March is Women’s History Month. This update highlights some of the women leaders, past and present, that have inspired us and provide us with examples of how to make a difference.
On the north side of the State Capitol Building is an engraving that reads in part, “Honor to the pioneers who broke the sods that men to come might live.” One of these early yet seldom remembered pioneers was Mary Meyer. Mary was not only the first woman homesteader in Nebraska, but recent research suggests she was the first woman homesteader in the entire nation. She took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862, and on January 20, 1863, she filed claim on a parcel of land near modern-day Beatrice. Mary was the first of many women who came on their own or with children to settle on the plains. Research by historians at the National Homestead Monument indicates that nearly a quarter of Nebraska’s early homesteaders were women. It is Mary Meyer, and women like her, who truly broke the sods so that men and women alike could settle in our great state.
Mary Meyer (Photo Courtesy of Robert Graff)
Born in 1878, Grace Abbott, a Grand Island native, devoted her life to the betterment of women and children across the nation. Concerned about the low pay and long hours required of children who worked in factories, Abbot became a leader in the fight for federal legislation protecting children’s rights. As a result of her efforts, the Sheppard-Towner Act was passed, which addressed and corrected the inadequate medical care available to women and children. In 1921, President Warren Harding appointed Abbott head of the Children’s Bureau in the Department of Labor, a position she held until 1934. Following her death in 1939, she was named one of “America’s Most Distinguished Women” by a leading women’s magazine of the time. She was later inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1976.
Grace Abbott (Photo Courtesy of U.S. DHHS)
Margaretta Shaw Stewart Dietrich was originally born and raised in Pennsylvania, but made Hastings, Nebraska her home following her marriage to former Nebraska Governor and United States Senator Charles H. Dietrich. Mrs. Dietrich was heavily involved with the advancement of the suffrage movement in the state. She become the first president of the Nebraska League of Women Voters in 1920. She subsequently served five years as one of the regional directors on the board of the National League of Women Voters between 1921 and 1926. Her influence enabled the League to become active in promoting legislation that improved the welfare of women and children, secured independent citizenship for married women, and regulated child labor.
Margaretta Dietrich (Photo Courtesy of BrynMawr.Edu)
Currently ten of the forty-nine members of the Unicameral are women. My female colleagues serve in leadership positions on Education, Health and Human Services, and Transportation and Telecommunication committees.
In 2012, State Senator Sara Howard was elected to represent District 09 in Omaha, the seat previously filled by her mother Senator Gwen Howard, marking the first mother-daughter legacy in the Nebraska Unicameral. In that same year, former State Senator Deb Fischer became Nebraska’s first female United States Senator following her defeat of Bob Kerry in the 2012 General Election.
This Week in Urban Affairs
In addition to senator and committee priority bills, the Speaker of the Legislature can designate an additional 25 bills each session as speaker priority bills. Among the bills designated as a speaker priority this session was LB 540, a bill that I introduced as Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee to update the state building code.
Like most states, Nebraska has adopted as its state building code a series of model codes published by the International Codes Council, a national association that develops model building codes and standards. The current state building code consists of three such model codes: 1) the International Building Code, or IBC, which covers all new construction except one- and two-family dwellings; 2) the International Residential Code, or IRC, which covers new construction of one- and two-family dwellings; and 3) the International Existing Building Code, or IEBC, which covers repair, alteration, addition, and change of occupancy for existing buildings. New editions of these codes are published every three years, and the state has currently adopted the 2009 versions of the codes, with the exception of the residential fire sprinkler mandate in the IRC.
LB 540 would update the state building code by adopting the 2012 versions of the IBC, IRC, and IEBC, with two exceptions. First, the bill would not adopt provisions in the 2012 IBC and IRC which correspond with the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), as the current state energy code is the 2009 IECC.
Second, LB 540 would not adopt the residential fire sprinkler mandate in the 2012 IRC. Under current law, the state building code does not include the fire sprinkler mandate, but political subdivisions have the ability to “opt in” to the fire sprinkler mandate. LB 540 would retain this “opt in” option for local governments.
All Day Floor Debate Begins Next Week
Friday was the 49th day of the legislative session. It also marked the end of public hearings for this session. Beginning Monday, the Legislature will start all day floor debate. The Legislature starts at 10:00 AM during the first day of the work week. All other days legislative proceedings begin at 9:00 AM. For the next two weeks, the Legislature will adjourn around 5 PM each day, with the exception of the last workday of the week, when the Legislature will work through the lunch hour and adjourn in the early to mid-afternoon. As we get further and further into session, the work days will get longer and longer. Last year, there were several late nights in which the Legislature adjourned after 10:00 PM.
In addition to priority bills, we will soon begin debate on the budget. The Appropriations Committee has until the 70th day of session during a long session (40th day in a short session) to place budgets bills on General File. As Appropriations hearings come to a close this week, the committee will spend the next two weeks putting together its final budget proposal for the full body’s consideration.
In the Community
On Thursday, March 26, Bellevue University will hold a career fair with representation from over 50 metro employers. The event is open to the public and will be held in the John B. Muller Administrative Services Building from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM.
Also on Thursday, March 26, the Bellevue Police Department will host a Community Neighborhood Watch Meeting. All those interested currently in a neighborhood watch group, interested in joining or starting a group, or learning more information about neighborhood watch programs in Bellevue are encouraged to attend. The meeting will run from 6:30-8:00 PM in Classroom B of the Bellevue Police Department, 1510 Wall Street.