Summer time – Interim time!
The session ended at the end of May, so now we are in the interim between sessions. The interim is an important time for us to regroup, study new or existing issues, and prepare to make the most of our time when we return for session in January. The interim also provides an important time for us to spend more time with our families and to catch up on on our other work.
Legislative oversight plays a critical role in the checks and balances of our state government. Oversight has two main components. First, it involves holding the executive branch (the Governor and agencies) responsible for doing what the legislature authorized or required them to do in the bills we passed. It also means being sure that the money passed in the budget is spent as the legislature directed.
The interim provides an opportunity for increased attention to oversight. Sometimes the legislature will establish a committee specifically to examine or investigate an agency or program. For example, I served on an interim committee to examine ACCESS Nebraska when we were experiencing unacceptable delays and problems with that Department of Health and Human Services program. This year, the legislature passed LR127 to devote special attention to issues in the Department of Corrections. In other instances, committees with jurisdiction over an agency step up to conduct additional hearings or meetings over the interim to bring additional pressure on particular agencies or programs.
This interim the Health and Human Services Committee is holding quarterly briefings and hearings to bring greater attention to the recent transition of Medicaid to Heritage Health, which involves three private companies providing managed care for Medicaid patients. At our first briefing and hearing on June 27th, we heard about some of the improvements that DHHS has put in place to address problems that have been plaguing the system. However, we heard from many providers that they are still experiencing unacceptable delays in payment and burdensome paperwork complications. So our committee needs to continue to ask tough questions to DHHS and the three companies and push for corrections and improvements. If you are experiencing problems with Heritage Health, please be sure to report those problems to DHHS.HeritageHealth@nebraska.gov. This email is designed to be a tracking system for problems as well as a means to get help. If you are not getting responses to your concerns, please let me know.
Economic Development Taskforce
The interim also provides an opportunity for senators to meet and discuss challenges and opportunities for the state outside of our normal committee and bill structures. One example of that is the Economic Development Taskforce. LB641 created this taskforce, which brings together the chairs of the Appropriations, Banking Commerce & Insurance, Business & Labor, Education, Revenue, Planning, and Urban Affairs Committees, plus three other Senators (one from each Congressional District), to discuss economic development. We met for the first time on June 9th. I am honored to have been selected to serve as the chair of this committee. We plan to meet on the second Friday of each month over the interim.
At our first meeting we met with the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and the Director of the Department of Economic Development to learn about key initiatives in each of these departments to foster economic development and to discuss opportunities and challenges more broadly. We learned about several ways in which the Department of Labor and the Department of Economic Development seek to provide information to help businesses and those trying to find jobs in the state. The DoL, for example, has an excellent page dedicated to resources for veterans (which you can find here); and DED has a central location with key information for those looking to start a business (here). I encourage you to explore their web pages to see all the information and resources available there.
Our next meeting on July 14th at 1:30 pm will focus on education. Our discussion will center on three key questions: 1) How do we attract and retain people in the state? 2) How do we strengthen our workforce and strengthen workers earning potential and quality of life? And 3) How do we foster innovation and entrepreneurship? If you are interested in attending, you can join us in room 1113 at the Capitol.
The interim also allows time for travel. This summer happens to be a travel-heavy time for me. In the first week of June I travelled to Lansing Michigan for the Executive Committee meeting for the Midwest Higher Education Commission (MHEC). We met to lay the groundwork for the MHEC meeting of all of the commissioners later in the year. One of the most important ways that MHEC helps our states is by pooling our bargaining power to save states money and to encourage innovation and quality services for purchases. This has been particularly effective for property insurance and technology. Our technology contracts allow other entities, like cities and counties, to also take advantage of the great deals. At the executive committee meeting we authorized research into the possible advantages that we could bring to Higher Education institutions in our states (and our environment) by pooling efforts to contract for sustainability technology and renewable energy sources.
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The very next week, I left for a two week trip to China. I was invited by the Confucius Institute to join two other Senators and several high school and middle school administrators to participate in the trip. Our primary goal was to discuss opportunities to facilitate greater educational exchanges and opportunities for students in Nebraska to learn Chinese. We spent one week in Beijing and one week in Xi’an. As a bonus we had a chance to have a diplomatic meeting with delegates from the Sheenxi Province. Nebraska and Sheenxi have a sister province/state relationship. It was great to have the opportunity to be a part of continuing to build that relationship. Many of our relationships were built around a circular table with dish after dish added to the lazy susan that spun the dishes around for us to share as we ate until we could not eat another bite.
It was a wonderful experience and I look forward to watching the fruits of these relationships develop. I not only had a chance to develop global relationships in China, but also had the chance to get to know some of our excellent administrators in our K-12 system.
We also had quite a bit of time to see wonderful sites in both cities. I was able to climb to one of the higher watchtowers on the Great Wall, see the amazing Terra Cotta Warriors, ride bikes on top of the city wall of Xi’an, and visit the Temple of Heaven (below).
We also had the chance to join in the wonderful public dancing for exercise that happens in parks all across both cities. It was a wonderful experience and I look forward to watching the fruits of these relationships develop. I not only had a chance to develop global relationships in China, but also had the chance to get to know some of our excellent administrators in our K-12 system.
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On a sadder note, I am spending time here at the end of the month through July 4th with my husband’s family due to the death of his mother. I am glad to have the flexibility to spend this important time with family.
I wish you a wonderful 4th of July! As we celebrate the birthday of our nation, let’s all commit to doing our part to continue to form a more perfect union.
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All the best,