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Towards the end of each legislative session is the time for bill signing ceremonies by the Governor, attended by the sponsoring Senators. It is a good time to explain to the public the “why” and the “how” the legislation will affect their lives. I was recently involved in a couple of those signings
LB944; adjustment to the 2017 biennium mainline budget. Tuesday, I attended the Governor’s North Platte appearance for a signing ceremony. Because of a continuing state tax-receipts shortfall, we had to adjust present spending increases down and rob the cash funds (hotel tourism occupation tax for example) to pay necessary general fund expenses. No, we did not cut spending; we slowed down the increases to a half of a percent annually. To the majority of Nebraskans, the big accomplishment included in this bill was to clarify in state statute what federal law already states in the Title-X family health grant program, that no grants will be given to health clinics that includes abortion as a recommendation for family planning. I took some political heat last year when I helped defeat similar language because it endangered critical federal funding that rural family clinics were presently receiving, such as North Platte’s Peoples Health Clinic. The new budget language, which I shared a part in, will now protect the Title-X funding for those clinics that were adhering to the intent of the law.
LB1081; the Education Committee priority bill. Every year I try to introduce legislation that includes a reduction in spending, LB1081 includes the removal of redundant reporting requirement for Poverty and Limited English plans by the Omaha area learning community schools and the Department of Education, saving state taxpayers $75,000.
We also worked with Senator Lou Ann Linehan to include an amended version of her LB651, the Nebraska Reading Improvement Act (NRIA). NRIA can be summed up by an old education saying “the first years of a child’s education, through third grade, is spent teaching a child to read, so during the remainder of a child’s lifelong education, they can read to learn”. The Act requires schools to administer, three times each school year, an assessment of reading skills to all students in Kindergarten through third grade. Testing three times is critical to inform the teacher, parent and student of the student’s progress. Students already assessed and receiving special instruction through limited English and special education programs are exempted. Parents or guardians of a student identified as having a reading deficiency must be notified by written correspondence and the school is to include parents in the individual reading improvement plan designed for the struggling student.
Senator Linehan agreed with us to make sure we did not mandate additional cost to the schools. Therefore, we only mandated the assessments, the parental reporting and the creation of individual reading plans but made the bill’s recommendations of how they achieved results voluntary. With a few tweaks and refocusing, the NRIA should fit into most schools’ existing reading programs and the requirement to offer a summertime program can be incorporated into existing public library programs. With the passage of LB1081, the Legislature has now made it clear in law, the public’s intent and what all good teachers already know: the critical importance that good reading skills accompanied by a vast vocabulary is essential to gaining a passport to success in America.
It was good to see that Lincoln County Community Development Corporation received $159,750 and the North Platte Area Development Corporation received $383,400 from the newly created Nebraska Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act created by Senator Williams’ LB518. I supported his efforts to transfer an existing $7.3 million, created from fees paid on property deed transfers, from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This program gives the grants to the home builder and most importantly, any new housing project using the grant money will remain on the property tax rolls.
It is not yet clear why the property tax petition effort was halted by the sponsor. No matter, the issue remains. Next week I may give some insight into where the effort can go from here.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.