Over the Fence
A bi-weekly newsletter from Senator Tom Hansen
(June 1, 2009)
I thought for my final newsletter I would briefly run through a list of major accomplishments of the 101st Legislature.
We passed a balanced state budget with the help of federal stimulus money and our state cash reserve fund. Revising the state school aid formula helped keep the budget down to a 1 percent average growth in spending tax dollars for the next two fiscal years – all without raising taxes.
We now have a means of carrying out the death penalty. After the Supreme Court ruled that using the electric chair was unconstitutional, we have changed the method of execution to lethal injection. We also held off an attempt to repeal the death penalty.
Even with our economic woes, our state is putting an additional $100 million into programs for people with developmental disabilities — most of it aimed at the Beatrice State Developmental Center.
A first step was taken in addressing children’s behavioral health issues after 36 children were dropped off at hospitals last summer and fall because many parents had been seeking mental health services for their teenagers. A package of bills will cost the state $16 million over two years, paying for a 24-hour crisis hot line, peer navigators to help families new to the behavioral health system, help for parents who adopt state wards or become guardians, expansion of children’s health insurance so more parents can use the Medicaid program as health insurance for their children and a program to increase the number of mental health workers in the state.
State and local officials will have to verify whether people applying for benefits are in the country legally. Businesses that hold public contracts also will have to check the immigration status of people hired to work on those contracts. But illegal immigrants who graduate from Nebraska high schools will still be allowed to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.
Omaha and other communities will have more resources to fight gang violence. Penalties were increased for gun crimes and other violent offenses and created offenses for shooting from a vehicle, graffiti and gang recruitment.
On a personal note, the following bills are ones that I introduced this session:
LB 124, a bill that will keep funds available for training employees with new businesses locating in Nebraska. This bill is important to our state’s economic development efforts. The Department of Economic Development works diligently to encourage companies utilizing these funds to collaborate with the colleges and they facilitate that relationship every chance they get. This bill was part of the mainline budget bill.
Another bill I introduced and passed into law is LB 142. This bill closed a loophole to an existing Nebraska Brand Committee law that deals with the transfer or lease of a registered brand. It prohibits the recording of a brand unless the lien holder of livestock owned or acquired by the brand owner has consented to the sale, assignment or transfer of the brand or the brand owner makes a notarized written statement that no lien or security interest in the livestock owned or acquired by the brand owner exists at the time of the proposed assignment. LB 142 also increases the fee for recording the transfer of the brand from $35 to $40.
A bill I sponsored on behalf of a North Platte resident who was in the process of adopting a foster child was successfully passed and signed by the Governor. LB 517 added additional exceptions in determining whether reasonable efforts have been made to preserve and reunify the family and also in determining whether parental rights should be terminated. A convicted and imprisoned perpetrator of sexual assault will not be able to custody of their juvenile child as a result of this legislation.
Unfortunately not everything I introduced passed. I sponsored LB 516, a bill that would allow nonpublic entities who own buildings on the current State Fairgrounds to receive compensation for their buildings, since the University of Nebraska is scheduled to take possession of the land on January 1, 2010. No one will take responsibility for compensation to those entities. I felt it was only fair and reasonable that those entities who had maintained those buildings for many years be compensated for them. LB 516 was not advanced from Committee.
Finally, I want to thank everyone for writing and providing me with information on legislation to help me make the best possible decisions for District 42 and for Nebraska.
My Capitol office will continue to be open throughout the interim. If you are in need of assistance with state issues, please call my office at 402-471-2729 or email me at email@example.com and my staff will be happy to help you.