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On Wednesday night, Governor Ricketts issued his second veto and his first substantive veto of the session when he vetoed LB 89. Earlier this session, Governor Ricketts vetoed a bill at the request of Speaker Hadley, the bill’s introducer because of a mistake in the bill. LB 89 increases ADC payments for the first time in nearly 30 years, helping families meet the basic needs of their families and reducing the risk of involvement in the child welfare system. According to the Voices for Children’s Kids Count report, physical neglect made up 83% of all substantiated maltreatment cases in 2013–a percentage that is higher than the national average and greater than all other types of maltreatment combined. There was no opposition at the hearing, not even from the Ricketts administration. There were nine proponents, including the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference only takes positions on bills when all 3 bishops in Nebraska agree. This year the Nebraska Catholic Conference testified in support of 8 pieces of legislation. Of these bills, three advanced to the floor for debate: LB 89, LB 268, and LB 623. LB 268 repeals the death penalty and replaces the death penalty as a sentence with life without possibility of parole. LB 623 grants driver licenses and state ID cards for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) youth, otherwise known as DREAMers. To view the Catholic Conference’s position on LB 89 or any of these other bills, please visit their website [Click HERE].
On Tuesday, Pastor Char Cobbs of New Beginnings Worship Center in Bellevue gave the opening prayer which included a moment of silence for workers killed or injured on the job and their families.
The Legislature Advances Biennial Budget Bills to Second Round Debate
This week, the Legislature began debate on the biennial budget bills. The budget growth in the Appropriations Committee’s proposal is 3.1% over the next biennium, which is the third lowest in the last 15 biennial budgets. There are many components to these budget bills; however, some of the programs of interest include fully funding the school funding formula, known as TEEOSA; increased funding for ACE scholarships; and funding for early childhood and high ability learners programs. It also appropriates funding for additional behavioral health providers and programming within the Department of Correctional Services. I hope this budget represents the beginning of substantial improvements in mental health treatment and programming in our state prisons.
Consent Calendar Bills Considered
On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced bills placed on the consent calendar. As I have mentioned in previous updates, consent calendar is a process to consider technical or simple, non-controversial bills. The Speaker selected 36 bills for consent calendar this year, including one of my bills, LB 541. LB 541 brings the retention of expired state contracts posted on the state contract website created by the Taxpayer Transparency Act in line with the state agency retention schedule of 5 years post-expiration. In 2013, I introduced and prioritized LB 429 to create the state contract website (Click HERE to view) to bring additional transparency to the state contract process. Since its launch this past July, over 2,000 users have visited the website, viewing over 55,000 pages of contracts.
LB 479, LB 296 and LB 511 were also included in the 36 consent calendar bills. LB 479 is an example of a technical change-type of consent calendar material. LB 479, introduced by Senator Bloomfield, strikes language limiting the creation of memorials, statues or monuments commemorating the service of our country’s armed forces to certain named conflicts. LB 296, introduced by Senator Kolterman at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, brings Nebraska into compliance with new federal law by ensuring that when a child is removed from their home by child protective services, the parents of any siblings are notified by the Department. LB 511, introduced by Senator Tanya Cook, provides that our Nebraska schools establish a return to learn protocol for students returning to school after being treated for pediatric cancer. This return to learn protocol may recognize that informal or formal accommodations or modifications may be needed upon the student’s return.
LB 599 Survives Filibuster, Advances to Third and Final Round of Consideration
Late Wednesday night, LB 599 survived a filibuster on a 33-14 vote and advanced to Final Reading. Because the bill amends a ballot initiative passed by the people of Nebraska, LB 599 will require 33 votes for passage on Final Reading.
A series of amendments were offered by both proponents and opponents of the bill during debate, several of which were adopted. In its current form, LB 599 exempts young adults under the age of 18 who are not high school graduates and do not have dependent children from the new minimum wage law that received support from almost 60% of Nebraskans last November. I continue to oppose LB 599 because the voters overwhelmingly supported increasing the minimum wage for all Nebraskans just months ago. I also oppose LB 599 because it hurts working families who rely on their student’s income to make ends meet or to save for the rising costs of college. I know that families in our district face these challenges. I will continue to fight for these working families.
Confirmation Hearings for DHHS CEO and Medicaid Director Held
Over the lunch hour on Thursday, the Health and Human Services Committee held confirmation hearings for the newly appointed CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, Courtney Phillips, and the new Director of the Division of Medicaid and Long Term Care, Calder Lynch. Confirmation hearings are often a chance for the committee and agency leadership to discuss major issues and offer an opportunity for appointees to share their vision and goals for the agency.
I was very pleased with the discussions we had with both Ms. Phillips and Mr. Lynch and am hopeful that both will be instrumental in changing and improving the culture and the functions at the Department of Health and Human Services. I was especially encouraged with the commitment Courtney Phillips made to develop strategies to recruit and retain quality workforce within the Department, including looking into the overtime issue in our state facilities, including several veterans homes.
Ms. Phillips was heavily involved in behavioral health policy in Louisiana. I am looking forward to having her on board as Nebraska works toward integrating behavioral health. Calder Lynch also emphasized a priority of integrating behavioral health and physical health services as well as working collaboratively with our health care providers.
I was happy to be a part of Green Bellevue’s Earth Day Celebration last Sunday.
Thank you to Betz Elementary 4th graders for making the trip to the Capitol this week!