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
Veteran Bridge Programs in Nebraska
On July 18, our office called a meeting with colleges, universities and other stakeholders to discuss veteran bridge programs and transitions from military service to civilian employment. Veteran bridge programs are designed to help veterans obtain a higher education degree or a career license or credential through a path that gives them some credit for their military training and experience (for example, military medic to paramedic/EMT). This allows the veteran to save time and money, getting them back into our workforce quickly, and often in areas where we have workforce shortages, such as healthcare. In our meeting we discussed the potential role that strong bridge programs could play in recruiting veterans to come and to stay in the state.
Leading a discussion of veteran bridge programs at the Capitol
Our office also participated in a conference call with the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Governors Association, which recently released areport detailing how six states completed demonstration projects to tackle this challenge.
In 2015, I cosponsored legislation to direct state licensing boards in health professions to review military experience and training and give credit where appropriate (LB 264, Morfeld). There is more work to be done, especially around the area of programs to bridge or cover gaps in training between military and civilian healthcare (for example: an Army military medic may be well versed in trauma, but may lack experience and skills in care during pregnancy or delivery). I look forward to continued work on this important issue.
Update on LR 544 and Alternative Response
At the end of session, our office introduced LR 544, an interim study resolution to examine alternative response in child welfare. In 2014, the Legislature approved a pilot program within the Child and Family Services Division to model a third way to respond to a family in crisis following a call to the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect hotline.
At least 30 other states offer this third option, often referred to as alternative response or differential response. This policy approach connects parents in crisis with services and support as opposed to a traditional investigation model if they are designed to be low risk cases. One of the goals of alternative response is to keep families together, prevent subsequent removals, and reduce the trauma to children associated with out-of-home placement and deeper involvement in the child welfare system.
In Nebraska, alternative response sites include Sarpy, Lancaster, Dodge, Hall, and Scotts Bluff counties, with a Douglas County site launching soon. Our office has met with stakeholders twice to discuss the interim study and look forward to continued conversations and a possible legislative briefing for committee members later this interim. I look forward to working with the Department and my colleagues to continue to monitor and improve this innovative solution for our at-risk families.
Urban Affairs Committee Going on the Road
The Urban Affairs Committee has scheduled its first interim study hearing for the year, and will be taking a “road trip” to Aurora on August 18th. Legislative committees often travel outside of the Capitol during the interim, and this will be the second consecutive year that the Urban Affairs Committee is going on the road.
At the hearing in Aurora, the committee will hold the first of two planned hearings on LR 490, an interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes in Nebraska. Urban Affairs has jurisdiction over most state and local building codes, and since 2007 has heard bills dealing with a wide variety of codes, including building codes, energy codes, and plumbing codes.
Enforcement of building codes largely falls to political subdivisions (municipalities and counties), as there is no state agency that handles code enforcement, except in a few cases. LR 490 will take a comprehensive look at code enforcement in Nebraska, and is designed to: 1) examine the role of the state in enforcing the state building code and state energy code; 2) review the number of political subdivisions that have adopted local building or energy codes or are enforcing state building or energy codes; and 3) consider the remedies available to property owners when their home or business is not built to meet the applicable building or energy code.
Governor’s Summit on Economic Development
On July 12 I attended the Governor’s Summit on Economic Development in Lincoln. The summit brought together economic development experts, policymakers, businesspeople, and other stakeholders to discuss Nebraska’s economic strengths, as well as areas we can improve.
A report by research institute SRI International, which was released at the summit, focused on several key issues. It highlighted Nebraska’s shortage of skilled workers, especially in IT and STEM, and suggested that the state make investments to help college students graduate on time and stay in the state. The report also noted that relatively low wages, especially outside the Omaha area, can make retaining skilled employees difficult for some businesses. Additionally, it discussed the need to support business innovation in order to create and retain high skill, high wage jobs. You can read the full report here.
Nebraska’s economy is strong, and we have the chance to turn these challenges into opportunities to grow and diversify our state and its people. I am eager to work with the Governor and my legislative colleagues to achieve those goals.
Visit from the Bellevue Senior Community Center
It was my pleasure to welcome visitors from the Bellevue Senior Community Center to the Capitol on July 12th. To learn about and sign up for their future trips around Omaha and the surrounding areas, visit their website.
Visitors from the Bellevue Senior Community Center in the Capitol rotunda
Page Applications Now Being Accepted
Do you know anyone interested in serving as a page for the 2017 legislative session? Pages are college students who assist senators and the Clerk of the Legislature with various tasks, such as running errands for senators during the legislative session, assisting the Presiding Officer, and setting up and staffing committee hearings. The Page Program is open to high school graduates who are currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school, and is an excellent opportunity to learn the basics of state government. It is a paid position, and many students receive college internship credit.
The deadline for applications is Monday October 3rd. Those interested should contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office at (402) 471-2271 or email Kitty Kearns at email@example.com for an application.
Events in Sarpy County
The Omaha National Cemetery will have its formal dedication on August 5 at 10:00 am. The ceremony is open to the public, and will be held at the SumTur Amphitheater in Papillion. The event will include remarks from VA and elected officials, the unveiling of the dedication plaque, and military honors. It will be an honor to attend the ceremony and help dedicate this final resting place for our state’s veterans.
The 2016 Sarpy County Fair will be held August 3-7 in Springfield. The fair will feature 4H exhibits, carnival rides, rodeo and auto events, and of course food. The fair is a great opportunity to celebrate Sarpy County with the whole family. For the full fair schedule, check their website.
The Sarpy County Museum will hold its annual fundraising dinner on August 6 at 5:00 pm. The theme is “Save the Newspapers,” and presentations will focus on the museum’s plans to preserve and digitize over 100 years of county newspapers. Ticket information can be found here.
Finally, Arrows to Aerospace 2016, sponsored by the Bellevue-Offutt Kiwanis, will be held August 20 in Washington Park. The event will offer plenty of activities for everyone, including a parade at 10:00 am. After the parade I will have a table in the park to meet people and answer questions about last session, as well as take suggestions about future legislation. I hope to see you there!
All the best,
Good News for the Offutt AFB Runway
I was extremely pleased to learn that the Air Force will be investing in a much-needed upgrade to Offutt’s runway. The project, which will extend the runway’s life by at least 20 years, is in part a recognition of Nebraska’s investment in Offutt’s physical infrastructure, as well as the state’s dedication to the airmen, veterans, and military families that call the Bellevue area home. The state provided critical funding for the Missouri River levee project to protect the base, and my colleagues and I have worked to implement a wide variety of initiatives to make Nebraska more friendly to military families. Offutt and the 55th Wing are a vital part of our community, and I am pleased to work with the Air Force to ensure their continued success.
NCSL Family Opportunity Forum
I was honored to be invited to participate in the NCSL Family Opportunity Forum in Denver several weeks ago. The Family Opportunity Forum brings together working teams from selected states to identify ways to improve opportunities for working families in our states. Nebraska has been a regular attendee to these forums over the years. Our “Save to Win” program in the state, which encourages families to put money in savings accounts instead of lottery tickets, is one program that has come out of our participation in these forums.
On the way to Colorado Senator Pansing Brooks and I visited the village of Venango,which is the hometown of my friend and fellow Urban Affairs committee member Senator Dan Hughes. Venango sits only half a mile from the Colorado border. I always enjoy getting to see new communities across Nebraska.
UNMC Launches CBD Pilot Study
On Wednesday, I participated in a press conference organized by UNMC to announce the launch of a pilot study for cannabidiol, or CBD oil, to treat treatment resistant epilepsy. Two years ago, I sponsored LB 390 which provided the underlying authority and funding for the project. GW Pharmaceuticals will provide the plant-based pharmaceutical grade product for free. Those interested in enrolling in the study must work with their providers to have their records sent in for review. For information about the study, call 402-559-4335 or see the Omaha World-Herald article about the project.
Left to right: Dr. Chris Kratochvil (Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at UNMC),myself, Mike Bartenhagen, and Broc Bartenhagen
Urban Affairs Interim Study Work Underway
This month, my office began holding initial stakeholder meetings for a number of interim studies being heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this interim. Among the interim studies being undertaken this summer is LR 489, an interim study that I introduced to examine issues relating to housing authorities.
Housing authorities are local governmental entities established with a mission to provide affordable housing to area residents. There are just over 100 housing authorities in Nebraska, ranging from the larger agencies in Omaha and Lincoln which oversee a wide variety of housing programs and projects, to smaller agencies in rural Nebraska that primarily provide senior housing. A map of housing authorities in Nebraska is shown below.
Nebraska’s main housing authority statutes, the Nebraska Housing Agency Act, were adopted in 1999, but have not been updated since that time. The primary goal of LR 489 is to update and modernize the Nebraska Housing Agency Act, and committee staff and I will be meeting with representatives of various housing authorities over the summer and fall to identify any necessary updates. This month we met with leaders from our own Bellevue Housing Authority to hear about their work in the community and any concerns that they have for us to consider as we move forward.
Meet My Staff: Christina Mayer
This week I would like to introduce you to the newest member of my staff, Christina Mayer. Christina works as my Committee Clerk and Administrative Assistant, and joined my office at the beginning of June. Christina is a Nebraska native who grew up in Lincoln, and still lives there with her husband Jacob and two cats.
Christina has been around the legislature for several years now. She received her bachelor’s in political science and Russian from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2013; while pursuing her degree, she worked as a Legislative Page for two sessions. Upon graduating she joined the office of my colleague Senator Tanya Cook, where she worked for three years as an Administrative Assistant and staff coordinator for the Legislature’s Planning Committee.
Outside the Legislature, Christina spends her time reading, watching international soccer matches, and attempting to keep her potted plants alive.
Christina’s responsibilities include helping us communicate with constituents, and helping constituents with any problems they might have with the state. She would be happy to talk with you by phone, email, or mail. She is always available to answer any questions you may have at (402) 471-2615 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Events in the District
Washington Park continues to host the Bellevue Farmer’s Market each Saturday morning over the summer. As always, the market will feature a wide variety of fresh produce, crafts, baked goods, and live entertainment. I will have a table at the market from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm on July 23, and look forward to seeing you there.
The 2016 Music in the Park series has seen several talented artists and musical groups come to Washington Park to perform. The final concert, on Thursday July 7, starts at 7:00 pm and will feature local group Pam and the Pearls.
Bellevue’s annual summer festival, Riverfest, will also take place July 15-16 at Haworth Park. The festival will feature live music Friday night and all day Saturday, the Nebraska State BBQ Competition, and a “Fireworks Extravaganza” on Saturday night. Riverfest 2016 will take place Friday July 15 from 5:00 pm – 1:00 am, and Saturday July 16 from 10:00 am-1:00 am.
The Offutt Air Force Base Defenders of Freedom airshow and open house will take place July 30-31. This year is particularly special, as the unit celebrates 25 years deployed, 50 years in Nebraska, and 75 years as a Wing unit. The celebrations run from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm each day. The airshow will feature multiple generations of aircraft, with a special appearance from the USAF Thunderbirds planned. There will also be lots to do and see — and eat — on the ground, with interactive booths, a kid’s zone, simulators, and plenty of food vendors throughout the open house area. The airshow and open house are a wonderful opportunity to honor and celebrate the brave men and women of the 55th Wing, and I hope you will join me there. Admission is free, and more information can be found here.
I wish you all a happy and safe 4th of July!
With the 2016 legislative session now behind us, I thought I would share an overview of our work this session – both what was accomplished and what I hope to continue working on next session. Our office had a very productive session – I led 13 bills to passage, which is an impressive total during a “short” session. Nine of these bills were ones that I introduced, and another 4 were Urban Affairs Committee bills that I led as chair of the committee. Of these 13 bills, just one required additional state spending.
LR 413 Task Force Begins Work
Special investigative committees are one tool the Legislature uses to conduct legislative oversight over critical issues facing the state. These committees are created through legislation passed during the session, and unlike many other committees or working groups formed through legislation, are solely comprised of senators who are selected by the Executive Board of the Legislature. In general, these special investigative committees exist for a short period of time, usually between sessions.
At the end of this session, I was selected as one of seven members of the Task Force on Behavioral and Mental Health, which was created with the passage of LR 413. Over the next few months, the LR 413 Task Force will be conducting a detailed examination of Nebraska’s behavioral and mental health care systems. Topics being studied by the task force include ways to reduce gaps in behavioral and mental health care services, the efficacy and availability of services provided through the Behavioral Health Regions, and the level of progress being made by the Division of Behavioral Health in the development of a strategic plan, adequate behavioral health workforce, and data collection initiatives.
The LR 413 Task Force is one of a number of special committees created during the past session. Other special committees created this session include the the Election Technology Committee (LR 403), the ACCESSNebraska Oversight Committee (LR 418), the Tribal Economic Development Committee (LR 547), the Venture Development and Innovation Task Force (LB 1083), and the Bioscience Steering Committee (LB 1093).
Urban Affairs Committee Interim Studies
There were 111 interim study resolutions introduced during the First Session of the 104th Legislature, of which nine were referred to the Urban Affairs Committee. This number ties last session’s record for interim studies referred to the committee, so it’s going to be another busy interim in Urban Affairs this year! A full listing of the interim studies referred to the Urban Affairs Committee, listed in order of committee priority, is below:
|LR 490 (Crawford)||Interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes|
|LR 439 (Crawford)||Interim study to examine the use of tax-increment financing by municipalities for residential development|
|LR 526 (Hansen)||Interim study to examine municipal classifications|
|LR 489 (Crawford)||Interim study to examine issues relating to housing authorities|
|LR 464 (Groene)||Interim study to examine the effects of the use of tax-increment financing by municipalities|
|LR 605 (Mello)||Interim study to examine issues relating to urban redevelopment|
|LR 565 (Pansing Brooks)||Interim study to examine land acquisition within municipalities for educational purposes|
|LR 495 (Urban Affairs Committee)||Interim study to examine state law governing cities of the second class and villages in Chapter 17 of the Nebraska statutes|
|LR 496 (Urban Affairs Committee)||Interim study to examine issues under the jurisdiction of the Urban Affairs Committee|
Unlike bills heard during session, not all interim study resolutions will have a public hearing. Often the “heavy lifting” of interim studies is done by committee staff during the summer months, and committee legal counsel Trevor Fitzgerald is already hard at work researching a variety of topics, including current municipal classification thresholds, local building code adoptions, and the Nebraska Housing Agency Act.
Farewell Wishes to Chris
Friday, May 13th was Chris’s last day with our office as he recently accepted another position within the Legislature as Legislative Aide for Senator Pansing-Brooks. Our office recently hired a new administrative aide/committee clerk. Stay tuned for more information about our new hire in next month’s newsletter!
While Chris was only with us for one session, during his short time in our office, he helped us pass employment protections for National Guard members deployed by other states but employed in Nebraska. He also coordinated a successful Bellevue Leadership Day at the Capitol. He was an energetic and vital member of my staff who will be greatly missed. Many thanks to Chris for his service to District 45 and the State of Nebraska!
Events in the District
Each Saturday morning over the summer, vendors will set up in Washington Park for the Bellevue Farmer’s Market. This offers a great chance to purchase fresh produce, baked goods and crafts from local artisans. I am a local sponsor of the Farmer’s Market again this year. I enjoyed the chance to talk with folks who came by my table on the opening Saturday, May 14th. I will also be in the park with a table after the Arrows to Aerospace parade to answer questions about last session and to take suggestions about future legislation.
One of the great privileges of being an elected official is the opportunity to represent the people of the State of Nebraska in honoring those who have served our country. Each year there are moving ceremonies at the Offutt Ceremony and at the Eastern Nebraska Veteran’s Home that I attend to represent you in honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. I encourage you to join me at Bellevue’s Annual Memorial Day Ceremony at 11:00 AM at the Bellevue Cemetery (Franklin St. & 13th Ave.) this Monday, May 30th. It is a wonderful way that our community comes together to honor those who have served. Many thanks to Bill O’Donnell and VFW Post 10785 who sponsor and lead the event with participation from VFW Post 2280, Boy Scout Troop 499 and Cub Scout Pack 457. Sarpy Serenaders perform patriotic songs during the ceremony. The event lasts about an hour, so you may want to bring a chair with you. The ceremony is a moving tribute to those who have served in all of our armed forces – come be a part of it!
All my best,
Governor Signs Common Levy Repeal into Law
In a formal ceremony Tuesday at Platteview High School, Governor Pete Ricketts signed LB 1067 into law. LB 1067 ends the Learning Community’s Common Levy, phases out the costly open enrollment transportation policy of the Learning Community and directs attention to high poverty and ELL students. When I went door to door in 2012, the common levy and the cost of Learning Community transportation were among the top concerns of voters in the district. I have worked over my four years to address these concerns. After years of hard work by the Sarpy County Senators and Senator Rick Kolowski from Millard, the Learning Community Superintendents, legislative staff, and many community advocates, I am grateful that, with Senator Sullivan’s leadership, we were able to bring the common levy to an end and phase out the added transportation costs that were associated with the Learning Community. This change in state policy paves the way for boundary agreements between Sarpy County school districts that are expected to dramatically expand housing development in Bellevue and Papillion. The Learning Community programs that serve low income students in multiple school districts, such as early childhood programs that have been successful in improving learning outcomes, will continue.
Governor Signs Military and Veterans Commission, Crawford Personal Priority Bill, Into Law
The Governor signed LB 754, my personal priority bill into law this week. LB 754 establishes the Commission on Military and Veteran Affairs and creates a point person to work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations and to help leverage economic development in our communities tied to these installations. The liaison created by LB 754 puts Nebraska into a better position to protect military installations and bring new missions into the state.
Session Reflections and Voter Survey Responses
All sessions end in a hectic pace, but this is particularly true for the 60-day short sessions like 2016. As we ended the session this week, I took some time to relish the privilege of being able to serve District 45 for the past four years in the beautiful Nebraska capitol. The last day of session is always a special day with many family members present. I was glad to have David there with me. Although we started the day with an intense veto override debate, most of the day was focused on wrapping up the session and celebrating the accomplishments of those Senators who are leaving because of term limits.
I also took some time this week to circle back to the survey results that we gathered in November of 2015. Those of you who were on this update list then would have had a chance to respond to the survey. I used campaign funds to send mail surveys out to almost 3,000 other voters so that we could get feedback from a lot of voters without using taxpayer dollars. Over 400 voters in LD 45 responded. A wonderful volunteer, Joli Munch, entered and analyzed the survey data. She gave us an initial report on the results in our December pre-session retreat so that we could consider the responses as we prepared our priorities for the session and then gave us a full report during session. I am happy to report that we made progress on some of the key priorities identified in the pre-session survey.
Priorities for the Session: The first question on the survey asked respondents what they thought the Legislature’s top priority should be for the 2015 session. The top three responses were: Eliminating the Common Levy, Veteran/Military Issues, and Tax Reform, with Improving Mental Health Services in a strong fourth place. Another question listed several issues that I was working on over the interim and asked voters to indicate which ones were important to them. The issues that voters listed as most important from this list were eliminating the common levy (72%) and improving access to mental health services (79%).
I am happy to report that we did eliminate the common levy, so we accomplished that top priority that was considered important to over 70% of survey respondents. We also made progress on Veteran and Military Issues this year with bills to create a Military and Veterans Commission, Veteran’s courts, expanded military spouse conceal carry rights, expanded veteran spouse homestead exemptions, and job protections for Guard members, to name a few. The Unicameral was not as successful at tax reform this year. We have passed a number of tax reductions and reforms over the past four years, but this year the main tax changes were removing a minimum levy for state school aid (which is an important property tax accountability issue in more rural areas) and a $20 million increase in our property tax relief program. I was disappointed that we did not make progress on retiree taxes. On one of the recess days this week I joined Senator Garrett and Senator Lindstrom for a panel discussion on how to move forward on retiree tax reform in the future. The panel was sponsored by the Platte Institute and attended by many Sarpy county residents. On the issue of improving mental health services, one important step this year was a bill that passed to authorize “problem solving courts.” This policy provides a way for courts to reduce the number of people who end up in jail or prison who should instead be in mental health treatment. One of the bills that did not pass this year that would have dramatically increased access to mental health services was the Transitional Health Insurance Act. Our failure to pass a bill to bring dollars paid by Nebraskans to the federal government back to Nebraska to improve our health system has been a great disappointment. Near the end of the session I was selected by my peers to serve on a Behavioral and Mental Health Services Taskforce to examine mental health services in the state and to develop proposals for improving those services. I am hopeful that this Taskforce will leverage important improvements in mental health services in Nebraska over the next few years.
Nebraska Services: One survey question asked voters to identify the state services most important to them. The clear winner was roads. Voters recognize that a sound infrastructure is critical to the state and a central responsibility of government. Last year, a strong bipartisan group of Senators (20 Republicans and 10 Democrats) voted to override Governor Rickett’s veto of LB 610 to bolster our investment in city, county, and state roads through a 6 cent increase in the gas tax that directs 2 cents to cities, 2 cents to counties, and 2 cents to state roads. Some of the roads in the LD 45 area that will benefit from this investment are 36th Street, Platteview Road, Capehart Road, and Hwy 75. This year, we passed the Transportation Innovation Act (LB 960), which puts the state funds from the gas tax increase to use to speed up the completion of our freeway system and modernizes the way that we do bidding for road construction.
Thank you to all of the Update readers who responded to the survey. I appreciate the time that many of you took to also give us detailed comments on several of the issues. Thank you also to all of you who have sent emails and made phone calls to share your views and concerns. I pay close attention to the issues and questions that come in these calls and emails. I appreciate your engagement in your Nebraska state government! It has been an honor to work hard on your behalf to try to make the best policy for Nebraska’s future.
Legislature Adjourns Sine Die; New Schedule for Legislative Updates
This week, the Legislature adjourned sine die. Sine die is a Latin term meaning “without day.” When used in this context, it means the Legislature adjourns with a future meeting date uncertain. At a minimum, the Legislature will meet again in January 2017. However, the Legislature could meet for a special session before that if needed. The last time the Nebraska Legislature met for a special session was in 2011.
We now shift to our interim schedule for future legislative updates. We will send legislative updates approximately once a month until the Legislative session begins again next January. These updates will focus on interim study and bill research for next session and will continue to feature events in the district and information about town hall events. I anticipate we will send our next update in late May.
In the District
Since I am up for re-election this year, I will be spending the next 2 ½ weeks campaigning. The primary election is May 10th. I expect that I will see many of you at events in the Bellevue area and I may show up at your door as I continue to go door to door to talk to voters.
All my best,
When I went door to door as a candidate in 2012, one of the top concerns that voters raised was the need to fix or end the Learning Community. As I learned more about the issue it became clear to me that the top priorities were needed to end the common levy to target funding to children in poverty schools, and to reduce transportation costs. We started the reduction of transportation costs last year with a bill brought by Senator Smith. This year, after four years of work with fellow senators and school districts, we passed a bill to end the common levy, to direct funding to improved achievement for students, and to phase out the costly open-enrollment transportation policy. LB 1067 was an important bipartisan effort. My roles were working closely with the chair of the Education Committee, Sen. Sullivan and coordinating the counting of votes for the bill’s passage. The bill now sits on the Governor’s desk. Hopefully we will be able to report that it is signed into law in our next Update. Click here to read the Omaha World Herald’s coverage.
Military Commission Passes Final Read, Awaiting Governor’s Signature
The Legislature passed LB 754 on Final Reading this week. LB 754 was my personal priority bill this session. It establishes the Commission on Military and Veteran Affairs and creates a point person to work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations and to help leverage economic development in our communities tied to these installations. The commission and the military liaison created by LB 754 ensures Nebraska is in the best position to protect our military installations and bring in new missions that will benefit our entire state. I am please that my colleagues joined me in supporting this legislation and I look forward to this bill becoming law.
Recap of 2015-16 Biennium in Urban Affairs
With the Governor signing LB 1012 into law this week, seventeen bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee have been enacted during the 2016 legislative session. Combined with the thirteen Urban Affairs bills that passed last session, it’s been a productive biennium for the committee!
Committee Chairs play a key role in the legislative process, working with senators to ensure that bills advanced by the committee move forward during floor debate. As Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee for the last two years, I am pleased with the success that the committee has had this biennium. The committee advanced 31 of 39 bills that were heard by it during the two-year cycle, and of those bills that were advanced, just one failed to become law – a more than 96% success rate.
Major Urban Affairs legislation that has been enacted over the past two years includes bills to update the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (LB 1059), authorize the expansion of existing business improvement districts (LB 168), update the state building code (LB 540) and local building code adoption process (LB 704), and reform the process by which a sanitary and improvement district (SID) is annexed by a municipality (LB 131).
In addition, the committee has begun the process of updating and modernizing statutes governing municipalities. Much of the current language in the municipal statutes have not been amended since Nebraska statutes were recodified in 1943, and some may even date back to the late 1800s. This session, the committee updated the statutes governing cities of the first class (LB 705), and legislation to update other classes of municipality will be introduced in the coming years.
Meeting with Department of Roads
I had a productive meeting this week with 93 residents of the Normandy Hills and Fairview Roads area and Tim Weander from the Nebraska Department of Roads. This meeting came about after constituents contacted me with questions and concerns about road construction in the area. Residents had good questions and NE DOR shared important information about what they are doing in the area.
I had a wonderful time speaking with 4th grade students from Betz Elementary, Birchcrest Elementary and St. Mary’s/St. Matthews schools this week. As always, these students had great questions and lots of enthusiasm as they learned about our state government and toured our beautiful Capitol.
All my best,
The Nebraska Legislature advanced LB 1067 on Select File this week, taking another step toward final passage of this important legislation. LB 1067 eliminates the Learning Community’s Common Property Tax Levy, reduces transportation costs for schools and includes provisions to allow schools to move boundaries when both schools agree. The bill retains Learning Community programs that specifically target improving learning outcomes for low-income children in Douglas and Sarpy counties.
There is still work to be done, but I am hopeful I will be able to report final passage of this bill in next week’s update.
Update on 2016 Crawford Bills
Tuesday will mark the 58th day of this 60-day session. As the 104th Legislature, 2nd Session winds down, I wanted to provide an update on the status of my legislation.
Update on on 2016 Urban Affairs Bills
Nineteen bills were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, and another seven bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee in 2015 were carried over to this session. Of those twenty-six total bills, sixteen have been signed into law. Another bill, LB 1012, was passed 45-0 by the Legislature this week and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
This session, including committee-introduced legislation, I introduced six bills in the Urban Affairs Committee. All six have been signed into law.
LB 930 Advances to Final Read
I was glad that we advanced LB 930 this week. LB 930, introduced by Senator Scheer, replaces the NeSA state test with the ACT for 11th grade students. The state will fund the difference between the two tests with money from the Education Innovation Fund. There are three important advantages to this change: 1.) Fewer school days spent on testing; 2.) More student investment in doing well on the exam; and 3.) Students knowing their college and career readiness in the 11th grade while there is time to improve. This important change addresses key concerns that teachers have raised about excessive testing that takes time from teaching and evaluates teachers on student performance from tests on which students have no incentive to do well. Using the ACT test for achievement has the added benefit of ensuring that all Nebraska high school students have a chance to take this exam, which is an important part of the college application process. This test includes career readiness measures as well, so it also benefits students who directly enter the workforce.
District 45 Visitors
I was happy to help recognize District 45 Scouts on Monday. Congratulations to Paul Terneus, Eagle Scout with several Palms and Katherine Knights, Summit Award Rank
Michael and Denise Terneus family (above)
Katherine and Tracy Knights (above)
On Wednesday I had a great visit with 4th graders from Two Springs Elementary in Bellevue who were visiting the Capitol. I am looking forward to more student visits next week.
As a reminder, I am hosting an informational meeting Monday with officials from the Nebraska Department of Roads (DOR) and residents of the Normandy Hills and Fairview Road area. This meeting came about after constituents contacted me with questions and concerns about road construction in the area. This informational meeting will be a great opportunity for residents to talk directly with DOR. Details of this event are in the flier below. Please feel free to forward this information to anyone you know who might be interested in attending.
All my best,
Nebraska State Senators advanced LB 1067 to Select File this week. LB 1067 eliminates the Learning Community’s Common Property Tax Levy, reduces transportation costs for schools and includes provisions to allow schools to move boundaries. The bill retains Learning Community programs that specifically target improving learning outcomes for low-income children in Douglas and Sarpy counties.
I am pleased that we have gotten this far with a bill to eliminate the common levy and address school boundaries and that we continue our commitment to the learning community programs that focus on bolstering education outcomes for low-income children throughout our metro area. While there is still work to be done, I am grateful for the leadership of my fellow Sarpy County Senators and of Senator Sullivan, Chair of the Education Committee, that has gotten us further than we have any in any previous session.
Governor Signs Budget Bills, Including Critical Levee Funding
Governor Ricketts signed off on the state budget package this week. The budget package includes critical funding for the Missouri River levee project to protect Offutt Air Force Base as well as properties and development south of the base. This funding allows completion of the levee recertification, which is critical to the economic vitality of Bellevue and the entire state.
Department of Roads Informational Meeting
I have heard from constituents who have questions and concerns about the construction in the Normandy Hills and Fairview Road area. As a result, I reached out to officials from the Nebraska Department of Roads (DOR) and they agreed to participate in an informational meeting with residents of the affected area. This will be a great opportunity for residents to talk directly with DOR. I want to thank the Department of Roads for agreeing to participate in this informational meeting. Details of this event are in the flier below. Please feel free to forward this information to anyone you know who might be interested in attending.
Governor Signs Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act
Governor Ricketts signed the Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act this week as part of LB 698, a package of consumer protection bills for seniors and their families. LB 698 provides for a Home Health Care Consumer Bill of Rights and Alzheimer’s Special Care Disclosure, among other protections. LB 698 was amended to include LB 849 (The Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act). I introduced LB 849 to allow hospital patients to designate a caregiver who would then receive instructions from the hospital at discharge so that the caregivers know how to safely look after loved ones and help them heal.
An AARP Nebraska study conducted in 2015 showed 73% of caregivers say their loved one was admitted to the hospital at some point and 95% said it would be important for them to receive instruction if their loved one was being discharged from the hospital. The Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act will make it easier for caregivers to take care of their loved ones.
This Week in Urban Affairs
This session, a total of four bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee received a priority designation. The last of those four bills, LB 1012, was advanced to Select File this week. LB 1012 would adopt the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Act.
PACE is a financing mechanism that allows local governments to help finance the up-front costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on commercial and residential properties. Examples of improvements that could be eligible for PACE financing include energy efficient windows and doors, upgraded HVAC systems, weather stripping, and energy efficient light fixtures.
Under LB 1012, municipalities would be authorized to create clean energy assessment districts, which are similar in nature to assessment districts for streets, sewers, and other forms of municipal infrastructure. Property owners could opt in to participate in the PACE program, and the loan, including interest and administrative fees, would be repaid through a special assessment on the property owner’s property tax bill over a set period of time.
While energy efficiency improvements can significantly decrease a property’s energy use, and thus help property owners save money on their utility bills, they often require high up-front costs to install. PACE helps to eliminate this barrier by allowing property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements over time through their property tax bill. Because the PACE assessment transfers with the property when it is sold, the costs associated with the energy efficiency improvement will be repaid over time by the person benefiting from the improvement.
Legislation authorizing municipalities to establish PACE programs has been passed in 32 states and the District of Columbia, and there are currently 2,059 municipalities with active PACE programs.
Survey on Mass Transit in Sarpy County
This week, staff from my office attended the last of three public meetings to examine mass transit services in Sarpy County. These meetings, which were hosted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), were designed to solicit input on short-term and long-term transportation options in the County.
For those who were unable to attend one of the meetings, a survey on transportation needs in Sarpy County is available athttps://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SarpyCountyTransit
Central Elementary 4th Graders Visit Capitol
I had a lot of fun speaking to Central Elementary 4th graders this week on their visit to the Capitol. My sons went to Central, so it was especially good to see the Central Cougars this week!
All my best,
The Assisting Caregiver Transition Act, an important piece of my legislative agenda this year, has reached the Governor’s desk after the Legislature passed LB 698 on a 46-0 vote on final reading this week. LB 698 is a package of consumer protection bills for seniors and their families. It provides for a Home Health Care Consumer Bill of Rights and an Alzheimer’s Special Care Disclosure among other protections. LB 698 was amended to include LB 849 (The Assisting Caregiver Transition Act). I introduced this legislation to allow hospital patients to designate a caregiver who would then receive instructions from the hospital at discharge so that the caregivers know how to safely look after loved ones and help them heal. In 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated 37 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.
The Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act will make it easier for caregivers to take care of their loved ones. Family caregivers play an important role in assisting loved ones with their health care needs, and many more Nebraskans will find themselves in the position of caring for aging family members and friends with chronic health conditions. It is critical that our state laws recognize and support these family caregivers who provide this health care to fellow Nebraskans.
While this bill will have enormous impact on senior patients, it will also provide important help to caregivers of adult patients of any age. This is especially important in our fast-paced society, where caregivers must often balance work with care for loved ones. In addition to providing help to caregivers, however, this legislation has the potential to help families keep seniors in their homes longer, postponing costly long-term care.
Midwest Higher Education Compact Visit
Pictured above: Missouri State Senator David Pierce, myself, and MHEC President Larry Isaak
This week we had a visit from officials from the Midwest Higher Education Compact (MHEC) for our annual Nebraska delegation dinner The annual delegation dinner provides a great opportunity for discussion of higher education in Nebraska and the Midwest Region with Senators, Higher Education Commissioners and Higher Education leaders. As one of Nebraska’s two Legislative MHEC Commissioners, I hosted our MHEC visitors at the Capitol on Thursday. Nebraska is a member of MHEC, whose mission is advancing Midwestern higher education through interstate cooperation and resource sharing. Nebraska saves over $5 million a year through this compact. Bellevue University, Sarpy County and Creighton University all benefit from MHEC technology purchasing leverage. Our participation in MHEC also saves our public and private universities a great deal of time and money by facilitating cross-state accreditation for distance learning.
This Week in Urban Affairs
Both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills were passed on Final Reading this week, and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.
The first committee priority bill, LB 1059, is a package bill that amends the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as LB 840. The Act allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters.
The LB 1059 package includes two changes that were recommended during the Urban Affairs Committee’s LR 155 interim study, which took a comprehensive look at the economic development tools that are currently available to municipalities in Nebraska. These changes were originally introduced in two other bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee, LB 808 and LB 860.
The second committee priority bill, LB 704, is a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of various statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes. The bill also contains the provisions of LB 705, a comprehensive bill that updates and modernizes statutes governing cities of the first class.
With the passage of the Urban Affairs Committee priority bills this week, 7 bills heard by the committee (including three carry-over bills) have been signed into law, 6 bills have passed the Legislature and are awaiting the Governor’s signature, and another 3 bills are on Final Reading.
Learning Community Bills Set for Wednesday
The Speaker has announced that the Legislature will take up the learning community bill (LB 1067) next Wednesday, March 30. I was recently interviewed by the City of Papilion’s community TV network regarding the Learning Community. As I said in the interview, I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle to this issue. You can see my interview on this YouTube link.
Women’s History Month
11 of the 49 state senators in the Unicameral today are women. My female colleagues serve in leadership positions on Education, Health and Human Services, Urban Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications, State Tribal Relations and Legislative Planning committees.
March is women’s history month. As such, this update repeats a highlight of some women leaders, past and present in Nebraska state government, that we compiled for a 2014 Update. Photos courtesy of Nebraska Blue Book.
In 1954, Kathleen “Pat” Foote became the first woman to run for the Legislature. Previous governors appointed several women over the years but Senator Pat Foote, at age 27, became the first woman to run and win a seat in the Legislature. A Republican farm wife, Senator Foote successfully launched a “Keep Nebraska Beautiful” campaign through landmark legislation a decade before Lady Bird Johnson began her Keep America Beautiful campaign aimed at improving our nation’s highways.
Senator Kathleen Foote
In 1972, Nebraska became the second state, after Hawaii, to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment, an effort led by then Senator Fern Hubbard Orme. During her fourteen years as senator, she also led efforts to preserve the Thomas Kennard House in Lincoln and allocate funding for a women’s physical education building on UNL’s campus.
In 1977, Senator JoAnn Maxey of Lincoln became the first female African American state senator following her appointment to the Legislature by then-governor Jim Exon. During her two years as state senator, she successfully passed legislation over a gubernatorial veto to create funding for women who found themselves homeless or without resources due to divorce, death or separation from their spouse.
Senator JoAnn Maxey
Around the same time, Senator Shirley Marsh was instrumental in structural changes inside the body. She helped lead the charge to end smoking on the floor of the Legislature and help bring a women’s bathroom to the lounge outside the chamber. Before these changes, female senators relied on state troopers to guard the door to the men’s bathroom.
Senator Shirley Marsh
In 1986, not one, but two, women ran for Governor of Nebraska: Republican Kay Orr and Democrat Helen Boosalis. This contest marked the first time in American history that two women faced each other as nominees from the two major parties in a Governor’s race. With her victory on Election Day, Governor Kay Orr set additional records, becoming the first female governor of Nebraska and the first female Republican governor in the nation.
In the 1990s, Senator Ardyce Bohlke, as chair of the Education Committee, helped increase the amount of state aid to our K-12 schools. Most recently, former state senator Deb Fischer became the first female U.S. senator in Nebraska following her defeat of Bob Kerrey in the 2012 campaign.
Also in 2012, Senator Sara Howard was elected to the seat previously filled by her mother, Senator Gwen Howard, marking the first mother-daughter legacy in the Nebraska Unicameral.
Our office is closed Friday and Monday. I wish you a Blessed Easter.
All my best,
This week I joined a vast majority of my colleagues in advancingLB 956 and 957, this year’s budget bills to a second round of debate. In Nebraska, the Legislature adopts the biennial budget in a long, 90 day session. During the short 60 day session, like the one we are in now, the Legislature adopts mid-biennium budget adjustments. Budget bills consist of General Fund adjustments and Cash Reserve Fund appropriations. Most state spending comes from the General Fund, which is the basic fund for most program, department, and capital state expenditures. The Cash Reserve Fund serves as a savings account for the state and is mostly used as a cushion for economic downturns. A healthy cash reserve is important for economic downturns. Nebraska weathered the Great Recession better than many states because of its healthy cash reserve. However, the Cash Reserve Fund is used for some important one-time investments for the state. One of the one-time investments in the budget package this year is critical funding for the Missouri River levee project to protect Offutt Air Force Base and properties and development south of the base.
Another budget item of interest to Bellevue is a one-time $4 million appropriation to the Site and Building Development Fund. This fund, administered by the Department of Economic Development, can be used to help cities and counties develop industrial-ready sites by covering costs such as land or building purchases and construction, technical assistance or planning costs. Requests for funds have exceeded the amount available year after year and I understand from discussions with the City of Bellevue and the Bellevue Chamber, that there are several sites in Bellevue that could be eligible for this funding if more money was available in the fund. I hope this investment will help develop industrial-ready sites and attract new jobs to the area.
The budget package also makes an important investment to address issues in our Corrections system. This funding request was in both the Governor’s budget proposal and the Appropriations Committee recommendations. This represents a down payment on addressing the long-term issue of prison overcrowding in Nebraska.
Special Visitors This Week
I appreciated the chance to hear from UNL student veteran leaders this week. I would like to give a special thanks to these student veteran peer mentors and to the University of Nebraska Lincoln for establishing a Veteran Success Center on campus
I was happy to welcome a wonderful group of 8th graders to the Capitol this week from Logan Fontenelle Middle School in Bellevue. As a state senator who is also an educator, these student visits are one of my favorite “perks” of the job.
We also had a visit from 4th graders from Avery Elementary School in Bellevue. These kids had very insightful questions about how a bill becomes a law. We provided them with a special “Unicam Kids” book published by the Unicameral Information Office.
We always love visitors, whether tall or short, or any size in between. If you have a group that wants to come to the Capitol, please contact Chris Triebsch in my office at 402-471-2615 or via email at email@example.com
The Consent Calendar agenda has been larger than usual. The Speaker scheduled a third group of consent calendar items this week. One of my consent calendar items that advanced Friday was LB 694, which changes provisions relating to exempt contracts under the Taxpayer Transparency Act. In my first year in the legislature I passed LB 429 (2013) to add state contracts to the Taxpayer Transparency Act. Adding contracts to the Taxpayer Transparency Act makes copies of government contracts easily available to citizens on the Nebraska Spending website. The original bill included certain exceptions for specific service agreements for individual citizens. These original exceptions, and the new ones added in LB 694 for the State Department of Education, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, are designed to protect the privacy of individuals and families receiving state services. It helps us strike the right balance between protecting privacy and protecting the public’s right to access information about how the state is spending resources on contracts. This bill only applies to the state spending website and does not have any affect on public records requests. I thank my colleagues for advancing this bill on consent calendar.
This Week in Urban Affairs
This week, three bills that were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee were advanced from General File as part of the third Consent Calendar agenda:
● LB 875: Change conditions for approval of a planned unit development for certain second-class cities and villages
● LB 948: Change an application period limitation for the designation of enterprise zones as prescribed
● LB 865: Change provisions relating to handicapped parking
LB 948 deals with enterprise zones, a topic that was discussed last year in the Urban Affairs Committee’s interim study report on LR 155, the committee’s interim study to examine current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska.
Designed to encourage investment and economic growth in distressed communities, some type of zone-based economic development initiative – most commonly called enterprise zones – is present in the vast majority of states. Nebraska’s enterprise zone statutes were passed in 1992 and 1993, but the original enterprise zones designated under the Enterprise Zone Act were allowed to expire after a decade.
The Enterprise Zone Act was reactivated with the passage of LB 800 in 2014 to allow the creation of up to five enterprise zones by the Department of Economic Development. Under the Act, any city, village, tribal government area, or county may apply for designation of an area within its boundaries to be designated as an enterprise zone. Once an area has been designated as an enterprise zone, the designation remains in effect for ten years. Businesses located within the boundaries of a designated enterprise zone receive preferences under a variety of state business incentives and grant programs, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Business Innovation Act, the Job Training Cash Fund, and the Site and Building Development Fund.
While the Department of Economic Development has designated enterprise zones within the City of Omaha, the City of South Sioux City, and Otoe County, two of the five enterprise zones authorized under LB 800 have yet to be designated. LB 948 would authorize the Department of Economic Development to establish an additional application period for the designation of enterprise zones, allowing other municipalities and counties (including the Bellevue area) to seek enterprise zone designation in distressed portions of their communities.
In the District
You may have noticed the big shamrock painted on the street at the intersection of Mission Avenue and Franklin Street. Saturday, March 19, is the 4th Annual Olde Towne Pub Crawl. It starts at 2pm with bus service available between locations between 4pm and 11:45pm. Two of my Olde Towne favorites, Moonstruck Meadery and Luigi’s, are included.
All my best,
On Wednesday, the Legislature gave first round approval to LB 754, my personal priority bill this session. LB 754 establishes the Commission on Military and Veteran Affairs and a point person to work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations and to help leverage economic development in our communities tied to these installations. The commission and this point person will also work to support and serve Nebraska’s military and veteran families.
There are important assets to protect in the future across the state, particularly as the Armed Forces look at base closings and realignment, whether or not this is part of a formal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. Moreover, there are also opportunities to push to secure more missions in our state with our low cost of living and supportive communities. The commission and the military liaison created by LB 754 ensures Nebraska is in the best position to respond to these opportunities and threats when these discussions occur and leverage them for economic development across the state.
Governor Signs Crawford’s National Guard Employment Protections Bill into Law
I am very happy to report that Governor Pete Ricketts signed LB 753 into law this week. LB 753 amends Nebraska’s adoption of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act of 1994 to extend protections to persons who work in Nebraska but are called into National Guard Service by another state. State law did not provide protections for National Guard Members employed in Nebraska if they were deployed by another state. This new law will fix that problem and extend employment protections to all National Guard members who work in our state. I want to thank Governor Ricketts for signing this bill into law.
Special Visitors to Lincoln
We had the pleasure of having several groups visit us in Lincoln this week. The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class came to the Capitol on Wednesday. My staff and I put together a full schedule of events to help them learn more about the inner workings of Nebraska government. I want to thank Governor Pete Ricketts, Chief Justice Mike Heavican, State Treasurer Don Stenberg, former Lieutenant Governor Kim Robak with Mueller Robak LLC, Senator Heath Mello, Senator Kathy Campbell, Senator John Murante and Senator Tommy Garrett for speaking to the group.
I also had the opportunity to visit with the Stratcom Strategic Leadership Fellows this week. This great program trains top civilian security specialists in areas including team building, collaboration management, data-driven decision making and project management, among other things.
Leadership was a reoccurring theme this week as we also had a nice visit from the Girl Scouts. It was a great start to International Women’s Day as Senator Sara Howard and I had breakfast with the Girl Scouts and offered leadership advice and encouragement to them.
This Week in Urban Affairs
This week, both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills were advanced from Select File, which is the second round of floor debate. Prior to advancing LB 704, a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes, the bill was amended to incorporate the provisions of another Urban Affairs clean-up bill, LB 705.
Introduced by the Urban Affairs Committee, LB 705 is a comprehensive bill that updates and modernizes statutes governing cities of the first class. Cities of the first class have a population between 5,001 and 100,000, and include the cities of Bellevue, La Vista, and Papillion.
Much of the current language in the statutes governing cities of the first class has not been amended since Nebraska statutes were recodified in 1943, and some may even date back to the late 1800s. Among the antiquated and obsolete language eliminated under LB 705 are references to hitching posts, wagons, steam-powered rail cars, tippling shops, workhouses, poorhouses, freeholders, and imprisonment at hard labor.
While bills like LB 705 may not make the news, they play an important role in keeping our state laws up-to-date. Over the next few years, the Urban Affairs Committee plans to review the statutes that deal with other classes of municipalities, continuing to modernize the state laws that govern how our local governments operate.
The Legislature recessed Thursday afternoon and will return on Tuesday. These 2-day recess days not only allow senators like myself with other jobs a chance to catch up on work, they also allow senators who represent districts in Western Nebraska a chance to travel home for a few extra days.
On Tuesday, the Legislature will begin debate on this year’s budget bills. These bills include the $13.7 million appropriation for the Missouri River levee project. Stay tuned for more about the budget bills next week!
Next week, we will also begin “working lunch” days. This is a new practice instituted by Speaker Hadley to increase the number of hours of work time on the floor during the day, with the intent of avoiding truly late nights later in the session. During working lunch days, the Legislature will stand at ease for 20 minutes for lunch, as opposed to the traditional 90 minute break, and then work until about 7:00 p.m. instead of running later into the night night. Next week, Tuesday and Thursday are both designated working lunch and later adjournment days.
All my best,