The Legislature had five more days of bill introduction this week. At the end of the day Friday, members had introduced 430 bills and a number of resolutions.
On Monday, day 4 of this 90-day legislative session, I introduced LB 139. This proposal would give registered voters in a county the ability to petition for a question on the ballot to make county official elections nonpartisan races.
On day 5 I introduced two bills. LB 224 will mirror the asset limit eligibility requirements for the SNAP and TANF programs with the new regulations for the Child Care Subsidy program recently signed by the Governor. I also introduced LB 225, which gives the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to extend the Alternative Response Pilot in order to finish their evaluation period and gather further analysis on the challenges, barriers, and opportunities of making the program permanent.
On day 6 I introduced a number of bills. LB 252 will increase transparency and accountability in Nebraska elections by requiring the reporting of electioneering materials that are directed at a specific candidate. LB 253 paves the way for greater cooperation on sewer construction for economic development in Sarpy County. LB 254 would allow for those making home brewed alcohol to serve samples at festivals, club meetings, tastings, and competitions without a permit, so long as they are not selling the samples and the event is legally conducted under the Nebraska Liquor Control Act. LB 255 calls for the registration of Dialysis Patient Care Technicians (PCTs). The idea of creating a registration process for PCTs was the result of a 407 technical committee, and was determined to be the most safe and efficient way to allow PCTs to continue performing non-complex nursing interventions tasks as delegated by RNs without creation of a licensure procedure. Finally I introduced LB 280, which will allow victims of human trafficking to participate in our state’s Address Confidentiality Program. The program currently provides victims of sexual assault and domestic violence with an alternate address to use on documents that are public record, in order to keep their whereabouts confidential.
On day 7 I introduced four proposals. LB 302 and LB 303 provide resources to the University of Nebraska to create fellowship and internship programs that will recruit, retain, and increase the competency of students studying behavioral and mental health professions. These bills will help address our state’s behavioral and mental health workforce shortage, and students in these programs will work in rural and underserved communities. Next, over the interim I met with several Public Housing Authorities, including the Bellevue Housing Authority, to discuss any needed updates in our Public Housing statutes. LB 304 is an update bill that came out of those conversations, Finally I introduced LB 305, a bill that would create a statewide Paid Family and Medical leave insurance program. Under this program, covered employees would have access to 6 weeks of leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition or 12 weeks of leave to address one’s own serious health condition or to care for a new child.Various changes have been made from the 2016 version I introduced in order to substantially reduce the program’s startup cost.
On day 8 I introduced three bills: LB 371 to remove the State Fire Marshal’s role in condemning buildings (at their request), LB 372 to establish employment protections for family caregivers, and LB 425 to make changes in the nurse practitioner statutes requested by the Board of Health.
There will be two more days of bill introduction on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Senators must introduce all bills they want considered this year by day 10 of the legislative session, though congratulatory and study resolutions can be introduced at any time during session. I will talk more about some of my bills as we present them at hearings, which begin next week. If you are interested in testifying on any of bills above, or if you want more information, please let us know.
State of the State Address
Governor Pete Ricketts visited the Legislature on Thursday to give his annual State of the State address. The Governor highlighted some of the unique things about Nebraska in this sesquicentennial year, as the state turns 150 years old in March. The state will be celebrating this milestone throughout the year with public events, educational programs, and other initiatives. You can learn more about the many opportunities to participate here.
One of the unique aspects lauded by the Governor is the way Nebraska has historically paid its bills and passed a balanced budget. This is particularly important this year, as the state is facing a $900 million budget shortfall. I look forward to working with the Governor, the Appropriations Committee, and the rest of my legislative colleagues to find solutions for the budget gap that will not put the state’s future at risk but that will at the same time maintain important commitments to the health and safety of our citizens.
Committee assignments and schedule
Last week each senator’s committee assignments for the 2017-2018 biennium were finalized. The committee process is unique in Nebraska, in that every bill that is introduced has a public hearing. In other states and at the federal level, whether a bill gets a hearing can depend on the whims of partisan leadership and the politics of the day. In Nebraska, citizens have the opportunity to make their support or concerns known on every bill introduced each year. I highly encourage you to reach out to the committees if you want to make your thoughts known on any bill, either by speaking in person at bill hearings or by submitting written testimony before the hearing date. Committees must give 7 calendar days’ notice before they hold bill hearings, which will begin next week. The calendar for all scheduled committee hearings can be found here. It is updated daily to reflect newly scheduled hearings.
My standing committee assignments this biennium have not changed from last year. I am still a member of the Business & Labor Committee, which meets on Mondays; the Urban Affairs Committee, which meets on Tuesdays; and the Health and Human Services Committee, which meets Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. All senators’ standing committee assignments have to add up to the full five days. For the nine members of the Appropriations committee, which meets Monday through Friday, that means they serve on no other committees; most senators, however, serve on multiple committees that meet either one, two, or three days per week. Information about the standing committees can be found here.
In addition to the 14 standing committees, the Legislature has a variety of special and select committees. These committees do not count towards a senator’s 5-day schedule, so senators may be members on several of them. For example, I am a member of the Executive Board, which has responsibility for legislative services and employees. Assignments for other special and select committees should be finalized by the middle of next week. A full list of those committees can be found here.
It was my privilege to deliver the Legislature’s opening prayer on Friday, asking for wisdom and thoughtfulness as we do our work.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
Last week on Wednesday the 1st Session of the 105th Nebraska Legislature began. We will be meeting in the Legislative Chamber or in committee hearings for most of the day on most weekdays from now until early June. While we are in session, I intend to send these Unicameral Updates each week to give you an inside look at what is happening and to help you get involved on those issues that matter most to you and your family.
Day 1: Swearing In and Leadership Selection
The first day of each session begins with the newly elected Senators signing an Oath of Office with the Secretary of State. Three copies of this Oath are filed with the Secretary of State and the Senator keeps a copy. One important part of the Oath is a statement in which newly elected Senators affirm that they have not accepted or received “any money or other valuable thing from any corporation, company or person, or any promise of office, for any official act or influence.” I keep a copy of this Oath in my desk drawer on the Chamber floor. It not only reminds me daily of this important trust, but it also makes it easy to reference when necessary in a floor debate if it appears that what is happening on the floor starts to violate these principles.
For first-time Senators, this signing in ceremony provides an opportunity to get pictures with family and relish the honor of being elected to serve in the Unicameral.
For those of us returning, most sign the Oath at the back of the Chamber with little ceremony. The day begins with families on the floor for the first day ceremonies that include the formal swearing in by the Chief Justice. The newly elected and re-elected Senators all stand in the front, raise our right hands, and swear or affirm to the Oath of Office. I am glad that David and Philip were able to join me this year.
After these ceremonies, the families leave the floor, and attention turns to the selection of leadership for the session. Before that happens, rules have to be adopted for those votes; typically a motion is made to accept the rules from last year for just the one day. Those rules, which were adopted, include secret ballot voting for the Speaker and for chairs of committees.
As you have probably seen in the news, a conservative coalition dominated in the leadership races from top to bottom. Well, almost: the Chair of Enrollment & Review Committee is traditionally the youngest member of the body and that tradition did stand, as Senator Anna Wishart was elected to serve as the Chair of Enrollment & Review. This Chair introduces motions for amendments that make technical and grammatical corrections to bills. It is an important part of the bill process, but one that gets tedious and takes a lot of floor time for this member. Last session Senator Matt Hansen had the honor.
Other leadership selection traditions did not fare so well. In an unprecedented move, the conservative coalition encouraged three newly elected freshman Senators to announce their candidacy for committee chair positions on this first day and rallied the votes to elect them all to committee chairs. Freshman Senators in the past were discouraged from running for Committee Chair positions, and would not win if they did. Moreover, usually Senators announce their expectation to run for a Chair position with a letter to other Senators well before the first day so that Senators can talk to the candidates for the leadership positions. This provides an opportunity for the candidates for the Chair positions to find out about the concerns and issues of other Senators.
I was one of two sitting committee chairs running for re-election who was targeted by the coalition-sponsored freshman tactic, so I will no longer be serving as Chair of Urban Affairs and these Updates will no longer have an Urban Affairs Column. Senator Justin Wayne will serve as Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee. Thankfully, Senator Wayne, even as a freshman, was wise enough to realize the importance of hiring Trevor Fitzgerald to continue to serve as Committee Counsel, and I am grateful to Trevor that he is continuing to serve in that role for our state. This is also good news because it supports another important Unicameral tradition of maintaining Committee staff through Chair transitions. Particularly with term limits, maintaining expertise in the laws and agencies within a Committee’s jurisdiction through continuity of staff is critically important. Unfortunately, this tradition of maintaining committee staff through transitions of chairs has begun to erode in our more partisan environment.
Our greatest treasure trove of committee experience sits in the Banking Commerce and Insurance Committee office on the North side of the building. Bill Marienau and Janice Foster, pictured here with new Banking, Commerce & Insurance (BCI) Chair Senator Lindstrom, are two of the longest-serving staffers in the Capitol. Bill has served as legal counsel for BCI for 31 years and Jan has served as committee clerk for 29 years. They both have even more years of experience in the Unicameral. Senator Lindstrom has just been selected as chair of the committee, but he has 60 years of great experience and expertise behind him.
Day 2 & 3: Committee Assignments & Bill Introduction
On Day 2 the Committee on Committees finalized the committee assignments for members and on Day 3 the full legislature voted to approve those assignments. For the next two years I will stay on the same committees: Business & Labor, Urban Affairs, and Health and Human Services.
On Day 2 we also began bill introduction. Senators bring three paper copies of the bills that they wish to introduce and submit them the Clerk. Often Senators can be seen walking around asking other Senators for co-sponsorship signatures during this window. If you tuned in to our live webcast during the mornings of Day 2 and 3, turning in bills and talking to possible co-sponsors was the main floor action.
On Day 2, I introduced four Economic Development Bills. LB 96, my Site and Building Development Bill, will make loans, grants and other financial assistance offered by the Department of Economic Development available to public and private initiatives to improve the value of military installations across our state. My state highway relinquishment bill gives municipalities the ability to negotiate the terms with the state when acquiring a relinquished state highway for development purposes. The idea for this bill came from a conversation I had going door to door during the campaign. One of our former city councilmen talked about the challenges that Bellevue faced when trying to develop around Fort Crook Road because of restrictions that Bellevue still has to follow even though the Nebraska Department of Roads relinquished the road to the city. The third bill creates a Riverfront Development tool for municipalities and the fourth makes it easier for cities to get the information that they need from the Department of Revenue to administer their part of economic development incentives.
On Day 3 I introduced two bills relating to the safety and protection of children. The first bill, LB 108, provides protections for children whose parents have been arrested. The bill works to reduce the amount of trauma a child might experience during the arrest, ensure that whenever appropriate the child can be placed in the care of other family members, and establishes visitation guidelines that afford young children the bonding experiences they need for proper development during their parent’s incarceration. My other bill introduced on Day 3, LB 107, will close a gap in our state’s current sexual assault statute. This bill will ensure protections for children over the age of 15 who are assaulted by an adult age 19-25 who holds a position of special trust in the child’s life (such as a school employee or healthcare provider).
More Swearing In
On the afternoon of Day 2 the Legislature hosted the inauguration and swearing in of newly elected Regents, State Board of Education members, and the Supreme Court Justices. Senator Carol Blood and I enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate the beginning of Lisa Fricke’s term as a new member of the State Board of Education. She is a retired teacher with more than 30 years of public education experience, and I look forward to seeing how her leadership influences education policy in the state.
The first bill that I submitted this year was a resolution co-sponsored with Senator Blood to recognize the Bellevue West Football Team for their Championship Season. The resolution, known as LR 2,is available to read here. It will be formally approved by the full legislature next week. Congratulations Bellevue West!
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
Interim Comes to a Close, Preparations for the 2017 Session Begin
The 105th Legislature convenes on January 4, 2017. This begins the first session of a two year legislative cycle, or biennium. Each biennium contains a long session (90 days) and a short session (60 days). The oath of office will be taken by 17 new senators elected in November, along with the eight senators re-elected for a second term, including me.
The first day of session will shape the committee structure for the next two years. The Legislature first elects permanent officers such as Clerk of the Legislature and Chief Sergeant-at-Arms. Next the body votes for its leadership, beginning with Speaker of the Legislature. The Speaker sets the daily agenda and can designate up to 25 bills as Speaker priority bills. These 25 bills, along with committee and senator priority bills, receive preference over other bills for floor debate during the second half of the session. Three of my bills, LB 368 (2013), LB 719 (2014), and LB 540 (2015), received Speaker priority designations in previous years.
Following the election of Speaker, the Legislature elects chairpeople for its fourteen Standing Committees and the Executive Board by secret ballot. This unique method of electing leadership and committee chairs plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of our nonpartisan Unicameral system. In Washington DC and other states, the majority party determines who serves in leadership and as committee chairs. Unfortunately this leads, in many cases, to chairs being selected based on the amount of money that they raise for their political parties or on their favor with party leaders instead of whether they have the skills and experience for the position. In Nebraska we have a strong tradition of selecting chairs of both parties, based on who has the experience and expertise to run our committees well. I currently serve as Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee, and am seeking re-election to this position. If re-elected, I hope to continue working with municipalities across the state, including, of course, Bellevue, to ensure that state policies empower local communities to thrive.
Because of our unique nonpartisan structure, our committee assignments also do not work like Congress or any other state. In Congress and all other states, party caucuses determine who sits on each committee. In Nebraska, we designate a nonpartisan Committee on Committees to determine each senator’s committee membership. The Committee on Committees meets after the election of standing committee chairs to select the remaining membership of each committee.
2017 Bill Introduction
Bills are introduced during the first ten days of session. This year, due to the election of leadership and other agenda items on the first day of session, bill introduction will begin on Day 2 (January 5th). Each of those bills will receive a public hearing in the relevant committee; those hearings will take place in the second half of January, throughout February, and sometimes into March. The official legislative calendar, which lists the daily agenda, hearing schedules, and other information, can be found here.
Our office has been hard at work on several bills to introduce in the first 10 days. Several of the bills come from concerns raised from constituents and from issues facing Bellevue and Sarpy County. Some of the bills are necessary updates to existing programs and laws. My responsibilities on the Behavioral and Mental Health Task Force over the interim includes work on a few bills related to the recommendations of that report. Our weekly updates will discuss these bills as they are introduced and discussed in the Legislature.
One bill that I will introduce has already received press attention. This bill will provide additional transparency and accountability in campaign spending. It closes a loophole that allows outside groups to purchase ads that clearly target a candidate during a campaign without disclosure. The bill would require groups to report spending for “electioneering communications” that exceed $250, with electioneering communications being defined as communications that refer to a candidate and are distributed to his/her electorate 30 days or less before the election. Currently, these electioneering communications (sometimes referred to as “issue ads”) are not required to be reported because they do not explicitly mention that the individual featured in the ad is a candidate or direct voters to vote for or against the individual. The bill would provide protections for issue education efforts such as voter guides, communications to group members, and discussions of pending legislation. The bill does not restrict what outside groups can spend or say during a campaign, but it provides important transparency and accountability protections for elections in our state.
State Auditor Releases Report on TIF Projects
Earlier this month, State Auditor Charlie Janssen issued a report on a handful of tax-increment financing (TIF) projects by Nebraska municipalities that were audited by his office. While I am pleased that these audits did not find any instances of expenditures that were not allowable, the report did identify some vulnerabilities in current statutes and processes. After reviewing the report, it appears that these vulnerabilities can be addressed with changes that can improve local oversight for these TIF projects. Our office had already been engaged in discussions with municipalities, counties, and school officials about common sense improvements to TIF over the interim as part of the LR 439 interim study. My office has been developing a package of reforms to the TIF statutes that will provide for greater local oversight and record-keeping, increased transparency, and improved communication between municipalities and other political subdivisions. This bill addresses issues raised in our interim study conversations and the Auditor’s report. TIF is the most important economic development tool available to municipalities in Nebraska, and ensuring that it works well in our communities is an important responsibility of the Urban Affairs committee and the Legislature.
National Guard Celebrates 380th Birthday
The National Guard celebrated its 380th birthday on December 13th, and I was honored to join Governor Ricketts, Major General Daryl Bohac, and members of the Nebraska National Guard for a ceremony at the Capitol. During that ceremony we were also treated to a performance by the 43rd Army Band, which does an excellent job representing the Nebraska National Guard throughout the state. The ceremony was a chance to honor and remember all the men and women who have served since even before this country’s founding, and to thank those currently serving for their commitment and dedication.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
I look forward to all that we can do together to support and strengthen our families and communities in 2017. Best wishes for a Happy New Year!
All the best,
Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 45th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Sue Crawford
MHEC Annual Commission Meeting in St. Louis
The Midwest Higher Education Conference (MHEC) is a collaborative interstate compact dedicated to promoting higher educational opportunities in the Midwest. For 25 years, MHEC has helped educational institutions in its 12 member states work toward greater access, affordability, and quality. MHEC administers programs such as the Midwest Student Exchange Program, in which public institutions agree to charge out-of-state students within the exchange no more than 150% of in-state resident tuition for specific programs; the Multi-State Collaborative on Military Credit, which works to help veterans transfer their military training and experiences into college credit and successfully pursue college credentials; and the eTranscript Initiative, which offers a simplified way for students in member states to transfer information between high schools and colleges.
As one of Nebraska’s five commissioners, I attended MHEC’s 2016 Annual Commission Meeting November 13-15 in St. Louis. Commissioners from across the Midwest joined with national educational experts to discuss the Commission’s previous work and goals for the future. I look forward to utilizing MHEC’s many resources to continue promoting excellence in Nebraska’s higher education system.
Urban Affairs Committee Holds Final Interim Study Hearings
On December 2nd the Urban Affairs Committee held its final interim study hearing of the year, receiving testimony on two interim studies. The first study, LR526, examined issues related to municipal classifications. State law currently classifies Nebraska municipalities into five categories based on population: 1) cities of the metropolitan class (300,000 or more); 2) cities of the primary class (100,001 to 299,999); 3) cities of the first class (5,001 to 100,000); 4) cities of the second class (801 to 5,000); and 5) villages (100 to 800). The City of Omaha is currently the state’s only city of the metropolitan class, and the City of Lincoln is the only city of the primary class. There are currently 30 cities of the first class (including Bellevue) and 117 cities of the second class, with the remaining 381 incorporated municipalities in Nebraska classified as villages.
When a municipality changes classification (i.e. from village to city of the second class, etc.), state law generally provides for municipal officials to certify the relevant change of population to the Secretary of State. LR 526 examined a number of issues related to the municipal classification process, including procedures for certifying a change of classification and whether a population threshold can only be met through the decennial census process or by way of annexation.
The December 2nd hearing also included the second of two hearings on LR490, an interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes in Nebraska. Historically, the Urban Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over most state and local building codes, and since 2007 has heard bills dealing with a wide variety of codes, including building codes, energy codes, and plumbing codes. Earlier this month, the Legislature’s Executive Board made several additions to the subject matters under Urban Affairs’ jurisdiction, so that legislation related to electrical codes and fire codes will also be heard by the committee in the future.
Visit from Twin Ridge Elementary School Students
I had an excellent time speaking with 4th graders from Twin Ridge Elementary on November 3rd. The students had great questions and lots of enthusiasm as they learned about our state government and toured our beautiful Capitol, and it was wonderful to meet them.
Legislative Council at Offutt Air Force Base
The Legislative Council, which consists of all current senators, met at Offutt on November 17th and 18th. The 17 new senators-elect were also in attendance. Meeting at the base gave us a chance to emphasize the importance of Offutt to senators across the state. During our meetings, we discussed key issues that we will face in the new session including the funding shortfall, corrections, economic development, and challenges to our mental health system.
Veterans Day Events in Bellevue and Omaha
I enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of Nebraska’s Official Veterans Day Parade in Bellevue on November 5th, which as always was a great success. Now in its 17th year, the parade brings together generations of Nebraskans to celebrate and thank our veterans. It is always an enjoyable event for the whole family, and this year was no different. My thanks to the many people who worked hard to bring the parade together – the strength of our Bellevue community is marvelous to see on such full display.
On November 9th, I joined the University of Nebraska-Omaha for their annual Veterans Appreciation Dinner. It was an evening of fellowship that brought together veterans, current military members, and the community to celebrate the achievements of UNO’s student vets. During the program, scholarships were awarded for the Student Veteran of the Year, the Academic Excellence Recognition Award, and the Community Leadership Award. Our student veterans are dedicated high-achievers, and they all deserve our thanks and support.
Finally, I joined the Eastern Nebraska Veteran’s Home for their Veterans Day program on November 11th. The ceremony honored all those who have served, and was also a time of solemn remembrance for all those warriors we have lost. It was an opportunity to express our deepest gratitude for every person who has sacrificed for our nation, and it was an absolute honor to be invited to the ceremony.
On November 3rd I joined the Nebraska Caregiver Coalition at their annual luncheon in Lincoln. Caregivers form the backbone of many Nebraska families, but their hard work and dedication too often goes unrecognized. It was my pleasure to join the Caregiver Coalition in lifting up and celebrating all those worthy Nebraskans who provide care to family members, friends, and neighbors.
Community Conversations with the Radio Talking Book Service
I joined the Radio Talking Book Service (RTBS) for their Community Conversations show on November 4th. RTBS provides a unique service to blind, elderly, and learning disabled students throughout Nebraska who have trouble reading printed text. A dedicated team of staff and volunteers read daily newspapers, magazines, and other publications live on air, and host other live programs to share news on sports, health, and the community. RTBS offers a way to access local, current information, and it was a pleasure to join them.
Clarkson College Nursing School Presentation
I joined the women of Clarkson College’s Sigma Theta Tau – Omicron Epsilon chapter on November 15th to discuss policy developments related to nursing. Sigma Theta Tau is the national honor society of nursing. We talked about my LB107, which allows experienced nurse practitioners in Nebraska to provide care without an integrated practice agreement. We also reviewed strategies for legislative advocacy, the challenges facing Nebraska’s mental health workforce, and some of the healthcare-related bills that might come up in the 2017 legislative session. It was a productive discussion, and I look forward to seeing these women positively impacting the healthcare system through their work.
Farewell Wishes to Kaitlin Reece…
November 18th was Kaitlin’s last day with our office as she has accepted a position as Policy Coordinator with Voices for Children in Nebraska.
Kaitlin has been with my office since I was first elected four years ago. Under her leadership, our office passed many new bills to improve the lives of veterans and families in our state. She has always been an energetic and vital member of my staff, and she will will be greatly missed. Please join me and the rest of my staff in thanking Kaitlin for her dedicated service to District 45 and the State of Nebraska.
… And Welcome to Shayna Bartow!
Shayna Bartow is the newest member of my staff, and will be taking up Kaitlin’s former position as my Legislative Aide. She joined my office November 29th.
Shayna is a Wisconsin native who came to Nebraska to pursue a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University. After earning a degree in Justice & Society and Spanish, Shayna moved to Bellevue and worked on various political campaigns throughout the state. Outside of the Legislature, Shayna enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and traveling.
Shayna’s responsibilities include researching, drafting, and advising on legislation, and assisting with constituent communication. She would be happy to talk with you by phone, email, or mail. She is always available to answer any questions you may have at (402) 471-2615 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
All the best,
I am currently seeking one or more interns for the 2017 Legislative Session. College students specializing in political science and social work are especially encouraged to apply, as are other students with an interest in government and relevant skills.
The internship will run from the beginning of January through the beginning of June 2017, and will have a time commitment of approximately 10 hours per week. Most work will take place at the State Capitol in Lincoln. Qualified applicants must possess strong writing skills, the ability to maintain confidentiality and professionalism at all times, and desire to learn more about the legislative process. The position is unpaid, but many students are able to receive college credit for their work.
The deadline for applications is Monday November 28th. Interested individuals should send a cover letter, resume, and a list of references to Christina Mayer at email@example.com. Call (402) 471-2615 with questions.
Interim Committee Hearings
October is traditionally a busy month for interim hearings on legislative resolutions (LRs), and this year was no different. I attended four days’ worth of hearings in October for two different committees, covering six interim studies.
In the Health and Human Services Committee, we held hearings on a wide variety of topics. LR 529 looked at how Nebraska is implementing federal policies to protect our state’s foster care youth. We heard from several experts who outlined the unique challenges faced by children and young adults in the foster care system, and discussed ways the state can help those youth reach their full potential. In the hearing for LR 513 the committee explored workforce challenges in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. We heard from a range of testifiers who work in and with the system, who highlighted both the dedication of professionals in the field and the obstacles they face in providing adequate services. With LR 514, the committee learned about the successes and difficulties related to transition services for youth who are leaving the juvenile justice system. And finally, we discussed the idea of Silver Alerts in the hearing for LR 507. In other states, the Silver Alert system operates similarly to Amber Alerts, except that they alert the public to missing seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. I am grateful to all those who came to testify on these challenging subjects, and will continue to engage with the committee, outside experts, and citizens to promote positive outcomes for all involved.
In the Business and Labor Committee, we discussed two interim studies. The first, LR 533, was an examination of Nebraska’s career education and training for middle-skill jobs. That includes positions that require some postsecondary education, like vocational-technical training or an associate’s degree, but less than a bachelor’s degree. Nebraska may be facing a shortage of these workers, and during the hearing we discussed Nebraska’s options to build and support workers in this important career category. Last, we discussed LR 512 and the Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR). The CIR is a state agency designed to resolve public sector labor controversies, authorized in the Nebraska Constitution. During the hearing, we heard from a range of testifiers who shared their experiences with the CIR and their thoughts on its future.
Alzheimer’s State Plan
In addition to Silver Alerts, the Health and Human Services Committee also discussed the new Alzheimer’s State Plan. The plan has been crafted to improve information and services for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers in the state, and to help guide policy as the state’s aged population grows. The Alzheimer’s state plan has already resulted in some additional resources, including a web portal with information for families. That portal can be accessed here.
Charles Dick Medal of Merit
A few months ago I was informed by Major General Daryl Bohac, Adjutant General of the Nebraska National Guard, that I had been selected to receive the prestigious 2016 Charles Dick Medal of Merit by the National Guard Association of the United States. The Charles Dick Medal of Merit was established in 1988 to recognize exceptional contributions to the National Guard by elected representatives at the state or federal level. On October 26th, I joined the National Guard Association of Nebraska at their annual dinner in Lincoln to receive the honor.
In my four years in the Unicameral, I have championed numerous legislative policies impacting military members, veterans and their families. These include in-state tuition for veterans who recently left the military (LB 740, 2014); a voluntary hiring preference for private sector employers looking to hire veterans (LB 272, 2015); the creation of a clear legal framework for parents and judges to use during custody proceedings when a military parent deploys (LB 219, 2015), job protections during state deployment for Iowa National Guard members who work in Nebraska (LB 753, 2016), and the establishment of a permanent military commission to address long-term issues of military installations and missions as well as support Nebraska’s military members and their families (LB 754, 2016).
Of the seven elected officials across the country who have been awarded the Medal of Merit this year, I am the only state legislator. The other recipients include four state governors, a territorial governor, and a US senator. I am humbled and grateful for the recognition of my work to support Guard members and their families, and I look forward to continuing to work with the National Guard Association on these critical issues.
Bellevue and Sarpy County Chamber Forums
The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry held their annual Legislative Forum for the Sarpy County Chamber on September 29th and for the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce on October 18th. I attended both along with several of my legislative colleagues, area businesspeople, economic development experts, and Sarpy County residents. One bill highlighted by the Chamber as a “Key Business Bill” that passed last session was LB 1059, a bill heard by the Urban Affairs Committee that made several updates to the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act. We also discussed some of the key issues likely to come before the Legislature in 2017, such as property tax reform, the corrections system, and workforce development. The Chamber’s presentation was illuminating, and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss those key issues with my fellow senators.
NFC Community Advisory Board
I joined the Nebraska Family Collaborative’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) on October 27th to discuss the new managed care plans that will soon be introduced in Nebraska. Known as Heritage Health, the program aims to combine physical, behavioral, and pharmacy services for Medicaid and CHIP recipients into one coordinated care system. The CAB invited representatives from the various Heritage Health insurance plans to talk about the program and answer questions, so that attendees would have a more thorough sense of how the system is supposed to work. The CAB is an excellent opportunity for those involved in the child welfare system to collaborate and share ideas, and it was my pleasure to participate in the Heritage Health discussion this month.
Speaking at Holland Children’s Institute
The Holland Children’s Institute held an Ideas Summit on October 27, and I was selected to be one of the presenters. The summit brought together experts and policymakers from multiple disciplines to focus on paid family and medical leave, which is a critical tool to address the rising costs of childcare, work-life balance, and other challenges facing Nebraska’s working families. Last session I introduced LB 850, which would have created a paid family and medical leave insurance program through the Department of Labor (DOL). DOL data shows that nearly 20% of Nebraskans who apply for unemployment assistance report leaving their job for health and family issues, which is consistent with a 2013 Pew Survey that found 27% of women surveyed quit their jobs to care for a child or a family member. A 2013 survey of Nebraskans over the age of 18 by Nebraska AARP found that over 60% of Nebraskans support paid family leave, and 80% support workplace protections for family caregivers. Evidence from other states that have paid family and medical leave programs indicates that businesses will benefit from less turnover and more productive employees. And with Nebraska’s current and projected workforce shortages, we as a state simply cannot afford to have workers sitting on the sidelines.
Speaking at the Holland Children’s Institute Ideas Summit
Election day is Tuesday November 8th this year. There are many offices being selected in this general election: from the President and House of Representatives, to the State Legislature, to Bellevue Public School Board and City Council, and more. Your vote is an important part of the democratic process. Polls will be open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm CST, and you can check your polling location here.
The Bellevue Police and Fire departments are hosting their annual Holiday Heroes Chili Cook-Off on November 4th at the Volunteer Firefighter’s Hall. The event runs from 5:00-8:30 pm, and will feature a silent auction and People’s Choice award along with the official chili judging competition. For more information, contact Nicole Clark at (402) 682-6622.
This is the 17th year that Nebraska’s Official Veterans Day Parade will take place in Bellevue, and this year it will be held on November 5th. 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 Ellis McClintick, a highly decorated 94 year-old veteran of three wars. I encourage you to bring the whole family to this wonderful event, and to join me in support of our community’s many veterans.
As a reminder, Daylight Savings ends on November 6th. Don’t forget that your clocks should “fall back” by one hour overnight!
Public Hearing for the Task Force on Behavioral and Mental Health
I was selected by my peers to serve as one of seven members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Task Force on Behavioral and Mental Health. The Taskforce meets during the interim to develop ideas for bills to improve our system that we can begin to push through next year. The committee brings together Senators who serve on various committees who see the problems from different perspectives. Throughout the summer and fall, the committee has heard from a wide variety of stakeholders and experts to learn more about the problems in our mental and behavioral health systems and to discuss potential solutions. On September 28th, we heard initial results from the Department of Health and Human Services’ comprehensive needs assessment. Other testifiers included a county attorney who discussed the critical problems created by weaknesses in our intermediate and emergency mental health care capacity; testifiers who spoke about the value of peer counseling; and a testifier who offered a couple of proposals to increase our mental health workforce capacity using many of the resources and people we already have available in the state. The assessment evaluated the mental health system in a variety of areas, including workforce, capacity, and treatment options. I will be working with my staff to dig into the full 300 page report to see what findings are most helpful as we push to improve the system. The committee will meet several more times before releasing a final report with its recommendations at the beginning of December.
Medicare Presentation at Heritage Ridge
The Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), Heritage Ridge and I teamed up to share an educational presentation on Medicare Part D plan options with Bellevue-area residents on September 20th. Approximately 50 people joined us to discover ways to save money by selecting the right Part D plan each year, and why simply rolling their plan over from one year to the next may be costing them more. I am grateful to Bobbie Kierstead from SHIIP for her wonderfully informative presentation, and to Heritage Ridge for their hospitality. If you were unable to attend the presentation but would like to learn more about SHIIP and its programs, you can visit http://www.doi.nebraska.gov/shiip or call 1-800-234-7119.
Updates on Bill Implementation and Progress
This month, I met with several agency directors to discuss workforce and education policy. I met with Courtney Phillips, CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, to discuss the implementation of LB 107, a bill I successfully introduced in 2015 to reduce unnecessary governmental regulation and increase workforce participation by Nebraska’s nurse practitioners. I was happy to hear that the process of implementation is going well.
I also met with Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt to discuss our state education data collection policies. One concern is how to reduce the number of students who end up in remedial courses in college, because studies demonstrate that students who enroll in a remedial course are less likely to complete the course and less likely to persist and graduate from college. We discussed existing data on that issue and how changes to Nebraska’s school testing laws, particularly the new requirement for high school students to complete the ACT in 11th grade in lieu of the current standardized test (this year’s LB 930), could be used to help parents, students, schools, and colleges work together to to ensure that more of our students are able to enroll in credit-bearing courses and complete college on time.
MIA/POW Remembrance Luncheon at Offutt
On September 16th I attend a luncheon at Offutt AFB in remembrance of all those servicemen and women who have been held prisoners of war or declared missing in action. The ceremonies are also an opportunity to recognize and honor the families of those soldiers. POW/MIA remembrance day is held on the third Friday in September each year, and was authorized by Congress in 1971. It was an honor to participate in this year’s ceremonies, so that we can ensure the sacrifices of our nation’s POW/MIAs and their loved ones are never forgotten.
Urban Affairs Staff Presents at League of Municipalities Annual Conference
The lawmaking process often does not end when a bill passes through the Legislature. In the case of laws that come out of the Urban Affairs Committee, statutory changes sometimes must be implemented at the local level before the new policy can go into effect. A prime example of this is a bill heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, LB 1012, which adopted the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Act.
On September 22nd, Urban Affairs Committee Legal Counsel Trevor Fitzgerald gave a presentation on PACE at the League of Municipalities Annual Conference in Kearney. PACE is a financing mechanism that allows local governments to help finance the upfront costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on commercial, industrial, and residential properties. Examples of improvements that could be eligible for PACE financing include energy efficient windows and doors, upgraded HVAC systems, weather stripping, and energy efficient light fixtures.
Under LB 1012, municipalities are authorized to create clean energy assessment districts, which are similar in nature to assessment districts for streets, sewers, and other forms of municipal infrastructure. Property owners could opt in to participate in the PACE program, and the loan, including interest and administrative fees, would be repaid through a special assessment on the property owner’s property tax bill over a set period of time. Because the PACE assessment transfers with the property when it is sold, the costs associated with the energy efficiency improvement will be repaid over time by the person benefiting from the improvement.
While the PACE statutes did not go into effect until July, a number of municipalities throughout the state have already begun the process of studying successful PACE programs in other states and drafting local ordinances to create the first PACE programs in Nebraska. I believe that once implemented in our communities, PACE will be a valuable environmental and economic development tool that will help property owners save energy and money on their utility bills and create good-paying jobs in the construction industry.
Meeting of the Military Technical Assistance Group (MilTAG)
Once a month leaders from our business, government, and military communities meet at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to discuss how we can work together to ensure that we are doing all that we can to protect and expand our military investments in the state and to leverage opportunities for our state tied to those missions. This month we met on September 13th. Jeff Mikesell provides staff leadership for the group and has done an excellent job leading us through recent discussions of the Offutt Runway and levee projects and ongoing discussions about recruiting other missions to our state. One example of how the work of this group extends beyond the military is the working group on strengthening STEM education in the state. Increasing STEM education matters, not only for recruiting missions to the state, but for the broader growth and development of the state across the board.
Open Sky Policy Symposium
The 2016 Open Sky Policy Symposium took place September 1st in Lincoln. During the symposium, we discussed Nebraska’s economic development climate and suggested ways to improve the state’s economic growth. Presenters stressed the need to focus on high-wage, high-skill jobs when considering economic development proposals, and the benefits of helping companies recruit workers from within their local communities. Attendees also heard about issues such as the importance of early childhood education to the state’s future economic health; the importance of utilizing good data and evidence-based assessments in the policymaking process; and possibilities for future tax reforms. I look forward to discussing these ideas with my colleagues in the upcoming legislative session, so that we can identify responsible ways to grow the state and invest in the future of all Nebraskans.
Voter Registration Deadline
If you are not registered to vote in the November 8th general election, the deadline to do so online or via mail is October 21st at 5:00 pm. The online voter registration form can be accessed here, where you will also find a frequently asked questions page and other helpful information. You may also register in person at your county Election Commission office by October 28th. For Sarpy County residents, the Election Commission is located at 501 Olson Drive in Papillion. Remember: if you were registered previously and have since moved or changed your name, you will need to re-register if you wish to vote in this year’s general election.
The Offutt Advisory Council will be hosting the annual Harvest Ball on October 7th at the Platteview Country club. The event is organized each year to help provide financial assistance to support of our men, women, and families stationed at Offutt AFB. This year’s theme is “Knickers & Pearls”. For more information or to RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Remembering Our Fallen project is hosting a fundraiser in Omaha on October 23rd at the La Vista Embassy Suites. The project honors fallen warriors who called Nebraska home, and travels to display their pictures and stories in communities around the state. In conjunction with Nebraska Veteran Honor Flights, Remembering Our Fallen will visit Omaha to bring the community together to remember these brave men and women. For full event details, and to see other communities the project plans to visit, visit their website here.
All the best,
I want to alert you to an upcoming Nebraska Department of Roads road closure that may impact your daily travel.
Platteview Road will be closed from 19th Street to 27th Street for 60 calendar days, tentatively scheduled to begin on October 1st. A sign will be placed on the roadside one week before the final closure date to alert all drivers. I wanted to let you know as much in advance as possible.
According to our information from the Nebraska Department of Roads, Dyson Hollow Road and 27th Street will remain open and Sarpy County will use 36th Street as the detour. 19th Street will be the access point into Hyda Hills from Platteview Road. A map of the affected area is below.
I encourage you to share this information with anyone who might find it useful. If you have any questions, you can contact the Nebraska Department of Roads Omaha office at 402-595-2534.
All the best,
Visit to the Eastern Nebraska Veterans’ Home
On August 16th I toured the Eastern Nebraska Veterans’ Home in Bellevue, one of four veterans’ homes in the state. While there I met with DHHS Division of Veterans’ Homes Director John Hilgert, facility director Tammy Weston, and other staff to discuss several issues relating to veteran care. We reviewed how the wait list works, and discussed the quality of care that veterans are receiving at Bellevue and across the state. Additionally, we talked about the workforce challenges facing our veterans’ homes and many other healthcare sectors across the state. Nebraska’s veterans have protected us through their service, and it is an honor to work to ensure that they are taken care of as they age. I will continue to work with Director Hilgert and DHHS to help our veterans receive the best care possible.
Urban Affairs Committee Holds Interim Hearing, Stakeholder Meeting in Aurora
On August 18th, the Urban Affairs Committee held its first interim study hearing of the year, a “road” hearing in Aurora, Nebraska. The hearing was the first of two planned hearings on LR 490, an interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes in Nebraska. The Urban Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over most state and local building codes, and since 2007 has heard bills dealing with a wide variety of codes, including building codes, energy codes, and plumbing codes.
Hearings like the one in Aurora provide an opportunity for committee members to receive testimony from Nebraskans who might not otherwise have the ability to travel to Lincoln for legislative hearings. At the hearing, committee members heard from various city and county officials from multiple communities in Central Nebraska. The enforcement of building codes largely falls to political subdivisions in Nebraska, as there is no state agency that handles code enforcement, except in a few cases.
Giving opening remarks to Urban Affairs Committee members at the LR 490 public hearing
Prior to the interim study hearing, my office also hosted a stakeholder meeting in Aurora on LR 439, my interim study to examine the use of tax-increment financing (TIF) for residential development. In addition to Urban Affairs Committee members, the stakeholder meeting brought together city, county, and school district officials from throughout the state, as well as local developers who have worked on residential projects in the area. Topics discussed at the hearing included the current housing crisis in rural Nebraska, the lack of tools available to municipalities for residential development, existing notice requirements for TIF projects to counties, school districts, and other political subdivisions, and the importance of early and ongoing communication between municipalities, counties, and school districts regarding proposed TIF projects.
Platte Institute Tax Reform Summit
The 2016 Platte Institute Tax Reform Summit was held on August 17th in Lincoln. The main presentation, from the Tax Foundation, highlighted the fact that many of Nebraska’s tax statutes were written almost 50 years ago, and that our state should now pursue reforms that embrace the new, dynamic business models of the internet era. The Tax Foundation report also suggested changes to the sales and income tax systems, as well as corporate taxation. The Summit also heard from a panel of state senators, who discussed the legislature’s past work on tax reform. I look forward to working with my colleagues on meaningful, responsible tax reform in the upcoming legislative session.
Sarpy Chamber 2016 Economic Outlook
The Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce hosted an event on August 9th to discuss economic issues relating to Sarpy County, the metro area, and the state as a whole. Presenters from Metro Community College, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, the Nebraska Business Development Center, and others came together to discuss the state’s economic strengths and challenges. We examined the state’s tax policies and how they impact the local community, and heard an analysis of some of the workforce development initiatives in the metro area. Sustaining strong state and local economies requires input from many different sectors, and the Sarpy Chamber event was an excellent opportunity to bring those diverse groups together. I will continue to work with those groups to cultivate economic opportunities for Nebraskans in the future.
Page Application Process Still Open
Do you know anyone interested in serving as a page for the 2017 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 position, and many students receive college internship credit.
The deadline for applications is Monday October 3rd. Those interested should contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office at (402) 471-2271 or email Kitty Kearns at firstname.lastname@example.org for an application.
Events in Sarpy County
This year is the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and there will be several remembrance events taking place in Sarpy County. HyVee in Papillion is partnering with local first responders groups for a 30-minute ceremony at 7:30 am to remember victims and honor first responders, who are welcome to stop by all morning long for a free breakfast. That event will be held in the Papillion HyVee parking lot.
The Kiwanis Club of Bellevue will continue their proud tradition of sponsoring a tribute to honor and remember September 11th again this year. At 6:00 pm, an hour-long memorial ceremony will be held in American Hero’s Park. This annual event includes several moving tributes honoring our military and first responders, including a roll call of the fallen. The evening also includes swearing in of new citizens. I encourage you to come out to honor our heroes and welcome our newest citizens.
Photo from a previous Bellevue Kiwanis September 11th ceremony, courtesy Bill O’Donnell
In association with the Nebraska Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), I will be hosting a presentation entitled “Choosing the Right Part D Drug Plan” on September 20th at Heritage Ridge. The event will run from 1:00-2:00 pm, and will help attendees learn to pick the right Medicare Part D plan for their needs. The presentation and Q&A will be led by a certified Medicare counselor, and is free and open to the public. No reservation or RSVP is required to attend.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska is hosting a retreat for women caring for a warrior of any conflict on September 23-25. The retreat will be held in Aurora (about two hours west of Bellevue), and will educate, encourage and empower women who care for military members or retirees. There is a $50 fee, which covers the three-day retreat (Friday evening to Sunday noon), two nights of lodging, pampering sessions and all meals. The goal of the retreat is to bring women together for hope, healing and restoration. You can learn more and register here.
Best wishes for a wonderful Labor Day weekend!
All the best,