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Tim Gragert

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40

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The Legislature gave second-round approval to the budget bills this past week, working late each evening. This will allow the budget to be read on Final Reading next week, meeting the requirement to have it passed by the 50th legislative day. The budget provides funding to cover salary increases recently negotiated with the union and the state for employees at correctional facilities and other 24/7 facilities that were experiencing dangerous staffing shortages. Worker shortages and competition also necessitated provider rate increases for nursing homes, behavior health providers, developmental disability providers, and juvenile justice providers. Very few adjustments were made to the Appropriations Committee’s recommended budget.

The Appropriations Committee also submitted their recommendations for spending the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds in the committee amendments to LB 1014. LB 1014, as introduced, contained the governor’s proposals for spending the $1.04 billion in federal funding resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the recommendations from the committee mirrored the governor’s suggestions. Both the governor and the committee recommended $100 million in funding for shovel-ready capital projects, funding for workforce housing, workforce development in community colleges, assistance to small and medium meat processors, and funding for a Rural Health Complex at UNK.

Unlike the Governor, the Appropriations Committee recommended $55 million for competitive wages for providers of developmental disabilities services similar to the pay rate for State of Nebraska employees who recently received a significant raise due to severe staff shortages. Furthermore, $55 million was recommended for supplemental incentive payments for direct care staff employed at licensed and Medicaid-certified nursing home facilities. The Appropriations Committee also included $150 million for qualified census tracts, to be used for entrepreneurship, housing, employment, job creation, and small business assistance. This is meant to help North and South Omaha.

Since there is a set amount of federal ARPA funding, the Speaker of the Legislature required senators offering amendments to LB 1014, to also specify which program(s) would be cut in order to fund their proposal. Only a couple of amendments were successful, adding funding for additional mental health care capacity, nurses scholarships, and loan repayments for health professionals.

I was able to obtain $7 million in ARPA funding for the Cedar Knox Rural Water Project through a successful amendment to LB 1014. The Governor had included $60 million for drinking water projects in his recommendations, even mentioning the Cedar Knox Rural Water Project in his State of the State address. However, the Appropriations Committee did not include it in their recommendations, but did work with me on finding a revenue source for my amendment. The Cedar Knox Rural Water Project is overseen by the Lewis and Clark NRD and has over 900 rural service connections, serving two SIDs, three housing developments, five campgrounds and four communities – Crofton, Fordyce, St. Helena and Obert. This regional system treats surface water from the Lewis and Clark Lake. However, the intake structure is expected to be inundated by sediment in approximately 20 years and the approaching sediment is causing an increase in organic material drawn into the intake that must be treated. Furthermore, production capacity of the treatment plant and portions of the distribution system are at or near their maximum sustainable levels. This funding will be used to assist with the cost of developing a groundwater source and a treatment plant. I emphasized to senators the importance of having an adequate drinking water supply prior to potential increased population and infrastructure due to the exciting STAR WARS project proposed in northern Knox County.

LB 933, introduced by Senator Joni Albrecht, would prohibit abortions in Nebraska if Roe v. Wade is overturned this summer by the U.S. Supreme Court. A public hearing was held on LB 933 before the Judiciary Committee on February 24. However, the bill is stuck in committee, without enough votes to advance. I, along with twenty-two of my colleagues, signed on as a co-sponsor of this legislation. Speaker Hilgers has designated it as his priority bill. On March 25th, Senator Albrecht offered a motion to pull LB 933 from committee and place it on General File. Her motion was successful.

As we enter our final weeks of this legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your opinions on the legislation before us. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is tgragert@leg.ne.gov and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.

Sen. Tim Gragert

District 40
Room 11th Floor
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2801
Email: tgragert@leg.ne.gov
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