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Earlier this week I sent out a special update with information about flooding assistance resources and key contacts. You can find that special update here. My office will continue to update that page with additional information as it becomes available.
Paid Family and Medical Leave Discussion
On Tuesday and Wednesday this week we debated LB 311, my bill to create the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act. The bill was prioritized by Senator Machaela Cavanaugh. Supporters made a strong case for this bill, but it was filibustered and does have enough votes to advance. While this result is disappointing, I am committed to continuing to work towards a solution. PFML has broad support among Nebraskans and is increasingly emerging as a bipartisan area of agreement. We will continue to work for a comprehensive PFML system in our state, even if it doesn’t happen this year.
As of Wednesday this week we have the final list of bills that have been prioritized. If you missed my explanation of the priority bill process last week, you can find it here.
My priority bill this session is LB 323. This bill amends eligibility criteria for Nebraska’s Medicaid Insurance for Workers with Disabilities (MIWD) program. This program allows individuals with disabilities to pay a premium for, or “buy-in” to, Medicaid coverage while working and earning an income that puts them over the traditional eligibility threshold. Current eligibility criteria is outdated and prevents persons who should otherwise qualify from participating in the program. After the hearing I worked with both the Department of Health and Human Services and disability advocates to create an amendment that offers the greatest possible coverage under this program in a fiscally responsible way.
In addition to LB 323, I had three other bills prioritized this session:
You can find the full list of all designated priority bills here. They cover topics ranging from military honor license plates to tenant rights to ag land valuation.
There were 107 bills given either a personal, committee, or speaker priority this session. Those bills, plus the state budget, will make up the bulk of the bills we discuss for the rest of the session. Any bill that was not prioritized can still be amended into another priority bill, or it can be included on the Consent Calendar if it is eligible (for a summary of how Consent Calendar works, see my explanation in a previous update here). Aside from those avenues, a bill with no priority is unlikely to be debated this session even if it is advanced out of committee. Bills will carry over to the next year of this biennium, though, and there will be an opportunity at the beginning of the 2020 session to take some of those bills up on worksheet order. I have had a number of bills pass that way in my legislative career.
Bills on the Agenda
On our floor agenda this week were a number of important bills. Some of the highlights include:
Senator Tom Brewer’s LB 511 is a simple but impactful bill would authorize state employees to request a work hours adjustment so they can participate in an approved youth mentoring program. Organizations like TeamMates and Big Brothers Big Sisters rely on a network of volunteers to give their time to mentor young people in Nebraska. This bill makes it explicitly clear that state employees can request a schedule adjustment to participate in these important programs. LB 511 was advanced to Select File, the second round of debate, unanimously.
We took up two different bills relating to Nebraska ground conditions. The first, LB 130, was introduced by Senator Wendy DeBoer. It implements the recommendations published by the Radon Resistant New Construction Task Force in 2018. Radon is an odorless, colorless gas with known carcinogenic effects. Nebraska has the 3rd highest concentration of radon in the United States, so addressing its presence in people’s homes is important to protect health and welfare. LB 130 will ensure that new residences constructed in Nebraska are more resistant to radon’s harmful effects. The second bill is LB 243, which was introduced and prioritized by Senator Tim Gragert. LB 243 creates the Healthy Soils Task Force, made up of ag experts and scientists. The goal of the bill is to promote more widespread use of healthy soil practices among farm and ranch landowners and operators in Nebraska in order to improve the health, yield, and profitability of the soil, increase its carbon sequestration capacity, and improve water quality. Both LB 130 and LB 243 were advanced to Select File.
We spent significant time discussing Senator Megan Hunt’s LB 169, a bill to restore SNAP eligibility for those convicted of drug felonies once they have completed their custodial sentence. Our current system is unnecessarily punitive and increases the risk of recidivism for this population. The bill was filibustered and did not come to a vote this week; I anticipate that it will be scheduled for further debate at a later date.
Kick Butts Day
Wednesday March 20th was No Limits Nebraska’s Kick Butts Day, an annual event that brings young people to the capitol to advocate against tobacco use and for policies to keep kids from picking up the habit. LD 45 resident Brooklyn Larimore has been active in this organization for years, and it’s always a pleasure to see her! This year Brooklyn was joined by high school student Jasmine Snyder to share information about tobacco prevention strategies.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
Parts of Bellevue were among the wide swathes of the state hit by devastating flooding in March 2019. Thanks to the quick actions of impacted residents and first responders, there were no deaths reported in Bellevue. We mourn deeply for those who lost their lives across our state and in Iowa.
This update is to share information about short-term emergency assistance available, options to volunteer and donate in our community, and information about long-term recovery efforts. Please share this information with anyone you know who may find it useful. My office will continue to update this page with new information as it becomes available.
[Updated 5/24/19] Governor Pete Ricketts announced the release of a consolidated guide for Nebraskans in need of disaster relief resources. The guide was created as a reference for Nebraskans to utilize as a resource based on the state’s experience following historic flooding that devastated many areas of the state in March. The guide provides resource summaries, hotlines, and other contact information for more than two dozen community organizations as well as state and federal agencies involved in recovery assistance. It is available by clicking here. Printed booklets may also be requested by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (402) 471-7421.
The disaster relief guide is a comprehensive list of available resources, but I still want to highlight some of the key places you can contact to find assistance:
Caring for your mental and emotional health in the wake of a disaster is also critical. The federal government operates a Disaster Distress Hotline, which you can contact by calling 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746. The CDC’s website has additional information about coping in the wake of a disaster HERE. Nebraska also operates the 24-hour Family Helpline at 1-888-866-8660 if you have a child who is having a hard time coping with the flood’s impact on their lives or has other behavioral health needs. The Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, which specializes in helping rural residents who are feeling overwhelmed with stress, depression, or other mental health issues, can be reached at 1-800-262-0258.
[Updated 6/6/19] Following the passage of LB512, property owners who suffer significant property damage from a natural calamity, such as this spring’s flooding, may be eligible for property tax relief. A calamity is defined as a disastrous event, including, but not limited to, a fire, an earthquake, a flood, a tornado, or other natural event which significantly affects the assessed value of the property. Destroyed real property does not include property suffering significant property damage that is caused by the owner of the property.
The deadline to apply for destroyed property tax relief is July 15th, so you will need to act expeditiously to turn it in. The Sarpy County Assessor has posted the form that needs to be filled out, along with additional information, here: https://www.sarpy.com/offices/assessor
The form on the Sarpy County Assessor’s at the link above is the same for all Nebraskans with damaged real property, but you’ll need to turn the form in to the assessor with jurisdiction over the county in which your property is located. If you have questions about the process, contact your County Assessor’s office.
Organizations affiliated with the Nebraska Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NEVOAD), such as Great Plains United Methodist, Southern Baptist and Team Rubicon, have been working for weeks to clear out mud, debris and flood damaged materials in affected homes. These groups advocate using proper cleaning materials and techniques for effective mold removal.
Mold is a common problem after flooding and can cause serious health issues for people living in proximity to it, according to the St. Bernard Project Mold Remediation Guide which is available online athttp://sbpusa.org/public/uploads/pdfs/SBP_MoldRemediationGuide_20180927.pdf. Molds are naturally occurring species of fungus that grows best in warm, damp conditions – conditions exactly like those commonly found in flooded homes. Mold reproduces by means of tiny spores that can float through the air and are typically green or black in color. Molds have tiny branches and roots, so they grow both on top of and into materials like wood.
A fungicide and wire brushes are needed to remove mold.
In Nebraska, fungicidal disinfectant can be obtained free of charge for flood clean up at:
Homeowners still in need of clean-up assistance can call the Crisis Clean Up Hotline at 833-556-2476. In addition, homeowners can find more information at: http://www.heartlandchurchnetwork.com/flood-relief.html
“Improper cleaning can result in mold resurfacing after the homeowner has spent a great deal of time and money to rebuild, said Mark Coffin of Omaha Habitat for Humanity. “We don’t want people to have to tear out drywall a second time.”
According to Coffin, mold must be effectively cleared before rebuilding can begin. Representatives of NEVOAD recommend the following mold removal tips:
“A pressure-wash with a 3000 psi pressure washer is the fastest, most efficient way to do the manual cleaning step,” Cumpton said. “Then, push excess water to the drain or sump pump. Apply sanitizer while wood is still wet.”
Do not restore drywall until all materials have dried completely. Drying of all affected areas is necessary before restoration. More information can be found in the Texas A&M Extension article, “Controlling Mold Growth After the Storm” at https://texashelp.tamu.edu/controlling-mold-growth-after-the-storm/
A moisture meter can be used to test the moisture content of studs and sheathing before replacing insulation. Wood products specialists recommend that wood have no more than 14 to 15 percent moisture by weight before closing a wall.
[Information updated 5/21/19] The afternoon of March 21st, President Trump signed a federal disaster declaration for Nebraska. Nine counties were approved to receive individual assistance: Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington were approved. Boone, Buffalo, Custer, Knox, Richardson and Thurston Counties and the Santee Sioux Nation were added on March 31st. Individual assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. Individuals and businesses who sustained losses in the designated area can begin applying for assistance by registering online at HERE to help you gather everything you will need to start the assistance process. FEMA also has a FAQ posted HERE that answers some common questions. or by calling 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7:00am to 10:00pm CT seven days a week until further notice. FEMA has an application checklist
As of Friday, May 17, all the state and federal Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) have closed. This includes the DRC in Bellevue. However, homeowners, renters and business owners in those counties designated for federal assistance still have until June 19 to register.
** One important message about securing FEMA funds: make sure to thoroughly document your home’s flood damage with pictures BEFORE you begin the cleanup process. You will need proof that the damage was caused by the flood. Sarpyflood.org posted the graphic below (found under the “Documenting Contents” tab) with a list of the kinds of pictures you should think about taking.
The NEMA representative my office spoke to said that a state Long-Term Recovery Group of businesses, non-profits, and government entities are often the ones providing the most direct rebuilding relief after emergencies. The 211 network will also be involved in referring individuals to those long-term recovery efforts once they are organized. I therefore encourage everyone who is affected by these floods to keep in touch with 211 for the most up-to-date list of available assistance, even as you begin the process of determining whether you are eligible for FEMA’s direct assistance.
Veterans and their dependents may be eligible for Nebraska Veterans Aid for expenses incurred due to the flooding. This includes food, clothing, emergency housing such as hotel accommodations, and replacement of eligible flood-damaged items necessary for life safety. You can find more information about that program at the Nebraska VA’s website HERE. Applications must be filled out through your county Veteran Service Office. Sarpy County’s VSO can be reached at 402-593-2203 or email@example.com. You can look up information for all of the county VSOs HERE.
[Information added 3/28/19] The Internal Revenue Service has announced that individuals who reside or have a business in Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders, and Washington counties may qualify for tax deadline relief. You can find the IRS news release with full details about the disaster tax deadline extension HERE; if you have questions, I encourage you to contact the IRS at 866-562-5227 or your tax preparer if you have one. Certain deadlines falling on or after March 9, 2019 and before July 31, 2019, are granted additional time to file through July 31, 2019. This includes 2018 individual income tax returns and payments normally due on April 15, 2019. It also includes the quarterly estimated income tax payments due on April 15, 2019 and June 17, 2019. Eligible taxpayers will also have until July 31, 2019 to make 2018 IRA contributions. In addition, penalties on payroll and excise tax deposits due on or after March 9, 2019, and before March 25, 2019, will be abated as long as the deposits were made by March 25, 2019.
In conjunction with the IRS relief announcement, the Nebraska Tax Commissioner announced a similar extension. You can find more information and resources from the Department of Revenue (DOR) HERE. DOR granted the extension and a waiver of penalties and interest for late returns or payments of individual, corporate, and estate and trust income taxes, and also for partnership and S corporation returns until July 31, 2019. This relief will be automatically granted solely to taxpayers whose business or primary residential location is in Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders, and Washington counties and was subject to mandatory or optional evacuation due to the natural disaster and only applies to taxes administered by the DOR. DOR will work with businesses and individuals regarding any tax returns and taxes due. For more information or if you have questions, you can contact DOR at 800-742-7474 (NE and IA) or 402-471-5729 or visit the DOR website linked above.
Legal Aid of Nebraska is operating a Disaster Relief Project. If you are in need of legal assistance related to the flooding, you can apply online by going to lawhelpne.legalaidofnebraska.org or by calling the Disaster Relief Hotline at 1-844-268-5627. If you are an attorney and want to volunteer to help disaster survivors, please apply HERE. Common legal issues that may arise during or after a disaster include: insurance issues (submitting claims, avoiding public adjuster fraud, negotiating insurance settlements, and filing an appeal); government benefits (applying for benefits and/or filing an appeal for denial of benefits, benefit award disagreement, or overpayment notices); housing for renters (identifying your rights as a renter of a damaged unit, facilitating communication with your landlord, negotiating early termination of a lease, resolving issues with renter’s insurance claims, and recovering personal items from damaged rental units; housing for owners (negotiating payments, understanding your options in real estate contracts, and obtaining disaster assistance); contractor fraud issues (hiring a contractor and avoiding fraud, reviewing work contracts/estimates, obtaining proper work permits for repairs, passing city inspection, and recognizing and preventing predatory lending); or document recovery (replacing lost documents like driver’s licenses, SS cards, EBT cards, etc. and replacing immigration documents). You can find Legal Aid’s Disaster Relief Project website HERE.
The REALTORS Relief Foundation has assistance available to qualified applicants to help with either 1) monthly mortgage expense for the primary residence that was damaged by the flooding disaster, or 2) rental cost due to displacement from the primary residence resulting from the flooding disaster. Relief assistance is limited to a maximum of $1,000 per applicant per household. The deadline for application submission is June 15, 2019. Please note this assistance is for housing relief only; other expenses including second mortgages, vehicle purchase, rental, repair or mileage are ineligible for reimbursement under this program. For questions about this program, call 402-323-6500 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click HERE for the REALTORS assistance application.
The US Chamber of Commerce is operating a Disaster Help Desk for Business at 1-888-692-4943. You can find more about the Disaster Help Desk at the Chamber’s website HERE.
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) offers recovery loans. Businesses of any size and private, nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other business assets. These loans cover losses that are not fully covered by insurance or other recoveries. For small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private, nonprofit organizations of any size, SBA offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any property damage.
Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information, and download applications at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email email@example.com for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may call 800-877-8339.
The deadline to apply for property damage is June 19, 2019. The deadline to apply for economic injury is Dec. 23, 2019.
If you want to help our Bellevue community with donations of time or money, I know of two primary resources tracking those opportunities. You can check the sarpyflood.org website mentioned above. Second, the Bellevue First organization has created a map of local shelters, donation centers, and meal services. You can find that map HERE. That map is being continually updated, but I recommend you call ahead to make sure that the organization is open and accepting donations. Various organizations may also be in need of different items or kinds of assistance, so if you call they can direct you to what they need most. I understand that Bellevue Christian Center is the main collection and distribution site for relief donations in Bellevue and Sarpy County. They have been updating their Facebook page with their most (and least) needed items.
For those outside of Bellevue, 211 can direct you to local organizations providing assistance. Many communities have also created Facebook pages or other central information points you may be able to check. You can check the Governor’s Nebraska Strong website for statewide volunteer opportunities, and the Journal Star has collected a list of statewide assistance and recovery organizations that are accepting donations HERE.
These floods have caused untold damage and suffering, and I will do all I can to assist in the recovery efforts. Bellevue, Sarpy, and the state of Nebraska are full of strong and resilient people. We also have untold numbers of people who have given so much of themselves to help others. Recovery will not be easy, and it is up to all of us to put our best efforts toward rebuilding our communities and supporting our neighbors.
All the best,
Bills on the Agenda
Sometimes we get funny reminders that our shorthand and jargon in the Legislature can be confusing when you don’t spend every day immersed in it. A caller to my office recently asked to speak with me, at which my staff said I was unavailable as I was on the floor. After a pause, the caller asked my staff, “…. should you go help her, then?” Of course, I was not laying on the ground – being “on the floor” means spending time up in the George W Norris Legislative Chamber for debate. It was a good reminder, though, that all the acronyms and idioms that get tossed around at the capitol often need a bit more explaining!
One of the bills we advanced on the floor this week is LB 217, introduced by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks. The bill makes it clear that employers cannot fire or otherwise retaliate against an employee for discussing their own wages to determine if pay discrimination is taking place. This bill is an important step to limit gender discrimination in the workplace, since we know that one of the most pernicious factors keeping women from achieving equal pay is that they often do not know what they are making relative to their co-workers and therefore have little negotiating leverage. This bill absolutely does not require anyone to discuss their pay. It simply gives employees the explicit right to talk about what they’re making and removes the threat of enforced secrecy around the subject.
We also spent time on Friday working through final reading bills. You can see the full agenda of bills that were approved here, but a couple of the highlights include:
LB 284, Senator John McCollister’s Remote Seller and Marketplace Facilitator Act to explicitly legalize collection of online sales tax in Nebraska. LB 284 brings Nebraska in line with the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to allow collection of online sales tax and is an important tool to ensure the state is collecting those taxes that are due.
LB 124, my bill to clarify that municipalities can jointly administer a clean energy assessment district under the Property Assessment Clean Energy Act, or PACE program. This is a “cleanup” bill for legislation that was passed several years back.
LB 160, Senator Dan Quick’s bill to expressly authorize municipalities to use Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act funds for early childhood development infrastructure. We know that limited childcare is one of the barriers to attracting qualified applicants to jobs in Nebraska and that high costs can be a serious burden on families who already live here. LB 160 will provide an important tool to encourage new childcare facilities.
LB 112, Senator Sara Howard’s bill to waive first year licensing fees for occupations under the Uniform Credentialing Act for individuals who are identified as low income, part of a military family, or a person between the ages of 18 and 25. Only the initial fee is waived, and the regular fee would apply for all renewals. This bill will give a boost to those entering a new profession and make the licensing process for these occupations, which is important to protect public safety, less onerous for those just starting out.
Senator Machaela Cavanaugh designated my LB 311, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act, as her priority bill for this session. I have been working with Senator Cavanaugh on this issue ever since she was elected to the Legislature, and I am grateful that she chose to use her priority designation for this important bill. We expect the bill to be debated next week.
This week I had my final two bill hearings for this session, of 22 total bills I introduced. Committees will continue to hold hearings for the next two weeks, ending March 28th.
My first hearing took place Wednesday March 13th in the Government, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee. LB 210 requires the reporting and disclosure of electioneering communications. Electioneering communications are materials targeted at the electorate of a candidate or ballot initiative that are distributed in the 30 days preceding an election. These communications allude to candidates or ballot measures without explicitly recognizing the election, their candidacy, or the official name or number of the ballot initiative, and therefore do not have not have to be reported under current law. LB 210 does not restrict or limit the activity of citizen groups or what can be said in electioneering communications. Instead, LB 210 simply creates a reporting mechanism to bring more transparency and accountability to our state’s elections. If powerful groups or organizations are pouring money into Nebraska to shape campaigns and elections in our state, the citizens and candidates have a right to know who they are.
The second hearing, for LB 714, was Friday in the Revenue Committee. My intern Lillian took the lead on preparing for this bill and did an excellent job! I served as chair of the Economic Development Task Force last biennium, and we spent significant time discussing the issue of job training and employee retention in Nebraska. This bill functions as a tool for small- and medium-sized businesses to train employees in newly created jobs through agreements with state community colleges. LB714 creates a localized, self-sustaining initiative that offers employees an opportunity to acquire competitive workplace skills, which may include college credit and certifications. The bill focuses on medium- to high-skill jobs and allows companies who have signed an agreement with a college to withhold a portion of the payroll taxes already due to the state and remit that money directly to the community college. This bill incentivizes the creation of higher wage jobs with additional training requirements offering businesses a sustainable foundation on which they can build their employees’ skillsets.
Priority Request Deadlines
We are almost halfway through this 90-day legislative session; Day 45 will be next week on March 20th. We have mostly been debating bills in worksheet order (explained in a previous update here), but have taken up a couple of senator priority bills. Each senator gets to select one bill as his or her priority. Often it will be one of a senator’s own bills, but it’s not uncommon for someone to prioritize a bill introduced by another senator. As the name suggests, these bills get top priority for floor debate over worksheet order bills. Each standing committee also identifies two priority bills. Tuesday March 19th next week is the deadline for both senators and committees to identify and submit their priority bills, but bills can be prioritized as soon as session starts. Senator Wishart, for example, prioritized LB 110 the day after she introduced it in January. Priority bills must still go through the normal committee process before they can be debated on the floor. At this time twelve bills have been given personal priority: we’ve debated three, have two pending for debate next week (including LB 311, my PFML bill), and have seven more that have not been advanced out of committee. Four committee priorities have been designated, of which we have debated one. You can find the full list of personal and committee priority bills here. Having a status of “Referral” means the bill is still in committee.
The Speaker of the Legislature, Senator Jim Scheer, also gets to select 25 priority bills. This Thursday March 14th was the deadline to submit bills for the Speaker to consider as a Speaker priority bill, and he will announce his selections on Wednesday of this coming week. Senators who want a Speaker priority for their bill must send a letter to his office with the reasons it’s a good choice. In previous sessions the Speaker has received far more than 25 requests, so not all of them can be granted. Speaker priority bills have historically been fairly non-controversial and broadly impactful, but the Speaker may choose any bills he likes from among the requests. Speaker priority bills will also be listed on the Legislature’s website (here) once they are announced on Wednesday next week.
I am among the Senators who will make my final decision on priority designation next week. Stay tuned!
This week the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) held Severe Weather Awareness Week, which was marked by a governor’s proclamation and poster contest award ceremony on Monday March 11th. This year the 3rd place poster contest winner was Julia Schuler, a student at Cornerstone Christian School in Bellevue. Congratulations to Julia and all the poster contest winners! They did an excellent job helping to spread information about how to be prepared for all kinds of severe weather.
At the Severe Weather Awareness Week ceremony. L-R: Me, Lynn Marshall (Sarpy County Emergency Manager), Julia Schuler, Bryan Tuma (NEMA Assistant Director), Governor Pete Ricketts, and Suzanne Fortin (National Weather Service). Photo credit: Nebraska Emergency Management Agency
On Wednesday March 13th I got to meet two different groups of 4th graders visiting from LD 45. In the morning Avery Elementary came through…
… and in the afternoon Two Springs Elementary took its tour. Both groups were full of bright learners with bright futures!
Also on Wednesday I attended the Nebraska Business Development Center’s annual awards lunch at the Governor’s residence. It was my pleasure to join Senator John Arch in presenting Hillcrest Health Services with the Employee Development Business of the Year Award. Hillcrest does a great job investing in their employees and helping them develop their skills, and is an important part of our Sarpy community. The award is certainly well-deserved.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
PFML and Sick & Safe Leave Advance
On Wednesday the Business & Labor Committee voted to advance my LB 311 (Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance Act) and LB 305 (Sick & Safe Leave) to the full Legislature. I am pleased the majority of the committee saw merit in these two important bills.
Bills Debated This Week
Our agenda this week contained a number of important bills. One that we discussed and advanced to the next round of consideration was LB 284, Senator John McCollister’s bill to explicitly legalize collection of online sales tax in Nebraska. LB 284, the Remote Seller and Marketplace Facilitator Act, brings Nebraska in line with the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to allow collection of online sales tax and is an important tool to ensure the state is collecting those taxes that are due. LB 284 is Senator McCollister’s priority bill this year.
LB 354 was introduced by Senator Patty Pansing Brooks to update how juvenile court records are treated after completion of court-ordered probation or diversion. The goal is to make sure that poor decisions as a minor do not define that person for the rest of their life. Under current law, juvenile records can be sealed when a minor reaches 17, but it is a confusing process that leads to a high number of records remaining open and accessible to the public beyond the age of 17. LB 354 creates a system to automatically seal the records of youth who successfully complete probation or other court orders as soon as that adjudicated sentence is completed. This bill recognizes that juveniles do make mistakes, and still holds them to a standard that requires them to make amends; but also makes sure those mistakes do not follow our young people into their adult life unnecessarily.
One bill that was debated but not advanced this week was LB 627, Senator Pansing Brooks’ priority bill on LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace. I was in favor of this bill as an important protection for LGBTQ Nebraskans. It also would have been a boon for workforce development, as inclusionary policies are one of the issues young workers overwhelmingly support and seek out in their employers. LB 627 does not appear to have enough support to advance, and will likely not come up for discussion again this year.
Crawford Bill Hearings
This week I had four bill hearings in as many different committees. The first, on Monday in the Education Committee, was LB 120 The bill amends the existing requirement for a one-hour training on suicide prevention and expands the definitions of what can be covered in the training to include a wider array of behavioral and mental health topics that could be relevant to school staff as they interact with our students. Suicide prevention and awareness training will still be required, but the bill gives schools more latitude in terms of what they might cover for a more comprehensive behavioral and mental health discussion, including topics such as early warning signs and symptoms, trauma-informed care, and procedures for linking students and parents to services and supports. LB 120 is the culmination of numerous discussions with school administrators, school psychologists, teachers, and other education personnel. Those discussions led to LB 120 as a tangible, reasonable step to take toward improving school safety and student mental health without creating new mandates for teachers or school staff.
On Tuesday I headed to the Agriculture Committee to introduce LB 304. LB 304 is a “cottage foods” bill that would allow Nebraskans to sell foods already authorized for sale at farmers’ markets to customers from their homes, at certain events, or for order and delivery online or over the phone. This bill only pertains to foods that are not time/temperature controlled for safety, including foods such as baked goods, uncut fruits and vegetables, jams, jellies, and fresh or dried herbs. Hundreds of Nebraska families are already purchasing and safely consuming these locally produced products at farmers’ markets. This legislation simply makes cottage foods available throughout the year and provides access to local foods in communities that do not have farmers’ markets. LB 304 is a common sense bill that reduces barriers for Nebraskans to earn income.
I had two bill hearings on Wednesday. The first was LB 211 in the Government, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee. This bill is about a fundamental Nebraska principle: the value of nonpartisan government. LB 211 provides that all county officers be elected on a nonpartisan ballot, including county clerk, register of deeds, county assessor, sheriff, treasurer, county attorney, public defender, clerk of the district court, and county surveyor. In counties large and small with a dominant political party, the races for many county positions effectively happen in the primary for the dominant party, which leaves out the one in five Nebraskans that are nonpartisan voters and the voters of the minority party. This results in the registered voters of one party selecting the officer that will represent all the residents of the county. Nonpartisan voters pay taxes to fund our county elections just as much as registered partisans do, so I believe we should not deny them the right to participate in elections they’re helping to pay for. LB 211 is in the best interest of voters in our state.
The second Wednesday hearing was LB 613 in the Revenue Committee. I served as Chair of the Economic Development Task Force for the 2017-2018 biennium, and the Task Force’s 2018 report included a recommendation to eliminate the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit, Historic Tax Credit, and New Markets Tax Credit this session. LB 613 reflects that priority by bringing the sunset dates for all three programs forward from December 31, 2022 to July 1, 2019. Money saved would be redirected to the Site and Building Development Fund. I believe it is important to regularly examine our tax credit ecosystem to ensure these programs are meeting their development goals and living up to legislative intent. At the hearing we had a number of testifiers talk about how important these credits are to their communities; I appreciate that they came out to make the case for these programs.
My final two hearings will take place next week, wrapping up committee hearings for all 22 of my bills. Committees will continue to meet and hold hearings through March 28th, and we will begin all-day debate on April 2nd.
Two UNMC students, Daniela Nelson and Sarah Fisher, visited my office on Monday March 4th to talk about their participation in the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities) program. This program trains future health providers to better understand developmental disabilities and the kind of care that is critical to support patients with those challenges.
A group of Cornerstone Christian School 4th graders visited their capitol on Tuesday March 5th. We talked about how I became a state senator and how they can all be leaders in their school and community.
On Wednesday March 6th the Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska (BIANE) hosted Brain Injury Awareness Day at the capitol to talk to senators about the many ways brain injuries can impact Nebraskans. BIANE also held a lunch, which my staff attended. Steve Martin, the former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield and a survivor of his own brain injury, was the presenter at lunch. He talked about the landscape of brain injury treatment and recovery from both the institutional and patient standpoint, plus the ways Nebraska can do better to support those with brain injuries of all kinds.
Chili Contest Judging
Bellevue’s Boy Scout Troop 305 hosted their 8th annual Chili Cook Off on Saturday March 2nd, and I was honored to be a judge. I have been a regular judge at this annual fundraiser. It is always fun to meet the scouts, parents, and other judges. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that all the chilis we tasted were absolutely delicious!
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All the best,
Hearings this Week
This week I had three bill hearings in three different committees.
On Wednesday February 27th the Judiciary Committee heard LB 365. This bill creates a centralized registry where Nebraskans can store advance healthcare directives, or instructions containing their wishes for end-of-life medical treatment, where it can be accessed by a medical professional when necessary. The idea for this bill came to us as a result of a conversation with one of my constituents whose niece had a lung condition and was given a short prognosis. The patient’s doctors asked the family what they wanted them to do when the patient’s lungs stopped working if she could not communicate for herself. My constituent wished that there was a centralized way of sharing this kind of information among patients, families, and providers so that providers can adhere to a patient’s wishes for their care when life-threatening situations arise and the patient is unable to communicate those wishes. LB 365 is an additional tool that patients and families could use to communicate with their healthcare providers and to be proactive about making decisions for their own care. Unfortunately in this tough budget year a new initiative like this is unlikely to be adopted.
Next up was LB 323 on Thursday. Heard in the Health and Human Services Committee, the bill amends eligibility criteria for Nebraska’s Medicaid Insurance for Workers with Disabilities (MIWD) program. This program allows individuals with disabilities to pay a premium for, or “buy-in” to, Medicaid coverage while working and earning an income that puts them over the traditional eligibility threshold. Current eligibility criteria is outdated and prevents persons who should otherwise qualify from participating in the program. This bill is still a work in progress, as we are working with both the Department of Health and Human Services and disability advocates to create an amendment that offers the greatest possible coverage under this program in a fiscally responsible way.
LB 614 had its hearing in the Revenue Committee on Friday March 1st. The bill is aimed at providing property tax relief and strengthening school funding. It provides additional revenue to school districts by eliminating some corporate deductions and tax exclusions, increasing taxes on cigarettes, soft drinks, candy, and bottled water, and ending the tangible personal property tax exemption. Providing relief to school districts will drive local property taxes down. This is one of the many property tax relief proposals that have been introduced this year. The Revenue Committee will meet next week to discuss all of our options and how to combine the best ideas from each bill into one comprehensive tax reform package.
Next week I will have a further four hearings on my bills. Committees will continue to meet and hold hearings until the end of March, and in that time my final two bills will be heard. We will begin all-day debate with the full legislature on April 2nd.
Chaplain of the Day
Pastor Paul Moessner of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bellevue served as the Legislature’s Chaplain of the Day on Tuesday February 26th. It was a pleasure having Pastor Moessner and his wife Donna with us to share the prayer and see our beautiful capitol!
Bills on the Agenda
This week we worked through a number of bills on the floor. One, LB 399, was a compromise bill to modernize our social studies and civics statutes. The new standards ask students to engage with their government in one of several ways and removes some outdated references to Americanism that have been in place since the 1950s.
Another bill that we advanced is LB 309, which would add an extra judge to the Douglas County District Court. This is an important bill that provides Douglas County, our largest population center and busiest judicial district, with more resources to do their jobs and keep judicial access available and speedy as the constitution requires. Without this bill, there is every possibility that a judicial vacancy out west could be reassigned to Douglas County to fill the need, which no one wants to see happen.
We also came to a compromise on LB 183, Senator Breise’s bill to change how ag land is valued when a school district or higher education institution issues bonds. Current law values ag land at 75% of its assessed value for bond purposes; Senator Breise’s bill as introduced lowered that to 1%, and the Revenue Committee’s amendment raised that to 30%. I and others opposed such a low valuation out of concern that such a change would simply cause the burden to swing disproportionately over to local homeowners and make it much more difficult for school districts to finance their work. After discussion between all parties, it was agreed that a 50% valuation would be an acceptable compromise to bring ag landowners’ potential financial liability down without crippling school bonds or homeowners. LB 183 will only apply to new bonds issued after the bill’s effective date.
On Friday we spent several hours on Final Reading bills. Of the 32 Final Reading bills we passed, two were mine: LB 121 and LB 122. Final Reading is exactly what it sounds like: it is the final time a bill is read in the Legislature, and the last round of voting before bills are presented to the Governor. A bill can’t be amended or debated on Final Reading, but a senator can make a motion to return a bill to Select File for a specific amendment. If that happens and an amendment is adopted, the bill goes back in the line and has to be placed on Final Reading again at a later date.
During Final Reading debate, the Legislature is placed under call. That means all senators who are listed as present must be in their seats in the Chamber, and all non-senators including legislative staff and the media must leave the area where our desks are located. Placing the House under call ensures that senators are in their seats and ready to vote when the time comes. Each bill on Final Reading is actually read aloud, likely as a holdover from the days when senators could not simply pull up the PDF of the bill on a laptop. The first time you hear Final Reading can be rather funny, as the bills are read extremely quickly – it sounds like an auctioneer asking for bids, except the excitement at the end is that a bill passes to the Governor’s desk. Thankfully senators can vote to suspend the rules and dispense with the reading for particularly long bills. After the reading is done, the presiding officer invites the senators to vote on whether the bill should pass. In most cases, a bill must have 25 votes to pass; however, a bill with an emergency clause, meaning it goes into effect sooner than a regular bill, requires 33 votes. A proposed constitutional amendment requires 30 votes to place it on the general election ballot, and 40 to place it on a primary or special election ballot.
The Nebraska State AFL-CIO held its annual legislative day on Monday and Tuesday this week. On February 26th I spent some time talking to the delegates about legislation that impacts working people and their families, including my Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act (LB 311).
On Wednesday February 27th the Urban League of Nebraska and a number of other organizations sponsored the 3rd annual Black & Brown Legislative Day for young people of color. The group spent the morning watching debate and talking to senators, then held a lunch where I joined other senators in talking about the legislation we’re most proud of and how they can have an impact on the policies they care about. It was a wonderful, engaged group of young people and I highly enjoyed getting to speak with them about their goals and plans.
Photo taken by North Omaha Information Support Everyone (NOISE)
Thursday was Nurses’ Day at the Legislature, and I joined them for a lovely lunch where I got to meet some of the nurses who work in LD 45 and around the state. Nursing is a critical part of our healthcare system and I thank them for all that they do!
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All the best,
The Unicameral worked through a number of bills on our debate agenda this week. Some of the bills we advanced include:
Senator John McCollister introduced LB 254, the Fair Chance Hiring Act. This act is intended to remove criminal history from having a disqualifying impact if the applicant is otherwise qualified for the position. Under LB 254, employers must give applicants the opportunity to explain any convictions or other criminal history, including the steps they’ve taken to rehab and rejoin society, if the job application includes a question about that history. This bill will provide an avenue for those with a conviction on their record to give employers the full story and make the case for why they would still make excellent employees.
LB 486, introduced by Senator John Lowe, creates the Veteran and Active Duty Supportive Postsecondary Institution Act. The bill creates a mechanism for colleges and universities to be designated “Veteran and Active Duty Supportive” if they meet certain criteria such as having an established military student organization, offering class credit for military training, or hosting a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. This is a great bill that will make it more clear to veteran and active duty military members which of the many outstanding institutions in the state might best meet their unique needs. It will also encourage institutions to give additional focus to veteran and military student issues, and will be a tool to recruit out-of-state military and veteran students to come study in Nebraska.
Senator Sara Howard’s LB 112 is another bill that will help servicemember families, as well as low-income individuals and young professionals. The bill waives first year licensing fees for occupations under the Uniform Credentialing Act for individuals who are identified as low income, part of a military family, or a person between the ages of 18 and 25. Only the initial fee is waived, and the regular fee would apply for all renewals. This bill is intended to give a boost to those entering a new profession and make the licensing process for these occupations, which is important to protect public safety, less onerous for those just starting out.
Family Visit at the Legislature
On Friday February 22nd my son Phil (R) and his friend William Hayes (L), who lives in Salina Kansas, visited the Legislature. It was a lot of fun to have them here!
Bill Hearings This Week
After an almost two-week break to catch our collective breaths, this week we had hearings on three of my bills. The first took place on Thursday February 21st. LB 439, which was referred to the Health & Human Services Committee, requires that Medicaid cover up to 24 medically necessary chiropractic treatments per benefit year. My office worked with the Chiropractors Association and with DHHS to come to a tentative agreement to make this change through the rules and regulations process, which means the bill may not ultimately be needed. The public hearing process is still an important avenue to make the case for such coverage, however, and the committee had a good discussion about the health and fiscal benefits of chiropractic care for Medicaid recipients.
I had two hearings in the Revenue Committee on Friday February 22nd. The first bill, LB 236, allows the Department of Revenue to provide sales tax reports on the Nebraska Advantage Transformational Tourism and Redevelopment Act (NATTRA) to cities who participate in one of their economic development incentive programs in a secure electronic manner. The current law requires that the information can only be accessed if someone from the participating municipality drives to Lincoln and views the information in the Department office. The goal is to make the NATTRA process work more efficiently for both sides.
The second hearing on Friday was for LB 237. This bill restores a 0.5% monthly commission to counties across the state for all motor vehicle sales tax collections over $3,000. This is part of my efforts to address unfunded mandates to counties, and supporting our counties is an important part of the property tax equation.
Legislative Events & Receptions
One of my favorite parts of being a senator is getting to meet a wide variety of people who care deeply about a whole host of issues. There are many groups that come to the capitol with their members to talk to senators about those issues they hold dear. Sometimes they host breakfasts or receptions, and sometimes people come to the capitol and talk to senators in their offices or in the rotunda during debate. Oftentimes it’s both! I have met with a number of such groups so far this session, representing everyone from professional firefighters to after-school programs to a group of visiting attorneys from Ukraine. There are far too many to name them all here, but I’ve met with a few in the last week or so and took some pictures to share.
On February 14th the Nebraska Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association held a breakfast at the historic Ferguson House near the capitol. The state association is a network of 21 local programs that recruits and trains volunteers for the CASA program. I met with some Sarpy County CASA volunteers (below) and discussed their vital work on behalf of our local court-involved children.
The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, and American Lung Association sponsored Tobacco Free Day on Thursday February 21st. I talked to a group of great advocates from CHI Health about policies to reduce tobacco use in Nebraska.
In the evening on Thursday I joined The Arc of Nebraska for their annual awards dinner, which is a wonderful celebration of our community members with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I was also surprised and honored to be presented the 2019 Harold Sieck Public Official of the Year Award that evening. The Arc advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families, and their work is made especially strong by the tireless work of those very same individuals on their own behalf. I am proud to have worked with The Arc on LB 323 this year, as well as countless other issues in my time in the legislature.
A group of UNMC Student Delegates visited the capitol on Friday February 22nd. They selected my LB 120, which expands teacher training in mental and behavioral health, as one of their priority bills for this year.
Creighton Student Advocacy
Monday February 18th was Presidents’ Day, and I spent some time in the afternoon visiting with students at Creighton’s Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ).
The students organized the gathering as a chance to learn about advocacy and public service. Speaking with the SCSJ’s active and engaged young students is always a wonderful experience.
Boards and Commissions Openings
Scattered among our daily debate agendas in the last few weeks have been a number of Confirmation Reports. In Nebraska, the Governor has the power to appoint leaders for many of the state’s agencies, boards, and commissions. Those organizations may be as large as DHHS or the Department of Education, and as small as the Brand Committee or 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 in a neutral position on the appointment. The committee then votes on whether to send the appointment to the full Legislature, which debates the appointment and then votes 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.
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.
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All the best,
Celebrating Paul Hartnett
On Wednesday February 13th we celebrated the retirement from public life of former Senator Paul Hartnett, who represented LD 45 for 20 years. He was joined by his daughters Joan Hartnett and Debbie Burchard, plus friends Judy Garlock and Tex Richters. During the morning session I read the text of LR 23, a resolution to congratulate and thank Paul for his life of public service. Then Paul, his family and friends, and some of the many legislative staffers who have worked with Paul over the years headed over to the Parkway Lanes Bowling Alley for lunch (and most importantly, a slice of their superb pie!).
Paul has been a tireless advocate for Bellevue in his half-century of public service. We are all grateful for his advocacy and his friendship over the years, and I trust he will enjoy his retirement to the fullest.
Debate and Hearings This Week
This week, and for most weeks going forward, the Legislature was only in session for four days. The intent of our four-day-week-schedule is to allow senators (especially those who live out west) enough time to get home, catch up on work for their other jobs, spend some time with their families, and check in with constituents in the district over the weekend. Many western senators stay in Lincoln during the week rather than try to drive several hours back and forth. Since the Unicameral is a part-time legislature, meeting only four days makes it easier for senators to serve and gives staff a day to catch up without the unpredictability of session.
This week on the floor we talked about several important bills. LB 160, introduced by Senator Dan Quick, would expressly authorize municipalities to use Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act funds for early childhood development infrastructure. We know that limited childcare is one of the barriers to attracting qualified applicants to jobs in Nebraska and that high costs can be a serious burden on families who already live here. LB 160 will provide an important tool to encourage new childcare facilities.
Another bill that drew significant attention and discussion was Senator Tom Briese’s LB 183. The bill would change how ag land is valued when a school district or higher education institution issues bonds, with the purpose of limiting farmers’ and ranchers’ obligations under such bonds. Senator Briese brought this bill as part of the larger discussion around property tax rates – the state government does not collect property taxes but is under significant pressure to help lower them indirectly. Current law values ag land at 75% of its assessed value for bond purposes; Senator Breise’s bill as introduced lowered that to 1%, and the Revenue Committee’s amendment raised that to 30%. I did not support the bill in Committee and have serious concerns that such a low valuation on ag land would simply cause the burden to swing over to local homeowners and make it much more difficult for school districts and colleges to finance their work. After about two hours of debate LB 183 was placed on what’s known as a Speaker’s hold, which simply means it will not be rescheduled for debate until the Speaker feels that enough progress has been made to advance the bill.
Wednesday and Thursday in the Revenue Committee were very long nights, as we heard a series of bills over the two days that are all trying to update our tax system in different ways to reduce the property tax burden on ag producers. On Wednesday we discussed LB 182, which would allow school districts to adopt an optional income surcharge tax to reduce their dependence on property taxes for education purposes. Senator Bolz brought that bill and discussed in the hearing how it had helped to lower property taxes in parts of Iowa that had adopted it. On Thursday we took up LB 314, LB 497 and LB 677. These are three of the most systemic efforts to change revenue sources and reduce property tax rates. However, it is true that each of the various proposals we heard in Revenue Committee may have unintended consequences and increase the burdens on other people, which is an important part of the discussion. We heard from all kinds of testifiers about how the various proposed changes would affect them, both for good or for ill. Since I am new to the Revenue Committee this session I look forward to digging into all these tax bills and the broader implications they may have for individuals and businesses. We will have hearings on other bills this session that attempt to retool our tax code (including my LB 614, which is also a systemic approach to rebalance taxes and school financing). LB 614 does not yet have a hearing scheduled. These will be ongoing discussions and I do not expect the committee to take immediate action on any one bill.
Lincoln’s Birthday Ceremonies
The 210th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, born February 12, 1809, was Tuesday. On that day we began the session with a special Presentation of Colors ceremony by the Nebraska Department of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The group also posted an honor guard that day at the statue of Lincoln on the capitol’s west side.
After the Civil War, the Grand Army of the Republic was formed as the first-ever fraternal organization for veterans. In 1881 the Grand Army of the Republic created the Sons of Union Veterans to carry on the memory and traditions of the G.A.R. after the last G.A.R. members were gone.
Today, the Sons of Union Veterans are recognized by Congress as a Veterans’ organization, charged with keeping alive the memory of those who served our country during the Civil War, 1861 to 1865. Their presence on Tuesday was an excellent reminder of our nation’s history and of President Lincoln’s work to keep the United States together.
Sarpy Leadership Day
Tuesday February 12th was also Leadership Sarpy Day at the Legislature. Each year the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce sponsors an 11-month program to help Sarpy residents develop leadership skills that they can utilize in our community. As part of the program, the group spends a day at the Unicameral hearing from representatives of the various state government branches. This year the group heard from several legislative committee chairs and the Sarpy senator delegation and two Supreme Court judges. If you are interested in participating in next year’s Leadership Sarpy class, you can find more information here.
Papillion School Group
A group of students from Papillion Middle School, Liberty Middle School, and La Vista Middle School visited the capitol on Thursday as part of a program on government. Senator John Arch and I joined them briefly on their building tour to welcome them to the capitol and talk about our work as senators.
I know I saw several interested faces when I reminded them that any one of them – in a few years, of course – can serve in our legislature. They also spoke to Senator Carol Blood over lunch. I hope they enjoyed their time in Lincoln, and I trust they learned a lot.
OLLI Unicameral Class
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is a program at UNL for adults 50 years or older to take weekly classes in everything from salsa dancing to diabetes health to basketball bracketology. On Thursday February 14th I spoke to enrollees in the class “One of a Kind: Nebraska’s Unique Legislature” about how I decided to run for office, the greatest achievements and challenges of my time in the Legislature, and some of the key issues the Unicameral is talking about this year. I always enjoy speaking to this group and this year was no different. If you want to learn more about OLLI, you can check out the program’s website and brochure here.
I served as the Legislature’s Chaplain of the Day on Valentine’s Day, so I chose to speak briefly on the power of love in our lives. I deeply value the support of all my family and other loved ones, and I wish the best to you and yours!
Presidents’ Day Office Closure
All state offices, including my own, will be closed on Monday February 18th in observance of Presidents’ Day. If you need assistance that day, please send me an email or call my office and leave a voicemail.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
Floor Debate and Bills Advanced
This week the Legislature was highly productive in our morning debate sessions. We voted to advance a number of important bills. Some of those bills include:
My LB 306 was discussed and advanced in the middle of the week. LB 306 adds family caregiving responsibilities to the list of reasons that a person can leave a job “for good cause” so that they are eligible for unemployment. We added a provision that employees need to have spoken to their employers to try to make accommodations before they quit. We certainly encourage employers and employees to seek understanding and accomodation when a family member is sick, as retaining employment is often a vital financial lifeline for caregivers and good for business stability. But if that is not possible with the demands of the job or the care needed, that employee can get some assistance while they apply for a job that would accommodate their caregiving needs.
We also discussed and unanimously advanced Senator Justin Wayne’s LR 1CA, a proposed constitutional amendment that will remove a clause in our state constitution that still allows slavery as punishment for a crime. No such sentence has been handed down since the 1940s, and it is important that our constitution is updated to confirm that slavery in any situation is inhumane and against every value we hold dear. While sometimes our law books contain outdated and defunct references that are effectively ignored, such a glaring stain on our collective history deserves no place in our state’s core legal foundation. Once the Legislature approves LR 1CA it will appear on the next general election ballot in 2020 to be confirmed by the voters.
Senator Tom Brewer introduced LB 154 after working with Judi gaishkibos of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, and many others. The bill authorizes a comprehensive 2-year state study on missing Native American women and children, who go missing at a significantly higher rate than do other demographic groups. This study will provide key information about why these crimes occur at such a high rate and, crucially, what the state can do to support efforts by our own law enforcement, tribal governments, and nonprofits to stem the tide.
Another bill we discussed was LB 192. Introduced by Senator John McCollister, it allows National Guard and Reserve veterans to be recognized through our existing veteran designation on our driver’s licenses and state identification cards. This recognizes the service of those who have served in the National Guard and Reserves.
Bill Hearings This Week
This was a busy week for my office. Of the 22 bills I introduced, we had public hearings for more than one quarter of them just this week! Those bills were:
On Monday February 4th the Business and Labor Committee heard two of my bills, both focused on employee well-being and productivity. LB 305 creates the “Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act” and requires employers with four or more employees to provide employees with one hour of “sick and safe” leave for every thirty hours worked. Safe leave can be used by employees experiencing domestic violence or stalking. The second bill, LB 311, creates the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act. PFMLA will provide time off with partial wage replacement for qualifying reasons for all workers covered by unemployment insurance: six weeks to care for a family member with a serious health condition or a military family member preparing for or returning from deployment, and twelve weeks to care for a new child or for one’s own health condition. Channel 3 News did a great story on LB 311, which you can find here.
We had a third hearing on Monday – LB 235 in the General Affairs Committee. This bill allows for those making home brewed alcohol to serve samples at festivals and fundraisers without a permit, as long as they are not selling the samples and the event is legally conducted under the Nebraska Liquor Control Act. Monday was definitely the busiest day in a hectic week.
On Tuesday February 5th the Urban Affairs Committee discussed LB 124, which clarifies that municipalities can jointly administer a clean energy assessment district under the Property Assessment Clean Energy Act, or PACE program. This is a “cleanup” bill for legislation that was passed several years back.
We had a break from hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, then went right back to it on Friday February 8th. Over the noon our the Executive Board heard LB 566 which requires the department of insurance to inform the legislature before they seek a waiver and then seek legislative approval prior to implementing a 1332 Waiver, or “state innovation” waiver. State innovation waivers allow states to manipulate the types of health plans that are available on the ACA marketplace, so this bill would provide important oversight and protection for Nebraskans.
Last, the Revenue Committee discussed LB 123. This bill fixes an issue for the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. A current requirement in the Taxpayer Transparency Act requires them to publish information about their contracts with individuals receiving services online, which is in conflict with the Commission’s confidentiality policies. The Commission brought this bill to me and I was happy to introduce it for them.
Now my office has a bit of a break, as our next bill hearing is not scheduled until February 21st. Committee hearings will continue until the end of March, with the Legislature tentatively scheduled to begin all-day floor debate on April 2nd. As always, you can find the full list of committee hearings here.
Legislative Performance Audit Committee
This biennium I was appointed to the Legislative Performance Audit Committee and had the honor of being elected Vice Chair by the other members. The Performance Audit Committee is charged with giving oversight and policy guidance to the Legislative Performance Audit office, which is staffed with professional full-time auditing staff. Unlike the State Auditor’s office, which looks at agencies’ financial activities to ensure they’re following state and federal law, the Performance Audit office evaluates agencies and their programs to determine how well legislative intent is being implemented. Their job is in their name – to audit agencies’ performance and check whether, and how well, they’re doing what the Legislature has asked them to.
This week the Performance Audit Committee met to discuss our priorities for the biennium. The Performance Audit office has some state programs that it is statutorily required to audit on a revolving schedule, but otherwise has broad discretion to investigate programs at senators’ request. Sometimes that’s because an agency has been in the news for questionable practices, but just as often it’s simply because a senator is curious about a program’s inner workings or thinking about potential program changes.
President’s Day Office Closure
All state offices, including my own, will be closed on Monday February 18th in observance of President’s Day. If you need assistance that day, please send me an email or call my office and leave a voicemail.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,
Bill Debate Begins
This week marked the start of bill debate each morning. The Unicameral’s unique structure means that every introduced bill must have a public hearing, and that the public must have at least one week’s notice before the hearing is held. That means that the bills we’re debating on the floor now were mostly introduced in the first few days of session, then had quick hearings last week, and were non-controversial or simple enough that the committees acted on them expeditiously. My LB 121 and LB 305, discussed below, both fall into those categories. LB 121 passed on General File Friday morning after a short debate.
At the beginning of the biennium, bills are debated in what’s known as worksheet order. That means bills come up for debate in the same order that committees report them out to the floor, without needing any kind of priority designation from a senator. That quick turn-around is one reason that senators often try to get bills introduced in the first couple of days when the session starts. At this point in the session that worksheet doesn’t have very many bills on it – when General File debate of bills began Friday January 25th last week, we got through the whole worksheet (which held a whopping four bills at the time). This week, when we spent all four days debating bills in the morning, we took up a further 13 bills spread from Monday to Thursday this week and 14 more on Friday alone. That trickle of bills will soon turn into a flood as committee hearings continue and more bills are reported out. If you’re curious to see where bills are in the process, you can access each day’s worksheet by going to the Legislative Calendar (here), clicking on today’s date, and opening the worksheet link under “Legislative Activity.”
PFML and Military Retirement Bill Hearings
Two big bill hearings will take place next week on Monday February 4th and Thursday February 7th. The first, on Monday in the Business & Labor Committee, is my LB 311 to enact the Paid Family and Medical Leave state insurance program. This bill would extend access to paid family and medical leave to the vast majority of working Nebraskans through a small tax on employers – similar to the unemployment insurance system.
The Thursday hearing will be on LB 153 in the Government, Military & Veterans Affairs Committee. Senator Brewer’s bill would exempt 50% of military retirement from state income tax for all veterans filing their return in Nebraska, not just recent retirees. I have been working for such an exemption for as long as I have been in the Legislature, and I am hopeful that we can get LB 153 passed this year. With the Governor’s backing and a broad coalition of senators already signed on in support, we will work to make Nebraska even more welcoming for our veteran families.
If you would like to watch either of these hearings, or any other public business conducted by the Legislature, you are always welcome to come to the capitol and watch. For those of you who can’t make it in person, all committee hearings and legislative debates are streamed online by NET. You can find those live streams here, and can always check hearing schedules and our daily debate agenda at the legislature’s website here.
Bill Hearings This Week
The week of January 28th I had three public hearings for bills I introduced. The first was LB 306, which the Business & Labor Committee heard on Monday and advanced to the full Legislature on Thursday. Under current law, Nebraska workers are only eligible for unemployment if they are out of work through no fault of their own, or unless they had “good cause” for voluntarily leaving employment. This adds caregiving for a family member with a serious health need to the list of reasons that are considered “good cause” for leaving employment. LB 306 allows caregivers to be eligible for unemployment benefits once they begin actively seeking work again. That may be because their caregiving duties have changed or ended, or because they are seeking a job on the night shift, for example – no matter the situation, this bill recognizes that uncompensated caregiving is often not a choice but a necessity, and will help caregivers financially once they are ready to return to the workforce. I am very pleased that the Business & Labor Committee acted so swiftly on LB 306, and I look forward to discussing the bill’s merits with my colleagues in the full Legislature.
My next hearing was on Tuesday January 29th and discussed LB 121. The bill addresses the limits on borrowing from banks by cities or municipalities. It specifies that loans are repaid in installments for a period of up to seven years and extends the limitations on borrowing for second-class cities. This bill was approved by the Urban Affairs Committee and was already debated and advanced on the first round of debate in the full Legislature on Friday February 1st.
Last was LB 322, which was heard in the Judiciary Committee on Friday February 1st. The bill deals with tobacco compliance checks performed by law enforcement and tobacco prevention coalitions and establishes a uniform process for those checks statewide. Compliance checks allow law enforcement and tobacco prevention coalitions to work with young people to test whether retailers are selling tobacco products to under-18s. We had a good hearing and I am hopeful LB 322 will be advanced to the full legislature quickly.
On Thursday January 31st I joined AARP of Nebraska for a tele-town hall about caregiving and paid family and medical leave. We had approximately 4000 Nebraskans on the phone over the course of the town hall, and had some great discussion about the importance of family caregiving and the challenges faced by workers who need time off to care for their or a family member’s health. Thank you to everyone who was able to join the call or follow along on the Facebook stream!
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All the best,
Upcoming Tele-Town Hall
On January 31st I will be holding a tele-town hall with AARP to discuss paid family and medical leave and Nebraskans’ experiences with caregiving. The phone lines will be active from 6:00-7:00 pm that evening.
The call will also be streamed on AARP’s Facebook Live page, which you can access here. If you would like to participate in this tele-town hall, please click here to register. Click on the Paid Family Caregiving and Medical Leave” page under Events. You will be asked to provide your name, phone number, and email so that AARP can call you the night of the event and patch you in to the town hall. I look forward to speaking with everyone who is able to participate.
Bill Tracking Tool
My colleagues and I introduced 739 bills this year, which I’ve heard is the highest number for a 1st session for over a decade. There are also seven constitutional amendment resolutions and four other substantive resolutions, though resolutions can still be introduced after the first 10 days so those numbers will grow. If there are particular bills in that collection that you want to keep track of, our bill tracking tool is a great way to do so! You can sign up for the bill tracker here.
The Bill Tracker tool allows you to receive updates on up to 15 bills at a time for free or to sign up for a premium account to track an unlimited number of bills. If you check the box to receive email updates you will be sent a notification when a bill you selected is scheduled for a public hearing and when it is advanced through each round of debate.
Week 3 Bill Introduction
This week I introduced five more bills for a total of 22. You can see the full list of my bills here. Below is a short summary of what I introduced this week; if you would like more information on any of these proposals, or if you would like to testify at a public hearing, please get in touch.
LB 439 requires that Medicaid cover at least 24 chiropractic treatments per benefit year.
LB 566 requires the department of insurance to seek legislative approval and authorization prior to applying for and/or implementing a 1332 Waiver, or “state innovation” waiver. State innovation waivers allow states to manipulate the types of health plans that are available on the ACA marketplace.
LB 613 is a bill I introduced based on the recommendations of Economic Development Task Force’s 2018 report. The bill effectively changes the end date of the New Markets Tax Credit, Historic Tax Credit, and Beginning Farmer Tax Credit from 2022 to July 2019. I introduced this bill as part of the wider discussion about Nebraska’s economic development framework, and hope the hearing will be an opportunity to assess these three programs.
LB 614 is a “revenue raiser package” aimed at providing property tax relief. It provides additional revenue to school districts by eliminating some corporate deductions and exclusions, increasing taxes on cigarettes, soft drinks, candy, and bottled water, and ending the tangible personal property tax exemption. Providing relief to school districts will drive local property taxes down. This is one of the many proposals that have been introduced this year, and I look forward to be at the table for discussions regarding property tax relief as a member of the revenue committee.
LB 714 is the other bill that grew out of the Economic Development Task Force’s work in 2018. The bill creates the Nebraska Industrial New Job-Training Act and would provide an avenue to help fund train new employee training.
Education Press Conference
I joined with legislative colleagues and educational advocates on Friday morning for a press conference to highlight bills and budget proposals that will have a positive impact on K-12 education in Nebraska. Those bills included proposals on mental and behavioral health, student nutrition, early childhood education, career education, special education, and school safety.
I discussed LB 120, a bill of mine to improve mental health education options for teachers in our schools.
Bill Hearings Begin
This week marked the start of public bill hearings, and I had one scheduled for the very first day. On Tuesday January 22nd the Education Committee held its hearing on LB 122. This bill brings Nebraska into legal compliance with recent federal policy changes by providing that veterans receiving vocational rehabilitation & education services through the VA will receive in-state resident tuition rates as long as they’re living here. I brought this bill at the request of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is one of a number of bills introduced this year that will make Nebraska a better place for military members, veterans and their families to live.
You can find the schedule for bill hearings here. Committees must give at least one week’s notice to the public before a hearing, so the schedule will continue to be updated as the session progresses.
Permanent Rules Approved
On Tuesday and Wednesday this week the Legislature debated and approved our permanent rules. Two small changes were made: the first of which allows the Legislature’s Planning Committee to designate one priority bill each session, and a second which prevents a bill from being killed by unanimous consent without the introducer’s knowledge. Unlike in 2017, where the rules debate dragged on for fully half of the first session, this year’s discussion was concise and business-like. I hope this is a sign of good things to come in the 106th Legislature – a signal that the body is ready to rediscover the habits of collegiality and mutual understanding that sometimes seemed to be lacking last session.
Stay Up to Date with What’s Happening in the Legislature
All the best,