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Public Hearing for the Task Force on Behavioral and Mental Health
I was selected by my peers to serve as one of seven members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Task Force on Behavioral and Mental Health. The Taskforce meets during the interim to develop ideas for bills to improve our system that we can begin to push through next year. The committee brings together Senators who serve on various committees who see the problems from different perspectives. Throughout the summer and fall, the committee has heard from a wide variety of stakeholders and experts to learn more about the problems in our mental and behavioral health systems and to discuss potential solutions. On September 28th, we heard initial results from the Department of Health and Human Services’ comprehensive needs assessment. Other testifiers included a county attorney who discussed the critical problems created by weaknesses in our intermediate and emergency mental health care capacity; testifiers who spoke about the value of peer counseling; and a testifier who offered a couple of proposals to increase our mental health workforce capacity using many of the resources and people we already have available in the state. The assessment evaluated the mental health system in a variety of areas, including workforce, capacity, and treatment options. I will be working with my staff to dig into the full 300 page report to see what findings are most helpful as we push to improve the system. The committee will meet several more times before releasing a final report with its recommendations at the beginning of December.
Medicare Presentation at Heritage Ridge
The Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), Heritage Ridge and I teamed up to share an educational presentation on Medicare Part D plan options with Bellevue-area residents on September 20th. Approximately 50 people joined us to discover ways to save money by selecting the right Part D plan each year, and why simply rolling their plan over from one year to the next may be costing them more. I am grateful to Bobbie Kierstead from SHIIP for her wonderfully informative presentation, and to Heritage Ridge for their hospitality. If you were unable to attend the presentation but would like to learn more about SHIIP and its programs, you can visit http://www.doi.nebraska.gov/shiip or call 1-800-234-7119.
Updates on Bill Implementation and Progress
This month, I met with several agency directors to discuss workforce and education policy. I met with Courtney Phillips, CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, to discuss the implementation of LB 107, a bill I successfully introduced in 2015 to reduce unnecessary governmental regulation and increase workforce participation by Nebraska’s nurse practitioners. I was happy to hear that the process of implementation is going well.
I also met with Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt to discuss our state education data collection policies. One concern is how to reduce the number of students who end up in remedial courses in college, because studies demonstrate that students who enroll in a remedial course are less likely to complete the course and less likely to persist and graduate from college. We discussed existing data on that issue and how changes to Nebraska’s school testing laws, particularly the new requirement for high school students to complete the ACT in 11th grade in lieu of the current standardized test (this year’s LB 930), could be used to help parents, students, schools, and colleges work together to to ensure that more of our students are able to enroll in credit-bearing courses and complete college on time.
MIA/POW Remembrance Luncheon at Offutt
On September 16th I attend a luncheon at Offutt AFB in remembrance of all those servicemen and women who have been held prisoners of war or declared missing in action. The ceremonies are also an opportunity to recognize and honor the families of those soldiers. POW/MIA remembrance day is held on the third Friday in September each year, and was authorized by Congress in 1971. It was an honor to participate in this year’s ceremonies, so that we can ensure the sacrifices of our nation’s POW/MIAs and their loved ones are never forgotten.
Urban Affairs Staff Presents at League of Municipalities Annual Conference
The lawmaking process often does not end when a bill passes through the Legislature. In the case of laws that come out of the Urban Affairs Committee, statutory changes sometimes must be implemented at the local level before the new policy can go into effect. A prime example of this is a bill heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, LB 1012, which adopted the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Act.
On September 22nd, Urban Affairs Committee Legal Counsel Trevor Fitzgerald gave a presentation on PACE at the League of Municipalities Annual Conference in Kearney. PACE is a financing mechanism that allows local governments to help finance the upfront costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on commercial, industrial, and residential properties. Examples of improvements that could be eligible for PACE financing include energy efficient windows and doors, upgraded HVAC systems, weather stripping, and energy efficient light fixtures.
Under LB 1012, municipalities are authorized to create clean energy assessment districts, which are similar in nature to assessment districts for streets, sewers, and other forms of municipal infrastructure. Property owners could opt in to participate in the PACE program, and the loan, including interest and administrative fees, would be repaid through a special assessment on the property owner’s property tax bill over a set period of time. Because the PACE assessment transfers with the property when it is sold, the costs associated with the energy efficiency improvement will be repaid over time by the person benefiting from the improvement.
While the PACE statutes did not go into effect until July, a number of municipalities throughout the state have already begun the process of studying successful PACE programs in other states and drafting local ordinances to create the first PACE programs in Nebraska. I believe that once implemented in our communities, PACE will be a valuable environmental and economic development tool that will help property owners save energy and money on their utility bills and create good-paying jobs in the construction industry.
Meeting of the Military Technical Assistance Group (MilTAG)
Once a month leaders from our business, government, and military communities meet at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to discuss how we can work together to ensure that we are doing all that we can to protect and expand our military investments in the state and to leverage opportunities for our state tied to those missions. This month we met on September 13th. Jeff Mikesell provides staff leadership for the group and has done an excellent job leading us through recent discussions of the Offutt Runway and levee projects and ongoing discussions about recruiting other missions to our state. One example of how the work of this group extends beyond the military is the working group on strengthening STEM education in the state. Increasing STEM education matters, not only for recruiting missions to the state, but for the broader growth and development of the state across the board.
Open Sky Policy Symposium
The 2016 Open Sky Policy Symposium took place September 1st in Lincoln. During the symposium, we discussed Nebraska’s economic development climate and suggested ways to improve the state’s economic growth. Presenters stressed the need to focus on high-wage, high-skill jobs when considering economic development proposals, and the benefits of helping companies recruit workers from within their local communities. Attendees also heard about issues such as the importance of early childhood education to the state’s future economic health; the importance of utilizing good data and evidence-based assessments in the policymaking process; and possibilities for future tax reforms. I look forward to discussing these ideas with my colleagues in the upcoming legislative session, so that we can identify responsible ways to grow the state and invest in the future of all Nebraskans.
Voter Registration Deadline
If you are not registered to vote in the November 8th general election, the deadline to do so online or via mail is October 21st at 5:00 pm. The online voter registration form can be accessed here, where you will also find a frequently asked questions page and other helpful information. You may also register in person at your county Election Commission office by October 28th. For Sarpy County residents, the Election Commission is located at 501 Olson Drive in Papillion. Remember: if you were registered previously and have since moved or changed your name, you will need to re-register if you wish to vote in this year’s general election.
The Offutt Advisory Council will be hosting the annual Harvest Ball on October 7th at the Platteview Country club. The event is organized each year to help provide financial assistance to support of our men, women, and families stationed at Offutt AFB. This year’s theme is “Knickers & Pearls”. For more information or to RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Remembering Our Fallen project is hosting a fundraiser in Omaha on October 23rd at the La Vista Embassy Suites. The project honors fallen warriors who called Nebraska home, and travels to display their pictures and stories in communities around the state. In conjunction with Nebraska Veteran Honor Flights, Remembering Our Fallen will visit Omaha to bring the community together to remember these brave men and women. For full event details, and to see other communities the project plans to visit, visit their website here.
All the best,