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

LB 753 testifiers

LB 753 Testifiers: (from left to right) Doug Carlson, Executive Director of Nebraska National Guard Association; State Senator Sue Crawford; Bruce Boyer, Greater Lincoln Chamber Foundation; Bryon Line, veteran

On Wednesday, I presented LB 753 to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. LB 753 amends Nebraska’s adoption of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994 to extend protections to persons who work in Nebraska but are called into National Guard Service by another state. Current state law does not provide protections for National Guard Members employed in Nebraska if they are deployed by another state. Estimates shows there are at least 242 individuals who are employed in Nebraska, but are assigned to another state. Therefore, these individuals and their families are not currently protected by state law in the same manner in which Nebraska Guard members are.

This bill will help ensure those individuals are reemployed in Nebraska after they serve. It will provide the added benefit of keeping hard-working individuals in our state and contributing to our economy. More than that, however, it is simply the right thing to do. For our military families worried about their economic security, their jobs and their health care, these protections are critical. We owe these employment protections to all National Guard members.

I am happy to report that the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee already voted this legislation out on a unanimous vote. LB 753 is now on General File.

Snowstorm Postpones Hearings, Floor Debate

On Monday morning, Speaker Hadley announced that due to the predicted snowstorm, hearings on Tuesday afternoon were canceled and would be rescheduled for the morning of Tuesday, February 9.  Hearings already scheduled for the afternoon of February 9 will continue as planned.  He also postponed floor debate on Tuesday.  Instead, the Legislature met briefly to establish quorum (25 senators) before adjourning.  Given that I-80 West was closed west of Lincoln due to snowfall, it was a wise decision to postpone floor debate and hearings.  Many testifiers would have been unable to attend the hearings due to weather.

This means, however, that the Urban Affairs Committee and other committees who normally meet on Tuesdays will have hearings all day on Tuesday–with a morning and afternoon session.

Sue AFL-CIO 2 (2)

I was proud to speak Wednesday at the Nebraska State AFL-CIO Annual Legislative Conference

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  This session, the Clerk of the Legislature’s office worked hard to update and refresh the Legislature’s website.

The front page of the website has links to a variety of information, including links to hearings schedules, priority bill listings, interim study listings, news from the Unicameral Update (the Nebraska Legislature’s official publication), and a link to the day’s materials and activities including the agenda.

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 existing law that the bill changes.  The exception is an outright repeal of a section of statute. In this case, the bill will simply list the chapters and sections repealed. To see the repealed language, use the tools on the website to search or browse existing law.

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.   Fiscal notes and statements of intent are generally posted within 24 hours of the bill’s public hearing. Committee statements are only available for bills that get voted out of committee.

The Legislative Fiscal Office employs fiscal analysts who prepare fiscal notes for all bills before the Legislature.  State agencies submit fiscal notes to the Legislative Fiscal Office regarding the fiscal impact, if any, of a particular piece of legislation.  The fiscal analyst’s job is to then interpret and determine a formal fiscal note for the bill.  If a bill advances to General File, this formal fiscal notes becomes the basis of the ‘A’ or Appropriation bill that follows the bill throughout the three rounds of debate.

This Week in Urban Affairs

Due to the snowstorm this week, the Urban Affairs Committee will be holding two sets of public hearings next week – the first set Tuesday morning on municipal economic development tools, and the second set Tuesday afternoon on tax-increment financing, or TIF.  Historically, TIF has been one of the more controversial topics under the jurisdiction of the Urban Affairs Committee.

Under Nebraska’s community development statutes, municipalities can utilize TIF for the redevelopment of properties that have been deemed “substandard and blighted”.  As applied, TIF allows the municipalities to issue bonds to pay the costs of a redevelopment project based on the projected increase in property tax revenues that the new development creates.  Property tax revenues based on the value of the property prior to the redevelopment (the “base”) continue to flow to other political subdivisions that have a property tax levy on property within the redevelopment area, while any increased property tax revenues are dedicated to paying off the TIF bonds.

After fifteen years, or when the bonds are paid off, the increased property tax revenues revert to the city’s general fund and other political subdivisions that have a property tax levy on property within the redevelopment area.  As shown in the map below, TIF has been used by all classes of Nebraska municipalities, and in all areas of the state.

 

TIF MAP 2

TIF was specifically authorized under the Nebraska State Constitution in 1978, and Nebraska’s TIF statutes must comply with the TIF-enabling language in the constitution.  The primary constitutional requirements are the requirement that property be designated “blighted and substandard” in order to be eligible for TIF, and the 15-year limit on the repayment period for TIF bonds.

In addition to the bills that were postponed due to the snowstorm, next week the Urban Affairs Committee will be hearing four bills dealing with TIF – two bills that amend Nebraska’s TIF statutes, and two proposed amendments to the TIF-enabling language in the Nebraska State Constitution:

  • LB 719:  Change provisions relating to undeveloped vacant land under the Community Development Law
  • LB 1042:  Change provisions relating to approval of redevelopment plans involving TIF and provisions under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act
  • LR 399CA:  Constitutional amendment to require cities and villages to obtain voter approval before pledging taxes for the payment of indebtedness related to redevelopment projects
  • LR 394CA:  Constitutional amendment to authorize taxing bodies to exclude their taxes from pledges made by cities to pay indebtedness on redevelopment projects

All my best,

 

On Monday, I presented LB 752 to the Education Committee.  LB 752 creates the Adult Career Pathways Task Force to identify and study student transitions from adult basic education, English language learner, and general educational development (GED) programs to career pathways. Bridging the divide from our wide variety of adult education programs to post-secondary degrees and credentials poses a win-win for our state: it will help address a critical skills gap in our workforce while also helping lift more Nebraskans out of poverty. A third of all Nebraskans lack a postsecondary degree while 12.5% of all Nebraskans ages 18 to 64 do not have a high school degree or equivalent.  What’s more, 36% of Nebraskans are at or below basic literacy levels.
Career pathways are sequence of courses, job experiences and credentialing exams in different employment clusters that allow individuals to move from credential to credential, increasing earning potential as they progress through the pathway.  For example, someone in the healthcare sector might begin with coursework to become a medication aide.  Through a career pathway, he or she could progress, later obtaining a licensed practical nurse (LPN) credential and later a registered nurse (RN) credential.

Addressing workforce shortages and developing a comprehensive strategy for tackling these shortages requires cooperation across state government agencies, the Legislature, and partnerships with nonprofit organizations and employers. LB 752 pulls together these various groups in an intentional process to work toward a common goal: ensuring more adult learners complete the education and training to contribute to the workforce and advance along a career path with more experience and education.

Bill to Address Prescription Drug Abuse Advances

On Wednesday, I was pleased to join 46 of my colleagues in advancing LB 471 (Howard) to strengthen our prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).  This is one of the most important pieces of legislation before the Unicameral this year.  Nebraska’s current PDMP has serious deficiencies lacking.   Reporting is not mandatory, patients can opt out of the system and patients who pay in cash are not recorded.  Often, drug seekers and drug dealers use cash to conceal their behavior.  LB 471 addresses all of these issues.  What’s more, the Department of Health and Human Services secured $750,000 over four years to fund the changes in LB 471.  I am grateful for Senator Howard’s leadership on this issue and look forward to working with her and other stakeholders this session and in years to come as we continue to combat the issue of opioid abuse.

The Worksheet: What is It?

On Wednesday, the Legislature returned to bills on worksheet order.  The worksheet is a fluid document, updated daily, that reports the status of all bills before the Legislature.  A copy can be found here: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/Current/PDF/WorkSheet/r2day15.pdf

In general, bills on General File that appear first on the worksheet will be scheduled ahead of bills that appear later.  This changes once floor debate on priority bills starts.  The worksheet becomes very important during the first weeks of a short session where carry over bills on the worksheet will be scheduled and debated first. This short session is a bit unique.  Speaker Hadley moved up the priority designation deadline and allowed bills from last session with a priority designation on General File to have a “carry over” priority.  Because of this, we had fewer worksheet order bills debated in the early weeks than in other short sessions.  However, we have reached a point in the session where few 2016 priority bills are ready for floor debate (e.g. on General File) so we return to worksheet order until there are new priority bills that advance from committee to trump these worksheet bills.

One of the “worksheet” bills we debated this week was LB 131, an Urban Affairs Committee carry over bill from last session.  LB 131, which was introduced by Senator Joni Craighead, deals with issues that come up when a municipality attempts to annex a sanitary and improvement district (SID).  As amended, the bill would place reasonable restrictions on an SID’s ability to spend assets during a 90-day window following receipt of a notice of potential annexation from a municipality.

This Week in Urban Affairs

In December, the Urban Affairs Committee published an interim study report on LR 155, which took a comprehensive look at the economic development tools that are currently available to municipalities in Nebraska, as well as tools that are available to municipalities in other states.  Part of that report compiled ideas for changes to strengthen current tools, and the report has already begun to serve as a roadmap for the Legislature as we continue to evaluate local economic development tools.

Two ideas that were suggested as part of the LR 155 process are the subject of bills that will be heard by the Urban Affairs Committee next week.  Both deal with the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as LB 840  One, LB 860 adds workforce housing as a qualifying use of LB 840 funds. The other (LB 808) allows municipalities to amend LB 840 plans more easily.   LB 840 allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters. There are approximately 70 municipalities which have voted to create an LB 840 program, including the City of Bellevue.  A map of those programs is shown below.

01282016_local_opt_munic_econ_dev_act

This week’s Urban Affairs hearings are being rescheduled due to the weather.

Meet our Intern, Aaron!

Aaron's picture

This spring, we are pleased to have Aaron Hoagland join our office as an intern. Aaron is currently a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln double majoring in Economics and Political Science with minors in Mathematics and International Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. He has interned for the Office of Congressman Brad Ashford in Washington D.C. and the Nebraska Democratic Party. He leads a UNICEF campus initiative at the University highlighting his interest in international relations. Aaron plans on continuing his education once he graduates.

All my best,

IMG_20160122_162150396

On Friday, I presented LB 849 to the Health and Human Services Committee.  Family caregivers are a key part of a patient’s health care team.  They assist their loved ones in a myriad of ways when that child or adult needs assistance due to a medical or behavioral condition, disability, or advanced age.  In Nebraska almost 200,00 adults served as family caregivers in 2013.  Just under half, or 46%, of these caregivers were asked to complete complex health tasks such as wound care, managing multiple medications, managing incontinence, and preparing foods for special diets.  Most of these caregivers are tackling these tasks on their own.  Nearly 70% of caregivers reported their loved ones did not have home visits by a healthcare professional.  The ACT act ensures these family caregivers have the tools they need to keep their loved ones safe, healthy and in their homes as long as possible, avoiding hospital readmissions and postponing costly long-term care.

Currently, 18 states and Puerto Rico have enacted measures similar to the ACT act.  Under the bill, patients will have an opportunity to designate a caregiver upon admission to the hospital and the caregiver can either accept or decline this designation.  The hospital will then provide notice to the caregiver of the patient’s transfer or release from the hospital.  The ACT bill requires that the discharge plan for the patient includes a description of any aftercare tasks as well as a demonstration of the aftercare tasks.  As part of this process, the patient and caregiver will have the opportunity to ask any questions about the plan or the tasks themselves.  

This legislation takes on increasing importance as the number of Nebraskans over the age of 65 is projected to grow from 247,000 to more than 404,000 and the number of Nebraskans 85 years and older will grow 75% over the next 20 years, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha analysis. Many more Nebraskans will find themselves in the position of caring for aging family members and friends with chronic health conditions. We must ensure these family caregivers have the resources they need, both to improve health outcomes and ensure Nebraskans are able to stay in their own homes as long as possible.  

Day 10: 2016 Crawford Legislative Agenda

Wednesday marked Day 10 and the end of bill introduction for the session.  This year, I introduced 13 bills.  Below is a short summary of the legislation I introduced this session; some of these bills will be featured in depth in future updates.  A full listing of my legislative agenda can be found here: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/search_by_introducer.php

    • LB 694: Makes a technical change to the Taxpayer Transparency Act to exclude Nebraska Department of Education contracts with a specific individual for specific services from the state contract website. Similar contracts issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the State Energy Office.  
    • LB 752: Creates the Adult Career Pathways Task Force
    • LB 753: Extends job protections for National Guard service members who work in Nebraska but serve in the Iowa National Guard.
    • LB 754: Creates 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 849: Adopts the Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act.
    • LB 850: Adopts the Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance Act to ensure Nebraskans can keep the jobs they need while taking care of the families they love. 
    • LB 864: Changes provisions that allow cities of the first class, cities of the second class, and villages to request additional extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction (ETJ) authority
    • LB 865: Updates definition for handicapped parking permits to bring Nebraska’s definitions in line with more than 30 other states
    • LB 869: Brings Medicaid program into federal compliance regarding Medicaid provider fraud prevention
    • LB 932: Limits personal liability for non-profit condominium association board directors.  This was brought to my office by a constituent who found that the lack of liability protections discouraged otherwise qualified individuals from serving as board directors.   
    • LB 1021: Addresses concerns of Sarpy County cities who adopted the Nebraska Advantage Transformational Tourism and Redevelopment Act regarding sales and use taxes.  
    • LB 1058: Creates statewide standards for tobacco compliance checks to keep tobacco out of the hands of underage kids. 
    • LB 1059: Helps municipalities plan their local economic development efforts by requiring businesses to disclose if they are also seeking state economic development incentives.

This Week in Urban Affairs

Discussions in the Urban Affairs Committee next week will focus on statutes governing cities and villages in Nebraska.  Of the four bills being heard by the committee next week, three relate in part to the subject of municipalities’ extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction, commonly referred to as the ETJ.  A municipality’s ETJ consists of the contiguous unincorporated land within a certain radius of its corporate limits.

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

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

Next week, the Urban Affairs Committee will hear four bills – three dealing with municipalities, and a fourth dealing with enterprise zones:

  • LB 875: Change conditions for approval of a planned unit development for certain second-class cities and villages
  • LB 948: Change an application period limitation for the designation of enterprise zones and prescribed
  • LB 864: Change provisions relating to a municipality requesting additional extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction
  • LB 705: Change provisions relating to cities of the first class

Sue in the News

Stories on campaign finance reform in the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald

Omaha World-Herald editorial on LB 166
KETV article on tobacco compliance legislation

AARPNE

I was proud to be honored as a Capitol Caregiver from the Nebraska AARP and AARP Advocates this week. Photo Credit: Nebraska AARP.

Thirty Senators Sign On as Co-Sponsors of Campaign Finance Act

As of Friday, thirty senators signed on as cosponsors to LB 166, a campaign reform bill I introduced last year that provides a mechanism for the Accountability and Disclosure Office to check once a year to ensure that campaign finance accounts match campaign finance reports. The bill also prohibits the granting of loans from campaign funds, increases penalties for violations of the Accountability and Disclosure Act and adds enforcement power for the commission to require restitution as a consequence of violations.

Current law does not provide a second check against campaign finance fraud. The balance in a campaign account currently provided to the Accountability and Disclosure Office is entirely self-reported. LB 166 provides an important tool to ensure campaign funds are represented truthfully and correctly in public reports.

At the hearing for the bill, Director Daley said the heart of the reason for the bill for their office is not to catch a few big cases, but to improve the day to day efficiency of their office.  Each year, staff closes a number of accounts, which requires reconciling the balance of accounts with campaign reports. For example, staff close almost 60 accounts within a few months following a general election. Some of these accounts have been open for 8-12 years and small accounting errors become much harder to reconcile as the years go on.

LB 166 is designed to safeguard the public’s trust and confidence in government. Nebraskans trust that when they make a contribution to a candidate that those candidates will not use these funds inappropriately. I am thankful that a majority of my colleagues have joined me to cosponsor this important legislation. I hope the Government Committee will advance this bill for debate on the floor soon.

Public Hearings To Begin Next Week

Starting on Tuesday, standing committees will begin conducting public hearings for bills.  In Nebraska, each bill receives a public hearing where citizens and interested stakeholders can come to testify in support or opposition to a bill.  Technical experts and others can also offer neutral testimony if they so choose.  From next week until the beginning of March, senators will meet for floor debate in the morning and attend committee hearings in the afternoon.

Generally, each senator serves on standing several committees, depending on the number of days each committee meets.  The one exception to this is the Appropriations Committee, which meets 5 days a week; therefore, senators appointed to this committee will not serve on other standing committees.  There are four one-day committees, half of which meet on Mondays and half of which meet on Tuesdays.  Monday committees are Business and Labor and General Affairs while Tuesday committees are Agriculture and Urban Affairs.  

Additionally, there are 3 two-day committees who meet on Mondays and Tuesdays: Banking, Commerce and Insurance; Education; and Transportation and Telecommunications.  

Finally, there are 5 three-day committees who meet on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays: Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs; Health and Human Services; Judiciary; Natural Resources; and Revenue.  

I currently serve on two one-day committees (Business and Labor, Urban Affairs) and one three-day committee.  During my first year in the Legislature, I served on a two-day committee (Banking, Commerce, and Insurance) and a three-day committee (Health and Human Services.  

How To: Testify at a Public Hearing

As I mentioned, bill hearings are open to the public and committees stay, sometimes late into the night, to ensure everyone who wishes to speak has an opportunity to do so.  

You are warmly welcome to testify at a hearing on any of the bills mentioned in last week’s update or any other piece of new legislation before the Unicameral this year.  Hearing notices are published as they become available at the following link: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/calendar/hearings_range.php

Here are a few tips as you prepare your testimony:

  • Personal stories are often the most powerful.  If you or someone you know is impacted by a bill and you feel comfortable sharing your experiences, tell the personal story.
  • Committees often ask testifiers to keep their comments under 5 minutes and utilize a light system to do so.  In some cases, this can be limited to 3 minutes to ensure everyone gets an equal opportunity to speak.  The committee chair will typically notify testifiers at the beginning of the hearing if he or she plans to use the light system.  Make sure your key points fit within five minutes.  Start to speak as soon as you are recognized to get the full time window.
  • Bring 15 copies of your testimony if possible.   
  • During the hearing, you may see senators come and go during testimony.  This is not because they do not care about the testimony offered; rather, it means they need to present on one of their bills at another hearing during that time.
  • If you need an auxiliary aid or other accommodation, please call the Office of the Clerk of the Legislature at (402) 471-2271.  Translators and interpreters are also available through the Ombudsman’s Office at (402) 471-2035.  Please note that a week’s notice is requested for translators and interpreters.

This Week in Urban Affairs

Each week during committee hearings, my update will feature a preview of the issues being heard by the Urban Affairs Committee in the coming week.  In addition to listing the bills that will be heard by the committee, the update will give an overview of one or more policy areas under the Urban Affairs Committee’s jurisdiction that will be featured in each week’s hearings.

Among the topics being heard by the committee at its first hearing next week is the subject of land banking, which has not been discussed in Urban Affairs since 2013.  A land bank is a governmental entity or non-profit corporation that focuses on the conversion of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties into productive use.  

Passed in 2013, the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act authorizes the creation of land banks in certain municipalities.  Under the Act, only municipalities located within a county in which a city of the metropolitan class is located (Douglas County) or within a county in which at least three cities of the first class are located (Sarpy County) are eligible to create a land bank.  While land banks in Nebraska are created by municipalities, in form they are a separate political subdivision whose board is appointed by the municipality or municipalities that created them.  Currently, the Omaha Municipal Land Bank is the only land bank in Nebraska.

Nebraska is one of eleven states that have enacted comprehensive state-enabling land bank legislation, although some local governments in other states have established land banks through their home rule authority.  As seen in the map below, there are approximately 120 land banks throughout the country, with the highest number of active land banks in Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia.

Land banks jpeg

This week, the Urban Affairs Committee will hear four bills covering a wide variety of subjects under the committee’s jurisdiction, including building codes, business improvement districts, land banks, and municipalities:

  • LB 703: Change provisions relating to nuisances in cities and villages
  • LB 704: Change building code provisions applicable to political subdivisions
  • LB 699: Change the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act
  • LB 700: Require notice to neighborhood associations for changes to business improvement districts and zoning ordinances in cities of the metropolitan class

Sue in the News

The Omaha World Herald and Lincoln Journal Star ran stories this week on my campaign finance legislation, LB 166.
Omaha World Herald: Campaign Donation Accountability Bill Receives Strong Backing
Lincoln Journal Star: Support Grows for Tightening Checks on Nebraska Campaign Money

All my best,

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 15, 2016

Thirty Senators Sign on As Co-Sponsors of Campaign Finance Act

Senator Sue Crawford’s LB 166 Protects Integrity of Campaign Finance System, Improves Accountability Office Efficiency

LINCOLN — Thirty State Senators have signed on as co-sponsors of LB 166, State Senator Sue Crawford’s campaign reform bill that provides a mechanism for the Accountability and Disclosure Office to check once a year to ensure that campaign finance accounts match campaign finance reports. The bill also prohibits the granting of loans from campaign funds, increases penalties for violations of the Accountability and Disclosure Act and adds enforcement power for the commission to require restitution as a consequence of violations.

“I am thankful that a majority of my colleagues have joined me to cosponsor this important legislation,” Senator Crawford said. “LB 166 is designed to safeguard the public’s trust and confidence in government. Nebraskans trust that when they make a contribution to a candidate that those candidates will not use these funds inappropriately.”

Current law does not provide a second check against campaign finance fraud. The balance in a campaign account currently provided to the Accountability and Disclosure Office is entirely self-reported. LB 166 provides an important tool to ensure campaign funds are represented truthfully and correctly in public reports.

Under the bill, each campaign committee must allow the Accountability and Disclosure Office to check the year-end bank balance of the campaign committee. This balance will be compared against campaign committees’ end of year statement by Accountability and Disclosure Office staff.

“LB 166 is an important tool for insuring that campaign reports filed by candidates accurately reflect campaign activity,” said Frank Daley, Executive Director of the Accountability and Disclosure Commission. “In its essence, LB 166 promotes accountability for candidates, government officials and government employees.”

At the hearing for the bill, Director Daley said the heart of the reason for the bill for their office is not to catch a few big cases, but to improve the day to day efficiency of their office.

Each year, staff closes a number of accounts, which requires reconciling the balance of accounts with campaign reports. For example, staff close almost 60 accounts within a few months following a general election. Some of these accounts have been open for 8-12 years and small accounting errors become much harder to reconcile as the years go on.

“Our folks tell me that that’s a lot easier if they are doing it on an annual basis, looking at a year’s worth of records, rather than waiting until the candidate wants to dissolve his committee after 4 years of service or 8 years of service or 12 years of service in a series of public offices,” Daley said.

Reconciling the balance on a year-to-year basis will also help as staff review anomalies in campaign reports.

Common Cause Nebraska has been advocating for this legislation for several years.

“After four years of trying to protect campaign funds from possible abuse, Common Cause is extremely grateful to Senator Crawford for picking up the issue and finding a way to make a powerful statement to the Government Committee,” said Jack Gould, Issues Chair with Common Cause Nebraska. “We are also grateful to the 29 other senators who have recognized the importance of LB166 and have signed on the dotted line to voice their concerns.”

LB 166 would also prohibit the granting of loans using campaign funds. Currently, a candidate or treasurer could pull money out of an account for a non-allowable expense and call it a “loan.”

Last year, the 6-member bipartisan Accountability and Disclosure Commission, which includes the Secretary of State, voted unanimously in support of LB 166.

“LB 166 is a bipartisan bill that strengthens the ability of the Accountability and Disclosure Commission to conduction important oversight,” Crawford said. “It provides a crucial tool in detecting campaign fund abuse, and serves as a stronger deterrent for future campaign abuse.”

The Second Session of the 104th Legislature, Bill Introduction Begins

Staff Pic
Members of my staff: (from left to right) Kaitlin Reece, Trevor Fitzgerald, Chris Triebsch and myself

Wednesday morning marked the first day of the 104th Legislature, Second Session and the beginning of bill introduction.  In Nebraska, new bills can be introduced during the first 10 days of session.  This year, bill introduction ends on January 20.

One of the first orders of business, in addition to bill introduction, was the election of a new Nebraska Retirement Systems chair previously occupied by Senator Jeremy Nordquist.  Senator Nordquist resigned at the end of last session.  Senator Mark Kolterman of Seward was elected chair of Nebraska Retirement Systems.  This committee’s jurisdiction includes the State Employees Retirement System, Judges Retirement System, and State Patrol Retirement System, among others.

New Priority Schedule Announced

Also on Wednesday, Speaker Hadley announced a change in the schedule for priority designations: senators can begin designating personal priority bills starting this upcoming Monday.  This means that it is likely that bills will need a priority designation to be scheduled for floor debate.  In some short sessions, the Legislature debates carryover bills without priority designations in the first weeks of session.  Speaker Hadley explained this change is to ensure that we have time in this short 60 day session to debate every personal priority bill that advances from committee.

Bills on Military and Veteran Issues Introduced

On Day 1, I introduced two important pieces of legislation to protect and strengthen Offutt Air Force Base and other Nebraska installations and to protect jobs for National Guard members.

LB 754 would establish a Military and Veterans Commission to help Nebraska preserve and protect military installations, including Offutt Air Force Base, and make sure that our state policies work well for our military families and veterans. Most importantly, it would create a point person for all military matters in the state. The Military and Veterans Commission would streamline our efforts to both protect and grow military assets and missions.  By having a point of contact in place and active participation from relevant government agencies, elected officials, county officials, local business leaders and active duty or retired military officials, we can be more proactive with our state’s military interests.

LB 753 would ensure job protections for National Guard members who live in another state but cross the border to work in Nebraska. Current law only provides job protections for those who go into the National Guard service if they work and live in the same state.

Those National Guard members who work in Nebraska and serve our country through Guard duty in another state should have the same job protections as those who live and work in the same state.  This legislation will close an unnecessary loophole and allow service members and their families the peace of mind they need while they sacrifice for our country.

Stay tuned for more information about these bills in the coming months.

Agenda to Support Family Caregivers Unveiled

News Conference Pic 2

On Friday, I introduced a pair of bills aimed at offering relief for Nebraska caregivers and families.  Family members are a key part of the health care team. It is critical that our state law recognize and support these family caregivers who provide this health care to fellow Nebraskans.

LB 849, the Assisting Caregiver Transitions (ACT) Act, allows hospital patients to designate a caregiver who would then receive instructions from the hospital at discharge so that the caregivers know how to safely look after loved ones and help them heal.  Family Caregivers already play an important role in assisting loved ones with their health care needs.  In 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated 37 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute. In fact, the value of unpaid family care vastly exceeds the value of paid home care. While the need is growing particularly for senior patients, the ACT bill provides important help to caregivers of adult patients of any age.

This is especially important in our fast-paced society, where caregivers must often balance work with care for loved ones. Other states are already responding to these increased challenges. Currently, 18 states and Puerto Rico have enacted measures similar to the Assisting Caregivers Transition Act. This is why I am proud to introduce this legislation and look forward to working with my colleagues to assure its passage.

The second bill I introduced on Friday to help caregivers and families establishes a state paid family leave insurance program.  Federal FMLA only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees and to workers who have been employed for a minimum of one year, which means ⅖ of the American workforce is excluded.  Of those who do qualify, fewer than 20% use it.

This low number can be explained in part by the very low availability of paid family leave.  Only 12% of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current policies put too many workers in untenable positions: keep the jobs they need or care for the families they love.

What’s more, a recent New York Times/CBS Poll found that family responsibilities kept more than half of non-working Americans out of the workforce. A recent data query of reasons that Nebraskans who apply for unemployment assistance give for leaving a job shows that nearly 20% of them report health and family issues. With Nebraska’s serious workforce shortages, we can’t afford to have these workers sitting on the sidelines.

States can invest in infrastructure to ensure workers can put families first without sacrificing their jobs or their long-term financial security. Paid family leave is not only critically important to families and the Nebraska workforce, it is also affordable and doable.

LB 850 establishes a partnership between the state, employers and employees. The state establishes the infrastructure for the program. Employers ensure workers are able to return back to their jobs after leave and the employees pay a small premium for the insurance that provides partial wage replacement when they need it. Cost estimates show the premiums should be well under $2 a week.

If you would like to receive more information about any of the bills featured in the update or have  a personal story to share about your experience as a caregiver, please email me at scrawford@leg.ne.gov or call my office at (402) 471-2615.

Presentation on Deployed Parents Custody

JAG Officers Pic

On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to meet with Nebraska National Guard judges advocate general (JAG) regarding LB 219.  LB 219 is a bill I successfully sponsored last session regarding custody situations for deployed parents.  LB 219 provided a clear, legal framework for parents and judges to use to make arrangements for children subject to a Parenting Plan when a military parent is deployed.  The bill created a framework to establish a plan for reducing disruption for the child when a military member with parenting time gets deployed if the court finds the plan to be in the best interest of the child.  I hope this presentation will help these JAG attorneys as they assist our military families.

Sue in the News

Here is a sample of press coverage featuring our work this week.
Coverage of Military and Veterans legislation:
Omaha World Herald: Crawford Introduces 2 Bills Aimed at Keeping Offutt Air Force Base
KETV 7 (AP article): Nebraska Bill Seeks to Preserve Offutt Air Force Base
Coverage of Caregivers Legislation:
Lincoln Journal Star: Paid Family Leave, Hospital Discharge Requirements Proposed to Help Caregivers, Pregnant Moms
NBC Nebraska: Nebraska Senator Proposes Paid Leave for Family Caregivers
Nebraska Radio Network: Proposals Would Help Nebraskan Care for Loved Ones

All my best,

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 8, 2016

Senator Crawford Introducing Relief for Caregivers Legislation

Bills Include the Assisting Caregiver Transition Act and Paid Family Leave Insurance Program

Statement from Senator Crawford

This morning I introduced two pieces of legislation to offer relief for Nebraska caregivers and families.

Family members are a key part of the health care team.

It is critical that our state laws recognize and support these family caregivers who provide this health care to fellow Nebraskans.

These two bills will make it easier for Nebraskans to take care of their loved ones.

The first bill,  is the Assisting Caregiver Transition Act, LB849

This bill would allow hospital patients to designate a caregiver who would then receive instructions from the hospital at discharge so that the caregivers know how to safely look after loved ones and help them heal.

Family Caregivers already play an important role in assisting loved ones with their health care needs.

In 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated 37 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.

In fact, the value of unpaid family care vastly exceeds the value of paid home care.

This legislation takes on increasing importance as the number of Nebraskans over the age of 65 is projected to grow from 247,000 to more than 404,000 and the number of Nebraskans 85 years and older will grow 75% over the next 20 years, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha analysis.

Many more Nebraskans will find themselves in the position of caring for aging family members and friends with chronic health conditions. We must ensure these caregivers have the resources they need.

While the need is growing particularly for senior patients, the ACT bill provides important help to caregivers of adult patients of any age.

This is especially important in our fast-paced society, where caregivers must often balance work with care for loved ones.

In addition to providing help to caregivers, however, this legislation has the potential to help families keep seniors in their homes longer, postponing costly long-term care.

As the Omaha World Herald pointed out in its editorial last weekend:

“Two out of every five dollars the Nebraska state government spends on Medicaid are to cover long-term care services for seniors. This demand will grow as the state’s population continues to age.”

Other states are already responding to their own costs and projections.

Currently, 18 states and Puerto Rico have enacted measures similar to this bill.

That is why I am proud to introduce the Assisting Caregivers Transition Act this morning and I urge my legislative colleagues to pass this bill.

The second bill I introduced today to help caregivers and families establishes a state paid family leave insurance program. This bill is LB850

It has been 21 years since Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act providing unpaid leave for numerous families.

Since that time, three states have created paid leave programs for family or medical leave: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Federal FMLA only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees and to workers who have been employed for a minimum of one year, which means ⅖ of the American workforce is excluded. Of those who do qualify, fewer than 20% use it.

This low number can be explained in part by the very low availability of paid family leave.  Only 12% of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A 2012 national workforce survey found almost half (46%) of all workers who had unmet needs for family or medical leave did not take the leave they needed because they could not afford it.

Current policies put too many workers in untenable positions: keep the jobs they need or care for the families they love.

What’s more, a recent New York Times/CBS Poll found that family responsibilities kept more than half of non-working Americans out of the workforce.

A recent data query of reasons that Nebraskans who apply for unemployment assistance give for leaving a job shows that nearly 20% of them report health and family issues.

With Nebraska’s serious workforce shortages, we can’t afford to have these workers sitting on the sidelines.

Paid family leave is not just an important benefit for new parents.  A child of any age may face the tragedy of an extended hospital stay for a serious illness or injury. Moreover, working Nebraskans with aging parents may also need time off to help an aging parent or partner recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s adjust to new routines or move them into a new living situation.

Without a paid family leave policy, some women may leave the workforce entirely to care for a child or family member.

In fact, a 2013 Pew study found that 27% of women had quit their job to do just that.

Dropping out of the workforce to care for an aging parent can have serious financial repercussions.

For many women in their 40s and 50s, the lack of a paid family leave program forces them to sacrifice their own long-term financial stability, which can have ripple effects long after the aging parent has passed away.

States can invest in infrastructure to ensure workers can put families first without sacrificing their jobs or their long-term financial security.

Paid family leave is not only critically important to families and the Nebraska workforce, it is also affordable and doable.

The bill we are introducing today establishes a partnership between the state, employers and employees.

The state establishes the infrastructure for the program. Employers ensure workers are able to return back to their jobs after leave and the employees pay a small premium for the insurance that provides partial wage replacement when they need it.

Cost estimates show the premiums should be well under $2 a week.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 6, 2016      

Senator Crawford Introduces Legislation to Protect Offutt Air Force Base and Other Military Installations

Crawford Also Introduces Job Protection Bill for National Guard Members

LINCOLN — District 45 State Senator Sue Crawford of Bellevue introduced a pair of bills this morning to protect Offutt Air Force Base and other Nebraska military installations and also protect jobs for National Guard members.

LB 754 would establish a Military and Veterans Commission to help Nebraska preserve and protect military installations, including Offutt Air Force Base. Most importantly, it would create a point person for all military matters in the state.

“The Military and Veterans Commission would streamline our efforts to both protect and grow military assets and missions,” Crawford said. “By having a point of contact in place and active participation from relevant government agencies, elected officials, county officials, local business leaders and active duty or retired military officials, we can be more proactive with our state’s military interests.”

Jeff Mikesell, Senior Military Liaison with the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership, says the point person this bill would create is very important.

“In order to remain competitive in the current Department of Defense fiscal environment, we need to have a defined, organized point person through whom all military matters can be directed,” Mikesell said. “This Military Commission will safeguard and enhance the military assets within Nebraska and seek to gain new missions and assets for our state.”

Establishing this commission would put Nebraska in line with other states that have taken this proactive approach. At least 32 states and Guam currently have military advisory bodies, either as a commission, task force or council.

Crawford says the Military and Veterans Commission would also enhance the military-friendly environment for veterans, service members and their families and strengthen the environment for businesses that bring military and base-related jobs to the state. It would also serve as a liaison to elected officials.

“It would also create a mechanism to inform the Nebraska Legislature about the impact of policies and programs on military communities and families so the state can do its part to respond to needs,” Crawford said.

The other military-friendly bill Senator Crawford introduced today was LB 753.

LB 753 would ensure job protections for National Guard members who live in another state but cross the border to work in Nebraska. Current law only provides job protections for those who go into the National Guard service if they work and live in the same state.

“Those National Guard members who work in Nebraska and serve our country through Guard duty in another state should have the same job protections as those who live and work in the same state,” Crawford said. “This legislation will close an unnecessary loophole and allow service members and their families the peace of mind they need while they sacrifice for our country.”

Neighboring states, including Missouri and Kansas, have laws that cover those who serve in a different state from which they work. Those existing laws provide protection for our Guard members who work in Kansas and Missouri. Iowa is also entertaining legislative action to address this issue in their upcoming session. Legislation in Iowa would likewise provide employment protections to Nebraskan Guard members who work in Iowa. There are 228 Nebraska National Guard members who work outside the state.

Martin Dempsey, Midwest Regional Liaison in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, said this legislation is important. Dempsey’s region includes Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

“Members of the National Guard deserve employment protection regardless of whether they work in the same state where they mobilize,” Dempsey said. “Seventeen states currently provide protections, and the Department of Defense appreciates the Nebraska Legislature considering policy that addresses this important issue.”

In addition to the bills Senator Crawford introduced this morning, she also has another carryover bill to help military retirees. LB 267 would exempt part of military retirement income from state individual income tax. In 2014, The Nebraska Legislature passed LB 987, which provided a partial exemption only for those who retire on or after July 18, 2012. LB 267 would include military retirees who left the service before July 18, 2012.

“The limited tax benefit previously passed sends the wrong message to those Nebraskans who have already invested in our state,” Crawford said. “LB 267 fixes the previous flawed legislation and covers those who have already made a commitment to our state and communities.”

LB 267 is currently in the Revenue Committee.

 

I recently met with Nebraska Department of Labor officials regarding LR 223, an interim study I introduced to develop strategies and ideas to ensure more adults have the education and skills needed to fill positions for in demand occupations in Nebraska. 

As families gather to celebrate the holidays and the beginning of a new year, our office is hard at work preparing for the 2016 legislative session, which begins next Wednesday.  In the Nebraska Legislature, all new bills must be introduced during the first ten days of session.  As such, preparations for bill introduction begin months before session begins.

Along with these preparations, our staff is preparing a new schedule for e-newsletter updates. Like during previous sessions, we will send weekly updates every Saturday while the Legislature is in session.  These updates feature a mixture of information on our legislative agenda, Urban Affairs Committee work, other major issues in committees and on the floor, as well as information about the legislative process.  If you know someone who would like to receive these updates, encourage them to email me at scrawford@leg.ne.gov with their request.
The 2016 session marks the second year of a two year legislative cycle, or biennium.  In Nebraska, all bills from last session that were not indefinitely postponed, vetoed or passed carry over into the second year of the session.  This means there are bills sitting on General File waiting for us to debate, unlike last session when we had to wait for bills to come out of committee to begin floor debate on those bills.

Speaker Hadley intends for the Legislature to begin floor debate on bills sitting on General File on Monday, January 11.  Speaker Hadley announced that the first bills on the agenda will be carry over priorities from last session, which are priority bills from last session that we did not complete before adjourning in June.  The Speaker has also announced that he will accept priority designations for bills earlier than usual this session. These new measures will limit time for other carry over bills and new bills, making it likely that most bills will need a priority designation to see floor debate.

Also new this year is a change in the norms for cloture, which is the motion used to cut off debate on a bill to end a filibuster. Cloture motions cannot cut off debate until the chair determines that the body has completed full and fair debate. In the Nebraska Legislature, the chair, which during times of cloture votes is most often the Speaker, determines what constitutes full and fair debate during the three rounds of legislative debate (General File, Select File and Final Reading). Historically, this has meant 8 hours of debate on General File, 4 hours on Select File and 2 hours on Final Reading. This year, the Speaker has said that the gauge for full and fair debate will be 6 hours of debate on General File. The goal of this change is to help us move through the legislative agenda conscientiously as the Legislature begins a short, 60 day session. The hours of debate for other rounds remain the same. The Speaker still have discretion to deny a cloture motion and continue debate past these hour marks if he feels that debate needs to continue.

Urban Affairs Committee Publishes Report on Municipal Economic Development
This week, the Urban Affairs Committee published an interim study report on LR 155, the committee’s interim study examining current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska. The report is the first major interim study report issued by the Urban Affairs Committee since the 1990s.

Over a number of years, the Urban Affairs Committee has heard repeatedly from city and village officials that municipalities in Nebraska only have two economic development tools at their disposal – the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (commonly referred to as LB 840), and tax-increment financing (TIF) under the Community Development Law.  The LR 155 report takes a comprehensive look at economic development tools that are currently available to municipalities in Nebraska, as well as examining tools that are available to municipalities in other states.  The report also compiled ideas for changes to strengthen the tools that were presented to the committee as part of the interim study process, and should serve as a good roadmap as the Legislature continues to evaluate local economic development tools over the next few years.
A link to the LR 155 report can be found on the Urban Affairs Committee’s reports page.

Meet My Staff: Chris Triebsch


In Nebraska, each senator has at least two staff people to help them with their legislative duties: an administrative aide and a legislative aide.  As Committee Chair for Urban Affairs, I also have a Committee Counsel, bringing my total staff to three.

This week, I would like to introduce you to the newest member of my staff, Chris Triebsch. Chris serves as my Committee Clerk/Administrative Assistant. He joined my office last month. Chris is originally from Marshall, MO, but he has been a Nebraskan since he graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwest Missouri State University in 1997.

Chris brings a wealth of experience to this job, including his work in communications at Voices for Children in Nebraska. He also led a launch of a successful reentry program at the Center for People in Need in Lincoln, which provides occupational and life skills training and case management services to those transitioning out of incarceration. Prior to that, Chris served as an Aide for Constituent Services for Governor Mike Johanns and he also previously worked as a staff member in the Nebraska Legislature.

When not in the Legislature, Chris is an avid reader and enjoys watching St. Louis Cardinals baseball.

Part of Chris’s responsibilities includes helping us communicate with constituents and helping them with any problems they might have with the state, whether by phone, email, or mail. He is always available to answer questions you may have at (402) 471-2615 or via email at ctriebsch@leg.ne.gov.

Next Week

Next Saturday will be the first our our weekly e-newsletter updates and will include a preview of my legislative agenda. In the meantime, this week’s Bellevue Leader provides a nice summary of some of the major issues our office will be pursuing in 2016. To read the article, please click here.

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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