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Legislative Session Begins
The 2nd Session of the 105th Legislature formally convened on Wednesday of this week. We began with a few opening formalities, including the swearing-in of a new Chief Sergeant at Arms, Jim Doggett. We also welcomed a new colleague to the body: Senator Theresa Thibodeau, who was appointed in October to fill former Senator Joni Craighead’s seat.
Though there are fewer big opening events for short sessions, many senators invite friends, family, or other guests to the Capitol for the first day. This year my husband and both sons were able to join me. Their support has been invaluable as I enter my sixth year of legislative service.
Time Change for Military Spouse Teacher Licensure Hearing
The December update included information about a Department of Education hearing on military spouse licensure (full details here). That hearing will take place on January 25th, but the time has now been changed – the hearing will take place at 1:00 pm rather than 10:00 am. I still encourage anyone interested to attend, and wanted to make sure you know about the time change.
Crawford Bills Introduced
The three session days this week were devoted just to introducing bills. During that time I introduced six bills. I will elaborate about each of my bills as they come up for public hearing, but to give you a preview:
LB 764 allows Nebraskans to sell many of the items that they can already sell at farmers’ markets to customers from their homes if they do not make more than $25,000 a year on these sales.
LB 839 expands state disclosure rules for organizations that spend money on ads that specifically target a candidate in the 60 days prior to an election. This requires reporting for election-related materials that would not be covered under our current reporting requirements. If groups are pouring money into Nebraska campaigns, our citizens and candidates have a right to know who they are.
LB 844 requires employers to allow employees to earn paid sick leave to take care of themselves or a family member if the employer doesn’t already provide sick leave or paid time off. In a recent survey, over ¾ of Nebraskans favor policies that expand paid sick leave. (Nebraska Values Project, Holland Children’s Institute, 2017).
LB 865 – prevents municipalities from waiving second and third readings of ordinances by vote if the ordinance concerns redistricting or annexation. Currently, state law prohibits cities of the first class (like Bellevue and most Sarpy cities) and smaller cities from waiving the second and third readings for annexation ordinances. The bill makes sure that on these major city issues citizens will be able to know that a second and third reading will occur if they wish to be present.
LB 866 – provides a mechanism that ensures that the Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature is informed in a timely manner when the Department of Health and Human Service makes major changes to our Medicaid program through waivers. This notification ensures that the Legislature can respond if necessary before the waiver goes into effect. Waivers are special agreements with the federal government that can change who qualifies or what services are provided. Recent federal changes have opened up greater possibilities for waivers that might have major impacts on our programs.
Finally, I introduced LB 867 to increase accountability and performance in DHHS’ three Medicaid managed care organizations, collectively known as Heritage Health. The bill addresses a couple of issues that have repeatedly been raised in our oversight hearings.
Senators have ten working days total to introduce bills at the start of each session, which means new proposals may be introduced through January 18th this year. However, our deadline to submit bill drafts is January 12th, so most bills are already in progress. You can find out the status of any bill by searching for it at nebraskalegislature.gov. You can look at the full list of the bills introduced this session here.
Legislative Procedures and Schedule
Starting on Monday of next week, we will begin debating a motion to adopt permanent rules to govern the 2018 session. It is my hope that this debate will be a short one, so that we can move on to the business of the bills before us for the session.
Committee bill hearings will begin the afternoon of Tuesday January 16th (Monday the 15th is a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day). Except in rare circumstances, committees must post notice of all bill hearings no later than 7 days before the scheduled date. Thus, the first hearing notices should be posted no later than Tuesday January 9th. Hearings typically begin at 1:30 pm each day that the legislature is in session, and will run through the end of February.
Economic Development Task Force
Friday morning the Economic Development Task Force invited all senators to discuss our 2017 report (read the report here). This informal meeting was an opportunity to talk about the report and its recommendations with senators outside the Task Force. We will continue those conversations in 2018, and expect to begin taking up our 2017 recommendations, as well as exploring new economic development avenues, this summer after the 2018 session adjourns.
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All the best,
Legislature Resumes January 3rd
The 2nd session of the 105th Legislature will begin next week on January 3rd. As in all even-numbered years, the upcoming session will be sixty days long (you can see the tentative 2018 calendar here). This email also marks the last monthly newsletter before we transition back to sending out updates on a weekly basis, so that you can receive the latest news about what is happening in committee hearings and on the legislative floor.
We’ve been working over the interim on several bills that we will discuss in our updates next session as we introduce them. The topics include: protecting our children from sex abuse; allowing entrepreneurs to sell food from their home that they can currently sell at farmers’ markets; expanding opportunities for our best and brightest to work in internships in Nebraska; allowing workers with no paid time off or sick time from their employer to be able to earn sick leave time to take care of themselves and their family; bills to strengthen accountability measures to help us continue to push our new Medicaid system (Heritage Health) to improve; bills to protect our children in our child welfare system; and bills to reduce licensure barriers to careers in the state (while still protecting public safety). Of course, I will also be working with my colleagues on bills that will be good for our district and the state, and fighting against bills that threaten our future. I look forward to another session of working for you!
Teacher Licensing for Military Spouses
Spouses of active duty military members face a number of unique challenges, and in my time in the Legislature it has been one of my priorities to support policies that alleviate those challenges. One such example affects spouses who are teachers. Moving frequently from base to base can make it extremely difficult to obtain or retain a teaching license, since many states have disparate requirements and not all of them recognize existing licenses from other states. The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) recently announced that they have finalized and given initial approval to a rule change to help military spouses past that barrier.
The draft rule change, which would create a special class of licence known as the Military Teaching permit, can be found here (the relevant section begins on page 20). NDE will hold a public hearing on this proposed rule Thursday January 25th at 10:00 am, at the NDE’s offices in the State Office Building in Lincoln – 301 Centennial Mall South. If you are able to attend and would like to comment on the proposal, I encourage you to attend.
This proposed rule change has come about thanks to the hard work of several individuals, particularly Shannon Chandler Manion, wife of 55th Wing Commander Col. Michael Manion, who dedicated a great deal of her personal time to the effort. NDE has also been a helpful and responsive partner, without whose cooperation and active investment the change would not have moved forward. Senator Carol Blood has also been a consistent voice for policies like this one that help military families live the most normal lives possible while their loved ones serve.
Protecting our Kids
Project Harmony is a Child Advocacy Center with a mission to end the cycle of child abuse and neglect. Project Harmony supports child abuse victims and collaborates with law enforcement, social services, and medical professionals to work for the best outcomes for survivors. On December 7th I toured their Omaha offices, which serve Douglas and Sarpy Counties and a portion of western Iowa. I look forward to working with these dedicated individuals to advance child welfare in our state.
Protecting our children is a critical obligation for all of us. I have two bills from last session that I will continue to push in 2018. One protects 16- and 17-year-old kids from sexual abuse from persons of authority, such as teachers, coaches, and foster parents. The bill stipulates that consent is not a defense in this situation. Currently Nebraska children of this age do not have this protection. The other bill protects children who have suffered abuse, and have told their story to a trained forensic interviewer on tape, from additional pre-trial deposition questioning unless the defendant can make the case that it is essential for their defense. This change does not take away the rights of the accused during trial, but protects these children from the trauma of retelling their story unnecessarily and having their story questioned by a defense attorney before the trial without a judge present. The child advocates at Project Harmony, the Nebraska Alliance of Child Advocacy Centers, and the Nebraska CASA Association all supported this bill last session.
We have a special obligation to protect the children who are under our care in our foster care system. Unfortunately, we learned with two reports near the end of the year that we have much work left to do to protect these kids in Nebraska. I have been working with Senator Bolz, Senator Howard, and child advocates from across the state to identify some bills that could help strengthen our child welfare system. We plan to meet with other senators from both parties in the first week of the new year to build a coalition of senators who will take on some important changes in the system.
Hwy 75 Farm Implement Meeting
If you’ve been south of Bellevue on Highway 75, you’ve seen all the construction underway. After the construction is done, Hwy 75 will be a freeway through that area. One of the consequences of the freeway designation is that farm implements would normally not be allowed onto the road. However, since Hwy 75 is the only crossing over the Platte River for several miles, we have been talking with the Department of Transportation about the need to make allowances for farm equipment in the area.
On December 13th, we worked with the Nebraska Farm Bureau to organize a meeting to allow farmers and implement dealers in the area to provide input on a draft plan to allow farm equipment to be on Hwy 75 for a short span with permit. Thanks to The Lodge for hosting us! The draft of the permit rules are available here; comments and suggestions can be sent to our office. I am happy to forward your comments to the Department of Transportation.
Economic Development Task Force
The Economic Development Task Force spent six months exploring existing research and hearing from state economic development experts, businesspeople, education specialists, and others. Our goal was to formulate a better understanding of what Nebraska’s economic landscape looks like now, and what the state’s priorities should be to foster more effective development in the future.
From that work, the Task Force created a report for 2017 that must be submitted to the Legislature. Once it is publicly posted – which should be January 2nd – the report will be available here under the “Select/Special Committees” tab. I welcome any feedback you may have.
We’ve been working on bills to tackle some of the key priorities of the report, including attracting and retaining our best and brightest and improving our economic development incentive programs to strengthen their effectiveness and to protect our other budget priorities. More on these bills in the new year updates!
Operation Holiday Cheer
Each year the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and Bellevue Economic Enhancement Foundation coordinate Operation Holiday Cheer, which provides hundreds of airmen at Offutt with bags of goodies for the holiday season. Operation Holiday Cheer is a way to show the Bellevue Community’s support for our locally stationed troops.
On December 5th dozens of people came together to stuff the bags and pack them up to be distributed. Thanks to all those who volunteered their time or resources to help make Operation Holiday Cheer successful for another year.
Independent Cattlemen Event in Valentine
On December 16th several other Senators and I flew up to Valentine to attend the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska (ICON) annual gathering. We discussed property tax challenges facing Cattlemen and other issues that we will be discussing in the next session.
Holiday Office Closure
The Legislature will be closed this Monday January 1st. We will return on January 2nd, ready to begin the 2018 session! I wish you all a very happy New Year’s.
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All the best,
Legislature Resumes January 3rd
The 2nd session of the 105th Legislature will begin on January 3rd. As in all even-numbered years, the upcoming session will be sixty days long (you can see the tentative 2018 calendar here). The start of session also means that I will transition back to sending out my email updates on a weekly basis rather than monthly, so that you can receive the latest news about what is happening in committee hearings and on the legislative floor.
Economic Development Taskforce
The Economic Development Taskforce met on November 3rd to hold our final public hearing for 2017. The meeting began with a panel discussion on Tax Increment Financing (TIF), focusing on the opportunities and challenges of using that tool. A panel discussion with City of Lincoln Director of Urban Development Dave Landis, Open Sky Policy Institute Director Renee Fry, and Plattsmouth City Administrator Erv Portis addressed a number of issues including transparency and evaluating return on investment. After the panel, Department of Economic Development Director Courtney Dentlinger and Department of Labor Commissioner John Albin joined us for a broader review of the topics covered by the Taskforce this summer and fall.
The Taskforce is required by statute to produce a report outlining economic development priorities by the end of this year. In December, Taskforce members will meet to discuss the report draft. Once it has been approved, the report will be available here under “Select/Special Committees.”
Federal Child Welfare Report
This year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services completed a multi-phased review of the child and family services provided by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Similar reviews were conducted in 2002 and 2008. These reviews allow the state to identify areas of improvement and growth, specifically in the areas of safety and performance. A final report on this review was just released, and my office will be going through the report thoroughly to understand our state’s performance and what actions the Legislature may need to take to support the Department as they work to fulfill the recommendations made. The final report can be found here.
Legislative Council Meeting
On November 16th and 17th the full Legislature met at UNL’s East Campus to talk about the upcoming session and some of the issues that we will likely address in 2018. The Legislative Council provides a forum for us to discuss issues that we will be addressing in the next session without the focus on debating a particular bill or amendment. We had briefings on the budget shortfall, the justice oversight committee (their report will be out in December), the economic development task force, the legislative performance audit analysis of our Advantage Act tax incentives, water issues, and demographic trends that we need to consider as we plan for our future.
2018 Bill Meetings
With the 2018 session nearly here, my office spent much of November meeting with stakeholders to discuss bills in the draft process. Before a bill is introduced, I try to meet with key groups that will be impacted by the bill or who have a part to play in carrying out the bill to get their suggestions and feedback. This week I met with the Human Resources Association of the Midlands to discuss the potential administrative implications of one of the bills that I am planning to introduce. This feedback allows me to make changes to the legislation before it is introduced so that it functions more effectively on the ground if it is passed.
Sarpy Chamber Award
This year I was honored to be named the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce’s Elected Official of the Year. It was a pleasure to join the Sarpy Chamber at their annual awards dinner on November 14th, and to celebrate the business and community leaders who do so much work to make Sarpy County a wonderful place to live and work. Congratulations to all the other awardees, and thanks to the Sarpy Chamber for their work!
Fellow Sarpy Chamber honorees and Chamber staff: (back row) Tim Conrad, Maury Salz, Jim Masters, Mark Vanderheiden, Karen Gibler, (front row) Travis Castle, Shelby Rust, me, Joanne Carlberg, and Gina Vanderheiden
MHEC Annual Commission Meeting
November 12th-14th I travelled to Kansas City for the Midwestern Higher Education Compact’s Annual Commission Meeting. MHEC is a collaborative interstate compact dedicated to promoting higher educational opportunities in the Midwest. The annual meeting brings together representatives from all 12 member states to discuss what their educational strategies and some of the challenges they face. Gathering everyone together allows state representatives to share ideas and information to help advance educational excellence across MHEC members.
Bellevue Veterans Parade
Nebraska’s Official Veterans Parade was held on November 11th, and as usual it was a wonderful event. It was wonderful to walk with our 2017 Grand Marshall, Corporal Robert D Holts, and honor all the other veterans in our community.
Holiday Office Closures
The Legislature will be closed on December 25th (Christmas Day) and January 1st (New Year’s Day). Warmest wishes to you all!
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All the best,
Economic Development Taskforce
The Economic Development Taskforce met at the Capitol on October 13th for our monthly public meeting. For October the Taskforce focused on discussing economic development reports from both inside and outside the Legislature. First we had a panel from the Department of Economic Development, who shared the findings of a report on Nebraska’s innovation and entrepreneurship climate. Dan Curran, Dave Dearmont, and Joe Fox presented the report, which concluded that Nebraska’s innovation climate has improved in the last decade, but still has plenty of room to develop. The report specifically noted that limited risk capital, narrow market access for entrepreneurial products, and a small pool of experienced entrepreneurs are all challenges we face in Nebraska. Still, the report did suggest that Nebraska’s innovation climate is maturing, and that is a positive step. You can read the full report here.
Next was Dr. Eric Thompson, who is Director of the UNL Bureau of Business Research. He developed a review system of the Nebraska Business Innovation Act (NBI) to determine how successful NBI has been in achieving its goal: to attract and retain innovative businesses to the state. He analyzed NBI’s five primary programs and determined that for every $1 of direct state spending on the program, $6.72 of capital was raised; that same dollar also resulted in $7.21 in revenue. He also estimates that 967 jobs have been created as a result of NBI programs. His study found that NBI’s programs do have a measurable positive impact, and that Nebraska businesses have been successful in leveraging state support into economic growth. You can download Dr. Thompson’s full report here.
Finally we heard from Trevor Fitzgerald, our excellent Legal Counsel for the Urban Affairs Committee. He discussed the economic development tools available to municipalities, which were studied in detail in 2015 via LR155. While the state has a number economic development programs available (some of which are mentioned above), municipalities have fewer tools at their disposal. Trevor discussed the programs most often used by municipalities. You can read the full LR155 report here.
Judiciary Committee & Corrections Oversight Hearings
On October 20th the Judiciary Committee and Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee held hearings about the Department of Corrections, and particularly about efforts being made to recruit and retain corrections staff. In the morning, the Judiciary Committee heard from current and former corrections staff who detailed some of the challenges they face. The most commonly cited issues are low wages, mandatory overtime, and a perceived lack of support for staff. It is always helpful to hear from those on the front lines of this issue, and I know the Judiciary Committee will take their testimony to heart as they proceed with their task.
In the afternoon the Oversight Committee talked to Corrections Director Scott Frakes and other corrections administrators about some of the concerns raised in the morning session, as well as other issues that have been raised in the last few months on staff and inmate safety, prison operations, and staff recruitment and retention. The committee also heard from Nebraska Ombudsman Marshall Lux, who stressed the importance of continued legislative oversight. For a full account of the day’s hearings, you can read the Journal Star’s coverage here.
The Judiciary Committee and Oversight Committee will continue their important work through the fall. I will follow their progress closely, and look forward to engaging with the results of their efforts throughout the upcoming legislative session.
Health & Human Services Interim Studies
The Health and Human Services Committee also met on October 20th, and held an all-day public hearing about occupational licensing reform. We heard from professionals, students, and trainers working in electrology, body art, esthetics, nail technology, barbering, cosmetology, and massage therapy. Last session the Health and Human Services Committee considered LB343, which proposed lowering the number of training and education hours currently required by the state to obtain licensure in specific professions. During discussions of LB343, some professionals raised concerns that lowering the hours requirement could lead to safety issues; others believe that safety would not be at risk, and that lowering the requirement would be economically beneficial to the state and new professionals in those fields.
The Committee therefore chose to study the issue further over the summer and fall, leading to the series of interim study resolutions we took up on October 20th (the full list of resolutions can be found here). Interim resolutions are not voted up or down; they are simply an avenue of study and inquiry, and a chance to engage the public. However, I expect that these studies will inform our discussions on the issue in the 2018 legislative session, and I appreciate all of those who took the time to share their experiences with the Committee.
State Fiscal Forecast
As you may have seen in the Omaha World Herald or other news sources, the state’s Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met last week and lowered tax revenue projections for the current and next fiscal year. The new projections leave the state with an approximately $195 million shortfall. The upcoming session will present many challenges, and this forecast only makes things tougher. Though we will not know the full extent of any shortfall until the Forecasting Advisory Board meets again in February, I will work for efforts to close any deficit in a responsible and thoughtful manner that does not unduly harm the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Sarpy Sewer Agreement Signed
In the 2017 legislative session I sponsored LB253, which authorized the creation of interlocal agreements to fund sewer improvements. For Sarpy County, which has had challenges developing south of the ridgeline because of the expense of creating a new sewer system, LB253 provides a path forward for development in the south of the county. On October 17th the Sarpy County Board and mayors of Papillion, La Vista, Gretna, Springfield, and Bellevue held a signing ceremony for this interlocal agreement, and I was pleased to be present. The agreement should spur development in Sarpy County, which will be a boon to Sarpy County’s economy. I am glad to have helped make this agreement possible.
L-R: Papillion Mayor David Black, Springfield Mayor Bob Roseland, Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders, Senator Carol Blood, me, La Vista City Councilman Kelly Sell, Sarpy County Commissioner Brian Zuger, and Gretna City Administrator Jeff Kooistra
Bellevue Chamber Briefing
The Greater Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and Nebraska Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Legislative Forum on October 17th. The forum is an opportunity for Sarpy County senators to share their priorities and thoughts about the upcoming session with business leaders, local officials, and members of the public. Many thanks to the Bellevue and Nebraska Chambers for hosting each year.
Running and Winning Workshop
Each year the League of Women Voters holds a workshop for young women in middle and high school who are interested in future public service. This year, approximately 55 young women from across the metro area came together at UNO to learn about what it takes to get elected, how they can serve, and some of the unique opportunities and challenges that elected women experience. We had the chance to meet with the participants in small groups to answer their questions, give advice, and share our experiences. Like always, this year’s participants were bright, thoughtful young people who want to make a difference in their communities. I look forward to watching them mature into our elected leaders of the future.
Fairview Elementary Visit
The 4th graders of Fairview Elementary had beautiful weather for their visit to Lincoln on October 19th. Though I was working in Bellevue that day, my staff was there to welcome the students to their state Capitol. I hope all the kids had a wonderful and educational visit!
ACA Open Enrollment Begins
The open enrollment period for coverage under the Affordable Care Act runs November 1st to December 15th this year. You can find more information at healthcare.gov. To get enrollment assistance in the Bellevue area (or anywhere else in the state), check out Enroll Nebraska’s help page here.
Veterans Day Parade
This is the 18th year that Nebraska’s Official Veterans Day Parade will take place in Bellevue, and this year it will be held on November 11th. The parade begins at 10:00 am, and runs from the corner of Jackson Street on Mission Avenue to Washington Park on Franklin Street. This year’s Grand Marshall is Corporal Robert D Holts, an Omaha native and current Bellevue resident who served honorably with the Tuskegee Airmen from 1942-1946. I encourage you to bring the whole family to this wonderful event, and to join me in support of our community’s many veterans.
My office will be closed on November 10th in observance of Veterans Day, and on November 23rd-24th for Thanksgiving. I send my warmest wishes to all of you this fall.
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All the best,
Arts and Economic Development
Over the lunch hour on September 15, I co-hosted a lunch with Nebraskans for the Arts to allow Nebraska senators and staff to learn more about Colorado’s creative districts from Margaret Hunt, Executive Director of Colorado Creative Industries. These districts bring together artists and other creative entrepreneurs to foster community growth and economic development. I’d like to thank Doug Zbylut, Executive Director of Nebraskans for the Arts, for helping us bring this lunch together.
Economic Development Taskforce
In the afternoon the Economic Development Taskforce held its monthly briefing. For September we focused on business incentives and job growth from several angles. We heard first from the Department of Economic Development about the department’s process for recruiting new businesses to Nebraska. This was followed by a panel of business owners from across the state, who talked about their experiences starting and expanding businesses in the state. They talked about how incentives fit into their choices to expand. Jeff Chapman, Project Director at the Pew Charitable Trusts, presented an overview of his organization’s research on improving the effectiveness of tax incentives. Finally we invited Martha Carter, head of the Legislative Performance Audit office, to discuss results of work done to evaluate the Nebraska Advantage Act and to propose improvements. We had a full agenda for the afternoon, but it was a good opportunity to understand our state’s business incentives in a more more in-depth way.
Urban Affairs Committee in Grand Island
Continuing our meetings around the state this fall, the Urban Affairs Committee met in Grand Island on September 29th for interim study public hearings. The first study discussed was my LR138. LR138 seeks to study the challenges municipalities across the state are facing as they try to deal with vacant and abandoned buildings, and search for a way to remedy the lack of resources available to municipalities to address these problematic properties. We heard from a number of interested parties in Grand Island, whose testimony will be extremely helpful as senators tackle this issue.
The second part of the hearing was a continuation of last month’s discussion on LR60, sponsored by the full Urban Affairs Committee. LR60 was introduced to give us an opportunity to more thoroughly examine a 2016 report on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) produced by the State Auditor’s office. Last month the same study had a hearing in North Platte to hear from municipalities and interested parties from the western part of the state. Next month the same study will have a hearing in Lincoln.
The Urban Affairs Committee will hold one more interim hearing this fall. On October 6th the Committee will meet at the Capitol to continue hearing about LR60, and to hear testimony on Senator Justin Wayne’s LR81 on fire codes. To find more details about these or any other interim hearings scheduled by legislative committees, you can access the Legislature’s official calendar here. Hearings will be added throughout the fall as they’re finalized by each of the committees, so check back often if you’re interested in specific topics
Heritage Health Oversight Hearing
The Health and Human Services Committee convened its second quarterly Heritage Health Oversight Hearing on September 22nd. In the morning we heard from DHHS and the Managed Care Organizations about some of the improvements they have made to their processes, and their plans for continued improvement. We also heard from providers in the afternoon, however, who reported significant problems that still exist in some areas. These oversight meetings are important to hear about both the advances and issues we still see in the system. I appreciate the concrete steps taken by DHHS and the MCOs to improve performance, but am still concerned about the obstacles and administrative roadblocks reported by many providers. If you are experiencing problems with Heritage Health, please be sure to report those problems to DHHS.HeritageHealth@nebraska.gov. This email is designed to be a tracking system for problems as well as a means to get help. If you are not getting responses to or resolution for your concerns, please let me know.
Nebraska Public Health Association
The Public Health Association of Nebraska held its annual conference in Lincoln on September 21st. I joined them as part of a three-senator panel discussing public health and strategies for working effectively with senators on issues.
Former Speaker Greg Adams moderated, while Senator Mark Kolterman, Senator John Stinner, and I talked about how public health workers can be the most effective advocates for themselves and their patients. We also talked about some of the challenges facing health professionals in Nebraska, and how the Legislature can play a role in promoting and investing in public health.
Nebraska 150 Celebration
The state has been celebrating its 150th birthday for all of 2017, and September 22nd was the official community celebration at the Capitol. The whole day was filled with events, starting with the dedication of the newly completed fountains in the Capitol courtyards.
Outside on the Centennial Mall, built in 1967 to celebrate Nebraska’s 100th birthday and recently refurbished, was a giant party for the whole state. We were first treated to a performance from the 43rd Army Band, made up of men and women from our own Nebraska National Guard. Next came musical performances from several Nebraska artists, closing out with a laser light show and fireworks.
As we celebrate 150 years of statehood, we should also remember the many sacrifices made by so many to build our state. The Good Life over the years has relied on the work of countless individuals and communities working together and sacrificing to make a better future.
Soldier for Life Meeting
I met with Lieutenant Colonel Chris Pase and Lieutenant Colonel Jon Sowards from Soldier for Life on September 22nd to discuss opportunities to improve the transition of military members to communities and careers.
They were in town for trainings to help nonprofits who provide community services better understand how to work with veterans and their families. We also discussed ideas to recruit and help veterans transition into medical careers in the state. I appreciated the insights provided by Lt. Col. Pase and Lt. Col. Soward, and look forward to continued work on those issues going forward.
Rosie Revere Engineering Program
On September 23rd the Bellevue Public Library hosted an annual program to encourage girls to consider careers in engineering.
Based around the book “Rosie Revere, Engineer” by Angela Beaty, the event lets girls explore engineering in a fun and interactive way. This year’s event was sponsored by Senator Carol Blood, E&A Consultants, and Leo A Daley. It was a lot of fun spending time with so many smart young women!
Offutt Advisory Council
The Offutt Advisory Council (OAC) met on September 13th to discuss this year’s programs and plan for upcoming events. OAC is made up of community and business leaders in Sarpy County whose goals are to promote the base outside Nebraska and make life as welcoming as possible for Offutt servicemembers and their families.
OAC hosts events like the annual Offutt Appreciation Day Picnic, which provides a free day of food and fun to Offutt families to thank them for their service, and the Holiday Wishes drive to send care packages to troops overseas. OAC has worked closely with the leadership at Offutt for 25 years to support the base, and I am proud to be a part of those continuing efforts.
Grand Marshal Nominations
Nebraska’s Official Veterans Parade will take place this year on November 11th in Bellevue. Parade organizers are currently accepting nominations for the 2017 Grand Marshal, and you are invited to submit your suggestions. Nominations are due by October 13th.
In order to nominate someone, you should provide a detailed bio on service to country and your reasons that you feel your nominee deserves the acknowledgement. Your nominee must be able to be at the dignitary breakfast beginning at 7:30 a.m. on November 11th, be available to ride in the parade from approximately 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon, present a small speech at the breakfast on their experience, and be willing to be interviewed by media.
You can send your nomination information to Doris Urwin at the Greater Bellevue Area Chamber of Commerce. You can email Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail your nomination materials to 1102 Galvin Road South, Bellevue NE 68005. They request that you include both your contact information and the contact information for your nominee. Once a selection is made, the winner will be contacted. If you have any questions, you can also reach Doris at 402-504-9774.
Please note that the Legislature and other state offices will be closed on Monday October 9th in observance of Columbus Day. If you need anything that day, please send me an email or leave a voicemail with my office. My staff will be back in the office Tuesday morning.
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All the best,
Economic Development Taskforce
This month the Economic Development Taskforce met to discuss the ways in which the arts and humanities contribute to a strong economy and good quality of life in Nebraska. Representatives from Nebraskans for the Arts, the Lincoln Arts Council, Beatrice Community Players, the Northeast Downtown Omaha Arts & Trades District, and the Willa Cather Foundation were able to share unique insights about their organizations’ impacts and their ideas for fostering more creative and historic development. One of the resources provided at the hearing was an overview of policies in place in different states to encourage this kind of development, which you can access here.
Our office is also hosting a lunch in September at the Capitol to learn more about how Creative Districts have worked in our neighboring state of Colorado.
Urban Affairs Committee in North Platte
On August 24th the Urban Affairs Committee traveled to North Platte to hold a public hearing on two interim studies: LR160 and LR60.
The purpose of LR160, introduced by Senator Dan Hughes, was to consider what tools Nebraska municipalities have to offer relocation incentives to prospective new residents. Particularly in more rural areas, skilled workers are in high demand to fill jobs in healthcare, construction, and other fields. For better or worse, our state constitution restricts simple relocation incentives in the form of loan repayment or tax forgiveness that some other states use. On the one hand, this makes it more difficult for our communities to compete with other states; but on the other hand, it also puts up strong protections on use of public money.
LR60, sponsored by the full Urban Affairs Committee, was introduced to give us an opportunity to more thoroughly examine a 2016 report on TIF produced by the State Auditor’s office. In North Platte we heard from some of the municipalities whose TIF projects were cited in the Auditor’s report. In most of these testimonies, municipalities explained how they had changed processes to address the concerns that were raised in the report. Most of these concerns were identified by the auditor as actions allowable under the law, but which raised questions about whether the law should be tightened to restrict these actions in the future. LB95, which I introduced last session, included many provisions to tighten these parts of the TIF statutes.
The Urban Affairs Committee has two more interim hearings scheduled for this fall. The first, in Grand Island on September 29th, will consider my LR138 on municipal condemnation and demolition as well as LR60. The second hearing, to be held in Lincoln on October 6th, will cover LR60 and Senator Justin Wayne’s LR81 on fire codes. To find more details about these or any other interim hearings scheduled by legislative committees, you can access the Legislature’s official calendar here. Hearings will be added throughout the fall as they’re finalized, so check back if you’re interested in specific topics.
Interim Issue Research
The Nebraska Legislature is structured so that senators may only introduce new bills in the first 10 days of each session, but my office often receives bill ideas throughout the year. In addition to the formal interim studies carried out by committees and senators, the fall months are an opportunity to look into those ideas that were brought to my office after bill introduction was over for 2017. In the month of August my office began researching some of those issues and scheduling meetings to learn more about them. Some (but not all!) of the topics we are investigating include protections for student journalists, military retirement taxes, the cost of insulin, staffing ratios in nursing homes, school lunch funding, cottage industry regulations, and many others. Though we will not introduce a bill on all issues, these ideas from constituents are always welcome. Oftentimes our early research suggests non-legislative solutions or improvements in the areas we examine. If you have an idea or concern, feel free to contact the office and share it with us.
Legislative Page Applications Open
Do you know anyone interested in serving as a page for the 2018 legislative session? Pages are college students who assist senators and the Clerk of the Legislature with various tasks, such as running errands for senators during the legislative session, assisting the Presiding Officer, and setting up and staffing committee hearings. The Page Program is open to high school graduates who are currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school, and is an excellent opportunity to learn the basics of state government. It is a paid part-time position, and many students receive college internship credit.
The deadline for applications is Friday September 29th. Those interested in applying should first contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office at (402) 471-2271 or email Kitty Kearns at email@example.com for an application. All applicants are also asked to provide a letter of recommendation from their state senator. If you live in LD45, I would be happy to hear from you!
Arrows to Aerospace Parade
The Arrows to Aerospace Parade on August 19th was, as always, a great success! This year the parade was designated one of the official events celebrating Nebraska’s 150th anniversary. That meant there was an even wider array of presentations, activities, and attendees than usual. I enjoyed marching in the parade and meeting with Bellevue residents in the park afterwards. I had a table in the park in the afternoon and had several folks stop by to talk.
Many thanks to the Bellevue-Offutt Kiwanis and other volunteers who work so hard to make the parade and community event such a success year after year!
Kiwanis Club of Bellevue
Senator Carol Blood and I spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Bellevue on August 17th. It is always a pleasure to join community-minded groups like Kiwanis. Our August gathering provided an opportunity to discuss previous and upcoming legislative sessions alike, as well as answer questions and talk about the priorities and concerns of those in attendance. As usual, it was an engaging and enjoyable time.
Backpacks for Offutt Students
My friend and colleague Senator Carol Blood organized an event on August 17th to distribute backpacks full of school supplies to military families in Bellevue who needed a little extra help at the start of the school year. It was an absolute honor to support this event, along with the many other donors and volunteers who made it happen.
This kind of support for our military families is a big part of what makes Bellevue such a strong community.
Eclipse Day at the Capitol
I hope you all had an opportunity to enjoy at least part of the eclipse that traveled across Nebraska on August 21st! My staffers Christina and Shayna were able to join other legislative staff right out on the Capitol lawns, along with lots of other Lincoln residents and visitors.
The eclipse was a great showcase of Nebraskans’ hospitality and welcoming attitudes, and a very cool experience.
Upcoming Community Events
Join us on September 11th at 6:00 pm in the American Heroes Park for a moving ceremony to recognize those from Nebraska and Western Iowa who have lost their lives protecting our country since September 11th, 2001. The ceremony includes a moving tribute by the Bellevue West and Bellevue East ROTC students to honor each of these individuals by name. The ceremony also includes the joyful event of swearing in new citizens to our country. In the event of inclement weather, the BPS Lied Activities Center is the alternate location.
The Food Bank for the Heartland and BPS are continuing their partnership to offer mobile food bank access to Bellevue residents. They will visit Mission Middle School on September 20th from 5:00-6:30 pm this month, and will also be there the third Wednesday of subsequent months. 12 to 18 year-olds can also access the mobile clothes closet during food bank distribution times. For more information on the mobile food bank, and to check for any changes to the distribution schedule, you can find their website here.
Offutt and the Human Resource Association of the Midlands are hosting a job fair at the Bellevue Lied Activity Center from 10:00-1:00 on Thursday September 28th. It is open to the public, and especially encourages active duty service members, DoD civilians, veterans, retirees, guard and reserve soldiers, and their family members to attend. For more information, and to see a list of those companies planning to participate, check out their website here.
The Bellevue Farmer’s market will have two more dates this summer – September 9th and 16th from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. Head to Washington Park for local food and crafts, family activities, and live entertainment. More information about our farmer’s market can be found here.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
Second Economic Development Taskforce Meeting
On July 14th the Nebraska Economic Development Taskforce met to discuss education and economic development issues. The Taskforce brings together chairs of several of our standing committees (Appropriations; Revenue; Banking, Commerce & Insurance; Business & Labor and Education) and one senator from each of our three congressional districts across the state to foster proactive discussion of economic development priorities for our state that likely cross our typical committee boundaries. Our first task has been to learn more about what is already happening in our core agencies and our successful Nebraska communities.
At our July meeting, which focused on education, we first heard from the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) and our state’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education (CCPE). Rich Katt, the Director of Career Education at NDE, shared some of the ways in which Nebraska’s career education field has transformed in recent years. Many of those changes have happened through partnerships with schools across the state to develop priorities and plans for career education that best fits each school district. Two examples of NDE’s work in this area stood out: career readiness standards for schools and a new career curriculum developed by NDE. To learn more about NDE work on career education, you can visit their website here. While NDE works with K-12 education, CCPE provides state oversight for planning and coordination of higher education programs and facilities across our various types of institutions of higher learning. One of the innovative economic development programs they implement is a “gap” program that provides financial assistance to students who take community college courses that lead to careers, but who do not qualify for Pell Grant assistance because it does not lead to a degree (https://ccpe.nebraska.gov/gap). Dr. Michael Baumgartner, the CCPE’s Executive Director, also reported on innovations in other states that leverage Pell Grants with state incentives so that students have improved access to education and encouragement to stay in the state after graduation.
During the second half of our meeting we heard from leaders in education and innovation from across the state. Dr. Tawana Grover, Superintendent of Grand Island Public Schools, talked about Grand Island’s successful high school career academy that brings machines and computers from area workforces into the classroom and connects students to employment. Steve Elliott, the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Wayne State College, described how Wayne State collaborates with area businesses and works to recruit and retain Nebraska teachers for our career courses. Wayne State has one of the few programs in the region that specifically trains teachers for vocational education. Chuck Schroeder, the Founding Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute at UNL, talked about their work in communities across the state to connect students to community leaders in order to tackle economic development challenges and build community capacity. Dr. Tom Pensabene, Executive Director of the Workforce Innovation Division at Metropolitan Community College, reported on Metro’s developments to expand information technology career readiness. And Dr. James Linder, UNL’s Chief Strategist former Senior Associate to the University President for Innovation and Economic Competitiveness, discussed ideas from current entrepreneurs in Nebraska on how we could encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship.
We meet next on August 11th. At that meeting we will hear about successful efforts across the state to foster economic development through cultural and arts programs.
This was another busy month for me travel-wise. I had several great opportunities to work with colleagues and experts from around the country to learn about a range of issues.
In the second week of July I headed across the Missouri River to the Council of State Governments (CSG) Midwest meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. I serve as vice-chair of the Health and Human Services policy committee for CSG Midwest. We organized sessions on various topics, including the future of the ACA for our states and ways states might tackle health problems from opioid and lead. The session on opioids provided opportunities to hear from many different states about the work to combat opioid overdoses in their communities. Nebraska’s prescription drug monitoring program compares well to what other states are doing, and our rates of death from opioid overdoses remains lower than in other states around us. The discussion on addressing lead poisoning featured Kara Eastman from Omaha Health Kids Alliance. She discussed the work of Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance (http://omahahealthykids.org/) and the challenges to be addressed in all of our states related to lead in paint and drinking water.
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At the end of July I set out for Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania to participate in the 12th Annual Commandant’s National Security Program (CNSP) at the U.S. Army War College. The CNSP brings civilian leaders to the Army War College for four days of lectures and seminars with the Army War College students who are earning their Master’s in Strategic Studies Degree. The program serves as a capstone experience right before their graduation.
Col. Shane Martin, Construction and Facilities Management Officer at the Nebraska Army National Guard, and now a graduate of this program, nominated me to participate. It was a good opportunity to meet with civilian leaders from all kinds of backgrounds to discuss strategic leadership in the military and beyond. It also provided an opportunity to continue to learn about ways Nebraska can support our active duty military and guard families.
Each of the civilians met with one of the smaller seminar groups for sessions throughout the week. I had a wonderful seminar group with a great Army War College faculty member.
One of the things I like to do during the interim is meet with local groups to discuss how this year’s legislative session went, talk about my priorities for the next session, and answer questions from attendees. The first such meeting of this interim was with the Bellevue-Offutt Kiwanis Club on July 21st. We had a good discussion about what happened in the last session. I took copies of the Nebraska Information Office’s overview of the 2017 session, which reports on key bills passed and not passed for each committee in the Unicameral. You can read those reports here.
Visiting Japanese Delegation
A delegation of visitors from Japan spent time in Omaha on July 17th, and it was my honor to meet with them. The delegation was invited to visit the United States as part of the International Visitor Leadership program. The primary focus of their visit was to discuss the issues that arise in communities that host military bases, particularly the coordination and cooperation that makes those community-base relationships work in Nebraska.
Senator Carol Blood and Mayor David Black were also part of this conversation. It was a pleasure to meet these visitors, and to learn from their perspectives as well.
Cancer Action Network Breakfast
The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network hosted their annual Nebraska Cancer Research Breakfast on July 20th. My legislative colleague Senator Mark Koltermann received their Legislator of the Year award for his work on a palliative care bill, LB323, last session.
The CAN breakfast focused on research about the link between HPV and neck and throat cancers later in life. Part of our conversation was the added impetus that this connection provides for strong HPV immunization rates for our adolescents. Improving immunization rates effectively requires good medical records, which relates to my interim study on immunization record-keeping – LR147.
Events in the District
On Tuesday August 1st Bellevue will celebrate National Night Out at Everett Park. The event, which runs from 6:00-8:30 pm, is an opportunity for Bellevue residents to gather together and meet some of the law enforcement personnel who keep our community safe. This year’s event at Everett Park will include food and activities for the whole family. If you have any questions about this event, you can contact Roger Cox with the Bellevue Police Department at 402-682-6623.
Representative Jeff Fortenberry will hold a town hall in Bellevue at the BPS Welcome Center at 2600 Arboretum Drive. The town hall will start at 12:00 pm on Monday July 31st. Representative Fortenberry will hold several other town halls in the region during the first week of August; you can find the full list here.
The Sarpy County Fair begins next week, running August 2nd-6th at the County Fair Grounds in Springfield. There will be a wide variety of contests, exhibits, concerts and other fun things to do. For a full schedule of events, visit the County Fair’s website here.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
Summer time – Interim time!
The session ended at the end of May, so now we are in the interim between sessions. The interim is an important time for us to regroup, study new or existing issues, and prepare to make the most of our time when we return for session in January. The interim also provides an important time for us to spend more time with our families and to catch up on on our other work.
Legislative oversight plays a critical role in the checks and balances of our state government. Oversight has two main components. First, it involves holding the executive branch (the Governor and agencies) responsible for doing what the legislature authorized or required them to do in the bills we passed. It also means being sure that the money passed in the budget is spent as the legislature directed.
The interim provides an opportunity for increased attention to oversight. Sometimes the legislature will establish a committee specifically to examine or investigate an agency or program. For example, I served on an interim committee to examine ACCESS Nebraska when we were experiencing unacceptable delays and problems with that Department of Health and Human Services program. This year, the legislature passed LR127 to devote special attention to issues in the Department of Corrections. In other instances, committees with jurisdiction over an agency step up to conduct additional hearings or meetings over the interim to bring additional pressure on particular agencies or programs.
This interim the Health and Human Services Committee is holding quarterly briefings and hearings to bring greater attention to the recent transition of Medicaid to Heritage Health, which involves three private companies providing managed care for Medicaid patients. At our first briefing and hearing on June 27th, we heard about some of the improvements that DHHS has put in place to address problems that have been plaguing the system. However, we heard from many providers that they are still experiencing unacceptable delays in payment and burdensome paperwork complications. So our committee needs to continue to ask tough questions to DHHS and the three companies and push for corrections and improvements. If you are experiencing problems with Heritage Health, please be sure to report those problems to DHHS.HeritageHealth@nebraska.gov. This email is designed to be a tracking system for problems as well as a means to get help. If you are not getting responses to your concerns, please let me know.
Economic Development Taskforce
The interim also provides an opportunity for senators to meet and discuss challenges and opportunities for the state outside of our normal committee and bill structures. One example of that is the Economic Development Taskforce. LB641 created this taskforce, which brings together the chairs of the Appropriations, Banking Commerce & Insurance, Business & Labor, Education, Revenue, Planning, and Urban Affairs Committees, plus three other Senators (one from each Congressional District), to discuss economic development. We met for the first time on June 9th. I am honored to have been selected to serve as the chair of this committee. We plan to meet on the second Friday of each month over the interim.
At our first meeting we met with the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and the Director of the Department of Economic Development to learn about key initiatives in each of these departments to foster economic development and to discuss opportunities and challenges more broadly. We learned about several ways in which the Department of Labor and the Department of Economic Development seek to provide information to help businesses and those trying to find jobs in the state. The DoL, for example, has an excellent page dedicated to resources for veterans (which you can find here); and DED has a central location with key information for those looking to start a business (here). I encourage you to explore their web pages to see all the information and resources available there.
Our next meeting on July 14th at 1:30 pm will focus on education. Our discussion will center on three key questions: 1) How do we attract and retain people in the state? 2) How do we strengthen our workforce and strengthen workers earning potential and quality of life? And 3) How do we foster innovation and entrepreneurship? If you are interested in attending, you can join us in room 1113 at the Capitol.
The interim also allows time for travel. This summer happens to be a travel-heavy time for me. In the first week of June I travelled to Lansing Michigan for the Executive Committee meeting for the Midwest Higher Education Commission (MHEC). We met to lay the groundwork for the MHEC meeting of all of the commissioners later in the year. One of the most important ways that MHEC helps our states is by pooling our bargaining power to save states money and to encourage innovation and quality services for purchases. This has been particularly effective for property insurance and technology. Our technology contracts allow other entities, like cities and counties, to also take advantage of the great deals. At the executive committee meeting we authorized research into the possible advantages that we could bring to Higher Education institutions in our states (and our environment) by pooling efforts to contract for sustainability technology and renewable energy sources.
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The very next week, I left for a two week trip to China. I was invited by the Confucius Institute to join two other Senators and several high school and middle school administrators to participate in the trip. Our primary goal was to discuss opportunities to facilitate greater educational exchanges and opportunities for students in Nebraska to learn Chinese. We spent one week in Beijing and one week in Xi’an. As a bonus we had a chance to have a diplomatic meeting with delegates from the Sheenxi Province. Nebraska and Sheenxi have a sister province/state relationship. It was great to have the opportunity to be a part of continuing to build that relationship. Many of our relationships were built around a circular table with dish after dish added to the lazy susan that spun the dishes around for us to share as we ate until we could not eat another bite.
It was a wonderful experience and I look forward to watching the fruits of these relationships develop. I not only had a chance to develop global relationships in China, but also had the chance to get to know some of our excellent administrators in our K-12 system.
We also had quite a bit of time to see wonderful sites in both cities. I was able to climb to one of the higher watchtowers on the Great Wall, see the amazing Terra Cotta Warriors, ride bikes on top of the city wall of Xi’an, and visit the Temple of Heaven (below).
We also had the chance to join in the wonderful public dancing for exercise that happens in parks all across both cities. It was a wonderful experience and I look forward to watching the fruits of these relationships develop. I not only had a chance to develop global relationships in China, but also had the chance to get to know some of our excellent administrators in our K-12 system.
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On a sadder note, I am spending time here at the end of the month through July 4th with my husband’s family due to the death of his mother. I am glad to have the flexibility to spend this important time with family.
I wish you a wonderful 4th of July! As we celebrate the birthday of our nation, let’s all commit to doing our part to continue to form a more perfect union.
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All the best,
Sine Die Adjournment
Last week I wrote about our fun unofficial Sine Die traditional celebration each year (Sine Die: The Fun One). This week it was time for our official Sine Die traditions and adjournment. Since we debated all of the priority bills for the session ahead of schedule, the Speaker ended the session on Tuesday, May 23. On the last day of session, the Executive Committee met to appoint Senators to one more special committee: the Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee (LR127). The full body convened at 1:00 to approve the last two appointments, including Chuck Hutchison from LD 45 as a member of the Power Review Board, and to complete the final motions required to approve the Legislative Journals and to kill the bills that were already adopted as amendments to other bills. The bills that were not passed, adopted as amendments to other bills or killed in committee continue to be in play as we move into the next session. We begin debate next year on those bills that advanced out of committee on to General File this year but did not get to the floor before the priority bill deadline. There will be the usual ten days to introduce new bills at the start of the 2018 session, but all new bills must go through the committee public hearing process before they can advance to the floor. We can debate the holdover bills that advanced in 2017 right away, even during this first 10 day bill introduction window.
The Governor came to speak to the Legislature on the last day of session as usual. In reflection of the importance of the separation of branches in Nebraska government, members of other branches of government can only enter the chamber if they are invited by the Legislature and escorted into the chamber. So, when the Governor or the Supreme Court Justices, or members of the State Board of Education or the University Regents visit the chamber to speak or to be sworn into their offices, the Speaker appoints a committee to escort the guests into the chamber. I was a part of the committee this week that escorted in the Governor for his parting remarks. After the Governor’s remarks, the Speaker gave his parting remarks.
During our last day, reporters from the Lincoln Journal Star asked many of the Senators for a one word description of the session. That became an interesting point of discussion among Senators during the afternoon. I picked the word “polarized.” Senator Chambers said “horrendous.” One of the more interesting choices from an insider perspective was Senator Morfeld’s “33.” We started the session with many weeks of wrangling over whether cloture should stay at 33 (it did) and then a few of the hot bills of the session died when they did not get to this 33 cloture vote mark. You can see the full article here.
Final Status of Crawford Bills
Bills on General File
Four of our bills are in the batch of bills that may hit the floor for debate when we return for session next year. These bills were successfully voted out of committee, but did not get selected as a priority bill or reach the floor before we ran out of time for debate this year. These include:
Bills that Passed
This session I introduced a total of 29 bills. Nine of those bills have been signed into law:
During the State of the County meeting in Sarpy County, we further discussed the passage of LB253 and the impacts that a regional sewer system will have on our community as we continue to grow. The Bellevue Leader article on the State of the County event can be found here.
Bills Still in Committee
After subtracting the 9 bills that passed and the 4 that remain on General File, 16 bills that I introduced last year remain in committee. None of have been killed (Indefinitely Postponed or IPP’d). Over the interim we will revisit these bills to determine which ones we may still be able to get out of committee, which ones need to be reintroduced in a different form, and which ones we are not likely to continue to pursue. Three examples of these bills include:
Other bills still in committee:
Other Key Bills in 2017
Each week we have highlighted some of the other bills being debated and passed. Over the course of the 2017 session, 173 bills out of the 667 bills introduced made it across the finish line either as bills passed directly or bills passed as amendments to other bills. A few notable bills that passed include:
Chandler View Elementary Visit
On Tuesday more than 100 4th graders from Chandler View Elementary visited the Capitol. They arrived just in time to watch the Legislature on the very last day of session. I had the opportunity to join the students during their lunch out on the Capitol lawns to greet them and wish them well on their tour.
As many other schools do, Chandler View participated in the Ag Sack Lunch program. This program provides students with lunch and teaches them about agriculture in the state. It’s a great chance for kids who may not know much about agriculture to learn about one of our state’s major economic drivers.
Meeting on Military & Veteran Mental Health
On Thursday morning I met with Bill Duerr, who works with the federal Veteran’s Administration in the Veterans Experience Office for the Midwest District. We talked about some of the problems facing military members and veterans when it comes to accessing mental health care, and how the VA, the State of Nebraska, and non-profit organizations can work together to support our veterans and their families.
Mr. Duerr stressed how much he hoped that veteran families will turn to Vet Centers for help for their own stresses and for help in their care for their veteran family members. For Bellevue residents, the closest Vet Center is in Omaha. The Omaha Vet Center’s hours and contact information can be found here.
Corrections Employee Recognition Event
On Thursday afternoon the Department of Corrections’ held their annual Employee Recognition Event in Lincoln. This event honors Corrections staff who have showed particular excellence in their work. This year Bellevue resident Phillip McClymont was honored as the 2017 Supervisor/Manager of the Year. Thanks to Phillip for his work, and to all Corrections staff for their hard work in a tough job on our behalf.
Memorial Day Celebrations
Memorial day is Monday May 29th. This event is an opportunity to remember and honor those who gave their lives in service to their country; and to thank those servicemembers and veterans who are still with us. The Bellevue community is particularly attuned to the sacrifices required by military service, as so many of our community members are serving or have served. This year there will be three Memorial Day events in Bellevue.
The first ceremony will take place at Offutt Air Force Base at 9:00. The speaker will be Colonel George M. Reynolds, 55th Wing Commander. As this event takes place at Offutt, arrangements for base access will need to be made if you wish to attend. Contact Vincent Shaw at (402) 294-6244 for more information.
The second event on Monday begins at 11:00 am at Bellevue Cemetery, the ceremony will include a presentation of wreaths to veterans and their family members and a performance by the Sarpy Serenaders.
The third, at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home, begins at 2:00 pm and will feature a performance by the USAF Heartland of America Offutt Brass. The ceremony has a special dedication to ENVH residents who have passed away in the last year.
New Update Schedule
Now that we have reached the end of session, we will shift to our interim schedule for future legislative updates. We will send updates once a month until the 2018 Legislative session begins again next January. These updates will focus on interim study and bill research for next session and will continue to feature events in the district and information about town hall events. We will send our next update at the end of June.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
Budget Veto Override Efforts
Wednesday May 17th was a tough day for those of us who were seeking to override the Governor’s line item reductions in funding in our budget. Those reductions will affect Medicaid, Behavioral Health services, services for individuals with Developmental Disabilities, parole, and our problem solving courts (Drug Courts and Veteran Courts). The Appropriations Committee usually brings a package of proposals to the floor of Governor reductions they ask the Legislature to override. Often this package gets approved by the body. This year that did not happen. In addition to the override package from the Appropriations Committee, individual senators can move to override specific line item reductions. This year a few senators not on the Appropriations Committee identified other specific items to attempt to restore back to the level of the budget that was passed by the Legislature. We had individual motions to restore cuts in university funding, child welfare funding, juvenile justice services, and problem solving courts. I brought a motion to overturn the $1.2 million dollar cut in Child Welfare Services. During our debate we received a communication from the Division of Family Services that they expected to save $1 million dollars through a new drug testing program that would allow the $1.2 million cut to not reduce other Child Welfare Services. Although we are skeptical of these numbers on their face, we put on the record this expectation and the expectation that members of the Appropriations Committee and Health and Human Services Committee would be watching to make sure that this cut did not impact Group Homes and Family Services. In the end, none of the veto overrides were successful.
One of the most disappointing patterns I have noticed during this difficult session is the refusal of the Governor and many other senators to take a more balanced approach to the state budget during these tough economic times. Instead of considering new sources of revenue, they have continued to rely only on budget cuts. These cuts are targeted at our most vulnerable citizens and the hard-working providers who valiantly serve these families day after day for fees that do not cover their costs. It was heartbreaking that none of the veto overrides, which would have only kept these provider fees flat, succeeded. As I noted on the floor, surely the safety of our children who have been subject to abuse and neglect, those with disabilities, and those who are ill is a core government function.
You can read the World Herald article about our floor debate on these cuts here.
Final Final Reading
On Thursday May 18th we heard the last batch of bills on Final Reading for this session. This included two bills that generated much controversy and rigorous debate over the session. LB415 was a package of bills from the Retirement Committee. This bill came to the floor with draconian restrictions on the activities of retired teachers after retirement. After much discussion on the floor and off the floor about the rights of retired teachers and the substitute teacher needs of schools, the final version of this bill eliminated all changes to policies for the volunteer and paid work activities of teachers after retirement. This bill passed 46-0-2 during final reading.
Another bill that consumed much of my time over the session was LB333. This was originally a bill to eliminate the State Disability Program. I pushed hard against this policy change. The State Disability Program provides a bridge for newly disabled individuals between the first six months of their disability, when they must rely on local and family resources, and their twelfth month when they can qualify for federal assistance. The state program helps provide support during this 6-12 month window. Once individuals qualify for federal assistance, we (the state) get reimbursed for some of our expenses paid out to these individuals during this timeframe. There is a net cost to the state for this program because not all newly disabled individuals qualify for federal support and some newly disabled individuals are only temporarily disabled and so they don’t need the support past the 12th month. The small savings to the state budget for cutting this program, though, would cut a much larger amount of services to families in our communities and put those families and our local safety nets and hospitals under an additional strain. The chair of the Health and Human Services Committee put a committee priority on LB333. Since this bill had a priority, it had a path to the floor. It was then used as a vehicle to get two other bills related to services for individuals with disabilities. However, by final reading, we were successful in getting this part of the bill pulled out of the bill, so our State Disability Program remains in place.
One of the bills included in the LB333 package was LB495. As this bill was originally written it would have eliminated our existing law that ensures that individuals with developmental disabilities who receive services in our high schools continue to receive day services upon graduation. This maintains continuity of services to young adults with developmental disabilities in our state. This policy creating an entitlement for these high school graduates was originally put in law in the 1990s, however, the Division of Developmental Disabilities was recently notified that they needed to make changes to how the program is administered to be in compliance with federal funding rules. In order to maintain our current federal funding that we receive for our programs it is required that those with the most immediate needs (like those experiencing homelessness or hunger) are given first priority status by law. After many hours of hard work and meetings, we were able to pass an amendment that adjusted the language in our statutes that allows the Division to use the required prioritization needed to meet federal funding requirements while retaining our commitment to providing services to these high school graduate. LB333 also included a provision that was originally found in LB417 to eliminate Quality Review Teams. QRTs were developed to allow families and advocates to give input on the quality of services being provided to individuals with developmental disabilities. After being amended on the floor, the final version of this language requires the Division to report their plan for replacing QRTs with a new review and input process by September and then report to the Legislature on their progress in implementing this process in December and again in March. This reporting timeframe gives us a chance to tackle this issue again next year during our session if needed. I am willing to give the Division a chance to develop and present their plan for an updated version of quality control for these important services.
Appointments to Commissions and Boards
The first thing we did on Thursday was address a large number of Confirmation Reports. In Nebraska, the Governor has the power to appoint leaders for many of the state agencies, boards, and commissions. Those organizations may be as large as DHHS and the Department of Education, or as small as the Brand Committee and the Boiler Safety Code Advisory Board. Each time the Governor makes such an appointment or reappointment, the person’s application must be sent to the Legislature to be confirmed. Confirmation hearings are held by the standing committees, and follow the same process as bills: the appointee appears either in person or by phone to answer questions from senators on the committee, after which members of the public are invited to testify in support, opposition, or a neutral position on the appointment. The committee then votes on whether to send the appointment to the full Legislature, which must vote on final confirmation. Most appointments are approved with little fuss, as those appointed are generally well-qualified for their roles. Still, it is an opportunity for the Legislature to vet executive appointees and for the public to weigh in on the people who will lead the state agencies and organizations with whom they interact. This week we had a flurry of last minute confirmation hearings. I had two over lunch on Wednesday and one in the morning before session on Thursday.
Appointing individuals to serve on these boards and commissions is an important way to allow citizens across the state to bring their expertise to bear on policies and decisions made by our state government. I encourage you to consider serving, and to occasionally check the Governor’s webpage to see if there is an opening that is a good fit for you. A list of current vacancies and the application form can be found here.
Interim studies and Special Committees
Though the Legislature will end the 2017 session next week, we will not be idle over the interim. Between now and January, when the 2018 session begins, two types of work will take priority: interim studies and special committees.
As I mentioned last week, interim studies are an opportunity for senators to learn more about specific issues. Formal interim studies have several advantages over a senator simply looking into an issue on their own. For one thing, the list of interim studies is published; that means that people can learn about the study more easily, which can draw in a wider range of expertise. Experts in a subject can reach out to the introducing senator independently, which they would not know to do without the study being shared. That is beneficial because many interim studies will prompt new legislation, and it’s helpful to have potential problems or improvements pointed out before a bill is introduced. My three interim studies this year address training and retention of legislative committee staff (LR199); demolition of condemned properties and the impact on municipalities (LR138); and state immunization rates (LR147). I encourage you to look over the interim studies to see if there are issues on which you would like to be engaged over the interim (you can find the full list here).
Special committees are a related but distinct way to study an issue. The special committee structure is useful for more complex issues that may be too large for a single senator or a single committee to undertake successfully. For example, I was appointed to the Economic Development Task Force earlier this week. That committee will study Nebraska’s economic development challenges and opportunities. The Economic Development Task Force brings together leadership from various committees that all relate to economic development (Revenue, Banking and Commerce, Urban Affairs, Education) as well as three other senators, one from each congressional district. I am pleased to have been appointed to serve on this taskforce as the CD 1 representative. Special committees can last more than one interim, so they can take a more long-term approach to their target issue. One recent example of a multi-year committee that has impacted policy in the state is the Intergenerational Poverty Task Force.
The legislature can also create investigative committees to oversee specific state agencies and projects. Previous investigative committees have looked into ACCESSNebraska, developmental disabilities, and corrections, to name a few. This year Senator Bob Krist has introduced a resolution to reform a Corrections special oversight committee, known as the Nebraska Justice System Special Investigative Committee (LR127). The Executive Board voted to send LR127 to the full legislature, where it needed to receive 25 votes in order to be created. On Thursday morning we voted to amend this to an Oversight Committee as opposed to a Special Investigative Committee. The resolution passed 28-11-9, so this committee will be working on these issues over the interim.
Sine Die – The Fun Part
One of the Sine Die traditions in Nebraska is a fun event near the end of session in which staff and senators poke fun at themselves with skits, video clips, and songs. This year this event was Thursday night. It is a fun tradition and a good way for us to realize that no matter how intense debate gets day to day, we are all in this together–and we all have plenty of quirks and bloopers.
Bellevue Farmer’s Market
I am proud to be a sponsor of our Bellevue Farmer’s Market. This Saturday is the first week of the market, which will run through mid-September. The market takes place in Washington Park. You can learn more about the market’s many products and vendors here.
Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Farmer’s Market Facebook page
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All the best,
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