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On Tuesday, our office hosted the Bellevue Chamber’s Bellevue Leadership candidates in the Capitol. These twelve candidates spent the day in Lincoln learning more about the legislative process and meeting with key leaders including Governor Ricketts, Secretary of State John Gale, Chief Justice Michael Heavican, and Senator Garrett, Senator Mello, and Senator Campbell.
Explaining the hearing process to the Leadership Class
With Governor Ricketts
Great turnout for the reception at the Governor’s Residence
Bellevue Leadership is a year-long program available to local business and civic leaders operated through the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. Each year, we are happy to welcome these candidates to the Capitol. The program lasts from 9:30 to 4:30 PM followed by a reception in the Governor’s Mansion. This evening reception is a fun annual event attended by Bellevue city officials and other Chamber members. Thanks to Mayor Rita Sanders, County Commissioner Tom Richards, city and county staff and Bellevue business and community leaders for coming! A lot of work goes into planning and organizing Bellevue Leadership Day. Special thanks to Doris Urwin of the Bellevue Chamber and my administrative assistant Courtney Breitkreutz for their hard work in making the day possible. If you are interested in being a part of next year’s Leadership Class, contact Doris at (402)898-3000.
Health and Human Services Committee Bills Advance
On Monday, the Legislature granted first round approval for two bills we heard in the Health and Human Services Committee this session. LB 81, introduced and prioritized by Senator Tanya Cook, addresses the cliff effect in Nebraska’s child care assistance program. The term cliff effect refers to a situation where a family loses all public benefits such as child care assistance due to a raise, promotion or extra hours at work. While this increase in income is enough to disqualify the family from assistance, it is often not enough for the family to afford child care without some assistance. LB 81 allows the parent to pay more of the childcare on a sliding scale as their pay increases (up to a point when they no longer qualify) rather than dropping off suddenly.
Also on Monday, the Legislature advanced LB 199, a bill introduced by Senator Sara Howard. LB 199 provides stipends for graduate and undergraduate level social work students who commit to working in the field of child welfare. The committee amendment, which I supported, clarifies that social work students enrolled in any college or university with a social work program could be eligible if they meet the other criteria. This bill is a common-sense solution to address a key workforce shortage in our state and to help us improve the quality of child protective services.
Select File Action
The second round of debate and vote on a bill is called “Select File.” If there are no changes to the bill and no remaining issues to debate, then the Select File vote is simply a voice vote. However, Select File provides an opportunity for another round of debate and changes to a bill. The two most common types of amendments are changes to address an issue raised in the first round of debate or amendments to add an additional provision from another bill that was advanced out of committee onto the underlying bill. LB 627, introduced by Senator Mello to establish and clarify reasonable accommodation protections for women in the workforce, passed Select File this week. I spoke in support of LB 627 during the first round of debate on that bill as one of the very few members of the Legislature that had experience working while pregnant and while breast-feeding. During Select File we amended LB 627 with some clarifications requested by businesses.
LB 324, which we discussed in an earlier update, is a package of bills from the Urban Affairs Committee dealing with sanitary and improvement districts, or SIDs. On Select File this week, LB 324 was amended to add the provisions of LB 131, another SID bill that had been advanced by the Urban Affairs Committee earlier this session. LB 131 deals with issues that come up when a municipality attempts to annex an SID, and as amended into LB 324 would place reasonable restrictions on an SID’s ability to spend assets during a 90-day window following receipt of a notice of potential annexation from a municipality.
General File Action
Most of our time on General File this week was spent on two bills, LB 106 and LB 610. LB 106, the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act, as introduced by Senator Dan Watermeier, was a bill that required counties to use a state designed evaluation system when evaluating whether to provide permits for livestock operations seeking to come to their county. I spoke adamantly against the ways in which the original bill and early amendments to the bill circumvented local control at the apparent request of a particular industry. After two days of debate and intense off the floor negotiations, the bill eventually turned into a bill that now only directs the Department of Agriculture to create a committee of experts and county representatives to come up with a model evaluation rubric that counties can choose to use as a guide as they decide what processes they wish to use to evaluate livestock siting requests. After getting a commitment from the chair of the Agricultural Committee that he would be vigilant in making sure that the committee represented a broad set of interests, and confirming that a key group representing smaller farmers was committed to being engaged in the process, I voted for the amended version of LB 106.
LB 610, introduced by Senator Jim Smith, provides for a gradual increase in the gas tax and directs those funds to the state, counties, and municipalities for roads and bridges. This change is supported by several organizations, including the Nebraska Trucking Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau, and even the conservative Platte Institute. As fuel economy has increased, several states have found that they need to increase their tax per gallon to sustain investments in this vital infrastructure. The two day debate over LB 610 stressed the importance of making this change as part of a larger rebalancing of the Nebraska tax system. Nebraska provides less state assistance to counties and cities and less state funding for local schools, which puts more pressure on property taxes and leaves some needs, such as local infrastructure, on the waiting list. During the debate, Speaker Galen Hadley, who previously chaired the Revenue Committee, listed all of the recent income tax cuts that the Legislature had made in the past few years. Open Sky reports over $500,000,000 in savings to tax payers from these recent income tax cuts in 2015 alone (ADD LINK to “Open Sky” wording in previous sentence) http://www.openskypolicy.org/policy-brief-legislature-has-reduced-taxes-significantly-in-past-decade
At the end of the lengthy debate and concessions that it was a hard vote to take, only 10 Senators voted against the gas tax increase.
The Legislature adjourned on Thursday afternoon and will return Tuesday morning, which allows senators to travel home and spend Easter weekend with their families. Legislative staff have also been granted administrative leave on Friday and Monday by the Executive Board of the Legislature. If you need assistance during this time, please call our office and leave a message. My staff will return your call upon their return on Tuesday morning. I wish you all a joyous Easter!