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Floor Debate and Bills Advanced
This week the Legislature was highly productive in our morning debate sessions. We voted to advance a number of important bills. Some of those bills include:
My LB 306 was discussed and advanced in the middle of the week. LB 306 adds family caregiving responsibilities to the list of reasons that a person can leave a job “for good cause” so that they are eligible for unemployment. We added a provision that employees need to have spoken to their employers to try to make accommodations before they quit. We certainly encourage employers and employees to seek understanding and accomodation when a family member is sick, as retaining employment is often a vital financial lifeline for caregivers and good for business stability. But if that is not possible with the demands of the job or the care needed, that employee can get some assistance while they apply for a job that would accommodate their caregiving needs.
We also discussed and unanimously advanced Senator Justin Wayne’s LR 1CA, a proposed constitutional amendment that will remove a clause in our state constitution that still allows slavery as punishment for a crime. No such sentence has been handed down since the 1940s, and it is important that our constitution is updated to confirm that slavery in any situation is inhumane and against every value we hold dear. While sometimes our law books contain outdated and defunct references that are effectively ignored, such a glaring stain on our collective history deserves no place in our state’s core legal foundation. Once the Legislature approves LR 1CA it will appear on the next general election ballot in 2020 to be confirmed by the voters.
Senator Tom Brewer introduced LB 154 after working with Judi gaishkibos of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, and many others. The bill authorizes a comprehensive 2-year state study on missing Native American women and children, who go missing at a significantly higher rate than do other demographic groups. This study will provide key information about why these crimes occur at such a high rate and, crucially, what the state can do to support efforts by our own law enforcement, tribal governments, and nonprofits to stem the tide.
Another bill we discussed was LB 192. Introduced by Senator John McCollister, it allows National Guard and Reserve veterans to be recognized through our existing veteran designation on our driver’s licenses and state identification cards. This recognizes the service of those who have served in the National Guard and Reserves.
Bill Hearings This Week
This was a busy week for my office. Of the 22 bills I introduced, we had public hearings for more than one quarter of them just this week! Those bills were:
On Monday February 4th the Business and Labor Committee heard two of my bills, both focused on employee well-being and productivity. LB 305 creates the “Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act” and requires employers with four or more employees to provide employees with one hour of “sick and safe” leave for every thirty hours worked. Safe leave can be used by employees experiencing domestic violence or stalking. The second bill, LB 311, creates the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act. PFMLA will provide time off with partial wage replacement for qualifying reasons for all workers covered by unemployment insurance: six weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition or a military family member preparing for or returning from deployment, and twelve weeks to care for a new child or for one’s own health condition. Channel 3 News did a great story on LB 311, which you can find here.
We had a third hearing on Monday – LB 235 in the General Affairs Committee. This bill allows for those making home brewed alcohol to serve samples at festivals and fundraisers without a permit, as long as they are not selling the samples and the event is legally conducted under the Nebraska Liquor Control Act. Monday was definitely the busiest day in a hectic week.
On Tuesday February 5th the Urban Affairs Committee discussed LB 124, which clarifies that municipalities can jointly administer a clean energy assessment district under the Property Assessment Clean Energy Act, or PACE program. This is a “cleanup” bill for legislation that was passed several years back.
We had a break from hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, then went right back to it on Friday February 8th. Over the noon our the Executive Board heard LB 566 which requires the department of insurance to inform the legislature before they seek a waiver and then seek legislative approval prior to implementing a 1332 Waiver, or “state innovation” waiver. State innovation waivers allow states to manipulate the types of health plans that are available on the ACA marketplace, so this bill would provide important oversight and protection for Nebraskans.
Last, the Revenue Committee discussed LB 123. This bill fixes an issue for the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. A current requirement in the Taxpayer Transparency Act requires them to publish information about their contracts with individuals receiving services online, which is in conflict with the Commission’s confidentiality policies. The Commission brought this bill to me and I was happy to introduce it for them.
Now my office has a bit of a break, as our next bill hearing is not scheduled until February 21st. Committee hearings will continue until the end of March, with the Legislature tentatively scheduled to begin all-day floor debate on April 2nd. As always, you can find the full list of committee hearings here.
Legislative Performance Audit Committee
This biennium I was appointed to the Legislative Performance Audit Committee and had the honor of being elected Vice Chair by the other members. The Performance Audit Committee is charged with giving oversight and policy guidance to the Legislative Performance Audit office, which is staffed with professional full-time auditing staff. Unlike the State Auditor’s office, which looks at agencies’ financial activities to ensure they’re following state and federal law, the Performance Audit office evaluates agencies and their programs to determine how well legislative intent is being implemented. Their job is in their name – to audit agencies’ performance and check whether, and how well, they’re doing what the Legislature has asked them to.
This week the Performance Audit Committee met to discuss our priorities for the biennium. The Performance Audit office has some state programs that it is statutorily required to audit on a revolving schedule, but otherwise has broad discretion to investigate programs at senators’ request. Sometimes that’s because an agency has been in the news for questionable practices, but just as often it’s simply because a senator is curious about a program’s inner workings or thinking about potential program changes.
President’s Day Office Closure
All state offices, including my own, will be closed on Monday February 18th in observance of President’s Day. If you need assistance that day, please send me an email or call my office and leave a voicemail.
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All the best,