Welcome

January 7th, 2015

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 45th 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.

Sincerely,
Sen. Sue Crawford

Personal Priority Bill Passes on a 44-2 Vote, Goes to Governor Ricketts for His Signature

May 22nd, 2015

On Thursday, the Legislature voted 44-2 to pass LB 390, my personal priority bill for this session.  LB 390 allows patients with intractable epilepsy to access low-THC cannabidiol oil under the supervision of a neurologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  In April, UNMC learned that they will be able to access plant-based pharmaceutical grade CBD that has been through the first phase of FDA trials.  UNMC is also in early discussions with another CBD study option going through FDA trials.  So, the pilot study can proceed to offer much needed treatment to these children and much needed advances in research while remaining compliant with federal research and drug regulations. Several clinical trials and research indicates CBD shows promise in its ability to treat intractable epilepsy, particularly in children.  The bill represents two years of work on this issue.  I am pleased the bill received such strong support from my colleagues and I look forward to Governor Ricketts signing LB 390 into law.  

 

Update on 2015 Crawford Bills

Tuesday marks Day 86 of our 90 day session.  With session drawing to a close, I thought I would update you on the status of the bills I introduced this session.  Because this is the first year of our two year legislative cycle, all bills that are not passed, indefinitely postponed, or bracketed carry over into the next session beginning January 2016.  

When we return next January, we begin with debate of bills that got out of committee the year before but did not receive a priority and did not get heard before the Legislature turned to priority bills.  I have one bill in this category, LB 459.  This bill provides protections for child victims and witnesses in criminal cases who have been interviewed on tape by child advocate experts.  The bill requires a higher standard for allowing pre-trial investigatory depositions and establishes a framework for protective measures for the children when such a deposition is necessary.

I am also making a push to encourage the Government Committee to advance LB 166 out of committee before session ends so it could be heard next year.  LB 166 brings additional transparency and accountability to campaign funds in Nebraska.  Current law does not provide a second check against fraud using campaign funds.  LB 166 provides an important tool to ensure campaign funds are represented truthfully and used as reported by candidates.  There have been several high profile cases over the past decade in which campaign funds were misused for gambling, tattoos and dating services which were only discovered through other investigations.  Nebraska’s Accountability and Disclosure Commission serves as Nebraska’s election and campaign watchdog.  However, they lack the tools to protect donors from potential abuse of campaign funds.  

LB 166 had no opposition at the bill’s hearing and is supported by Common Cause Nebraska,, the bi-partisan Accountability and Disclosure Commission, League of Women Voters of Lincoln and Lancaster County, and the editorial boards of the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald. If this is an issue you would like to see debated on the floor of the Legislature next year, I encourage you to email the members of the Government Committee to encourage them to vote LB 166 out of committee this year.  Their email addresses are:

Senator John Murante, chair: jmurante@leg.ne.gov

Senator Tommy Garrett: tgarrett@leg.ne.gov

Senator Dave Bloomfield: dbloomfield@leg.ne.gov

Senator Joni Craighead: jcraighead@leg.ne.gov

Senator Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov

Senator Matt Hansen: mhansen@leg.ne.gov

Senator Tyson Larson: tlarson@leg.ne.gov

Senator Beau McCoy: bmccoy@leg.ne.gov

 

2015 Crawford Non-Urban Affairs Legislation

Bill Number

Short Description

Status

LB107

Eliminate integrated agreements for nurse practitioners. This bill reduces unnecessary government regulation and improves access to healthcare for Nebraskans, particularly in rural areas.

LAW

LB109

Change residency requirements for veterans attending a public college or university to bring a bill we passed last year, LB 740, in compliance with new federal law.

LAW

LB219

Adopt the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act to create a legal process for military families with shared custody during a deployment.

LAW

LB146

Provide for disposition of unclaimed cremated remains in a veteran cemetery. LB146 allows veteran service organizations like Missing in America Project to work with funeral directors to identify and inter unclaimed cremated remains of veterans.

LAW

LB272

Create a voluntary veterans preference in private employment for veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans.

LAW

LB390

Create the Medical Cannabidiol Pilot Study at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for individuals with intractable epilepsy.

Passed 44-2; Awaiting Governor’s signature

LB459

Protects child witnesses during pre-trial depositions by creating a process for judges to consider protective orders to protect the child from emotional harm, undue influence or intimidation.

General File

LB108

Appropriate funds to the University of Nebraska to fund behavioral health internships for master’s level marriage and family therapists, social workers, and professional counselors who work in rural or underserved areas.

In Committee

LB147

Streamlines the administration of several public assistance programs, reducing unnecessary paperwork and staff time spent on unnecessary verifications.

In Committee

LB148

Provide for medical assistance program coverage for former foster youth who age out of the foster care system and move to Nebraska for school or work.

In Committee

LB163

Create an emergency management registry to provide additional tools for 9-1-1 operators, emergency managers, law enforcement, and first responders during an emergency.

In Committee

LB166

Changes provisions of Nebraska’s campaign finance laws including prohibiting candidates from personal loans with campaign funds and adding the possibility of restitution if someone violates the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Act.

In Committee

LB267

Change the income tax exemption for military retirement income.

In Committee

LB391

Restores a commission received by county for the collection of motor vehicles sales tax to address an unfunded mandate to counties. The higher commission better reflects the cost to counties for performing this service for the state.

In Committee

LB392

Eliminates the common levy for learning community schools and unfreezes learning community schools boundaries. This is a very important economic development issue facing my district and Sarpy County.

In Committee

 

Update on 2015 Urban Affairs Bills

Of the twenty bills that were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, eleven have been signed into law.  A twelfth, LB 455, was passed 46-0 by the Legislature this week and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

This session, including committee-introduced legislation, I introduced seven bills in the Urban Affairs Committee.  Six of the seven have already been signed into law, while the seventh, LB 540, advanced to Select File this week.  LB 540, which has been designated as a Speaker priority bill, would update the state building code.

 

Bill #

Introducer

One-liner

Status

LB 116

Haar

Change election procedures and membership for certain sanitary and improvement district boards of trustees

LAW

LB 131

Craighead

Change provisions relating to annexation and prohibit sanitary and improvement districts from spending certain assets

General File

LB 149

Urban Affairs Committee

Change provisions relating to election procedures for sanitary and improvement districts

LAW

LB 150

Urban Affairs Committee

Redefine terms under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act

LAW

LB 151

Urban Affairs Committee

Provide for a person designated to accept city or village notices in cases or mortgaged property or trust deed default

LAW

LB 152[1]

Urban Affairs Committee

Authorize cities and villages to borrow from state-chartered or federally-chartered financial institutions as prescribed

LAW

LB 168

Mello

Authorize expansion of existing business improvement districts

LAW

LB 197

Scheer

Provide additional powers to certain sanitary and improvement districts

LAW

LB 238

Groene

Change provisions relating to tax-increment financing under the Community Development Law

In Committee

LB 266

Crawford

Change provisions relating to jurisdiction for municipalities to enforce ordinances

LAW

LB 295

Scheer

Require municipalities to have county approval before enforcing ordinances in the extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction

General File

LB 300

Schumacher

Change provisions relating to enforcement of ordinances by sanitary and improvement districts

In Committee

LB 304

Hansen

Adopt the Municipal Custodianship for Dissolved Homeowners Associations Act

LAW

LB 324[2]

McCollister

Provide authority to sanitary and improvement districts to contract for solid waste collection services

LAW

LB 378

Groene

Change requirements for voter approval of borrowing money for public improvements by a first-class city

General File

LB 420

Crawford

Require acknowledgments from purchasers of real estate in a sanitary and improvement district

LAW

LB 445

Groene

Authorize audits of redevelopment plans that use tax-increment financing

In Committee

LB 455

Gloor

Change provisions relating to employment of a full-time fire chief by cities of the first class

Passed 46-0; Awaiting Governor’s signature

LB 540[3]

Crawford

Adopt updated international building code standards

Select File

LB 596

Davis

Change the Community Development Law and create the Tax-Increment Financing Division of the Auditor of Public Accounts

In Committee

 

Death Penalty Repeal Passed by the Legislature, Governor Ricketts Veto Promised

As a senator, my support for LB 268 is deeply rooted in my values: as a person of faith and as a pro-life legislator.  For me, this vote is a matter of conscience.  However, as a senator who cares deeply about effective policy, my support for LB 268 is also rooted in the knowledge that the death penalty simply does not work. The evidence against the death penalty’s effectiveness and the evidence of the negative consequences of the death penalty continue to accumulate year after year.

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Photo taken during Final Reading debate on LB 268 Credit: Nebraska Unicameral Information Office

Recent tragedies in the Omaha area show us in painful terms that Nebraska’s death penalty system is broken and even with a death penalty on the books, it does not deter those who wish to do others harm.  Nor is the death penalty necessary to protect society and ensure these horrible murderers never kill again. Since 1991, states with the death penalty have had consistently higher murder rates than states without the death penalty.  A review of Nebraska’s neighboring states show similar trends.  The death penalty does not deter violence against our law enforcement either.  Research shows that law enforcement deaths by homicide went down in all but one state (New York) after those states ended the death penalty.  The states where the most law enforcement deaths have occurred have been states with the death penalty.  What’s more, a review of Bureau of Justice statistics show that prison murder deaths in states with the death penalty are four times higher than in states without the death penalty.   The death penalty, clearly, does not improve public safety or protect law enforcement officers from being killed.

This vote was not one I took lightly.  While we may respectfully disagree on this issue or a variety of issues before the Legislature, please know that I considered this vote very carefully, spoke with many constituents and remain committed to serving Nebraska the best way I know how.   

 

Death Penalty Repeal Survives Filibuster and Advances to Third Round of Debate

May 15th, 2015


LB 599 Defeated on Final Reading

On Friday, the Legislature debated LB 599 on Final Reading.  LB 599 would have allowed employers to pay young workers under the age of 18 a lower minimum wage than other workers.  Because LB 599 amends a ballot initiative, it required 33 votes for passage.  LB 599 did not acquire the needed 33 votes and therefore is dead for the year.  I opposed LB 599 because it subverted the will of the people who spoke clearly on this issue in November when they overwhelmingly approved a higher minimum wage for all workers.     

 

Legislature Votes to Invoke Cloture on LB 268

Also on Friday, the Legislature debated LB 268, a bill to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.  LB 268 faced a filibuster during the second round of debate.  By legislative rule, it takes 33 votes to invoke cloture and cease debate.  If a bill fails to gain enough votes for cloture, the bill is dead for the year.  The Legislature voted 34-14 to cease debate and invoke cloture on LB 268.  The bill advanced to Final Reading on a 30-16 vote.  I joined my colleagues in supporting the motion to invoke cloture and to advance the bill on General and Select File.  

 

Bill to Grant Driver’s Licenses to DREAMers Advances to Second Round of Debate

On Thursday morning, the Legislature advanced LB 623, a bill to allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) youth, often referred to as DREAMers to receive Nebraska driver’s licenses.  Currently, Nebraska is the only state in the country that does not allow DREAMers to obtain a driver’s license.  DACA youth must have entered the United States before they were the age of 16 and prior to June 15, 2012.  They must also be currently enrolled in school, received a high school diploma or an honorable discharge from the US Coast Guard or Armed Forces and cannot be convicted of a felony or pose a threat to national security or public safety.  

LB 623 is supported by a broad coalition including Nebraska Cattlemen Association, Nebraska Restaurant Association, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Heartland Workers Center, and the League of Women Voters of Lincoln/Lancaster County.  I joined 38 other senators in supporting the bill to allow these young Nebraskans, many of whom have spent a majority of their lives in Nebraska, to contribute to our economy and our communities.    

 

LB 605 Advances with Additional Provisions for Counties

On Tuesday, the Legislature advanced LB 605 to Final Reading.  As I mentioned in previous updates, LB 605 makes important changes to our criminal justice statutes based on the recommendations of the Council of State Governments and the Nebraska Justice Reinvestment working group.  This working group consisted of members from the legislative, executive and judicial branches.  

Since the bill was heard on General File in mid-April, I have worked extensively with Senator Mello, the bill’s introducer, and other senators involved in the working group to reduce the fiscal impact of LB 605 on counties. AM 1610 represented some of this work.  The amendment clarifies that the special investigative committee created under the bill will also examine county costs as part of its charge.  It also corrects some language Sarpy, Douglas and Lancaster counties have found problematic based on their experiences with recent juvenile justice reforms.   I appreciate Senator Mello’s leadership on this issue and his willingness to work with me on behalf of Sarpy County and other counties across the state.  I support LB 605 and look forward to voting for the bill when it comes up again on Final Reading.

 

Interim Studies Introduced

The deadline to introduce interim studies was Thursday at adjournment.  Per legislative rule, senators have until Day 80 to introduce interim study resolutions.  These resolutions are in-depth policy analyses conducted by senators and legislative staff.   Committees will meet to prioritize interim study resolutions before the end of session to determine which studies will receive a hearing.  Below are a few interim studies I introduced this session.  A complete list of interim studies can be found here: [click].

LR 185: Examines barriers to credentialing for licensed mental health practitioners, psychiatric nurse practitioners and psychiatrists who have completed their training and are provisionally licensed.

LR 222: Studies issues related to family and medical leave.  Specifically, the study will examine the current availability of paid and unpaid family and medical leave in Nebraska as well as policies in other states that establish or encourage paid family and medical leave.

LR 223: Evaluates strategies and ideas to ensure more adults who complete basic adult education move onto and complete postsecondary education.   

Bill to Facilitate Transition from Military to Career License Sent to the Governor

May 8th, 2015

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On Thursday, the Legislature passed 16 bills on Final Reading.  One of these bills, LB 264, introduced by Senator Adam Morfeld, addresses challenges veterans face in translating military education, training or experience into a career license credential in the health professions.  LB 264 directs the Department of Health and Human Services to accept education, training or service of a military veteran if the training is substantially similar to the education required for the credential. Currently, Nebraska is the only state without a provision for career licensure for separating service members.  This is an initiative supported by the Department of Defense and an important protection needed for our military and veteran families.

Also included in these bills is LB 240 which eliminates the sunset provision for the Behavioral Health Screening and Referral Pilot Program.  In 2013, LB 556 established this pilot program to incorporate behavioral health into primary care settings.  Primary care is an ideal setting for behavioral health treatment for several reasons.  One, it has the potential to meet people where they are.  80% of people with a behavioral health disorder will see a primary care provider at least once a year.  Two, it can help reduce stigma.  When a patient seeks behavioral health treatment in a primary care setting, no one knows if you are visiting your primary care provider for a recent cold or depression.  Three, it can help cut down on missed referrals.  Embedding a behavioral health practitioner in primary care creates a warm hand-off between providers, increasing the number of successful referrals from 30-50% to an average of 85%.  LB 240 passed on a 36-9 vote.       

 

Update on LB 89

Last week’s update highlighted LB 89, a bill to help families meet the basic needs of their families by increasing ADC payments for the first time in nearly 30 years.  Governor Ricketts vetoed LB 89 last week; however, since that time, Governor Ricketts and Senator Campbell, the bill’s introducer, worked together on a compromise bill.  The compromise was introduced as AM1551 to LB 607, which is currently on General File with a Speaker priority.  AM1551 replaces the content of LB 607 with the negotiated compromise.  Under the amendment, Nebraska’s poorest families will receive an additional $72 a month, on average, in ADC payments.  These payments will also be adjusted for inflation moving forward.  

Nebraska has built up a cash reserve in its public assistance (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF) program over the past several years.  This reserve built up when the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services received more TANF federal funds than they expended.  These funds are earmarked through federal rules and can only be used for specific purposes.  For example, LB 368, a bill I introduced during the 2013 session, appropriated $4 million from this cash fund to create a subsidized employment program for low-income workers now known as GoodHire.  AM1551 to LB 607 taps this cash reserve and ensures that this increase for our poorest families will not require state funds until 2025.   I appreciate the hard work and collaboration by Senator Campbell and Governor Ricketts in the past few days and look forward to supporting AM1551 and LB 607 on the floor.

 

Debate on Medical Marijuana Begins

On Thursday, debate began on LB 643, introduced by Senator Garrett.  As amended, LB 643 would adopt a state medical marijuana law modeled after Minnesota.  The Minnesota law passed last year and officials there expect to begin dispensing marijuana products to registered patients later this summer.  

The compelling story of Charlotte’s Web and Colorado medical refugees has been a part of debate over legalization in many states.  However, one of the challenges of any state legalization policy is that a single state cannot legalize the transportation of product, like Charlotte’s Web, across state lines.  A federal bill to reschedule this substance could and Representative Fortenberry and Representative Ashford have expressed support for this federal policy.

I have been clear from the beginning of my work to identify options for families with children with intractable epilepsy that I was not supporting state legalization of medical marijuana more broadly.  While LB 643 contains restrictions that limit the uses and forms of marijuana, it is still a broader state legalization policy and I cannot support it.  Debate on LB 643 will likely continue on Monday.

Statement on LB643

May 7th, 2015

I will not be voting for LB 643.  As I have stated before, I am not supporting state-level legalization of medical marijuana.  While the committee amendment adopts a fairly narrow approach, I still maintain that efforts to change medical research and drug scheduling to help those who could benefit from cannabis substances should occur at the federal level.

LB 643 has been referred to as the Compassionate Care Act.  If we were voting today on whether we have compassion for Nebraskans who suffer from epilepsy, cancer and other conditions, I hope that we would all vote green.  If we were voting today on whether we feel that the federal laws on marijuana and the war on drugs have been counter-productive and have caused undue harm and suffering, then probably many of us would vote green.  The public polling that shows strong support for legalizing medical marijuana shows a great deal of sympathy for these two points.

However, a vote on LB 643 is not just an expression of compassion or an expression of frustration with federal drug laws.  A vote for LB 643 is a vote to authorize the Division of Public Health in the Department of Health and Human Services to create and regulate a medical marijuana industry in the state and to authorize it to recommend types of cannabis and dosages for Nebraska patients among other things.  A vote for LB 643 is a vote for the details in AM 1254.

This bill does not allow families to go to Colorado and purchase Charlotte’s Web or order it online.  If you found the story of Charlotte’s Web and Colorado medical refugees compelling and you are planning to vote for this bill because you want families with children with intractable epilepsy to have access to Charlotte’s Web in Nebraska, I urge you to read the details of the bill.

To be clear, my bill, LB 390, which we will debate later, also does not allow Nebraska parents to go to Colorado or to go online and purchase Charlotte’s Web.  It simply creates a pilot project to provide research and compassionate care for as many patients as possible to get us through a time when we hope to see changes in federal cannabis rescheduling and in available FDA approved medications for epilepsy.  It was never my intention for work on the CBD research project to be a stepping stone for state legalization of marijuana and I have made that clear from the beginning.

I have been passionate about legalizing hemp, which I hoped we could use not only as an agribusiness, but as a stepping stone for a CBD industry and CBD access in our state. I had hoped that Sen. Wallman’s bill last year could have gotten us well down that road.  However, it was amended to a restrictive federally compliant version due to Judiciary Committee members’ concerns about remaining consistent with federal law and the Supremacy Clause.

The experience in Iowa from their straight CBD legalization bill now shows that this approach would not have been sufficient.  The bill that passed there last year to decriminalize the possession of CBD for use for patients with intractable epilepsy does not allow those parents to go to Colorado or to go online to get Charlotte’s Web for their kids – much to the bitter disappointment of the parents who worked so hard to get that law passed.  Neither the Federal Justice Department memo nor recent Congressional action to restrict funding for prosecution legalize the transport or sale of cannabis across state lines.

The policy pathway to allow parents to access CBD products and to open the research of medical uses of CBD and other cannabis components in this country is to pass Federal laws or regulations to reschedule CBD and/or other cannabis more broadly.  I have been engaged in pushing for federal rescheduling or legalization of CBD as well.  When I say that this problem needs to be solved at the federal level, I am not saying that to pass the buck.  I am not saying that because I have no compassion for these families that are suffering.  I say this because, based on my two years of studying this issue, it is what I have come to believe is true.  Above and beyond the problems with getting supply across state lines, state-level solutions leave families vulnerable should they have to move, visit family members in another state, or should they find themselves in a federal facility or a hospital or other facility that must comply with federal rules.

I know it is frustrating to see our Congress so dysfunctional, but we cannot just throw up our hands and give up on ever having a functional national government again.  There are some problems that need to be solved at the national level, so we have to all work to make sure that we can get things done in Congress.  On this front, there is clear hope.  Rep. Fortenberry and Rep. Ashford have both expressed support of a bill in Congress to reschedule CBD.   That is a bi-partisan commitment of two out of our three Congressional delegates.  Another hopeful sign at the federal level is that the FDA recently expedited open label access to a pharmaceutical version of CBD to allow broader compassionate use and study.   I will continue to push for federal changes in the scheduling of CBD and for federal changes in our cannabis scheduling and medical research laws but I will not be voting for LB 643.

LB 89 Vetoed by Governor Ricketts

May 1st, 2015

On Wednesday night, Governor Ricketts issued his second veto and his first substantive veto of the session when he vetoed LB 89.  Earlier this session, Governor Ricketts vetoed a bill at the request of Speaker Hadley, the bill’s introducer because of a mistake in the bill.   LB 89 increases ADC payments for the first time in nearly 30 years, helping families meet the basic needs of their families and reducing the risk of involvement in the child welfare system.  According to the Voices for Children’s Kids Count report, physical neglect made up 83% of all substantiated maltreatment cases in 2013–a percentage that is higher than the national average and greater than all other types of maltreatment combined.  There was no opposition at the hearing, not even from the Ricketts administration. There were nine proponents, including the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference only takes positions on bills when all 3 bishops in Nebraska agree.  This year the Nebraska Catholic Conference testified in support of 8 pieces of legislation.  Of these bills, three advanced to the floor for debate: LB 89LB 268, and LB 623.  LB 268 repeals the death penalty and replaces the death penalty as a sentence with life without possibility of parole.  LB 623 grants driver licenses and state ID cards for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) youth, otherwise known as DREAMers.  To view the Catholic Conference’s position on LB 89 or any of these other bills, please visit their website [Click HERE].

cobbs prayer.jpg

On Tuesday, Pastor Char Cobbs of New Beginnings Worship Center in Bellevue gave the opening prayer which included a moment of silence for workers killed or injured on the job and their families.  

 

The Legislature Advances Biennial Budget Bills to Second Round Debate

This week, the Legislature began debate on the biennial budget bills.  The budget growth in the Appropriations Committee’s proposal is 3.1% over the next biennium, which is the third lowest in the last 15 biennial budgets.  There are many components to these budget bills; however, some of the programs of interest include fully funding the school funding formula, known as TEEOSA; increased funding for ACE scholarships; and funding for early childhood and high ability learners programs.  It also appropriates funding for additional behavioral health providers and programming within the Department of Correctional Services.  I hope this budget represents the beginning of substantial improvements in mental health treatment and programming in our state prisons.

 

Consent Calendar Bills Considered

On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced bills placed on the consent calendar.  As I have mentioned in previous updates, consent calendar is a process to consider technical or simple, non-controversial bills.  The Speaker selected 36 bills for consent calendar this year, including one of my bills, LB 541.  LB 541 brings the retention of expired state contracts posted on the state contract website created by the Taxpayer Transparency Act in line with the state agency retention schedule of 5 years post-expiration.  In 2013, I introduced and prioritized LB 429 to create the state contract website (Click HERE to view) to bring additional transparency to the state contract process.  Since its launch this past July, over 2,000 users have visited the website, viewing over 55,000 pages of contracts.  

LB 479LB 296 and LB 511 were also included in the 36 consent calendar bills.  LB 479 is an example of a technical change-type of consent calendar material.  LB 479, introduced by Senator Bloomfield, strikes language limiting the creation of memorials, statues or monuments commemorating the service of our country’s armed forces to certain named conflicts.  LB 296, introduced by Senator Kolterman at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, brings Nebraska into compliance with new federal law by ensuring that when a child is removed from their home by child protective services, the parents of any siblings are notified by the Department.  LB 511, introduced by Senator Tanya Cook, provides that our Nebraska schools establish a return to learn protocol for students returning to school after being treated for pediatric cancer.  This return to learn protocol may recognize that informal or formal accommodations or modifications may be needed upon the student’s return.  

 

LB 599 Survives Filibuster, Advances to Third and Final Round of Consideration

Late Wednesday night, LB 599 survived a filibuster on a 33-14 vote and advanced to Final Reading.  Because the bill amends a ballot initiative passed by the people of Nebraska, LB 599 will require 33 votes for passage on Final Reading.

A series of amendments were offered by both proponents and opponents of the bill during debate, several of which were adopted.  In its current form, LB 599 exempts young adults under the age of 18 who are not high school graduates and do not have dependent children from the new minimum wage law that received support from almost 60% of Nebraskans last November.  I continue to oppose LB 599 because the voters overwhelmingly supported increasing the minimum wage for all Nebraskans just months ago.  I also oppose LB 599 because it hurts working families who rely on their student’s income to make ends meet or to save for the rising costs of college.  I know that families in our district face these challenges.  I will continue to fight for these working families.  

 

Confirmation Hearings for DHHS CEO and Medicaid Director Held

Over the lunch hour on Thursday, the Health and Human Services Committee held confirmation hearings for the newly appointed CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, Courtney Phillips, and the new Director of the Division of Medicaid and Long Term Care, Calder Lynch.  Confirmation hearings are often a chance for the committee and agency leadership to discuss major issues and offer an opportunity for appointees to share their vision and goals for the agency.  

I was very pleased with the discussions we had with both Ms. Phillips and Mr. Lynch and am hopeful that both will be instrumental in changing and improving the culture and the functions at the Department of Health and Human Services.  I was especially encouraged with the commitment Courtney Phillips made to develop strategies to recruit and retain quality workforce within the Department, including looking into the overtime issue in our state facilities, including several veterans homes.  

Ms. Phillips was heavily involved in behavioral health policy in Louisiana.  I am looking forward to having her on board as Nebraska works toward integrating behavioral health.  Calder Lynch also emphasized a priority of integrating behavioral health and physical health services as well as working collaboratively with our health care providers.  

 

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I was happy to be a part of Green Bellevue’s Earth Day Celebration last Sunday.

 

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Thank you to Betz Elementary 4th graders for making the trip to the Capitol this week!

 

DNA Testing, Sanitary Improvement Districts, and Guardians ad Litem Bills Sent to the Governor

April 24th, 2015


Big group visiting from Chandler View! Thanks for your great questions!

DNA Testing, Sanitary Improvement Districts, and Guardians ad Litem Bills Sent to the Governor

On Thursday, the Legislature sent 9 bills to Governor Ricketts for his signature.  Included in this package were bills ranging from changing DNA testing requirements for criminal cases, revisions to sanitary improvement districts, and changes to our Guardian ad Litem program for children in the child welfare system.

LB 245, a bill introduced by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, clarifies when DNA testing is allowed under the DNA Testing Act.  Under the bill, DNA evidence that was not previously tested or evidence where current technology could provide more accurate results can be tested or retested if a court finds the evidence materially affects the rights of the defendant.  This bill is supported by the Nebraska Innocence Project and the Nebraska State Bar Association.  LB 245 passed on a 42-4 vote.

LB 324, a bill introduced by Senator John McCollister, would allow sanitary and improvement districts (SIDs) to contract for solid waste collection services, aka garbage collection.  An Urban Affairs Committee priority bill, the bill as amended also includes the provisions of two other SID-related bills heard by this committee this session, including LB 420, a bill I introduced to provide new homebuyers with information about SIDs when they purchase a home located in an SID.  LB 324 passed on a 44-3 vote.

LB 15, a bill introduced by Senator Bob Krist, makes changes to our Guardian ad Litem program to better protect our most vulnerable children.  This summer, the Health and Human Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee participated in a joint hearing on LR 542, an interim study resolution examining this program.  Children in the child welfare system are assigned a guardian ad litem, or GAL, to present their best interests during all abuse and neglect court hearings.  This GAL can be an attorney or a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, volunteer.  LB 15 codifies the Nebraska Supreme Court’s guidelines for GALs in statute.  It also requires more frequent contact between GALs and their juvenile clients and written reports by GALS     detailing the type and number of contacts with their child clients and their client’s foster parent.  LB 15 passed on a 47-0 vote.   

 

Budget Bills Debated Next Week as Late Nights Begin

Next Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee will report the main budget bills to General File for debate and the Legislature’s approval.  Earlier this week, the Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to advance the mainline budget bills.  Speaker Hadley intends to schedule first round debate for these bills next Thursday.  I look forward to reviewing the budget bills next week.

 

Consent Calendar

Next Wednesday, the Legislature will debate consent calendar bills.  Consent Calendar is a legislative process I featured in a previous update.  This process allows non-controversial bills, often with technical changes, to be debated in a streamlined fashion. The Speaker of the Legislature determines which bills are eligible for Consent Calendar.  This year’s Consent Calendar will be published following adjournment on April 28.  

This year I submitted a request for consideration of LB 541 as a Consent Calendar bill. LB 541 brings the retention of expired state contracts posted on the state contract website created by the Taxpayer Transparency Act in line with the state agency general retention schedule of 5 years post-expiration.  

Also included in the consent calendar is LB 455, a bill by Senator Mike Gloor that was heard by the Urban Affairs Committee earlier this session.  LB 455 would clarify that a fire chief employed by a city of the first class with a population over 37,500 shall be appointed under the Civil Service Act.  The City of Bellevue is one of just two cities of the first class that meets this population threshold.

 

Bill to Strengthen Human Trafficking Penalties Advance to Select File

On Wednesday afternoon, I joined 33 of my colleagues in supporting LB 294 to strengthen our human trafficking laws.  Sadly, Nebraska faces a growing problem with human trafficking due to its central location, convenience of I-80, and high profile events like the College World Series.  LB 294, as amended, increases penalties for perpetrators of human trafficking, including raising the maximum sentence for sex trafficking of a minor from 20 to 50 years.  LB 294 also allows, for the first time, victims of human trafficking to sue their captors in civil court.

Death Penalty Repeal Advances

April 20th, 2015

On Thursday, I spoke on the floor in support of LB 268, a bill to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life without possibility of parole.  During the debate, I felt compelled to share a personal story I heard earlier this week by Dr. Ashley Gage when she asked me to share it on the floor.  Dr. Gage is a professor of social work at the University of Nebraska-Kearney who visited the Legislature on Thursday as part of Nebraska Social Workers Legislative day.  

When Ashley was 18 years old, she found her father murdered in their front yard.  She called 911 and waited for the police to arrive.  Ashley shared with me how traumatizing it was to hear her voice on the 911 call played back during news coverage of her father’s death.  She further shared with me how grateful she was that her father’s murderer was convicted to a sentence of life without possibility of parole because she was able to have closure.  Ashley had to go through the trauma of the trial and her testimony once and only once.  She was able to go through the trial and move beyond the trial.  In death penalty trials, that is not the case.

After the trial, Ashley was able to get counseling at school and move on with her life.  She later received her masters degree in Social Work.  Now whenever she has a bad dream or gets a panic attack, she can check online to see that the murderer is still behind bars and she has closure.

In contrast is the experience of another murder victim: Miriam Thimm Kelle.  Miriam is the sister of James Thimm, who was tortured and killed by Michael Ryan in 1985.  At the time of the trial, her son was an infant.  Now, her son is a father himself and Michael Ryan still sits on death row.  With every appeal, Michael Ryan’s name and the horrors he committed on James resurface in the news, causing more pain and suffering for Miriam and the Thimm family.  

Closure remains very elusive for these victims’ families, as former Douglas County Prosecutor Brent Bloom recognized in a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2009.  Specifically, he stated “The existence of the death penalty…perpetuates a cruel illusion that they [murder victim families] may have vengeance, when in reality the system requires years of appeals, repeatedly putting the victims through the nightmare of their loved one’s death…My firsthand experience working with victims is that they simply want to be done with their tragedy.”

 

LB 599 Moves to Select File

On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 599 on a 32-11 vote.  LB 599 exempts high school students from the new minimum wage law, a law that 60% of Nebraska citizens supported at the polls this past November.  LB 599 was brought by rural grocery stores who said it was critical for them to stay in business.  There was discussion on the floor about whether it was appropriate for senators to vote to abridge something that was passed by a ballot initiative at just the last election.   I was one of the 11 who voted no on the advancement of LB 599 and stand in opposition to the bill.  I expect there to be robust debate on the Select File in the coming weeks.

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Speaking to fourth graders from Cedar Hollow Elementary in Grand Island.  I worked with the mom of one of the students to pass LB 219, a bill to create a process for military parents with shared custody when facing deployment.  

 

LB 605, Prison Reform Bills Advance

On Tuesday, a set of bills aimed at reforming Nebraska’s criminal justice system advanced from General File.  One bill,LB 605, was featured in a previous legislative update.  The genesis of LB 605 is the work of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to address the serious issues facing our state’s Department of Corrections including overcrowding and limited post-release supervision of individuals with serious felony offenses.  The Justice Reinvestment Working Group was chaired by the Governor, Speaker Adams, and Chief Justice Heavican and consisted of members of the Legislature, judicial branch, and local governments.  

I worked closely with Senator Mello and Senator Seiler, chair of the Judiciary committee, regarding LB 605 and its possible impact to counties.  Currently, there is a funding mechanism in LB 605, as amended, to cover potential cost shifts to counties.  It is important to me that the Legislature does not achieve prison reform and address prison overcrowding by shifting costs to counties.  My discussions with members of the Judiciary committee and Sarpy county officials will continue between now and Select File.

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Bill Henry stopped by my office to deliver a Missing In America flag. We were pleased to honor him with an honorary Admiralship in the Nebraska Navy in appreciation for his help passing LB146. This bill will help funeral homes work with veterans organizations to inter unclaimed remains of veterans for burial in a veteran cemetery. He has already visited over fifty funeral homes to get the work started. Thanks to Bill for all he has done and for the flag for our office!

Medicaid Redesign Bracketed

April 10th, 2015

On Wednesday afternoon, the Legislature voted 28-16 to bracket LB 472 until June 5, 2015, effectively killing the bill for this year.  LB 472, or the Medicaid Redesign Act, would have allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to work with the federal government to leverage existing tax dollars to create a Nebraska-specific plan for better, cost-effective care while closing the coverage gap, providing health insurance for thousands of working Nebraskans who are currently without health insurance.  According to a recent University of Nebraska-Kearney study, between now and 2020, LB 472 would generate almost $175 million in revenue for the state of Nebraska, which pays for the share of the state’s investment three times over.  New Jersey and Kentucky, two states that have leveraged these federal dollars, have seen dramatic decreases in uncompensated care costs.  During a recent town hall event, Governor Chris Christie shared “Expanding Medicaid was the right decision for New Jersey.  It’s helping to save us money.  Our state taxpayers are seeing more federal dollars and we’ve also added more people covered so they don’t go for their primary care in a hospital emergency room.”

Ultimately, the failure of LB 472 is most tragic for the 50,000 to 70,000 Nebraskans, including many small business owners, self-employed people and young entrepreneurs who continue to face the threat of a health condition or accident with no health insurance.   

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Speaking with Sen. Smith of Papillion on the floor

 

Education Innovation Grants Debated

One of the issues discussed this week was the state allocations of lottery education funding.  The general principle Nebraska has followed in recent years focuses Nebraska lottery funds on promising education innovations.  This allows us to invest in these innovations with a General Fund budget impact.  Some of the innovations that prove themselves then end up becoming core educational investments in the budget.  

One example of a cost that previously was covered by lottery funds and has now moved to the General Fund education budget is the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.  All 50 states currently belong to the compact; membership ensures children of military families do not face overly burdensome requirements for enrollment or placement when they transfer to a new school.  For example, the compact works to eliminate barriers to athletic participation or graduation from differences in state requirements or wait times. Bellevue Public Schools were leaders in the effort to get this compact up and running in Nebraska and other states.

In addition to innovation dollars, LB 519 directs a substantial portion of the lottery funds to the Nebraska Opportunity grant, which supports college completion for low-income students in Nebraska.  Under the Access College Early (ACE) scholarship program, low-income high school students are able to take college courses while they are still in high school.  College continuation rates of ACE scholarship recipients are significantly higher than the college-going rate of other low-income public high school graduates, as you can see from the results provided by the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.

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College completion remains a stubborn challenge for all states, including Nebraska.  The Nebraska Opportunity grant has proven successful in helping low-income students get across the finish line.  A key grant that paid for this program in Nebraska has just ended.  The lottery allocation allows Nebraska to continue to support our bright and hard-working low-income students and strengthen our workforce.

 

Late Nights Schedule Announced

On Wednesday, the Speaker released the schedule for our upcoming late night sessions.  Beginning on Tuesday, April 28, the Legislature will work until at least 8:30 PM or later, potentially as late as 11:59 PM, on designated “late nights.”  The following dates are reserved as late nights: April 28-30, May 4-6, May 12-14, May 18-20, and May 26-28.  On other nights or nights when a “late night” is cancelled, the Legislature may adjourn as late as 7:00 PM.

 

Interns Wanted

As college students begin to register for their fall courses and make their plans for the summer, I encourage students to consider applying for an internship with my office.  Last summer, we hired two interns to help with research projects on topics as varied as health policy, natural resources, and veterans issues.  The interim provides an opportunity for interns to work closely with staff as we work on interim studies and prepare legislation for next session.  

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for an internship for this summer or fall, please send a cover letter, resume and two references to my administrative aide, Courtney Breitkreutz at cbreitkreutz@leg.ne.gov.

Bellevue Leadership Day in the Capitol

April 2nd, 2015

On Tuesday, our office hosted the Bellevue Chamber’s Bellevue Leadership candidates in the Capitol.  These twelve candidates spent the day in Lincoln learning more about the legislative process and meeting with key leaders including Governor Ricketts, Secretary of State John Gale, Chief Justice Michael Heavican, and Senator Garrett, Senator Mello, and Senator Campbell.


Explaining the hearing process to the Leadership Class


With Governor Ricketts


Great turnout for the reception at the Governor’s Residence

Bellevue Leadership is a year-long program available to local business and civic leaders operated through the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. Each year, we are happy to welcome these candidates to the Capitol. The program lasts from 9:30 to 4:30 PM followed by a reception in the Governor’s Mansion. This evening reception is a fun annual event attended by Bellevue city officials and other Chamber members.  Thanks to Mayor Rita Sanders, County Commissioner Tom Richards, city and county staff and Bellevue business and community leaders for coming! A lot of work goes into planning and organizing Bellevue Leadership Day. Special thanks to Doris Urwin of the Bellevue Chamber and my administrative assistant Courtney Breitkreutz for their hard work in making the day possible. If you are interested in being a part of next year’s Leadership Class, contact Doris at (402)898-3000.

 

Health and Human Services Committee Bills Advance

On Monday, the Legislature granted first round approval for two bills we heard in the Health and Human Services Committee this session.  LB 81, introduced and prioritized by Senator Tanya Cook, addresses the cliff effect in Nebraska’s child care assistance program. The term cliff effect refers to a situation where a family loses all public benefits such as child care assistance due to a raise, promotion or extra hours at work. While this increase in income is enough to disqualify the family from assistance, it is often not enough for the family to afford child care without some assistance.  LB 81 allows the parent to pay more of the childcare on a sliding scale as their pay increases (up to a point when they no longer qualify) rather than dropping off suddenly.

Also on Monday, the Legislature advanced LB 199, a bill introduced by Senator Sara Howard.  LB 199 provides stipends for graduate and undergraduate level social work students who commit to working in the field of child welfare.  The committee amendment, which I supported, clarifies that social work students enrolled in any college or university with a social work program could be eligible if they meet the other criteria.  This bill is a common-sense solution to address a key workforce shortage in our state and to help us improve the quality of child protective services.

Select File Action

The second round of debate and vote on a bill is called “Select File.”  If there are no changes to the bill and no remaining issues to debate, then the Select File vote is simply a voice vote.  However, Select File provides an opportunity for another round of debate and changes to a bill.  The two most common types of amendments are changes to address an issue raised in the first round of debate or amendments to add an additional provision from another bill that was advanced out of committee onto the underlying bill.  LB 627, introduced by Senator Mello to establish and clarify reasonable accommodation protections for women in the workforce, passed Select File this week.  I spoke in support of LB 627 during the first round of debate on that bill as one of the very few members of the Legislature that had experience working while pregnant and while breast-feeding.  During Select File we amended LB 627 with some clarifications requested by businesses.  

LB 324, which we discussed in an earlier update, is a package of bills from the Urban Affairs Committee dealing with sanitary and improvement districts, or SIDs.  On Select File this week, LB 324 was amended to add the provisions of LB 131, another SID bill that had been advanced by the Urban Affairs Committee earlier this session.  LB 131 deals with issues that come up when a municipality attempts to annex an SID, and as amended into LB 324 would place reasonable restrictions on an SID’s ability to spend assets during a 90-day window following receipt of a notice of potential annexation from a municipality.  

 

General File Action

Most of our time on General File this week was spent on two bills, LB 106 and LB 610.  LB 106, the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act, as introduced by Senator Dan Watermeier, was a bill that required counties to use a state designed evaluation system when evaluating whether to provide permits for livestock operations seeking to come to their county.  I spoke adamantly against the ways in which the original bill and early amendments to the bill circumvented local control at the apparent request of a particular industry.  After two days of debate and intense off the floor negotiations, the bill eventually turned into a bill that now only directs the Department of Agriculture to create a committee of experts and county representatives to come up with a model evaluation rubric that counties can choose to use as a guide as they decide what processes they wish to use to evaluate livestock siting requests.  After getting a commitment from the chair of the Agricultural Committee that he would be vigilant in making sure that the committee represented a broad set of interests, and confirming that a key group representing smaller farmers was committed to being engaged in the process, I voted for the amended version of LB 106.

LB 610, introduced by Senator Jim Smith, provides for a gradual increase in the gas tax and directs those funds to the state, counties, and municipalities for roads and bridges.  This change is supported by several organizations, including the Nebraska Trucking Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau, and even the conservative Platte Institute. As fuel economy has increased, several states have found that they need to increase their tax per gallon to sustain investments in this vital infrastructure.  The two day debate over LB 610 stressed the importance of making this change as part of a larger rebalancing of the Nebraska tax system.  Nebraska provides less state assistance to counties and cities and less state funding for local schools, which puts more pressure on property taxes and leaves some needs, such as local infrastructure, on the waiting list.  During the debate, Speaker Galen Hadley, who previously chaired the Revenue Committee, listed all of the recent income tax cuts that the Legislature had made in the past few years.  Open Sky reports over $500,000,000 in savings to tax payers from these recent income tax cuts in 2015 alone (ADD LINK to “Open Sky” wording in previous sentence) http://www.openskypolicy.org/policy-brief-legislature-has-reduced-taxes-significantly-in-past-decade

At the end of the lengthy debate and concessions that it was a hard vote to take, only 10 Senators voted against the gas tax increase.

Easter Weekend

The Legislature adjourned on Thursday afternoon and will return Tuesday morning, which allows senators to travel home and spend Easter weekend with their families.  Legislative staff have also been granted administrative leave on Friday and Monday by the Executive Board of the Legislature.  If you need assistance during this time, please call our office and leave a message.  My staff will return your call upon their return on Tuesday morning.  I wish you all a joyous Easter!

 

LB 390 Advances from the Judiciary Committee

March 26th, 2015

On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee voted to advance LB 390 to General File for debate by the full Legislature.  LB 390 is my personal priority bill this year.  The bill creates the Medical Cannabidiol Pilot Study within the University of Nebraska Medical Center for patients who suffer from intractable epileptic seizures.  It allows access to low-THC cannabidiol oil for patients under the supervision of a neurologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  Under LB 390, the only allowed substance is cannabidiol or CBD that contains .03% THC or less.  This is the same amount of THC found in industrial hemp and is too low to produce a high for recreational use.  I look forward to discussing this bill with my colleagues on the floor in the weeks ahead.

 

Consent Calendar

Consent Calendar is a legislative process established in Rule 5, Section 6 of our Legislative Rules.  This process allows non-controversial bills, often with technical changes, to be debated in a streamlined fashion.  The Speaker of the Legislature determines which bills are eligible for Consent Calendar.  At a minimum, Consent Calendar bills must meet the following criteria:

  • No opposition testimony at the bill’s hearing, unless a committee amendment completely addresses the opposition’s concerns.

  • The topic the bill opens up is non-controversial.  

  • The bill does not adopt a new act or make several changes to an existing law.

  • The bill does not have a general fund impact.  Similarly, tax expenditure bills are not eligible for consent.

  • The bill was reported to General File by March 23, 2015.  

Per legislative rule, any bill on Consent Calendar can be removed from the agenda by the written request of 3 or more senators.  If this happens, the bill will be passed over and will not come up for a vote.  Similarly, if an amendment to a Consent Calendar bill that adds new subject matter is adopted on the floor, the bill will not be placed back on the agenda.  

This year I submitted a request for consideration of LB 541 as a Consent Calendar bill.  LB 541 brings the retention of expired state contracts posted on the state contract website created by the Taxpayer Transparency Act in line with the state agency general retention schedule of 5 years post-expiration.  

In 2013, the Legislature passed LB 429, a bill I introduced and prioritized, to bring additional transparency to the state contracting process through the creation a publicly available website for all state contracts.  The current statute requires indefinite retention because there is no timeline for retention. LB 541 clarifies that the state contract website, operated by the Department of Administrative Services, will follow the state agency general retention schedule.

 

Veterans Writing Workshop this Week

Since September, Humanities Nebraska has partnered with the Veterans Administration in Lincoln to organize six-week workshops for veterans and active duty military members.   The latest workshop, called “Standing Together” began on January 17.  In addition to writing strategies and techniques, workshop participants also read Simon Wiesenthal’s “The Sunflower” and Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.”  A similar workshop series in Omaha is planned this fall.  If you are interested in participating in a future workshop or know a veteran who might benefit from the series, please contact Beverly Hoistad at valdosta27@gmail.com.   

 

This Week in Urban Affairs

On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 152, one of the Urban Affairs Committee’s two committee priority bills for the session.  LB 152, which authorizes cities and villages to borrow directly from banks and other financial institutions, would help smaller cities and villages that run into cash-flow issues when, for example, a city-owned vehicle breaks down and must be quickly replaced.  Nebraska generally follows the legal doctrine known as Dillon’s Rule, which means that municipalities may only exercise those powers that are expressly granted to them by the state – without authorization, cities and villages would be unable to borrow from local banks located in their communities.

While LB 152 was one of the first bills heard this session by the Urban Affairs Committee, it was also one of the bills that was discussed most often by the committee in executive session.  Most borrowing by cities and villages currently comes in the form of municipal bonds, many types of which must be approved by the voters.  Committee members were initially concerned that without some type of limitation, direct borrowing could be used as an “end around” for cities to avoid traditional bond financing.  To address those concerns, the committee spent a significant amount of time working on the bill to place reasonable restrictions on municipalities’ ability to borrow directly from banks.

LB 152 provides a perfect example of the role that committees play in the legislative process.  Prior to advancing the bill, the committee carefully crafted amendment language that balanced the need for flexible municipal financing tools with ensuring transparency in local budgeting and avoiding the possibility that municipalities would use direct borrowing to avoid going to the voters.  While direct borrowing represents an important new tool in the toolbox for municipalities, the work of the committee ensures that traditional bond financing will continue to be used in cases where it is clearly warranted.

 

Visitors this Week

I spoke with students from Avery Elementary in Bellevue and North Star HS in Lincoln


I met with Bellevue West students who are a part of No Limits , a youth-led tobacco prevention group

I enjoy visiting with visitors from the district. Avery Elementary was the first 4th grade class to visit this year. I met with a couple of Bellevue West students this week who were at the Capitol for a Humanities Nebraska workshop on political issues. This week I also had a chance to speak with nursing students, including many from Creighton, about health bills and the importance of being engaged in state politics. If you are ever at the Capitol, make sure to stop by my office in room 1212 and say hi!

 

 

Finally…

Our office received a number of calls and emails this week regarding Senator Chambers’ comments that were made during a dialogue with Senator Garrett at a concealed carry hearing last Friday.  While no other senator, including me, condones Senator Chambers’ remarks, the context of those remarks has been lost in the media frenzy.  In that dialogue, Senator Garrett implied that Nebraska citizens might want to carry a gun if they are going for a family outing to Chili’s or Applebee’s because they were afraid of ISIS.  After that comment, Senator Chambers argued that he and others in his community had reason to fear law enforcement and that discussion included unfortunate and inflammatory remarks that received a great deal of press attention this week.

To those concerned that it was not discussed by his peers, know that Senator Chambers’ comments were discussed thoroughly Thursday morning on the floor.  Several senators expressed their concerns about the comments and there was a serious debate about free speech in the legislature and our personal responsibilities in our own speech and in our responses to others who make comments on the floor and in hearings.  While no other senators, including me, condone the remarks, the freedom of speech is a fundamental right that must be protected.

At one point in that debate Thursday morning, Senator Mello noted that many senators in the Legislature who did not publicly criticize Senator Chambers have regularly supported police in tangible ways by protecting their sick leave, protecting their collective bargaining rights, and protecting their access to healthcare and education.  I would put myself in that category.  I did not participate in public outrage over the remarks, but I have worked hard to serve those who serve us in public safety roles in bill after bill.  For example, one of the first bills I introduced was LB 321.  LB 321 eliminated a provision requiring police officers in first class cities like Bellevue and Papillion to spend down their sick leave or personal leave before receiving short-term disability benefits.  Prior to the enactment of LB 321 as part of a larger Nebraska Retirement committee package in 2013, officers could face a situation where they return to work after an injury in the line of duty without sick leave to care for themselves or someone in their family.

Many on the floor demanded a retraction, clarification, or apology.  It is important to note that Senator Chambers did clarify in a follow up news account that he did not want to encourage anybody to shoot anyone.  After our floor debate on Thursday he was talking to reporters, so I expect more clarification of his comments appeared in news outlets at the end of the week.