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Bills Debated and Advanced
This was a productive week in the Legislature. While the committees work to discuss and advance new 2018 bills in the afternoons, we have been able to use the mornings to debate a number of bills that were not given priority status last year, but which are still important to consider. This is known as taking up bills on “worksheet order”, which means we discuss them in the same chronological order that they are approved by committees. As senators and committees begin to designate 2018 priorities, we will have less time to discuss worksheet order bills.
We also spent some time discussing my bill LB 589. The intent of this legislation is to provide child victims and witnesses in a felony cases with additional protections from pre-trial depositions if a videotaped forensic interview has been conducted by a professional with specialized training at a nationally accredited child advocacy center. With 73% of child victims in Nebraska being 12 years of age or younger, we have a duty to be sensitive to the trauma caused by these children continually repeating or being questioned about a traumatic event central to a criminal case. Some of my colleagues raised concerns about the burden of proof this bill would put on the defense to access depositions. I worked with my colleagues on an amendment that addresses some of these concerns while still protecting our most vulnerable children. This bill will be back on the agenda for Tuesday morning debate and it is my hope that we can advance an amended version of the bill to the next round of debate.
Workforce Development Meeting
On Friday, I joined the Coalition for a Strong Nebraska, the ACLU, the Holland Children’s Movement as well as my colleagues Senator Laura Ebke and Senator John McCollister to talk about workforce development in the state. In order to grow Nebraska’s economy and give workers the opportunity to thrive, we have to think critically about how to support workers and help them develop their skills.
During this meeting we discussed my bill, LB 844, which provides employees who work for an employer with four or more employees with up to one week of sick and safe leave every year. Nearly half of Nebraska workers do not have access to paid sick leave.
Worker access to paid leave benefits Nebraska and our workforce by: enhancing public health with less people going to work with contagious illnesses; helping family caregivers to balance family and work responsibilities; and enhancing productivity and reducing turnover at businesses.
Crawford Bill Hearings
This week I had two bill hearings. The first, on Tuesday, was on LB 764 in the Agriculture Committee. I do not have many bills referred to that committee, so it was an enjoyable change from my usual routine! The Legislature has been working hard to remove barriers to employment through occupational licensing reform. It is critical that the state continue to pursue innovative approaches that allow all Nebraskans to earn an income. LB 764 is a “cottage food law” that would allow Nebraskans to sell foods already authorized for sale at farmers’ markets to customers from their homes. It only seems logical that consumers be allowed to buy these same foods, produced in the same conditions and with the same labels from their neighbors at any time of the year.
The second hearing this week was back in the Health and Human Services Committee. LB 894 would bring Nebraska into the Recognition of EMS Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact (REPLICA). Like other compacts, LB 849 eliminates red tape and allows licensed and qualified EMS personnel to provide care in another member state under certain circumstances without having to obtain additional licenses. REPLICA also validates our commitment to veterans and their spouses by creating an expedited pathway to licensure in member states.
The committees have so far taken no action on LB 764 and LB 894, but you can check back on the bill webpages any time for updates.
Committee Bill Work
As I mentioned above, the Committees are still hard at work. On Monday, the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee heard a LB 683 which allows for active duty military members and/or their spouses to be licensed realtors in Nebraska without having to pay the licensing fee, provided they have a valid realtor’s license in another state. This is one of many bills that was introduced this session to eliminate barriers for military families to enter the Nebraska workforce.
On Tuesday the Urban Affairs hearing discussed a bill to allow any municipality to create a land bank, rather than just municipalities in Douglas and Sarpy counties as current law requires (LB 854). My office studied the issue of land banks and abandoned property over the 2017 interim, so it was good to see this issue addressed. The Committee advanced the bill to the full legislature on a unanimous vote at the end of the week. Tuesday also marked the beginning of public hearings for the Appropriations Committee, which will consider budget requests and recommendations for every state agency between now and mid-February before making their final budget proposal to the full Legislature.
On Wednesday the Judiciary Committee had a long day discussing bills related to juvenile justice. The bills they heard addressed issues such as rules for juvenile room confinement in a custody (LB 870) and what the membership makeup of the Nebraska Coalition for Juvenile Justice should be (LB 670).
Thursday’s biggest draw was LB 829, which would bring major changes to property taxes in Nebraska. The Revenue Committee heard several hours of testimony, both from those who feel property tax relief must be prioritized above all else, and from those who are deeply concerned about how such drastic reform would impact state budgets and potentially cause tax increases in other areas. You can read more about the arguments for both sides in the Journal Star here.
The Health and Human Services Committee on Friday had a public health focus. Among other issues, we talked about whether under-18s should be permitted to visit tanning salons (LB 838) and how the state can better train child care providers and others who care for small children about safe sleep and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (LB 717). In addition to public hearings, the Health and Human Services committee had several briefings this week on issues related to Child Welfare including case loads and workforce training for Child Welfare workers. These front line workers are critical to protecting child safety.
As always, the Committees heard about far more interesting, important bills than I am able to discuss here. For a full picture of what was discussed each day, check the Legislature’s committee calendar here.
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All the best,