Welcome

January 7th, 2015

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 45th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Sue Crawford

Special Investigative Committee Holds Public Hearing on ACCESSNebraska

August 3rd, 2015

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Hearing on ACCESSNebraska Held

On Friday July 17, the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee held its first hearing.  I am one of seven members of this committee.  The hearing two weeks ago provided an opportunity for Department of Health and Human Services CEO Courtney Phillips to lay out her plans to improve ACCESSNebraska as well as hear testimony about the program’s challenges from providers and advocates who work with clients served by ACCESSNebraska.  

ACCESSNebraska is Nebraska’s public assistance benefits delivery system.  Created in 2009, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services launched ACCESSNebraska in an attempt to modernize and streamline our public assistance application process. The system changed how the Department processes applications for programs including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and heating assistance for elderly. ACCESSNebraska replaced a face-to-face application process with a system based around phone and online applications.

Unfortunately, the system has not worked as intended. Long wait times, busy signals and lost documentation continue to plague the new system. Critical help for elderly and vulnerable individuals gets denied and delayed when this assistance is most needed. However, there have been efforts to improve the transparency, effectiveness and responsiveness of the program since the beginning of Ms. Phillips’ tenure as CEO of the Department earlier this year.  For example, citizens can now view monthly dashboards for both Medicaid and Economic Assistance programs (the Department split ACCESSNebraska into two programs in 2013) with key measures such as call wait times and timeliness in processing applications.   To view this month’s dashboard, click here.

This session, the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee is one of two created during the past session.  The other committee is the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee, created by LR 34.  This committee is charged with examining availability and adequacy of programming and mental health treatment of inmates, the use of solitary confinement and administration of good time laws, among other topics.

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.

Opportunities for Working Families Forum

This summer I had the privilege of attending a forum on opportunities for working families in tight budget times, sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Each participating state brings a team to work on an action plan for the state.

Other members of the Nebraska team were Sen. John McCollister, Sen. John Stinner, Liz Hruska from the fiscal office and Joselyn Luedke, legal counsel for the Health and Human Services Committee.  Priority issues of our Nebraska team included workforce development, healthcare, and performance metrics. We have a follow up meeting planned in August to begin work on our action plan.

One of the financial literacy programs highlighted at the forum was the Nebraska Save to Win program. Save to Win, passed in 2011, resulted from the work of a Nebraska team who attended an earlier Working Families Forum. As of July 2014, nearly 1,500 people collectively saved over $2 million through Save to Win programs in 11 credit unions. This year we passed a bill to extend the program to banks as well. You can learn more about Nebraska’s involvement in the Working Families Forum and the Save to Win program here.

Interim Study Hearings Scheduled

There were 129 interim study resolutions introduced during the First Session of the 104th Legislature, of which nine were referred to the Urban Affairs Committee.  Over the past decade, the previous record for interim studies referred to the committee was eight, so it’s going to be a busy interim in Urban Affairs this year!

As Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee, part of my duties are to prioritize interim studies that are referred to the committee and schedule interim hearings.  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 155 (Urban Affairs Committee)

Interim study to examine current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska

LR 174 (Crawford)

Interim study to examine issues surrounding the Nebraska Energy Code

LR 152 (Crawford)

Interim study to examine the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act

LR 278 (Pansing-Brooks)

Interim study to examine existing resources and the need for additional tools for municipalities to further encourage revitalization of neighborhoods

LR 273 (Davis)

Interim study to examine the current practices of municipalities using tax-increment financing under the Community Development Law

LR 159 (Crawford)

Interim study to examine issues surrounding handicapped parking

LR 280 (Crawford)

Interim study to examine municipal bankruptcy

LR 240 (Urban Affairs Committee)

Interim study to examine state law governing cities of the first class in Chapter 16 of the Nebraska statutes

LR 156 (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 handicapped parking statutes, energy codes, and the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (commonly referred to as LB 840).

Earlier this month, the Urban Affairs Committee officially scheduled its initial interim study hearings to be held this fall.  On September 25th, the committee will hold a hearing on two economic development-related interim studies – LR 155 & LR 152.  On October 23rd, the committee will hold hearings on LR 278, dealing with neighborhood revitalization, and LR 174, which examines the Nebraska Energy Code.  Both sets of Friday hearings will be held in the State Capitol in Room 1510, and will begin at 1:30 p.m.

Constituent Meet and Greets at the Bellevue Farmers’ Market

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In June and July, I was able to meet with constituents one Saturday a month at the Bellevue Farmers’ Market. Thank you to all who were able to make it out to chat with me. I will have a table in the park after the Arrows to Aerospace parade onAugust 15th. Hope to see you there!

All my best,

End of Session Report is Now Available

June 30th, 2015

Click the link below to read my full report of the 2015 Legislative Session, which reviews major accomplishments of the first session of the 104th Legislature.

2015 End of Session report

Urban Affairs Committee 2015 Session Summary Report is Now Available

June 24th, 2015
The Urban Affairs Committee’s 2015 Session Summary report is now available on the Urban Affairs Committee reports page: http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/reports/urban.php
The report includes summaries for all bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, as well as a breakdown of bills by subject matter, a detailed index and status update for all bills, and a list of interim studies referred to the Urban Affairs Committee.

Review of Passed Legislation, Join me at Upcoming Bellevue Farmers Markets

June 19th, 2015

Session Review

With the session a few weeks behind us, I thought I would share an overview of our work this session–both what we accomplished and what we will continue to work on next session.  Our office had a very productive session; I led 14 bills to passage.  10 of these bills were ones I introduced and 4 were Urban Affairs bills that I led as chair of that committee. These bills reduce unnecessary regulations, increase transparency, support and honor veterans, protect public safety, improve government effectiveness, and enhance economic development for municipalities. While these 14 bills make important improvements in the state, none of them required state budget spending.  These bills are:

  • LB 107: Reducing unnecessary regulations through the elimination of the Integrated Practice Agreement for Nurse Practitioners to practice in the state.
  • LB 109: Recruiting and retaining veterans’ families byupdating state policy to provide in-state tuition to veterans and spouses who move to Nebraska.
  • LB 146: Honoring veterans by establishing a process for veteran service organizations to inter unclaimed veteran remains.
  • LB 149: Improving procedures for SID elections.
  • LB 150: Clarifying situations where the LB 840 economic development tool can be used.
  • LB 151: Allowing cities to address vacant properties more promptly.
  • LB 152: Providing Flexible Financing Tools for Municipalities
  • LB 219: Protecting military children during deployment through the Uniform Deployed Parents Visitation and Custody Act.
  • LB 266: Clarifying Municipal Nuisance Ordinance Authority.
  • LB 272: Helping veterans integrate into our workforce with a private sector hiring preference option for businesses in Nebraska.
  • LB 390: Providing treatment for children with seizures who have not responded to other traditional treatments.
  • LB 420: Increasing transparency by addressing the information gap for homebuyers in Sanitary Improvement Districts (SIDs)
  • LB 540: Enhancing Public Safety by Updating the State Building Code
  • LB 541: Increasing transparency by adding record retention to the Taxpayer Transparency Act.

Another one of my bills, LB 459, currently sits on General File and will carry over into next session.  This bill provides protections for child victims and witnesses in criminal cases who have been interviewed on tape by child advocate experts. The bill requires a higher standard for allowing pre-trial investigatory depositions and establishes a framework for protective measures for the children when such a deposition is necessary.  Part of our work this summer will be visiting with senators to continue to build support and garner support for the bill.

Several more of the bills I introduced are still in their respective committees, including LB 166.  LB 166 brings additional transparency and accountability to campaign funds in Nebraska. Current law does not provide a second check against fraud using campaign funds. There have been several high profile cases over the past decade in which campaign funds were misused for gambling, tattoos and dating services which were only discovered through other investigations. Nebraska’s Accountability and Disclosure Commission serves as Nebraska’s election and campaign watchdog. However, they lack the tools to protect donors from potential abuse of campaign funds.   LB 166 provides an important tool to ensure campaign funds are represented truthfully and used as reported by candidates.  I will continue to push for campaign finance reform next year either through LB 166 or a new bill.

This Week in the Interim: A New Feature

This month I launched a new feature on social media: This Week in the Interim.  These once a week posts, typically shared on Fridays, highlight some of the meetings and activities in our office from the previous week and offer a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on when the Legislature is not in session.

Already I’ve attended the Midwest Higher Education Commission Annual Executive Committee meeting as one of the two Nebraska delegates, learned more about issues in telehealth at a National Conference of State Legislatures workshop, participated in a patient-centered medical home discussion with key policy makers, physicians and insurance providers, and held an end of session workshop with my staff to review this past session and plan for the next year.  To see these weekly posts, be sure to like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (@SenCrawford).

Platte Chat: Burdensome Regulations

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to write this week’s Platte Chat, a weekly column published by the Platte Institute for Economic Research.  My piece highlights several levers available to citizens to challenge burdensome regulations, including a citizen review process for regulations.  This citizen-driven review is the result of LB 719, a bill I introduced and the Legislature passed in the 2014 session. LB 719 provides a mechanism to push for reconsideration and revision of regulations that have become out of date, redundant, or more costly than expected.  To read more about the 719 process and other ways citizens can combat burdensome regulations, visit HERE.

Join me at the Bellevue Farmer’s Market This Summer!

Each Saturday morning from now until October 3rd, 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 will set up a table at the Farmer’s Market once a month over the summer.  I will be there on the fourthSaturday of June (6/27) and July (7/25) and after the Arrows to Aerospace parade (8/15) to answer questions about last session and to take suggestions about future legislation.  I hope to see many of you this summer at one of these three events!

Legislature Adjourns Sine Die; Interim Schedule for Legislative Updates Begin

May 29th, 2015

Yesterday, 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 2016. 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 June.  

 

Update on Key Bills Featured in Previous Updates

Governor Ricketts signed LB 390, my personal priority bill, into law on Wednesday.  LB 390 provides access to cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, to patients with intractable epilepsy who are under the care of a neurologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  Because LB 390 included an emergency clause, the bill takes effect immediately upon passage.  UNMC has been hard at work obtaining the necessary FDA and DEA licenses and approval, even before the bill’s passage.  I hope this hard work means the program will be up and running soon.

This week the Legislature took final action on several bills featured in previous updates, including two veto overrides.  LB 268 and LB 623 passed notwithstanding the objections of the governor.  LB 623 allows Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) youth, often referred to as DREAMers to receive Nebraska driver’s licenses. Currently, Nebraska is the only state in the country that does not allow DREAMers to obtain a driver’s license.  

LB 268 repeals the death penalty in Nebraska and replaces it with life without possibility of parole.  I received numerous phone calls on both sides of this issue.  Even on votes where I am fairly certain about my eventual vote I still listen carefully to the question and concerns of all those who contact me.

Sometimes I can find a way to address some concerns with opponents as we move forward by pushing for an amendment to the bill.  This was the case when I met with Sarpy County officials who opposed prison reform.  One of their key concerns was that the bill, as written, would shift costs to counties.  So, I went to work fighting for amendments to reduce the risk of cost sharing to counties.

In some cases a good question from a constituent on the other side prompts me to do some research to make sure the evidence supports my likely vote.  Some opponents to the death penalty asked me how I could support the repeal of the death penalty in the face of the recent tragic death of Officer Kerrie Orozco.  This prompted me to check the evidence on the connection between the death penalty and attacks on police officers.  What I learned was that in all but one state that has repealed the death penalty, officer homicides have gone down, and the states with the highest rates of officer homicides are those states with the death penalty.  So, my vote for repeal of the death penalty is also a vote attentive to the need to keep our police officers safe.

As I read your emails and considered your questions, I found again and again that repealing the death penalty was the best policy choice for Nebraska.  For example, I heard the concern about safety for prison workers.  The evidence shows that states with the death penalty have prison murder rates over four times higher than in states without the death penalty.

Some opponents argue that the death penalty is an important tool for public safety.  Yet, as I examine the evidence I found no credible evidence to support that argument.  Murder rates are higher in states with the death penalty.  Moreover, it is difficult to argue that the death penalty is a critical tool when that tool has not been used for nearly 20 years and is unlikely to be used in the near future.  

 

Nebraska Boards and Commissions

The state of Nebraska relies heavily on a vast array of citizen commissions that advise and support important work across the state.  Many of these positions require the confirmation of the legislature.  As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee I have had the privilege to see a number of the citizens in the state who step up to these responsibilities.  This past week the Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing for two outstanding nominees for the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Foster Care Review Board.  These commissions and boards usually include a mix of professionals and lay citizen representatives.  If you have any interest in serving the state in this way, I urge you to check out the latest list of Board and Commission openings and consider applying for a position: governor.nebraska.gov/board-comm-req.  It is critical that we get a strong and diverse mix of citizens serving on these boards and commissions. If you would like a letter of support from me, please contact my office.

 

Intern Introductions–and Goodbyes

With session ending, our office prepares to say goodbye to another batch of interns, our third since we began our internship program during my first year.  Our interns provide invaluable support to our office and my staff both during session and during interim.  

This summer, two new interns will be joining the team to work on a variety of interim projects. Molly Anne Krebs is currently a student at Creighton University, seeking a B.A. in Medical Anthropology and a B.S. in Health Administration and Policy with minors in Communication Studies and Public Health. Molly has an extensive background in research, most recently conducting domestic violence research within a team from the Abrahams Legal Clinic within the Creighton University School of Law. Following graduation, Molly hopes to attend law school and focus on health law.

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Nicholas Le is a senior at Creighton University currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with minors in Legal Studies and Asian Studies. Nicholas is from Honolulu, Hawaii, and has worked at Koko Head District Park for the past three summers as a coordinator for their Summer Fun Program. His senior research thesis at Creighton focused on cyber warfare and cyber crime. Following graduation, Nicholas hopes to attend law school and focus on criminal law.

Each term, our interns assist our office in a variety of ways.  This session, Isabella spent considerable time digging into the issue of prison reform.  This included reading transcripts, Council of State Government reports and legislation.  Isabella also helped revamp our weekly update design and is responsible for the layout for the paper newsletters we send to a sample of registered voters in our district each week. Isabella will be attending Creighton University School of Law in August, and she will spend the rest of her summer traveling around the United States and getting trained to be a top trial lawyer.

Billy compiled research on the history of Nebraska’s African American State Senators, both past and present, and he presented his findings in a February Legislative Update in honor of Black History Month. In March, Billy wrote a feature on the women of Nebraska to commemorate Women’s History Month.

Billy also worked extensively with the Legal Counsel of the Urban Affairs Committee, Trevor Fitzgerald. Together they reexamined and identified a number of state statutes dealing with cities of the first class in preparation for their revision this interim. Billy also reviewed the Department of Revenue’s annual report on tax-increment financing (TIF) to help identify trends and patterns in TIF projects statewide.  The Urban Affairs Committee will continue to examine TIF statutes over the interim. Billy will spend the rest of his summer in preparation for attending the Creighton University School of Law in August.

Please join me in welcoming new interns Nicholas and Molly to our office as well as extending a heartfelt thank you to current interns Billy and Isabella! If you or someone you know is interested in an internship for the 2016 legislative session, please email Courtney Breitkreutz at cbreitkreutz@leg.ne.gov

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

May 22nd, 2015

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

 

Update on 2015 Crawford Bills

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Tommy Garrett: tgarrett@leg.ne.gov

Senator Dave Bloomfield: dbloomfield@leg.ne.gov

Senator Joni Craighead: jcraighead@leg.ne.gov

Senator Mike Groene: mgroene@leg.ne.gov

Senator Matt Hansen: mhansen@leg.ne.gov

Senator Tyson Larson: tlarson@leg.ne.gov

Senator Beau McCoy: bmccoy@leg.ne.gov

 

2015 Crawford Non-Urban Affairs Legislation

Bill Number

Short Description

Status

LB107

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

LAW

LB109

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

LAW

LB219

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

LAW

LB146

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

LAW

LB272

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

LAW

LB390

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

Passed 44-2; Awaiting Governor’s signature

LB459

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

General File

LB108

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

In Committee

LB147

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

In Committee

LB148

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

In Committee

LB163

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

In Committee

LB166

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

In Committee

LB267

Change the income tax exemption for military retirement income.

In Committee

LB391

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

In Committee

LB392

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

In Committee

 

Update on 2015 Urban Affairs Bills

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

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

 

Bill #

Introducer

One-liner

Status

LB 116

Haar

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

LAW

LB 131

Craighead

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

General File

LB 149

Urban Affairs Committee

Change provisions relating to election procedures for sanitary and improvement districts

LAW

LB 150

Urban Affairs Committee

Redefine terms under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act

LAW

LB 151

Urban Affairs Committee

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

LAW

LB 152[1]

Urban Affairs Committee

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

LAW

LB 168

Mello

Authorize expansion of existing business improvement districts

LAW

LB 197

Scheer

Provide additional powers to certain sanitary and improvement districts

LAW

LB 238

Groene

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

In Committee

LB 266

Crawford

Change provisions relating to jurisdiction for municipalities to enforce ordinances

LAW

LB 295

Scheer

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

General File

LB 300

Schumacher

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

In Committee

LB 304

Hansen

Adopt the Municipal Custodianship for Dissolved Homeowners Associations Act

LAW

LB 324[2]

McCollister

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

LAW

LB 378

Groene

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

General File

LB 420

Crawford

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

LAW

LB 445

Groene

Authorize audits of redevelopment plans that use tax-increment financing

In Committee

LB 455

Gloor

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

Passed 46-0; Awaiting Governor’s signature

LB 540[3]

Crawford

Adopt updated international building code standards

Select File

LB 596

Davis

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

In Committee

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

May 15th, 2015


LB 599 Defeated on Final Reading

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

 

Legislature Votes to Invoke Cloture on LB 268

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

 

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

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

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

 

LB 605 Advances with Additional Provisions for Counties

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

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

 

Interim Studies Introduced

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

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

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

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

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

May 8th, 2015

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

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

 

Update on LB 89

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

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

 

Debate on Medical Marijuana Begins

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

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

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

Statement on LB643

May 7th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LB 89 Vetoed by Governor Ricketts

May 1st, 2015

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

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

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

 

The Legislature Advances Biennial Budget Bills to Second Round Debate

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

 

Consent Calendar Bills Considered

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Confirmation Hearings for DHHS CEO and Medicaid Director Held

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

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

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

 

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

 

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