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Floor Debate this Week
This week the Legislature made good progress on bills. We advanced a number of them to the next round of discussion, while a few others were debated for a time and now await continued consideration. Among the bills we did advance, I would like to highlight four that I believe are of particular importance.
The first, taken up and advanced on Monday, was Senator Sara Howard’s LB 931. This critical bill is another piece of the state’s efforts to tackle opioid addiction and abuse. Senator Howard, who has personal experience with the devastation opioid addiction can wreak on families, has led the Legislature’s efforts to control these substances for years now. Senators John Kuehn and Brett Lindstrom were also key to getting LB 931 passed without a single dissenting vote. You can listen to a great overview of the floor debate on that bill here.
Next on Monday we took up LB 1078, which I introduced and which the Executive Board prioritized. As I discussed a few weeks ago when the bill had its committee hearing, this bill was introduced to help the Office of the Inspector General of Child Welfare (OIG) more effectively track and respond to reports of child abuse in state care. On Thursday the Omaha World Herald ran a great editorial on why LB 1078 is so important; you can read that piece here. My colleagues in the Unicameral clearly understand how important this legislation is, as it too advanced to the second round of debate without any dissenting votes.
On Wednesday we debated LB 935, which is a bill by the Legislative Performance Audit Committee to improve reporting requirements of the Nebraska Advantage Act. The Advantage Act is the single largest state business incentive program, but reports from the Department of Revenue suggest it spends more than it creates in investment (as explained further in the description of my LB 996 below). LB 935 is an important step to improve the Legislature’s ability to effectively assess the Advantage Act and its future.
Also on Wednesday we advanced Senator Carol Blood’s LB 685. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this proposal, which creates a funding priority within the Nebraska Medicaid program for military children who are severely disabled and not covered by Tricare. As military families move from state to state, LB 685 ensures that these families have timely access to critical services.
Final Committee Hearings
LB 996 – On Tuesday, I had my final bill hearing in front of the Revenue Committee. In order to gain a better understanding of the Nebraska Advantage Act (the state’s largest business incentive program), the Economic Development Task Force spent the interim meeting with the Department of Revenue, the Legislative Audit Office, Nebraska businesses currently receiving benefits under the Act, and tax incentive experts. In its 2017 report, the Task Force concluded that the Nebraska Advantage Act must be reformed or replaced before its 2020 sunset with an incentive program that includes reforms such as: increasing wage requirements; simplifying qualification standards; clarifying benchmarks for evaluation; controlling future costs; and increasing budget predictability. A Nebraska Department of Revenue analysis of the Advantage Act found that lost tax revenues have exceeded gains from the additional economic activity and will continue to do so through 2025. This net cost to the state was $50.7 million in 2017, and the annual cost is expected to grow to an estimated $81.8 million by 2025. The cumulative cost of the Advantage Act is projected to be just under $500 million by 2020. As chair of the Economic Task Force, I introduced LB 996 to start the conversation about needed changes to this program.
HHS Rules & Regs hearing
Many of the bills that we pass in the Unicameral authorize our state agencies to run programs or enforce rules. Sometimes the law also requires the agency to establish rules and regulations to provide more specific details on how the program will be run or how the rules will be enforced. An important part of our oversight role as legislators is making sure that regulations get done (“promulgated” as it’s called officially) and that they carry out legislative intent. In 2013, after challenges that the Legislature was having getting rules and regulations promulgated, we passed Senator Howard’s bill, LB 242, to require that any agency that had not promulgated regulations required by a bill within three years had to report that to the Legislature and respond in a hearing concerning why those regulations were not done. This is a critical tool to help us do this part of our job. Without this requirement, these regulations can fall through the cracks. It is a good example of how the work of a bill doesn’t end when the bill passes.
This week we held the required hearing on the June 2017 report on regulations that were not complete after three or more years since the bill passage. Unfortunately, there were several bills in the report in this status. We pushed for action and clarification on these bills and discussed some options for improving the process, including identifying bills that could be implemented without rules and regulations, but which have language requiring the promulgation of rules and regulations, to clear them out of the system.
DD Proclamation Signing
On Thursday March 1st a number of senators, advocates, and family members came together in the Capitol rotunda to honor and celebrate members of our community who live with developmental disabilities. Led by Senator Kate Bolz, we signed a legislative resolution declaring March Developmental Disabilities Awareness month. The resolution will be introduced on our next session day, which is Tuesday.
Speaking at the resolution signing ceremony
The final paragraph of the resolution reads in part: “our communities are stronger when everyone participates and encourages all citizens to support opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities that include full access to education, housing, employment and recreational activities.” We each have a role to play in supporting our friends, families, and community members with developmental disabilities, and our state is all the stronger for it.
Young Leaders at the Capitol This Week
Especially in short session years, when our schedule is compressed, there are some weeks when it seems like everyone visits the Capitol at once. This was one of those weeks, where we had a number of great groups of young people engaging with their Legislature and developing their leadership skills.
On Monday the Nebraska Association of Social Workers (NASW) held their annual student day at the Legislature. Our intern Molly Triggs, who is a social work student at UNO, took off her intern hat for the day and joined NASW for their activities along with her fellow students from across the state. I attended lunch with them, which allowed me to spend time talking to a number of future social workers, including many students from Creighton.
Meeting with young people is one of my favorite parts of being a senator, and this week provided lots of opportunities! On Tuesday the Urban League of Nebraska organized the second annual Black & Brown Legislative Day. That event’s goal is to help empower communities of color, and to give young people an opportunity to talk with their representatives about the policies that impact them. This group was full of leaders and visionaries, and I cannot wait to see what they accomplish.
Also on Tuesday, a group of Americorps student volunteers from Peru State visited my office. These college students all work with various after-school programs in Nebraska City, focused on teaching kids good nutritional habits and how to lead an active lifestyle.
Meeting with Americorps volunteers (L-R) Brandon Sullivan, Destiny Worthey, Kaylee Gill, Spencer Kerwin and Noah Temme
Wednesday was the University of Nebraska’s annual dinner, which is attended by student leaders from across the four university campuses. They took time to tell us about their college experiences and how the University system is preparing them for careers and life after school.
On Thursday the organization College Possible hosted a breakfast to familiarize senators and staff with their work. College Possible utilizes a mix of peer support, coaching/mentoring, after-school sessions, and transition support to help low-income students reach college and succeed once they get there. One student we met was Catarina Francisco, a first-generation college student who graduated from UNO as a Buffett Scholar. The hard work of students like Catarina is a lesson on what people can achieve if they’re supported and given the opportunity to show their stuff.
The Alzheimer’s Association of Nebraska was also in the Capitol on Thursday. I had the chance to visit with Kathie Bickerstaff, who shared her support for LB1004. That bill supports Aging and Disabled Resource Centers (ADRCs), which connect families with support & resources. Kathie will soon be awarded the Purple Profiles of Courage award for her advocacy for families dealing with Alzheimer’s. Congratulations Kathie!
Thursday March 1st was Statehood Day, when we celebrated Nebraska’s 151st birthday. Members of Calvary Community Church in Lincoln brought delicious cookies to help celebrate!
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All the best,