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The Nebraska Legislature, like everything else in America, was interrupted by the COVID-19 scare. The Speaker of the Legislature has set July 20th as the date we will reconvene to finish the last 17 days of the session. It will not be business as usual; the senators in attendance will be spread out around the chamber in an attempt to exaggerate the social distancing that has now become part of our lives. The legislation heard will be limited to priority bills that the Speaker decides have major importance to Nebraska; and the days will be long, going into the night.
There are a few senators who don’t believe it is safe for the body to reconvene due to the COVID scare and are asking the Speaker to allow remote attendance. I disagree. When I ran for the Legislature I had to make a decision to accept a disruption in my family, personal and business lives. It did not take long after my election to understand that the position I held was not about me and only the concerns that drove me to run for office. Instead it was about the phone calls; the first I received was from distraught parents whose children were taken by social services, many more followed from farmers and homeowners who could not afford their property taxes. I introduced LB147 after distraught calls from teachers who were giving up the career they loved and parents concerned about a cultural change that had turned many school classrooms into unsafe and undisciplined places. Now, more than ever, I am hearing from citizens concerned about their freedoms being taken from them, the opportunities their children are losing and the powers being wielded by only a few government officials and bureaucrats. They refuse to accept a new normal, and I agree.
Democracy is not a given; it is not the norm. The norm is as we define it; it is a gift that we received from those God-fearing individuals who preceded us, who sacrificed far more than worrying about catching a virus. Our country’s founders created three equal branches of government with their powers limited by a constitution and the rights guaranteed to the individual. When concerning the balance between personal rights and personal freedom, especially on issues not addressed in our national or state constitutions, only the legislative branch, as the representative of the people, can define the authority given to the other two (judicial and executive branches). The powers that the Governor is using during this present scare were granted to him in statute by the Legislature. If there ever was a time in America that the executive branch and government officials need to be reminded that the power resides ultimately with the citizen, through their elected representatives, it is now.
Come July 20th, I believe I have no other option but to attend the restart of the session, not only be there but to be on the floor, unmasked and healthy, for debate. If I were to believe that by attending, a small threat existed to my long-term health is of more importance than representing my constituents, then I should resign and let someone else lead. The negative message that hiding from the virus would send to police officers, Nebraska National Guard, medical personnel, elder-care professionals, meatpacking workers and all Nebraskans who have continued to keep America moving forward would be a blow to the gut to every citizen’s expectation that a democratic government will always be there to protect their freedom.
I am also a practical person. I know that since January 1st in Lincoln County and the surrounding area, at least six people have died in traffic accidents, two were murdered, one drowned, a few died from self-inflicted causes and many more from natural causes including two that had complications related to COVID-19. So as for that aforementioned practical person, on my drive to Lincoln I will worry more about the car coming at me than a virus.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.
Due to the COVID-19 event, the 2020 graduating class will never truly have closure on their high school years, but time will not wait. As always, some will pursue higher education or enlist in the military, others will join the work force.
University officials are concerned that students will shy away from campus life due to the health and safety risks associated with dorm living and their wish to avoid mingling on campus with a multitude of individuals hailing from widespread geographic areas. They are also concerned that virus-related restrictions put on student activities will diminish the price parents are willing to help pay for their child’s college degree.
The University of Nebraska has been proactive in its marketing to try to limit its exposure to an expected decline in enrollment. They have projected a $50 million COVID-related loss in revenues. To bolster enrollment, they have widened the parameters of their existing “College Bound” tuition-free program for students who qualify for federal Pell grants. The new “Nebraska Promise” program expands the offer to any full-time students whose families have an adjusted income less than $60,000. The program will cost the University little, instead they hope it will generate revenue by filling empty classroom seats. The tuition cost for the minimum full-time 12 credit hours is $3,024, about 30% of the total cost. Students also pay $1,000 in fees, nearly $6,000 in room and board and more for instructional material and parking. From those students the University will receive revenue from approximately $3,000 in Pell grant money, another $2,000 from the Nebraska Opportunity Grant program and private scholarships, plus the portion of the cost the student pays. At a minimum the University will pick up $7,500 in income for an otherwise empty classroom seat. It is a well-thought-out marketing plan with the added public relations benefit garnered from offering middle-income students financial help.
For many families harmed by the government-caused economic recession, the Nebraska Promise isn’t enough. Affordability still stands between them and their child’s educational dreams. There is good news, however. The scare of COVID -19 has renewed focus on the affordable educational opportunities available at Nebraska’s six community colleges and three state colleges. Due to taxpayer support, the University of Nebraska is one of the lowest-cost public universities in the nation. That said, a degree from a community or state college can cost up to 40% less. When compared to a private or out-of-state public college, the savings can be the difference in owning a home or paying off student loans. Additional savings on travel and room and board expenses can be had by staying close to home.
Educational opportunities abound; distance and online learning, now being touted as the future of education, has been a tool used for almost two decades by these institutions to increase access for students. For example, a student at Mid-Plains Community College can live in a dorm or at home, can take all or part of their classes online or in a classroom, fitting their studies around their job. They can then obtain a certificate in a high-paying trade, gain an associate’s degree or obtain an all-purpose business degree. A student can pick up their general studies requirements for a planned four-year degree and when ready can easily transfer into a bachelor’s degree program offered by Chadron State or Bellevue University, both of which have offices on the Mid-Plains main campus. In fact, most Universities, including the University of Nebraska system, offer courses for undergraduate degrees online to stay competitive. Similar opportunities are available on or from college campuses across Nebraska in communities like Norfolk, Scottsbluff, Hastings, Milford, Omaha, Peru, Chadron, or Wayne.
With technology the world is not as big as it was. The old university sales pitch of offering students an expanded world view does not hold the promise it used to. In order to gain the world, a student no longer needs to strangle their future with student loan debt. The world is a lot friendlier place to a young adult with a degree in hand, low student debt and character forged in hometown Nebraska.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: email@example.com or 402-471-2729.
On January 8th, we began this legislative session. At that time, Nebraskans expected two major issues would be addressed, the first being relief from the economic burden of Nebraska’s regressive property taxes, by far their number one grassroots issue. The second issue involves the passage of the ImagiNE Act, a new economic incentive law to replace the soon to be sunset Advantage Act, this being the biggest issue of the State Chamber of Commerce and the corporate business lobby. The previous year, a stalemate occurred between supporters of both initiatives and it became clear to all involved that both issues needed to be addressed and they needed to go forward together.
The property tax proposal was expected to add approximately $100 million per year to state aid to public schools, thus lowering local property taxes by a like amount reaching a total of $300 million by the third and final year (2022/23 school year) of LB1106’s implementation. Meanwhile, by its third year of existence, the new ImagiNE Act is estimated to add an additional $50 million to the Revenue Department’s already forecasted $180 million loss of the state’s tax-dollar revenue from the existing Advantage Act agreements.
Out there also are two costly public policy needs: prison overcrowding and voter-approved Medicaid expansion. A recent proposal by the Department of Corrections to lease a 1,200- to 1,800-bed facility is estimated to cost as much as $70 million annually. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that Medicaid expansion could add $62 million to the state budget by 2023.
All of this new state spending is expected to be paid for by a projected 4.5% annual historic revenue growth (approximately $225 million per year).
Three years from now, the estimated cost of the above proposals to the 2022-23 state budget would total $482 million. With revenues over the same period increasing $675 million, this is doable but leaves very little room for inflationary growth to the state’s spending.
On top of all the above, the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) surprised the Legislature with a $300 million dollar request over 6 years (LB1084) to help attract to Omaha one of at least five Department of Defense pilot programs to increase the military’s hospital surge capacity under the National Disaster Medical System. This program was recently authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
At the hearing on LB1084, the Revenue Committee was presented with a proposal to attract a $1.5 billion federal investment in the project, thousands of jobs for Omaha and $50 million in tax revenues for Nebraska. It was implied that without state financial participation it would not happen. I, like 31 other senators, signed on to the bill. Remember all of the above was pre-COVID-19.
I have since had a chance to read the NDAA legislation. None of the language in it or in any of the recent COVID-19 related bills indicates a state’s financial participation is a prerequisite of being chosen as a partner in one of the 5 projects. What the statute requires is the Department of Defense pick locations “…in the vicinity of major aeromedical and other transport hubs and logistics centers of the Department of Defense”. It is clear in the legislation that the military will be looking at multiple sites and the money will not be spent in one location.
If Omaha would happen to be chosen by the Department of Defense for a pilot project, it will be due to Offutt Air Force Base, its central location and the relationship Nebraska’s Governor and federal elected officials have with the President and his administration.
Presently there is an effort by some in the Legislature to reopen the grand bargain of passing, both the property tax relief and economic incentive legislation, instead attempting to create a compromised combined super bill that would include the annual $50 million for UNMC’s hospital surge capacity proposal. I will continue to keep my commitment to support the property tax and Imagine Act legislation as presently amended, but with the obvious decline in state tax revenues due to the government’s reaction to COVID-19, and the urgent need for funding of property tax relief and other pressing issues, I cannot support any legislation that makes major alterations to present language or includes a future commitment for funding we don’t have for a pie in the sky proposal.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729
To come to a position on the present COVID-19 crisis, I looked at the latest available 2018 Nebraska’s annual death statistics. 16,906 Nebraskans died that year; deaths due to unnatural causes included 235 from falls, 248 motor vehicle accidents, 35 from homicide, 140 from poisonings and 271 from suicide. All of these deaths would be preventable if the government confiscated step ladders, closed the roads, took away knives/guns/blunt objects, outlawed alcohol/raw vegetables/prescription drugs and forced all citizens to have a personal psychiatrist. Normally we would consider those recommendations foolish, but in the present political atmosphere, not so much. In contrast, examples of those dying from natural causes include cancer (3,513), chronic lung disease (1,063), heart disease (3,578), Alzheimer’s (683), diabetes (597) and HIV (10). The medical community has told us that by changing personal behavior, eating well and getting exercise, we can avoid many of those natural causes of death. Again an all-knowing government could further limit our freedoms by regulating or outlawing our personal behavior. This year many of those natural deaths are related to COVID-19.
Thankfully, we now have enough evidence to know the original predictions were vastly overinflated: Children and adults with healthy immune systems are at a minuscule risk of hospitalization or death. Evidence is building that a high percentage of Americans have already been in contact with COVID-19 and we have ramped up the supplies and facilities to address the serious cases.
This is the first time in history that mankind has forcibly quarantined the healthy when nature has struck with a new virus. Historically we have quarantined the vulnerable and those showing symptoms until the healthy have gained immunity. The term is “herd immunity”; the healthy protect the vulnerable by becoming immune and therefore do not become carriers of the virus. From the beginning no one has denied this truth, what the government has done with its economic strangulation policy of isolation is to slow the herd immunity curve down to ensure that medical services are available to the small percentage of vulnerable citizens who are severely affected by the virus. The policy has actually worked too well; hospitals have laid off staff in elective surgery areas, threatening the health of those needing medical procedures. Hospital beds are empty and in our attempt to avoid a sprint race with the virus, it has become a marathon instead of the middle distance race the policymakers desired.
So, what do we do? The Governor’s decision to allow restaurant and personal care businesses to reopen on May 11th is a good start. It is a relief (I’m still recovering from my original outrage that it was limited in the first place) our freedom of religious assembly will be restored on May 4th.
I am encouraging the Governor to open up outdoor activities. 80% or more of COVID-19 infections can be traced to indoor contacts. The outdoors does not have an HVAC system recirculating the air. We need to allow youth sports activities to commence; the Governor has set a date of May 31st. I have encouraged him to allow teams to practice earlier so games can begin on the 31st. Game and Parks needs to allow camping at our state parks; there is no evidence that the limited human contact at campsites is any more contagious than at a Walmart, plus viruses do not like sunshine and dry winds.
Lastly, North Platte needs to lead the state in opening up community-wide activities. For the past 50 years, Nebraskaland Days has embodied the spirit of Nebraska’s Western heritage and should not miss a beat, of course with precautions. If the professional cowboys cannot come, we have local cowboys who can put on an entertaining rodeo. Imagine if government would have denied the pioneers their destiny on the Oregon Trail because 5% of them would die along the trail.
In perspective: 9 million people died of starvation and hunger-related causes last year. Meanwhile, due to government actions, on American farms fat cattle go unsold, unsalable hogs are being slaughtered and farmers are facing financial hardship. With common sense we can return to fully living life!!!
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: email@example.com or 402-471-2729
In reaction to the COVID-19 virus outbreak the Federal government threw together a $2.2 trillion aid package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It is another perfect example of out of control government spending personified by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s famous Obamacare quote, “but we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”
CARES (which adds 9.3% to our already unsustainable national debt) is a hodgepodge of something for everybody. The $2.2 trillion works out to be approximately $6,700 per every man, woman and child in America. We all know about the $1,200 dollars per adult and $500 per child direct payments for families making $150,000 and individuals making $75,000 or less. Much, much more is being handed out; 12.5% of it is directed specifically towards state and local governments’ COVID-19 response.
One section of local interest in the CARES Act that affects our state and local tax dollars is the $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund (ESF). The federal dollars (I hesitate to use the term tax dollars since federal spending, by the baby boomer generation, has very little to do with taxes collected) are divided into three emergency relief funds distributed to each state based primarily on the ratio of a state’s student population to the national total.
-The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF) ($2.95 billion nationally). Governor Ricketts will have $16.4 million at his disposal to spend as he sees fit on education in Nebraska.
-The Higher Education Relief Fund ($13.95 billion). Nebraska’s 46 higher education institutions will receive $66.2 million total. Mid-Plains Community College is estimated to receive $842,000 in aid, UNL $16.2 million and UNK $4.2 million.
-The Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund ($13.2 billion). Nebraska’s public schools’ share will be approximately $60.8 million. Each school district will receive 83% of what they received this year from the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title 1-A grants. Based on the $942,987 in Title 1-A funds North Platte schools received this year, they should receive $782,679 in aid. Likewise, Maxwell will receive in thousands $48.4, Hershey $37.1, Sutherland $25.4, Brady $24.6 and Wallace $19.4.
The ESF federal dollars distributed through the CARES Act will be sent directly to each of the recipients designated in the law. The Legislature and, except for the dollars he receives from the GEERF, the Governor have no say in the distribution of the federal dollars. But we do have control over state funding and I believe we must take into account this newly printed federal money when we look at state and local education funding. We would hope that local school districts would use the additional money to pass it on through property tax relief for those hurting most economically from the virus scare.
Considering that overall, Nebraskans have already invested in the technology needed for remote education opportunities in their schools, school budgets should have decreased expenditures due to the physical closing of school buildings. Savings should be garnered from unused substitute teachers, out-of-school-activities, utility bills, custodial cost, employee travel expenses, etc. Those unused tax dollars should be able to offset expenses in next year’s budgets. Therefore, I plan to look at legislation that transfer this newfound federal money into local property tax relief.
A freedom loving society needs a strong government infrastructure. Those public servants working for us need to be supported, but the opposite is true too. This is not the time for local elected boards to be passing out pay raises, benefit increases or adding programs. This is a time for government to be seen doing its job and not heard. Unlike some on the national and state level who beat their chest and point to themselves, I have been impressed at the quiet dedication and hard work put in by local public service employees, medical professionals, senior living facility workers and public safety personnel.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.
With the advent of the COVID-19 virus we have been given a reminder that humans share this world with other lifeforms. We are a global economy and less than six months ago, what was a virus infection transferred to a human from an animal being slaughtered for food in a street market in Wuhan, China has now changed our lives in Lincoln County.
Projections are for Nebraska to experience a 30% or higher infection rate, with most of those infected experiencing symptoms anywhere from cold symptoms to a bad case of the flu.
The fear is for the 5-10% of our neighbors and loved ones with compromised immune systems due to existing diseases or prior medical treatment and for those over 65 years of age who may have deteriorating immune systems. They face up to a 15% mortality rate. Our best hope to minimize the effects of COVID-19 may be found with existing drugs, mainly one presently used for malaria. Its ability to combat symptoms of malaria may also be effective against COVID-19. Its use could allow the immune systems of those who may have severe symptoms the time needed to win the battle against the virus. If we can control the symptoms, we can greatly reduce those who need to be hospitalized. Making those drugs available is in the hands of the federal government.
On Wednesday the Legislature gave the Governor access to up to $83,619,600, approximately 13% of our expected cash reserve funds. He had asked for $58,619,600 for a detailed list of needs his advisors recommended. Wisely, Speaker Jim Scheer made the decision to add another $25 million to the authorization to be used in the event the situation calls for more expenditure. We are working on a very short timetable and he already had concerns of being able to convene the 33 senators necessary to pass the emergency designation for LB 1198. There is a possibility the Legislature would not be able to convene quickly in the future with the votes necessary to authorize additional funds.
The legislation transferred the emergency funding to the Governor’s Military Department’s (National Guard) Program 191-Governor’s Emergency Program-COVID-19, with the bulk of the funds ($38.2 million) going to purchases of Personal Protective Equipment and other supplies and dispersal of those supplies to local medical personnel and first responders. We must keep those individuals healthy as they interact with those infected by the virus. Funds will also be available for emergency staffing needs of local health departments.
Other uses of the emergency funds are $4.04 million for additional DHHS staffing expenditures and $13 million for overtime and additional staff for Veterans Hospitals and DHHS Care Facilities. The University of Nebraska Medical Center will receive $3.1 million to purchase robotic equipment and other supplies and to hire personnel to conduct COVID-19 laboratory testing for Nebraska. We need to pray that things go well and that the Governor will not need the additional funds.
Nebraskans have been proactive in slowing down the spread of the disease. As individuals, we should continue to keep a reasonable space between each other, emphasize personal hygiene and commit to calling or emailing our isolated friends and relatives. We also must support our local businesses; the restaurant business and their employees are being hit hard. You may not be able to eat in their dining area, but drive-through and carry-out options are available.
In three or four weeks I plan to be back at the Legislature finishing up the last 17 days of the Session and voting for passage of LB1106 (property tax relief ), LB720 (economic development bill), LB147 (our teacher/student protection bill) and LB1021 (our Micro-TIF redevelopment plan for small towns). I also plan to be listening to my favorite sport, baseball, on the radio; eating in my favorite restaurants (of which I have many); visiting friends (of which I could always use more); and thanking God that His will was done.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: email@example.com or 402-471-2729
CDC Coronavirus updates: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services Coronavirus updates: http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx
Nebraska Department of Education Coronavirus resources: https://www.education.ne.gov/publichealth/resources/
Lincoln County Health Department contact information:
NOTE: After each county name is the county seat.
As seen in the Midlands Voices section of the January 12, 2020 Edition of the Omaha World Herald.
When parents drop off their children at the front doors of a public school, they are entrusting the custodial care of a vulnerable member of their family to our public school employees. We all expect that our children’s physical safety is their top priority. We want school employees to be assured that they can intervene to protect our children from doing harm to themselves or others and also be able to protect themselves. With those expectations should come freedom from fear of liability or loss of employment if they do so in a safe and reasonable manner.
In America, parents have traditionally expected that if their child or other students misbehave, the teacher has the authority to control the learning environment by temporarily removing a student from the classroom.
Parents understand that their child or other children may have special needs. No one disagrees that before the early 1990s and the enactment of federal laws to protect these children, they were treated unfairly in school discipline policies. These children now have Individualized Education Programs that include a process on how the student’s behavior is handled when or if they disrupt the class. Those plans must take precedence over any school policy on removing a disruptive student from the classroom.
To address these concerns, members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Education Committee have sought input from classroom educators, administrators and school board organizations, as well as advocates for children with special needs. The result is Legislative Bill 147 as amended by AM 1803. Not all interested parties are happy with the final result, but those organizations to whom we entrust the care of children — administrators, teachers and school boards — are in full support.
AM 1803 defines what Nebraskans expect all of our school employees to do at that moment in time when violence is happening. It further defines the authority we give our teachers to manage the learning environment in their classrooms, while fully protecting the rights of children with disabilities. The legislation we are proposing is a common-sense approach to classroom behavioral issues.
The legislation clearly states that school personnel may use reasonable physical intervention to safely manage the behavior of a student when protecting the student, other students, school personnel or any other person from physical injury. They can physically intervene to secure property if the possession of such property poses a threat of harm to the student or others.
The legislation clarifies that physical intervention cannot be used to inflict bodily pain as penalty for disapproved behavior, and it requires parental notification when physical intervention was used to control their child’s behavior.
It assures all school employees and school districts that when they act reasonably to protect others, they will not be in danger of unwarranted legal or job-threatening repercussions.
It requires school districts to have a policy on how and when a student can be removed from a classroom, including the mandate that students be returned to an orderly classroom learning environment as soon as possible. The policy must be proactive, instructive and restorative, and involve communication among administrators, teachers, students and parents.
This bill is a needed first step to fixing a festering problem that is holding back maximum educational opportunities for all children who attend our public schools, but more is needed. To further improve the learning environment in our classrooms, there will be related legislation introduced this session proposing behavioral awareness, physical intervention and de-escalation training that shall be given to all school employees. There will also be proposed legislation on how the state will aid local school districts in paying for the training.
The goals are safety first, maximizing learning time in the classroom and teaching children the expected behavioral boundaries of a civilized society that will follow them into the workforce and their private lives. Simply put, we need to make sure “teachers can teach.”
Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 42nd legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Mike Groene
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