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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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,