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This past week the Nebraska Unicameral adjourned on Legislative Day 89, bringing the first session of the 104th Legislature to a close. Characterized as a session dealing with complex and controversial issues, my first session representing District 38 was eventful.
This session demonstrated the importance of civic engagement by constituents. A number of the issues that faced the Legislature this year were politically charged and accompanied by strong, emotional positions on both sides. The policy decisions were often complex and in some cases quite technical. As I received calls, emails, and letters from many constituents, I appreciate those of you willing to provide your thoughts and opinions in a civilized and cordial manner. The in-person conversations I had every weekend while I was back home during session with so many constituents were valuable to my deliberations on the issues.
Political rhetoric by some has accused the members of this Legislature of being “out of touch” with Nebraskans. I take umbrage with that assertion. By virtue of my age, I will spend more years of my working life in District 38 after my service in the Legislature than the prior 15 years since my graduation from veterinary college. Every vote I cast I am acutely aware that I am shaping the policies, economy, and community that will influence my own life in rural Kearney County well into the future. To illustrate, when studying the gas tax, I balanced the fact my home is 12 miles from the nearest grocery store–I have to drive considerable distance for basic necessities–with the reality that my ability to get my livestock and farm products to market is dependent upon a rural transportation infrastructure maintained by counties. It was through extensive discussion with voters in all seven counties in District 38 that I decided supporting the bill was in the best long term interest of rural Nebraska. I am as impacted by the policy as each resident. This is my home and my future, as well. I approached each issue with that perspective.
With the close of the session, I am anxious to get caught up with work on my cattle operation and teaching summer classes. Although the Legislature is not in session, work continues. Many civic and community organizations throughout District 38 have extended invitations, and I will be meeting with a number of constituent groups during the Interim. In late June, my staff and I will be engaged in a tour of the Republican River basin sponsored by the Nebraska Water Center to get the most recent perspective on local issues with water policy in the region. In July, I will attend the Council of State Governments Midwest Legislative Conference in Bismark, North Dakota. In addition to collaborating with colleagues from around the midwest region, I will also travel to the Bakken Oil Fields for an inside look at the opportunities and challenges presented by the rapidly expanding energy industry. I was also selected to participate in the Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development (BILLD) in Madison, Wisconsin during August. I am honored for the opportunity to attend BILLD and receive additional training to best serve my constituents.
Each session Senators are able to submit proposals for interim studies. These studies can range in topic and focus with the goal of each to provide background and data to inform future policy decisions. Studies are referred to the committee of purview by topic. I introduced a study to examine mechanisms for sustainable and adequate funding to local public health departments to ensure the departments are able to meet their core responsibilities and functions as set forth in current statute. Two Rivers and South Heartland Health Departments serve District 38, and are the vital front line in our public health system. Together with my colleagues from the Appropriations Committee, we will delve into public health operations and attempt to craft a strategic plan for sustainable state investment. The Appropriations Committee will also be conducting studies on the UNL Innovation Campus and several other budget issues.
It has been an honor to represent District 38 this past year. Although the legislature is not in session, my work as your state senator continues. I strongly encourage you to join me at an event in your community to discuss the issues that are important to you. For more details on my visits or if you can not make it to join me at an event in person, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38