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On Monday I testified before the Appropriations Committee in favor of AM 2236, Senator Heath Mello’s amendment to ensure critical levee funding. Offutt sits in district 45 and much of the district falls within the flood plain protected by the Missouri River levees. As such, I have been involved in discussions of the role of the State of Nebraska in upgrading these critical levees since the concerns about recertification were brought to my attention almost three years ago. Papio NRD, the cities of Bellevue and Omaha, and Sarpy County have stepped up to cover a share of the costs of fixing the levees. I would like to acknowledge the hard work of many, including John Winkler of Papio-Missouri NRD, Mayor Rita Sanders of Bellevue, Mayor Stothert of Omaha and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce that ensured this essential financial support from these various political entities. AM 2236 ensure that there will be sufficient funding to move forward with the State of Nebraska paying a share of the project. Funding this project and completing the levee recertification is critical to the economic vitality of not just Bellevue and Omaha, but the entire state.
KETV 7 had a great story this week covering that hearing.
Protections for Guard Members Advances to Governor’s Desk
We received great news this week on LB 753, my bill to amend Nebraska’s adoption of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act of 1994 to extend protections to persons who work in Nebraska but are called into National Guard Service by another state. This bill moved forward this week on both Select File and Final Reading and has now made it to the Governor’s desk. This bill is important because current state law does not provide protections for National Guard Members employed in Nebraska if they are deployed by another state. I don’t believe it should matter whether you work in the same state in which you mobilize. We owe these employment protections to all our National Guard members. It is my hope that the Governor signs this legislation into law.
Bellevue Chamber Cupcake Day
This week we welcomed members of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce for the annual Bellevue Cupcake Day in the Legislature. Every legislative office received a box of cupcakes this week with a special invitation to attend next Tuesday’s annual Bellevue Chamber Leadership reception at the Governor’s Residence. Bellevue Cupcake day is a very popular event in the Legislature. I want to thank the members of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce for visiting the Capitol, indulging everyone with cupcakes and showing off our Bellevue pride. I look forward to Bellevue Chamber Leadership Day next Tuesday.
This Week in Urban Affairs
Five bills that were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee were passed on Final Reading this week, including bills on zoning, nuisances, and extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction (ETJ):
LB 295: Require notice and a comment period regarding zoning ordinances affecting certain extraterritorial zoning jurisdictions
LB 378: Change requirements for voter approval of borrowing money for public improvements by a first-class city
LB 700: Require notice to neighborhood associations for changes to business improvement districts and zoning ordinances
LB 703: Change provisions relating to nuisances in cities and villages
LB 864: Change provisions relating to a municipality requesting additional extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction
One of these recently-passed bills, LB 864, is an example of a bill that doesn’t make the news, but makes important changes to the law. In 2002, the Legislature created a process by which cities of the first class, cities of the second class, and villages could request additional ETJ authority from the county. Under current law, counties are prohibited from ceding ETJ authority to a city or village if the territory requested by the city or village is within one-half mile of another city or village’s ETJ. In Sarpy County, there are currently more than 40 parcels that are split between Sarpy County’s zoning jurisdiction and the City of Papillion’s zoning jurisdiction. From an economic development perspective, if you are a developer who owns one of these properties, dealing with two different sets of zoning regulations creates a disincentive to develop the property.
Under LB 864, rather than outright prohibiting the county from ceding ETJ authority over the this territory, the county would be allowed to cede ETJ authority over the territory, but only with the approval of the other city or village. While Sarpy County is the primary area in the state where LB 864 might potentially come into play, there are several areas in the state where multiple municipalities are in close proximity to each other.
Special Message on LB 643
One of the issues before the Legislature this session is LB 643, which creates a medical marijuana program in the state of Nebraska. Some have suggested that my lack of support for LB 643 demonstrates a lack of compassion for children with epilepsy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I care deeply for children and families who are suffering in this desperate situation, which is why I spent over two years to create an opportunity for these children and families to have access to non-psychoactive cannabis (CBD) in the state of Nebraska. Families soon will be able to enroll in a study through UNMC to have access to CBD, the cannabis product that has given hope to many families.
My staff and I have spent countless hours in research and negotiation over the past two years to ensure that children have access to some form of CBD in the state. I met regularly with parents, UNMC researchers, law enforcement and many others for two years to craft a solution that would allow access to CBD in Nebraska as quickly as possible and in a manner that was safe and compliant as possible. Those discussions were a reason that UNMC was selected as one of the few sites to have access for a trial of Epidiolex, a cannabis extract that has gone through the first round of FDA trials with positive results. The bill that I sponsored and prioritized to authorize this study was carefully crafted with input from parents to create a study that would do our best to help as many of these suffering families as possible.
I have several concerns about LB 643 that prevent me from supporting the bill. LB 643 would direct the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been one of our state’s most troubled agencies, to create a marijuana industry in Nebraska. In so doing, it directs a state agency to explicitly violate federal law, which is unconstitutional. Further, the bill I sponsored and prioritized was for non-psychoactive cannabis, which poses no threat for criminal or recreational diversion. LB 643 directs the state to produce cannabis products, including psychoactive cannabis.
I understand that these families want to end the suffering of their children. I want that for them too. If a vote on LB 643 was just a vote about ending suffering, then it would be an easy vote. Unfortunately, that is not the case. If LB 643 passes and garners enough votes to override a certain veto from Governor Ricketts, it will be at least a year before any product is available to the families. This product will not be compliant with federal law, which will put up obstacles for these families in working with their health providers and health institutions who must follow federal law.
Finally, I am just one of 49 senators who will make a choice on this bill. It is simply not the case that my vote is what is stopping this bill from passage. Even though I cannot support LB 643, I will not stand in the way of an up or down vote on the bill.
I have spent over two years working to ensure access to Nebraska families to CBD in a safe and constitutional manner that allows their doctors and other health providers to be full partners in the childrens’ care. It is my hope that the UNMC study, which was authorized by LB 390, will bring hope and healing to many of these children soon.
All my best,