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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.
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.
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,