On Monday of this week, the legislature began all day sessions. During the previous part of the session, the afternoons were set aside for committee hearings on all bills. A major part of the past week in the Unicameral has been spent dealing with child welfare issues and voter identification. Also last Friday’s meeting of the Nebraska Revenue Forecasting Board has set the stage for the Appropriations Committee to complete the preliminary budget.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the Legislature focused on repairing the state’s child welfare system. Five separate bills were discussed to address the issues:
- The first bill, L.B. 821 would :
- Create the Nebraska Children’s Commission which would have 24 members across the State of Nebraska representing all three branches of government whose duty would be to create a statewide strategic plan for reform by December 15, 2012; and
- Establish an independent Inspector General of Child Welfare in the Office of Public Counsel to conduct investigations of possible misconduct, audits, inspections and reviews of the care provided.
- The second bill, L.B. 1160 requires progress reports to the Legislature and requires management information from the child welfare agencies to be reported.
- The third bill, L.B. 949 establishes the child welfare system as a separate budget program, and requires performance measures, benchmarks and time-frames for meeting them.
- The fourth bill, L.B. 820:
- Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to apply for a grant for a federal foster care pilot project and establishes an advisory committee ;and
- Requires the Department of Social Services to convene a committee to establish a minimum payment fee schedule for foster parent services; and
- Requires all foster parents be licensed except foster parents who are related by blood, marriage or adoption.
- The fifth bill, L.B. 961 requires a 25% reduction per year in the average number of cases handled by the state’s case workers until national standards are met, and requires the state to provide case management services directly. This bill advanced after a promise to amend the bill to allow the contract to privatize the system in the Omaha area to continue as a pilot project.
Senator Janssen’s L.B. 239, requiring photo identification prior to voting in a Nebraska election, consumed a great deal of time on Monday. An amendment is pending that would change the requirement so that the election commissioner would mail a registrant acknowledgment to every registered voter who does not have a motor vehicle operator’s license or state ID card prior to every statewide primary and general election. In order to vote a person would either present a government-issued photographic identification or an acknowledgment registration to vote. Persons who vote by mail or by an early ballot would not be required to show identification. Supporters argue the measure is reasonable and necessary to safeguard the right to vote. Opponents argue that there has not been a prosecutable case of voter fraud in recent memory, calling the bill a costly solution in search of a problem. Debate will continue on L.B. 239 next week.
The Revenue Forecasting Board, after reviewing the projections that are based upon state economic information and national economic forecasting information decided that no major change in the state’s economic situation justified revision of their October forecast and left that forecast unchanged. The Appropriations Committee can now finalize the state proposed budget bills.
Based upon the current projections it does not appear that revenues will be sufficient to support a tax cut at this time. After years of budget cutting the Appropriations Committee is primarily addressing maintaining some programs, restoring some funding and authorizing one time expenditures for current and future projects some which are of interest to the region. The committee has included authorizing the issuance of bonds by the University of Nebraska to build a new Veterinary Diagnostic Center to replace an old facility longer meeting accreditation standards. This is of great importance to our district and Nebraska livestock producers. Also included was preliminary approval of an expansion of the College of Nursing at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. These, along with other projects wold be funded from the Cash Reserve Fund, but contingent on raising a substantial portion of the cost through private funding. The proposed budget will go to the full Legislature for final decisions later this month.
I look forward to receiving your input and the voicing of your concerns as we address these issues and many more. Please contact me at my Lincoln office in the State Capital, District 36, Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509. My phone number is (402) 471-2642. My email address is email@example.com.