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

Last of Public Hearings on Crawford Bills Set for Next Week

February 27th, 2015

 Meeting with young people from Nebraska’s Generation Joshua chapter, including several students from my district


 Pastor Mario Hatcher from Bellevue Christian Center coming down to Lincoln to give the opening prayer

 

Last of Public Hearings on Crawford Bills Set for Next Week

While legislative committees will continue to hold public hearings until March 20, next week I will offer testimony on the three remaining bills I introduced this session: LB 108459, and 390.

LB 108 establishes 12 one-year behavioral health master’s level internships in rural and underserved areas of Nebraska.  Behavioral health master’s level programs include professional counseling, marriage and family therapists and clinical social workers.  Currently, the state funds 8 additional psychiatry residents and 10 one-year doctoral-level psychology internships.  The hearing for LB 108 will take place on Tuesday, March 3 at 1:30 PM in front of the Appropriations Committee (room 1524).

LB 459 addresses an issue brought to our attention by Sarpy County Attorneys regarding child witnesses in felony cases.  It examines how we treat children during depositions and creates a process for the court to make special provisions during the deposition phase of a trial if the court finds the provision necessary to protect the child from emotional harm or distress.  

This process is only available if there is already a video recorded interview at a child advocacy center like Project Harmony.  Some of these provisions include a maximum time limit for the deposition or allowing a victim advocate or other supportive adult who is not a witness to the case to be present during the deposition.  The hearing for LB 459 will take place on Wednesday, March 4 at 1:30 PM in front of the Judiciary Committee (room 1113).

LB 390 creates the Medical Cannabidiol Pilot Study within the University of Nebraska Medical Center for patients who suffer from severe and untreatable or treatment-resistant epileptic seizures.  It allows access to low-THC cannabidiol, or CBD, oil.  THC is the substance in marijuana that produces a psychotropic high.  Low-THC CBD oil has no recreational use.  The hearing for LB 390 will be held on Friday, March 6 at 1:30 PM in front of the Judiciary Committee (room 1113).

HHS Committee Hears Testimony on Bill to Address Cliff Effect

On Thursday, the Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony regarding LB 81 (Cook), a bill to address 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 not enough to replace the lost child care assistance.  

LB 81 removes the cliff by allowing recipients to pay for child care on a sliding scale as their incomes increase until their incomes reach a point where they are better able to pay for childcare themselves for up to two years.  In a recent Voices for Children in Nebraska recently survey of almost 300 women in Douglas, Sarpy, Lancaster, Polk, Dawes and Sheridan counties,   55% of those who received child care assistance faced the cliff effect at some point.

Last year, the Legislature unanimously approved legislation to take a first step in addressing the cliff effect in our child care assistance program.  LB 81 builds upon this work and is supported by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Voices for Children in Nebraska, Center for People in Need, and Women’s Fund of Omaha.

African-American Leaders in the Legislature

February is Black History Month. As such, this update highlights some of the African American state senators, past and present, in the Nebraska Unicameral.There are currently two African American state senators in the legislature, Senator Ernie Chambers and Senator Tanya Cook. My colleagues both serve in important leadership positions, with Senator Cook serving as chair of the Legislative Planning Committee and Senator Chambers as the longest serving member on the Judiciary Committee.

Leadership by African American senators is not new to Nebraska, however. Born to enslaved parents in Kentucky in 1858, Dr. Matthew Oliver Ricketts was a leader in every sense of the word. He became the first African American to be elected as a state senator in 1893, as well as the first African American to graduate from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in Omaha. During his time in the Legislature, Dr. Ricketts introduced a bill to legalize interracial marriage, was instrumental in passing laws to prohibit the denial of public services to African Americans, and helped to implement a law creating an age of consent for marriage.

Omaha State Senator Edward Danner was the lone African American legislator in the Nebraska Unicameral during the U.S. Civil Rights era of the 1960’s. “His efforts not only benefited the black Nebraskan,” said Governor Norbert Tiemann at Danner’s funeral in 1970, “but also served to make the white Nebraskan aware of the needs of his black brothers.” Danner was instrumental in passing legislation that made it illegal for landlords and employers to discriminate on the basis of skin color, and remained a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the Lincoln Community.
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In 1977, Senator JoAnn Maxey of Lincoln became the first female African American state senator following her appointment to the legislature by then-governor Jim Exon. During her two years as a state senator, she successfully passed legislation over a gubernatorial veto to create funding for women who found themselves homeless or without resources due to divorce, death, or separation from a spouse. She went on to become the first African American to serve on the Lincoln Board of

Education, advocating for special education programs and implementing programs to help at-risk youth from dropping out.

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Nebraska’s longest-serving state senator can still be found in his characteristic blue jeans and plain tee shirt on the floor of the Unicameral. The “Defender of the Downtrodden”, Senator Ernie Chambers, has been serving in the legislature for over 40 years. Senator Chambers played a large role in the Civil Rights Movement in Omaha in the 1960’s, and used this momentum to propel himself into the legislature in 1970.  

Widely renown for his legislative prowess, Senator Chambers spearheaded a 1980 resolution and a 1984 bill that divested state investments in South Africa due to their apartheid policies. Through his action, Nebraska became the first state in the nation to begin the withdrawal of funds from South Africa. Senator Chambers remains one of the state’s most prolific advocates for human rights.
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Stay tuned for a feature next month in honor of Women’s History Month.

Sue in the News

http://www.theindependent.com/news/state/nebraska-nurse-practitioner-bill-wins-legislative-approval/article_10810046-df24-5e88-8d39-752ca0cb019d.html

http://www.omaha.com/opinion/midlands-voices-update-laws-for-nurse-practitioners/article_8ef0744c-eaff-56ef-b963-68df1a335994.html

http://www.omaha.com/opinion/world-herald-editorial-campaign-reports-would-add-light/article_7eca6ebb-2669-5378-833a-ef33648654d6.html

http://journalstar.com/news/opinion/editorial/editorial-safeguard-donor-campaign-funds/article_491518ca-1806-5ce4-bb3d-c55b9dfed801.html

Votes ID Bill Dies, Hearing on Unfunded Mandates Set

February 20th, 2015

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Meeting with CASA members from Sarpy County at the Capitol this week.These volunteers  advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities.

Voter ID Bill Dies
On Wednesday 25 Senators voted to bracket LB 111, a bill to require voters to provide state issued identification to vote.  This kills the bill for this year.  I was one of the 25 senators voting to bracket the bill.  As I said on the floor, elected officials in a democracy have a two-pronged responsibility:  to represent the public and to protect fundamental constitutional rights.  When there is an issue that is popular with the public, like voter id, that contradicts a fundamental constitutional right, I have a duty to protect the constitutional right. The right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights because it is critical for citizens to protect all other rights.  Our Nebraska constitution establishes a very high standard on the right to vote, “All elections shall be free; and there shall be no hindrance or impediment to the right of a qualified voter to exercise the elective franchise.”

There have been no cases of voter impersonation fraud in Nebraska.  Senator McCollister noted on the floor that the conservative Platte Institute had examined the issue in the state and found no impersonation voter fraud.  We have stiff sanctions against such fraud should it occur.  Several senators from both parties spoke against the bill.  Although most expected a long filibuster on the bill, after a just a few hours of debate the motion to bracket the bill was successful and the bill died.

 

Hearing on Unfunded Mandate Facing Counties, including Sarpy County, Set
Next Thursday, the Revenue Committee will hear testimony regarding LB 391, a bill to restore a ½ percent monthly commission to counties who collect more than $3,000 in motor vehicle sales taxes on behalf of the state.  Prior to October 1, 2002, counties received a 2.5% commission on the first $3000 of motor vehicle sales taxes collected in the county during the previous month, and a .5% commission on tax collections over $3000.  This .5% commission was eliminated as part of a larger budget package during the state budget crisis that year.

This is one of fourteen unfunded mandates my office identified as part of LR 582 this summer.  In Sarpy County, the County Treasurer collects taxes on motor vehicle sales as part of the motor vehicle registration and titling process. As part of this process, county employees may need to track down paperwork from out-of-state or private sellers before completing the sale. This work takes time and the current 2.5% commission does not accurately reflect the costs to counties to collect these taxes. Currently, Sarpy County receives only $21,600 annually  for collecting these taxes.  If LB 391 passes, this number would increase to approximately $109,000 a year.  In 2013, Sarpy County officials estimated the cost to collect these taxes at $103,000 a year in staff time and resources.

 

What Happens After A Bill Hearing?
Once a bill’s public hearing is complete, the introducing senator works with the committee chair and committee members on any necessary amendments before the introducing senator requests the committee chair place the bill on the executive session agenda for a committee vote.  The frequency of executive sessions vary from committee to committee.  In the Urban Affairs committee, for example, the committee generally meets in executive session on Tuesdays following the day’s hearings.

If a majority of the committee votes to advance the legislation, the committee clerk will work with the legal counsel to draft and file a committee statement for the bill.  As I mentioned in an earlier update, the committee statement outlines the main points of the bill, explains any committee amendments, and lists in person testimony at the bill’s hearing.  The bill is then placed on General File, the first of three rounds of debate.

The Speaker shapes the agenda and order of bills each day.  During the first half of session and prior to the priority bill deadline, bills generally appear in worksheet order–that is, the order in which they are reported to General File.   Once the priority bill deadline has passed, only bills with a priority designation and on General File are eligible for floor debate until all priority bills have been heard.

 

This Week in Urban Affairs
Historically, tax-increment financing, or TIF, has been one of the more controversial topics under the jurisdiction of the Urban Affairs Committee.  Under Nebraska’s community development statutes, municipalities can utilize TIF for the redevelopment of properties that have been deemed “substandard and blighted”.  As applied, TIF allows the municipality to issue bonds to pay the costs of a redevelopment project, with the increased property tax revenues from the redevelopment area dedicated to paying off the bonds.  After fifteen years (or earlier if the bonds are paid off sooner), the increased property tax revenues revert to the city’s general fund and to other political subdivisions which have a property tax levy on property within the redevelopment area.

This past fall, TIF was also the subject of one of the committee’s major interim studies, LR 599.

This week, the Urban Affairs Committee will be hearing three bills dealing with TIF:

  • LB 596:  Change the Community Development Law and create the Tax-Increment Financing Division of the Auditor of Public Accounts
  • LB 238:  Change provisions relating to tax-increment financing under the Community Development Law
  • LB 445:  Authorize audits of redevelopment plans that use tax-increment financing


Yesterday, four bills from the Urban Affairs Committee were passed on Final Reading and forwarded to Governor Ricketts for his signature.   The four bills, all of which passed unanimously, were:

  • LB 149:  Change provisions relating to election procedures for sanitary and improvement districts
  • LB 150:  Redefine terms under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act
  • LB 151:  Provide for a person designated to accept city or village notices in cases of mortgaged property or trust deed default
  • LB 168:  Authorize expansion of existing business improvement districts


Justice Reinvestment in Nebraska
In an earlier update, I highlighted 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.  This working group, with the assistance of the Council of State Governments, produced a report in January with three strategies and a variety of policy options to address these concerns.

The three strategies are: one, make improvements to our parole system to reduce recidivism; two, provide for post-release supervision while meeting victims’ needs; and three, shift nonviolent, low-level offenses from incarceration to probation.   Some of the proposed policy options that meet these strategic goals include prioritizing probation resources for felony probationers at highest risk for reoffending, improving the collection of restitution for victims, requiring that all individuals with serious felony convictions be supervised post-release, and fully adopting and integrating evidence-based practices into parole supervision.   A complete listing of these policies is available in the CSG report, which can be found here: http://csgjusticecenter.org/jr/ne/

LB 605, introduced by Senator Mello, contains many of these policy options.   The hearing for LB 605 in front of the Judiciary Committee took place yesterday afternoon.  I look forward to working with the Judiciary Committee and my colleagues to address prison overcrowding and our high recidivism rates.

 

Sue in the News
http://www.omaha.com/opinion/midlands-voices-hole-in-law-hides-gambling-tattoos-more/article_a2e47d63-958a-535d-8a74-05c2de6523e8.html
 
http://journalstar.com/legislature/campaign-finance-restrictions-supported/article_309cb299-5057-5043-b9d3-b4233615054f.html 

Hearing Scheduled for Bill to Bring Additional Accountability and Transparency to Campaign Funds

February 13th, 2015

Next Thursday, February 19 the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing on LB 166, a bill I introduced to create more transparency in campaign spending.  Under the bill, each campaign committee must submit an end-of-the-year bank balance statement to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission.  This statement will be compared against campaign committees’ end of year statements by Accountability and Disclosure Commission staff.  Currently no check exists to ensure that campaign funds match campaign reports.  LB 166 also prohibits loans from campaign funds, increases penalties for violations of the Accountability and Disclosure Act, and adds enforcement power for the commission to require restitution as a consequence of a violation.  The hearing will take place at 1:30 in room 1507 at the Capitol.  You can watch live at netnebraska.org/capitol

 

LB 219 Advances to Final Reading

On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 219 to Final Reading, the third and final round of debate before a bill is sent to the Governor for his signature.  LB 219 is a bill I highlighted in a previous update.  It adopts the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act to provide a clear, legal framework for parents and judges to use to make arrangements for children subject to a Parenting Plan when a military parent is deployed.  The bill creates a process that is consistent and predictable for military families during a time that is often anything but consistent and predictable.  I look forward to this bill’s passage and putting the system in place to address these issues.

 

This Week in Urban Affairs

The Urban Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over most state and local building codes, and since 2007 has heard bills dealing with a wide variety of codes, including building codes, energy codes, and plumbing codes.

In 1987, the State of Nebraska adopted its first statewide building code to govern the construction, reconstruction, alteration, and repair of buildings in Nebraska.  The goal of the state building code is to protect the life, health, property, and public welfare of Nebraskans by adopting minimum standards for building design and construction, and to provide for the use of modern and innovative construction techniques.

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.

In addition to a bill on the state building code, this week the Urban Affairs Committee will hear two bills dealing with first-class cities, which are cities with a population between 5,001 and 100,000:

  • LB 455: Clarify provisions relating to employment of a full-time fire chief by cities of the first class

  • LB 378: Change requirements for voter approval of borrowing money for public improvements by a first-class city

 

Town Hall Recap

town hall2.jpg

 Holding my town hall meeting on the campus of Bellevue University

On Thursday night, I held a town hall meeting on the campus of Bellevue University.  About fifty people were in attendance.  After a short overview of this year’s legislation, we had some great discussion on issues such as the learning community, military retirement taxation, and the homestead exemption application process. I appreciate everyone taking the time out of their day to come out and give their input.  If you couldn’t make it, you are always welcome to contact my office with thoughts, questions, or concerns at (402)471-2615 orscrawford@leg.ne.gov.

 

Pastor Drew of Twin Valley Church Serves as Chaplain of the Day

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 Standing with Pastor Drew Rietjens

Last Wednesday, Pastor Drew Rietjens of Twin Valley Church in Bellevue served as the Legislature’s Chaplain of the Day.  During his visit, he gave the opening prayer before the start of the day’s proceedings, visited with me and other senators, and was able to tour the Capitol and watch some of the day’s debate.  It was wonderful to have a visitor from District 45 for the morning! If you know someone who would like to serve as Chaplain of the day, please have them contact my administrative assistant Courtney at (402)471-2615.

 

Sue in the News

Editorial in the Omaha World Herald on LB166:http://www.omaha.com/opinion/midlands-voices-hole-in-law-hides-gambling-tattoos-more/article_a2e47d63-958a-535d-8a74-05c2de6523e8.html

Omaha World Herald article on Learning Community legislation, including my bill LB392:

http://www.omaha.com/news/legislature/learning-community-common-property-tax-levy-get-support-at-legislative/article_8ccc1af6-ce58-53e8-92c2-7ce37f610bca.html

Omaha World Herald article on LB107 passing the first round of debate: http://www.omaha.com/news/legislature/bill-to-give-nurse-practitioners-more-independence-moves-forward/article_e6d898e6-ae31-11e4-98a1-0fa035e86fd2.html

 

Learning Community bill hearing next week

February 6th, 2015

Sen. Crawford speaking to the Nebraska Chamber’s Public Affairs Council last week. Photo courtesy of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce

Learning Community to be Discussed Next Week
On Tuesday afternoon, the Education Committee will conduct public hearings for several bills related to the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy County.  These hearings include a bill I introduced this session, LB 392.  

LB 392 addresses one of the most significant issues facing economic development and growth in Bellevue and Sarpy County: school district boundaries.  As the fastest growing county in Nebraska, Sarpy County needs flexibility as it grows and develops.  The bill creates a process if negotiations over agricultural land transfers between the Learning Community schools break down.  My hope is that school districts are able to work out this transfer without the process created in LB 392; however a process is important to ensure these disputes do not drag out indefinitely.  LB 392 also eliminates the common levy for Learning Community schools and restores Educational Service Unit funding to schools in Douglas and Sarpy County schools.  The Education hearings will begin at 1:30 PM in room 1525 in the State Capitol.  

Asset Limit hearing held
Yesterday, I presented LB 147 to the Health and Human Services Committee.  LB 147 is one step the Legislature can take to address some of the challenges plaguing ACCESSNebraska.  The bill streamlines the administration of several public assistance programs under the purview of ACCESSNebraska, reducing unnecessary paperwork and staff time spent on unnecessary verifications.  Income and work requirements in these programs are sufficient to direct the assistance to those most in need.  Asset limits are unnecessary and even counterproductive to our ultimate aim to encourage self-sufficiency for families who temporarily receive these benefits.    

Veteran Preference Bill Passes First Round
On Friday morning, LB 272, my bill to provide for a voluntary veterans preference in hiring passed General File, the first of three rounds of votes on a bill.  Under the bill, businesses can elect to offer a hiring preference for veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans or those killed in action.  If LB 272 passes, private companies across Nebraska can establish hiring preferences for veterans and veteran spouses that clearly comply with federal civil rights laws.

This Week in Urban Affairs
Of the twenty bills that were referenced to the Urban Affairs Committee this legislative session, six have already been advanced to the floor of the Legislature by the committee.  Among those bills is LB 168, a bill that updates and modernizes Nebraska’s statutes governing business improvement districts (BIDs).

BIDs are special-purpose districts created by a municipality to help fund improvements and developments within an established business area.  While the use of BIDs has increased in recent years, the statutes governing them have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s.  Under LB 168, the cumbersome process of creating a BID would be streamlined to provide affected businesses with clearer information about the proposed district.

LB 168 would also create a process to allow the expansion of an existing BID.  Currently, if additional businesses would like to receive the benefits of the BID, there is no process in statute to expand the current boundaries.  As a result, several communities have been forced to create new BIDs adjacent to the existing ones, which causes unnecessary duplication.  The process to expand an existing BID would mirror the process for creating one under current law.

This week’s Urban Affairs Committee will be returning to the topic of sanitary and improvement districts (SIDs), hearing four bills on the subject:

  • LB 197: Provide additional powers to certain SIDs

  • LB 420: Require acknowledgments from purchasers of real estate in a SID

  • LB 300: Change provisions relating to enforcement of ordinances by SIDs

  • LB 324: Provide authority to SIDs to contract for solid waste collection services

Looking Ahead: The Priority Bill Process
Beginning on Monday, February 23, senators and committees can begin designating priority bills.  In Nebraska, each senator has the opportunity to designate one personal priority bill while each committee can designate up to two committee priority bills.  In addition, the Speaker of the Legislature can designate up to 25 Speaker priority bills.  Bills with these three types of priority designations receive preference for scheduling floor debate.  In the past two years, I selected LB 429 (2013) and LB 740 (2014) as my personal priority bills.  LB 429 created a website to bring greater transparency and accountability to state contracts.  The website can be found here:  https://statecontracts.nebraska.gov/  LB 740 granted in-state tuition for veterans who left active duty within the past two years as well as their spouses and dependents.  I will select my personal priority bill for this year in the next few weeks.   

Two of my bills, LB 368 (2013) and LB 719 (2014), received Speaker priority designations in previous years.  LB 368 created a subsidized employment pilot program for low-income workers.  GoodHire, a program operated by Goodwill Industries, is the result of this legislation.  The program launched earlier this year.  LB 719 brings greater transparency, efficiency and accountability to the rulemaking process.  It provides additional tools for senators to assess and evaluate regulations, including a process to challenge a rule or regulation that creates an undue burden that significantly outweighs its benefit to the public or circumstances have changed since the passage of the statute which the rule implements.   

Sue in the News

 

Town Hall meeting
I will be holding a town hall meeting on Thursday, February 12th at 6:30 in the Symposium room in the Muller Administration Building on the Bellevue University Campus (1000 Galvin Rd. South, Bellevue, NE 68005).  Follow the signs to the Administration building, enter the glass doors, and take the elevator to the lower level.  I look forward to updating everyone on legislation introduced so far this session and addressing any questions or concerns you may have. See you there!

 

Veteran Bills, Nurse Practitioner Legislation Advances to General File

January 30th, 2015

This week, 4 of my bills advanced to General File: LB 107,109219 and 272.  Three of these bills focus on military and veteran issues.


Attending public hearings on two of my bills to aid veterans

LB 109 changes residency requirements for veterans attending a public college or university.  It brings a bill we passed last year, LB 740, in compliance with new federal law.  Under LB 109, veterans and their spouses and dependents who leave active duty service within the past three years are able to receive resident tuition right away.  The bill advanced from the Education Committee on a 8-0 vote.  LB 272 creates a voluntary veterans preference in private employment for veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans.  The Government Committee advanced LB 272 on an unanimous vote.  

LB 219 adopts the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, creating a more thorough, clear and predictable process for military families under a parenting plan and facing deployment.  The intent of the legislation is to create a framework for judges and parents to establish a plan for reducing disruption for the child when a military member with parenting time gets deployed.  Any arrangements made to accommodate deployment end when deployment ends.  The Judiciary Committee advanced LB 219 on a 5-0-2 vote, with two members present not voting.

LB 107 eliminates integrated practice agreements for nurse practitioners.  This bill reduces unnecessary government regulation and improves access to healthcare for Nebraskans, particularly in rural areas, at no cost to Nebraska taxpayers.  This change is supported by groups such as AARP, the Center for Rural Affairs, Americans for Prosperity and the Nebraska Association of School Boards.   LB 107 advanced unanimously for the Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday.  I anticipate floor debate on these bills to begin as early as next week.  

 

What is a Committee Statement?

When a bill is reported out of the Executive Board or one of the 14 standing committees, the committee clerk files a committee statement summarizing the content of the bill and committee action on the bill.  If there is a committee amendment, the statement summarizes the amendment and how it changes the underlying bill.  The committee statement reports how senators on the committee voted on the motion to advance the bill to General File.

For example, if you look at the committee statement for LB 272 (which can be found here [link to http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/104/PDF/CS/LB272.pdf]), you can see a list of the testifiers who spoke in support of the legislation and their affiliation.  The committee statement also tells you whether or not a bill faced opposition at the hearing.  

 

Health and Human Services Committee Hearings Held

Last week, the Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing on LB 23 regarding the credentialing of Engineers and Architects.  LB 23, a bill introduced by Senator Bob Krist, was drafted with the support of both professional organizations.  The bill advanced unanimously from the committee and currently sits on General File.  The Department of Health and Human Services oversees the licensing of engineers and architects, which is why LB 23 was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee.  One of the Department’s important roles is oversight over the licensing and credentialing of professionals in the state.    

 

This Week in Urban Affairs

Discussions in the Urban Affairs Committee this week will return to the statutes governing cities and villages in Nebraska.  Two of three bills being heard by the committee this week deal with municipalities’ extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction, commonly referred to as the ETJ.  A municipality’s ETJ consists of the contiguous unincorporated land within a certain radius of its corporate limits.

Municipalities have the authority to enforce certain ordinances and regulations within their ETJ, including subdivision regulations, zoning regulations, building codes, and nuisance ordinances.  This is generally intended to ensure that infrastructure within the ETJ meets city standards, so that cities do not bear the cost of fixing substandard infrastructure upon annexation.

The size of a municipality’s ETJ varies according to the classification of the city or village.  State law currently classifies Nebraska municipalities into five categories based on population: 1) cities of the metropolitan class (300,000 or more); 2) cities of the primary class (100,001 to 299,999); 3) cities of the first class (5,001 to 100,000); 4) cities of the second class (801 to 5,000); and villages (100 to 800).  Cities of the metropolitan (i.e. Omaha) and primary (i.e. Lincoln) class have a three-mile ETJ, cities of the first class (i.e. Bellevue) have a two-mile ETJ; and cities of the second class (i.e. Springfield) and villages (i.e. Murray) have a one-mile ETJ.  

This week, the Urban Affairs Committee will hear three bills, all of which deal with municipalities:

  • LB 295: Require municipalities to have county approval before enforcing ordinances in the extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction.

  • LB 304: Adopt the Municipal Custodianship for Dissolved Homeowners Associations Act.

  • LB 266: Change provisions relating to jurisdiction for municipalities to enforce nuisance ordinances.

To watch these and all other hearings online , visithttp://www.netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government

Town Hall meeting

I will be holding a town hall meeting on Thursday, February 12th at 6:30 in the Symposium room in the Muller Administration Building on the Bellevue University Campus (1000 Galvin Rd. South, Bellevue, NE 68005).  Follow the signs to the Administration building, enter the glass doors, and take the elevator to the lower level.  I look forward to updating everyone on legislation introduced so far this session and addressing any questions or concerns you may have. See you there!

Bill introduction ends, Hearings scheduled on veterans legislation

January 23rd, 2015

My 2015 Legislative Agenda

Wednesday was the last day for senators to introduce new bills. This year, I introduced 19 bills.  To view a complete list of the legislation I introduced, click here [http://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/search_by_introducer.php].  


Introducing LB 107 to the Health and Human Services Committee this week

Several of these bills have their public hearings next week, including LB 146LB 148 and LB 272.  LB 146 was a bill idea brought to us by a constituent, Bill Henry.  Bill Henry works with the Nebraska Chapter of Missing in America Project to locate, identify and inter unclaimed cremated remains of veterans and their dependents.  Bill Henry has worked with several funeral homes to identify and inter veterans at Fort McPherson free of charge.  LB 146 establishes a process for funeral homes to work with veteran service organizations like Missing in America Project to find a final resting place for these forgotten heroes.  The hearing for LB 146 is Thursday, January 29 at 1:30 PM in front of the Health and Human Services Committee, room 1510.

LB 148 is the result of LR 533, an interim study resolution I introduced last session regarding foster youth who age out of the foster care system without reunification with their families or adoption.  Under the Affordable Care Act, former foster youth can stay on the state’s insurance plan (Medicaid) until age 26.  This mirrors the provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26.  Currently, if a former foster youth ages out of the system in Iowa, Missouri or any other state and moves to Nebraska to work or attend school, they lose access to this health coverage.  LB 148 ensures all foster youth living in Nebraska who age out of the foster care system have access to health insurance.  The hearing for LB 148 is Friday, January 30 at 1:30 PM in front of the Health and Human Services Committee, room 1510.  

LB 272 creates a voluntary veterans preference in private employment.   This bill complements the work of the Legislature last year for public sector employees, allowing private sector employers to equitably compete for veteran talent.  Under the bill, businesses can elect to offer a hiring preference for veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans.  If adopted, Nebraska would join at least twelve states, including neighboring Iowa, who have established similar programs.  The hearing for LB 272 is Wednesday, January 28 in front of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee in room 1507.

Meet My Staff: Trevor Fitzgerald

With my election as chair of the Urban Affairs Committee, my office now houses committee staff in addition to my own personal staff.  Courtney Breitkreutz, my administrative aide, takes on the added duties of serving as committee clerk, and my office welcomed a new member, committee legal counsel Trevor Fitzgerald.

Trevor.jpg

Trevor started working in the Legislature in 2009, and is originally from Louisville, Nebraska.  Trevor earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from UNL, and a law degree from Creighton University.  Prior to joining the Urban Affairs Committee as legal counsel this past September, Trevor served as legislative aide for former Senator Bob Giese of South Sioux City and Senator Heath Mello of Omaha.  More recently, Trevor also served as research analyst for the Appropriations Committee, advising the committee chair on legal, procedural, and policy issues related to the state budget process.  

In his role as legal counsel, Trevor reviews and analyzes legislation assigned to the committee, coordinates committee hearings and briefings, researches legal and policy issues for the committee, and monitors activities related to the committee’s jurisdiction.  The Urban Affairs Committee primarily deals with the statutes governing municipalities (cities and villages) in Nebraska, and also has jurisdiction over state natural gas regulation, building codes, handicap parking, and various types of special districts, including Sanitary and Improvement Districts (SIDs), Metropolitan Utilities District (MUD), mass transit authorities, housing authorities, and business improvement districts.

Trevor and his wife Bonnie, who is a history professor at Metropolitan Community College, live in the Maple Village neighborhood in Northwest Omaha with their soon-to-be 4-year-old son, Jack.  Trevor also serves as president of the Maple Village Neighborhood Association, enjoys traveling to and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, and is an avid baseball fan.

This Week in Urban Affairs

Each week during committee hearings, my update will feature a preview of the issues being heard by the Urban Affairs Committee in the coming week.  The committee’s first week of hearings focused on a handful of municipal-related bills that were heard by the committee in 2014 but failed to become law due to time constraints.  This week, the committee’s hearings will shift to sanitary and improvement districts, or SIDs.

SIDs are a type of limited-purpose political subdivision that is unique to Nebraska.  First created in the late-1940s, SIDs are primarily utilized in urban areas to facilitate growth outside of city limits, with the expectation that the SID will eventually be annexed by the nearby municipality.  Of the roughly 325 SIDs statewide, more than 80% are located in either Douglas or Sarpy County.  While a helpful development tool, SIDs present a wide variety of unique challenges for residents, particularly in cases where an SID is not annexed by a city that “grows around” it.  Most SID boards provide for basic services through contract or inter local agreement, but SID residents are often unaware that they cannot access city services without paying separate fees that are not charged to city residents.  Similarly, SID residents are unable to vote in city elections since they are outside of city limits.

This week, the Urban Affairs Committee will hear four bills, three dealing with SIDs, and a fourth dealing with business improvement districts:

  • LB 168: Authorize expansion of existing business improvement districts

  • LB 116: Change election procedures and membership for certain SID boards of trustees

  • LB 131: Change provisions relating to annexation and prohibit SIDs from spending certain assets

  • LB 149: Change provisions relating to election procedures for SIDs

To watch these and all other hearings online , visit http://www.netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government

Sue in the News

Bellevue Leader Article on my priorities for this session: http://www.omaha.com/sarpy/bellevue/state-senators-list-session-s-priorities/article_dde8087f-81cc-5d05-979e-7ca4664d6a91.html

NET News article on my bill to improve campaign finance laws: http://netnebraska.org/article/news/954291/bills-eliminate-mandatory-minimum-sentences-tighten-campaign-finance-laws

Omaha World Herald article on veterans legislation this year, including my bill to exempt  military retirement pay from income tax: http://www.omaha.com/news/legislature/senator-says-bills-to-support-veterans-could-help-nebraska-keep/article_8f2ea4e4-5632-5546-ad47-3b927ed4753a.html

Lincoln Journal Star article on my bill to make sure veterans’ unclaimed remains receive a proper burial: http://journalstar.com/news/state-and-regional/nebraska/forgotten-valor-push-to-honor-veterans-unclaimed-ashes-reaches-state/article_5231aa1a-c0a8-5169-9345-4e2e919e44c6.html

Unicameral Information Office article on my bill to eliminate the practice agreement for nurse practitioners: http://update.legislature.ne.gov/?p=15982

Town Hall meeting

I will be holding a town hall meeting on Thursday, February 12th at 6:30 in the Symposium room in the Muller Administration Building on the Bellevue University Campus (1000 Galvin Rd. South, Bellevue, NE 68005).  Follow the signs to the Administration building, enter the glass doors, and take the elevator to the lower level.  I look forward to updating everyone on legislation introduced so far this session and addressing any questions or concerns you may have. See you there!

Legislative Update: Veterans legislation introduced, First hearings of session scheduled

January 16th, 2015

On Wednesday, I joined six of my colleagues for a press conference highlighting a legislative agenda focused on veterans and their families.  Later that morning, I introduced LB 272 , a bill authorizing the creation of a voluntary hiring preference for private companies seeking to employ veterans.  This bill complements the work of the Legislature last year for public sector employers, that established a preference for veterans.  Under the bill, businesses can elect to offer a hiring preference for veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans.

 

Standing with Senators: Nordquist, Morfeld, Garrett, Schnoor, Bloomfield, and Riepe at Wednesday’s press conference on veterans legislation

Other veteran initiatives highlighted at the press conference include a wage subsidy program for unemployed veterans (LB 251), tax exemptions for military retirees (LBs 20 and 267), and better recognition of military education, training and experience for professional licenses (LB 264).     

First Hearings Scheduled

Next week marks the end of bill introduction and the start of public hearings on legislation.  In Nebraska, unlike in many states, every bill receives a public hearing and anyone is allowed to testify.  Committees stay, sometimes late into the night, until all who wish to testify are heard.  Two of my bills, LB 107 and LB 163, are scheduled for public hearings next week.  LB 107, a bill I highlighted last week, eliminates the integrated practice agreement for nurse practitioners.   The hearing for LB 107 is on Thursday, January 22 at 1:30 PM in room 1510 of the State Capitol. 

LB 163 establishes an emergency management registry operated by the Nebraska EmergencyManagement Agency.  The registry is voluntary and the information provided by members of the public will be made available to 911 call centers, emergency management agencies and law enforcement.  Citizens can input a variety of information into the registry, including emergency contact information, medical conditions and allergies, location of “safe places” for hiding or sheltering in place, and primary language indicator.  This registry ensures law enforcement and other first responders have vital information at their fingertips in an emergency.  North Platte, NE is one of many communities across the country to utilize this type of registry.  The hearing for LB 163 is on Thursday, January 22 at 1:30 PM in room 1507 of the State Capitol.      

Council of State Government holds briefing on Justice Reinvestment Working Group Report

On Wednesday, members of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group held a briefing regarding the Council of State Government’s Justice Center report on Nebraska prisons.  The Council of State Governments, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, provides staff and resources to states like Nebraska who demonstrate bipartisan, interbranch support for justice reinvestment.  Nebraska is currently one of three states going through the process.  

Nebraska’s prisons are currently at 158% of capacity and are projected to grow to 170% of capacity by 2020 if no changes are made.  Nebraska law allows the Governor to declare a state of emergency once prisons reach 140% capacity.  This high rate puts our state at risk for court invention.  This growing prison population is in spite of the fact  that crime rates and arrests have declined over the past 9 years.  The report focused on 3 key challenges facing Nebraska’s criminal justice system and made a series of recommendations to address these challenges.  The challenges the report identified are:

  1. Non-violent, low-level offenses are overrepresented in our prisons.

  2. Too many people with felony convictions leave prison without supervision and without paying restitution to victims’ families.

  3. Nebraska’s parole system needs improvement.  For example, parole has not fully implemented evidence-based practices and parole officers often do not have swift and sure sanctions available to them, short of revoking parole.

Future e-newsletters will highlight more about the report’s recommendations–and legislation to address these challenges.  

Town Hall Meeting Announcement

I will be holding a town hall meeting on Thursday, February 12th at 6:30 pm at Bellevue University at the John B. Muller Administration Services Building (lower level symposium room), located at 1000 Galvin Road South.  Please join me as we discuss legislation from this year’s session and answer any questions or concerns you may have.  I also enjoy setting aside time to speak with constituents one-on-one after the main presentation. See you there!  

Meet Our Spring 2015 Interns

This session we will welcome two interns to our office.  Qingye “Isabella” Li is a senior Psychology major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with minors in Business Administration and Criminal Justice. She is from China, but came to the United States to study two years ago. She has interned for Lancaster County’s Community Corrections and Public Defender’s offices, worked on the UNL Human Trafficking Conference planning team, and currently works as a tutor at UNL Athletic Department. She hopes to attend law school or to pursue an MBA upon graduation this May.

Billy is currently a senior at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln double majoring in History and Psychology. His interests include public policy, public health issues, and of course, all things history.  He is involved with student government and serves on its Government Liaison Committee, who helped to get LB740 passed (a bill granting in-state tuition to qualifying veterans and their families).  He plans on attending law school in the fall of next year.

We look forward to having Isabella and Billy join our team!  

State senators to introduce package of bill to recruit, retain and support veterans and their families

January 13th, 2015

LINCOLN— Wednesday morning, State Senator Sue Crawford will join at least four other state senators to discuss a legislative agenda focused on veterans and their families. The agenda features several workforce development initiatives including the creation of a voluntary hiring preference for private companies, a wage subsidy program for unemployed veterans, tax exemptions for military retirees, and better recognition of military education, training and experience for professional licenses. The agenda also includes legislation to create additional health care choices for Nebraska veterans.

In 2014, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Nebraska Department of Labor, Nebraska’s community colleges and several employers to create “The Good Life for Veterans” initiative. Its aim: to recruit veterans leaving the military to Nebraska as they begin their post-military careers. Since its creation, “The Good Life for Veterans” has had a presence at three career fairs at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Riley, Kansas; and Fort Carson, Colorado, reaching over 1,000 veterans and military members. What: Press conference on legislation targeting veterans and their families

What: Press conference on legislation targeting veterans and their families

Where: Nebraska State Capitol Rotunda

When: Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 8:45 AM

Speakers include:
State Senator Sue Crawford (District 45)
State Senator Jeremy Nordquist (District 7)
State Senator Tommy Garrett (District 3)
State Senator Adam Morfeld (District 46)
State Senator Merv Riepe (District 12)
Jamie Karl, Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce

 

As bill introduction begins, learn how to navigate the Nebraska Legislature’s website

January 12th, 2015

104th Legislature Convenes and Bill Introduction Begins

On Wednesday, the 104th Legislature convened.  As I mentioned in previous newsletters, in Nebraska legislation must be introduced during the first ten days of session.  This year, due to the election of leadership and other agenda items, bill introduction started on Day 2 (Thursday, January 8).  

This week, I introduced several bills, including LB 107.  LB 107 is a bill to eliminate the integrative practice agreement from nurse practitioner statutes.  The bill is identical to LB 916, a bill the Legislature passed last year by an overwhelming margin of 43-0 before being vetoed by then-Governor Dave Heineman.  70% of new psychiatric nurse practitioners leave Nebraska each year, citing integrative practice agreements as a key reason for their departure.  These agreements do not improve patient safety or outcomes; however, they clearly stand in the way of recruiting and retaining the healthcare workforce we need.

How To Navigate NebraskaLegislature.gov

The Nebraska Legislature’s website has a wealth of information available for citizens interested in reading and tracking legislation.  For example, did you know that you can sign up to receive free daily alerts regarding bills of interest?  Bill Tracker (found here: http://www.nebraska.gov/billtracker/ ) allows you to track up to 15 bills and even receive daily email alerts when there is action on the bill.  

The Nebraska Legislature’s website allows you to view a variety of things from committee assignments to senators’ web pages and contact information.  It also allows you to look up legislation by bill number, senator, or subject matter.  You are also able to look up legislation from previous years based on bill number or subject matter.

To demonstrate how to navigate the website, let’s use LB 740 (2014) as an example.  Beginning on the nebraskalegislature.gov’s homepage, click on “Search Past Legislation” in the upper right hand corner.  From this next page, you can search by bill number (LB 740) or by subject term (residency veteran).  If you know the year it was introduced, you can narrow the search by year or else conduct a search for all legislative sessions. 

Once you pull up the bill page, you are able to view several things including statement of intent, fiscal note, committee statement, floor votes and transcripts from the bill hearing and floor debate.  The introducing senator must publish a statement of intent, or summary of the bill, 24 hours before the bill’s hearing.   Similarly, each bill generates a fiscal note drafted by the Legislative Fiscal Office.  Fiscal notes are published online approximately 24-48 hours before the bill’s hearing.

If a bill advances out of committee, the committee will produce a committee statement.  This document contains a list of organizations and/or individuals who testified either in support, opposition or in a neutral capacity at the bill’s hearing, as well as a summary of the bill and committee amendments, if any.  These documents are available in the right hand corner of the bill page.  

The bottom left hand corner contains links to transcripts that mention the bill in question.  Because this can include any mention of the bill, including when the bill is introduced or referred to committee, it can be helpful to check the transcript dates against the bill’s history.  This allows you to pinpoint transcripts from the day of the hearing or when the bill is first debated on General File.  Typically, bills are placed on General File several days to weeks (or longer) before appearing on an agenda for discussion.  One way to determine quickly if a transcript contains floor debate is to look for transcripts that correspond with dates in which amendments were adopted or failed.  This is not a hard and fast rule but it can help you locate relevant information quickly.  

The links to the Legislative Journal (third column under Bill History heading) are particularly helpful when you want to view floor votes.  Using LB 740 again as our example, you can view floor votes on General File and Final Reading on pages 539 and 1017 of the Legislative Journal.    Stay tuned for more how to’s this session, including how to read fiscal notes and committee statements.

Committee Assignments
On Wednesday morning, the Legislature elected the Speaker, Chairperson of the Executive Board and Chairs of the 14 standing committees.  I am honored to announce that my colleagues elected me chair of the Urban Affairs Committee.  I look forward to working with municipalities across the state, including of course, Bellevue, to ensure that state policies empower local communities to thrive.  

Members of the my staff, from left: Courtney Breitkreutz, Trevor Fitzgerald, myself, and Kaitlin Reece

Also on Wednesday, the Committee on Committees met to determine committee membership for all 49 members.  This year I will serve on Business and Labor (Monday), Urban Affairs (Tuesday) and Health and Human Services Committees (Wednesday-Thursday-Friday).  

Office Relocating
Each biennium as term-limited senators leave, new senators arrive and committee chairs are elected, offices change and relocate within the Capitol.  Legislative offices are located on the first two floors of the Capitol building.  Each of the 14 standing committees has a designated office location set by the Executive Board.  Committee chairs are the first to move offices.  Senators then select from the available offices based on length of life-time service.   This process began Wednesday afternoon following committee chair elections and finished the next day with the last freshman senators moving into their offices.  Phone numbers and PO Boxes follow the senator–or in the case of a new senator–the seat.  We can be found in the Urban Affairs Committee office, room 1212.  New room numbers for the other senators can be found here: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/senators/roster.pdf

Townhall Announcement
I will be holding a town hall meeting on Thursday, February 12th at 6:30 pm at Bellevue University at the John B. Muller Administration Services Building (lower level symposium room), located at 1000 Galvin Road South.  Please join me as we discuss legislation from this year’s session and answer any questions or concerns you may have.  I also enjoy setting aside time to speak with constituents one-on-one after the main presentation. See you there!

All my Best,

Sue

Bill to Grant Additional Oversight to Campaign Accounts Introduced

January 12th, 2015

Lincoln, NE–Today State Senator Sue Crawford (District 45, Bellevue) introduced LB 166, a bill to bring additional accountability and transparency to campaign funds.

Under the bill, each campaign committee must submit an end-of-the-year balance statement to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission.  This statement will be compared against campaign committees’ end of year statements by Accountability and Disclosure Commission staff during the auditing process.  LB 166 also prohibits loans from campaign funds, increases penalties for violations of the Accountability and Disclosure Act, and adds enforcement power for the commission to require restitution as a consequence of a violation.

“LB 166 is a bill designed to safeguard the public’s trust and confidence in government,” explained Senator Sue Crawford.  “Nebraskans trust that when they make a contribution to a candidate, candidates will not misrepresent their balance or use these funds to make personal loans.”

“What’s more, current law does not provide a second check against fraud using campaign funds.” Senator Crawford shared.  “Right now, the balance in a campaign account provided to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission is whatever the candidate committee says it is.  LB 166 provides an important tool to ensure campaign funds are used as reported by the candidates.”

“It is important that the Unicameral protects the integrity of campaign contributions.”  added Jack Gould, Issues Chair for Common Cause Nebraska. “The public can not be expected to financially support candidates for public office unless they can be sure their contributions are used for actual campaigning.”

“The Accountability and Disclosure Commission welcomes the introduction of LB 166” said Executive Director Frank Daley. “When adopted, its provisions will facilitate the efficient administration of Nebraska’s campaign finance disclosure laws.”