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Flood Recovery Resources
My office is maintaining a post on my website with information about flooding assistance resources and key contacts. You can find that page here. We will continue to update that page with additional information as it becomes available.
I want to pass along important information from the Nebraska Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NEVOAD). When cleaning up flood damage, it is critical to use the right kind of cleaning solution to avoid the growth of dangerous mold. A fungicide and wire brushes are needed to remove mold – bleach alone is NOT effective for mold remediation because it cannot clean below the surface of porous or semi-porous materials like wood.
In Nebraska, fungicidal disinfectant can be obtained free of charge for flood clean up at:
Homeowners still in need of clean-up assistance can call the Crisis Clean Up Hotline at 833-556-2476. In addition, homeowners can find more information at: http://www.heartlandchurchnetwork.com/flood-relief.html
Unicameral Youth Legislature
Each summer at the Nebraska State Capitol, the Clerk of the Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The registration deadline is May 15th, so register soon! High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators in the nation’s one and only unicameral by conducting committee hearings, sponsoring and debating bills, and exploring the legislative process. Students who are interested in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate, or public speaking are encouraged to consider this program, which will be held from June 9th to the 12th. My son, Nate, participated when he was in high school and really enjoyed the experience.
Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Other $100 scholarships are also available. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program. To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call the Clerk of the Legislature’s office at (402) 471-2788.
First Round Budget Discussion
Last week the Appropriations Committee advanced their budget proposal to the full Legislature. On Wednesday May 8th we took up the budget for debate. Most of the Committee’s recommendations were advanced without significant changes. The one exception is that the body voted to put a full $51 million into the Property Tax Credit Fund, rather than sending $26 million to the fund and $25 million into the cash reserve as the Committee had recommended.
One of the key investments included in the budget is funding for a skilled nursing addition to the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home (ENVH) in Bellevue. The Department of Veterans Affairs has the opportunity to expand the ENVH by 25-30 of the skilled beds to address the waiting list at the facility. Cutting the ENVH waiting list will allow the state to serve more veterans in the skilled facilities they need.
Our budget also included $2.4 million in additional funding to expand five “problem-solving courts” for drug offenders and veterans across the state. Problem-solving courts have the potential to divert offenders from our overcrowded prison system by offering an alternative to incarceration. Problem-solving courts are meant to interrupt the cycle of addiction and criminal behavior through a proactive, cost effective alternative to traditional court procedures. Problem- solving courts bring together the judge, prosecutor, defense counsel, coordinator, community supervision officer, law enforcement, and treatment provider(s), all working together to design an individualized program. Individuals involved in problem-solving courts must show compliance with their treatment plans and court orders by undergoing frequent alcohol or drug testing, close community supervision, and progress hearings with a judge. These courts, along with other alternative justice mechanisms like our Office of Dispute Resolution, are key tools to reduce the prison population and recidivism rates simultaneously.
In the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) budget, the Legislature provided money for the Medicaid expansion approved by the voters last year. We also included money to increase provider payment rates for Medicaid, child welfare and other Health and Human Services providers. This increase is long overdue; providers have not had regular increases in their reimbursement rates in previous budgets, to the extent that many report not being able to afford to treat Medicaid patients. Those cuts hurt both providers and patients, so I am glad the Legislature saw the wisdom in raising rates this year.
The budget will go through two more rounds of debate and voting in the coming weeks.
On Friday the Legislature took up Consent Calendar, a unique feature of the Unicameral that allows the body to move quickly on non-controversial bills. There is a strict 15-minute limit on debate for each Consent Calendar bill, after which a vote is automatically taken. This year Speaker Jim Scheer put 30 bills on the Consent Calendar. It is up to the Speaker to decide which bills get this special designation, though any three senators who disagree with a bill’s inclusion can submit a letter to the Speaker to have the bill removed from the list.
Although the Speaker ultimately decides which bills fit on the Consent Calendar, he adheres to a few rules for the kinds of bills that can be considered. Bills must be non-controversial (which means either no opponent testifiers spoke at the public hearing, or else any opposition has been addressed by a committee amendment); the general topic must also be non-controversial (so a bill that makes a non-controversial change to a gun law, for example, would not be eligible for inclusion); the bill cannot make a lot of changes; it must have no general fund impact, but can have a cash fund appropriation; and it must have been voted out of committee, almost always unanimously. In other words, Consent Calendar is reserved for bills that are simple, unlikely to raise objections from anyone, and do not expend the state’s tax funds. This is one of the few ways for a bill to receive consideration without a formal priority designation, and is designed to allow seemingly minor issues, which may not rise to the level of priority compared to other bills but which are still important to the state, to be dealt with.
One of my bills received Consent Calendar designation this year. LB 123 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.
All of the Consent Calendar bills we advanced are important, but I won’t deluge you with 29 more bill summaries. A few that are of particular interest, though, include:
Bills on the Agenda
With the budget and other lengthy discussions on our docket this week, we got through a limited number of new bills. A couple of those key proposals include:
LB 690 was introduced by Senator Cavanaugh and given a Speaker Priority. The bill prohibits an incarcerated pregnant woman from being restrained during labor and delivery or postpartum, including during transport to a medical facility. Restraining women during childbirth is inhumane, harmful to the health of both mother and child, and entirely unnecessarily except during the rarest and most exceptional of circumstances. The bill does allow exceptions for such cases. Banning this practice is the right thing to do.
Senator Dan Quick introduced LB 424, which would amend the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act to allow cities across the state to create and join land banks; under current law, only municipalities in Douglas and Sarpy Counties can create land banks. The bill was prioritized by Senator John Stinner. Land banks empower cities to clean up problem properties and put homes back on our tax rolls, rather than languishing in disrepair. LB 424 did not have enough votes to support the cloture motion, which was necessary since the bill was filibustered. It takes 33 votes to pass a cloture motion, which is tough to get. I support the concept of land banking, and know Senator Quick will work on a new proposal over the summer to bring back next session.
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All the best,