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.

Sen. Sue Crawford

DNA Testing, Sanitary Improvement Districts, and Guardians ad Litem Bills Sent to the Governor

April 24th, 2015

Big group visiting from Chandler View! Thanks for your great questions!

DNA Testing, Sanitary Improvement Districts, and Guardians ad Litem Bills Sent to the Governor

On Thursday, the Legislature sent 9 bills to Governor Ricketts for his signature.  Included in this package were bills ranging from changing DNA testing requirements for criminal cases, revisions to sanitary improvement districts, and changes to our Guardian ad Litem program for children in the child welfare system.

LB 245, a bill introduced by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, clarifies when DNA testing is allowed under the DNA Testing Act.  Under the bill, DNA evidence that was not previously tested or evidence where current technology could provide more accurate results can be tested or retested if a court finds the evidence materially affects the rights of the defendant.  This bill is supported by the Nebraska Innocence Project and the Nebraska State Bar Association.  LB 245 passed on a 42-4 vote.

LB 324, a bill introduced by Senator John McCollister, would allow sanitary and improvement districts (SIDs) to contract for solid waste collection services, aka garbage collection.  An Urban Affairs Committee priority bill, the bill as amended also includes the provisions of two other SID-related bills heard by this committee this session, including LB 420, a bill I introduced to provide new homebuyers with information about SIDs when they purchase a home located in an SID.  LB 324 passed on a 44-3 vote.

LB 15, a bill introduced by Senator Bob Krist, makes changes to our Guardian ad Litem program to better protect our most vulnerable children.  This summer, the Health and Human Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee participated in a joint hearing on LR 542, an interim study resolution examining this program.  Children in the child welfare system are assigned a guardian ad litem, or GAL, to present their best interests during all abuse and neglect court hearings.  This GAL can be an attorney or a court-appointed special advocate, or CASA, volunteer.  LB 15 codifies the Nebraska Supreme Court’s guidelines for GALs in statute.  It also requires more frequent contact between GALs and their juvenile clients and written reports by GALS     detailing the type and number of contacts with their child clients and their client’s foster parent.  LB 15 passed on a 47-0 vote.   


Budget Bills Debated Next Week as Late Nights Begin

Next Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee will report the main budget bills to General File for debate and the Legislature’s approval.  Earlier this week, the Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to advance the mainline budget bills.  Speaker Hadley intends to schedule first round debate for these bills next Thursday.  I look forward to reviewing the budget bills next week.


Consent Calendar

Next Wednesday, the Legislature will debate consent calendar bills.  Consent Calendar is a legislative process I featured in a previous update.  This process allows non-controversial bills, often with technical changes, to be debated in a streamlined fashion. The Speaker of the Legislature determines which bills are eligible for Consent Calendar.  This year’s Consent Calendar will be published following adjournment on April 28.  

This year I submitted a request for consideration of LB 541 as a Consent Calendar bill. 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 general retention schedule of 5 years post-expiration.  

Also included in the consent calendar is LB 455, a bill by Senator Mike Gloor that was heard by the Urban Affairs Committee earlier this session.  LB 455 would clarify that a fire chief employed by a city of the first class with a population over 37,500 shall be appointed under the Civil Service Act.  The City of Bellevue is one of just two cities of the first class that meets this population threshold.


Bill to Strengthen Human Trafficking Penalties Advance to Select File

On Wednesday afternoon, I joined 33 of my colleagues in supporting LB 294 to strengthen our human trafficking laws.  Sadly, Nebraska faces a growing problem with human trafficking due to its central location, convenience of I-80, and high profile events like the College World Series.  LB 294, as amended, increases penalties for perpetrators of human trafficking, including raising the maximum sentence for sex trafficking of a minor from 20 to 50 years.  LB 294 also allows, for the first time, victims of human trafficking to sue their captors in civil court.

Death Penalty Repeal Advances

April 20th, 2015

On Thursday, I spoke on the floor in support of LB 268, a bill to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life without possibility of parole.  During the debate, I felt compelled to share a personal story I heard earlier this week by Dr. Ashley Gage when she asked me to share it on the floor.  Dr. Gage is a professor of social work at the University of Nebraska-Kearney who visited the Legislature on Thursday as part of Nebraska Social Workers Legislative day.  

When Ashley was 18 years old, she found her father murdered in their front yard.  She called 911 and waited for the police to arrive.  Ashley shared with me how traumatizing it was to hear her voice on the 911 call played back during news coverage of her father’s death.  She further shared with me how grateful she was that her father’s murderer was convicted to a sentence of life without possibility of parole because she was able to have closure.  Ashley had to go through the trauma of the trial and her testimony once and only once.  She was able to go through the trial and move beyond the trial.  In death penalty trials, that is not the case.

After the trial, Ashley was able to get counseling at school and move on with her life.  She later received her masters degree in Social Work.  Now whenever she has a bad dream or gets a panic attack, she can check online to see that the murderer is still behind bars and she has closure.

In contrast is the experience of another murder victim: Miriam Thimm Kelle.  Miriam is the sister of James Thimm, who was tortured and killed by Michael Ryan in 1985.  At the time of the trial, her son was an infant.  Now, her son is a father himself and Michael Ryan still sits on death row.  With every appeal, Michael Ryan’s name and the horrors he committed on James resurface in the news, causing more pain and suffering for Miriam and the Thimm family.  

Closure remains very elusive for these victims’ families, as former Douglas County Prosecutor Brent Bloom recognized in a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2009.  Specifically, he stated “The existence of the death penalty…perpetuates a cruel illusion that they [murder victim families] may have vengeance, when in reality the system requires years of appeals, repeatedly putting the victims through the nightmare of their loved one’s death…My firsthand experience working with victims is that they simply want to be done with their tragedy.”


LB 599 Moves to Select File

On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 599 on a 32-11 vote.  LB 599 exempts high school students from the new minimum wage law, a law that 60% of Nebraska citizens supported at the polls this past November.  LB 599 was brought by rural grocery stores who said it was critical for them to stay in business.  There was discussion on the floor about whether it was appropriate for senators to vote to abridge something that was passed by a ballot initiative at just the last election.   I was one of the 11 who voted no on the advancement of LB 599 and stand in opposition to the bill.  I expect there to be robust debate on the Select File in the coming weeks.


Speaking to fourth graders from Cedar Hollow Elementary in Grand Island.  I worked with the mom of one of the students to pass LB 219, a bill to create a process for military parents with shared custody when facing deployment.  


LB 605, Prison Reform Bills Advance

On Tuesday, a set of bills aimed at reforming Nebraska’s criminal justice system advanced from General File.  One bill,LB 605, was featured in a previous legislative update.  The genesis of LB 605 is the work of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to address the serious issues facing our state’s Department of Corrections including overcrowding and limited post-release supervision of individuals with serious felony offenses.  The Justice Reinvestment Working Group was chaired by the Governor, Speaker Adams, and Chief Justice Heavican and consisted of members of the Legislature, judicial branch, and local governments.  

I worked closely with Senator Mello and Senator Seiler, chair of the Judiciary committee, regarding LB 605 and its possible impact to counties.  Currently, there is a funding mechanism in LB 605, as amended, to cover potential cost shifts to counties.  It is important to me that the Legislature does not achieve prison reform and address prison overcrowding by shifting costs to counties.  My discussions with members of the Judiciary committee and Sarpy county officials will continue between now and Select File.

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Bill Henry stopped by my office to deliver a Missing In America flag. We were pleased to honor him with an honorary Admiralship in the Nebraska Navy in appreciation for his help passing LB146. This bill will help funeral homes work with veterans organizations to inter unclaimed remains of veterans for burial in a veteran cemetery. He has already visited over fifty funeral homes to get the work started. Thanks to Bill for all he has done and for the flag for our office!

Medicaid Redesign Bracketed

April 10th, 2015

On Wednesday afternoon, the Legislature voted 28-16 to bracket LB 472 until June 5, 2015, effectively killing the bill for this year.  LB 472, or the Medicaid Redesign Act, would have allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to work with the federal government to leverage existing tax dollars to create a Nebraska-specific plan for better, cost-effective care while closing the coverage gap, providing health insurance for thousands of working Nebraskans who are currently without health insurance.  According to a recent University of Nebraska-Kearney study, between now and 2020, LB 472 would generate almost $175 million in revenue for the state of Nebraska, which pays for the share of the state’s investment three times over.  New Jersey and Kentucky, two states that have leveraged these federal dollars, have seen dramatic decreases in uncompensated care costs.  During a recent town hall event, Governor Chris Christie shared “Expanding Medicaid was the right decision for New Jersey.  It’s helping to save us money.  Our state taxpayers are seeing more federal dollars and we’ve also added more people covered so they don’t go for their primary care in a hospital emergency room.”

Ultimately, the failure of LB 472 is most tragic for the 50,000 to 70,000 Nebraskans, including many small business owners, self-employed people and young entrepreneurs who continue to face the threat of a health condition or accident with no health insurance.   


Speaking with Sen. Smith of Papillion on the floor


Education Innovation Grants Debated

One of the issues discussed this week was the state allocations of lottery education funding.  The general principle Nebraska has followed in recent years focuses Nebraska lottery funds on promising education innovations.  This allows us to invest in these innovations with a General Fund budget impact.  Some of the innovations that prove themselves then end up becoming core educational investments in the budget.  

One example of a cost that previously was covered by lottery funds and has now moved to the General Fund education budget is the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.  All 50 states currently belong to the compact; membership ensures children of military families do not face overly burdensome requirements for enrollment or placement when they transfer to a new school.  For example, the compact works to eliminate barriers to athletic participation or graduation from differences in state requirements or wait times. Bellevue Public Schools were leaders in the effort to get this compact up and running in Nebraska and other states.

In addition to innovation dollars, LB 519 directs a substantial portion of the lottery funds to the Nebraska Opportunity grant, which supports college completion for low-income students in Nebraska.  Under the Access College Early (ACE) scholarship program, low-income high school students are able to take college courses while they are still in high school.  College continuation rates of ACE scholarship recipients are significantly higher than the college-going rate of other low-income public high school graduates, as you can see from the results provided by the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.

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College completion remains a stubborn challenge for all states, including Nebraska.  The Nebraska Opportunity grant has proven successful in helping low-income students get across the finish line.  A key grant that paid for this program in Nebraska has just ended.  The lottery allocation allows Nebraska to continue to support our bright and hard-working low-income students and strengthen our workforce.


Late Nights Schedule Announced

On Wednesday, the Speaker released the schedule for our upcoming late night sessions.  Beginning on Tuesday, April 28, the Legislature will work until at least 8:30 PM or later, potentially as late as 11:59 PM, on designated “late nights.”  The following dates are reserved as late nights: April 28-30, May 4-6, May 12-14, May 18-20, and May 26-28.  On other nights or nights when a “late night” is cancelled, the Legislature may adjourn as late as 7:00 PM.


Interns Wanted

As college students begin to register for their fall courses and make their plans for the summer, I encourage students to consider applying for an internship with my office.  Last summer, we hired two interns to help with research projects on topics as varied as health policy, natural resources, and veterans issues.  The interim provides an opportunity for interns to work closely with staff as we work on interim studies and prepare legislation for next session.  

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for an internship for this summer or fall, please send a cover letter, resume and two references to my administrative aide, Courtney Breitkreutz at cbreitkreutz@leg.ne.gov.

Bellevue Leadership Day in the Capitol

April 2nd, 2015

On Tuesday, our office hosted the Bellevue Chamber’s Bellevue Leadership candidates in the Capitol.  These twelve candidates spent the day in Lincoln learning more about the legislative process and meeting with key leaders including Governor Ricketts, Secretary of State John Gale, Chief Justice Michael Heavican, and Senator Garrett, Senator Mello, and Senator Campbell.

Explaining the hearing process to the Leadership Class

With Governor Ricketts

Great turnout for the reception at the Governor’s Residence

Bellevue Leadership is a year-long program available to local business and civic leaders operated through the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. Each year, we are happy to welcome these candidates to the Capitol. The program lasts from 9:30 to 4:30 PM followed by a reception in the Governor’s Mansion. This evening reception is a fun annual event attended by Bellevue city officials and other Chamber members.  Thanks to Mayor Rita Sanders, County Commissioner Tom Richards, city and county staff and Bellevue business and community leaders for coming! A lot of work goes into planning and organizing Bellevue Leadership Day. Special thanks to Doris Urwin of the Bellevue Chamber and my administrative assistant Courtney Breitkreutz for their hard work in making the day possible. If you are interested in being a part of next year’s Leadership Class, contact Doris at (402)898-3000.


Health and Human Services Committee Bills Advance

On Monday, the Legislature granted first round approval for two bills we heard in the Health and Human Services Committee this session.  LB 81, introduced and prioritized by Senator Tanya Cook, addresses the cliff effect in Nebraska’s child care assistance program. The term cliff effect refers to a situation where a family loses all public benefits such as child care assistance due to a raise, promotion or extra hours at work. While this increase in income is enough to disqualify the family from assistance, it is often not enough for the family to afford child care without some assistance.  LB 81 allows the parent to pay more of the childcare on a sliding scale as their pay increases (up to a point when they no longer qualify) rather than dropping off suddenly.

Also on Monday, the Legislature advanced LB 199, a bill introduced by Senator Sara Howard.  LB 199 provides stipends for graduate and undergraduate level social work students who commit to working in the field of child welfare.  The committee amendment, which I supported, clarifies that social work students enrolled in any college or university with a social work program could be eligible if they meet the other criteria.  This bill is a common-sense solution to address a key workforce shortage in our state and to help us improve the quality of child protective services.

Select File Action

The second round of debate and vote on a bill is called “Select File.”  If there are no changes to the bill and no remaining issues to debate, then the Select File vote is simply a voice vote.  However, Select File provides an opportunity for another round of debate and changes to a bill.  The two most common types of amendments are changes to address an issue raised in the first round of debate or amendments to add an additional provision from another bill that was advanced out of committee onto the underlying bill.  LB 627, introduced by Senator Mello to establish and clarify reasonable accommodation protections for women in the workforce, passed Select File this week.  I spoke in support of LB 627 during the first round of debate on that bill as one of the very few members of the Legislature that had experience working while pregnant and while breast-feeding.  During Select File we amended LB 627 with some clarifications requested by businesses.  

LB 324, which we discussed in an earlier update, is a package of bills from the Urban Affairs Committee dealing with sanitary and improvement districts, or SIDs.  On Select File this week, LB 324 was amended to add the provisions of LB 131, another SID bill that had been advanced by the Urban Affairs Committee earlier this session.  LB 131 deals with issues that come up when a municipality attempts to annex an SID, and as amended into LB 324 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.  


General File Action

Most of our time on General File this week was spent on two bills, LB 106 and LB 610.  LB 106, the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act, as introduced by Senator Dan Watermeier, was a bill that required counties to use a state designed evaluation system when evaluating whether to provide permits for livestock operations seeking to come to their county.  I spoke adamantly against the ways in which the original bill and early amendments to the bill circumvented local control at the apparent request of a particular industry.  After two days of debate and intense off the floor negotiations, the bill eventually turned into a bill that now only directs the Department of Agriculture to create a committee of experts and county representatives to come up with a model evaluation rubric that counties can choose to use as a guide as they decide what processes they wish to use to evaluate livestock siting requests.  After getting a commitment from the chair of the Agricultural Committee that he would be vigilant in making sure that the committee represented a broad set of interests, and confirming that a key group representing smaller farmers was committed to being engaged in the process, I voted for the amended version of LB 106.

LB 610, introduced by Senator Jim Smith, provides for a gradual increase in the gas tax and directs those funds to the state, counties, and municipalities for roads and bridges.  This change is supported by several organizations, including the Nebraska Trucking Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau, and even the conservative Platte Institute. As fuel economy has increased, several states have found that they need to increase their tax per gallon to sustain investments in this vital infrastructure.  The two day debate over LB 610 stressed the importance of making this change as part of a larger rebalancing of the Nebraska tax system.  Nebraska provides less state assistance to counties and cities and less state funding for local schools, which puts more pressure on property taxes and leaves some needs, such as local infrastructure, on the waiting list.  During the debate, Speaker Galen Hadley, who previously chaired the Revenue Committee, listed all of the recent income tax cuts that the Legislature had made in the past few years.  Open Sky reports over $500,000,000 in savings to tax payers from these recent income tax cuts in 2015 alone (ADD LINK to “Open Sky” wording in previous sentence) http://www.openskypolicy.org/policy-brief-legislature-has-reduced-taxes-significantly-in-past-decade

At the end of the lengthy debate and concessions that it was a hard vote to take, only 10 Senators voted against the gas tax increase.

Easter Weekend

The Legislature adjourned on Thursday afternoon and will return Tuesday morning, which allows senators to travel home and spend Easter weekend with their families.  Legislative staff have also been granted administrative leave on Friday and Monday by the Executive Board of the Legislature.  If you need assistance during this time, please call our office and leave a message.  My staff will return your call upon their return on Tuesday morning.  I wish you all a joyous Easter!


LB 390 Advances from the Judiciary Committee

March 26th, 2015

On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee voted to advance LB 390 to General File for debate by the full Legislature.  LB 390 is my personal priority bill this year.  The bill creates the Medical Cannabidiol Pilot Study within the University of Nebraska Medical Center for patients who suffer from intractable epileptic seizures.  It allows access to low-THC cannabidiol oil for patients under the supervision of a neurologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  Under LB 390, the only allowed substance is cannabidiol or CBD that contains .03% THC or less.  This is the same amount of THC found in industrial hemp and is too low to produce a high for recreational use.  I look forward to discussing this bill with my colleagues on the floor in the weeks ahead.


Consent Calendar

Consent Calendar is a legislative process established in Rule 5, Section 6 of our Legislative Rules.  This process allows non-controversial bills, often with technical changes, to be debated in a streamlined fashion.  The Speaker of the Legislature determines which bills are eligible for Consent Calendar.  At a minimum, Consent Calendar bills must meet the following criteria:

  • No opposition testimony at the bill’s hearing, unless a committee amendment completely addresses the opposition’s concerns.

  • The topic the bill opens up is non-controversial.  

  • The bill does not adopt a new act or make several changes to an existing law.

  • The bill does not have a general fund impact.  Similarly, tax expenditure bills are not eligible for consent.

  • The bill was reported to General File by March 23, 2015.  

Per legislative rule, any bill on Consent Calendar can be removed from the agenda by the written request of 3 or more senators.  If this happens, the bill will be passed over and will not come up for a vote.  Similarly, if an amendment to a Consent Calendar bill that adds new subject matter is adopted on the floor, the bill will not be placed back on the agenda.  

This year I submitted a request for consideration of LB 541 as a Consent Calendar bill.  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 general retention schedule of 5 years post-expiration.  

In 2013, the Legislature passed LB 429, a bill I introduced and prioritized, to bring additional transparency to the state contracting process through the creation a publicly available website for all state contracts.  The current statute requires indefinite retention because there is no timeline for retention. LB 541 clarifies that the state contract website, operated by the Department of Administrative Services, will follow the state agency general retention schedule.


Veterans Writing Workshop this Week

Since September, Humanities Nebraska has partnered with the Veterans Administration in Lincoln to organize six-week workshops for veterans and active duty military members.   The latest workshop, called “Standing Together” began on January 17.  In addition to writing strategies and techniques, workshop participants also read Simon Wiesenthal’s “The Sunflower” and Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.”  A similar workshop series in Omaha is planned this fall.  If you are interested in participating in a future workshop or know a veteran who might benefit from the series, please contact Beverly Hoistad at valdosta27@gmail.com.   


This Week in Urban Affairs

On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 152, one of the Urban Affairs Committee’s two committee priority bills for the session.  LB 152, which authorizes cities and villages to borrow directly from banks and other financial institutions, would help smaller cities and villages that run into cash-flow issues when, for example, a city-owned vehicle breaks down and must be quickly replaced.  Nebraska generally follows the legal doctrine known as Dillon’s Rule, which means that municipalities may only exercise those powers that are expressly granted to them by the state – without authorization, cities and villages would be unable to borrow from local banks located in their communities.

While LB 152 was one of the first bills heard this session by the Urban Affairs Committee, it was also one of the bills that was discussed most often by the committee in executive session.  Most borrowing by cities and villages currently comes in the form of municipal bonds, many types of which must be approved by the voters.  Committee members were initially concerned that without some type of limitation, direct borrowing could be used as an “end around” for cities to avoid traditional bond financing.  To address those concerns, the committee spent a significant amount of time working on the bill to place reasonable restrictions on municipalities’ ability to borrow directly from banks.

LB 152 provides a perfect example of the role that committees play in the legislative process.  Prior to advancing the bill, the committee carefully crafted amendment language that balanced the need for flexible municipal financing tools with ensuring transparency in local budgeting and avoiding the possibility that municipalities would use direct borrowing to avoid going to the voters.  While direct borrowing represents an important new tool in the toolbox for municipalities, the work of the committee ensures that traditional bond financing will continue to be used in cases where it is clearly warranted.


Visitors this Week

I spoke with students from Avery Elementary in Bellevue and North Star HS in Lincoln

I met with Bellevue West students who are a part of No Limits , a youth-led tobacco prevention group

I enjoy visiting with visitors from the district. Avery Elementary was the first 4th grade class to visit this year. I met with a couple of Bellevue West students this week who were at the Capitol for a Humanities Nebraska workshop on political issues. This week I also had a chance to speak with nursing students, including many from Creighton, about health bills and the importance of being engaged in state politics. If you are ever at the Capitol, make sure to stop by my office in room 1212 and say hi!




Our office received a number of calls and emails this week regarding Senator Chambers’ comments that were made during a dialogue with Senator Garrett at a concealed carry hearing last Friday.  While no other senator, including me, condones Senator Chambers’ remarks, the context of those remarks has been lost in the media frenzy.  In that dialogue, Senator Garrett implied that Nebraska citizens might want to carry a gun if they are going for a family outing to Chili’s or Applebee’s because they were afraid of ISIS.  After that comment, Senator Chambers argued that he and others in his community had reason to fear law enforcement and that discussion included unfortunate and inflammatory remarks that received a great deal of press attention this week.

To those concerned that it was not discussed by his peers, know that Senator Chambers’ comments were discussed thoroughly Thursday morning on the floor.  Several senators expressed their concerns about the comments and there was a serious debate about free speech in the legislature and our personal responsibilities in our own speech and in our responses to others who make comments on the floor and in hearings.  While no other senators, including me, condone the remarks, the freedom of speech is a fundamental right that must be protected.

At one point in that debate Thursday morning, Senator Mello noted that many senators in the Legislature who did not publicly criticize Senator Chambers have regularly supported police in tangible ways by protecting their sick leave, protecting their collective bargaining rights, and protecting their access to healthcare and education.  I would put myself in that category.  I did not participate in public outrage over the remarks, but I have worked hard to serve those who serve us in public safety roles in bill after bill.  For example, one of the first bills I introduced was LB 321.  LB 321 eliminated a provision requiring police officers in first class cities like Bellevue and Papillion to spend down their sick leave or personal leave before receiving short-term disability benefits.  Prior to the enactment of LB 321 as part of a larger Nebraska Retirement committee package in 2013, officers could face a situation where they return to work after an injury in the line of duty without sick leave to care for themselves or someone in their family.

Many on the floor demanded a retraction, clarification, or apology.  It is important to note that Senator Chambers did clarify in a follow up news account that he did not want to encourage anybody to shoot anyone.  After our floor debate on Thursday he was talking to reporters, so I expect more clarification of his comments appeared in news outlets at the end of the week.


Women’s History Month

March 20th, 2015

March is Women’s History Month. This update highlights some of the women leaders, past and present, that have inspired us and provide us with examples of how to make a difference.

On the north side of the State Capitol Building is an engraving that reads in part, “Honor to the pioneers who broke the sods that men to come might live.” One of these early yet seldom remembered pioneers was Mary Meyer. Mary was not only the first woman homesteader in Nebraska, but recent research suggests she was the first woman homesteader in the entire nation. She took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862, and on January 20, 1863, she filed claim on a parcel of land near modern-day Beatrice. Mary was the first of many women who came on their own or with children to settle on the plains. Research by historians at the National Homestead Monument indicates that nearly a quarter of Nebraska’s early homesteaders were women. It is Mary Meyer, and women like her, who truly broke the sods so that men and women alike could settle in our great state.


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Mary Meyer (Photo Courtesy of Robert Graff)

Born in 1878, Grace Abbott, a Grand Island native, devoted her life to the betterment of women and children across the nation. Concerned about the low pay and long hours required of children who worked in factories, Abbot became a leader in the fight for federal legislation protecting children’s rights. As a result of her efforts, the Sheppard-Towner Act was passed, which addressed and corrected the inadequate medical care available to women and children. In 1921, President Warren Harding appointed Abbott head of the Children’s Bureau in the Department of Labor, a position she held until 1934. Following her death in 1939, she was named one of “America’s Most Distinguished Women” by a leading women’s magazine of the time. She was later inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1976.


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Grace Abbott (Photo Courtesy of U.S. DHHS)

Margaretta Shaw Stewart Dietrich was originally born and raised in Pennsylvania, but made Hastings, Nebraska her home following her marriage to former Nebraska Governor and United States Senator Charles H. Dietrich. Mrs. Dietrich was heavily involved with the advancement of the suffrage movement in the state. She become the first president of the Nebraska League of Women Voters in 1920. She subsequently served five years as one of the regional directors on the board of the National League of Women Voters between 1921 and 1926. Her influence enabled the League to become active in promoting legislation that improved the welfare of women and children, secured independent citizenship for married women, and regulated child labor.

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Margaretta Dietrich (Photo Courtesy of BrynMawr.Edu)

Currently ten of the forty-nine members of the Unicameral are women. My female colleagues serve in leadership positions on Education, Health and Human Services, and Transportation and Telecommunication committees.

In 2012, State Senator Sara Howard was elected to represent District 09 in Omaha, the seat previously filled by her mother Senator Gwen Howard, marking the first mother-daughter legacy in the Nebraska Unicameral. In that same year, former State Senator Deb Fischer became Nebraska’s first female United States Senator following her defeat of Bob Kerry in the 2012 General Election.


This Week in Urban Affairs

In addition to senator and committee priority bills, the Speaker of the Legislature can designate an additional 25 bills each session as speaker priority bills.  Among the bills designated as a speaker priority this session was LB 540, a bill that I introduced as Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee to update the state building code.

Like most states, Nebraska has adopted as its state building code a series of model codes published by the International Codes Council, a national association that develops model building codes and standards.  The current state building code consists of three such model codes: 1) the International Building Code, or IBC, which covers all new construction except one- and two-family dwellings; 2) the International Residential Code, or IRC, which covers new construction of one- and two-family dwellings; and 3) the International Existing Building Code, or IEBC, which covers repair, alteration, addition, and change of occupancy for existing buildings.  New editions of these codes are published every three years, and the state has currently adopted the 2009 versions of the codes, with the exception of the residential fire sprinkler mandate in the IRC.

LB 540 would update the state building code by adopting the 2012 versions of the IBC, IRC, and IEBC, with two exceptions.  First, the bill would not adopt provisions in the 2012 IBC and IRC which correspond with the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), as the current state energy code is the 2009 IECC.

Second, LB 540 would not adopt the residential fire sprinkler mandate in the 2012 IRC.  Under current law, the state building code does not include the fire sprinkler mandate, but political subdivisions have the ability to “opt in” to the fire sprinkler mandate.  LB 540 would retain this “opt in” option for local governments.


All Day Floor Debate Begins Next Week

Friday was the 49th day of the legislative session.  It also marked the end of public hearings for this session.  Beginning Monday, the Legislature will start all day floor debate.  The Legislature starts at 10:00 AM during the first day of the work week.  All other days legislative proceedings begin at 9:00 AM.  For the next two weeks, the Legislature will adjourn around 5 PM each day, with the exception of the last workday of the week, when the Legislature will work through the lunch hour and adjourn in the early to mid-afternoon.  As we get further and further into session, the work days will get longer and longer.  Last year, there were several late nights in which the Legislature adjourned after 10:00 PM.  

In addition to priority bills, we will soon begin debate on the budget.  The Appropriations Committee has until the 70th day of session during a long session (40th day in a short session) to place budgets bills on General File.  As Appropriations hearings come to a close this week, the committee will spend the next two weeks putting together its final budget proposal for the full body’s consideration.  


In the Community

On Thursday, March 26, Bellevue University will hold a career fair with representation from over 50 metro employers.  The event is open to the public and will be held in the John B. Muller Administrative Services Building from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM.  

Also on Thursday, March 26, the Bellevue Police Department will host a Community Neighborhood Watch Meeting.  All those interested currently in a neighborhood watch group, interested in joining or starting a group, or learning more information about neighborhood watch programs in Bellevue are encouraged to attend.  The meeting will run from 6:30-8:00 PM in Classroom B of the Bellevue Police Department, 1510 Wall Street.  

Priority Bills Set, including CBD pilot project and Learning Community

March 13th, 2015

I was happy to be part of a panel on Thursday to discuss issues of gender inequality and women in government. The panel was held at the Capitol and hosted by the UNL Women’s Center and the YWCA


Priority Frenzy Week

We are nearly halfway through the legislative session.  At this point in the session, the debate on the floor turns to those bills that have a priority.  This past week was the deadline for all priority designations and proposals.  In all other states, the Speaker and the majority party decide which bills get time on the floor.  In Nebraska we have a unique priority system.  Each Senator gets to select one bill as his or her priority.  These bills get top priority for floor debate at some point before the end of the session.  Each committee identifies 2 priority bills.  Thursday was the deadline for both senators and committees to identify and submit their priority bills.  The Speaker also gets to select 25 priority bills.  Wednesday was the deadline to submit bills for the Speaker to consider as a Speaker priority bill.  

Since all of the priority deadlines were this week, and since getting a priority designation on a bill is so important, this week was a hectic one.  All of the senators were scrambling to try to get their most important bills voted out of committee before the priority deadlines so that they could propose them as Speaker priority bills or line up a Senator to make the bill his or her personal priority bill.  The Speaker is unlikely to pick a bill that has not gotten out of committee and individual Senators tend to be reluctant to pick a bill as a priority if it has not gotten out of committee by the deadline.  

I made LB 390 my personal priority bill even though it has not been voted out of the Judiciary Committee yet.  I talked with committee members and was assured it had the votes to get out next week and would be voted on next week.  Therefore I was willing to take the risk on this important bill that provides a pilot project for those with intractable epilepsy.  I worked hard early in the week to try to get one of my unfunded mandate bills out of the Revenue Committee in time to request a Speaker priority.  I wasn’t able to get that done because the Revenue Committee had so many other bills that were also being pushed by other senators who were also wanted a bill out in time for priority deadlines.  However, I was able to get another important bill out of Judiciary in time to request a Speaker priority for that bill.  That bill (LB 459) establishes protections for child victims in pre-trial discovery.


Gone but Not Forgotten: Working Together to Ensure Unclaimed Remains of Veterans Receive a Dignified Burial

Big thanks to Bill Henry for his help on LB 146

On Thursday, Bill Henry with Missing in America Project Nebraska Chapter visited the Capitol to watch as the Legislature passed LB 146 on a 44-0 vote.  The idea for this legislation was brought to our office by Bill Henry this summer.  Bill has been instrumental in garnering support for LB 146 and getting the legislation passed.  LB 146 will help funeral homes work with veterans service organizations like Missing in America Project to inter unclaimed remains of veterans for burial in a veteran cemetery.  The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.  

LB 146 is one of five military and veteran bills I introduced this year.  The Legislature passed four of the five already this year.  Two (LB 109 and LB 219) are now law.  The other two (LB 272 and LB 146) await the Governor’s signature.  

LB 109 changes requirements for veterans attending a public college or university to bring a bill we passed last year (LB 740) into compliance with new federal law.  Under LB 109, all veterans who left active duty service within the past three years and their dependents are eligible for in-state tuition.  LB 219 adopts the Uniform Deployed Parents and Custody and Visitation Act to create a legal process for military families with shared custody during a deployment.  LB 272 creates a voluntary veterans preference in private employment for veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans or spouses whose veteran was killed in action.  


Update on Military Retiree Tax Bills

Military retirees are an important economic asset to our state, which is why I was encouraged to hear Gov. Ricketts commit to a sizable military retirement investment in his State of the State address and pleased to see that he reinforced that commitment in his budget statement. What this actually meant in the legislative process is that he reserved over $20 million dollars outside of specific spending programs to be used for tax relief in his budget request to the legislature.  This is in addition to some dollars that he set aside for property tax relief.

Four senators, including me, introduced military retirement tax relief bills. In the Legislature, these bills compete against all other tax reduction proposals for that money.  Senators have introduced over $100 million this year for tax relief.  Some of these other tax cut proposals include bills to lower the income tax rates for all taxpayers, bills to provide more property tax relief, and many bills for tax exemptions and incentives for education, tourism, and even food sales by veteran service organizations.  It appears to me that the Governor has not prioritized directing all of the $23 million to military retirement tax relief at this point given the mix of tax reduction proposals being considered.  Similarly, the Revenue Committee appears committed to trying to tackle a broader tax reduction package with the limited revenues available.

I have been negotiating with members of the Revenue Committee on a smaller package that addresses what I see as the most egregious element of our current policy, which is that military retirees who have already chosen to live in Nebraska don’t qualify. As of last week, the Revenue Committee had not voted out an amended version of LB 267to address this situation.  However, the chair of the Revenue Committee assured me that the bill is not dead and we would continue our discussions.  He knows from our discussions that this is a critical year to correct this situation since the policy passed last year goes into effect next year.  


Update on the Learning Community

Senator Sullivan used her personal priority to ensure that her Learning Community bill makes it to the floor this year.  This is good news because it ensures that we will have a floor debate about the Learning Community this year.  Senator Sullivan’s bill has several provisions that allow school districts to return to pre-Learning Community rules on several issues including boundaries.  It does not yet go far enough yet in terms of eliminating the common levy and ensuring strong boundary negation processes.  However, I have been working hard with the three school districts in my legislative district (Bellevue, Omaha, and Springfield-Platteview) and members of the Education Committee to continue to push for the bill to address these concerns before it gets to the floor.  


This Week in Urban Affairs

In addition to each senator’s personal priority bill, each standing committee of the Legislature can designate two bills as committee priority bills.  While committee priority designations are at the discretion of the committee chair, most committee priority bills tend to be consensus bills that have the unanimous support of committee members.  This is the case with both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills this session.

Another common feature of committee priority bills is what is referred to as a “christmas tree” bill.  With more than 650 bills introduced in a typical session, committees will often combine multiple bills dealing with the same subject into one bill.  One of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills, LB 324, is an example of a “christmas tree” bill, as it combines three bills dealing with sanitary and improvement districts (SIDs):

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

  • LB 197:  Provide additional powers to certain SIDs

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

The Urban Affairs Committee’s second priority bill this session is LB 152, a bill that would authorize cities and villages to borrow directly from banks and other financial institutions.  While most municipal borrowing comes in the form of municipal bonds, many smaller cities and villages run into cash flow issues when, for example, a city-owned vehicle breaks down and must be quickly replaced.  As amended by the committee, LB 152 provides municipalities with the authority to utilize direct borrowing in these and other instances, but contains important protections to ensure that municipalities are not using this tool to avoid using traditional bond financing, which often requires a vote of the people.


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Nebraska Becomes 20th State to Grant Independent Practice for Nurse Practitioners

March 6th, 2015

 Honored to have my pastor, Rev. Rick Wheatley of New Life Baptist Church – Bellevue, NE , and his wife Linda down to Lincoln

 Huge thanks to those who stayed late into the evening to testify on LB108 in the Appropriations Committee, including those from BHECN and Wayne State College


Nebraska Becomes 20th State to Grant Independent Practice for Nurse Practitioners

On Thursday afternoon, Governor Ricketts signed LB 107, a bill I introduced this year to eliminate integrated practice agreements for nurse practitioners.   LB 107 represents a no-cost option to improve access to health care in our state, particularly in our rural areas.  I am proud to work on this issue  for nurse practitioners across the state and appreciate the support of Governor Ricketts and the 46 senators who supported the bill.  Nebraska now joins 19 other states, including neighboring Iowa, who have eliminated this unnecessary government restriction on nurse practitioners.


Bills Aimed to Help Veterans, Active Duty Military Advance

Last Friday, Governor Ricketts signed LB 219, a bill I introduced this year to adopt the Uniform Deployed Parents and Custody Act.  LB 219 provides a clear, legal framework for parents and judges to use to make arrangements for children subject to a Parenting Plan when a military parent is deployed.  The bill creates a 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.  

Yesterday, the Legislature passed LB 272 on a 45-0 vote to create a voluntary hiring preference option for private sector employees.  Veterans’ skills, particularly their leadership skills, don’t always translate well into a civilian resume.  This is especially true for employment opportunities that might use algorithms or other automated processes with search terms to sort resumes.  For example, Missile Operator or Vehicle Maintenance Controller would not generate a hit in the algorithm the way Program Manager might, even though both positions required many of the same skills.  What’s more, only 1 in 600 corporate hiring managers come from a military background.  LB 272 allows businesses to give these veterans’ resumes a second look and consider hiring them if they are equally qualified for the position.  


This Week in Urban Affairs

The Urban Affairs Committee completed its public hearings on February 28th, but the committee’s work is far from over this session.  Since completing hearings, the committee has held multiple executive sessions over the past week.

Executive session is often when the “meat” of a legislative committee’s work is done.  Senators discuss the bills that were heard by committee and request that committee staff obtain additional information or draft amendments to bills.  Bills can only be advanced during an executive session, so while a bill may have its public hearing early in the legislative session, it cannot be considered by the full legislature until after the committee “execs” on the bill.

While executive sessions are closed to the public, members of the media are permitted to attend and report on actions taken during the session.  All votes taken during executive session are public record, and when a committee votes to advance or indefinitely postpone (kill) a bill, those votes appear clearly on the bill’s committee statement.

Committees often meet to “exec” on a bill one afternoon a week following hearings.  In addition, the Speaker typically designates two days as “check-in” days for committees.  This past Thursday was the first of this session’s “check in” days for 2-day and 1-day committees like Urban Affairs and Business and Labor.  Next Tuesday will be the “check-in” day for 3-day committees such as Health and Human Services and Judiciary.  

This week, two additional bills from the Urban Affairs Committee were signed into law by Governor Ricketts, bringing the total number of enacted Urban Affairs bills to six.  These two bills were:

  • LB 116: Change election procedures and membership for certain sanitary and improvement district boards of trustees

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


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Last of Public Hearings on Crawford Bills Set for Next Week

February 27th, 2015

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

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


Last of Public Hearings on Crawford Bills Set for Next Week

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

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

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

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

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

HHS Committee Hears Testimony on Bill to Address Cliff Effect

On Thursday, the Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony regarding LB 81 (Cook), a bill to address the cliff effect in Nebraska’s child care assistance program.  The term cliff effect refers to a situation where a family loses all public benefits such as child care assistance due to a raise, promotion or extra hours at work.  While this increase in income is enough to disqualify the family from assistance, it is not enough to replace the lost child care assistance.  

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

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

African-American Leaders in the Legislature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Votes ID Bill Dies, Hearing on Unfunded Mandates Set

February 20th, 2015


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice Reinvestment in Nebraska
In an earlier update, I highlighted the work of the Justice Reinvestment Working Group to address the serious issues facing our state’s Department of Corrections including overcrowding and limited post-release supervision of individuals with serious felony offenses.  This working group, with the assistance of the Council of State Governments, produced a report in January with three strategies and a variety of policy options to address these concerns.

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

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


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