Welcome

January 8th, 2014

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

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

Sincerely,
Sen. Sue Crawford

Interim Legislative Update: July

July 11th, 2014

ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee Begins Work

One tool the Legislature uses to conduct legislative oversight over critical issues facing the state is through the use of special investigative committees.  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.

This session, the Legislature created three special investigative committees to examine a variety of issues including tax incentive evaluations (LR 444), ACCESSNebraska (LR 400) , as well as policies and procedures of the Nebraska Department of Corrections as they apply to the Nikko Jenkins case  (LR 424).  I serve as a member of the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee.

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

Unfortunately, the system has not worked as intended.  Long wait times, busy signals and lost documentation have plagued the new system.  Critical help for elderly and vulnerable individuals gets denied and delayed when this assistance is most needed.  A 2013 Legislative Audit report found that between 2012 and 2013,  the average wait time increased more than 50%, with an average wait time of 45 minutes in August 2013.  The report also found that the Department failed to implement LB 825 (Law 2012), a bill that provided for local office assistance and dedicated caseworkers to help ameliorate some of challenges facing the ACCESSNebraska system.

In response to this report, the Legislature adopted LR 400, creating a special investigative committee to provide additional oversight and monitoring.

Since session ended in April, the ACCESSNebraska Committee has met twice to begin work on this issue.  Next month, I and other committee members will visit the six ACCESSNebraska call center  and document processing sites.   If you or someone you know has a personal story to share regarding their experience with ACCESSNebraska, please contact me at (402) 471-2615 or scrawford@leg.ne.gov.

Upcoming Discussions on Unfunded Mandates

One of the interim studies I introduced last session focuses on unfunded and underfunded mandates to counties and the impact these mandates have on property tax rates.  The Omaha World-Herald recently published an editorial regarding unfunded mandates, a copy of which can be found here: http://www.omaha.com/opinion/world-herald-editorial-big-pressure-on-counties/article_8ba671c6-4b55-5580-9855-e8216d38f9e8.html

Earlier this summer we met with Fred Uhe and Sarpy County officials to better understand the specific challenges facing Sarpy County.  With the assistance of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and the Nebraska Association of County Officials, we will hold a series of conference calls with county officials across the state later this month.  We are especially interested in learning from the discussion which of the unfunded mandates  are the most burdensome and suggestions on addressing the mandates and alleviating pressure on property taxes.

New Website Shines Light on Contracts

Last week, the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) introduced a new website to bring greater transparency and accountability to state contracts.  The website can be found at  https://statecontracts.nebraska.gov/

With its launch, citizens are able to monitor and review state contracts from any computer or mobile device with internet access free of charge.  Nebraskans are now able to search contracts by vendor, agency, and dollar amount.   This website was created as a result of legislation I introduced, and the Legislature passed, during the 2013 session.

I appreciate the diligent work of Bo Botelho and his colleagues at DAS and the cooperation of all the state agencies that makes this new level of transparency possible.  It will be up to citizens, journalists, business owners, and fellow lawmakers to use that information well.

A copy of the Omaha World-Herald story regarding the new website can be found here:

http://www.omaha.com/news/legislature/new-website-lists-contract-info-for-state-government-public-colleges/article_5ee923dd-1cbe-5516-b80b-1559b7a1c70d.html

Preparation for Subsidized Employment Program Continues

During the 2013 legislative session, the Legislature passed LB 368, a bill I introduced to establish  a subsidized employment pilot program for low-income workers.  LB 368 creates new job opportunities for low-income Nebraskans and allows businesses, particularly small businesses, to expand while minimizing risks involved in hiring and training new employees.

Subsidized employment programs in other states have increased earning potential of program participants, encouraged long-term employment and decreased reliance on public assistance. In Washington, for example, the average income of former participants rose 60% during their first two years in the workforce, which represented a 148% increase in income compared to pre-participation income. In Mississippi, subsidized employment programs created eighteen hundred (1800) new jobs with an average wage of $8.65 an hour.* A study of Philadelphia’s subsidized employment program found statistically significant decreases in receipt of TANF payments and TANF assistance overall among program participants, performing much better than the control group and individuals who received pre-employment services.*

Experience in other states also shows that these programs help small businesses. In a survey of employers who participated in subsidized employment programs, 6 out of 10 indicated the subsidy encouraged them to create new positions within their company.

LB 368 allowed the Department to contract with a non-profit organization to administer the program.  Recently, the Department issued an “intent to contract” statement naming Goodwill as their non-profit partner in this program.  This week I met with Goodwill employees who will help administer the program.  I am excited about the potential this program offers to both the employer and employee and look forward to sharing some initial outcomes later in the months ahead.

Second Interim Intern Hired

This week, we hired a second legislative intern, Erika Roan, for a legislative research internship.  Erika joins our other intern, Addison, this summer.  Together they will assist our office with research on our interim studies and potential legislation for next session.

Erika will be entering her second year at the University of Chicago this fall, majoring in Environmental Studies.  She is originally from Humphrey, NE where she graduated from Humphrey High School in 2012.  There, she was involved in the National Honors Society, Student Council, band, volleyball and FFA.  At UChicago, she is an active member of Alpha Phi Omega, the UChicago Body Project, and SAGE (Sustainable Acts for a Greener Earth).  Her plans after graduation in the Spring of 2017 are still undecided; she looks forward to gaining valuable experience this summer working as a legislative research intern in order to help her decide post-graduation plans.

All the best,
Sue

*Stimulating Opportunity: An Evaluation of ARRA-Funded Subsidized Employment Programs.”  Economic Mobility Corporation  September 2013.
**Bloom, Dan. “Alternative Welfare-to-Work Strategies for the Hard-to-Employ TANF Recipients.” MDRC. APPAM Annual Research Conference Presentation. November 2008.

New Website Shines Spotlight on State Contracts

July 1st, 2014

Today, the State of Nebraska introduced a new website to bring greater transparency and accountability to state contracts.  With its launch, citizens are able to monitor and review state contracts from any computer or mobile device with internet access free of charge.  Nebraskans are now able to search contracts by vendor, agency, and dollar amount.

NebraskaSpending.gov currently provides a checkbook of all state expenditures, providing meaningful transparency to the state’s checkbook.  The new website, operated by the Department of Administrative Services, expands on this work by bringing transparency to state contracts, which comprise a large portion of the state’s debits. The website provides links to contracts as well as amendments to those contracts.

“Contracts comprise a major part of our spending and our delegation of government authority,” explained Senator Sue Crawford (District 45, Bellevue) who introduced LB 429 (2013), creating the contract transparency website.  “Furthermore, contracts are public information. This website makes that public information truly publicly available.”

“I appreciate the diligent work of Bo Botelho and his colleagues at the Department of Administrative Services and the cooperation of all the state agencies that makes this new level of transparency possible.  It will be up to citizens, journalists, business owners, and fellow lawmakers to use that information well.”

“I applaud Senator Crawford for her work with the Department of Administrative Services on their effort to bring transparency to state government contracts through the implementation of LB 429,” said Senator Heath Mello, a co-sponsor of the original legislation.  “When public officials talk about government data, it is important to remember that the data doesn’t belong to any one agency or any one branch of government because government data is the people’s data.”

“I want to thank Sen. Crawford for securing passage of this legislation.  I was proud to be an active supporter of the legislation as it moved forward.  I continue to be strongly committed to making as much state financial information as possible available to Nebraska taxpayers,” State Treasurer Don Stenberg said.

The new website is available online at https://statecontracts.nebraska.gov/

 

Interim Legislative Update: May

May 31st, 2014

Committees Prioritize Interim Study Resolutions

Earlier this month, committees published their lists of prioritized interim study resolutions under their jurisdiction.  A copy of this list can be found in the Interim Study Resolutions report, beginning on page 12: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/interim/2014_interim_study.pdf

As mentioned in previous updates, interim study resolutions are a type of legislative resolution introduced during session.  Interim study resolutions are in-depth policy analyses conducted by senators and legislative staff.  The format of these resolutions can vary depending on the topic and the introducing senator; however, at a minimum they include meetings with interested parties and can result in hearings in the fall.  Committee staff can also submit reports on the resolutions to the Clerk’s office at the end of the year.

It is common for the interim study discussions to lead to bills that get introduced in the next legislative session.  For example, last year the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on LR 201, an interim study resolution I introduced during the 2013 session to examine policy options available to Nebraska to support our military installations as well as our military members, veterans, and their families.  Out of this interim study came three bills I introduced during this past session related to military and veteran issues: LB 740, LB 769 and LB 902.

This year our interim studies are:

LR 433: Examine issues surrounding compassionate waivers for the use of CBD oil for treatment of children with epilepsy whose seizures are not treated by current available drugs.

LR 533: Investigate health insurance eligibility for  former foster youth who were not adopted or under a legal guardianship when they became an adult.

LR 555: Examine how cities and villages provide services to residents located in sanitary improvement districts of cities.

LR 582: Study of unfunded and underfunded mandates to Nebraska counties and their impact on property tax rates

LR 583: Assess the behavioral health and mental health needs of K-12 students and available resources to meet those needs.

Several of my interim studies received a high priority on the committee’s ranking.  These include LR 582, LR 533, and LR 555.  I anticipate hearings in the fall for several, if not all, of these  priority resolutions.  More details to follow later this summer as hearings are scheduled.

Effective, Engaged, and Evidence-Driven: A Vision for Our Work

In May my office spent a day evaluating last session and discussing ideas to strengthen our work as well as planning for the  future.  One result of this discussion was a statement of our focus to be effective, engaged and evidence driven.  I am grateful for the hard work of my staff that helps us to meet these goals and for the openness of so many in the community that makes being engaged enjoyable and productive.

      

Already preparing for the next legislative session at an office workday at Fontenelle Forest.

Part of our newsletters over the next few months will focus on my values and perspective as state senator as well as the responsibilities and roles I see as fundamental to my service as a state senator.  This month, our newsletter will focus on engagement.

 In a representative democracy like ours, it is extremely important that citizens engage in the legislative process.  This engagement can occur in a variety of ways–voting, contacting an elected official about an issue important to you, providing written or oral testimony at a bill or regulation hearing, and staying up-to-date on the issues at the city, county, state and federal level.

As a senator, I so appreciate the personal stories from those impacted by the legislation.  As we draft policy, it is important to consider how the bills we pass here in Lincoln will work on the ground in communities across Nebraska.  These personal stories help us when considering different policy options and weigh the consequences for passing–or failing to pass–legislation.

Engagement is  a two-way street, however.  As important as it is for citizens to engage in the legislative process, it is equally important for senators to engage and interact with their constituents.  Our office strives to engage constituents in a variety of formats, including school visits, town halls, our e-newsletter, mailings, social media and email.  I also try to attend as many community events in Bellevue as I can and am always happy to answer questions about the legislative process.

Ways to Connect, Engage with Our Office

I always appreciate and welcome hearing from constituents and fellow Nebraskans.  There are many ways to contact my office if you have a question, concern, or comment.  Of course, you can always call my office at (402)471-2615 or email me at scrawford@leg.ne.gov.

 I also engage with the community through town hall meetings.  Here, I update attendees on what’s happening in the legislature and then set aside time for meeting with constituents one-on-one.  This past year, we held town hall meetings at Bellevue University’s Military Veterans Services Center, Richmont Village, and Mission Middle School.  Stay tuned for information about my next town hall meeting later this summer.

One of my favorite ways to connect with the community is by visiting classrooms throughout the district to help teach students about the Legislature.  I usually open with a short introduction then allow time for questions from students.  The Unicameral Information Office also offers many resources for teachers and students that I would be happy to connect you with.  Contact Courtney in my office at (402)471-2615 to schedule a school visit or to take advantage of these materials.

Social Media

Another option to stay up to date is to follow me on social media.  You can “like” my facebook page at fb.com/SenatorCrawford and follow me on Twitter @SenCrawford and Instagram at instagram.com/sencrawford.   I also post often to my senate website at news.legislature.ne.gov/dist45.   The website includes copies of my  e-newsletters, as well as press releases, and other updates about the Legislature.

 Interim Intern Hired

This summer, we hired a legislative research intern  to assist with research on our interim studies and potential legislation for next session.

Addison Fairchild will be a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying Political Science and Public Policy.  She was raised in Lincoln where she attended Lincoln Southwest.  There, she participated in Student Council, National Honor Society and music.  At the University, she is a member of the Honors program and Kappa Alpha Theta.  Upon graduation in the Spring of 2016, she hopes to have made a decision whether to attend law school or to pursue a Masters in Public Administration.  She looks forward to her time spent working as a research intern this summer and is excited to see what the 2015 session holds.

While the internship is for the summer months, our intention is that Addison attend bill hearings, meet with stakeholders and follow floor debate next session as the research she works on becomes legislation introduced next session.  While she lives in Lincoln, this internship is also a good fit for students in Sarpy or Douglas County because many of the tasks can be completed remotely.

We will begin the hiring process for next session’s interns in November or December.  If you know someone who is interested in an internship with our office for next session or next summer, please contact Courtney in my office at cbreitkreutz@leg.ne.gov.

Vets4Vets Creative Workshop

Join Vets4Vets in June and July for a series of creative workshops at Bellevue University’s Military Veterans Service Center.  Vets4Vets, part of the At Ease program, is a peer support group open to all active and former military members and their loved ones.   The workshops will run on Wednesday nights from 6:00-9:00 PM and include the following topics:

June 11-Design your own wearable “tattoo” design shirt

June 18- Abstract painting bootcamp

June 25-Playwriting for stage or screen

July 2-Drum Circle

July 16-Draw and bring to life your own 3-D minature character with plaster gauze and acrylic paint

July 23-Dada art madness

To register, please visit https://v4vworkshops.eventbrite.com.  For more information, please contact Evan Downey at (402) 292-9105.

All the best,

Sue

Legislative Update: April 28

April 28th, 2014

Thank you to all who attended my town hall meeting on Thursday afternoon at Mission Middle School.   I am looking forward to hosting my next town hall meeting sometime this summer.  Stay tuned for the time and place.

Prison Reform, Autism Coverage, Water Funding Among Key Issues Passed This Session
Despite a short, 60 day session and a large number of filibusters this session, the Legislature still managed to pass several meaningful pieces of legislation on key issues including juvenile justice reform, prison reform, insurance coverage for autism treatment, water funding, and more.  Here is a short synopsis of the work we accomplished this year–and the work still left to do.

Healthcare Access:
✓ Autism insurance coverage (LB 505, passed as LB 254): An estimated 1,000 Nebraskans will
receive insurance coverage for applied behavioral therapies used to treat autism.
✓ Coverage for oral anticancer medication (LB 883, passed as LB 254): Eliminates the
termination date for coverage, allowing cancer patients to continue to receive oral anticancer
medication instead of intravenous medication.

Prison Reform:
✓ Juvenile Justice Reform (LB 464):  Cases where youth commit lower level offenses will begin in
juvenile, rather than adult court. Makes changes to Nebraska’s truancy law, involving the school,
parents, and child earlier in the process before referring these kids to the county attorney.
✓ Prison Reform (LB 907): Makes key changes to Nebraska’s criminal justice system including a
task force to study the issue of prison overcrowding, “ban the box” provisions to help ex-inmates
find gainful employment and avoid recidivism.
✓ Mental Health Programming for Prisoners (LB 999): Requires the Department of Behavioral
Health to conduct an assessment regarding whether a correctional behavioral health treatment
center could be incorporated into services offered by the Hastings Regional Center.

Tax Relief:
✓ Property Tax Relief (LB 200): This year’s budget bills included a $25 million appropriation to the
Property Tax Relief fund.
✓ Income Tax Relief (LB 987): Indexes income tax brackets for inflation and also exempts social
security benefits from state income tax for Nebraskans who earn less than $58,000 for married
couples filing jointly and $43,000 for individuals filing any other return.
✓ Military Retirement Income Pay (LB 75, passed as LB 987): Provides a modest tax credit for
new military retirees beginning in 2015. I am disappointed that LB 987 does not provide tax relief
for those military retirees who have already made a commitment to our state and our communities.
✓ Homestead Exemption (LB 986 and 1087): LB 986 expands the homestead exemption program
to include more families, including families with a child or close relative who have a developmental
disability. LB 1087 grants homestead exemptions to veterans who are 100% disabled due to a service
connected disability.  LB 1087 also applies to widows or widowers of such a veteran.

Education:
✓ Accountability for Struggling Schools (LB 438): Creates priority school process and intervention
teams to help improve struggling school districts.
✓ Training for teachers and staff on school security and suicide awareness and prevention (LB
923
)

Military and Veteran Issues:
✓ In-state tuition for Veterans (LB 740): Grants immediate in-state tuition for veterans who have left
active duty for two years or less and their families.  Veterans and their families will be able to qualify for
in-state tuition and start using their educational benefits right away.
✓ Military Honor Plates (LB 383): Creates 6 Military Honor Plates for veterans and active duty personnel
who served in the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force or National Guard.
✓ Employment Preference for Disabled Veterans’ Spouses (LB 588): Extends a veterans preference in
hiring for the spouse of a veteran with a 100% permanent disability. Adds a hiring preference for all
veterans, regardless of disability status.
✓ Limited Tax Exemption on Military Retirement Pay (LB 75; passed as LB 987)

Governor Vetoes Bipartisan, No-Cost Option to Expand Healthcare Access in Nebraska Over a 43-0 Vote
On Tuesday, Governor Heineman vetoed LB 916 despite the fact that the bill received overwhelming support by the Legislature.  I am extremely disappointed that Governor Heineman chose to veto a bill that garnered  such strong support by members of the Legislature and the many Nebraskans who contacted my office on this issue.  In the days since the veto, I continue to receive emails telling stories of nurse practitioners across Nebraska–particularly in rural areas–who cannot find a physician in their area willing to sign their integrated practice agreement or cannot afford the cost, sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars, to secure such an agreement.  These nurse practitioners want to work as nurse practitioners and  serve their rural communities.  However,  the Governor’s veto leaves them without a viable option to practice short of moving to another area.

Despite my disappointment with the Governor’s decision, I am encouraged by the strong vote the bill received on Final Reading last week. No senators voted against the bill in committee or on Final Reading.  It is clear that the Legislature is ready to lead on this issue. I intend to introduce a bill next year to finish what we started, reducing unnecessary government regulation and allowing Nebraska to recruit and retain nurse practitioners in the state.

Interim Work Begins
With session ending last week, we now move into the interim.  Much of this time will be spent researching bill ideas and completing research on our interim studies.  A listing of all interim studies can be found at the following link: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/session/interim.php.  If there is an interim study resolution of interest to you, I encourage you to contact the introducing senator.  The summer and fall are great times to engage with senators if you want to be involved in shaping bills and policy before bill introduction in January.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in working on any of my interim studies or if you have ideas for legislation for next year.

   
In honor of ServeNebraska week, I spent time visiting with students at Central Elementary and Belleaire Elementary in Bellevue.

    
My staff, Kaitlin and Courtney, and I enjoyed volunteering at Youth Emergency Services for ServeNebraska week, an Americorps program designed to encourage volunteering in your community. We organized all the items people have donated for homeless mothers at the Maternity Home in Bellevue.

Governor Vetoes Bipartisan, No-Cost Option to Expand Healthcare Access in Nebraska Despite 43-0 Vote by Legislature

April 22nd, 2014

On Wednesday, April 22 Governor Dave Heineman vetoed LB 916, a bill the Legislature passed on a 43-0 vote last Thursday. LB 916, introduced by Senator Sue Crawford (District 45, Bellevue) and prioritized by Senator Dan Watermeier (District 1, Syracuse), eliminates the integrated practice agreement from nurse practitioner statutes.

“I am extremely disappointed that Governor Heineman vetoed LB 916,” Senator Crawford expressed. “By vetoing LB 916, Governor Heineman squandered an opportunity to expand healthcare access in Nebraska through legislation that received overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans and had no fiscal impact to the state. What’s more, this veto is out of step with recommendations from the National Governor’s Association, the Institute of Medicine, the Federal Trade Commission, and Veteran’s Administration that all call for the elimination of integrated practice agreements.”

“As the priority sponsor of LB 916, I am very discouraged and disappointed by the Governor’s decision to veto this legislation,” shared Senator Dan Watermeier. “I prioritized LB 916 because of its promise to cut red tape and reduce government regulation that currently undermine Nebraska’s ability to recruit and retain nurse practitioners. This is why both the Technical Review Board and Board of Health voted to approve this change during the 407 review process. LB 916 was a fiscally prudent approach to addressing the needs of our most underserved populations and in medical specialty areas, like mental health and primary care. I appreciate the support of many of my colleagues who share this fiscally responsible approach to addressing healthcare shortages in Nebraska. Because of its strong support by members of the Legislature and many Nebraskans across the state, I fully anticipate we will eliminate this barrier to health care access in the next legislative session.”

“On behalf of the Nebraska Nurse Practitioners and our members, we echo Senator Crawford’s disappointment regarding the outcome of LB 916,” shared Ladonna Hart, ARPN-NP and president of Nebraska Nurse Practitioners. “This proposal presented a no-cost solution to addressing critical workforce shortage areas across the state and increased access to primary and mental health care for all Nebraskans. Despite the final decision of the Governor to veto this bill, we are thankful for the strong bipartisan vote LB 916 received and we are grateful for the vote of 44 legislators who stood in support of this important legislation.”

Senator Crawford concluded her comments saying, “Despite my disappointment with the Governor’s decision, I was encouraged by the strong vote the bill received on Final Reading last week. It is clear that the Legislature is ready to lead on this issue. I intend to introduce a bill eliminating this restriction of trade early next session and look forward to working with my colleagues and the next Governor to finish what we started.

Legislative Update: April 17th

April 17th, 2014

Final Group of Bills Sent to the Governor

Today the Legislature passed the final bills of this session.  Included in this group is LB 916, a bill I introduced to remove the contract with a physician currently required in our state for nurse practitioners to practice.  Currently, nurse practitioners in Nebraska must practice under a contract with a doctor for their entire career.  As a result, it is more difficult to get Nurse Practitioners in underserved rural communities and many nurse practitioners leave Nebraska following graduation.  For example, 70% of new psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, who we desperately need here in Nebraska, seek employment in other states, citing fewer practice restrictions in those other states.

LB 916 and the other bills passed today now go to the Governor for his signature. Watch for a legislative update next week for the final status of key bills passed this session.

Legislature Adjourns Sine Die

Earlier today the 103rd Legislature adjourned sine die.  Unless the Governor calls a special session, the Legislature will meet again in January 2015.  Due to term limits, 17 of my colleagues will not return to Lincoln in January.  Part of today’s proceedings included tributes to the leaving senators and farewell speeches from these term-limited senators.  It is sad to see so many strong leaders leave the body.  We will have at least 17 new members next session, and possibly more.

Future Legislative Updates

With the Legislature adjourning sine die today, we will shift to our interim schedule for future legislative updates.  Beginning in May, 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.

Join Us in Giving Back During ServeNebraska Week

Next week marks ServeNebraska week, which celebrates the  service and volunteerism spirit of Nebraskans across the state.  Nebraskans of all ages are encouraged to volunteer and give back to their communities during ServeNebraska week, April 20-26.

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ServeNebraska Americorp members visited my office late last month

As part of ServeNebraska Week, our office will be closed on Thursday as we spend the day volunteering in the Bellevue community.  Our service projects include work at Youth Emergency Services Maternity Home as well as projects at Central and Belleaire Elementary Schools.  We will end the afternoon with an after-school town hall meeting at Mission Middle School.  That evening I will speak to a group of caregivers at Hillcrest Health Services and then join other Political Science faculty to honor Creighton Political Science graduates.

Legislative Offices Closed for Easter

All legislative offices will be closed Friday and Monday to allow staff to celebrate Easter with their families.  If you need assistance during this time, please leave a message and my staff will respond upon their return on Tuesday.

I hope that you and your family have a restful Easter weekend spent with family and friends.

All the best,

Sue

Bill Aimed at Greater Transparency and Accountability in Rulemaking Becomes Law

April 17th, 2014

Yesterday, Governor Dave Heineman signed LB 719 into law.  LB 719, a bill introduced by Senator Sue Crawford (District 45, Bellevue), brings greater transparency, efficiency and accountability to the rulemaking process.

LB 719 requires agencies to prepare a report for all proposed rules and regulations following a public hearing. The report includes a summary of comments raised during the hearing through oral or written testimony and includes a response from the agencies to these summarized comments.

It also strengthens the complaint process currently available to senators to challenge regulations that have drifted from legislative intent or are unconstitutional.  This complaint procedure was created several years ago through a bill introduced by then-Senator Pat Bourne and prioritized by then-state senator, now U.S. Senator, Deb Fischer.

“The current process for rulemaking hearings makes it difficult for citizens, the Governor and legislators to assess the responsiveness of agencies to citizen and legislative comments on proposed changes to regulations.” explained Senator Crawford.  “LB 719 provides a tool for senators and the Governor to use to assess the justifications behind the agency’s response–or failure to respond–to the concerns raised.”

Organizations who testified in support of LB 719 at the bill’s hearing included the Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers, Nebraska Appleseed, Mosaic, Common Cause, and Nebraska Nursing Facility Association.

“I would first like to commend Senator Crawford for introducing LB 719 and thank the 46 senators who voted in support of the bill.” shared Loran Schmit,  Executive Director of the Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers. “The regulatory process can be extremely burdensome to all industries and the passage of this bill will require the regulatory agencies to be more aware of the burden they can place on industry due to excessive regulation.”

“LB 719 will allow greater accountability within the rulemaking process, helping the public be more engaged and better understand decisions made by state Departments.” stated James Goddard, Director of Economic Justice and Health Care Access Programs at Nebraska Appleseed.  “It will also require Departments to be more responsive to concerns expressed by the public.”

“The nursing and assisted living facility industries are two of the most heavily regulated industries in the state.” shared Nick Faustman, Nebraska Nursing Facility Association’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs. “Changes in regulations could easily be the difference between being able to continue caring for Nebraska’s most vulnerable populations or shutting down the facility altogether.  LB 719 will enable our members to be even more proactive in partnering with the State to develop effective regulation.”

 

Legislative Update: April 7th

April 4th, 2014

LB 740 and Others Signed by Governor Heineman, Becomes Law
Last Friday, Governor Heineman signed several bills into law, including my personal priority bill, LB 740. With the passage of this bill, veterans and their families will be able to qualify for in-state tuition and start using their educational benefits right away.

As a long time resident of Bellevue, many of my friends and neighbors are military spouses. These spouses pick up and move whenever we ask them to. When their military member retires, that is often a time when the spouse gets to focus on their career. LB 740 helps these spouses and their dependents get back to school quickly and finish what they’ve started. I look forward to the opportunities this law will create for our veteran families, our universities, and our state.


Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford and I discuss LB907
Photo Courtesy of Nebraska Unicameral Information Office

Water Funding Bill Debated, Advances
On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 1098 to Select File. LB 1098, introduced by Senator Carlson, focuses on funding for water projects. This year’s budget included $31.5 million to fund water projects. LB 1098 establishes criteria and a process by which this funding will be appropriated. I worked hard with my colleagues, particularly Senators Jim Smith and Rick Kolowski, to include language about protecting critical infrastructure as a type of water project eligible for this new funding. This critical infrastructure includes the levees around Offutt Air Force Base.

Due to updated FEMA regulations, the levees around Offutt must be raised, in places, between one and two feet. This height increase will require broadening the base of the levees resulting in an overall project cost of over $24 million. This is an unfunded federal mandate that will not be paid for by FEMA. While local political subdivisions including the City of Bellevue and the Papio-Missouri NRD, recognize the necessity of addressing and funding this project, state participation will be essential to protect and preserve this asset. This project is, and must remain, a high priority as a critical water project until it is completed. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure the levee project gets full and fair consideration by the Natural Resources Commission charged with administering the grants.

Anti-Discrimination Law Debate Continues
On Thursday we began debate on LB 485, a bill to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill applies to businesses with fifteen or more employees and includes an exemption for churches, religious schools and religious organizations.

Senator Conrad, who leaves the body due to term limits at the end of this session, selected this bill as her final personal priority bill. I was very impressed by the debate on the floor. Senator Ashford, also in his last term in the Unicameral, spoke passionately about how his father fought against discrimination in Omaha and the religious roots of his commitment to end discrimination of all kinds. The debate included discussion about how to interpret religious freedom and whether the bill would infringe on religious freedom or not, the possible impact of the bill in terms of economic development, workforce recruitment, business legal costs, and the importance of the human dignity of work. Senator Smith, a business owner from Papillion, discussed his concerns about legal issues it would raise for businesses. Senator Conrad presented convincing data to counter arguments about the likelihood of triggering excessive litigation as well as important legal background on why the bill does not infringe on first amendment protections.

Senator Conrad also shared interesting data on where Nebraskans stand on this issue based on polling of likely voters. As of January 2014, 64% support a law that would protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The support crosses religious lines with 67% of Catholics, 62% of Protestants, and 56% of weekly churchgoers supporting anti-discrimination legislation. My staff compiled emails from constituents prior to floor debate and at that time I had 47 emails in support of the bill and only 17 emails in opposition. Debate continues next week. However, a majority of senators, including me, support the measure and plan to vote to advance the bill to the the next round.

Sine Die Approaching
Thursday marked the fifty-fifth day of this sixty day session. On Thursday, April 17 the Legislature will adjourn sine die. Sine die is Latin for “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. 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.

End-of-Session Town Hall Scheduled
Mark your calendars for April 24 for an end-of-session town hall meeting at Mission Middle School in the Auditorium. The meeting will run from 4:30-5:30 and include a recap of the Legislative session and a short meet and greet after.

School Visits
I recently had the pleasure of visiting with 3 school groups from the district: Birchcrest Elementary, St. Mary’s, and Cornerstone Christian. It was wonderful to meet them and answer their questions about state government. It was great to see several of my 4th grade friends from New Life Baptist in the school groups this past week.

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Elementary Students from Bellevue visit the Capitol

To organize a school visit at the Capitol or to organize a visit at your school, please contact Courtney in my office at (402) 471-2615.

All the best,
Sue

Legislative Update: March 31

March 31st, 2014

Personal Priority Bill Passed, Other Crawford Priority Bills Advance

This week was a busy and successful week for several of the bills on our agenda.  My personal priority bill, LB 740, passed the third and final round of debate on a 48-0 vote.  LB 740 allows veterans and their families to start their undergraduate degree right away by granting immediate residency for in-state tuition. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature, which I hope will happen in the next few days.  In Nebraska, governors have five days, excluding Sundays, after receiving the bill  to sign or veto a bill.  If the governor does not sign or veto the bill, it becomes law notwithstanding his signature.

On Monday, I joined 28 of my colleagues in advancing LB 916 to the second round of debate.  LB 916, a bill I introduced and Senator Watermeier prioritized, removes the integrated practice agreement for nurse practitioners. 17 other states, including Colorado and Iowa, allow nurse practitioners to practice without this type of agreement.

LB 916 as amended creates a transition-to-practice agreement for new nurse practitioners’ first year of practice .  Physicians or nurse practitioners with at least 5 years of experience are eligible to serve as supervising providers in these short-term agreements.  If LB 916 becomes law, nurse practitioners will be able to offer safe, high quality, cost-effective health care, particularly to underserved populations, while maintaining collaboration, consultation and referral requirements in the Nurse Practitioner Licensing Act.

Tuesday afternoon the Legislature advanced two additional bills I introduced this session:LB 719 and LB 720.  LB 719 was selected by the Speaker as one of his 25 Speaker priority bills.  I introduced these bills as part of a responsive regulations package to bring greater transparency, efficiency and accountability to Nebraska’s rulemaking system.  LB 720 passed as an amendment onto LB 719 with a 27-0 vote.  The final package advanced 29-0 to Select File.

Interim Study Resolutions Introduced

Wednesday marked the deadline for interim study resolutions.  Interim studies are in-depth policy analyses conducted by Senators and legislative staff between sessions. The format of these studies vary but typically they involve meetings with interested parties and can include a legislative committee hearing in the fall. Often, the results of these studies become bills that are introduced the following session. For example, 3 bills I introduced this session (LB 740, LB 769 and LB 902) were the result of our interim study LR 201 examining policy options to support military families.

This session I introduced 6 interim studies.  Here is a brief description of these studies:

  1. LR 433: examines issues relating to a compassionate waiver for the use of CBD oil for children with epilepsy whose seizures are not treated by current available drugs.
  2. LR 533: focuses on former foster youth who have aged out of the foster care system and their eligibility for health insurance.
  3. LR 555studies how cities and villages provide services to residents located in sanitary improvement districts of cities and villages.
  4. LR 582: examines unfunded and underfunded mandates on counties and county governments and their impact on property tax rates.
  5. LR 583: assesses the behavioral health and mental health needs of K-12 students and available resources to meet those needs.
  6. LR 585: examines statutory issues surrounding cities of the first class, like Bellevue.

We will be busy working on these interim studies and other bill ideas over the interim. Look for more information about these studies in the coming weeks and months.

Special Committee Assignments Finalized

This week, the Executive Board of the Legislature voted on assignments to several special legislative committees created as a result of legislation passed this session, including the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative committee and the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee to examine the circumstances surrounding Nikko Jenkins’ time in prison and subsequent release.  I am happy to share that I was selected as one of seven members of the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative committee (LR 400).  I look forward to digging into the issues surrounding ACCESSNebraska and hope that the committee finds ways to make this system work better for our low income families and our elderly.

55th Wing Protocol Visits Lincoln

On Wednesday, I was delighted to welcome Airmen of the 55th Wing Protocol to the Capitol for a visit and tour.  Their visit included a chance to watch debate on prison reform on the floor of the Legislature and a tour of the Capitol.  For several airmen, it was their first visit to the Capitol.

Offutt Air Force Base’s 55th Wing Protocol took time to visit my office on their visit to the Capitol from Bellevue
I enjoyed getting to know them better over lunch and hope they will visit again soon.  If you are planning a trip to Lincoln and would like help setting up a tour, please contact my office at (402) 471-2615.

Legislative Update: March 24

March 24th, 2014

Income Tax Relief Advances to Third and Final Round of Debate

On Tuesday, the Legislature advanced LB 987 to Final Reading.  As I mentioned last week, LB 987 indexes individual income tax brackets for inflation and exempts social security income from income tax for Nebraskans who earn less than $58,000 for married couples filing jointly and $43,000 for individuals filing any other return.  LB 987 marks the first time that Nebraska will exempt social security at a greater amount than is allowed federally.

Under LB 987, Nebraskans will see up to $122 million in income tax relief by 2017. LB 987 includes a modest tax credit for new military retirees beginning in 2015.   In my time in the Legislature,  I have introduced two bills on this topic (LB 238 and 902) and worked hard over the interim to ensure that military retiree tax relief was part of the Tax Modernization Committee’s work on tax reform.

While I appreciate that some new military retirees will see tax relief under the bill, I am disappointed that LB 987 does not provide tax relief for those military retirees who have already chosen to live and work in Nebraska and therefore does not help us retain the military retirees who have already made a commitment to our state and our communities.  This is very important work that remains to be done.

Juvenile Justice Reform Advances

Tuesday morning the Legislature debated and advanced LB 464 which makes several changes to our juvenile justice system.  Under the bill, cases where youth commit lower level crimes will begin in juvenile, rather than adult, court. More serious offenses and traffic offenses will still originate in adult court.  Part of the discussion included a review of current policies in our 12 judicial districts.  The district attorneys in Sarpy County were recognized by many during the floor debate as a model for treating kids like kids and only filing against youth in adult court for more serious crimes.  LB 464 allows these attorneys in Sarpy County to continue their important work while ensuring that kids in other counties have better access to juvenile court.

Another part of the final bill clarified language following the passage of LB 561 last year which moved more services for juvenile offenders to the county-level.  Fred Uhe and Sarpy County Commissioners worked hard to ensure that the final product was one that worked well on the ground for Sarpy County and other counties across the state. I appreciate their thoughtfulness and hard work on this important issue.

Wellness in Nebraska

After two days of lengthy debate, LB 887, Wellness in Nebraska, narrowly failed to invoke cloture and end debate on the bill.  In Nebraska, while it takes 30 votes to override a Governor’s veto, it takes 33 votes to end a filibuster on a bill.  I supported LB 887 because it created a Nebraskan plan and vision for the future of health care, not just for the 54,000 Nebraskans who would have had access to health care under LB 887.  While we may have lost the vote on LB 887, the fight for a health care system that works for all Nebraskans continues.

Grow Big Red

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Sen. Pat Foote’s “Keep Nebraska Beautiful” initiative which she started as state senator in the 1950s.  2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this campaign and to celebrate, citizens and businesses across the state are encouraged to plant red flowers.  Other ways to get involved in the 50th anniversary celebration include organizing community planting events through church groups, 4-H, or Scouts or working with your neighborhood association to plant red flowers in your neighborhood.  For more information, contact www.knb.org.

Visitors This Week

One of my favorite parts of my job is welcoming visitors to the Capitol, especially those who travel to Lincoln to share their concerns and engage in the legislative process.

This week, social work students from Creighton and other Nebraska colleges and universities visited the Capitol for their legislative day.  These future social workers will be on the front lines in making government programs work to help families move out of poverty.

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Creighton social work students and Social Work professor Dr. Grandbois

I also visited with No Limits student advocates from Bellevue West and Mission Middle School who traveled to Lincoln to discuss their efforts to fight tobacco use.  These students work hard to encourage their peers to adopt healthy lifestyles and avoid tobacco use.  I appreciate their hard work and dedication on this important issue.