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Sen. Steve Halloran

Sen. Steve Halloran

District 33

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We have already reached the 2/3 point of the session for this year.   As this is my first short-session, I am finding out that these short-sessions are even more intense than the longer 90 day sessions.  We have less time to address the important issues facing the Legislature.  This is especially true when we have to deal with a budget shortfall during a short session.   It is my fundamental belief that we as a state, just like you and I have to do at home, we must learn to live within our means.  When revenues are down, we must find ways to reduce spending, while maintaining our priorities and planning for the future.   It’s not an easy set of tasks, but it is necessary if we want a secure future for ourselves and the future generations of Nebraskans.

Making tough choices comes with the job of being a State Senator.   LB998, which would create the Collaborative School Behavioral Mental Health Program is one such of those tough choices.  The bill would create a program where each Educational Services Unit (ESU) would hire a social worker to train teachers, and school personnel to work with parents, schools and providers in the delivery and receipt of effective, family-centered services.  On the surface this looks like a great idea to help and train teachers, parents, and school administrators about options to help students with certain needs.  However, when you dig a little deeper, there are two concerns that I and many of my fellow Senators have with this bill.

First, we already have resource officers placed in every school.  These new positions would amount to a duplication of services already available.  The second concern dovetails with first concern because it would add additional FTE’s for the school boards.   Yes, the bill does provide private funding for three years, but what happens after three years?   Would additional private funding continue to provide funding?  More likely, the burden for this program would fall on the shoulders of local school boards to fund this expense after three years.   Once a program like this is started, rarely does it go away.   So, while on the surface this bill appears to be a good thing, we as a legislature, need to examine what services are already in place as well as the impact a bill will have on our state in the future.  The bill had three hours of debate and no action was taken on the bill.  Therefore it is likely that this bill will be indefinitely postponed.

Tuesday was our first scheduled late night debate session and we took the full measure of that time by debating till almost midnight.   The day was focused on the three budget bills.  LB946 authorized the transfer of $100 million dollars from our “Rainy Day Fund” to the General Fund to help address the budget shortfall.  This transfer will leave just $296 million dollars in this fund.  Within just two years we have cut this fund in half!   If we continue down this path, the fund will soon be empty.  This is alarming to me.  What happens if we are mandated to build more prisons because of lawsuit brought by the ACLU?  Where will the $500 million dollars plus to build a new prison come from in our budget?   It’s not “raining” right now, we should not be tapping the “Rainy Day Fund” at this time, and we as a legislature should be focusing on fair and balanced cuts to all state agencies.

LB945 authorizes the transfer of cash funds from state agencies to the General Fund.  These are agency cash reserve funds and much like the “Rainy Day Fund” we will run out money from these funds as well.  Therefore when agencies, for example, need to upgrade computers and software to better care for the people they serve they will not have the money.  So instead of replacing and upgrading over time with the cash reserves they have on hand, they will be forced to request an appropriation from the General Fund over and above their operating budget.   Both LB 946 and LB945 are short sided stop-gap measures to get us through the year.   We, as a Legislature, need to be engaging in more long term planning.

The bulk of Tuesday afternoon and evening debate was on LB944, the main budget bill proposed by the Governor and modified by the Appropriation Committee.   The majority of the debate focused on the section dealing with Title X funding for medical clinics.  The bill would mandate “objective independence” for healthcare clinics that perform abortions as well as family planning healthcare services.  Any clinic that performs abortions would have to show legal, physical and financial separation of abortion services with other services they offer.   The reason for adding this provision bill is to ensure that the State of Nebraska will be in full compliance with the Federal Government’s requirement that no monies from Title X funding can be used for abortion services.  The concern arose that we as State might be jeopardy of losing these Federal funds from an audit that Planned Parenthood used 6% of their allocated Title X funds for abortion services.

My office received impassioned correspondence, both for and against, the Title X provision of this bill.   I believe a lot of mis-information is out there about how exactly this provision would effect healthcare services across the state.  First, clinics that do not perform abortion services would be not effected at all.  They would continue to receive their Title X funds as they have in past.  Second, those clinics that do perform abortions can continue to receive Title X funds for those non-abortion related services they now perform.  They just have to clearly demonstrate the legal, physical and financial separation of these services to guarantee that no Title X funds were used for abortion services as mandated by the Federal Government.    This provision of the bill DOES NOT take away Title X funding from the state nor does it deny healthcare services.

With the six hours dedicated to debating this bill focused on the Title X provision, we as body were unable to discuss the across-the-board reductions to higher education and other state agencies before a cloture vote was taken.  This leaves us just two more rounds of debate to address these very controversial aspects of the bill.  The debate on the bill is far from over.

Working with good people from Cairo Nebraska, I have made arrangements to have a Coffee with the Senator at the Medina Street Vault for 9:00 a.m., Saturday, April 7th.

Sen. Steve Halloran

District 33
Room #1022
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2712
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