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Last week, the Legislature once again debated and advanced several bills relating to child welfare reform. These bills have now been advanced to final reading and will soon be placed on final reading for a determining vote by the Legislature. Thus far, these bills, which return case management to the state among many other things that I discussed last week in my update, have had overwhelming support in the Legislature. I also support these bills and believe they are a step in the right direction. The Legislature also debated and advanced LB998, introduced by Senator Bob Krist of Omaha, which creates the Foster Care Review Office to replace the current State Foster Care Review Board. The Foster Care Review Office will be led by an Advisory Committee of 5 persons, who will be appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature. The Advisory Committee will report to the courts, the Legislature, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and make policy recommendations for the betterment of the foster care system.
The Legislature passed many bills on Thursday, March 8. One of these, LB790, introduced by Senator Colby Coash of Lincoln, transfers one county court judgeship from district 5 (Merrick, Platte, Colfax, Boone, Nance, Hamilton, Polk, York, Butler, Seward, Saunders) to district 3 (Lancaster County). I voted against this bill and have strongly opposed the bill since its introduction. This bill, among others each year, propose to take services away from rural areas of Nebraska and instead provide more services to urban areas, like Lincoln or Omaha. I am concerned that this chipping away of rural services over time has led to many difficulties and will continue to do so for the residents of District 40 and other rural districts. I will oppose legislation like this because the trend must stop.
During this upcoming week, we will be discussing the budget adjustments for this year’s expenses. Preliminary reports have been released by the Appropriations Committee and can be accessed on the Legislature’s website, nebraskalegislature.gov. In the preliminary report, the Appropriations Committee found that increased tax revenue will allow an increase of $17 million to the child welfare reform process, $7.2 million to state aid to schools, $9.7 million to put 1.5% of the 2.5% cut last year back in Medicaid provider rates, $6.1 million for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources veterinary diagnostic center, and $4 million to fund services to persons on the developmental disability waiting list. The additional funding for the veterinary diagnostic center will continue each year at the same amount for a total of ten years. The Appropriations Committee has also recommended some appropriations from the Cash Reserve to fund capital improvements at Chadron and Peru State Colleges, the University of Nebraska at Kearney for a new nursing and allied health professions college, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center for a new cancer research facility. We will be discussing all of these changes in depth to determine if these are the optimal expenditures for our state.
Senator Tyson Larson