meeting to get to know my fellow senators, go through some orientation and hear updates on the issues. Eight new senators-elect will be joining the Legislature after winning in their respective districts. Three of those are former state senators and will bring a wealth of knowledge and an understanding of the legislative process. As a returning member of the Legislature this year, I look forward to meeting those newly elected and seeing my old colleagues, even if the format is modified.
In the past month, I have attended outdoor events in Bennet, Adams and Beatrice. I was able to address the Hickman City Council, speak virtually at the southeast Nebraska area Chamber of Commerce program, and meet with agricultural groups, area ESU and school superintendents via zoom. The Drive Time Lincoln program on KLIN radio invited me to talk about the Beltway project and tax issues in District 30.
My staff and I are working with the Department of Health and Human Services on rural health initiatives and of course, our continued concerns with BSDC (Beatrice State Developmental Center). We are also working with county officials on some tax legislation. The Appropriations Committee has met several times in the past few weeks to discuss the budget for next year and hear updates from state agencies.
If you have any concerns, ideas or suggestions, please contact my office at any time. Phone 402-471-2620 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please wear a mask! Happy Thanksgiving!
Since adjourning from the last session in August, much has happened, and a lot has stayed the same. In talking with folks around the district, that is a common feeling. Here we are in October with circumstances a lot like they were back in March. Yet in that time, we have moved from planting to harvest and spring to summer to fall. There have been some losses in our communities, and also some progress. And the election is just a few weeks away. I strongly encourage you to exercise this tremendous right and cast your vote!
The South By-Pass highway project continues at a rapid pace. I attended an event in October near Highway 77 and Saltillo Road, which included representatives from the federal, state, county and city governments; all working together to accomplish this huge construction effort at the lowest cost and in the fastest time frame possible. No doubt you have witnessed the incredible amount of earth-moving between Highway 77 and Highway 2 to the east of Cheney. The work will continue as long as the weather allows and then pick up again in full force in the spring. Please continue to drive cautiously through these areas. You can get a great birdseye view of the progress from this drone footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_bIyjldGx0
Nebraska’s expanded Medicaid program, Heritage Health, has been approved to offer enhanced benefits to people who qualify under this program which was first passed by voters in the last election in 2018. The State had applied for a waiver from the federal government, which has been approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Those extra services will be available starting next April. In the meantime, with the ongoing stress of Covid-10 and unemployment, this program will help provide additional medical care resources in our district and across the state.
The past few weeks have been packed with zoom meetings and webinars, which have turned out to be an excellent source of information and a great way to connect without the expense of travel. Topics range from rural health care to solar energy leases, trade with Canada to our state’s tax structure, and plenty in between. Of course, briefings on the Covid-19 virus, current statistics and progress on treatments top the list.
I was invited to tour a couple of district facilities including Monolith near Hallam, Marathon Petroleum at Beatrice; and addressed a hemp farming seminar near DeWitt. In person and phone meetings with University administrators, corrections officials, staff at BSDC and the Department of Health and Human Services continue as a priority. I have also attended a couple of agricultural organization meetings and spoke at a school.
As a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, I have been assigned to the Nebraska Children’s Commission. This group of 26 members represents both government and private entities that deal with foster care, juvenile justice and families; with a goal of improving the safety and well-being of children and families in Nebraska. More information on this commission can be found here: https://childrens.nebraska.gov/
In the time we have before January, compacted by the unusual schedule of the last session, my staff and I are researching several key issues and looking at potential legislation. I welcome your comments and insights and encourage you to contact me through my email at email@example.com or give me a call at 402-471-2620. The office is open and any messages will be returned as quickly as possible. Remember to vote!
The 106th Legislative Session has adjourned. The unusual timing seems appropriate somehow, with the events of the year so far. In the end, a large number of bills were passed into law. The majority of bills become effective three calendar months after the date of adjournment. Bills with the “e” clause (emergency clause) become effective at midnight on the day the Governor signs the bills. Some bills have an operative date for a specific day when the bill becomes law.
I designated LB 1014 as my priority bill in this 60-day session and it was passed into law our first week back in July. It provides that an association of employers that sponsors a Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA) may include self-employed individuals in their health insurance plan. For example, a farm organization or local co-op could offer health insurance to member farmers and ranchers.
Another bill that I advanced through the process was LB 106, which harmonizes Nebraska State Statute with federal law as it relates to the DNA Identification Act of 1994 and adds additional language to clarify that the forensic DNA laboratories must participate in the Combined DNA Index System. This simple measure will allow our state law enforcement agencies to operate more seamlessly with the federal system.
The Legislature was able to pass the budget bills, which were signed by the Governor with no line item vetoes. We also moved LB 1107 through the process to provide a degree of property tax relief, business incentives and the UNMC project. This was not a perfect bill by any means. I anticipate we will need to revisit some of the provisions in the next session and adjust as we go along and learn more about the effects of the virus on our state economy. However, I do feel it was important to make progress towards property tax relief and to assist property tax owners as much as possible.
In the next few months, I will work with the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on LR 367, which I introduced. This resolution will review services of county governments which are required by statute, along with the fees or fines, also in statute, which counties collect for those services. I believe a review of these set amounts is necessary and appropriate in our current circumstances.
The South By-Pass project, which is a major initiative in District 30, continues to be mainly on schedule for completion in three years. As you have no doubt witnessed first hand, the scope and extent of the project is huge. You can sign up for direct updates on the Nebraska Department of Transportation website: https://dot.nebraska.gov/lincoln-south-beltway/. Drone footage updates can also be viewed on Youtube, here is a link to the July video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjjUIAV1EBo.
As we re-enter the “interim” period between legislative sessions, my office will continue to be open and accessible by phone or email. Our present location on the 11th floor during construction at the Capital, does not allow for in person visits without an appointment. If you need an appointment, simply contact my office.
We will be back in session in January of 2021, barring any need for a special session. The Nebraska constitution requires that the Legislature convene annually on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January. Sessions in odd-numbered years last 90 days, whereas sessions in even-numbered years are 60 days. Adjournment dates vary based on how the Speaker schedules the 90- or 60-day session. Or as we have learned this year, on how a pandemic changes the legislative calendar. I look forward to hearing from you about your areas of concerns and ideas for legislation. Contact me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org, 402-471-2620.
The Legislature finished up a second week of debate in this uncommon session, and now has two recess days built into the calendar. This is done to provide the five days needed for bills to be approved or vetoed by the Governor, giving the Legislature a chance to consider any overrides that might come up. It has also given us a break and some time to think through the major issues we discussed the past week.
LB 814 was one of those bills up for debate, which would prohibit dismemberment abortions. I am a co-sponsor of this bill. It was advanced to Select File, and will have further discussion on the floor before taking another vote to move it to Final Reading.
Of course, the other major bill brought forward was LB 1107. This legislation encompasses property tax relief, business incentives and funding for a project at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Here are the basics of the bill as it stands right now:
This is obviously a complicated issue with the bill itself spanning nearly 150 pages. I am studying the details and working with fellow senators to make sure we have covered as many bases as possible. I do want to point out that if we discover any adjustments that need to be made in the coming months, we will be back in session in January and can take up those points at that time rather than waiting another year. That is one benefit of finishing the session in August.
Please contact me at any time with your questions and concerns, and check my legislative webpage and social media for updates. You can also find information on all bills, the legislative calendar and contact information at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. 402-471-2620 email@example.com
The second week of this unusual session is in the books. While the perception might be that not much has been accomplished, there were nearly 50 bills on the agenda for Final Reading on Friday, which indicates many senators were able to move their priorities through the process for the sake of their districts and the state.
The three major issues which garner the most attention are still pending. Each one came to a standstill in our first week back in session, but the conversations, negotiations, clarifications and refinements are going full bore behind the scenes. I am still hopeful that we will take up these issues – property tax relief and school funding assurances, business incentives, and the UNMC project, early next week. All three of these issues have been complicated by Covid-19, the current and future costs resulting from the virus, and federal funds flowing into the state. I cannot yet say consensus has been reached, or that any of these measures will survive a gubernatorial veto, but we continue to do the work necessary to try to make it happen.
Two important hearings were added to the schedule that deal directly with current events in our state and nation. The first was held Friday afternoon in response to the introduction of LB 1222 by Senator Wayne of Omaha. LB 1222 would adopt the Municipal Police Oversight Act. Under the Act, each city which employs full-time police officers would be required to appoint a Citizen Police Oversight Board to monitor, investigate, and evaluate police standards and practices.That board would have seven members of the public appointed by the mayor with the approval of the city council. Several hours of testimony from both proponents and opponents was heard by the Urban Affairs Committee on Friday afternoon.
The second hearing was called in response to conditions in the meatpacking industry and an amendment, AM 3238 to LB 667. The Business and Labor Committee wants to provide a forum and speaking opportunities for everyone involved in the industry, from beef producers to those working on the meat packing lines, safety and health officials to those who have been infected with Covid-19. That hearing will be on Thursday, August 6th at 1:30 at the Capitol.
LB 814, introduced by Sen. Geist to ban dismemberment abortions, was debated at length earlier in the week. After three hours, debate was stopped and the introducer will need to show the Speaker that she has the 33 votes for cloture. We have just seven days remaining, with all the aforementioned issues still to be acted upon. As one of the co-sponsors of this bill, I am confident it will return in January if time prevents us from taking up LB 814 again in this session.
I appreciate your emails and calls to the office during these busy days at the Capitol. As always, you can contact me at any time by calling 402-471-2620 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 24, 2020
The Legislature has convened to complete the last 17 days remaining in the session. As expected, the debate has been robust, even heated at times, since the issues waiting since March have certainly not lessened in importance.
We have been able to move a number of bills through final reading, including my priority bill, LB1014. This bill would provide that an association of employers that sponsors a Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA) may include self-employed individuals in their health insurance plan. For example, a farm organization or local co-op could offer health insurance to member farmers and ranchers. This bill passed on a 48-0 vote, and the senator who had to be absent for the vote indicated in the record that he would have also voted yes. Providing more options for ag producers to find health insurance will be good for the district and the state.
Also related to health care, LB 997 was passed this week on final reading. This bill helps consumers avoid being subjected to “surprise billing” in emergency situations by out-of-network providers or facilities.
Another beneficial bill was passed as well, LB 996 will expand broadband coverage across the state. The past few months have revealed quite vividly the need for better broadband in our area. The purpose of LB 996 is to complement broadband data submitted by service providers, improve Nebraska’s broadband map, and to encourage Nebraskans to participate in crowdsourcing efforts to improve the map, resulting in better funding and meeting these needs.
Discussion began on bills that were in earlier stages of debate this week as well. On Wednesday, we took up LB 1106, the property tax bill; and LB 720, the business incentive bill. Neither one received a vote that day, and now each bill sponsor will need to show the Speaker a count of 33 votes in favor of the bill to continue discussion on either. They had until Friday to do this. If neither one has 33 votes, then negotiations between the introducers, or changes to the bills, will need to happen to continue discussion.
The Nebraska Economic Forecast Advisory Board (NEFAB) met on Thursday to review and update their forecast for FY2020-21. Changes in their forecast can be attributed to three main factors: the shift in income tax receipts from April to July; revenue losses due to parts of the federal CARES Act; and of course, current economic conditions.
The Legislative Fiscal Office also estimates economic growth and conditions and produces an average based on their own calculations and those of the Nebraska Department of Revenue. This is a new methodology, implemented due to the pandemic situation.
In February, the NEFAB and Fiscal Office estimated growth to be 5.2%. The July figure was reduced to 4.3%. However, in the fiscal years out to 2023, those numbers are substantially lower. Appropriations Committee Chair, Sen. Stinner cautioned that the Legislature will need to be very careful and thoughtful with the budget in the months ahead. The NEFAB will meet again in just three months to revisit and potentially revise these numbers.
The next couple of weeks promise to be intense and busy. Please feel free to contact my office at any time via email or phone. 402-471-2620 email@example.com
Heat and thunderstorms, July in Nebraska. The weather may be typical but convening the Legislature in the summer, unless in a special session, is not. Of course, nothing has been typical this year. When we do convene on the 20th, to some extent we will try to pick up where we left off in March. Bills will be in the same positions as before and with that, my own priority bill is still ready for final reading. LB 1014, creates the statutory authority for the Nebraska Department of Insurance to authorize and regulate group health insurance plans that allow self-employed individuals to participate in a multiemployer healthcare arrangement under Nebraska law. This will allow organizations such as farm associations and cooperatives to offer health insurance.
There are enough priority bills pending in earlier stages of debate that we may not even get through all of those, especially with the issues before us. In addition, the Speaker has said he will not have a ‘consent calendar’, a procedure that allows non-controversial bills to move through the process efficiently; and he advised that any bill with a fiscal note will probably not advance.
July 15th, which is now tax day for 2020, and July 23rd, when the state forecasting board meets, will be crucial dates in determining what the budget will look like. The impact COVID-19 has had on revenue the last four months of the FY19-20 budget, as well as COVID-19 impacts on future revenue projections determined by the forecasting board, will determine the success of major issues such as property tax relief, school funding, and business incentives.
The Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) announced that the unemployment program is refocusing on reemployment strategies as Nebraskans continue to return to work. Job search requirements will be returning for workers claiming Unemployment Insurance benefits beginning with the week of July 12, 2020. Individuals wishing to continue to receive unemployment benefits (including the $600 federal supplement available through July 25, 2020) will be required to perform work search activities that had been waived since March 15.
NDOL reminds unemployed workers that they should report any earnings (including PPP payments) and any work refusal when filing their weekly request for payment. Failing to do so will result in an overpayment of unemployment benefits. Any overpaid benefits (including the $600 federal supplement) must be repaid before an individual can receive any future unemployment benefits. Additionally, failing to report earnings and work refusals can be considered fraud and the individual could be subject to fines and criminal prosecution. For more information go to NEworks.nebraska.gov.
The Paycheck Protection Program resumed accepting applications July 6, 2020. The new deadline to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan is August 8, 2020. More details about PPP here. Also, check into the resources available if you have trouble paying your utility bills.
Nebraska NET television broadcasts the Legislature in session, a link can be found on the Unicameral website. Look for the red NET logo on the right side of the page. You can also follow the progress of all bills, find contact information for all senators and additional information here: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/
My office has been open and continues to be accessible around the clock by calling 402-471-2620 to leave your message. Or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I appreciate your calls and messages. Stay safe and well!
Happy Independence Day! Our nation has been tested in the past, is facing challenges today, and no doubt will in the future. I am confident that our system of government and the compassion, strength and tenacity of our people will ensure that this legacy of democracy will be preserved as we work together.
Thank you to all the many workers, teachers, caregivers, elected officials and others who have helped navigate our counties, our state, and our economy through this Covid-19 situation. So many individuals have given of their time and talents to make Nebraska a great place to live, and a great home for our future generations.
To that end, we all continue to manage the present crisis as best we can. The Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) will begin offering the Extended Benefits (EB) program for eligible individuals who exhaust their previous unemployment benefits. Under federal law, the EB program offers up to an additional 13 weeks of benefits to individuals who have exhausted any regular unemployment benefits and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits for which they were eligible. Eligibility criteria is available here: https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_24-20.pdf
Lincoln Electric System will resume normal billing operations in July. As of June, most past due bills are likely six months old at this point. Standard disconnect notices will be mailed in mid-July. LES officials pointed out that there are currently 2,100 customers who have not contacted LES to make arrangements for past due bills, which is 350% higher than is typical, and account for nearly $1 million in past due balances.
Utility bill financial assistance IS available but the customer must take the action. If you are struggling to pay your electric bill, contact LES at 402-475-4211 or email@example.com to set up a flexible plan and not get even further behind. Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County has funds available through the Energy Assistance Program , but you must apply for assistance. Contact them at 402-471-4515 or go to www.communityactionatwork.org for more information. You can also find help through Catholic Social Services, Legal Aid, and the Department of Health and Human Services, www.dhhs.ne.gov.
It is important to know that utility charges still apply, they were not erased and are still due even though disconnect procedures were suspended for the past few months. Other power districts are also making similar changes. For more information and exact details, be sure to contact your specific utility suppliers.
We are now just a couple weeks away from coming back together at the Capitol for the remainder of the legislative session. I have been working with a group of senators trying to come up with an acceptable plan for property tax relief. As I have said before, if this were an easy fix, it would have been done by now. Bringing all affected parties together, where everyone feels treated fairly, is no easy task. Of course, current events compound this issue to an even greater degree than we had a year ago when consensus was already difficult to reach. We will keep at it, a solution is possible but it will take a great deal of effort.
Please continue to reach out to my office with your concerns and comments. You can communicate at any time by leaving a message at 402-471-2620 or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy the 4th of July and stay safe and well.
It is officially summer, with the longest day of the year behind us. Of course, it had felt like summer for several weeks with hot and windy weather creating challenges for crops, livestock and people. Then the rain came in abundance, resulting in other problems. In other words, typical Nebraska.
We are less than a month away from the Legislature coming back into session. At this time, we are set to convene on July 20th and meet for 17 days, finishing up in mid-August. The Legislative coordinator has been working hard to make the floor of the Chamber meet distancing guidelines, and the building will be ready to accommodate the session.
One positive aspect about this long recess is that it has provided additional time to consider and work through some legislative topics. Of course, the opposite is also true, because now there are more issues and a greatly impacted budget to tackle. Any measures that require funding will be contingent on federal subsidies flowing in, State of Nebraska revenue and the projections of the Forecasting Board, which will meet on July 23rd.
Regarding revenue coming into the state, Nebraska’s income tax is tied to the federal income tax. In the CARES act funding, several adjustments were made to the federal income tax and those adjustments are projected to have a net loss of revenue for Nebraska in the coming fiscal year, FY20-21, of over $125 million; $67 million in FY21-22, and $57 million in FY22-23. The Revenue Committee received that data on June 16 from the Nebraska Department of Revenue. The Committee has not yet decided on a course of action to be presented to the Legislature to deal with that shortfall.
We know our state’s citizens are sturdy and resilient, but it is always good to lend a helping hand or ask for help when it is needed in these current times. You can find a list of all state departments and divisions at www.nebraska.gov and links to federal programs at www.usa.gov . Specific to agriculture producers in District 30, go to www.farmers.gov. I encourage you to scroll through the options on these sites. If you cannot find what you need, contact my office and we will point you in the right direction.
County and local government agencies and private organizations are also working together to meet health, economic and social needs. A good place to start might be to place a call to 2-1-1. This is not an emergency number, but it will connect you to a wide variety of resources.
Through the federal programs, additional SNAP benefits are now available. Families who are already participating in SNAP do not need to apply and will have their benefits automatically placed on their EBT card. Families who are not currently participating in SNAP but have been determined eligible by their schools to receive free or reduced-priced lunches will need to apply for P-EBT through the P-EBT online application and will receive a specific “P-EBT” card. A family’s address must be registered with the post office to ensure delivery of the P-EBT card. The application period will run from June 22, 2020 to July 19, 2020. Families who do not have access to the internet to apply online can call the ACCESSNebraska hotline at 800-383-4278 to apply or stop by participating food banks that can help fill out applications in person.
The past few months have shown us ways to adapt to our circumstances and improve access to services such as tele-health. At the same time, situations that need our attention, such as accessible broadband, have been revealed. It is my hope that we will retain the good, and work diligently to improve the health, race and social, and economic concerns facing all of us in the months ahead. Please contact my office if we can be of assistance, at 402-471-2620 to leave a message, or email me at email@example.com.
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