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On Monday we debated and passed onto select file a very important omnibus bill dealing with opiate prescriptions. Opiate addiction has become an epidemic situation across our great nation. I am proud to say that your Nebraska Legislature is taking a proactive approach in handling this serious issue. LB931 which would provide requirements for opiate and controlled substance prescriptions was originally introduced by Senator Howard from Omaha. This bill, through the committee process, was combined with similar legislation introduced by Senators Kuehn and Linstrom. This new version of the bill is truly a bipartisan effort.
LB931 would essentially prohibit healthcare practitioners prescribing more than a “seven-day supply” of opioid pain relievers to a patient younger than nineteen. A practitioner desiring to prescribe opioids to such a patient for the first time would also be required to discuss the reason for the prescription, and the risks associated with opioid use to the patient’s parent or guardian. The bill includes an exception from the seven-day supply limitation for patients suffering from chronic pain, a cancer diagnosis, or palliative care. Additionally, any healthcare practitioner would be required to discuss the following topics: risks of addiction and overdose, reasons why the practitioner deems the prescription necessary, and alternative treatments that may be available. Finally, the bill would require that persons receiving dispensed opiates would need to provide photographic identification. An exception is provided for patients, residents, and employees of licensed healthcare facilities so long as there are related identification procedures in place at the facility. I feel so strongly about what this bill will accomplish that I have signed on as a co-sponsor of bill.
The combining of bills is not an uncommon process. Often times Senators, working on their own during the interim session, will create very similar bills or have content that fits in with the themes of other bills. By combining these bills we can save a substantial amount of time on the floor by debating one bill rather than several individual bills. Often times these omnibus bills become committee priority bills. Which is a good thing because many of these necessary bills would not be debated on the floor of legislature because Senator’s have selected another bill as their one personal priority bill.
This is exactly what happened to one of my bills – LB366. LB366 would change and eliminate provisions relating to parole administration. The bill was a collaborative effort between my office and the Office of Parole Administration. The bill would allow the Office of Parole Administration to make the needed changes so they can operate more efficiently and effectively as an office. Not too glamourous of a bill, but a much needed one for the Office of Parole Administration. Now instead of this bill languishing in committee and most likely not seeing the light of day, LB366 was added to several bills addressing corrections and it will be brought to the floor and debated by the full legislature. A real win-win.
I have made LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act my priority bill for this session. The bill provides the Legislature with the rules and procedures necessary for the creation of a delegation and the guidelines for them to follow during any Article V convention called by Congress. With the Balanced Budget Amendment to United Stated Constitution having 28 states of the 34 required to call a Convention of States, we could see a Convention of States within the next few years. As a state we must be prepared to act when called. LB1058 would provide the framework for us as a state to effectively participate in any Convention of States Convention.
With the recent terrible events that have taken place at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, we in Nebraska need to address how we as State are going to better protect our most value resource, our children. I have charged my staff with researching options for making our schools a safer and more secure place of learning. One option, I am considering as possible legislation for the next biennium session is to allow teachers and administrators, with the approval of the school board, to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. The bill would require teachers and administrators to take special training by the State Patrol or other certified training groups before they could conceal carry weapons in a school. I would leave it up to the discretion of the local school boards to decide whether or not to allow vetted volunteer staff to be professionally trained to conceal carry to protect students and fellow staff members. I don’t expect any single piece of legislation will solve this complex issue of school shootings but I do believe that we should provide local school boards with options. Currently, Nebraska law only allows on-duty, uniformed law enforcement officers to carry firearms on school property and any concealed weapons are prohibited. In addition, law enforcement response time to a school shooting, no matter how fast they can arrive, it leaves precious minutes in which the active shooter can inflict bodily harm. A well trained conceal carry staff member can immediately engage someone intent on harming students and staff.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of hosting the members of Leadership Hastings group which is sponsored by the Hastings Chamber of Commerce. The Leadership Hastings is a vibrant group of young leaders from our community. I appreciated their visit to the Capitol. As always, please do not hesitate to contact our office. My staff, or I, can be reached at the office in Lincoln 402-471-2712 an visit my Facebook page – Senator Steve Halloran. Thank you for listening…..Have a Great Day in Nebraska!
This week we passed the half way point. Wednesday marked the 30th day of the session. I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. On Friday we are scheduled to vote on 15 bills for final reading. If all those bills pass, we will have passed a total 32 bills to date for this session. During an average short session we traditionally pass approximately two hundred bills. With hearings coming to a close next week, we will be on the floor all day debating, so the number of passed bills should increase dramatically. Priority bills by Senators, Committees, and the Speaker will receive first attention for bill debated on the floor. Bills that were not selected as a priority bills will most like not be brought to floor for debate and therefore the bill will be indefinitely postponed.
March will also usher in debate on how to address the looming two hundred million dollar budget shortfall. My office has received a large amount of correspondence expressing concerns about which programs and agencies, including the University of Nebraska, will have to deal with budget cuts in order to balance the State’s budget. Budget cuts are never easy, no one likes to see a decrease in funds appropriated.
Last session several programs and institutions were hit harder than others. So now, it would seem only fair that those not effected as much by cuts last year should bear more of the burden this year. Cuts need to be fair and balanced. We, as a legislature, will be working hard to minimize the impact of these cuts within the fiscal constraints we have to operate under. The other option to cuts is to raise revenue. The only mechanism the legislature has to raise revenue is to increase taxation, either through raising taxes or removing tax exceptions. When I ask the same people who do not want their budgets cut, what taxes should we raise, typically their first response is, “not mine.” Then it’s usually followed by “my taxes are too high already.” Something is going to have give in this argument.
A number of constituents have mentioned taxing internet sales in Nebraska. Senator Watermeier introduced such a bill last session – LB44. While I agree with this bill, similar bills in other states have been found to be unconstitutional by the districts courts. The Supreme Court of the United States is scheduled to take up this issue later this year. Unfortunately, until they rule on this matter, the collection of internet sales tax will not be an option for increasing revenue in our state.
Speaking of taxes, in March we will also be addressing the several tax reform bills drafted this year. Senator Erdman’s bill, LB829 appears to be destined to be decided by you – the Nebraska voters. The Revenue Committee has not acted to move the bill to the full legislature for debate. This week, petitioners began soliciting the signatures necessary to place the proposal on the November ballot. I encourage you to go the following website to learn more on this ballot initiative – yestopropertytaxrelief.com. I have also posted a link to this site on my Facebook page – Senator Steve Halloran.
Another tax reform bill receiving a lot of press in the media is the Governor’s plan, LB947, which is sponsored by the Chair of the Revenue Committee Senator Jim Smith. The bill has been a work in progress. Several amendments to the bill have been proposed to gain broader support by the public and the Legislature. Essentially, LB947 would convert the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund to provide refundable income tax credits for agricultural property owners as well as homeowners. Tax credits would begin at 12% with a cap of $280 for homeowners. The credits would increase by 2% every other year until they reached 30% in 2031. The residential caps would rise $50 with each increase. The 30% tax credit would mirror the percentage offered by Senator Erdman’s bill or the ballot initiative. However it would take thirteen years to reach that 30% level. I am sure that lively debate will ensue in coming days and weeks.
Just a reminder that the next Coffee with the Senator is scheduled for this upcoming Saturday, March 3rd, 9:00 a.m. at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. I hope to see you there!
The past two weeks have been very for me and my staff. Each week a bill I introduced had its hearing. Last week was LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act, and this week was the hearing for LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act. Both of these bills have received an immense about media coverage. Yes, they are controversial bills, most bills that are important are controversial.
I am very passionate about both of these bills. I believe that we must defend and protect the First Amendment right to free-speech. We may not like, agree with, or even feel disgusted by what a person says but we must defend their right to say what they think. For if we shut down their rights, we may find someday that someone will want take away our rights to voice our opinions. I have been working closely with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, otherwise known as (FIRE) to amend the bill to give institutions of higher learning the ability to create and enforce their own policies regarding free expression on campus while still holding their actions accountable. The amendment has taken a bit a longer that I would like, but I am very pleased with what we have created. The amendment was completed on Friday. As promised, I have sent a copy of the new amendment to those media outlets that requested a copy. You can read the new amendment for yourself by going to the Legislative website and search for LB718.
LB1058 – the faithful delegate act, was heard this Wednesday. The bill provides the Legislature with the rules and procedures necessary to create and guide a Nebraska delegation to any Article V convention called by Congress. The rationale for creating this bill came out of the debate last session on LR6 and the fact that we currently have a Convention of States call for a proposed Balanced Budget Amendment to United Stated Constitution. 28 states of the 34 required to call for a balanced budget amendment convention has been obtained. We could see a Convention of States within the next few years. As a state we must be prepared to act when called. LB1058 would provide the framework for us to effectively participate in any convention of states convention.
I want to thank everyone who came out in person to testify or sent in written testimony on LB718 and LB1058. I know traveling from District 33 to Lincoln during the work day can be a challenge. So, many choose to send it written testimony to be read into the official record. Please be aware that written testimony on any bill must be submitted to the Chair of the committee in which the bill is being heard by 5:00pm the previous day.
There has some been criticism that the Legislature has become too polarized and that we only vote along party lines. While it is true that there are clearly differences of opinion on how we as state should address taxes and entitlements, we can agree on a variety of other important issues. One bill I strongly support is LB1132 brought by Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks. LB1132 provides a procedure to set aside convictions of victims of sex trafficking and to expunge related records. I believe that victims of sex traffickers should not be further penalized by the justice system. In simple terms, the bill would make it possible to essentially remove any record of a conviction the victim of sex trafficking was found guilty of committing. For example, many victims are convicted of prostitution.
Often times I will post articles on my Facebook page without comments. Some have criticized me for not posting any comments. I do not comment this for a very specific reason. I want see what people, mostly from the district, have to say on a topic without being biased by my comments. This along with phone calls, emails, and town hall meetings aid me knowing the heartbeat of district 33 which that I have honor of serving.
Speaking of town hall meetings, the next Coffee with Senator is scheduled for 9:00am, March 3rd, at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings.
On Tuesday of the week we had the public hearing for my bill LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act. I want to thank all the people for and against the bill who took the time to come out and testified using the free speech right to do so. It is important that we have a venue, open to the public, where the free exchange of opinions can be heard. This is truly the crux of what LB718 would achieve on the campuses of institutions of higher learning in Nebraska. LB718 was written to guarantee / protect the free-speech rights for ALL – students, faculty, staff and invited guests.
After carefully listening to ALL the testimony and reviewing the numerous emails and articles written leading up to the hearing and the days that have followed, resulted in me working on a new amendment to the bill that will address concerns that have been raised. I have received a number of requests for this newest amendment to LB718. This amendment is in the final drafting stages. We will release it as soon as it is finished – expected early next week. This amendment was drafted with the collaboration of my office and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, otherwise known as (FIRE). With the University Nebraska Board of Regents only releasing their newly written and approved policy late last week titled: Commitment to Free Expression: Guide for Facilities Use: and Education, FIRE worked with us up to the last minute before the hearing to create a rough draft of a new amendment that we could present to the Education Committee. We continued our discussions after the hearing to take into account the testimony from the hearing. I did not want to release the rough draft that evening because of concerns that there may be changes to the proposed amendment based on the testimony and I did not want to confuse the issue.
Also this week, the second major tax reform bill – LB947 sponsored by Senator Smith on behalf of the Governor had a hearing in the Revenue Committee. I was personally unable to attend the hearing because of my Judicial Committee’s commitments that day. I did speak with my staff and fellow colleagues about the hearing. I was encouraged by several amendments proposed by Senator Smith. Clearly this bill is still evolving. I therefore am withholding my position on this bill. I believe that this bill will be sent out of committee and onto the floor of the Legislature. I further believe this will result in a lively debate.
The third major tax reform bill LB1084 written by Senator Briese who has a hearing scheduled for Thursday, February 8th within the Revenue Committee. LB1084 will generate new revenue by closing a number of current tax exemptions, raising the state sales tax by ½ cent and raising taxes in other areas like the tax on tobacco products. The new revenues that are generated will help fund K-12 education and it will also direct hundreds of millions of much-needed dollars into the Property Tax Credit Fund.
I am STRONGLY for tax reform! My concern leans much more for the need to address property taxes. Property taxes are out of control, especially in rural Nebraska. We have kicked the can down the road for forty years. We, as a Legislative body, must address tax reform this session. I look forward to working with my fellow Senators to make tax reform a reality for the good people of Nebraska.
Recently I signed on to co-sponsored LB747 – the Nebraska Liquor Control Act, authored by Senator Thibodeau. LB747 brings “bottle clubs” in line with other establishment that have alcohol consumed on premise. I have received significant correspondence from constituents who are concerned about operation of these “bottle clubs” operating within our district. I would like to thank all the people who came out to Kitty’s Roadhouse last Saturday for the first “Coffee with Senator” of the year. I always enjoy meeting with constituents and discussing their issues and concerns. The next Coffee with Senator is scheduled for 9:00am, March 3rd, at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings.
Week 4 of legislature has been a typical work week during a short session. Early morning meetings with my staff. Floor debate from nine a.m. till noon. Meetings over the lunch hour. Hearings that run late into the night, followed by meetings with my staff who provide me prepared materials to review that evening. Then I get up the next morning and do it all over again. It keeps me pretty busy, but it is rewarding work knowing that I and my fellow Senators are looking out for the best interests of the good people of Nebraska.
My staff and I have been preparing for Tuesday’s hearing, January 30th, on my bill LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act. This bill and the events that precipitated the writing of this bill has received quite a bit of media attention both locally and nationally. I want to provide some clarity about what has been written about the bill. First, this is not a bill to restrict or squash free-speech on college campuses. Quite the opposite! The goal of LB718 as amended by AM 1553, is to guarantee / protect the free-speech rights for ALL – students, faculty, staff and invited guests. Everyone should have the right to be heard.
Second, the bill does NOT outlaw counter-demonstrations. All points of view should and need to be heard. It is through the free flow of information and ideas that we are able to make educated and sound decisions. The bill does state that counter-demonstrations may be held so long as such conduct is lawful and does not interfere with the free expression rights of others on campus by materially and substantially disrupting activities and the functioning of the institution. In simpler terms, respecting the rights of others to freely speak and display materials. This should encourage dialogue rather that a shouting match and name calling.
Third, it requires institutions of higher learning to report on an annual basis any incidents that happen on campus during the year and how those situations were handled by the institution. It holds the institutions accountable for protecting the free-speech right of all on college campuses.
Recently the Board of Regents for University of Nebraska passed the Nebraska Policy Commitment to Free Expression; Guide for Facilities Use; and Education. I would like to compliment the Board of Regents for unanimously adopting a new free speech policy. This is an important first step toward addressing the serious free speech issues that I and my fellow Senators Steve Erdman and Tom Brewer identified at UNL. While this is a positive step, we must still see how the new policy will be implemented by the NU Administration. There are areas in their policy that need further clarification. This is one reason why I am continuing on with LB718. Additionally, LB718 as amended is not limited to the University of Nebraska but encompasses all public institutions of higher learning in the state of Nebraska. I encourage you to read the bill as amended and to testify on this bill. Your voices need to be heard. Again, the hearing will be held on Tuesday, January 30th within the Education Committee. The Education Committee meets in room 1525 of the State Capitol.
Shifting gears, two bills that I have received quite a lot of correspondence about from constituents were LB780 and LB1022. LB780 introduced by Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks from Lincoln seeks to outlaw the manufacture of “bump stocks” and “silencers” or, more accurately “suppressors” and make it a crime to possess these items. The comments we received were overwhelmingly against this bill. I agreed with the comments that “suppressors” needed to be taken out of this bill. I had my staff draft an amendment that would strike out any reference to “suppressors” from the bill. During the hearing, Senator Pansing-Brooks did remove this language from the bill. As a result of her actions there was no need for me to submit my amendment. One would have to assume that she received the same type of correspondence that I had received. It just goes to show that correspondence matters!
The second bill, LB1022, known as “Adopt the Irrigation Tax Act” was introduced by Senator Paul Schumacher from Columbus, Nebraska. As with LB780 the correspondence we received was clearly against the bill. The costs to farmers would be astronomical. Rest assured, I will not be in support this bill.
This week’s message will be short and sweet. We have a lot happening at the capitol. Committee hearings on new bills began this week. In total 469 new bills and 13 legislative resolutions were submitted this year. That brings the total number of bills for biennium session to 1,136. In Nebraska, every bill receives a hearing. These hearings are often called, “the second house” or the “people’s house” because these hearings present the opportunity for interested parties and the public at large to express their opinions about bills being proposed. Senators usually serve on more than one committee. Currently I serve on three committees: Agricultural Committee, Business and Labor Committee, and Judiciary Committee.
My busiest committee is the Judiciary. By the end of this first week of hearings, we as committee will have heard testimony for no less than fifteen bills. Often these hearings go late into the night. However, the time spent is well spent. The testimony help inform myself and other Senators which enable us to make better decisions on whether or not a bill should be voted out of committee and sent to the floor of legislature for debate by the entire body.
The two bills that I submitted this session are LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act and LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act. LB718 ensures that the Free Speech rights, granted in United States Constitution, are protected for everyone on Nebraska’s public institutions of higher education. The public hearing for this bill is scheduled for January 30th within the Education Committee. Since the bill was submitted, I have had further discussions with several parties. As a result of those discussions, I wrote an amendment to the bill to make the bill stronger. I encourage you to read the amendment and to testify at the hearing later this month.
LB1058 – Adopt the Faithful Delegate to Federal Article V Convention Act directly addresses concerns by those who unrealistically fear a “runaway” convention. LB1058 creates a structure for how the State of Nebraska will elect and govern delegates to a called Convention of States by the United States Congress. In the coming weeks I will discuss in more detail each of these bills. Again, I encourage you to read the bill and contact my office if you have any questions on LB718 and LB1058.
Saturday, January 27th the Adams County Farm Bureau Federation and Hastings Area Chamber will be hosting my first Coffee with the Senator this session at Kitty’s Roadhouse in Hastings. The meeting will start at 10:00 a.m. I hope to see you there!
We hit the ground running during week two of legislative session. On Monday we started to debate general file carry-over bills from last session. During the second session of a biennium, bills can be “carried-over from the last session and debated. However any bills that are not passed during this session will be indefinitely postponed. In simpler terms, the bill is now dead. If a Senator such as my self wants to bring back a bill, the Senator will have to resubmit the bill the following year and go through the entire process again as if it was a new bill. The bill will have to be referenced to a committee, have a hearing, be voted out of committee and then placed on general file. The success of a bill in the past does not always guarantee future success. Committee make-up of members can change as well as social and political climates of the day.
One such bill that has gone through this process several times is the “helmet bill.” Over the years this bill has come to floor in many different forms. This year it was LB368 which sought to change helmet provisions, change passenger age limits, and require eye protection for operators of motorcycles and mopeds. The bill was brought by Senator John Lowe. The bill was unable get the necessary thirty-three votes to evoke cloture and end debate last session. The bill saw new life this year when Senator Bob Krist made it his priority for this year. When a Senator designates a bill as a priority bill, it “jumps the line” and it is called to floor over other non-priority bills. Therefore LB368 was debated on Monday and then again on Wednesday. Once again, the bill was unable to gain the necessary thirty-three votes to evoke cloture. The bill will most likely not be brought back to floor this year. So if a Senator wants to present a helmet bill next year, he or she will have to start all over again.
Wednesday was also the day the Governor presented his State of the State address to the Legislature and the people of Nebraska. Governor Ricketts plan is one of several tax relief plans being proposed this session. I have been posting links to these bills on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SenatorHalloran/) so you can read these for yourself. Through discussions with my fellow Senators I have heard that there may be additional tax relief related bills to be presented this session. I encourage you to share your thoughts with my office on these different proposals.
I fully support tax relief and reform in Nebraska. The federal government in Washington, D.C., has struggled to reach solutions that will unleash a new era of American economic growth, many state governments have forged ahead in meeting their particular fiscal and economic challenges. Many of our surrounding States that have adopted pro-growth policies have seen their economies grow. Many of the more successful, economically growing states have found that competitive tax policies are the key towards viable growth. Nebraska’s focus should be on pro-growth policies. One of the goals of implementing pro-growth tax policies is to first stop the out migration of citizens. Citizens are increasingly “voting with their feet” and moving to states with better economic outlooks. This underpins the fact that taxes absolutely bear a relationship to the economic health of our state. Nebraska is a small population state and can be easily influenced by people leaving our state to due to our burdensome taxes.
Governor Pete Ricketts, in his State of the State address, declared his interest in reducing both income taxes and property taxes. His proposal is dependent upon economic growth, with tax reductions triggered incrementally when economic growth occurs. I personally believe that without first reducing taxes, economic growth will be sluggish. My preference for tax relief would be to focus on property tax relief. As your representative, I have heard from constituent after constituent that property taxes are unreasonably high, and there has been a loud cry for property tax relief. I have not heard this same concern for income tax relief.
Here are some facts regarding Nebraska’s property taxes.
I am looking forward to a healthy tax reform debate on the floor of the legislature. It is my sincerest hope that we as a body can come together and pass meaningful tax relief this session for the good people of Nebraska.
Wednesday, Jan 3rd marked the beginning of the second session of the 105th legislature. As an interesting tidbit of information. This is the earliest date a session of the legislature can convene. According to our state constitution, article III section ten, the legislature shall commence at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January of each year. Since Monday was the 1st, we could start on the Wednesday the 3rd . I am going to take this as a good sign that we are ready to get started and that we will get a lot accomplished during this short session.
As you may know we call this session a short session because we meet for sixty legislative days during even numbered years and we meet for ninety legislative days during odd numbered years. Why do we not meet for the same number of days each year? It’s because during the long session which is ninety days we are tasked with creating the biennium budget.
The short session can be a very busy session for several reasons. For instance, we have several bills that carried over from the last session. Since these bills have already had their hearings we can start to debate them on floor right away. As a matter of fact we will start full session debates on bills starting Monday the 8th. Second, Senators are finishing up drafting new bill for this session and these need to be submitted within the first ten days. Third, sometimes, like this year, we unfortunately had to address a projected budget shortfall. Currently that budget shortfall is projected to be somewhere between 150 to 200 million dollars.
On Wednesday, the Governor will address the Legislature to give his State of the State Address at 10 a.m. in which he will lay out his plan to address the budget shortfall. His plan will then be given to Appropriations Committee to review. The Appropriations Committee will study the Governor’s plan, make some changes and recommendations. I do not see the legislature starting the debate on the budget changes until late January, early February. So in the interim we will be addressing carry-over legislation and starting on committee hearings for the new bills proposed for this session.
One bill that I have written is LB718 – Adopt the Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act. This bill looks to guarantee free speech for all on college campuses in the state of Nebraska. The impetus for this bill was born out of well published incident on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus in which a college sophomore was denied her right to free speech. I want to be clear that this is not the only reason I felt this bill needed to written. After it was known that I, along with Senator Edman and Senator Brewer had raised our concerns to the university, our offices were flooded with phone calls, emails of support and stories from others who felt their freedom of speech rights were suppressed as well when they attended college. So it’s not based on a single, isolated incident but a pattern of behaviors over time. Seven states have already passed similar legislation and ten states have legislation pending. Based on communications that I have received from both supporters and detractors, I am drafting an amendment that will strengthen the bill. My ultimate goal is defended and protected everyone’s First Amendment rights to free speech at institutions of higher learning.
This will be a busy short session (60 Days) dealing with the budget shortfall (which I and many of my fellow Senators predicted) and multiple tax reform bills taking center stage.
I am looking forward to working with my fellow Senators to pass legislation this session that will bring meaningful change / relief benefiting all Nebraskans.
This week in the legislature was all about the budget and the Department of Health and Human Services. Last Tuesday the legislature passed the three major budget bills – LB331, LB332, and LB327. I along with several other Senators had some strong reservations about the under lying assumptions utilized to create the budget. As a group we held a press conference on the steps of the State Capitol to voice our concerns. The major issue, in my opinion, is the overly optimistic revenue projections for the next biennium. The Appropriations Committee is operating under the assumption that we will see revenue growth of roughly 5% a year for each of the two years. Given the flat growth we experienced the past two years combined with my knowledge of the agriculture marketplace, I just don’t see that 5% growth in revenue is realistic. What this could mean is another large budget shortfall and quite possibly the need for a special session in the fall to either make draconian cuts or the push for tax increases as some Senators have suggested. I in no way want to raise taxes or have to make crushing cuts. That is why I feel we needed to make more cuts to the current budget instead.
A week ago, Friday, the Governor announced his first line-item veto. He cut a little over $11.5 million dollars from the State Capitol HVAC renovation project. According to the Governor, this will not stop the project from moving forward with current construction but it will need to have additional funding added to future budgets to complete the project. During the same press conference he clearly indicated that further vetoes were to follow. On Monday the Governor used this line-item veto authority to cut an additional $45 million dollars from the budget. With his earlier veto, the total amount of cuts to the budget equaled $56.5 million dollars.
By law, the Appropriation Committee has 24 hours to respond to the Governor’s vetoes. Tuesday morning the committee recommended that lawmakers restore $32.7 million back to the budget. An important point to know about this process is that the legislature only has the ability to vote for, or, against a specific line-item veto. We are not allowed to make dollar amount changes nor suggest cuts from other items of the budget that the Governor did not veto from the bill. For example, the first veto override vote was to restore $300,000 dollars to probation services. We as a body can only vote to restore the entire $300,000. We cannot change the amount to say restore $150,000 of the $300,000. Additionally, we could not have voted to take additional funds from the University or the Supreme Court, as several of the constituent emails I received suggested, as an offset to the items that were vetoed. As a body we voted to reject to restore the $300,000 in funding for probation services.
The large portion of the day’s session was the debate to restore $32.5 million dollars for Medicaid and people with developmental disabilities. As a package the body did not vote to override the veto. Several amendments offered by individual Senators looked to override individual line items of the $32.5 million dollars. A majority of these amendments were pulled by the Senator who introduced them. Other efforts to amend did not get the required 30 votes to override the Governor’s veto. The debate was highly emotional and these were not easy decisions. There was a considerable amount of misinformation and fear mongering during the debate. My decision not to override the Governor’s vetoes was based on research and subsequent conversations I had with fellow Senators, the Policy Research Office, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and not as a result of the Governor’s pressure as some of my fellow Senators tried to imply.
We requested and received from the Department of Health and Human Services the real impact theses line-item veto cuts would have on their department and more importantly the people they serve. I wanted to share with you some of their response to our requests.
They noted that Legislature passed LB 327, which appropriated $1.69 billion dollars for the two-year funding for Nebraska’s Medicaid program. Governor Ricketts made a line-item veto of $11.8 million in each of the two fiscal years. That is just $23.6 million out of a 1.69 billion dollar appropriation. This equated to a 1.4% percent reduction in each fiscal year. According to DHHS, the line-item veto of funding in the Medicaid aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. The Medicaid aid budget is a block appropriation based on forecasted need and the department has the responsibility to manage the program within its appropriation and minimize adverse access-to-service issues for Medicaid eligible individuals and families. Additionally, the veto does not impact services not covered by Medicare like long-term care, nursing home care, and assisted-living care services. The Medicaid program will work with stakeholders to devise an appropriations reduction strategy that protects critical services like long-term care.
The so-called cuts in funding to the Behavioral Health aid budget will not mean providers will receive across-the-board rate reductions. Nebraska is split into six “regions.” These are local units of government that the state partners work with to do planning and service implementation. The amount of funding included in the line-item veto represents just 1% of total contract funds allocated to the Behavioral Health Regions. Historically, behavioral health providers under contract with the Regions have received a 10% increase in rates over the last four years. Those rate increases are sustained in the current budget plan.
The line-item veto of funding in the Children & Family Services budget will not mean providers or contractors will receive across-the-board rate reductions. Children & Family Services has identified efficiencies and expects to save $1 million a year with a new statewide contract for drug testing of parents involved with the child welfare system. Those savings more than take care of the $640,000 annual cut in child welfare services.
Sustaining these cuts was difficult, particularly in the light of the efforts to unnecessarily shame those Senators who were supporting the fiscally responsible vetoes of the Governor. After my discussions with Health and Human Services, I felt confident that they can find cost savings to offset these cuts and still provide quality services during these challenging times.