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On Wednesday afternoon, the Legislature voted 28-16 to bracket LB 472 until June 5, 2015, effectively killing the bill for this year. LB 472, or the Medicaid Redesign Act, would have allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to work with the federal government to leverage existing tax dollars to create a Nebraska-specific plan for better, cost-effective care while closing the coverage gap, providing health insurance for thousands of working Nebraskans who are currently without health insurance. According to a recent University of Nebraska-Kearney study, between now and 2020, LB 472 would generate almost $175 million in revenue for the state of Nebraska, which pays for the share of the state’s investment three times over. New Jersey and Kentucky, two states that have leveraged these federal dollars, have seen dramatic decreases in uncompensated care costs. During a recent town hall event, Governor Chris Christie shared “Expanding Medicaid was the right decision for New Jersey. It’s helping to save us money. Our state taxpayers are seeing more federal dollars and we’ve also added more people covered so they don’t go for their primary care in a hospital emergency room.”
Ultimately, the failure of LB 472 is most tragic for the 50,000 to 70,000 Nebraskans, including many small business owners, self-employed people and young entrepreneurs who continue to face the threat of a health condition or accident with no health insurance.
Speaking with Sen. Smith of Papillion on the floor
Education Innovation Grants Debated
One of the issues discussed this week was the state allocations of lottery education funding. The general principle Nebraska has followed in recent years focuses Nebraska lottery funds on promising education innovations. This allows us to invest in these innovations with a General Fund budget impact. Some of the innovations that prove themselves then end up becoming core educational investments in the budget.
One example of a cost that previously was covered by lottery funds and has now moved to the General Fund education budget is the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. All 50 states currently belong to the compact; membership ensures children of military families do not face overly burdensome requirements for enrollment or placement when they transfer to a new school. For example, the compact works to eliminate barriers to athletic participation or graduation from differences in state requirements or wait times. Bellevue Public Schools were leaders in the effort to get this compact up and running in Nebraska and other states.
In addition to innovation dollars, LB 519 directs a substantial portion of the lottery funds to the Nebraska Opportunity grant, which supports college completion for low-income students in Nebraska. Under the Access College Early (ACE) scholarship program, low-income high school students are able to take college courses while they are still in high school. College continuation rates of ACE scholarship recipients are significantly higher than the college-going rate of other low-income public high school graduates, as you can see from the results provided by the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education.
College completion remains a stubborn challenge for all states, including Nebraska. The Nebraska Opportunity grant has proven successful in helping low-income students get across the finish line. A key grant that paid for this program in Nebraska has just ended. The lottery allocation allows Nebraska to continue to support our bright and hard-working low-income students and strengthen our workforce.
Late Nights Schedule Announced
On Wednesday, the Speaker released the schedule for our upcoming late night sessions. Beginning on Tuesday, April 28, the Legislature will work until at least 8:30 PM or later, potentially as late as 11:59 PM, on designated “late nights.” The following dates are reserved as late nights: April 28-30, May 4-6, May 12-14, May 18-20, and May 26-28. On other nights or nights when a “late night” is cancelled, the Legislature may adjourn as late as 7:00 PM.
As college students begin to register for their fall courses and make their plans for the summer, I encourage students to consider applying for an internship with my office. Last summer, we hired two interns to help with research projects on topics as varied as health policy, natural resources, and veterans issues. The interim provides an opportunity for interns to work closely with staff as we work on interim studies and prepare legislation for next session.
If you or someone you know is interested in applying for an internship for this summer or fall, please send a cover letter, resume and two references to my administrative aide, Courtney Breitkreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org.