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Bills Introduced This Week
This week was Day 4 through 7 of the 2018 session. Since this is the second year of the session, we have bills carried over from last year to debate during the first 10 days of bill introduction. I introduced five new bills this week. Next week we have three more days to file any remaining legislation to be considered for the year. Expect a flurry of new bills towards the end of the week! Senators sometimes save bills that they do not want to get as much attention for Day 10, so it is fun to see what bills Senators drop on the last day.
My new bills are:
LB 894 authorizes Nebraska to be a participating state in the EMS Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact (REPLICA). As a member state, licensed Nebraska EMS personnel will gain the ability to practice in other participating states and those licensed in other REPLICA states will be able to provide services in Nebraska. All participating states are required to meet background check and safety standards to ensure quality care. There are currently 11 states participating in the compact including three of our border states: Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming.
LB 926 extends the military vehicle registration exemption currently in place for out-of-state activity duty military to Nebraska residents who are currently on active duty and spouses.
LB 973 requires that maps that become part of legislative debates for drawing election district lines only use state-issued computer software. This is one small step to reduce partisan consultant influence by making it more difficult for partisan consultants to use mapping to create partisan advantages and get those maps introduced in the legislature. In 2021, with information from the 2020 Census, state legislatures across the nation will draw new state legislative districts and Congressional districts. In Nebraska we also draw the lines for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, Public Power districts, and the State Board of Education. Unfortunately, partisan majorities in state legislatures can draw these lines to create unfair advantages for candidates of their party, often called gerrymandering. The process for drawing these district lines can influence whether the elections will be competitive and fair. LB 973 is just one of multiple bills introduced this session to shape this process. I hope that we get some of our other redistricting bills to pass (LB974 — Sen. Vargas [adds criteria for the existing process]; LB975 — Sen. Howard; LB216 — Sen. Harr; LB653 – Sen. Murante) but LB 973 provides at least one step that we could get into statutes regardless of other changes in the redistricting process.
LB 979 establishes that Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners can provide expert medical testimony on issues related to their expertise (scope of practice in state policy terms).
LB 996 proposes four changes in our largest tax incentive act (the Nebraska Advantage Act). Most of the changes seek to ensure that jobs created by these tax incentives are good-paying ones. The bill requires that the jobs created to earn the benefits must be full-time jobs that each pay above the county average wage. The bill also seeks to control the long-term cost of the incentive by phasing out one of the benefits designed to be an important early benefit for recipients. Currently, this benefit continues as other earned benefits kick in. The bill proposes that this early benefit (the ability of the company to keep the state income tax withholding for new employees) remains in place for three years and then phases out by the end of five years.
Motorcycle Helmet Repeal & Other Bills Debated
This week my colleagues and I were able to make good progress on bills that were passed out of committee last year, but which did not make it on the agenda due to time constraints. Since we have not begun the committee process to approve this year’s bills, the first two weeks of session are an opportunity to spend time on a few of those carry-over proposals.
On Tuesday my LB 304, which updates our state Public Housing Authority rules, was advanced to the second round of legislative debate, known as Select File.
On Wednesday the Legislature engaged in extended debate on LB 368, a bill to repeal Nebraska’s mandatory helmet laws for all motorcycle riders. The bill failed to pass the first round of debate as supporters were unable to garner 33 votes to end debate.
Human Trafficking Prevention
Human trafficking is a serious issue in Nebraska, which the Legislature has worked with the Attorney General’s office to address. On Friday dozens of senators, Governor Ricketts, the AG, and other stakeholders joined together at the Capitol to announce the Demand an End initiative, a public awareness campaign to address sex trafficking of minors in our state. An important part of the initiative is a “Buyer Beware” focus on cracking down on the buyers in sex trafficking.
Hearings Begin Next Week
As a reminder, committee bill hearings begin on Tuesday January 16th. In Nebraska every bill introduced receives a public hearing in one of the Legislature’s 14 standing committees. Anyone can come to testify during these hearings. The introducer of the bill speaks first to explain the bill. Committee members then have a chance to ask questions of the introducer. Then, those who wish to support the bill have time to speak, followed by those who wish to speak against the bill. Finally, those who wish to speak in a neutral capacity speak. In most committees testifiers have three or five minutes to testify. Committee members may ask questions of testifiers as well. The introducer gets a chance after all testifiers are finished to “close on the bill,” which provides an opportunity to respond to the testimony and make a final case for the bill to committee members. In most cases five to ten testifiers speak. However, an important Nebraska tradition is to let anyone come to testify and to do our best to accommodate everyone who wishes to speak by staying as late as necessary to accommodate those who come.
I have my first bill hearing on our first day of hearings, on Tuesdayafternoon. I will present LB865, which forbids cities from waiving second and third readings for ordinances dealing with annexation and redistricting, but instead requires that these ordinances have all three readings on three different days (for most ordinances, state law allows a city council can waive the second and third readings of ordinances by a supermajority vote of the council members). Requiring all three readings ensures that citizens have the full opportunity to participate in the debate on these critical ordinances that impact elections in our cities. The idea for this bill came from the experience of one of my friends, Autumn Sky Burns, who spent much of last year preparing to run for a Papillion City Council seat. In early December she learned that new districts were passed in one city council meeting, as the members voted to waive the second and third readings to pass the new districts in a single meeting. These new district lines put her in a different district. The city leaders wanted to act quickly to get a newly annexed area into districts for the next round of elections. Under LB 865 the city would be required to hold three different readings of the bill on different days, but the council could set special meetings to get the three readings in quickly. This bill builds on a law passed in 1994, which was introduced by Senator Paul Hartnett. That bill established restrictions on cities across the state (except Lincoln and Omaha) against waiving second and third readings of annexation ordinances.
Hearings typically begin at 1:30 pm each day that the legislature is in session, and will run through the end of February. Usually a committee will hold hearings on 4-6 bills each afternoon.
Chief Standing Bear Sculpture at the Captiol
The Ponca Chief Standing Bear was a Nebraska icon who fought for Native Americans to be treated equally under the law. This fall, a larger-than-life statue to Chief Standing Bear was unveiled to complete the renovated Centennial Mall in Lincoln. You can learn more about the statue and its unveiling from the Lincoln Journal Starhere. It is a fitting tribute to a extraordinary man, who was unfailing in his pursuit of justice for his people in the face of staunch resistance and intense personal loss.
This week on Wednesday, a small ceremony and reception were held at the Capitol to welcome a miniature version of the statue for temporary display. If you happen to be at the Capitol before January 23rd, I invite you to visit this smaller version in the cafeteria to learn about a great Nebraskan. The Centennial Mall statue is a permanent fixture, which you can visit any time.
Sarpy Chamber Legislative Coffee
On Friday, which was our first recess day of the session, I joined the Sarpy County Chamber for their inaugural 2018 Legislative Coffee. These events are always an enjoyable way to engage with Sarpy businesses and residents about the legislative session and our priorities, and receive feedback in return.
Sarpy County Election Commission Swearing-In Ceremony
Also on Friday, I attend the ceremony at which Michelle Andahl was sworn in as the new Sarpy County Election Commissioner and Deb Davis as the returning Chief Deputy Election Commissioner. I look forward to working with both of them!
Michelle Andahl takes the oath of office
Deb Davis takes her oath of office
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All the best,
Legislative Session Begins
The 2nd Session of the 105th Legislature formally convened on Wednesday of this week. We began with a few opening formalities, including the swearing-in of a new Chief Sergeant at Arms, Jim Doggett. We also welcomed a new colleague to the body: Senator Theresa Thibodeau, who was appointed in October to fill former Senator Joni Craighead’s seat.
Though there are fewer big opening events for short sessions, many senators invite friends, family, or other guests to the Capitol for the first day. This year my husband and both sons were able to join me. Their support has been invaluable as I enter my sixth year of legislative service.
Time Change for Military Spouse Teacher Licensure Hearing
The December update included information about a Department of Education hearing on military spouse licensure (full details here). That hearing will take place on January 25th, but the time has now been changed – the hearing will take place at 1:00 pm rather than 10:00 am. I still encourage anyone interested to attend, and wanted to make sure you know about the time change.
Crawford Bills Introduced
The three session days this week were devoted just to introducing bills. During that time I introduced six bills. I will elaborate about each of my bills as they come up for public hearing, but to give you a preview:
LB 764 allows Nebraskans to sell many of the items that they can already sell at farmers’ markets to customers from their homes if they do not make more than $25,000 a year on these sales.
LB 839 expands state disclosure rules for organizations that spend money on ads that specifically target a candidate in the 60 days prior to an election. This requires reporting for election-related materials that would not be covered under our current reporting requirements. If groups are pouring money into Nebraska campaigns, our citizens and candidates have a right to know who they are.
LB 844 requires employers to allow employees to earn paid sick leave to take care of themselves or a family member if the employer doesn’t already provide sick leave or paid time off. In a recent survey, over ¾ of Nebraskans favor policies that expand paid sick leave. (Nebraska Values Project, Holland Children’s Institute, 2017).
LB 865 – prevents municipalities from waiving second and third readings of ordinances by vote if the ordinance concerns redistricting or annexation. Currently, state law prohibits cities of the first class (like Bellevue and most Sarpy cities) and smaller cities from waiving the second and third readings for annexation ordinances. The bill makes sure that on these major city issues citizens will be able to know that a second and third reading will occur if they wish to be present.
LB 866 – provides a mechanism that ensures that the Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature is informed in a timely manner when the Department of Health and Human Service makes major changes to our Medicaid program through waivers. This notification ensures that the Legislature can respond if necessary before the waiver goes into effect. Waivers are special agreements with the federal government that can change who qualifies or what services are provided. Recent federal changes have opened up greater possibilities for waivers that might have major impacts on our programs.
Finally, I introduced LB 867 to increase accountability and performance in DHHS’ three Medicaid managed care organizations, collectively known as Heritage Health. The bill addresses a couple of issues that have repeatedly been raised in our oversight hearings.
Senators have ten working days total to introduce bills at the start of each session, which means new proposals may be introduced through January 18th this year. However, our deadline to submit bill drafts is January 12th, so most bills are already in progress. You can find out the status of any bill by searching for it at nebraskalegislature.gov. You can look at the full list of the bills introduced this session here.
Legislative Procedures and Schedule
Starting on Monday of next week, we will begin debating a motion to adopt permanent rules to govern the 2018 session. It is my hope that this debate will be a short one, so that we can move on to the business of the bills before us for the session.
Committee bill hearings will begin the afternoon of Tuesday January 16th (Monday the 15th is a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day). Except in rare circumstances, committees must post notice of all bill hearings no later than 7 days before the scheduled date. Thus, the first hearing notices should be posted no later than Tuesday January 9th. Hearings typically begin at 1:30 pm each day that the legislature is in session, and will run through the end of February.
Economic Development Task Force
Friday morning the Economic Development Task Force invited all senators to discuss our 2017 report (read the report here). This informal meeting was an opportunity to talk about the report and its recommendations with senators outside the Task Force. We will continue those conversations in 2018, and expect to begin taking up our 2017 recommendations, as well as exploring new economic development avenues, this summer after the 2018 session adjourns.
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All the best,
Legislature Resumes January 3rd
The 2nd session of the 105th Legislature will begin next week on January 3rd. As in all even-numbered years, the upcoming session will be sixty days long (you can see the tentative 2018 calendar here). This email also marks the last monthly newsletter before we transition back to sending out updates on a weekly basis, so that you can receive the latest news about what is happening in committee hearings and on the legislative floor.
We’ve been working over the interim on several bills that we will discuss in our updates next session as we introduce them. The topics include: protecting our children from sex abuse; allowing entrepreneurs to sell food from their home that they can currently sell at farmers’ markets; expanding opportunities for our best and brightest to work in internships in Nebraska; allowing workers with no paid time off or sick time from their employer to be able to earn sick leave time to take care of themselves and their family; bills to strengthen accountability measures to help us continue to push our new Medicaid system (Heritage Health) to improve; bills to protect our children in our child welfare system; and bills to reduce licensure barriers to careers in the state (while still protecting public safety). Of course, I will also be working with my colleagues on bills that will be good for our district and the state, and fighting against bills that threaten our future. I look forward to another session of working for you!
Teacher Licensing for Military Spouses
Spouses of active duty military members face a number of unique challenges, and in my time in the Legislature it has been one of my priorities to support policies that alleviate those challenges. One such example affects spouses who are teachers. Moving frequently from base to base can make it extremely difficult to obtain or retain a teaching license, since many states have disparate requirements and not all of them recognize existing licenses from other states. The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) recently announced that they have finalized and given initial approval to a rule change to help military spouses past that barrier.
The draft rule change, which would create a special class of licence known as the Military Teaching permit, can be found here (the relevant section begins on page 20). NDE will hold a public hearing on this proposed rule Thursday January 25th at 10:00 am, at the NDE’s offices in the State Office Building in Lincoln – 301 Centennial Mall South. If you are able to attend and would like to comment on the proposal, I encourage you to attend.
This proposed rule change has come about thanks to the hard work of several individuals, particularly Shannon Chandler Manion, wife of 55th Wing Commander Col. Michael Manion, who dedicated a great deal of her personal time to the effort. NDE has also been a helpful and responsive partner, without whose cooperation and active investment the change would not have moved forward. Senator Carol Blood has also been a consistent voice for policies like this one that help military families live the most normal lives possible while their loved ones serve.
Protecting our Kids
Project Harmony is a Child Advocacy Center with a mission to end the cycle of child abuse and neglect. Project Harmony supports child abuse victims and collaborates with law enforcement, social services, and medical professionals to work for the best outcomes for survivors. On December 7th I toured their Omaha offices, which serve Douglas and Sarpy Counties and a portion of western Iowa. I look forward to working with these dedicated individuals to advance child welfare in our state.
Protecting our children is a critical obligation for all of us. I have two bills from last session that I will continue to push in 2018. One protects 16- and 17-year-old kids from sexual abuse from persons of authority, such as teachers, coaches, and foster parents. The bill stipulates that consent is not a defense in this situation. Currently Nebraska children of this age do not have this protection. The other bill protects children who have suffered abuse, and have told their story to a trained forensic interviewer on tape, from additional pre-trial deposition questioning unless the defendant can make the case that it is essential for their defense. This change does not take away the rights of the accused during trial, but protects these children from the trauma of retelling their story unnecessarily and having their story questioned by a defense attorney before the trial without a judge present. The child advocates at Project Harmony, the Nebraska Alliance of Child Advocacy Centers, and the Nebraska CASA Association all supported this bill last session.
We have a special obligation to protect the children who are under our care in our foster care system. Unfortunately, we learned with two reports near the end of the year that we have much work left to do to protect these kids in Nebraska. I have been working with Senator Bolz, Senator Howard, and child advocates from across the state to identify some bills that could help strengthen our child welfare system. We plan to meet with other senators from both parties in the first week of the new year to build a coalition of senators who will take on some important changes in the system.
Hwy 75 Farm Implement Meeting
If you’ve been south of Bellevue on Highway 75, you’ve seen all the construction underway. After the construction is done, Hwy 75 will be a freeway through that area. One of the consequences of the freeway designation is that farm implements would normally not be allowed onto the road. However, since Hwy 75 is the only crossing over the Platte River for several miles, we have been talking with the Department of Transportation about the need to make allowances for farm equipment in the area.
On December 13th, we worked with the Nebraska Farm Bureau to organize a meeting to allow farmers and implement dealers in the area to provide input on a draft plan to allow farm equipment to be on Hwy 75 for a short span with permit. Thanks to The Lodge for hosting us! The draft of the permit rules are available here; comments and suggestions can be sent to our office. I am happy to forward your comments to the Department of Transportation.
Economic Development Task Force
The Economic Development Task Force spent six months exploring existing research and hearing from state economic development experts, businesspeople, education specialists, and others. Our goal was to formulate a better understanding of what Nebraska’s economic landscape looks like now, and what the state’s priorities should be to foster more effective development in the future.
From that work, the Task Force created a report for 2017 that must be submitted to the Legislature. Once it is publicly posted – which should be January 2nd – the report will be available here under the “Select/Special Committees” tab. I welcome any feedback you may have.
We’ve been working on bills to tackle some of the key priorities of the report, including attracting and retaining our best and brightest and improving our economic development incentive programs to strengthen their effectiveness and to protect our other budget priorities. More on these bills in the new year updates!
Operation Holiday Cheer
Each year the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and Bellevue Economic Enhancement Foundation coordinate Operation Holiday Cheer, which provides hundreds of airmen at Offutt with bags of goodies for the holiday season. Operation Holiday Cheer is a way to show the Bellevue Community’s support for our locally stationed troops.
On December 5th dozens of people came together to stuff the bags and pack them up to be distributed. Thanks to all those who volunteered their time or resources to help make Operation Holiday Cheer successful for another year.
Independent Cattlemen Event in Valentine
On December 16th several other Senators and I flew up to Valentine to attend the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska (ICON) annual gathering. We discussed property tax challenges facing Cattlemen and other issues that we will be discussing in the next session.
Holiday Office Closure
The Legislature will be closed this Monday January 1st. We will return on January 2nd, ready to begin the 2018 session! I wish you all a very happy New Year’s.
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All the best,
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