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When I went door to door as a candidate in 2012, one of the top concerns that voters raised was the need to fix or end the Learning Community. As I learned more about the issue it became clear to me that the top priorities were needed to end the common levy to target funding to children in poverty schools, and to reduce transportation costs. We started the reduction of transportation costs last year with a bill brought by Senator Smith. This year, after four years of work with fellow senators and school districts, we passed a bill to end the common levy, to direct funding to improved achievement for students, and to phase out the costly open-enrollment transportation policy. LB 1067 was an important bipartisan effort. My roles were working closely with the chair of the Education Committee, Sen. Sullivan and coordinating the counting of votes for the bill’s passage. The bill now sits on the Governor’s desk. Hopefully we will be able to report that it is signed into law in our next Update. Click here to read the Omaha World Herald’s coverage.
Military Commission Passes Final Read, Awaiting Governor’s Signature
The Legislature passed LB 754 on Final Reading this week. LB 754 was my personal priority bill this session. It establishes the Commission on Military and Veteran Affairs and creates a point person to work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations and to help leverage economic development in our communities tied to these installations. The commission and the military liaison created by LB 754 ensures Nebraska is in the best position to protect our military installations and bring in new missions that will benefit our entire state. I am please that my colleagues joined me in supporting this legislation and I look forward to this bill becoming law.
Recap of 2015-16 Biennium in Urban Affairs
With the Governor signing LB 1012 into law this week, seventeen bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee have been enacted during the 2016 legislative session. Combined with the thirteen Urban Affairs bills that passed last session, it’s been a productive biennium for the committee!
Committee Chairs play a key role in the legislative process, working with senators to ensure that bills advanced by the committee move forward during floor debate. As Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee for the last two years, I am pleased with the success that the committee has had this biennium. The committee advanced 31 of 39 bills that were heard by it during the two-year cycle, and of those bills that were advanced, just one failed to become law – a more than 96% success rate.
Major Urban Affairs legislation that has been enacted over the past two years includes bills to update the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (LB 1059), authorize the expansion of existing business improvement districts (LB 168), update the state building code (LB 540) and local building code adoption process (LB 704), and reform the process by which a sanitary and improvement district (SID) is annexed by a municipality (LB 131).
In addition, the committee has begun the process of updating and modernizing statutes governing municipalities. Much of the current language in the municipal statutes have not been amended since Nebraska statutes were recodified in 1943, and some may even date back to the late 1800s. This session, the committee updated the statutes governing cities of the first class (LB 705), and legislation to update other classes of municipality will be introduced in the coming years.
Meeting with Department of Roads
I had a productive meeting this week with 93 residents of the Normandy Hills and Fairview Roads area and Tim Weander from the Nebraska Department of Roads. This meeting came about after constituents contacted me with questions and concerns about road construction in the area. Residents had good questions and NE DOR shared important information about what they are doing in the area.
I had a wonderful time speaking with 4th grade students from Betz Elementary, Birchcrest Elementary and St. Mary’s/St. Matthews schools this week. As always, these students had great questions and lots of enthusiasm as they learned about our state government and toured our beautiful Capitol.
All my best,
The Nebraska Legislature advanced LB 1067 on Select File this week, taking another step toward final passage of this important legislation. LB 1067 eliminates the Learning Community’s Common Property Tax Levy, reduces transportation costs for schools and includes provisions to allow schools to move boundaries when both schools agree. The bill retains Learning Community programs that specifically target improving learning outcomes for low-income children in Douglas and Sarpy counties.
There is still work to be done, but I am hopeful I will be able to report final passage of this bill in next week’s update.
Update on 2016 Crawford Bills
Tuesday will mark the 58th day of this 60-day session. As the 104th Legislature, 2nd Session winds down, I wanted to provide an update on the status of my legislation.
Update on on 2016 Urban Affairs Bills
Nineteen bills were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, and another seven bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee in 2015 were carried over to this session. Of those twenty-six total bills, sixteen have been signed into law. Another bill, LB 1012, was passed 45-0 by the Legislature this week and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
This session, including committee-introduced legislation, I introduced six bills in the Urban Affairs Committee. All six have been signed into law.
LB 930 Advances to Final Read
I was glad that we advanced LB 930 this week. LB 930, introduced by Senator Scheer, replaces the NeSA state test with the ACT for 11th grade students. The state will fund the difference between the two tests with money from the Education Innovation Fund. There are three important advantages to this change: 1.) Fewer school days spent on testing; 2.) More student investment in doing well on the exam; and 3.) Students knowing their college and career readiness in the 11th grade while there is time to improve. This important change addresses key concerns that teachers have raised about excessive testing that takes time from teaching and evaluates teachers on student performance from tests on which students have no incentive to do well. Using the ACT test for achievement has the added benefit of ensuring that all Nebraska high school students have a chance to take this exam, which is an important part of the college application process. This test includes career readiness measures as well, so it also benefits students who directly enter the workforce.
District 45 Visitors
I was happy to help recognize District 45 Scouts on Monday. Congratulations to Paul Terneus, Eagle Scout with several Palms and Katherine Knights, Summit Award Rank
Michael and Denise Terneus family (above)
Katherine and Tracy Knights (above)
On Wednesday I had a great visit with 4th graders from Two Springs Elementary in Bellevue who were visiting the Capitol. I am looking forward to more student visits next week.
As a reminder, I am hosting an informational meeting Monday with officials from the Nebraska Department of Roads (DOR) and residents of the Normandy Hills and Fairview Road area. This meeting came about after constituents contacted me with questions and concerns about road construction in the area. This informational meeting will be a great opportunity for residents to talk directly with DOR. Details of this event are in the flier below. Please feel free to forward this information to anyone you know who might be interested in attending.
All my best,
Nebraska State Senators advanced LB 1067 to Select File this week. LB 1067 eliminates the Learning Community’s Common Property Tax Levy, reduces transportation costs for schools and includes provisions to allow schools to move boundaries. The bill retains Learning Community programs that specifically target improving learning outcomes for low-income children in Douglas and Sarpy counties.
I am pleased that we have gotten this far with a bill to eliminate the common levy and address school boundaries and that we continue our commitment to the learning community programs that focus on bolstering education outcomes for low-income children throughout our metro area. While there is still work to be done, I am grateful for the leadership of my fellow Sarpy County Senators and of Senator Sullivan, Chair of the Education Committee, that has gotten us further than we have any in any previous session.
Governor Signs Budget Bills, Including Critical Levee Funding
Governor Ricketts signed off on the state budget package this week. The budget package includes critical funding for the Missouri River levee project to protect Offutt Air Force Base as well as properties and development south of the base. This funding allows completion of the levee recertification, which is critical to the economic vitality of Bellevue and the entire state.
Department of Roads Informational Meeting
I have heard from constituents who have questions and concerns about the construction in the Normandy Hills and Fairview Road area. As a result, I reached out to officials from the Nebraska Department of Roads (DOR) and they agreed to participate in an informational meeting with residents of the affected area. This will be a great opportunity for residents to talk directly with DOR. I want to thank the Department of Roads for agreeing to participate in this informational meeting. Details of this event are in the flier below. Please feel free to forward this information to anyone you know who might be interested in attending.
Governor Signs Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act
Governor Ricketts signed the Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act this week as part of LB 698, a package of consumer protection bills for seniors and their families. LB 698 provides for a Home Health Care Consumer Bill of Rights and Alzheimer’s Special Care Disclosure, among other protections. LB 698 was amended to include LB 849 (The Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act). I introduced LB 849 to allow hospital patients to designate a caregiver who would then receive instructions from the hospital at discharge so that the caregivers know how to safely look after loved ones and help them heal.
An AARP Nebraska study conducted in 2015 showed 73% of caregivers say their loved one was admitted to the hospital at some point and 95% said it would be important for them to receive instruction if their loved one was being discharged from the hospital. The Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act will make it easier for caregivers to take care of their loved ones.
This Week in Urban Affairs
This session, a total of four bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee received a priority designation. The last of those four bills, LB 1012, was advanced to Select File this week. LB 1012 would adopt the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Act.
PACE is a financing mechanism that allows local governments to help finance the up-front costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on commercial 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 would be 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.
While energy efficiency improvements can significantly decrease a property’s energy use, and thus help property owners save money on their utility bills, they often require high up-front costs to install. PACE helps to eliminate this barrier by allowing property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements over time through their property tax bill. 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.
Legislation authorizing municipalities to establish PACE programs has been passed in 32 states and the District of Columbia, and there are currently 2,059 municipalities with active PACE programs.
Survey on Mass Transit in Sarpy County
This week, staff from my office attended the last of three public meetings to examine mass transit services in Sarpy County. These meetings, which were hosted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), were designed to solicit input on short-term and long-term transportation options in the County.
For those who were unable to attend one of the meetings, a survey on transportation needs in Sarpy County is available athttps://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SarpyCountyTransit
Central Elementary 4th Graders Visit Capitol
I had a lot of fun speaking to Central Elementary 4th graders this week on their visit to the Capitol. My sons went to Central, so it was especially good to see the Central Cougars this week!
All my best,
The Assisting Caregiver Transition Act, an important piece of my legislative agenda this year, has reached the Governor’s desk after the Legislature passed LB 698 on a 46-0 vote on final reading this week. LB 698 is a package of consumer protection bills for seniors and their families. It provides for a Home Health Care Consumer Bill of Rights and an Alzheimer’s Special Care Disclosure among other protections. LB 698 was amended to include LB 849 (The Assisting Caregiver Transition Act). I introduced this legislation to allow hospital patients to designate a caregiver who would then receive instructions from the hospital at discharge so that the caregivers know how to safely look after loved ones and help them heal. In 2013, about 40 million family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated 37 billion hours of care to an adult with limitations in daily activities, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.
The Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act will make it easier for caregivers to take care of their loved ones. Family caregivers play an important role in assisting loved ones with their health care needs, and many more Nebraskans will find themselves in the position of caring for aging family members and friends with chronic health conditions. It is critical that our state laws recognize and support these family caregivers who provide this health care to fellow Nebraskans.
While this bill will have enormous impact on senior patients, it will also provide important help to caregivers of adult patients of any age. This is especially important in our fast-paced society, where caregivers must often balance work with care for loved ones. In addition to providing help to caregivers, however, this legislation has the potential to help families keep seniors in their homes longer, postponing costly long-term care.
Midwest Higher Education Compact Visit
Pictured above: Missouri State Senator David Pierce, myself, and MHEC President Larry Isaak
This week we had a visit from officials from the Midwest Higher Education Compact (MHEC) for our annual Nebraska delegation dinner The annual delegation dinner provides a great opportunity for discussion of higher education in Nebraska and the Midwest Region with Senators, Higher Education Commissioners and Higher Education leaders. As one of Nebraska’s two Legislative MHEC Commissioners, I hosted our MHEC visitors at the Capitol on Thursday. Nebraska is a member of MHEC, whose mission is advancing Midwestern higher education through interstate cooperation and resource sharing. Nebraska saves over $5 million a year through this compact. Bellevue University, Sarpy County and Creighton University all benefit from MHEC technology purchasing leverage. Our participation in MHEC also saves our public and private universities a great deal of time and money by facilitating cross-state accreditation for distance learning.
This Week in Urban Affairs
Both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills were passed on Final Reading this week, and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.
The first committee priority bill, LB 1059, is a package bill that amends the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as LB 840. The Act allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters.
The LB 1059 package includes two changes that were recommended during the Urban Affairs Committee’s LR 155 interim study, which took a comprehensive look at the economic development tools that are currently available to municipalities in Nebraska. These changes were originally introduced in two other bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee, LB 808 and LB 860.
The second committee priority bill, LB 704, is a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of various statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes. The bill also contains the provisions of LB 705, a comprehensive bill that updates and modernizes statutes governing cities of the first class.
With the passage of the Urban Affairs Committee priority bills this week, 7 bills heard by the committee (including three carry-over bills) have been signed into law, 6 bills have passed the Legislature and are awaiting the Governor’s signature, and another 3 bills are on Final Reading.
Learning Community Bills Set for Wednesday
The Speaker has announced that the Legislature will take up the learning community bill (LB 1067) next Wednesday, March 30. I was recently interviewed by the City of Papilion’s community TV network regarding the Learning Community. As I said in the interview, I look forward to working with my colleagues to tackle to this issue. You can see my interview on this YouTube link.
Women’s History Month
11 of the 49 state senators in the Unicameral today are women. My female colleagues serve in leadership positions on Education, Health and Human Services, Urban Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications, State Tribal Relations and Legislative Planning committees.
March is women’s history month. As such, this update repeats a highlight of some women leaders, past and present in Nebraska state government, that we compiled for a 2014 Update. Photos courtesy of Nebraska Blue Book.
In 1954, Kathleen “Pat” Foote became the first woman to run for the Legislature. Previous governors appointed several women over the years but Senator Pat Foote, at age 27, became the first woman to run and win a seat in the Legislature. A Republican farm wife, Senator Foote successfully launched a “Keep Nebraska Beautiful” campaign through landmark legislation a decade before Lady Bird Johnson began her Keep America Beautiful campaign aimed at improving our nation’s highways.
Senator Kathleen Foote
In 1972, Nebraska became the second state, after Hawaii, to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment, an effort led by then Senator Fern Hubbard Orme. During her fourteen years as senator, she also led efforts to preserve the Thomas Kennard House in Lincoln and allocate funding for a women’s physical education building on UNL’s campus.
In 1977, Senator JoAnn Maxey of Lincoln became the first female African American state senator following her appointment to the Legislature by then-governor Jim Exon. During her two years as state senator, she successfully passed legislation over a gubernatorial veto to create funding for women who found themselves homeless or without resources due to divorce, death or separation from their spouse.
Senator JoAnn Maxey
Around the same time, Senator Shirley Marsh was instrumental in structural changes inside the body. She helped lead the charge to end smoking on the floor of the Legislature and help bring a women’s bathroom to the lounge outside the chamber. Before these changes, female senators relied on state troopers to guard the door to the men’s bathroom.
Senator Shirley Marsh
In 1986, not one, but two, women ran for Governor of Nebraska: Republican Kay Orr and Democrat Helen Boosalis. This contest marked the first time in American history that two women faced each other as nominees from the two major parties in a Governor’s race. With her victory on Election Day, Governor Kay Orr set additional records, becoming the first female governor of Nebraska and the first female Republican governor in the nation.
In the 1990s, Senator Ardyce Bohlke, as chair of the Education Committee, helped increase the amount of state aid to our K-12 schools. Most recently, former state senator Deb Fischer became the first female U.S. senator in Nebraska following her defeat of Bob Kerrey in the 2012 campaign.
Also in 2012, Senator Sara Howard was elected to the seat previously filled by her mother, Senator Gwen Howard, marking the first mother-daughter legacy in the Nebraska Unicameral.
Our office is closed Friday and Monday. I wish you a Blessed Easter.
All my best,
This week I joined a vast majority of my colleagues in advancingLB 956 and 957, this year’s budget bills to a second round of debate. In Nebraska, the Legislature adopts the biennial budget in a long, 90 day session. During the short 60 day session, like the one we are in now, the Legislature adopts mid-biennium budget adjustments. Budget bills consist of General Fund adjustments and Cash Reserve Fund appropriations. Most state spending comes from the General Fund, which is the basic fund for most program, department, and capital state expenditures. The Cash Reserve Fund serves as a savings account for the state and is mostly used as a cushion for economic downturns. A healthy cash reserve is important for economic downturns. Nebraska weathered the Great Recession better than many states because of its healthy cash reserve. However, the Cash Reserve Fund is used for some important one-time investments for the state. One of the one-time investments in the budget package this year is critical funding for the Missouri River levee project to protect Offutt Air Force Base and properties and development south of the base.
Another budget item of interest to Bellevue is a one-time $4 million appropriation to the Site and Building Development Fund. This fund, administered by the Department of Economic Development, can be used to help cities and counties develop industrial-ready sites by covering costs such as land or building purchases and construction, technical assistance or planning costs. Requests for funds have exceeded the amount available year after year and I understand from discussions with the City of Bellevue and the Bellevue Chamber, that there are several sites in Bellevue that could be eligible for this funding if more money was available in the fund. I hope this investment will help develop industrial-ready sites and attract new jobs to the area.
The budget package also makes an important investment to address issues in our Corrections system. This funding request was in both the Governor’s budget proposal and the Appropriations Committee recommendations. This represents a down payment on addressing the long-term issue of prison overcrowding in Nebraska.
Special Visitors This Week
I appreciated the chance to hear from UNL student veteran leaders this week. I would like to give a special thanks to these student veteran peer mentors and to the University of Nebraska Lincoln for establishing a Veteran Success Center on campus
I was happy to welcome a wonderful group of 8th graders to the Capitol this week from Logan Fontenelle Middle School in Bellevue. As a state senator who is also an educator, these student visits are one of my favorite “perks” of the job.
We also had a visit from 4th graders from Avery Elementary School in Bellevue. These kids had very insightful questions about how a bill becomes a law. We provided them with a special “Unicam Kids” book published by the Unicameral Information Office.
We always love visitors, whether tall or short, or any size in between. If you have a group that wants to come to the Capitol, please contact Chris Triebsch in my office at 402-471-2615 or via email at email@example.com
The Consent Calendar agenda has been larger than usual. The Speaker scheduled a third group of consent calendar items this week. One of my consent calendar items that advanced Friday was LB 694, which changes provisions relating to exempt contracts under the Taxpayer Transparency Act. In my first year in the legislature I passed LB 429 (2013) to add state contracts to the Taxpayer Transparency Act. Adding contracts to the Taxpayer Transparency Act makes copies of government contracts easily available to citizens on the Nebraska Spending website. The original bill included certain exceptions for specific service agreements for individual citizens. These original exceptions, and the new ones added in LB 694 for the State Department of Education, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, are designed to protect the privacy of individuals and families receiving state services. It helps us strike the right balance between protecting privacy and protecting the public’s right to access information about how the state is spending resources on contracts. This bill only applies to the state spending website and does not have any affect on public records requests. I thank my colleagues for advancing this bill on consent calendar.
This Week in Urban Affairs
This week, three bills that were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee were advanced from General File as part of the third Consent Calendar agenda:
● LB 875: Change conditions for approval of a planned unit development for certain second-class cities and villages
● LB 948: Change an application period limitation for the designation of enterprise zones as prescribed
● LB 865: Change provisions relating to handicapped parking
LB 948 deals with enterprise zones, a topic that was discussed last year in the Urban Affairs Committee’s interim study report on LR 155, the committee’s interim study to examine current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska.
Designed to encourage investment and economic growth in distressed communities, some type of zone-based economic development initiative – most commonly called enterprise zones – is present in the vast majority of states. Nebraska’s enterprise zone statutes were passed in 1992 and 1993, but the original enterprise zones designated under the Enterprise Zone Act were allowed to expire after a decade.
The Enterprise Zone Act was reactivated with the passage of LB 800 in 2014 to allow the creation of up to five enterprise zones by the Department of Economic Development. Under the Act, any city, village, tribal government area, or county may apply for designation of an area within its boundaries to be designated as an enterprise zone. Once an area has been designated as an enterprise zone, the designation remains in effect for ten years. Businesses located within the boundaries of a designated enterprise zone receive preferences under a variety of state business incentives and grant programs, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Business Innovation Act, the Job Training Cash Fund, and the Site and Building Development Fund.
While the Department of Economic Development has designated enterprise zones within the City of Omaha, the City of South Sioux City, and Otoe County, two of the five enterprise zones authorized under LB 800 have yet to be designated. LB 948 would authorize the Department of Economic Development to establish an additional application period for the designation of enterprise zones, allowing other municipalities and counties (including the Bellevue area) to seek enterprise zone designation in distressed portions of their communities.
In the District
You may have noticed the big shamrock painted on the street at the intersection of Mission Avenue and Franklin Street. Saturday, March 19, is the 4th Annual Olde Towne Pub Crawl. It starts at 2pm with bus service available between locations between 4pm and 11:45pm. Two of my Olde Towne favorites, Moonstruck Meadery and Luigi’s, are included.
All my best,
On Wednesday, the Legislature gave first round approval to LB 754, my personal priority bill this session. LB 754 establishes the Commission on Military and Veteran Affairs and a point person to work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations and to help leverage economic development in our communities tied to these installations. The commission and this point person will also work to support and serve Nebraska’s military and veteran families.
There are important assets to protect in the future across the state, particularly as the Armed Forces look at base closings and realignment, whether or not this is part of a formal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. Moreover, there are also opportunities to push to secure more missions in our state with our low cost of living and supportive communities. The commission and the military liaison created by LB 754 ensures Nebraska is in the best position to respond to these opportunities and threats when these discussions occur and leverage them for economic development across the state.
Governor Signs Crawford’s National Guard Employment Protections Bill into Law
I am very happy to report that Governor Pete Ricketts signed LB 753 into law this week. LB 753 amends 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. State law did not provide protections for National Guard Members employed in Nebraska if they were deployed by another state. This new law will fix that problem and extend employment protections to all National Guard members who work in our state. I want to thank Governor Ricketts for signing this bill into law.
Special Visitors to Lincoln
We had the pleasure of having several groups visit us in Lincoln this week. The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class came to the Capitol on Wednesday. My staff and I put together a full schedule of events to help them learn more about the inner workings of Nebraska government. I want to thank Governor Pete Ricketts, Chief Justice Mike Heavican, State Treasurer Don Stenberg, former Lieutenant Governor Kim Robak with Mueller Robak LLC, Senator Heath Mello, Senator Kathy Campbell, Senator John Murante and Senator Tommy Garrett for speaking to the group.
I also had the opportunity to visit with the Stratcom Strategic Leadership Fellows this week. This great program trains top civilian security specialists in areas including team building, collaboration management, data-driven decision making and project management, among other things.
Leadership was a reoccurring theme this week as we also had a nice visit from the Girl Scouts. It was a great start to International Women’s Day as Senator Sara Howard and I had breakfast with the Girl Scouts and offered leadership advice and encouragement to them.
This Week in Urban Affairs
This week, both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills were advanced from Select File, which is the second round of floor debate. Prior to advancing LB 704, a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes, the bill was amended to incorporate the provisions of another Urban Affairs clean-up bill, LB 705.
Introduced by the Urban Affairs Committee, LB 705 is a comprehensive bill that updates and modernizes statutes governing cities of the first class. Cities of the first class have a population between 5,001 and 100,000, and include the cities of Bellevue, La Vista, and Papillion.
Much of the current language in the statutes governing cities of the first class has not been amended since Nebraska statutes were recodified in 1943, and some may even date back to the late 1800s. Among the antiquated and obsolete language eliminated under LB 705 are references to hitching posts, wagons, steam-powered rail cars, tippling shops, workhouses, poorhouses, freeholders, and imprisonment at hard labor.
While bills like LB 705 may not make the news, they play an important role in keeping our state laws up-to-date. Over the next few years, the Urban Affairs Committee plans to review the statutes that deal with other classes of municipalities, continuing to modernize the state laws that govern how our local governments operate.
The Legislature recessed Thursday afternoon and will return on Tuesday. These 2-day recess days not only allow senators like myself with other jobs a chance to catch up on work, they also allow senators who represent districts in Western Nebraska a chance to travel home for a few extra days.
On Tuesday, the Legislature will begin debate on this year’s budget bills. These bills include the $13.7 million appropriation for the Missouri River levee project. Stay tuned for more about the budget bills next week!
Next week, we will also begin “working lunch” days. This is a new practice instituted by Speaker Hadley to increase the number of hours of work time on the floor during the day, with the intent of avoiding truly late nights later in the session. During working lunch days, the Legislature will stand at ease for 20 minutes for lunch, as opposed to the traditional 90 minute break, and then work until about 7:00 p.m. instead of running later into the night night. Next week, Tuesday and Thursday are both designated working lunch and later adjournment days.
All my best,
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,
On Thursday, the last of our bills received its public hearing. Committees will finish public hearings next week and all day floor debate will begin on Monday, March 7th. The bill, LB 1058, was drafted after conversations with Tobacco Free Sarpy/Cass, our tobacco prevention coalition. Tobacco Free Sarpy/Cass, with the help of area law enforcement including Bellevue and La Vista Police and Sarpy County Sheriff, conduct tobacco compliance checks with high school students. These compliance checks ensure that retailers do not sell tobacco products to minors.
Nebraska’s retail violation rate is low, with violations nearly half of what is found in other states. Almost all of our retailers who sell tobacco products are doing their part to ensure tobacco does not get into the hands of minors. LB 1058 ensures that there is a clear and consistent process known to coalitions and retail establishments when these compliance checks are conducted.
Special thanks to Sarpy Sheriff Deputy Greg London, Officer Carl Grubb of Bellevue Police, LaVista Police Chief Bob Lausten and Alex Brown with Tobacco Free Sarpy for traveling to Lincoln to testify in support of the bill.
Crawford Bills on Economic Development, Family Caregiving, and Home Health Advance
On Tuesday, several of my bills advanced to the second round of debate, called Select File. One was an economic development bill that allows municipalities to know when companies seeking local economic development incentives are also seeking state incentives that might then turn around an impact local option sales tax revenues for the city (LB 1059). This bill advanced as part of an Urban Affairs LB 840 package.
LB 849, the Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act, was one of these bills. As mentioned in a previous update, LB 849 ensures family caregivers have the tools they need when their loved ones leave the hospital, by ensuring that, if a patient chooses, the family caregiver can be present to discuss the patient’s discharge plan and any aftercare instructions. By more fully involving family caregivers in the discharge process, patients are able to stay safe, healthy and in their homes as long as possible, avoiding hospital readmissions and postponing costly long-term care.
Another bill, LB 869, also advanced to Select File Tuesday as part of the same legislative package. I brought LB 869 at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services. LB 869 brings our state laws into compliance with new federal regulations and ensures some of our most vulnerable Nebraskans–home health consumers–are protected from fraud and abuse. Under the bill, health care licensees who provide care or assistance in a home health setting will need to submit fingerprints as part of an FBI background check. This is important, not only to bring Nebraska into compliance with federal law, but also to protect patients. The patients these providers serve tend to be the most vulnerable and at greatest risk for fraud and abuse since it is often difficult for homebound patients to report fraud when it puts at risk the care that they need to stay in their homes.
Bill to Provide More Normalcy for Foster Youth Advances
On Monday, the Legislature voted 37-0 to advance LB 746 to Select File. LB 746 was first heard in the Health and Human Services Committee, which is one of my committees. LB 746 ensures greater normalcy for foster youth, making it easier for them to participate in sports, clubs and other extra curricular activities. In other words, LB 746 helps foster kids be kids.
In my time in the Legislature, I’ve heard what a difference school activities can make for foster youth. We know how important school activities are for all of our kids, and they can be even more critical for foster youth who need adult mentors, connections with other kids, and self-confidence. I was struck this fall when I met with two former foster who are now attorneys that both told stories about how a school activity was the lifeline that helped them see that they could learn and succeed.
Several foster youth also shared with me how isolating it felt to be left out of what for most kids are normal friend activities because of foster care rules like those requiring background checks before a sleep over. They dreaded being asked why they could not come to a birthday party or a field trip and so it was easier to just not make close friends or get involved. This isolation can be dangerous and could lead youth to run away, putting them at greater risk for involvement in sex trafficking. Sadly, in a recent raid across 70 U.S. cities, authorities found that 60% of the sex trafficking victims were former foster youth.
Allowing foster youth access to the same sort of activities our other Nebraskan children get to participate in every day is important and more than that, it is the right thing to do. I was happy to support LB 746 and am grateful to Senator Campbell for selecting the bill as her personal priority bill this session.
Urban Affairs Priority Bills Advance
Debate on priority bills was in full swing this week, with both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills advancing from General File on Tuesday.
The first committee priority bill, LB 1059, is a package bill that amends the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (commonly referred to as LB 840), which allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters. The bill requires notice by businesses seeking local incentives if that same business is also seeking state tax incentives, and also includes changes originally appearing in LB 808 and LB 860 that were recommended by stakeholders during the Urban Affairs Committee’s LR 155 interim study that took a comprehensive look at Nebraska’s municipal economic development tools.
The second committee priority bill, LB 704, is a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of various statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes. To improve citizen access and transparency, this bill also requires that political subdivisions keep a copy of their current building code available for use and examination by the public.
In addition to the two committee priority bills, two other bills that were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session have been prioritized by individual senators. The Legislature will likely be taking up both bills in the coming weeks.
Upcoming Meetings on Mass Transit in Sarpy County
Residents of Sarpy County are invited to attend one of three public meetings to share opinions on long-range transportation needs in the area. The meetings are being hosted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency, or MAPA, which is working on a study to examine transit services for Sarpy County. I encourage you to attend to make your views known on what the future of mass transit should be in Sarpy County.
The first meeting will be held on Monday, February 29th at the La Vista Public Library, 9110 Giles Road, from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
The second meeting will be held on Monday, March 7th at the Bellevue Public Schools Support Center building, 2820 Arboretum Drive, from 5 to 7 p.m.
The third meeting will be held on Thursday, March 31st in Gretna at The Beanery, 11849 S. 216th Street, from 9 to 11 a.m.
Recess Day Activities
Friday was a recess day from the Legislature. Early in the morning I attended a Sarpy Chamber legislative coffee townhall with Senator Smith, Senator Kintner, and Senator Garrett at Black Hills Energy. It was good to have a chance to give an update on important issues like the levee funding, the learning community, and our priority bills. Most of the rest of the day was spent helping out the Bellevue Public Safety Foundation with a First Responders Appreciation Day. Thanks to Luigi’s Italian Bar and Grill for donating fabulous food, Wake Robin K-Kids for making special treats for the police and fire fighters, Neighborhood Watch and Night Out groups and B&B Classic Dogs for wonderful desserts, the Bellevue Chamber and Bellevue Economic Enhancement Fund for goodie bags and ice cream treats, Bellevue Medical Center for goodies for the bags, and Councilwoman Carol Blood for special bags for the K-9 crew.
All my best,
Friday marked day 30 and the halfway point of the 2016 session. This past week was the deadline for all priority designations and proposals. In all other states, the Speaker and the majority party decide which bills get time on the floor. In Nebraska we have a unique priority system. Each Senator gets to select one bill as his or her priority. These bills get top priority for floor debate at some point before the end of the session. Each standing committee identifies 2 priority bills, with the exception of the State-Tribal Relations Committee who can designate one priority bill. Friday was the deadline for both senators and committees to identify and submit their priority bills. The Speaker also gets to select 25 priority bills. Thursday was the deadline to submit bills for the Speaker to consider as a Speaker priority bill. Speaker Hadley will announce his priority designations on Monday. Once these bills are announced, we will largely know which bills will–and won’t–be debated this session.
Since all of the priority deadlines were this week, and since getting a priority designation on a bill is so important, this week was a hectic one. All of the senators were scrambling to try to get their most important bills voted out of committee before the priority deadlines so that they could propose them as Speaker priority bills or line up a Senator to make the bill his or her personal priority bill. This meant frequent executive sessions conducted by the various committees. Committees go into executive session to discuss and vote on bills in their committee. If a majority of the committee votes to advance the legislation, the committee clerk will work with the legal counsel to draft and file a committee statement for the bill. The committee statement outlines the main points of the bill, explains any committee amendments, and lists in person testimony at the bill’s hearing.
This year, I selected LB 754 as my personal priority bill.LB 754 establishes the Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs and a military liaison to work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations. The commission and this point person will also work to support and serve Nebraska’s military and veteran families.
Other Priority Bills of Interest
As I mentioned in earlier updates, Speaker Hadley began accepting priority designations earlier this year. This means we’ve already debated several priority bills, including LB 471 (Howard) prioritized by Senator Lindstrom, which passed 46-0 on Final Reading on Thursday. LB 471 makes important improvements to our state’s prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). Nebraska’s current PDMP has serious deficiencies. Reporting is not mandatory, patients can opt out of the system and patients who pay in cash are not recorded. Often, drug seekers and drug dealers use cash to conceal their behavior. LB 471 addresses all of these issues. What’s more, the Department of Health and Human Services secured grant funding for $750,000 total over four years to fund the changes in LB 471.
Another key priority this session is eliminating the common levy of the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties. I was happy to see Senator Sullivan selected LB 1067, which includes a provision to eliminate the common levy. Senator Sullivan’s bill also includes targeted funding for education improvements for children in poverty. The hearing for the Learning Community bills, including Senator Sullivan’s proposal, is Monday afternoon at 1:30 PM. You can watch the hearing on NET’s website.
Each day before session a guest or a senator offers an opening prayer. I was happy to welcome my own pastor, Rev. Michael Thompson and his family to the Capitol this week. Rev. Thompson, minister at New Life Baptist Church in Bellevue, was the chaplain of the day and gave the opening prayer on Wednesday.
Changes to the Taxpayer Transparency Act
The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony Wednesday on LB 694, a bill I introduced to make a technical change to the Taxpayer Transparency Act. LB 694 exempts the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation from posting certain service agreements on the state contract website for services to specifically-named individuals. The reason for this exemption is to protect confidentiality of individuals receiving specific services, such as medical exams and assistive devices. This bill does not affect public records requests. I believe this bill helps strike the right balance between transparency for taxpayers and confidentiality for those individuals receiving services.
In 2013, the Legislature passed the Taxpayer Transparency Act, a bill I introduced and prioritized to bring additional transparency to the state contracting process through the creation of a publicly available website for all state contracts. From February 20, 2015 to February 11, 2016, there were 10,721 visits to the contract website, according to the Department of Administrative Services. The total number of pages viewed was 89,526 and the database currently holds a total of 147,886 documents. I am proud of our work on this legislation and happy to see taxpayers using the website to see how our government is spending resources through contracts.
I want to thank my long-time friend Dr. Laura Olson for visiting us this week. Dr. Olson is a professor of political science at Clemson University. She enjoyed seeing our Nebraska Unicameral up close, and I enjoyed her visit.
This Week in Urban Affairs
In addition to each senator’s personal priority bill, each standing committee of the Legislature can designate two bills as committee priority bill. While committee priority designations are at the discretion of the committee chair, most committee priority bills tend to be consensus bills that have the unanimous support of committee members. This is the case with both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills this session.
Another common feature of committee priority bills is what is referred to as a package bill. With between 400 and 500 bills introduced in a typical “short session”, committees will often combine multiple bills dealing with the same subject into one bill. One of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills, LB 1059, is an example of a package bill, as it combines three bills dealing with the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act:
LB 1059: Require certain disclosures under the Community Development Law and the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act
LB 808: Change provisions relating to amending an economic development program under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act
LB 860: Add a type of economic development program under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act
The Urban Affairs Committee’s second priority bill this session is LB 704, a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of various statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes.
Bring your families to enjoy some warm rolls and support area veterans! On Thursday, February 25, Texas Roadhouse in Shadow Lake will donate 10% of all purchases to Veterans of the Midlands Foundation. To support their efforts, mention the fundraiser to your server.
Save the Date! The Brain Injury Association, VetSet Nebraska and Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors are holding a one-day training called No Wrong Door Training & Networking at Bellevue University on March 16 from 8:00 AM-5:00 PM. No Wrong Door is a training for service providers, healthcare providers and others looking to get more information on how to better serve veterans and their families and ensure that veterans and families find the right service, at the right time, at the right place. Registration is $50 and cover workshop sessions, lunch and contact hours for licensed providers. Those interested should register by March 10 here.
All my best,
Job Protections for Guard Members Scheduled for Consent Calendar
I am happy to report that the Nebraska Legislature will consider LB 753 on its consent calendar agenda Tuesday. I introduced LB 753 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. 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. I am grateful that this legislation has reached the Consent Calendar agenda and will be up for a vote on Tuesday.
What is Consent Calendar?
Consent Calendar is a legislative process established in Rule 5, Section 6 of our Legislative Rules. This process allows non-controversial bills, often with technical changes, to be debated in a streamlined fashion. The Speaker of the Legislature determines which bills are eligible for Consent Calendar.
One of the challenges of getting a bill passed is getting it on the agenda for floor debate. More bills pass out of committee than can be heard on the floor. The Consent Calendar allows the Speaker to get noncontroversial bills to the floor for a vote. I asked the Speaker to put LB 753 on the Consent Agenda so that it could get a vote this year. I am grateful that Speaker Hadley agreed. I also have LB 864 and LB 703, Urban Affairs related issues, on the Consent Agenda for Tuesday Morning.
At a minimum, Consent Calendar bills must meet the following criteria:
Per legislative rule, any bill on Consent Calendar can be removed from the agenda by the written request of 3 or more senators. If this happens, the bill will be passed over and will not come up for a vote. Similarly, if an amendment to a Consent Calendar bill that adds new subject matter is adopted on the floor, the bill will not be placed back on the agenda.
Speaker Hadley has created two consent agendas already and has indicated that we will have one more before the end of session.
Hearing on Creation of Military Commission Held
On Thursday afternoon, the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs held a hearing on LB 754, a bill I introduced this session to establish the Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs. The commission and a point person, a military affairs liaison, will work with the Governor to assist the state in attracting and retaining missions at our military installations as well as support and serve Nebraska’s military and veteran families.
The Military and Veterans Commission will streamline our efforts to both protect and grow military assets and missions. A review by the Association of Defense Communities found that 10 years after the creation of a military commission in Kentucky, annual defense spending in the state had more than tripled to $8.3 billion a year. By having a point of contact in place and active participation from relevant government agencies, elected officials, county officials, local business leaders and active duty or retired military officials, we can be more proactive with our state’s military interests.
Offutt Air Force Base is a key economic partner of the State of Nebraska, with an annual economic impact of more than $1.3 billion annually, employing more than 10,000 people directly and 4,700 people through secondary jobs. The Military and Veterans Commission would also enhance the military-friendly environment for veterans, service members and their families and strengthen the environment for businesses that bring military and base-related jobs to the state. I appreciate Governor Ricketts and Director John Hilgert’s partnership in this effort. Special thanks to Mayor Rita Sanders and others who traveled to Lincoln to testify in support of the bill.
The Omaha World-Herald published a story regarding the hearing; a copy of which can be found here.
This Week in Urban Affairs
The past week was a long one for the Urban Affairs Committee, with Tuesday morning hearings on a handful of municipal economic development bills and a marathon 6-hour hearing on tax-increment financing in the afternoon.Next week’s hearings will be the final hearing of the session for the Urban Affairs Committee. Among the topics being discussed will be Nebraska’s handicapped parking statutes. While handicapped parking permits are issued by the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, the enforcement of handicapped parking laws falls to municipalities. On average, a bill dealing with the handicapped parking statutes has been heard by the committee every other year.In addition to a bill on handicapped parking, next week’s hearings include two bills dealing with municipalities:
● LB 865: Change provisions relating to handicapped parking
● LB 857: Change population threshold for a city of the first class to employ a full-time fire chief
● LB 806: Adopt the Riverfront Development District Act
President’s Day Monday February 15
The office will be closed on Monday, February 15 for President’s Day. Like many other Senators, I will be at my other job on Monday. I teach Political Science at Creighton University. State holidays and legislative recess days give me a chance to get back to that office and catch up with students and classes. Although my staff was hard at work on Friday in the office, I was able to be at Creighton that day as well since we did not have session on Friday.
In the District
On Sunday, Feb. 14th, from 1:30 to 3:00 Green Bellevue hosts a presentation on attracting winter birds by Clem Klaphake at the Fontentelle Forest Nature Center. Clem is a Nebraska Master Naturalist – and a friend and neighbor in LD 45.
All my best,
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