NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
The official site of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature

Sen. Sue Crawford

Sen. Sue Crawford

District 45

Welcome

January 6th, 2016

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

MHEC Annual Commission Meeting in St. Louis

The Midwest Higher Education Conference (MHEC) is a collaborative interstate compact dedicated to promoting higher educational opportunities in the Midwest. For 25 years, MHEC has helped educational institutions in its 12 member states work toward greater access, affordability, and quality. MHEC administers programs such as the Midwest Student Exchange Program, in which public institutions agree to charge out-of-state students within the exchange no more than 150% of in-state resident tuition for specific programs; the Multi-State Collaborative on Military Credit, which works to help veterans transfer their military training and experiences into college credit and successfully pursue college credentials; and the eTranscript Initiative, which offers a simplified way for students in member states to transfer information between high schools and colleges.

As one of Nebraska’s five commissioners, I attended MHEC’s 2016 Annual Commission Meeting November 13-15 in St. Louis. Commissioners from across the Midwest joined with national educational experts to discuss the Commission’s previous work and goals for the future. I look forward to utilizing MHEC’s many resources to continue promoting excellence in Nebraska’s higher education system.

Urban Affairs Committee Holds Final Interim Study Hearings

On December 2nd the Urban Affairs Committee held its final interim study hearing of the year, receiving testimony on two interim studies. The first study, LR526, examined issues related to municipal classifications. 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 5) villages (100 to 800). The City of Omaha is currently the state’s only city of the metropolitan class, and the City of Lincoln is the only city of the primary class. There are currently 30 cities of the first class (including Bellevue) and 117 cities of the second class, with the remaining 381 incorporated municipalities in Nebraska classified as villages.

When a municipality changes classification (i.e. from village to city of the second class, etc.), state law generally provides for municipal officials to certify the relevant change of population to the Secretary of State. LR 526 examined a number of issues related to the municipal classification process, including procedures for certifying a change of classification and whether a population threshold can only be met through the decennial census process or by way of annexation.

The December 2nd hearing also included the second of two hearings on LR490, an interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes in Nebraska. Historically, 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. Earlier this month, the Legislature’s Executive Board made several additions to the subject matters under Urban Affairs’ jurisdiction, so that legislation related to electrical codes and fire codes will also be heard by the committee in the future.

Visit from Twin Ridge Elementary School Students

I had an excellent time speaking with 4th graders from Twin Ridge Elementary on November 3rd. The students had great questions and lots of enthusiasm as they learned about our state government and toured our beautiful Capitol, and it was wonderful to meet them.

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Twin Ridge Elementary 4th graders during the first stop of their Capitol tour

Legislative Council at Offutt Air Force Base

The Legislative Council, which consists of all current senators, met at Offutt on November 17th and 18th. The 17 new senators-elect were also in attendance. Meeting at the base gave us a chance to emphasize the importance of Offutt to senators across the state. During our meetings, we discussed key issues that we will face in the new session including the funding shortfall, corrections, economic development, and challenges to our mental health system.

Veterans Day Events in Bellevue and Omaha

I enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of Nebraska’s Official Veterans Day Parade in Bellevue on November 5th, which as always was a great success. Now in its 17th year, the parade brings together generations of Nebraskans to celebrate and thank our veterans. It is always an enjoyable event for the whole family, and this year was no different. My thanks to the many people who worked hard to bring the parade together – the strength of our Bellevue community is marvelous to see on such full display.

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Getting ready to march in the parade with veterans Suzanne Kaufman-McNamara and Bryon Line

On November 9th, I joined the University of Nebraska-Omaha for their annual Veterans Appreciation Dinner. It was an evening of fellowship that brought together veterans, current military members, and the community to celebrate the achievements of UNO’s student vets. During the program, scholarships were awarded for the Student Veteran of the Year, the Academic Excellence Recognition Award, and the Community Leadership Award. Our student veterans are dedicated high-achievers, and they all deserve our thanks and support.

Finally, I joined the Eastern Nebraska Veteran’s Home for their Veterans Day program on November 11th. The ceremony honored all those who have served, and was also a time of solemn remembrance for all those warriors we have lost. It was an opportunity to express our deepest gratitude for every person who has sacrificed for our nation, and it was an absolute honor to be invited to the ceremony.

Caregiver Coalition

On November 3rd I joined the Nebraska Caregiver Coalition at their annual luncheon in Lincoln. Caregivers form the backbone of many Nebraska families, but their hard work and dedication too often goes unrecognized. It was my pleasure to join the Caregiver Coalition in lifting up and celebrating all those worthy Nebraskans who provide care to family members, friends, and neighbors.

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Speaking to the Nebraska Caregiver Coalition Luncheon at the Governor’s Residence in Lincoln

Community Conversations with the Radio Talking Book Service

I joined the Radio Talking Book Service (RTBS) for their Community Conversations show on November 4th. RTBS provides a unique service to blind, elderly, and learning disabled students throughout Nebraska who have trouble reading printed text. A dedicated team of staff and volunteers read daily newspapers, magazines, and other publications live on air, and host other live programs to share news on sports, health, and the community. RTBS offers a way to access local, current information, and it was a pleasure to join them.

Clarkson College Nursing School Presentation

I joined the women of Clarkson College’s Sigma Theta Tau – Omicron Epsilon chapter on November 15th to discuss policy developments related to nursing. Sigma Theta Tau is the national honor society of nursing. We talked about my LB107, which allows experienced nurse practitioners in Nebraska to provide care without an integrated practice agreement. We also reviewed strategies for legislative advocacy, the challenges facing Nebraska’s mental health workforce, and some of the healthcare-related bills that might come up in the 2017 legislative session. It was a productive discussion, and I look forward to seeing these women positively impacting the healthcare system through their work.

Farewell Wishes to Kaitlin Reece…

November 18th was Kaitlin’s last day with our office as she has accepted a position as Policy Coordinator with Voices for Children in Nebraska.

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Kaitlin with her husband Jarrod and daughter Camille

Kaitlin has been with my office since I was first elected four years ago. Under her leadership, our office passed many new bills to improve the lives of veterans and families in our state. She has always been an energetic and vital member of my staff, and she will will be greatly missed. Please join me and the rest of my staff in thanking Kaitlin for her dedicated service to District 45 and the State of Nebraska.

… And Welcome to Shayna Bartow!

Shayna Bartow is the newest member of my staff, and will be taking up Kaitlin’s former position as my Legislative Aide. She joined my office November 29th.

Shayna is a Wisconsin native who came to Nebraska to pursue a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University. After earning a degree in Justice & Society and Spanish, Shayna moved to Bellevue and worked on various political campaigns throughout the state. Outside of the Legislature, Shayna enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and traveling.

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Shayna’s responsibilities include researching, drafting, and advising on legislation, and assisting with constituent communication. She would be happy to talk with you by phone, email, or mail. She is always available to answer any questions you may have at (402) 471-2615 or at sbartow@leg.ne.gov.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

All the best,
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Seeking legislative interns

November 17th, 2016

I am currently seeking one or more interns for the 2017 Legislative Session. College students specializing in political science and social work are especially encouraged to apply, as are other students with an interest in government and relevant skills.

The internship will run from the beginning of January through the beginning of June 2017, and will have a time commitment of approximately 10 hours per week. Most work will take place at the State Capitol in Lincoln. Qualified applicants must possess strong writing skills, the ability to maintain confidentiality and professionalism at all times, and desire to learn more about the legislative process. The position is unpaid, but many students are able to receive college credit for their work.

The deadline for applications is Monday November 28th. Interested individuals should send a cover letter, resume, and a list of references to Christina Mayer at cmayer@leg.ne.gov. Call (402) 471-2615 with questions.

Interim Committee Hearings

October is traditionally a busy month for interim hearings on legislative resolutions (LRs), and this year was no different. I attended four days’ worth of hearings in October for two different committees, covering six interim studies.

In the Health and Human Services Committee, we held hearings on a wide variety of topics. LR 529 looked at how Nebraska is implementing federal policies to protect our state’s foster care youth. We heard from several experts who outlined the unique challenges faced by children and young adults in the foster care system, and discussed ways the state can help those youth reach their full potential. In the hearing for LR 513 the committee explored workforce challenges in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. We heard from a range of testifiers who work in and with the system, who highlighted both the dedication of professionals in the field and the obstacles they face in providing adequate services. With LR 514, the committee learned about the successes and difficulties related to transition services for youth who are leaving the juvenile justice system. And finally, we discussed the idea of Silver Alerts in the hearing for LR 507. In other states, the Silver Alert system operates similarly to Amber Alerts, except that they alert the public to missing seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. I am grateful to all those who came to testify on these challenging subjects, and will continue to engage with the committee, outside experts, and citizens to promote positive outcomes for all involved.

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The Health and Human Services Committee listening to testimony on LR 507

In the Business and Labor Committee, we discussed two interim studies. The first, LR 533, was an examination of Nebraska’s career education and training for middle-skill jobs. That includes positions that require some postsecondary education, like vocational-technical training or an associate’s degree, but less than a bachelor’s degree. Nebraska may be facing a shortage of these workers, and during the hearing we discussed Nebraska’s options to build and support workers in this important career category. Last, we discussed LR 512 and the Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR). The CIR is a state agency designed to resolve public sector labor controversies, authorized in the Nebraska Constitution. During the hearing, we heard from a range of testifiers who shared their experiences with the CIR and their thoughts on its future.

Alzheimer’s State Plan

In addition to Silver Alerts, the Health and Human Services Committee also discussed the new Alzheimer’s State Plan. The plan has been crafted to improve information and services for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers in the state, and to help guide policy as the state’s aged population grows. The Alzheimer’s state plan has already resulted in some additional resources, including a web portal with information for families. That portal can be accessed here.

Charles Dick Medal of Merit

A few months ago I was informed by Major General Daryl Bohac, Adjutant General of the Nebraska National Guard, that I had been selected to receive the prestigious 2016 Charles Dick Medal of Merit by the National Guard Association of the United States. The Charles Dick Medal of Merit was established in 1988 to recognize exceptional contributions to the National Guard by elected representatives at the state or federal level. On October 26th, I joined the National Guard Association of Nebraska at their annual dinner in Lincoln to receive the honor.

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Major General Bohac and I at the medal presentation

In my four years in the Unicameral, I have championed numerous legislative policies impacting military members, veterans and their families. These include in-state tuition for veterans who recently left the military (LB 740, 2014); a voluntary hiring preference for private sector employers looking to hire veterans (LB 272, 2015); the creation of a clear legal framework for parents and judges to use during custody proceedings when a military parent deploys (LB 219, 2015), job protections during state deployment for Iowa National Guard members who work in Nebraska (LB 753, 2016), and the establishment of a permanent military commission to address long-term issues of military installations and missions as well as support Nebraska’s military members and their families (LB 754, 2016).   

Of the seven elected officials across the country who have been awarded the Medal of Merit this year, I am  the only state legislator. The other recipients include four state governors, a territorial governor, and a US senator. I am humbled and grateful for the recognition of my work to support Guard members and their families, and I look forward to continuing to work with the National Guard Association on these critical issues.

Bellevue and Sarpy County Chamber Forums

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry held their annual Legislative Forum for the Sarpy County Chamber on September 29th and for the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce on October 18th.  I attended both along with several of my legislative colleagues, area businesspeople, economic development experts, and Sarpy County residents. One bill highlighted by the Chamber as a “Key Business Bill” that passed last session was LB 1059, a bill heard by the Urban Affairs Committee that made several updates to the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act.  We also discussed some of the key issues likely to come before the Legislature in 2017, such as property tax reform, the corrections system, and workforce development. The Chamber’s presentation was illuminating, and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss those key issues with my fellow senators.

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Meeting with (L-R) State Chamber President Barry Kennedy, Senator Tommy Garrett, myself, and Senator Jim Smith

NFC Community Advisory Board

I joined the Nebraska Family Collaborative’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) on October 27th to discuss the new managed care plans that will soon be introduced in Nebraska. Known as Heritage Health, the program aims to combine physical, behavioral, and pharmacy services for Medicaid and CHIP recipients into one coordinated care system. The CAB invited representatives from the various Heritage Health insurance plans to talk about the program and answer questions, so that attendees would have a more thorough sense of how the system is supposed to work. The CAB is an excellent opportunity for those involved in the child welfare system to collaborate and share ideas, and it was my pleasure to participate in the Heritage Health discussion this month.

Speaking at Holland Children’s Institute

The Holland Children’s Institute held an Ideas Summit on October 27, and I was selected to be one of the presenters. The summit brought together experts and policymakers from multiple disciplines to focus on paid family and medical leave, which is a critical tool to address the rising costs of childcare, work-life balance, and other challenges facing Nebraska’s working families. Last session I introduced LB 850, which would have created a paid family and medical leave insurance program through the Department of Labor (DOL). DOL data shows that nearly 20% of Nebraskans who apply for unemployment assistance report leaving their job for health and family issues, which is consistent with a 2013 Pew Survey that found 27% of women surveyed quit their jobs to care for a child or a family member. A 2013 survey of Nebraskans over the age of 18 by Nebraska AARP found that over 60% of Nebraskans support paid family leave, and 80% support workplace protections for family caregivers. Evidence from other states that have paid family and medical leave programs indicates that businesses will benefit from less turnover and more productive employees. And with Nebraska’s current and projected workforce shortages, we as a state simply cannot afford to have workers sitting on the sidelines.

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Speaking at the Holland Children’s Institute Ideas Summit

Election Day

Election day is Tuesday November 8th this year. There are many offices being selected in this general election: from the President and House of Representatives, to the State Legislature, to Bellevue Public School Board and City Council, and more. Your vote is an important part of the democratic process. Polls will be open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm CST, and you can check your polling location here.

Community Events

The Bellevue Police and Fire departments are hosting their annual Holiday Heroes Chili Cook-Off on November 4th at the Volunteer Firefighter’s Hall. The event runs from 5:00-8:30 pm, and will feature a silent auction and People’s Choice award along with the official chili judging competition. For more information, contact Nicole Clark at (402) 682-6622.

This is the 17th year that Nebraska’s Official Veterans Day Parade will take place in Bellevue, and this year it will be held on November 5th. The parade begins at 10:00 am, and runs from the corner of Jackson Street on Mission Avenue to Washington Park on Franklin Street. This year’s Grand Marshall is Ellis McClintick, a highly decorated 94 year-old veteran of three wars. I encourage you to bring the whole family to this wonderful event, and to join me in support of our community’s many veterans.

As a reminder, Daylight Savings ends on November 6th. Don’t forget that your clocks should “fall back” by one hour overnight!

All the best,
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Public Hearing for the Task Force on Behavioral and Mental Health

I was selected by my peers to serve as one of seven members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Task Force on Behavioral and Mental Health. The Taskforce meets during the interim to develop ideas for bills to improve our system that we can begin to push through next year. The committee brings together Senators who serve on various committees who see the problems from different perspectives. Throughout the summer and fall, the committee has heard from a wide variety of stakeholders and experts to learn more about the problems in our mental and behavioral health systems and to discuss potential solutions. On September 28th, we heard initial results from the Department of Health and Human Services’ comprehensive needs assessment. Other testifiers included a county attorney who discussed the critical problems created by weaknesses in our intermediate and emergency mental health care capacity; testifiers who spoke about the value of peer counseling; and a testifier who offered a couple of proposals to increase our mental health workforce capacity using many of the resources and people we already have available in the state. The assessment evaluated the mental health system in a variety of areas, including workforce, capacity, and treatment options. I will be working with my staff to dig into the full 300 page report to see what findings are most helpful as we push to improve the system. The committee will meet several more times before releasing a final report with its recommendations at the beginning of December.

Medicare Presentation at Heritage Ridge

The Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), Heritage Ridge and I teamed up to share an educational presentation on Medicare Part D plan options with Bellevue-area residents on September 20th. Approximately 50 people joined us to discover ways to save money by selecting the right Part D plan each year, and why simply rolling their plan over from one year to the next may be costing them more. I am grateful to Bobbie Kierstead from SHIIP for her wonderfully informative presentation, and to Heritage Ridge for their hospitality. If you were unable to attend the presentation but would like to learn more about SHIIP and its programs, you can visit http://www.doi.nebraska.gov/shiip or call 1-800-234-7119.

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SHIIP presentation attendees view an informational video on Medicare Part D plans

Updates on Bill Implementation and Progress

This month, I met with several agency directors to discuss workforce and education policy. I met with Courtney Phillips, CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, to discuss the implementation of LB 107, a bill I successfully introduced in 2015 to reduce unnecessary governmental regulation and increase workforce participation by Nebraska’s nurse practitioners. I was happy to hear that the process of implementation is going well.

I also met with Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt to discuss our state education data collection policies. One concern is how to reduce the number of students who end up in remedial courses in college, because studies demonstrate that students who enroll in a remedial course are less likely to complete the course and less likely to persist and graduate from college. We discussed existing data on that issue and how changes to Nebraska’s school testing laws, particularly the new requirement for high school students to complete the ACT in 11th grade in lieu of the current standardized test (this year’s LB 930), could be used to help parents, students, schools, and colleges work together to to ensure that more of our students are able to enroll in credit-bearing courses and complete college on time.

MIA/POW Remembrance Luncheon at Offutt

On September 16th I attend a luncheon at Offutt AFB in remembrance of all those servicemen and women who have been held prisoners of war or declared missing in action. The ceremonies are also an opportunity to recognize and honor the families of those soldiers. POW/MIA remembrance day is held on the third Friday in September each year, and was authorized by Congress in 1971. It was an honor to participate in this year’s ceremonies, so that we can ensure the sacrifices of our nation’s POW/MIAs and their loved ones are never forgotten.

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A seat is left empty in honor of our nation’s MIA/POWs

Urban Affairs Staff Presents at League of Municipalities Annual Conference

The lawmaking process often does not end when a bill passes through the Legislature. In the case of laws that come out of the Urban Affairs Committee, statutory changes sometimes must be implemented at the local level before the new policy can go into effect. A prime example of this is a bill heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, LB 1012, which adopted the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Act.

On September 22nd, Urban Affairs Committee Legal Counsel Trevor Fitzgerald gave a presentation on PACE at the League of Municipalities Annual Conference in Kearney. PACE is a financing mechanism that allows local governments to help finance the upfront costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on commercial, industrial, and residential properties. Examples of improvements that could be eligible for PACE financing include energy efficient windows and doors, upgraded HVAC systems, weather stripping, and energy efficient light fixtures.

Under LB 1012, municipalities are authorized to create clean energy assessment districts, which are similar in nature to assessment districts for streets, sewers, and other forms of municipal infrastructure. Property owners could opt in to participate in the PACE program, and the loan, including interest and administrative fees, would be repaid through a special assessment on the property owner’s property tax bill over a set period of time. Because the PACE assessment transfers with the property when it is sold, the costs associated with the energy efficiency improvement will be repaid over time by the person benefiting from the improvement.

While the PACE statutes did not go into effect until July, a number of municipalities throughout the state have already begun the process of studying successful PACE programs in other states and drafting local ordinances to create the first PACE programs in Nebraska. I believe that once implemented in our communities, PACE will be a valuable environmental and economic development tool that will help property owners save energy and money on their utility bills and create good-paying jobs in the construction industry.

Meeting of the Military Technical Assistance Group (MilTAG)

Once a month leaders from our business, government, and military communities meet at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to discuss how we can work together to ensure that we are doing all that we can to protect and expand our military investments in the state and to leverage opportunities for our state tied to those missions. This month we met on September 13th. Jeff Mikesell provides staff leadership for the group and has done an excellent job leading us through recent discussions of the Offutt Runway and levee projects and ongoing discussions about recruiting other missions to our state. One example of how the work of this group extends beyond the military is the working group on strengthening STEM education in the state. Increasing STEM education matters, not only for recruiting missions to the state, but for the broader growth and development of the state across the board.

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MilTAG members discuss ways to support and strengthen the state’s military investments

Open Sky Policy Symposium

The 2016 Open Sky Policy Symposium took place September 1st in Lincoln. During the symposium, we discussed Nebraska’s economic development climate and suggested ways to improve the state’s economic growth. Presenters stressed the need to focus on high-wage, high-skill jobs when considering economic development proposals, and the benefits of helping companies recruit workers from within their local communities. Attendees also heard about issues such as the importance of early childhood education to the state’s future economic health; the importance of utilizing good data and evidence-based assessments in the policymaking process; and possibilities for future tax reforms. I look forward to discussing these ideas with my colleagues in the upcoming legislative session, so that we can identify responsible ways to grow the state and invest in the future of all Nebraskans.

Voter Registration Deadline

If you are not registered to vote in the November 8th general election, the deadline to do so online or via mail is October 21st at 5:00 pm. The online voter registration form can be accessed here, where you will also find a frequently asked questions page and other helpful information. You may also register in person at your county Election Commission office by October 28th. For Sarpy County residents, the Election Commission is located at 501 Olson Drive in Papillion. Remember: if you were registered previously and have since moved or changed your name, you will need to re-register if you wish to vote in this year’s general election.

Community Events

The Offutt Advisory Council will be hosting the annual Harvest Ball on October 7th at the Platteview Country club. The event is organized each year to help provide financial assistance to support of our men, women, and families stationed at Offutt AFB. This year’s theme is “Knickers & Pearls”. For more information or to RSVP, email margie.smith@penfed.org or cbellevue@aol.com.

The Remembering Our Fallen project is hosting a fundraiser in Omaha on October 23rd at the La Vista Embassy Suites. The project honors fallen warriors who called Nebraska home, and travels to display their pictures and stories in communities around the state. In conjunction with Nebraska Veteran Honor Flights, Remembering Our Fallen will visit Omaha to bring the community together to remember these brave men and women. For full event details, and to see other communities the project plans to visit, visit their website here.

All the best,

Friends,

I want to alert you to an upcoming Nebraska Department of Roads road closure that may impact your daily travel.

Platteview Road will be closed from 19th Street to 27th Street for 60 calendar days, tentatively scheduled to begin on October 1st. A sign will be placed on the roadside one week before the final closure date to alert all drivers. I wanted to let you know as much in advance as possible.

According to our information from the Nebraska Department of Roads, Dyson Hollow Road and 27th Street will remain open and Sarpy County will use 36th Street as the detour. 19th Street will be the access point into Hyda Hills from Platteview Road. A map of the affected area is below.

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I encourage you to share this information with anyone who might find it useful. If you have any questions, you can contact the Nebraska Department of Roads Omaha office at 402-595-2534.

All the best,

Visit to the Eastern Nebraska Veterans’ Home

On August 16th I toured the Eastern Nebraska Veterans’ Home in Bellevue, one of four veterans’ homes in the state. While there I met with DHHS Division of Veterans’ Homes Director John Hilgert, facility director Tammy Weston, and other staff to discuss several issues relating to veteran care. We reviewed how the wait list works, and discussed the quality of care that veterans are receiving at Bellevue and across the state. Additionally, we talked about the workforce challenges facing our veterans’ homes and many other healthcare sectors across the state. Nebraska’s veterans have protected us through their service, and it is an honor to work to ensure that they are taken care of as they age. I will continue to work with Director Hilgert and DHHS to help our veterans receive the best care possible.

Urban Affairs Committee Holds Interim Hearing, Stakeholder Meeting in Aurora

On August 18th, the Urban Affairs Committee held its first interim study hearing of the year, a “road” hearing in Aurora, Nebraska. The hearing was the first of two planned hearings on LR 490, an interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes in Nebraska. 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.

Hearings like the one in Aurora provide an opportunity for committee members to receive testimony from Nebraskans who might not otherwise have the ability to travel to Lincoln for legislative hearings. At the hearing, committee members heard from various city and county officials from multiple communities in Central Nebraska. The enforcement of building codes largely falls to political subdivisions in Nebraska, as there is no state agency that handles code enforcement, except in a few cases.


Giving opening remarks to Urban Affairs Committee members at the LR 490 public hearing

Prior to the interim study hearing, my office also hosted a stakeholder meeting in Aurora on LR 439, my interim study to examine the use of tax-increment financing (TIF) for residential development. In addition to Urban Affairs Committee members, the stakeholder meeting brought together city, county, and school district officials from throughout the state, as well as local developers who have worked on residential projects in the area. Topics discussed at the hearing included the current housing crisis in rural Nebraska, the lack of tools available to municipalities for residential development, existing notice requirements for TIF projects to counties, school districts, and other political subdivisions, and the importance of early and ongoing communication between municipalities, counties, and school districts regarding proposed TIF projects.

Platte Institute Tax Reform Summit

The 2016 Platte Institute Tax Reform Summit was held on August 17th in Lincoln. The main presentation, from the Tax Foundation, highlighted the fact that many of Nebraska’s tax statutes were written almost 50 years ago, and that our state should now pursue reforms that embrace the new, dynamic business models of the internet era. The Tax Foundation report also suggested changes to the sales and income tax systems, as well as corporate taxation. The Summit also heard from a panel of state senators, who discussed the legislature’s past work on tax reform. I look forward to working with my colleagues on meaningful, responsible tax reform in the upcoming legislative session.

Sarpy Chamber 2016 Economic Outlook

The Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce hosted an event on August 9th to discuss economic issues relating to Sarpy County, the metro area, and the state as a whole. Presenters from Metro Community College, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, the Nebraska Business Development Center, and others came together to discuss the state’s economic strengths and challenges. We examined the state’s tax policies and how they impact the local community, and heard an analysis of some of the workforce development initiatives in the metro area. Sustaining strong state and local economies requires input from many different sectors, and the Sarpy Chamber event was an excellent opportunity to bring those diverse groups together. I will continue to work with those groups to cultivate economic opportunities for Nebraskans in the future.

Page Application Process Still Open

Do you know anyone interested in serving as a page for the 2017 legislative session? Pages are college students who assist senators and the Clerk of the Legislature with various tasks, such as running errands for senators during the legislative session, assisting the Presiding Officer, and setting up and staffing committee hearings. The Page Program is open to high school graduates who are currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school, and is an excellent opportunity to learn the basics of state government. It is a paid position, and many students receive college internship credit.

The deadline for applications is Monday October 3rd. Those interested should contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office at (402) 471-2271 or email Kitty Kearns at kkearns@leg.ne.gov for an application.

Events in Sarpy County

This year is the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and there will be several remembrance events taking place in Sarpy County. HyVee in Papillion is partnering with local first responders groups for a 30-minute ceremony at 7:30 am to remember victims and honor first responders, who are welcome to stop by all morning long for a free breakfast. That event will be held in the Papillion HyVee parking lot.

The Kiwanis Club of Bellevue will continue their proud tradition of sponsoring a tribute to honor and remember September 11th again this year. At 6:00 pm, an hour-long memorial ceremony will be held in American Hero’s Park. This annual event includes several moving tributes honoring our military and first responders, including a roll call of the fallen. The evening also includes swearing in of new citizens. I encourage you to come out to honor our heroes and welcome our newest citizens.

 
Photo from a previous Bellevue Kiwanis September 11th ceremony, courtesy Bill O’Donnell

In association with the Nebraska Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), I will be hosting a presentation entitled “Choosing the Right Part D Drug Plan” on September 20th at Heritage Ridge. The event will run from 1:00-2:00 pm, and will help attendees learn to pick the right Medicare Part D plan for their needs. The presentation and Q&A will be led by a certified Medicare counselor, and is free and open to the public. No reservation or RSVP is required to attend.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska is hosting a retreat for women caring for a warrior of any conflict on September 23-25. The retreat will be held in Aurora (about two hours west of Bellevue), and will educate, encourage and empower women who care for military members or retirees. There is a $50 fee, which covers the three-day retreat (Friday evening to Sunday noon), two nights of lodging, pampering sessions and all meals. The goal of the retreat is to bring women together for hope, healing and restoration. You can learn more and register here.

Best wishes for a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

All the best,

Veteran Bridge Programs in Nebraska

On July 18, our office called a meeting with colleges, universities and other stakeholders to discuss veteran bridge programs and transitions from military service to civilian employment. Veteran bridge programs are designed to help veterans obtain a higher education degree or a career license or credential through a path that gives them some credit for their military training and experience (for example, military medic to paramedic/EMT). This allows the veteran to save time and money, getting them back into our workforce quickly, and often in areas where we have workforce shortages, such as healthcare. In our meeting we discussed the potential role that strong bridge programs could play in recruiting veterans to come and to stay in the state.


Leading a discussion of veteran bridge programs at the Capitol

Our office also participated in a conference call with the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Governors Association, which recently released areport detailing how six states completed demonstration projects to tackle this challenge.

In 2015, I cosponsored legislation to direct state licensing boards in health professions to review military experience and training and give credit where appropriate (LB 264, Morfeld). There is more work to be done, especially around the area of programs to bridge or cover gaps in training between military and civilian healthcare (for example: an Army military medic may be well versed in trauma, but may lack experience and skills in care during pregnancy or delivery). I look forward to continued work on this important issue.

Update on LR 544 and Alternative Response

At the end of session, our office introduced LR 544, an interim study resolution to examine alternative response in child welfare. In 2014, the Legislature approved a pilot program within the Child and Family Services Division to model a third way to respond to a family in crisis following a call to the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect hotline.

At least 30 other states offer this third option, often referred to as alternative response or differential response. This policy approach connects parents in crisis with services and support as opposed to a traditional investigation model if they are designed to be low risk cases. One of the goals of alternative response is to keep families together, prevent subsequent removals, and reduce the trauma to children associated with out-of-home placement and deeper involvement in the child welfare system.

In Nebraska, alternative response sites include Sarpy, Lancaster, Dodge, Hall, and Scotts Bluff counties, with a Douglas County site launching soon. Our office has met with stakeholders twice to discuss the interim study and look forward to continued conversations and a possible legislative briefing for committee members later this interim. I look forward to working with the Department and my colleagues to continue to monitor and improve this innovative solution for our at-risk families.

Urban Affairs Committee Going on the Road

The Urban Affairs Committee has scheduled its first interim study hearing for the year, and will be taking a “road trip” to Aurora on August 18th. Legislative committees often travel outside of the Capitol during the interim, and this will be the second consecutive year that the Urban Affairs Committee is going on the road.

At the hearing in Aurora, the committee will hold the first of two planned hearings on LR 490, an interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes in Nebraska. Urban Affairs 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.

Enforcement of building codes largely falls to political subdivisions (municipalities and counties), as there is no state agency that handles code enforcement, except in a few cases. LR 490 will take a comprehensive look at code enforcement in Nebraska, and is designed to: 1) examine the role of the state in enforcing the state building code and state energy code; 2) review the number of political subdivisions that have adopted local building or energy codes or are enforcing state building or energy codes; and 3) consider the remedies available to property owners when their home or business is not built to meet the applicable building or energy code.

Governor’s Summit on Economic Development

On July 12 I attended the Governor’s Summit on Economic Development in Lincoln. The summit brought together economic development experts, policymakers, businesspeople, and other stakeholders to discuss Nebraska’s economic strengths, as well as areas we can improve.

A report by research institute SRI International, which was released at the summit, focused on several key issues. It highlighted Nebraska’s shortage of skilled workers, especially in IT and STEM, and suggested that the state make investments to help college students graduate on time and stay in the state. The report also noted that relatively low wages, especially outside the Omaha area, can make retaining skilled employees difficult for some businesses. Additionally, it discussed the need to support business innovation in order to create and retain high skill, high wage jobs. You can read the full report here.

Nebraska’s economy is strong, and we have the chance to turn these challenges into opportunities to grow and diversify our state and its people. I am eager to work with the Governor and my legislative colleagues to achieve those goals.

Visit from the Bellevue Senior Community Center

It was my pleasure to welcome visitors from the Bellevue Senior Community Center to the Capitol on July 12th. To learn about and sign up for their future trips around Omaha and the surrounding areas, visit their website.


Visitors from the Bellevue Senior Community Center in the Capitol rotunda

Page Applications Now Being Accepted

Do you know anyone interested in serving as a page for the 2017 legislative session? Pages are college students who assist senators and the Clerk of the Legislature with various tasks, such as running errands for senators during the legislative session, assisting the Presiding Officer, and setting up and staffing committee hearings. The Page Program is open to high school graduates who are currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school, and is an excellent opportunity to learn the basics of state government. It is a paid position, and many students receive college internship credit.

The deadline for applications is Monday October 3rd. Those interested should contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office at (402) 471-2271 or email Kitty Kearns at kkearns@leg.ne.gov for an application.

Events in Sarpy County

The Omaha National Cemetery will have its formal dedication on August 5 at 10:00 am. The ceremony is open to the public, and will be held at the SumTur Amphitheater in Papillion. The event will include remarks from VA and elected officials, the unveiling of the dedication plaque, and military honors. It will be an honor to attend the ceremony and help dedicate this final resting place for our state’s veterans.

The 2016 Sarpy County Fair will be held August 3-7 in Springfield. The fair will feature 4H exhibits, carnival rides, rodeo and auto events, and of course food. The fair is a great opportunity to celebrate Sarpy County with the whole family. For the full fair schedule, check their website.

The Sarpy County Museum will hold its annual fundraising dinner on August 6 at 5:00 pm. The theme is “Save the Newspapers,” and presentations will focus on the museum’s plans to preserve and digitize over 100 years of county newspapers. Ticket information can be found here.

Finally, Arrows to Aerospace 2016, sponsored by the Bellevue-Offutt Kiwanis, will be held August 20 in Washington Park. The event will offer plenty of activities for everyone, including a parade at 10:00 am.  After the parade I will have a table in the park to meet people and answer questions about last session, as well as take suggestions about future legislation. I hope to see you there!

All the best,

Good News for the Offutt AFB Runway
I was extremely pleased to learn that the Air Force will be investing in a much-needed upgrade to Offutt’s runway. The project, which will extend the runway’s life by at least 20 years, is in part a recognition of Nebraska’s investment in Offutt’s physical infrastructure, as well as the state’s dedication to the airmen, veterans, and military families that call the Bellevue area home. The state provided critical funding for the Missouri River levee project to protect the base, and my colleagues and I have worked to implement a wide variety of initiatives to make Nebraska more friendly to military families. Offutt and the 55th Wing are a vital part of our community, and I am pleased to work with the Air Force to ensure their continued success.

NCSL Family Opportunity Forum

I was honored to be invited to participate in the NCSL Family Opportunity Forum in Denver several weeks ago. The Family Opportunity Forum brings together working teams from selected states to identify ways to improve opportunities for working families in our states. Nebraska has been a regular attendee to these forums over the years. Our “Save to Win” program in the state, which encourages families to put money in savings accounts instead of lottery tickets, is one program that has come out of our participation in these forums.  

NCSL podium
Speaking at the NCSL Family Opportunity Forum

On the way to Colorado Senator Pansing Brooks and I visited the village of Venango,which is the hometown of my friend and fellow Urban Affairs committee member Senator Dan Hughes. Venango sits only half a mile from the Colorado border. I always enjoy getting to see new communities across Nebraska.  

Venango selfie

UNMC Launches CBD Pilot Study

On Wednesday, I participated in a press conference organized by UNMC to announce the launch of a pilot study for cannabidiol, or CBD oil, to treat treatment resistant epilepsy. Two years ago, I sponsored LB 390 which provided the underlying authority and funding for the project. GW Pharmaceuticals will provide the plant-based pharmaceutical grade product for free. Those interested in enrolling in the study must work with their providers to have their records sent in for review. For information about the study, call 402-559-4335 or see the Omaha World-Herald article about the project.
UNMC presser
Left to right: Dr. Chris Kratochvil (Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at UNMC),myself, Mike Bartenhagen, and Broc Bartenhagen

Urban Affairs Interim Study Work Underway

This month, my office began holding initial stakeholder meetings for a number of interim studies being heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this interim. Among the interim studies being undertaken this summer is LR 489, an interim study that I introduced to examine issues relating to housing authorities.

Housing authorities are local governmental entities established with a mission to provide affordable housing to area residents. There are just over 100 housing authorities in Nebraska, ranging from the larger agencies in Omaha and Lincoln which oversee a wide variety of housing programs and projects, to smaller agencies in rural Nebraska that primarily provide senior housing. A map of housing authorities in Nebraska is shown below.

urban affairs map

Nebraska’s main housing authority statutes, the Nebraska Housing Agency Act, were adopted in 1999, but have not been updated since that time. The primary goal of LR 489 is to update and modernize the Nebraska Housing Agency Act, and committee staff and I will be meeting with representatives of various housing authorities over the summer and fall to identify any necessary updates. This month we met with leaders from our own Bellevue Housing Authority to hear about their work in the community and any concerns that they have for us to consider as we move forward.

Meet My Staff: Christina Mayer

This week I would like to introduce you to the newest member of my staff, Christina Mayer. Christina works as my Committee Clerk and Administrative Assistant, and joined my office at the beginning of June. Christina is a Nebraska native who grew up in Lincoln, and still lives there with her husband Jacob and two cats.

Capture

Christina has been around the legislature for several years now. She received her bachelor’s in political science and Russian from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2013; while pursuing her degree, she worked as a Legislative Page for two sessions. Upon graduating she joined the office of my colleague Senator Tanya Cook, where she worked for three years as an Administrative Assistant and staff coordinator for the Legislature’s Planning Committee.

Outside the Legislature, Christina spends her time reading, watching international soccer matches, and attempting to keep her potted plants alive.

Christina’s responsibilities include helping us communicate with constituents, and helping constituents with any problems they might have with the state. She would be happy to talk with you by phone, email, or mail. She is always available to answer any questions you may have at (402) 471-2615 or at cmayer@leg.ne.gov.

Events in the District

Washington Park continues to host the Bellevue Farmer’s Market each Saturday morning over the summer. As always, the market will feature a wide variety of fresh produce, crafts, baked goods, and live entertainment. I will have a table at the market from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm on July 23, and look forward to seeing you there.

The 2016 Music in the Park series has seen several talented artists and musical groups come to Washington Park to perform. The final concert, on Thursday July 7, starts at 7:00 pm and will feature local group Pam and the Pearls.

Bellevue’s annual summer festival, Riverfest, will also take place July 15-16 at Haworth Park. The festival will feature live music Friday night and all day Saturday, the Nebraska State BBQ Competition, and a “Fireworks Extravaganza” on Saturday night. Riverfest 2016 will take place Friday July 15 from 5:00 pm – 1:00 am, and Saturday July 16 from 10:00 am-1:00 am.

The Offutt Air Force Base Defenders of Freedom airshow and open house will take place July 30-31. This year is particularly special, as the unit celebrates 25 years deployed, 50 years in Nebraska, and 75 years as a Wing unit. The celebrations run from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm each day. The airshow will feature multiple generations of aircraft, with a special appearance from the USAF Thunderbirds planned. There will also be lots to do and see — and eat — on the ground, with interactive booths, a kid’s zone, simulators, and plenty of food vendors throughout the open house area. The airshow and open house are a wonderful opportunity to honor and celebrate the brave men and women of the 55th Wing, and I hope you will join me there. Admission is free, and more information can be found here.

 

I wish you all a happy and safe 4th of July!

All the best,
signature

2016 Session Review

May 31st, 2016

Session Review

With the 2016 legislative session now behind us, I thought I would share an overview of our work this session – both what was accomplished and what I hope to continue working on next session.  Our office had a very productive session – I led 13 bills to passage, which is an impressive total during a “short” session.  Nine of these bills were ones that I introduced, and another 4 were Urban Affairs Committee bills that I led as chair of the committee.  Of these 13 bills, just one required additional state spending.

  • LB 694: Continuing to update the Taxpayer Transparency Act
  • LB 695: Clarifying mail-in ballot procedures in sanitary and improvement district (SID) elections
  • LB 702: Eliminating confusion about city council organization in cities of the second class
  • LB 703: Updating nuisance appeal procedures in cities and villages
  • LB 704: Clarifying procedures for local building code adoption by cities and counties
  • LB 705: Modernizing state laws that govern cities of the first class
  • LB 753: Extending job protections to National Guard members who work in Nebraska but live in a neighboring state
  • LB 754: Establishing the Commission on Military and Veteran Affairs to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at Offutt and other military installations
  • LB 849: Adopting the Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act to ensure that  family caregivers have the tools they need to care for their loved ones
  • LB 864: Expanding the process for cities to request additional extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction (ETJ) authority
  • LB 865: Updating Nebraska’s handicapped parking statutes to provide a more accurate and inclusive definition of individuals with disabilities
  • LB 869: Providing consumer protections for home health consumers and other vulnerable Nebraskans
  • LB 1059: Enhancing local economic development tools by updating the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act

LR 413 Task Force Begins Work

Special investigative committees are one tool the Legislature uses to conduct legislative oversight over critical issues facing the state. These committees are created through legislation passed during the session, and unlike many other committees or working groups formed through legislation, are solely comprised of senators who are selected by the Executive Board of the Legislature. In general, these special investigative committees exist for a short period of time, usually between sessions.

At the end of this session, I was selected as one of seven members of the Task Force on Behavioral and Mental Health, which was created with the passage of LR 413.  Over the next few months, the LR 413 Task Force will be conducting a detailed examination of Nebraska’s behavioral and mental health care systems.  Topics being studied by the task force include ways to reduce gaps in behavioral and mental health care services, the efficacy and availability of services provided through the Behavioral Health Regions, and the level of progress being made by the Division of Behavioral Health in the development of a strategic plan, adequate behavioral health workforce, and data collection initiatives.

The LR 413 Task Force is one of a number of special committees created during the past session.  Other special committees created this session include the the Election Technology Committee (LR 403), the ACCESSNebraska Oversight Committee (LR 418), the Tribal Economic Development Committee (LR 547), the Venture Development and Innovation Task Force (LB 1083), and the Bioscience Steering Committee (LB 1093).

Urban Affairs Committee Interim Studies

There were 111 interim study resolutions introduced during the First Session of the 104th Legislature, of which nine were referred to the Urban Affairs Committee.  This number ties last session’s record for interim studies referred to the committee, so it’s going to be another busy interim in Urban Affairs this year!  A full listing of the interim studies referred to the Urban Affairs Committee, listed in order of committee priority, is below:

Resolution No. Subject
LR 490 (Crawford) Interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes
LR 439 (Crawford) Interim study to examine the use of tax-increment financing by municipalities for residential development
LR 526 (Hansen) Interim study to examine municipal classifications
LR 489 (Crawford) Interim study to examine issues relating to housing authorities
LR 464 (Groene) Interim study to examine the effects of the use of tax-increment financing by municipalities
LR 605 (Mello) Interim study to examine issues relating to urban redevelopment
LR 565 (Pansing Brooks) Interim study to examine land acquisition within municipalities for educational purposes
LR 495 (Urban Affairs Committee) Interim study to examine state law governing cities of the second class and villages in Chapter 17 of the Nebraska statutes
LR 496 (Urban Affairs Committee) Interim study to examine issues under the jurisdiction of the Urban Affairs Committee


Unlike bills heard during session, not all interim study resolutions will have a public hearing.  Often the “heavy lifting” of interim studies is done by committee staff during the summer months, and committee legal counsel Trevor Fitzgerald is already hard at work researching a variety of topics, including current municipal classification thresholds, local building code adoptions, and the Nebraska Housing Agency Act.

Farewell Wishes to Chris

Friday, May 13th was Chris’s last day with our office as he recently accepted another position within the Legislature as Legislative Aide for Senator Pansing-Brooks.  Our office recently hired a new administrative aide/committee clerk.  Stay tuned for more information about our new hire in next month’s newsletter!

While Chris was only with us for one session, during his short time in our office, he helped us pass employment protections for National Guard members deployed by other states but employed in Nebraska. He also coordinated a successful Bellevue Leadership Day at the Capitol. He was an energetic and vital member of my staff who will be greatly missed.  Many thanks to Chris for his service to District 45 and the State of Nebraska!  

Events in the District

Each Saturday morning over the summer, vendors will set up in Washington Park for the Bellevue Farmer’s Market.  This offers a great chance to purchase fresh produce, baked goods and crafts from local artisans.  I am a local sponsor of the Farmer’s Market again this year.  I enjoyed the chance to talk with folks who came by my table on the opening Saturday, May 14th. I will also be in the park with a table after the Arrows to Aerospace parade to answer questions about last session and to take suggestions about future legislation.

One of the great privileges of being an elected official is the opportunity to represent the people of the State of Nebraska in honoring those who have served our country.  Each year there are moving ceremonies at the Offutt Ceremony and at the Eastern Nebraska Veteran’s Home that I attend to represent you in honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  I encourage you to join me at Bellevue’s Annual Memorial Day Ceremony at 11:00 AM at the Bellevue Cemetery (Franklin St. & 13th Ave.) this Monday, May 30th.  It is a wonderful way that our community comes together to honor those who have served.  Many thanks to Bill O’Donnell and VFW Post 10785 who sponsor and lead the event with participation from VFW Post 2280, Boy Scout Troop 499 and Cub Scout Pack 457.  Sarpy Serenaders perform patriotic songs during the ceremony.  The event lasts about an hour, so you may want to bring a chair with you.  The ceremony is a moving tribute to those who have served in all of our armed forces – come be a part of it!

All my best,

signature

Governor Signs Common Levy Repeal into Law

In a formal ceremony Tuesday at Platteview High School, Governor Pete Ricketts signed LB 1067 into law.  LB 1067 ends the Learning Community’s Common Levy, phases out the costly open enrollment transportation policy of the Learning Community and directs attention to high poverty and ELL students.  When I went door to door in 2012, the common levy and the cost of Learning Community transportation were among the top concerns of voters in the district.  I have worked over my four years to address these concerns.  After years of hard work by the Sarpy County Senators and Senator Rick Kolowski from Millard, the Learning Community Superintendents, legislative staff, and many community advocates, I am grateful that, with Senator Sullivan’s leadership, we were able to bring the common levy to an end and phase out the added transportation costs that were associated with the Learning Community.  This change in state policy paves the way for boundary agreements between Sarpy County school districts that are expected to dramatically expand housing development in Bellevue and Papillion.  The Learning Community programs that serve low income students in multiple school districts, such as early childhood programs that have been successful in improving learning outcomes, will continue.

Governor Signs Military and Veterans Commission, Crawford Personal Priority Bill,  Into Law

The Governor signed LB 754, my personal priority bill into law this week.  LB 754 establishes the Commission on Military and Veteran Affairs and creates a point person to work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations and to help leverage economic development in our communities tied to these installations.  The liaison created by LB 754 puts Nebraska into a better position to protect military installations and bring new missions into the state.

Session Reflections and Voter Survey Responses

All sessions end in a hectic pace, but this is particularly true for the 60-day short sessions like 2016.  As we ended the session this week, I took some time to relish the privilege of being able to serve District 45 for the past four years in the beautiful Nebraska capitol. The last day of session is always a special day with many family members present.  I was glad to have David there with me. Although we started the day with an intense veto override debate, most of the day was focused on wrapping up the session and celebrating the accomplishments of those Senators who are leaving because of term limits.

I also took some time this week to circle back to the survey results that we gathered in November of 2015.  Those of you who were on this update list then would have had a chance to respond to the survey.  I used campaign funds to send mail surveys out to almost 3,000 other voters so that we could get feedback from a lot of voters without using taxpayer dollars.  Over 400 voters in LD 45 responded.  A wonderful volunteer, Joli Munch, entered and analyzed the survey data.  She gave us an initial report on the results in our December pre-session retreat so that we could consider the responses as we prepared our priorities for the session and then gave us a full report during session.  I am happy to report that we made progress on some of the key priorities identified in the pre-session survey.

Priorities for the Session:  The first question on the survey asked respondents what they thought the Legislature’s top priority should be for the 2015 session.  The top three responses were: Eliminating the Common Levy, Veteran/Military Issues, and Tax Reform, with Improving Mental Health Services in a strong fourth place.  Another question listed several issues that I was working on over the interim and asked voters to indicate which ones were important to them.  The issues that voters listed as most important from this list were eliminating the common levy (72%) and improving access to mental health services (79%).

I am happy to report that we did eliminate the common levy, so we accomplished that top priority that was considered important to over 70% of survey respondents.  We also made progress on Veteran and Military Issues this year with bills to create a Military and Veterans Commission, Veteran’s courts, expanded military spouse conceal carry rights, expanded veteran spouse homestead exemptions, and job protections for Guard members, to name a few.  The Unicameral was not as successful at tax reform this year.  We have passed a number of tax reductions and reforms over the past four years, but this year the main tax changes were removing a minimum levy for state school aid (which is an important property tax accountability issue in more rural areas) and a $20 million increase in our property tax relief program.  I was disappointed that we did not make progress on retiree taxes. On one of the recess days this week I joined Senator Garrett and Senator Lindstrom for a panel discussion on how to move forward on retiree tax reform in the future.  The panel was sponsored by the Platte Institute and attended by many Sarpy county residents.  On the issue of improving mental health services, one important step this year was a bill that passed to authorize “problem solving courts.”  This policy provides a way for courts to reduce the number of people who end up in jail or prison who should instead be in mental health treatment.  One of the bills that did not pass this year that would have dramatically increased access to mental health services was the Transitional Health Insurance Act.  Our failure to pass a bill to bring dollars paid by Nebraskans to the federal government back to Nebraska to improve our health system has been a great disappointment. Near the end of the session I was selected by my peers to serve on a Behavioral and Mental Health Services Taskforce to examine mental health services in the state and to develop proposals for improving those services.  I am hopeful that this Taskforce will leverage important improvements in mental health services in Nebraska over the next few years.

Nebraska Services:  One survey question asked voters to identify the state services most important to them.  The clear winner was roads.  Voters recognize that a sound infrastructure is critical to the state and a central responsibility of government.  Last year, a strong bipartisan group of Senators (20 Republicans and 10 Democrats) voted to override Governor Rickett’s veto of LB 610 to bolster our investment in city, county, and state roads through a 6 cent increase in the gas tax that directs 2 cents to cities, 2 cents to counties, and 2 cents to state roads.  Some of the roads in the LD 45 area that will benefit from this investment are 36th Street, Platteview Road, Capehart Road, and Hwy 75.  This year, we passed the Transportation Innovation Act (LB 960), which puts the state funds from the gas tax increase to use to speed up the completion of our freeway system and modernizes the way that we do bidding for road construction.

Thank you to all of the Update readers who responded to the survey.  I appreciate the time that many of you took to also give us detailed comments on several of the issues.  Thank you also to all of you who have sent emails and made phone calls to share your views and concerns.  I pay close attention to the issues and questions that come in these calls and emails.  I appreciate your engagement in your Nebraska state government!  It has been an honor to work hard on your behalf to try to make the best policy for Nebraska’s future.

Legislature Adjourns Sine Die; New Schedule for Legislative Updates

This week, the Legislature adjourned sine die.  Sine die is a Latin term meaning “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 2017. 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.

We now shift to our interim schedule for future legislative updates. 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.  I anticipate we will send our next update in late May.

In the District

Since I am up for re-election this year, I will be spending the next 2 ½ weeks campaigning.  The primary election is May 10th.  I expect that I will see many of you at events in the Bellevue area and I may show up at your door as I continue to go door to door to talk to voters.

All my best,

Sen. Sue Crawford

District 45
Room #1212
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2615
Email: scrawford@leg.ne.gov
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