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Bills Introduced This Week
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week were the final days to introduce bills for the 2018 session. In total, there were 467 bills and 16 substantive resolutions (plus 19 resolutions to express congratulations or sympathy) introduced in the second half of this 105th Legislature.
The bills I introduced this week are:
LB 1020 – This bill clarifies a policy that we passed last year on how and when municipalities can directly borrow from banks for purchases. The bill clarifies that a city can borrow for up to a seven-year window, and clarifies the cap on the amount that can be borrowed in this manner.
LB 1055 – The Intern Nebraska program provides grants to reimburse Nebraska businesses that create paid internship positions for high school students, college students, and recent graduates.LB1055 is an effort to ensure that funding for this important program is available in years to come. Considering more than half of young people who participate in an internship become full-time employees where they intern, financing this program in a sustainable way will help ensure that young people studying in Nebraska will continue to be connected with and employed by local businesses.
LB 1073 – This bill calls for The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to include in their weekly report to the Foster Care Review Office information on whether relative and kinship foster placements are licensed or have been issued a waiver for licensing standards. In order to maximize federal IV-E foster care payments under federal law, it is critical that the state know how many of these homes are meeting IV-E licensing requirements before our CMS waiver that allows these homes to receive payments without licensure expires in 2019.
LB 1078 – This bills calls for DHHS to report to the Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature any sexual abuse allegations, screenings, and substantiations concerning state wards and youth at residential facilities in the state. Allegations of sexual abuse of a state ward, juvenile probationer, juvenile in detention, and juvenile in a residential child-caring agency would also have to be reported to the Office of the Inspector General for Child Welfare (OIG). This bill came as recommendation from the 2017 Child Sexual Abuse Report issued by the OIG that was rejected by DHHS. You can read the full OIG report here.
LB 1117 – This bill would increase Nebraska’s tax on cigarettes by $1.50, from its current $0.64 to $2.14. It would also increase the tax on snuff and other tobacco products. Particularly as we enter the second consecutive year of fiscal shortfall, it is critical that we consider additional sources of revenue. Raising the cigarette tax has broad support among Nebraska residents, and would provide an important influx to the state’s General Fund. Spending cuts are important to discuss in times of fiscal constraint, but should never be the only option on the table. Cuts can only go so far before we risk hurting Nebraskans and the state’s growth. LB 1117 offers a sensible alternative.
State of the Judiciary
On Wednesday the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, Michael Heavican, attended the Legislature to give his annual State of the Judiciary address. One of his key points was to highlight the initial work of Nebraska’s new problem-solving courts (such as drug courts and veterans’ courts). He also discussed the serious problems the court system will face if they experience drastic cuts this session as the state tries to balance its budget. The court system is not alone in that concern, which is why bills like my LB1117 on the tobacco tax, and other creative sources of revenue, are so important to the discussion.
Public HHS Briefings
The Health and Human Services committee, of which I am a member, held a series of public briefings this week on a range of DHHS issues. Our briefings this week included ways the Division of Public Health and Division of Behavioral Health have attempted to address the opioid epidemic, and a discussion of the Developmental Disability waiver process. These briefings are a helpful avenue to check in with the leadership in DHHS’ various departments, and to bring up any concerns we have with the department or its programs.
Next week there will be three more briefings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which you can watch live here; each will begin at 1:00 pm. The topics will be: the Office of the Inspector General for Child Welfare’s recent report on sexual abuse of youth in state care, which I linked to above, on Wednesday January 24th; a discussion of DHHS caseworker caseloads on Thursday January 25th; and an update on healthcare workforce initiatives on Friday January 26th. While we will not be taking public testimony during these briefings, I encourage you to send any comments or questions you may have to my office so that I can review them and, if appropriate, bring them up during the briefings.
On Tuesday we had our first public bill hearing of the year. One of my bills, LB 865, was on the agenda in the Urban Affairs Committee. I discussed LB 865 last week (read that update here if you need a refresher), and am proud to say that the Urban Affairs committee advanced it to the full Legislature on a unanimous vote that very same day. We also discussed bills about AirBnB and other short-term rentals (LB 756), municipal student loan support (LB 719), and other issues.
We also heard a variety of bills in the HHS Committee. Those included a measure by Senator Carol Blood to adopt the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Compact, which would help military families and others to practice more easily, but still safely, in Nebraska (LB 687); bills to allow for mobile cosmetology and nail salons (LB 790) and change training requirements for estheticians (LB 705) and electrologists (LB 706); and a proposal to require healthcare professionals to take continuing education courses on opiates (LB 788).
Other committees were just as busy. On Tuesday the Education Committee heard a bill to provide low-income students with free meals at school (LB 771). The Judiciary Committee spent Wednesday talking about Corrections, including prison overcrowding (LB 675 and LB 841) and staffing (LB 692). The Revenue Committee considered two bills related to the inheritance tax on Thursday (LB 881 and LB 882), and on Friday took up two suggestions to change the process of protesting property tax assessments (LB 885 and LB 905).
The sheer variety of bills that have hearings on any given day shows just how many ideas and proposals senators introduce each year. Because we cannot be experts on every topic under the sun, it is vital for interested citizens and organizations to share their experiences and knowledge with us at these public bill hearings. To see the full list of which bills the Committees are hearing each day, check the Legislature’s calendar here.
BPSF Soup Cook-Off
The 6th Annual Bellevue Public Safety Foundation Soup Cook-Off will take place from 5:00-8:00 pm on January 26th. Head over to the Bellevue Volunteer Firefighters’ Hall to try tasty soups and vote for who takes home the coveted Golden Ladle Award! Check out the Bellevue Leader’s article about this year’s event for admission details and other information.
Bellevue Library Legislative Coffee – February 17th
Please also mark your calendars for 10:00 am on February 17th, when the Bellevue Public Library will host its first Legislative Coffee event of 2017. Senator Blood and I will be there to talk about the legislative session and our bills, and to answer any questions attendees may have. I hope to see you there!
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All the best,