Welcome

January 8th, 2014

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

Legislative Update: April 17th

April 17th, 2014

Final Group of Bills Sent to the Governor

Today the Legislature passed the final bills of this session.  Included in this group is LB 916, a bill I introduced to remove the contract with a physician currently required in our state for nurse practitioners to practice.  Currently, nurse practitioners in Nebraska must practice under a contract with a doctor for their entire career.  As a result, it is more difficult to get Nurse Practitioners in underserved rural communities and many nurse practitioners leave Nebraska following graduation.  For example, 70% of new psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, who we desperately need here in Nebraska, seek employment in other states, citing fewer practice restrictions in those other states.

LB 916 and the other bills passed today now go to the Governor for his signature. Watch for a legislative update next week for the final status of key bills passed this session.

Legislature Adjourns Sine Die

Earlier today the 103rd Legislature adjourned sine die.  Unless the Governor calls a special session, the Legislature will meet again in January 2015.  Due to term limits, 17 of my colleagues will not return to Lincoln in January.  Part of today’s proceedings included tributes to the leaving senators and farewell speeches from these term-limited senators.  It is sad to see so many strong leaders leave the body.  We will have at least 17 new members next session, and possibly more.

Future Legislative Updates

With the Legislature adjourning sine die today, we will shift to our interim schedule for future legislative updates.  Beginning in May, we will send legislative updates approximately once a month until the Legislative session begins again next January.  These updates will focus on interim study and bill research for next session and will continue to feature events in the district and information about town hall events.

Join Us in Giving Back During ServeNebraska Week

Next week marks ServeNebraska week, which celebrates the  service and volunteerism spirit of Nebraskans across the state.  Nebraskans of all ages are encouraged to volunteer and give back to their communities during ServeNebraska week, April 20-26.

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ServeNebraska Americorp members visited my office late last month

As part of ServeNebraska Week, our office will be closed on Thursday as we spend the day volunteering in the Bellevue community.  Our service projects include work at Youth Emergency Services Maternity Home as well as projects at Central and Belleaire Elementary Schools.  We will end the afternoon with an after-school town hall meeting at Mission Middle School.  That evening I will speak to a group of caregivers at Hillcrest Health Services and then join other Political Science faculty to honor Creighton Political Science graduates.

Legislative Offices Closed for Easter

All legislative offices will be closed Friday and Monday to allow staff to celebrate Easter with their families.  If you need assistance during this time, please leave a message and my staff will respond upon their return on Tuesday.

I hope that you and your family have a restful Easter weekend spent with family and friends.

All the best,

Sue

Bill Aimed at Greater Transparency and Accountability in Rulemaking Becomes Law

April 17th, 2014

Yesterday, Governor Dave Heineman signed LB 719 into law.  LB 719, a bill introduced by Senator Sue Crawford (District 45, Bellevue), brings greater transparency, efficiency and accountability to the rulemaking process.

LB 719 requires agencies to prepare a report for all proposed rules and regulations following a public hearing. The report includes a summary of comments raised during the hearing through oral or written testimony and includes a response from the agencies to these summarized comments.

It also strengthens the complaint process currently available to senators to challenge regulations that have drifted from legislative intent or are unconstitutional.  This complaint procedure was created several years ago through a bill introduced by then-Senator Pat Bourne and prioritized by then-state senator, now U.S. Senator, Deb Fischer.

“The current process for rulemaking hearings makes it difficult for citizens, the Governor and legislators to assess the responsiveness of agencies to citizen and legislative comments on proposed changes to regulations.” explained Senator Crawford.  “LB 719 provides a tool for senators and the Governor to use to assess the justifications behind the agency’s response–or failure to respond–to the concerns raised.”

Organizations who testified in support of LB 719 at the bill’s hearing included the Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers, Nebraska Appleseed, Mosaic, Common Cause, and Nebraska Nursing Facility Association.

“I would first like to commend Senator Crawford for introducing LB 719 and thank the 46 senators who voted in support of the bill.” shared Loran Schmit,  Executive Director of the Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers. “The regulatory process can be extremely burdensome to all industries and the passage of this bill will require the regulatory agencies to be more aware of the burden they can place on industry due to excessive regulation.”

“LB 719 will allow greater accountability within the rulemaking process, helping the public be more engaged and better understand decisions made by state Departments.” stated James Goddard, Director of Economic Justice and Health Care Access Programs at Nebraska Appleseed.  “It will also require Departments to be more responsive to concerns expressed by the public.”

“The nursing and assisted living facility industries are two of the most heavily regulated industries in the state.” shared Nick Faustman, Nebraska Nursing Facility Association’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs. “Changes in regulations could easily be the difference between being able to continue caring for Nebraska’s most vulnerable populations or shutting down the facility altogether.  LB 719 will enable our members to be even more proactive in partnering with the State to develop effective regulation.”

 

Legislative Update: April 7th

April 4th, 2014

LB 740 and Others Signed by Governor Heineman, Becomes Law
Last Friday, Governor Heineman signed several bills into law, including my personal priority bill, LB 740. With the passage of this bill, veterans and their families will be able to qualify for in-state tuition and start using their educational benefits right away.

As a long time resident of Bellevue, many of my friends and neighbors are military spouses. These spouses pick up and move whenever we ask them to. When their military member retires, that is often a time when the spouse gets to focus on their career. LB 740 helps these spouses and their dependents get back to school quickly and finish what they’ve started. I look forward to the opportunities this law will create for our veteran families, our universities, and our state.


Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford and I discuss LB907
Photo Courtesy of Nebraska Unicameral Information Office

Water Funding Bill Debated, Advances
On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 1098 to Select File. LB 1098, introduced by Senator Carlson, focuses on funding for water projects. This year’s budget included $31.5 million to fund water projects. LB 1098 establishes criteria and a process by which this funding will be appropriated. I worked hard with my colleagues, particularly Senators Jim Smith and Rick Kolowski, to include language about protecting critical infrastructure as a type of water project eligible for this new funding. This critical infrastructure includes the levees around Offutt Air Force Base.

Due to updated FEMA regulations, the levees around Offutt must be raised, in places, between one and two feet. This height increase will require broadening the base of the levees resulting in an overall project cost of over $24 million. This is an unfunded federal mandate that will not be paid for by FEMA. While local political subdivisions including the City of Bellevue and the Papio-Missouri NRD, recognize the necessity of addressing and funding this project, state participation will be essential to protect and preserve this asset. This project is, and must remain, a high priority as a critical water project until it is completed. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure the levee project gets full and fair consideration by the Natural Resources Commission charged with administering the grants.

Anti-Discrimination Law Debate Continues
On Thursday we began debate on LB 485, a bill to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill applies to businesses with fifteen or more employees and includes an exemption for churches, religious schools and religious organizations.

Senator Conrad, who leaves the body due to term limits at the end of this session, selected this bill as her final personal priority bill. I was very impressed by the debate on the floor. Senator Ashford, also in his last term in the Unicameral, spoke passionately about how his father fought against discrimination in Omaha and the religious roots of his commitment to end discrimination of all kinds. The debate included discussion about how to interpret religious freedom and whether the bill would infringe on religious freedom or not, the possible impact of the bill in terms of economic development, workforce recruitment, business legal costs, and the importance of the human dignity of work. Senator Smith, a business owner from Papillion, discussed his concerns about legal issues it would raise for businesses. Senator Conrad presented convincing data to counter arguments about the likelihood of triggering excessive litigation as well as important legal background on why the bill does not infringe on first amendment protections.

Senator Conrad also shared interesting data on where Nebraskans stand on this issue based on polling of likely voters. As of January 2014, 64% support a law that would protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The support crosses religious lines with 67% of Catholics, 62% of Protestants, and 56% of weekly churchgoers supporting anti-discrimination legislation. My staff compiled emails from constituents prior to floor debate and at that time I had 47 emails in support of the bill and only 17 emails in opposition. Debate continues next week. However, a majority of senators, including me, support the measure and plan to vote to advance the bill to the the next round.

Sine Die Approaching
Thursday marked the fifty-fifth day of this sixty day session. On Thursday, April 17 the Legislature will adjourn sine die. Sine die is Latin for “without day.” When used in this context, it means the Legislature adjourns with a future meeting date uncertain. At a minimum, the Legislature will meet again in January. However, the Legislature could meet for a special session before that if needed. The last time the Nebraska Legislature met for a special session was in 2011.

End-of-Session Town Hall Scheduled
Mark your calendars for April 24 for an end-of-session town hall meeting at Mission Middle School in the Auditorium. The meeting will run from 4:30-5:30 and include a recap of the Legislative session and a short meet and greet after.

School Visits
I recently had the pleasure of visiting with 3 school groups from the district: Birchcrest Elementary, St. Mary’s, and Cornerstone Christian. It was wonderful to meet them and answer their questions about state government. It was great to see several of my 4th grade friends from New Life Baptist in the school groups this past week.

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Elementary Students from Bellevue visit the Capitol

To organize a school visit at the Capitol or to organize a visit at your school, please contact Courtney in my office at (402) 471-2615.

All the best,
Sue

Legislative Update: March 31

March 31st, 2014

Personal Priority Bill Passed, Other Crawford Priority Bills Advance

This week was a busy and successful week for several of the bills on our agenda.  My personal priority bill, LB 740, passed the third and final round of debate on a 48-0 vote.  LB 740 allows veterans and their families to start their undergraduate degree right away by granting immediate residency for in-state tuition. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature, which I hope will happen in the next few days.  In Nebraska, governors have five days, excluding Sundays, after receiving the bill  to sign or veto a bill.  If the governor does not sign or veto the bill, it becomes law notwithstanding his signature.

On Monday, I joined 28 of my colleagues in advancing LB 916 to the second round of debate.  LB 916, a bill I introduced and Senator Watermeier prioritized, removes the integrated practice agreement for nurse practitioners. 17 other states, including Colorado and Iowa, allow nurse practitioners to practice without this type of agreement.

LB 916 as amended creates a transition-to-practice agreement for new nurse practitioners’ first year of practice .  Physicians or nurse practitioners with at least 5 years of experience are eligible to serve as supervising providers in these short-term agreements.  If LB 916 becomes law, nurse practitioners will be able to offer safe, high quality, cost-effective health care, particularly to underserved populations, while maintaining collaboration, consultation and referral requirements in the Nurse Practitioner Licensing Act.

Tuesday afternoon the Legislature advanced two additional bills I introduced this session:LB 719 and LB 720.  LB 719 was selected by the Speaker as one of his 25 Speaker priority bills.  I introduced these bills as part of a responsive regulations package to bring greater transparency, efficiency and accountability to Nebraska’s rulemaking system.  LB 720 passed as an amendment onto LB 719 with a 27-0 vote.  The final package advanced 29-0 to Select File.

Interim Study Resolutions Introduced

Wednesday marked the deadline for interim study resolutions.  Interim studies are in-depth policy analyses conducted by Senators and legislative staff between sessions. The format of these studies vary but typically they involve meetings with interested parties and can include a legislative committee hearing in the fall. Often, the results of these studies become bills that are introduced the following session. For example, 3 bills I introduced this session (LB 740, LB 769 and LB 902) were the result of our interim study LR 201 examining policy options to support military families.

This session I introduced 6 interim studies.  Here is a brief description of these studies:

  1. LR 433: examines issues relating to a compassionate waiver for the use of CBD oil for children with epilepsy whose seizures are not treated by current available drugs.
  2. LR 533: focuses on former foster youth who have aged out of the foster care system and their eligibility for health insurance.
  3. LR 555studies how cities and villages provide services to residents located in sanitary improvement districts of cities and villages.
  4. LR 582: examines unfunded and underfunded mandates on counties and county governments and their impact on property tax rates.
  5. LR 583: assesses the behavioral health and mental health needs of K-12 students and available resources to meet those needs.
  6. LR 585: examines statutory issues surrounding cities of the first class, like Bellevue.

We will be busy working on these interim studies and other bill ideas over the interim. Look for more information about these studies in the coming weeks and months.

Special Committee Assignments Finalized

This week, the Executive Board of the Legislature voted on assignments to several special legislative committees created as a result of legislation passed this session, including the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative committee and the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee to examine the circumstances surrounding Nikko Jenkins’ time in prison and subsequent release.  I am happy to share that I was selected as one of seven members of the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative committee (LR 400).  I look forward to digging into the issues surrounding ACCESSNebraska and hope that the committee finds ways to make this system work better for our low income families and our elderly.

55th Wing Protocol Visits Lincoln

On Wednesday, I was delighted to welcome Airmen of the 55th Wing Protocol to the Capitol for a visit and tour.  Their visit included a chance to watch debate on prison reform on the floor of the Legislature and a tour of the Capitol.  For several airmen, it was their first visit to the Capitol.

Offutt Air Force Base’s 55th Wing Protocol took time to visit my office on their visit to the Capitol from Bellevue
I enjoyed getting to know them better over lunch and hope they will visit again soon.  If you are planning a trip to Lincoln and would like help setting up a tour, please contact my office at (402) 471-2615.

Legislative Update: March 24

March 24th, 2014

Income Tax Relief Advances to Third and Final Round of Debate

On Tuesday, the Legislature advanced LB 987 to Final Reading.  As I mentioned last week, LB 987 indexes individual income tax brackets for inflation and exempts social security income from income tax for Nebraskans who earn less than $58,000 for married couples filing jointly and $43,000 for individuals filing any other return.  LB 987 marks the first time that Nebraska will exempt social security at a greater amount than is allowed federally.

Under LB 987, Nebraskans will see up to $122 million in income tax relief by 2017. LB 987 includes a modest tax credit for new military retirees beginning in 2015.   In my time in the Legislature,  I have introduced two bills on this topic (LB 238 and 902) and worked hard over the interim to ensure that military retiree tax relief was part of the Tax Modernization Committee’s work on tax reform.

While I appreciate that some new military retirees will see tax relief under the bill, I am disappointed that LB 987 does not provide tax relief for those military retirees who have already chosen to live and work in Nebraska and therefore does not help us retain the military retirees who have already made a commitment to our state and our communities.  This is very important work that remains to be done.

Juvenile Justice Reform Advances

Tuesday morning the Legislature debated and advanced LB 464 which makes several changes to our juvenile justice system.  Under the bill, cases where youth commit lower level crimes will begin in juvenile, rather than adult, court. More serious offenses and traffic offenses will still originate in adult court.  Part of the discussion included a review of current policies in our 12 judicial districts.  The district attorneys in Sarpy County were recognized by many during the floor debate as a model for treating kids like kids and only filing against youth in adult court for more serious crimes.  LB 464 allows these attorneys in Sarpy County to continue their important work while ensuring that kids in other counties have better access to juvenile court.

Another part of the final bill clarified language following the passage of LB 561 last year which moved more services for juvenile offenders to the county-level.  Fred Uhe and Sarpy County Commissioners worked hard to ensure that the final product was one that worked well on the ground for Sarpy County and other counties across the state. I appreciate their thoughtfulness and hard work on this important issue.

Wellness in Nebraska

After two days of lengthy debate, LB 887, Wellness in Nebraska, narrowly failed to invoke cloture and end debate on the bill.  In Nebraska, while it takes 30 votes to override a Governor’s veto, it takes 33 votes to end a filibuster on a bill.  I supported LB 887 because it created a Nebraskan plan and vision for the future of health care, not just for the 54,000 Nebraskans who would have had access to health care under LB 887.  While we may have lost the vote on LB 887, the fight for a health care system that works for all Nebraskans continues.

Grow Big Red

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Sen. Pat Foote’s “Keep Nebraska Beautiful” initiative which she started as state senator in the 1950s.  2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this campaign and to celebrate, citizens and businesses across the state are encouraged to plant red flowers.  Other ways to get involved in the 50th anniversary celebration include organizing community planting events through church groups, 4-H, or Scouts or working with your neighborhood association to plant red flowers in your neighborhood.  For more information, contact www.knb.org.

Visitors This Week

One of my favorite parts of my job is welcoming visitors to the Capitol, especially those who travel to Lincoln to share their concerns and engage in the legislative process.

This week, social work students from Creighton and other Nebraska colleges and universities visited the Capitol for their legislative day.  These future social workers will be on the front lines in making government programs work to help families move out of poverty.

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Creighton social work students and Social Work professor Dr. Grandbois

I also visited with No Limits student advocates from Bellevue West and Mission Middle School who traveled to Lincoln to discuss their efforts to fight tobacco use.  These students work hard to encourage their peers to adopt healthy lifestyles and avoid tobacco use.  I appreciate their hard work and dedication on this important issue.

LB 887 Wellness in Nebraska Act fails cloture motion

March 19th, 2014

Last week, a 4th grade student asked me what is the hardest part of my job. My answer was, the hardest part of my job is when you work for months, sometimes years, on an important issue and it all comes down to one vote and you lose the vote. You have to move on and fight the next fight. Today we lost on LB 887 Wellness in Nebraska. However, the fight for a health care system that works for all Nebraskans continues.

Legislative Update: March 17

March 17th, 2014

 

Budget Bills Pass First Round of Debate                                                                                                                                                

On Tuesday, the Legislature voted to advance three bills that comprise this year’s budget package: LBs 905, 906 and 130. These bills are the result of months of daily hearings and careful consideration by our Appropriations Committee, the only 5-day committee in our Legislature.

The proposals include an additional $25 million of property tax relief as well as investments in correctional services, job training and water sustainability projects. I continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that funding for the levees around Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base.

The budget provides funding to shorten our developmental disability waiting list of approximately 1400 individuals. It also includes funding to help Games and Parks meet some of their deferred maintenance needs, including bringing more of our state park facilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. These projects will allow more Nebraskans with physical disabilities to visit and enjoy our state parks.

Property Tax Relief Proposals

In addition to the $25 million appropriation to our Property Tax Credit program, the Legislature has advanced two bills related to property tax relief this session: LB 986 and 1087.

LB 986 expands the homestead exemption program to include more families, including families with a child or close relative who have a developmental disability. As I mentioned last week, LB 986 received overwhelming support in the first round of debate.

On Thursday, the Legislature advanced LB 1087, a bill that grants homestead exemptions to veterans who are 100% disabled due to a service connected disability. LB 1087 also applies to widows or widowers of such a veteran. Currently, veterans with 100% disability due to a non-service-connected disability qualify for the exemption.

Income Tax Relief Advances

Also on Tuesday, I joined 35 of my colleagues in support of LB 987. LB 987, introduced by the Revenue Committee, indexes income tax brackets for inflation and also exempts social security benefits from state income tax for Nebraskans who earn less than $58,000 for married couples filing jointly and $43,000 for individuals filing any other return. Under LB 987, Nebraskans will see up to $122 million in income tax relief over the next four years. I look forward to discussing this bill and other tax bills before the Legislature in the weeks to come.

Last session the Legislature passed two bills related to income tax relief: LB 308 and LB 573. LB 308 eliminates the alternative minimum tax from state income tax, with $24 million in income tax revenue by 2016. Before its passage, Nebraska was one of nine states that had not repealed its alternative minimum tax. LB 573 made changes to income tax rates and exclusions for capital gains and extraordinary dividends held by an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). LB 573 saved eligible taxpayers $604,000 in the first year and up to $3.4 million over four years.

In 2012, the Legislature passed LB 970, which in its final version provided $97 million in income tax relief for Nebraskans. The final provisions of LB 970, went into effect in 2014. In 2013, the rates for the three lowest tax brackets were lowered as a result of LB 970. This year, the brackets changed so lower and middle levels of income are taxed at a lower rate.

Taken together, LB 970 (2012), LB 573 (2013), and LB 308 (2013) provide $124 million of income tax relief for Nebraskans over the next four years. If the Legislature advances LB 987 and LB 75 in their current forms, this number grows to $266 million in income tax relief.

How To: Navigate the Nebraska Legislative Website

The Legislature works hard to conduct their business in a transparent way. The legislative website is a great tool to help citizens stay informed on issues and learn more about the legislative process. This website can be found at the following link: www.nebraskalegislature.gov

In Nebraska, all bills and amendments are posted online through the Legislature’s website. To look up a bill, simply type the bill number in the search engine on the right hand side of the home page. If you do not know the bill number, you can search by introducer, committee the bill was referred to, or subject matter here: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/

When you read a bill, the most important language of most bills is the material underlined or struck out. Underlined content indicates new material or additions to state law. Struck out material indicates the bill removes this language from our state laws. The other language in the bill simply shows the rest of the law that the bills changes. The exception is an outright repeal of a section of statute. This language is neither underlined or struck out, just stated in the bill.

The Transcriber’s Office in the Legislature helps create transcripts from public hearings and floor debate which are available online as they become available. By mid summer, all transcripts from the previous session are available online for public view. These transcripts can be found in the bottom right hand corner of the bill page under “Related Transcripts.” The bill page also contains the fiscal note, committee statement, statement of intent and any amendments to the bill. The fiscal note and statement of intent help legislators and the public understand the fiscal impact of a bill and purpose of the bill. The committee statement allows one to see who supported or opposed a bill as well as the committee vote on the bill.

School Visits and Youth Unicam

Each year I am delighted to host students from schools in my district visiting the Capitol. Many fourth grade classes visit the Capitol as part of their state history curriculum. This week, fourth graders from Avery Elementary visited the Capitol. Their visit included a tour of the Capitol and a chance to watch floor debate. If you would like to arrange a school visit, please email my administrative aide, Courtney Breitkreutz, at cbreitkreutz@leg.ne.gov

I am also happy to make classroom visits at schools in the district when my schedule permits. For example, because Friday was a recess day, I was able to visit Cornerstone Christian School for a classroom visit. I look forward to several other scheduled visits in the weeks to come. If you would like to arrange a classroom visit, please contact Courtney at the above email address.

High school students interested in learning more about state government and public policy should consider applying for the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The program runs from June 8-11 and allows high school students to serve as state senators: sponsoring bills, conducting committee hearings and debating bills on the floor of the Legislature. Early bird discounts are available through April 1 and there are scholarships available. Registration for this year’s Unicameral Youth Legislature closes May 15. For more information, please visit www.nebraskalegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-0764.

All the best,

Sue

 

Sen. Crawford invites students to youth legislature

March 12th, 2014

High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 8-11. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.

The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.

Students get a chance to tackle a set of bills that the Senators discussed during the legislative session earlier that year as well as face the challenge of balancing the state budget,” Sen. Crawford said. “The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives the students experience working with other youth across the state with real legislative bills. This experience will serve them well as our future leaders of the state.”

The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program. Early registration discounts are offered through April 1 and the final deadline is May 15. 

Scholarships are available.

To learn more about the program, go to www.nebraskalegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-0764.

Legislative Update: March 10th

March 10th, 2014

LB 740 Advances to Final Round of Debate
On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 740 to Final Reading, the third and final round of debate in the Nebraska Unicameral.  LB 740, my personal priority bill this session, grants immediate in-state residency for tuition to recently separated veterans and their families who become Nebraska residents.  LB 740 provides an immediate boost to the economy as these veterans spend their well-earned education benefits in Nebraska.  It also provides a long-term boost as we grow and develop a highly skilled, highly educated workforce in the state.

Property Relief Bill Receives First Round Approval
On Thursday morning, I voted with 33 of my colleagues to advance LB 986, a bill to provide property tax relief to more families through the homestead exemption.  This bill also includes an exemption for families with children who are developmentally disabled.  LB 986, along with the Appropriations’ budget proposal to add $25 million to Nebraska’s Property Tax Relief Fund, address property tax relief for Nebraskans across the state, including for our retirees who made their careers in Nebraska and want to stay here during their retirement.

Women Leaders in the Legislature
March is women’s history month.  As such, this update highlights some women leaders, past and present, in Nebraska state government. Photos courtesy of Nebraska Blue Book.

10 of the 49 state senators in the Unicameral today are women.  My female colleagues serve in leadership positions on Education, Health and Human Services, Urban Affairs, and transportation and Telecommunications committees.

Leadership by women senators is not new in Nebraska, however.  In 1954, Kathleen “Pat” Foote became the first woman to run for the Legislature.  Previous governors appointed several women over the years but Senator Pat Foote, at age 27, became the first woman to run and win a seat in the Legislature.  A Republican farm wife, Senator Foote successfully launched a “Keep Nebraska Beautiful” campaign through landmark legislation a decade before Lady Bird Johnson began her Keep America Beautiful campaign aimed at improving our nation’s highways.

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Senator Kathleen Foote

In 1972, Nebraska became the second state, after Hawaii, to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment, an effort led by then Senator Fern Hubbard Orme.  During her fourteen years as senator, she also led efforts to preserve the Thomas Kennard House in Lincoln and allocate funding for a women’s physical education building on UNL’s campus.

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 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 their spouse.

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Senator JoAnn Maxey

Around the same time, Senator Shirley Marsh was instrumental in structural changes inside the body.  She helped lead the charge to end smoking on the floor of the Legislature and help bring a women’s bathroom to the lounge outside the chamber.  Before these changes, female senators relied on state troopers to guard the door to the men’s bathroom.

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Senator Shirley Marsh

In 1986, not one, but two, women ran for Governor of Nebraska: Republican Kay Orr and Democrat Helen Boosalis.  This contest marked the first time in American history that two women faced each other as nominees from the two major parties in a Governor’s race.  With her victory on Election Day, Governor Kay Orr set additional records, becoming the first female governor of Nebraska and the first female Republican governor in the nation.

In the 1990s, Senator Ardyce Bohlke, as chair of the Education Committee, helped increase the amount of state aid to our K-12 schools.  Most recently, former state senator Deb Fischer became the first female U.S. senator in Nebraska following her defeat of Bob Kerrey in the 2012 campaign.

Also in 2012, Senator Sara Howard was elected to the seat previously filled by her mother, Senator Gwen Howard, marking the first mother-daughter legacy in the Nebraska Unicameral.

Upcoming Event
Join Wounded Warriors and others on Saturday, March 22nd at an open house at Marathon Ventures (901 Ft Crook Rd North, Bellevue) for “Soundz of Freedom,” a non-profit organization based in Bellevue dedicated to serving the wounded warriors and other veterans in our community.  The open house runs from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM and includes some remarks from Tim Chambers, “The Saluting Marine.”  For more information, please visit Soundz of Freedom’s website: http://soundzoffreedom.weebly.com/

On Sunday, March 30 join me and other members of the Bellevue Public Safety Foundation for a Souper Sunday at the Bellevue Volunteer Firefighters Hall, 2108 Franklin St.  Try a variety of soups made by local celebrities and vote for your favorite soup with donation dollars.   The event runs from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM.  Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors.  Children under 12 are free with a food pantry donation.  For more information, please visit:  bellevuepublicsafety.com

All, the best,

Sue

Legislative Update: March 3rd

March 3rd, 2014

 


I look forward to full day floor debate, which begins next week

LB 719 Selected As Speaker Priority Bill
Last Friday, Speaker Greg Adams selected one of our bills, LB 719, as one of his twenty five Speaker priority bills. LB 719 is part of the larger Responsive Regulations package I introduced this session to bring greater transparency, accountability and efficiency to the rulemaking process. The other two bills in this package, LB 718 and LB 720, advanced from committee and currently sit on General File.

LB 719 requires agencies to prepare a report for all proposed rules and regulations following a public hearing. The report includes a summary of comments raised during the hearing through oral or written testimony and includes a response from the agencies to these summarized comments. The current process for rulemaking hearings makes it difficult for citizens, the Governor and legislators to assess the responsiveness of agencies to citizen and legislative comments on proposed changes to regulations. LB 719 provides a tool for senators and the Governor to use to assess the justifications behind the agency’s response–or failure to respond–to the concerns raised. It does so without an impact to the state’s General Fund. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this bill with my colleagues later this session.

Intergovernmental Relations
While elected officials meet and make decisions in Lincoln, Bellevue, and Washington DC, making policies work for our families in Nebraska often involves negotiation and collaboration of government officials from different governments. Political scientists call this “intergovernmental relations.”

Just a few examples illustrate how your elected and appointed officials work together across levels and types of governments to serve Bellevue. Cindy Copich (school board legislative liaison) regularly informs me of Bellevue Public School concerns and current educational research relevant to educational policy decisions. Dr. Frank Harwood regularly comes to testify to let state senators know how various bills will impact Bellevue Public Schools. Councilwoman Carol Blood and Councilwoman Kathy Saniuk have contacted me and testified on bills important to the city of Bellevue related to addressing vacant properties and school boundaries. Assistant City Manager Larry Burkes and City Clerk Kay Dammast have worked with me to reduce state regulations on city operations to save money and allow cities to operate more efficiently. I have been working with county commissioners and the county treasurer to allow the county to be reimbursed for the work that we do at the county level to collect millions of dollars of highway funding and to ensure that county concerns are considered in our state juvenile justice reforms.

FEMA’s reclassification of the levees last year created an issue that requires a great deal of intergovernmental collaboration to meet the new criteria. John Winkler, manager of Papio Missouri River NRD, has been proactive in briefing officials at all levels of government. He has worked with me to engage state officials including the Governor and other senators. We have worked together on briefings for Offutt leadership. Mayor Sanders has worked to get MAPA (Metropolitan Area Planning Agency – another intergovernmental collaboration) involved and to shore up support of our federal elected officials to get their help in addressing the issue. U.S Senator Deb Fischer has successfully pushed for an amendment to a federal water bill to address the issue that is now sitting in conference committee. We will continue to work with other state senators and leaders from all governments to make sure that we do all that we need to do to protect Bellevue, the base, and new economic development in Sarpy County with careful attention to the costs to taxpayers.

Town Hall Meeting Held 
On Tuesday night, approximately 25 people braved the cold weather to join me for a town hall meeting at Richmont Village. Thanks to the staff of Richmont Village, and to Mayor Rita Sanders and her husband Rick, for opening up their business–and in the case of residents–their home, to us for the meeting.


Constituents gather at Richmont Village for last week’s town hall meeting

The evening began with opening remarks followed by a question and answer period. Military and veteran issues, the Learning Community, taxation of military retirement income and the status of levees surrounding Bellevue and Offutt were among the topics discussed during the town hall meeting.

We intend to have another town hall meeting in late April following the end of session. Stay tuned for more information as the date approaches.

Looking Ahead
Friday marked the last day of committee hearings this session. In Nebraska, every bill receives a public hearing in front of one of our 14 standing committees or one of our special committees. This means that for the first half of session, we debate bills as a body in the morning and attend committee hearings in the afternoon.

On Monday, we begin full day debate, which will continue until the Legislature adjourns on April 17. In the next 24 legislative days, the Legislature will debate many key issues including prison reform, water funding, Medicaid expansion, and tax reform. Stay tuned for more information about these bills, and others, that will be debated between now and April 17.

All the Best,

Sue