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I recently met with Nebraska Department of Labor officials regarding LR 223, an interim study I introduced to develop strategies and ideas to ensure more adults have the education and skills needed to fill positions for in demand occupations in Nebraska.
As families gather to celebrate the holidays and the beginning of a new year, our office is hard at work preparing for the 2016 legislative session, which begins next Wednesday. In the Nebraska Legislature, all new bills must be introduced during the first ten days of session. As such, preparations for bill introduction begin months before session begins.
Along with these preparations, our staff is preparing a new schedule for e-newsletter updates. Like during previous sessions, we will send weekly updates every Saturday while the Legislature is in session. These updates feature a mixture of information on our legislative agenda, Urban Affairs Committee work, other major issues in committees and on the floor, as well as information about the legislative process. If you know someone who would like to receive these updates, encourage them to email me at email@example.com with their request.
The 2016 session marks the second year of a two year legislative cycle, or biennium. In Nebraska, all bills from last session that were not indefinitely postponed, vetoed or passed carry over into the second year of the session. This means there are bills sitting on General File waiting for us to debate, unlike last session when we had to wait for bills to come out of committee to begin floor debate on those bills.
Speaker Hadley intends for the Legislature to begin floor debate on bills sitting on General File on Monday, January 11. Speaker Hadley announced that the first bills on the agenda will be carry over priorities from last session, which are priority bills from last session that we did not complete before adjourning in June. The Speaker has also announced that he will accept priority designations for bills earlier than usual this session. These new measures will limit time for other carry over bills and new bills, making it likely that most bills will need a priority designation to see floor debate.
Also new this year is a change in the norms for cloture, which is the motion used to cut off debate on a bill to end a filibuster. Cloture motions cannot cut off debate until the chair determines that the body has completed full and fair debate. In the Nebraska Legislature, the chair, which during times of cloture votes is most often the Speaker, determines what constitutes full and fair debate during the three rounds of legislative debate (General File, Select File and Final Reading). Historically, this has meant 8 hours of debate on General File, 4 hours on Select File and 2 hours on Final Reading. This year, the Speaker has said that the gauge for full and fair debate will be 6 hours of debate on General File. The goal of this change is to help us move through the legislative agenda conscientiously as the Legislature begins a short, 60 day session. The hours of debate for other rounds remain the same. The Speaker still have discretion to deny a cloture motion and continue debate past these hour marks if he feels that debate needs to continue.
Urban Affairs Committee Publishes Report on Municipal Economic Development
This week, the Urban Affairs Committee published an interim study report on LR 155, the committee’s interim study examining current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska. The report is the first major interim study report issued by the Urban Affairs Committee since the 1990s.
Over a number of years, the Urban Affairs Committee has heard repeatedly from city and village officials that municipalities in Nebraska only have two economic development tools at their disposal – the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (commonly referred to as LB 840), and tax-increment financing (TIF) under the Community Development Law. The LR 155 report takes a comprehensive look at economic development tools that are currently available to municipalities in Nebraska, as well as examining tools that are available to municipalities in other states. The report also compiled ideas for changes to strengthen the tools that were presented to the committee as part of the interim study process, and should serve as a good roadmap as the Legislature continues to evaluate local economic development tools over the next few years.
A link to the LR 155 report can be found on the Urban Affairs Committee’s reports page.
Meet My Staff: Chris Triebsch
In Nebraska, each senator has at least two staff people to help them with their legislative duties: an administrative aide and a legislative aide. As Committee Chair for Urban Affairs, I also have a Committee Counsel, bringing my total staff to three.
This week, I would like to introduce you to the newest member of my staff, Chris Triebsch. Chris serves as my Committee Clerk/Administrative Assistant. He joined my office last month. Chris is originally from Marshall, MO, but he has been a Nebraskan since he graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwest Missouri State University in 1997.
Chris brings a wealth of experience to this job, including his work in communications at Voices for Children in Nebraska. He also led a launch of a successful reentry program at the Center for People in Need in Lincoln, which provides occupational and life skills training and case management services to those transitioning out of incarceration. Prior to that, Chris served as an Aide for Constituent Services for Governor Mike Johanns and he also previously worked as a staff member in the Nebraska Legislature.
When not in the Legislature, Chris is an avid reader and enjoys watching St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
Part of Chris’s responsibilities includes helping us communicate with constituents and helping them with any problems they might have with the state, whether by phone, email, or mail. He is always available to answer questions you may have at (402) 471-2615 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next Saturday will be the first our our weekly e-newsletter updates and will include a preview of my legislative agenda. In the meantime, this week’s Bellevue Leader provides a nice summary of some of the major issues our office will be pursuing in 2016. To read the article, please click here.
All my best,
Earlier this month, the Health and Human Service Committee held a hearing on LR 185, an interim study resolution I introduced to examine issues and challenges facing Nebraska’s behavioral health workforce. Throughout the interim we met with providers from a variety of disciplines as well as Magellan, the contractor who currently operates Nebraska’s Medicaid program, to try to identify barriers facing this key workforce.
The hearing provided an opportunity for providers from several disciplines to share their challenges with committee members. The issues discussed included difficulties with licensing entities and processing times for new licenses, limits on the ability of new practitioners, or provisionally licensed practitioners, to practice in Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster counties, and the need for a greater behavioral health workforce presence in Nebraska’s rural areas. We appreciate the professionals who took time to testify at the hearing or submitted written comments for the committee’s consideration. We have already begun follow up discussions to address the issues raised.
Urban Affairs Committee Wraps Up Interim Work
This month, members of the Urban Affairs Committee wrapped up the committee’s interim study hearings with a road trip to Norfolk. Legislative committees will often travel outside of the Capitol during the interim, and this hearing was the first outside of Lincoln for the Urban Affairs Committee since 2013.
In Norfolk, the committee held a second set of hearings on two economic development-related interim studies, LR 152 and LR 155. The first study, LR 152, examined the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as LB 840. Passed in 1991, LB 840 allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters. Approximately 70 municipalities have voted to create an LB 840 program, including the City of Bellevue.
The second study, LR 155, is a comprehensive review of current and potential economic development tools available to Nebraska municipalities. In addition to LB 840 plans, LR 155 examined tax-increment financing (TIF) and a variety of other programs in state law, as well as economic development tools currently available to municipalities in other states. The committee will be publishing an interim study report on LR 155 later this year.
In addition to the interim study hearings, my office also hosted a stakeholders meeting for LR 159, an interim study to examine Nebraska’s handicapped parking statutes. While handicapped parking permits are issued by the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, enforcement of handicapped parking statutes is handled predominantly at the local level, so the Urban Affairs Committee has historically heard bills related to handicapped parking. I appreciate the feedback from the various disability advocacy organizations that attended the meeting, and expect that the committee will hear legislation to update our handicapped parking statutes in the upcoming session.
Farewell Wishes to Courtney
Monday, November 30th marks Courtney’s last day with our office as she has accepted a position as grant coordinator at Nebraska Appleseed. Our office recently hired a new administrative aide/committee clerk. Stay tuned for more information about our new hire in next month’s newsletter!
During Courtney’s two years in our office, we saw an expansion of our internship program, the start of summer legislative surveys, a complete revamping of Urban Affairs Committee hearing procedures, several successful Bellevue Leadership days at the Capitol and much more. She was an energetic and vital member of my staff who will be greatly missed. Please join me and the rest of my staff in thanking Courtney for her service to District 45 and the State of Nebraska.
I am currently seeking interns for the 2016 Legislative Session. The internship requires approximately 10 hours/week, mostly at the Capitol. It runs from the beginning of January through the end of April. Qualified applicants must possess strong writing skills, the ability to maintain confidentiality and professionalism at all times, and a desire to learn more about the legislative process. The position is unpaid but can be taken for college credit. Interested individuals should send a cover letter, resume, and a list of references to Kaitlin Reece at email@example.com. Call (402) 471-2615 with questions.
Learning Community Forum held at Springfield Platteview
On November 10, Senator Baker, a member of the Education Committee, joined me and Senator Kintner at a discussion in Springfield regarding the common levy. Superintendent Brett Richards presented data regarding how the common levy impacts Springfield-Platteview School District. His report showed that a 26% loss in revenue last year in Springfield-Platteview yielded less than a half percent gain in Omaha Public Schools (OPS). It is clear that helping students in poverty in OPS and across the state requires a different solution.
2016 Legislative Survey Now Available until December 1st
I invite you to complete my 2016 Legislative Survey to submit feedback on upcoming issues in the Nebraska Legislature. The information you provide helps me prepare for the upcoming legislative session that begins January 6th. Access the survey by clicking HERE.
I look forward to reading all of your input!
All my best,
State Senator Sue Crawford invites residents of District 45 to complete an online survey to offer feedback on upcoming issues in the Nebraska Legislature. The survey asks respondents to identify priorities for state government and gathers feedback on issues that she is working on for the 2016 session.
To take the survey, click HERE
The Urban Affairs committee held hearings this week at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, where I introduced LR152 and LR155. Last month, the committee held two hearings at the Capitol.
On October 23rd, the Urban Affairs Committee held a pair of interim study hearings. The first study, LR 278, examined existing resources and the need for additional tools for municipalities to encourage revitalization of older and historic neighborhoods. At the hearing, a group of graduate students in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Community and Regional Planning program presented findings to the committee from their review of programs currently utilized in other states. The committee also heard from a number of city and neighborhood representatives about the role current municipal tools play in neighborhood revitalization, and the need for additional tools to address vacant and abandoned properties.
The second hearing, LR 174, examined issues surrounding Nebraska’s energy code statutes. Unlike building codes in Nebraska, which are largely enforced at the local level, the Nebraska Energy Code is enforced by the Nebraska Energy Office in cases where the relevant political subdivision does not have a code enforcement division. The current Nebraska Energy Code is the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and much of the discussion at the hearing focused on whether the state should update its energy code to either the 2012 or 2015 editions of the IECC. The committee also heard powerful testimony from a homeowner whose new home had not been built to meet the code and her limited options for recourse.
This week, the Urban Affairs Committee wrapped up its interim study work for the year with the second of two hearings on economic-development related interim studies, as well as held a stakeholders meeting for LR 159, an interim study to examine Nebraska’s handicapped parking statutes.
Hearings on Behavioral Health Workforce. Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Scheduled for November 12th
On Thursday, November 12, I will present the results of our interim study, LR 185, regarding behavioral health workforce challenges in Nebraska. The Health and Human Services Committee will hold three hearings including a hearing on Nebraska’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (LR 231). Our office has worked closely with Senator Howard, law enforcement, drug prevention groups, and interested citizens on this issue. I look forward to the hearing and to continued work on this issue.
Speaking in and around the District
I’ve recently had opportunities to speak to different groups about various policy topics and to discuss my experiences in the legislature with them. Those include speaking to Creighton pharmacy students (top), presenting to Platteview Central Jr. High School on their Career Day (middle), and participating in a nurses conference at UNMC (bottom). If you would like me to visit your organization, call my office at (402) 471-2615.
I am currently seeking interns for the 2016 Legislative Session. The position will have a time commitment of approximately 10 hours/week. The internship runs from the beginning of January through the end of April. Qualified applicants must possess strong writing skills, the ability to maintain confidentiality and professionalism at all times, and a desire to learn more about the legislative process. The position is unpaid but can be taken for college credit. Interested individuals should send a cover letter, resume, and a list of references to Courtney Breitkreutz firstname.lastname@example.org. Call (402) 471-2615 with questions.
All my best,
I stand alongside those who testified at the hearing for LR 222 before the Business and Labor committee on September 25th.
Friday, September 25 was a busy day full of interim study hearings. In the morning, I presented some of our initial findings of LR 222 to the Business and Labor committee. LR 222 examines paid family leave options available to Nebraska. Current policies put too many workers in an untenable position: keep the jobs they need or care for the families they love. States can invest in infrastructure to ensure workers can put families first without sacrificing their jobs. In each state with an active program, this assistance is financed by modest employee contributions to a state-run insurance system. In New Jersey, for example, employees pay a maximum of 46 cents a week, or $24.24 a year on the first $30,300 of earnings. The length of time an employee can remain on leave ranges between 4 to 6 weeks.
Families are the bedrock of our society. For too long we have ignored the fact that we need workers to be able to care for their families, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of all of the rest of us. Appropriate time to care for infants, aging parents, and family members facing serious illness and injury benefits all us through improvements in our workforce, our educational system, our health care system, and the general health of our society. Paid family leave, however, is not just about care for others. Over half of the workers who use federal Family and Medical Leave use it to recover from their own illness or injury. I look forward to continued discussions on how Nebraska can invest in its workers and working families. If you are interested in learning more about this issue or if you have a personal story that highlights the need for paid family leave, please email my legislative aide Kaitlin Reece email@example.com or call the office at (402) 471-2615.
1 Milkman, Ruth, and Eileen Appelbaum. “Paid Family Leave in California and New Jersey: The Benefits for Working Families and Employers.” Scholars Strategy Network fact sheet. March 2012.
In the afternoon, the Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing on two economic-development related interim studies. The first, LR 152, examined the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as LB 840. Passed in 1991, LB 840 allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters. Currently at least 68 municipalities have voted to create an LB 840 program, including the City of Bellevue. A map of municipalities in Nebraska that have created an LB 840 program can be seen by clicking HERE
The second interim study, LR 155, marked the start of the Urban Affairs Committee’s comprehensive review of current and potential economic development tools available to Nebraska municipalities. In addition to LB 840 plans, LR 155 will examine tax-increment financing (TIF) and a variety of other programs in state law. The study will also review economic development tools currently available to municipalities in other states, and whether provisions in the Nebraska State Constitution prohibit similar programs from being created in Nebraska.
On Friday, October 23rd, the Urban Affairs Committee will hold interim hearings on issues related to neighborhood revitalization and energy codes. The first interim study, LR 278, will examine the existing resources and the need for additional tools for municipalities to encourage revitalization of older and historic neighborhoods. Issues covered under this interim study will include the need for financial incentives to encourage business investments in declining neighborhoods, methods of encouraging home ownership and rehabilitation of older buildings, and the role that current municipal tools play in neighborhood revitalization.
The second October hearing, LR 174, will examine issues surrounding Nebraska’s energy code statutes. Unlike building codes in Nebraska, which are largely enforced at the local level, the Nebraska Energy Code is enforced by the Nebraska Energy Office in cases where the relevant political subdivision does not enforce the Energy Code. The current Nebraska Energy Code is the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and LR 174 will consider whether the state should update its energy code to the 2012 or 2015 editions of the IECC. In addition, the study will examine the interaction between the energy code and the state building code and the role of both political subdivisions and the Nebraska Energy Office in enforcing the energy code statutes.
Stakeholder Meeting to Discuss Adult Basic Education Convened
Earlier this month, our office convened an initial stakeholder meeting regarding LR 223, an interim study resolution I introduced to examine adult basic education in Nebraska. It was an informative and collaborative discussion regarding current adult basic education programs and the challenges adult basic education (ABE) students face in completing ABE courses and continuing on to receive a postsecondary degree or credential. Identifying these challenges and developing strategies to move people from ABE to postsecondary education is important both for economic development in Nebraska as well as personal economic development for students. Nebraska, like many states, is facing a skills gap. Nationally, estimates show by 2020, 65% of jobs will require some postsecondary education while currently only 40% of working age adults (25-54) have an associate degree or higher.
I expect these conversations will continue this fall. If you work with adult basic education students or are an adult basic education graduate and would like to participate in future discussions, please email Kaitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office.
2 Carnevale, Anthony et al. Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements by 2020. Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Center for Education and the Workforce.
Friend and Advocate for Veterans Remembered
This month, our office was saddened to learn that a friend and ally on veteran issues, Bill Henry, passed away. Bill and Larry Schraber started the Nebraska chapter of Missing in America Project several years ago. Their mission, and the mission of the Missing in America Project, is to ensure no soldier is forgotten and every veteran receives the honorable burial he or she deserves. Together, Bill and Larry worked with funeral homes to identify and inter remains of military members who for one reason or another were unclaimed. They fundraised for their efforts–and sometimes reached into their own pockets–to keep the chapter going, ensuring if a family was identified, they never paid a dime.
Legislative staffer Kaitlin Reece and I present Bill Henry with an official Certificate of Admiralship, an honor given to those by the Governor for their contributions to Nebraska. The flag in the background was a gift from the Missing in America Project.
Last fall, Bill approached our office with a bill proposal to create a process for veteran organizations, like Missing in America Project, to work with funeral homes to identify unclaimed cremated remains of veterans. I was honored to sponsor LB 146 which provides important liability protections for funeral homes who work with veteran organizations and establishes a clear process for all players involved. LB 146 passed unanimously and became law last month. Just last month, I had the distinct privilege of accompanying Bill and many others to Maxwell, NE as we said goodbye to two soldiers whose remains were previously unclaimed: John Patrick Perez and Michael M. Pegram. The soldiers’ journey to Fort McPherson, their final resting place, began at Good Shepherd Funeral Home in South Omaha. We met the funeral procession at SAC Museum early in the morning and received a police escort throughout our four hour journey to the cemetery.
At the time, Bill was excited about a trip planned in a few weeks to Arlington, where he and other Missing in America members would lay to rest several more unclaimed soldiers, some from as far away as California. Sadly, Bill was in a very serious accident on the way to Arlington and after two weeks in intensive care and in the company of his wife, Patty, Bill passed away peacefully in a Virginia hospital. He will be greatly missed by those who knew him. Bill gave his life serving veterans, a beautiful and inspiring legacy. Rest in peace, my friend. I hope we, your friends, can continue the work you started.
In the Community
The Brain Injury Association of Nebraska, along with the Nebraska Veteran Brain Injury Task Force, is organizing a “Women of Warriors” weekend conference and retreat for women who support a servicemember or a veteran. This year the conference is October 16-18 in Aurora, NE.
As a member of the Nebraska Veteran Brain Injury Task Force, I encourage women of warriors to consider attending this year’s event. It is a way for female caregivers of servicemembers and veterans to connect with other women as well as receive some respite and support. f you know someone who would benefit from a retreat like this, please share this information with her. More information on registration, maps and schedule can be found HERE
All the best,
Committees recently began scheduling interim study hearings, most of which will occur after Labor Day. Due to the scope and depth of their work, some special investigative committees already held hearings or meetings, as is the case with the ACCESSNebraska and Department of Correctional Services investigative committees.
The first of our interim study hearings will be on Friday, September 25th. In the morning, I will present the preliminary results of our interim study on paid family leave in front of the Business and Labor Committee. I introduced LR 222 to examine options available to Nebraska related to paid family and medical leave. Research from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that only 13% of American workers have access to any form of paid family leave to care for themselves, a sick family member or a new child. What’s more, lower income and non-unionized workers are among the least likely to have access to this leave. Although time for a new family member is one important use of family leave, family leave matters for families in all stages of life. Leave can be critical when someone gets cancer or has an elderly parent in need of additional help to transition to a new living situation.
Congress recognized families’ need for time away from work to care for themselves or a family member due to the birth or adoption of a child or a serious illness without losing their paycheck, which is why the Family and Medical Leave Act passed with broad support in 1993. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees (generally, a full-time employee of a business with 50 or more employees who has worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 months) are eligible to receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves, a new family member or a close family member with a serious illness.
While the Family and Medical Leave Act has provided important workplace protections for America’s workers for the past 20 years, many families cannot afford to take the time off they need when they need it. For example, a study of 2,852 workers who used FMLA in 2012 found that nearly 1 in 4 women were back to work within two weeks after giving birth to a child. In the same report, 44% workers who were otherwise eligible for FMLA reported they did not take the leave because they could not afford to do so.
In the afternoon, the Urban Affairs Committee will hold two hearings on economic development-related interim studies. The first, LR 152, will examine the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as LB 840. Passed in 1991, LB 840 allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters. As of last year, 65 municipalities have voted to create an LB 840 program, including the City of Bellevue. A map of municipalities in Nebraska that have created an LB 840 program is shown below.
The second study, LR 155, will take a comprehensive look at current and potential economic development tools available to Nebraska municipalities. In addition to LB 840 plans, LR 155 will look at tax-increment financing (TIF) and a variety of other programs in state law. The study will also review economic development tools currently available to municipalities in other states, and whether provisions in the Nebraska State Constitution prohibit similar programs from being created in Nebraska.
A complete schedule of interim studies can be found by clicking HERE.
Please note that this schedule is updated frequently so check back often or contact the introducing senator’s office if you are interested in a particular interim study resolution.
Nebraska Data Users Conference
Last week, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist on a discussion about poverty in Nebraska and the use of data to measure and track poverty as part of UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research 26th Annual Nebraska Data Users Conference. Other panelists included Henry Cordes from the Omaha World-Herald, Willie Barney from the Empowerment Network, Randy Cantrell from the Sociology Department at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Martha Hakenkamp at Aging Partners in Lincoln.
This one-day conference brings together experts from the US Census Bureau, researchers, policy makers, non-profit leaders and others to learn about and discuss data. For example, data from the US Census Survey of Income and Program Participants (or SIPP) shows that chronic poverty is more rare than most people assume (3.5%). Families are much more likely (31%) to experience episodic poverty in which they fall below 100% of the federal poverty line ($15,930 for a family of two) for several months. This highlights the importance of temporary assistance programs like SNAP to help families when they experience a temporary setback such as a job loss or illness. It also demonstrates the need for timeliness in processing applications for such programs to help families deal with food insecurity or health needs during this brief period of crisis.
If you would like more information about the Center for Public Affairs Research or the data conference, please visit their website HERE or like them on Facebook. I highly recommend those interested in policy or statistics attend next year’s conference!
LB 740 Update
In 2014, I prioritized LB 740, which allows veterans who left the military in the past two years and their families to receive in-state tuition at our state colleges and universities if they locate in Nebraska. America’s military continues to reduce personnel. For example, the Army recently announced they plan to reduce their forces by 40,000 by 2017. Veterans are a highly skilled, disciplined, and experienced workforce. Nebraska’s colleges and universities are enriched by their contributions in the classroom and our state economy benefits with their participation in our workforce. Bills like LB 740 ensure we have policies in Nebraska that encourage veterans and their families to locate in Nebraska. Since the passage of LB 740 in 2014, Congress required states to offer in-state tuition to veterans who left the military within the past three years. This past session, I introduced LB 109 to bring LB 740 into compliance with new federal law.
As part of the bill’s passage, Governor Ricketts and I asked colleges and universities to share their utilization numbers with us, allowing us to track students who are taking advantage of this benefit. Metropolitan Community College, for example, reported 756 students in this past spring semester.
As a senator I am committed to ensuring our military and veterans families have the tools and resources they need to succeed, not only because of their service and sacrifices they’ve made to our country but because of the skills and talents they bring to our communities. If you have an idea for a bill to help support our veterans, please contact my legislative aide, Kaitlin Reece, at email@example.com or (402) 471-2615. We have already started planning our legislative agenda for next session so it is never too early to call!
Nebraska Boards and Commissions
The state of Nebraska relies heavily on a vast array of citizen commissions that advise and support important work across the state. Many of these positions require the confirmation of the legislature. As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee I have had the privilege to see a number of the citizens in the state who step up to these responsibilities. This past week the Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing for two outstanding nominees for the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Foster Care Review Board. These commissions and boards usually include a mix of professionals and lay citizen representatives. If you have any interest in serving the state in this way, I urge you to check out the latest list of Board and Commission openings and consider applying for a position by clicking HERE. It is critical that we get a strong and diverse mix of citizens serving on these boards and commissions. If you would like a letter of support from me, please contact my office.
Veterans Remains Honored through Missing in America Project
Last Friday I was privileged to help honor two veterans, John Patrick Perez and Michael M. Pegram, whose remains had gone unclaimed. Great work by the Missing in America Project, Good Shepherd Funeral Home, McPherson Cemetery, Patriot Guard Riders, Daughters of the American Revolution, and other veteran groups and supporters who make this possible. The passage of LB 146 this year makes it easier to find and inter other forgotten veterans.
Page Applications Now Being Accepted
Do you know anyone interested in serving as a page for the 2016 legislative session? Pages are college students who assist senators and the Clerk with various tasks, such as updating journals, distributing documents and answering phone calls in the legislative chamber during session.
The deadline for applications is Wednesday, September 30th. Those interested should contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office at(402) 471-2271 for an application.
All my best,
Hearing on ACCESSNebraska Held
On Friday July 17, the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee held its first hearing. I am one of seven members of this committee. The hearing two weeks ago provided an opportunity for Department of Health and Human Services CEO Courtney Phillips to lay out her plans to improve ACCESSNebraska as well as hear testimony about the program’s challenges from providers and advocates who work with clients served by ACCESSNebraska.
ACCESSNebraska is Nebraska’s public assistance benefits delivery system. Created in 2009, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services launched ACCESSNebraska in an attempt to modernize and streamline our public assistance application process. The system changed how the Department processes applications for programs including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and heating assistance for elderly. ACCESSNebraska replaced a face-to-face application process with a system based around phone and online applications.
Unfortunately, the system has not worked as intended. Long wait times, busy signals and lost documentation continue to plague the new system. Critical help for elderly and vulnerable individuals gets denied and delayed when this assistance is most needed. However, there have been efforts to improve the transparency, effectiveness and responsiveness of the program since the beginning of Ms. Phillips’ tenure as CEO of the Department earlier this year. For example, citizens can now view monthly dashboards for both Medicaid and Economic Assistance programs (the Department split ACCESSNebraska into two programs in 2013) with key measures such as call wait times and timeliness in processing applications. To view this month’s dashboard, click here.
This session, the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee is one of two created during the past session. The other committee is the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee, created by LR 34. This committee is charged with examining availability and adequacy of programming and mental health treatment of inmates, the use of solitary confinement and administration of good time laws, among other topics.
Special investigative committees are one tool the Legislature uses to conduct legislative oversight over critical issues facing the state. These committees are created through legislation passed during the session, and unlike many other committees or working groups formed through legislation, are solely comprised of senators who are selected by the Executive Board of the Legislature. In general, these special investigative committees exist for a short period of time, usually between sessions.
Opportunities for Working Families Forum
This summer I had the privilege of attending a forum on opportunities for working families in tight budget times, sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Each participating state brings a team to work on an action plan for the state.
Other members of the Nebraska team were Sen. John McCollister, Sen. John Stinner, Liz Hruska from the fiscal office and Joselyn Luedke, legal counsel for the Health and Human Services Committee. Priority issues of our Nebraska team included workforce development, healthcare, and performance metrics. We have a follow up meeting planned in August to begin work on our action plan.
One of the financial literacy programs highlighted at the forum was the Nebraska Save to Win program. Save to Win, passed in 2011, resulted from the work of a Nebraska team who attended an earlier Working Families Forum. As of July 2014, nearly 1,500 people collectively saved over $2 million through Save to Win programs in 11 credit unions. This year we passed a bill to extend the program to banks as well. You can learn more about Nebraska’s involvement in the Working Families Forum and the Save to Win program here.
Interim Study Hearings Scheduled
There were 129 interim study resolutions introduced during the First Session of the 104th Legislature, of which nine were referred to the Urban Affairs Committee. Over the past decade, the previous record for interim studies referred to the committee was eight, so it’s going to be a busy interim in Urban Affairs this year!
As Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee, part of my duties are to prioritize interim studies that are referred to the committee and schedule interim hearings. A full listing of the interim studies referred to the Urban Affairs Committee, listed in order of committee priority, is below:
LR 155 (Urban Affairs Committee)
Interim study to examine current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska
LR 174 (Crawford)
Interim study to examine issues surrounding the Nebraska Energy Code
LR 152 (Crawford)
Interim study to examine the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act
LR 278 (Pansing-Brooks)
Interim study to examine existing resources and the need for additional tools for municipalities to further encourage revitalization of neighborhoods
LR 273 (Davis)
Interim study to examine the current practices of municipalities using tax-increment financing under the Community Development Law
LR 159 (Crawford)
Interim study to examine issues surrounding handicapped parking
LR 280 (Crawford)
Interim study to examine municipal bankruptcy
LR 240 (Urban Affairs Committee)
Interim study to examine state law governing cities of the first class in Chapter 16 of the Nebraska statutes
LR 156 (Urban Affairs Committee)
Interim study to examine issues under the jurisdiction of the Urban Affairs Committee
Unlike bills heard during session, not all interim study resolutions will have a public hearing. Often the “heavy lifting” of interim studies is done by committee staff during the summer months, and committee legal counsel Trevor Fitzgerald is already hard at work researching a variety of topics, including handicapped parking statutes, energy codes, and the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (commonly referred to as LB 840).
Earlier this month, the Urban Affairs Committee officially scheduled its initial interim study hearings to be held this fall. On September 25th, the committee will hold a hearing on two economic development-related interim studies – LR 155 & LR 152. On October 23rd, the committee will hold hearings on LR 278, dealing with neighborhood revitalization, and LR 174, which examines the Nebraska Energy Code. Both sets of Friday hearings will be held in the State Capitol in Room 1510, and will begin at 1:30 p.m.
In June and July, I was able to meet with constituents one Saturday a month at the Bellevue Farmers’ Market. Thank you to all who were able to make it out to chat with me. I will have a table in the park after the Arrows to Aerospace parade onAugust 15th. Hope to see you there!
All my best,
Click the link below to read my full report of the 2015 Legislative Session, which reviews major accomplishments of the first session of the 104th Legislature.
With the session a few weeks behind us, I thought I would share an overview of our work this session–both what we accomplished and what we will continue to work on next session. Our office had a very productive session; I led 14 bills to passage. 10 of these bills were ones I introduced and 4 were Urban Affairs bills that I led as chair of that committee. These bills reduce unnecessary regulations, increase transparency, support and honor veterans, protect public safety, improve government effectiveness, and enhance economic development for municipalities. While these 14 bills make important improvements in the state, none of them required state budget spending. These bills are:
Another one of my bills, LB 459, currently sits on General File and will carry over into next session. This bill provides protections for child victims and witnesses in criminal cases who have been interviewed on tape by child advocate experts. The bill requires a higher standard for allowing pre-trial investigatory depositions and establishes a framework for protective measures for the children when such a deposition is necessary. Part of our work this summer will be visiting with senators to continue to build support and garner support for the bill.
Several more of the bills I introduced are still in their respective committees, including LB 166. LB 166 brings additional transparency and accountability to campaign funds in Nebraska. Current law does not provide a second check against fraud using campaign funds. There have been several high profile cases over the past decade in which campaign funds were misused for gambling, tattoos and dating services which were only discovered through other investigations. Nebraska’s Accountability and Disclosure Commission serves as Nebraska’s election and campaign watchdog. However, they lack the tools to protect donors from potential abuse of campaign funds. LB 166 provides an important tool to ensure campaign funds are represented truthfully and used as reported by candidates. I will continue to push for campaign finance reform next year either through LB 166 or a new bill.
This Week in the Interim: A New Feature
This month I launched a new feature on social media: This Week in the Interim. These once a week posts, typically shared on Fridays, highlight some of the meetings and activities in our office from the previous week and offer a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on when the Legislature is not in session.
Already I’ve attended the Midwest Higher Education Commission Annual Executive Committee meeting as one of the two Nebraska delegates, learned more about issues in telehealth at a National Conference of State Legislatures workshop, participated in a patient-centered medical home discussion with key policy makers, physicians and insurance providers, and held an end of session workshop with my staff to review this past session and plan for the next year. To see these weekly posts, be sure to like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (@SenCrawford).
Platte Chat: Burdensome Regulations
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to write this week’s Platte Chat, a weekly column published by the Platte Institute for Economic Research. My piece highlights several levers available to citizens to challenge burdensome regulations, including a citizen review process for regulations. This citizen-driven review is the result of LB 719, a bill I introduced and the Legislature passed in the 2014 session. LB 719 provides a mechanism to push for reconsideration and revision of regulations that have become out of date, redundant, or more costly than expected. To read more about the 719 process and other ways citizens can combat burdensome regulations, visit HERE.
Join me at the Bellevue Farmer’s Market This Summer!
Each Saturday morning from now until October 3rd, vendors will set up in Washington Park for the Bellevue Farmer’s Market. This offers a great chance to purchase fresh produce, baked goods and crafts from local artisans. I will set up a table at the Farmer’s Market once a month over the summer. I will be there on the fourthSaturday of June (6/27) and July (7/25) and after the Arrows to Aerospace parade (8/15) to answer questions about last session and to take suggestions about future legislation. I hope to see many of you this summer at one of these three events!
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