Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 48th 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. John Stinner
Celebrating Oregon Trail Days this year had me thinking: Scotts Bluff County is a great place to live. Every interaction I have with people in the district reminds me of the great, hard-working people that live here and was a huge motivator for me to serve as their representative in the Capitol.
Since the Legislature convened in April, I have been hard at work familiarizing myself with the many issues that will come up in next year’s legislative session. Some of the areas I have been focusing on lately include issues with the Department of Health & Human Services and the improvements that have been made. Some of these improvements include a marked decrease in call center hold times and the fulfillment of all 6 Federal standards for child and family services. The Federal standards determine whether or not Nebraska DHHS receives Federal funding.
Governor Ricketts acknowledged these improvements in a recent trip to Gering with DHHS’ CEO Courtney Phillips. During a press conference, they both laid out DHHS’ new business plan, which outlines a series of 25 different areas identified for improvement. I am pleased to see that CEO Phillips has led the Department to some much needed improvements. In my role as a State Senator, member of the Special Investigative Committee on ACCESSNebraska, and member of the Appropriations Committee, my focus is very often on streamlining DHHS’ processes to make it a more efficient use of Nebraska taxpayers’ money.
I have also done some work with the Legislature’s Planning Committee, which is tasked with studying the emerging trends across the nation that will affect Nebraska. Among them is the growth of the entrepreneurial class. Small business plays an especially important role in rural Nebraska in driving economic growth. Being an entrepreneur myself, I see the importance of nurturing these activities for our state.
Some of the recommendations from the Planning Committee’s report last year included partnerships between small business leaders and local school districts in providing mentorships and teaching opportunities, encouraging development of real estate and other capital investments, and the general encouragement of small business ownership.
Although lessening the tax burden is one way to encourage small business ownership, this is only one piece of the puzzle. There are a number of other measures that can be taken to encourage economic growth. In its June 2016 release of “Removing Barriers in Nebraska,” the Platte Institute studied four key areas of Nebraska’s economic climate: growth of gross domestic product, per capita personal income growth, employment growth, and population growth.
Two of those indicators for Nebraska received high marks. GDP growth and personal income growth in Nebraska were ranked 6th and 10th in the nation, respectively. For the other two indicators, employment and population growth, Nebraska received somewhat lower rankings of 25th and 27th, respectively. While resilient Nebraskans “weather the storm” quite well in tough times, there is a lot more our state can do to encourage economic growth. Addressing the property tax burden, taxes on small and growing businesses, and the regulatory framework in Nebraska are all ways this can be achieved.
Another one of my primary focuses has been on studying Nebraska’s tax profile to determine where adjustments can be made, so we may provide lasting tax relief to Nebraska families. As I study Nebraska’s tax policy, I am reminded of the importance not just in cutting taxes but making sure they are put to good use. This is something that I have tried to live by as a State Senator.
One of the most recent debates on the efficient use of taxpayer dollars was the passage of LB960 this year, the Transportation Innovation Act. The Act ensures that tax dollars used for infrastructure upgrades are invested wisely in our transportation infrastructure and expressways. The initial funds are seeded in part from Nebraska’s Cash Reserve Fund, or “rainy day fund” and partly from gas tax proceeds. These proceeds are then used to provide a number of capital investment packages to various counties across Nebraska. These capital investment activities are essential to the long-term growth of District 48 and Nebraska as a whole.
One of the federally designated high-priority corridors that will be positively impacted by the Transportation Innovation Act is the Heartland Expressway. This expressway connects Nebraska to other transportation networks, such as the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway in Montana, North & South Dakota and the Ports to Plains Corridor running from Denver, Colorado down to Monterrey in Mexico. Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Heartland Expressway Association’s annual meeting, which outlined the work that has been done in connecting the Heartland Expressway to these surrounding networks. All of these efforts are a vital part of economic development for rural Nebraska, connecting our entrepreneurs and small business owners to interstate and international commerce.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have over the interim. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.
The past few months have proven to be quite busy already. With legislative tasks forces, interim studies, and legislative resolutions kicking into full gear, there are lots of things to be done in preparation for next year’s session.
Before I talk about the work I have been doing since the Legislature convened earlier this year, I’d like to acknowledge a very special occasion taking place in 2017: Nebraska’s 150th birthday, or sesquicentennial. Over 150 years ago, Nebraska was established as a territory after passage of the Nebraska-Kansas Act of 1854. 13 years later, in 1867, it was admitted into the Union. This marked the beginning of a rich tradition of hard work and thriftiness. In preparation for the sesquicentennial, the Capitol Commission is expected to finish construction of the courtyard fountains later this year as part of the original blueprint designs.
The Governor encourages communities to host their own celebrations of Nebraska’s sesquicentennial next year. To help with costs of putting on these events, interested parties may apply for grants through the Nebraska Sesquicentennial Commission. The application process shall be open beginning on June 15th. More information on the grant program may be found on the Commission’s website. (Click here to follow link.)
As with the sesquicentennial celebrations, a lot of preparations are required to get ready for next year’s legislative session. I have been hard at work already, making frequent trips to the Capitol as part of my responsibilities with numerous special committee assignments, in addition to my responsibilities with the Appropriations Committee. These assignments include the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee, Election Technology Committee, and the Venture Development and Innovation Task Force.
As part of my responsibilities on the ACCESSNebraska Special Investigative Committee, we recently met with various stakeholders regarding improvements to ACCESSNebraska, a department underneath the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services. The CEO of Nebraska’s DHHS, Courtney Phillips, discussed the current state of ACCESSNebraska, improvements in its services to Nebraskans, and future goals moving forward. I am proud of the work that CEO Phillips has done in cutting costs for taxpayers, increasing efficiencies, and improving services for Nebraskans. For more information on these improvements, you may read about it in the Lincoln Journal Star. (Click here to follow link.)
One of my other special committee assignments is the Election Technology Committee, tasked with developing a plan to modernize the technology used in Nebraska’s federal, state, and local elections. Much of this discussion centers around the uses Election Commissioners and County Clerks apply in the ballot counting process. Modernizing election technology is a great way for Nebraska to save state taxpayer dollars and eliminate voter fraud.
I am most excited to be a part of the Venture Development and Innovation Task Force, which was created this year after the passage of LB1083: the Next Generation Business Growth Act. As part of this task force, I am part of an ongoing effort to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in Nebraska by developing a statewide strategic plan. Part of this effort includes developing an inventory of capital investiture programs available to small and growing businesses, the economic impact these businesses bring to Nebraska, comparing Nebraska to our neighboring states, and the policy options available to the Legislature.
As I travel back and forth between home and the Capitol, I am reminded of the rising water tables in Western Nebraska after a long spring of storms and melting snowcaps. I even had the pleasure of touring the Pathfinder Reservoir in Wyoming with the Board of Directors from both the Pathfinder Irrigation District and Farmers Irrigation District of Nebraska. As some of you may know, the Pathfinder Reservoir spilled over for the fourth time in 30 years. This is an extremely rare occurrence, caused by a large increase in snowmelt coming down from the mountains and is still expected to continue for a time.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have over the interim. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.
Nebraska college students interested in becoming a page for the Nebraska Legislature for the 2017 Legislative session are encouraged to apply. Details from the Clerk of the Legislature’s office are below.
Description: Legislative pages are selected in the fall each year to work for the upcoming legislative session, beginning the following January. Pages respond to Senator’s request lights on the legislative floor. They run errands, deliver messages, photocopy materials, get food and drink for the Senators, assist the presiding officer, set up and staff committee hearings and perform other duties as assigned.
Requirements: Pages must be high school graduates who are currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school with a minimum grade point average of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. They must be able to work 20 hours a week during session. It is preferred that they work the same four-hour shift each day. The legislative session will begin January 4, 2017, and go through May 2017. This is a paid position and you may also be able to receive credit hours through your college. First year pages will earn approximately $10.37 per hour, and second year pages approximately $10.78 per hour.
Parking: Parking is limited. There are no reserved parking facilities available. Most street parking around the Capitol is two-hour parking. The city will ticket if you park longer. We suggest that you may want to park on the side streets or carpool with other pages.
To Apply: Applications are available through the Clerk of the Legislature’s office, Room 2018, State Capitol, 1445 K Street, or through your state Senator’s office. A page applicant is also encouraged to contact his or her home district state senator for a letter of recommendation. If you do not know who your senator is, please contact the Clerk of the Legislature’s office for assistance. When you have completed the application, please return it to the Clerk of the Legislature’s office, Room 2018, State Capitol, 1445 K Street, Lincoln NE 68509.
Deadline: The page application deadline for the 2017 legislative session will be Monday, October 3, 2016. The page selection committee will meet October 13, 2016, to interview and select individuals to fill those positions to start January 4, 2017.
Contact: For further information, please contact the Office of the Clerk of the Legislature at 402-471-2271, or Kitty Kearns at 402-471-0617, email: email@example.com.
The 2016 legislative session has ended and the interim has begun. There is a lot of work that needs to be done over the interim months in preparation for the next session which begins in January. Notwithstanding all the work, one of the things I have been doing since session ended, and have thoroughly enjoyed, has been visiting the local elementary schools, specifically the fourth grade, to enhance the Nebraska history curriculum taught to our fourth graders. Unfortunately I was not able to visit every elementary school in the District, and to those students and teachers I was unable to meet with, you have my sincere apology. It is my full intention to visit every elementary fourth grader in the District next year during my legislative recess days.
It is important that our youth learn about Nebraska and the history of Nebraska and the Legislature. Nebraska’s one house system, the Unicameral, makes us unique when compared to all other states. All across Nebraska, fourth grade students get a lesson on Nebraska’s history and the history of the Unicameral. Students learn the historical foundation and events that led to the formation of Nebraska’s government. They learn the function of the Unicameral, how a bill becomes law, and get to learn about the different roles of government and who the leaders in our government are. To compliment the curriculum taught in class, fourth grade students also get to visit and tour the State Capitol. Many students even get to see the Legislature in action, observing debate among the Senators and seeing them vote. Unfortunately, with distance and travel issues that are a part of living in far western Nebraska, our fourth grade students do not get to participate in the Capitol visit. This is why I chose to bring the Capitol and the Legislature to our students.
During my visits, I was able to visit with the students about what I do as their state Senator, how the Legislature works, why Nebraska is unique with its one house Unicameral, and most importantly, to answer the many questions the students had. The interest and enthusiasm the students possess made me proud to be able to bring them this information and experience.
Recognizing that the 400 miles to Lincoln is a daunting trip, I would still encourage anyone who has never visited the Capitol in Lincoln to do so. The building holds so much history. Much of what you see in the Capitol is still original from when the Capitol was constructed in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The Capitol is home to the three branches of State government. The official tour provided by the wonderful tour guides takes you around the Capitol, to the legislative chamber, the Governor’s office, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. On a clear day, if you go up to the observation deck on the 14th Floor, you can see for miles in all directions. Also on the 14th Floor is a Memorial Chamber, which is a dedication to the heroic enterprises associated with Nebraska’s history.
Under construction right now are fountains in the four Capitol courtyards. These fountains were contained in the original blueprints during construction of the Capitol, but because of the Depression in the 1930’s and the high unemployment rate, they were never installed. Completion of the fountains will be done by the end of the year, in time for the 2017 Nebraska Sesquicentennial, Nebraska’s 150th birthday.
If your summer plans include a trip to the Capitol, please stop by my Capitol office, Room 1406. My staff is in the office Monday through Friday, and are happy to meet and visit with you. I also plan on being in my Capitol office during the interim months about every couple of weeks.
I would like to thank all of the fourth grade students and teachers I was able to visit with. Thank you for allowing me to visit with you about my experience in the Legislature. I am humbled that I am allowed this experience, and to be able to share my experience with the youth in my District.
The end of the 2016 legislative session has come. The last couple days were full of tense debate. The winner take all bill was debated. Supporters of the bill said allocating all five electoral votes to the statewide winner makes Nebraska’s vote count as much as possible. Opponents argued doing such would make Nebraska irrelevant. Opponents say allocating all electoral votes to the statewide winner ignores the minority voice and reduces competition in close presidential elections. By splitting the electoral votes, opponents say Nebraska is put in the national game. LB 10 passed second round debate on a 34-15 vote, but on final reading, with two Senators changing their vote, the bill failed on a 32-17 cloture vote. The winner take all bill has been introduced many times over the past several years, and supporters say it is only a matter of time before they will be successful and Nebraska will return to a winner take all system.
LB 947, a bill that would allow DACA youth granted lawful presence in the United States by President Obama, was passed by the Legislature. These youth were brought to the United States at a very young age, have been educated, and are contributing members of our society. The only “home” these youth know is the United States. Notwithstanding the concerns about our immigration policies, and past and present failures to secure our borders, DACA youth have been granted temporary status, they are being educated in our schools, and they are all gaining valuable skills. It is important to keep these individuals in our state and not have the valuable skills they possess being used and contributing to the economies in other states. This bill passed final reading on a 33-11 vote. A gubernatorial veto is expected. It will take 30 votes to override this veto.
The Governor signed LB 817, the Direct Primary Care Agreement Act, on March 30, with a ceremonial signing on April 12. The bill, introduced by Senator Merv Riepe, passed on a 48-0 vote. I was a co-sponsor of the bill, and was honored to be invited to the ceremonial signing.
Direct Primary Care (DPC) is a contract between a health practitioner and a patient where the patient pays a monthly retainer for primary care services, including unlimited consultations and an annual physical. DPC is an alternative to health insurance, is not subject to state insurance regulations, and a health practitioner will not bill a health insurance carrier for services rendered. Patients who participate in DPC Agreements are encouraged to purchase a catastrophic health coverage plan that meets federal regulations.
DPC Agreements provide patients instant access to their health practitioner through their mobile phone either via a phone call or text messaging. It is intended to build and strengthen the patient-doctor relationship. With a DPC Agreement, a patient who needs the services of their health care practitioner can call or text their symptoms to their doctors, and the doctor is able to diagnose and prescribe medication without an office visit. The goal of the doctors who are a part of DPC Agreements is to prevent health problems and monitor chronic conditions to avoid costly hospitalizations and emergency room visits.
As I look back on this session, it is amazing to think about all the issues that were debated. We had many issues that were controversial that may or may not have gone the way Senators wanted them to go. We had many issues that were not controversial. All in all, the legislative process worked exactly as it should and bills were given full and fair debate. After completing my second session, I continue to realize how important it is to work together and to have compromise, and just how important it is to let the process work, no matter how challenging it may become. I continue to involve myself, learn new things, and take it all in while enjoying my time serving the citizens of District 48. Now that session has come to its end, I look forward to the interim and all the work that lies ahead in preparation for next year.
I have enjoyed and appreciated all the correspondence and telephone calls I have received from my constituents. I encourage you to continue to contact me. Now that the interim is upon me, a majority of my time will be spent in the District. If anyone would like to meet with me, I would encourage you to contact my Lincoln office to set up an appointment. Thank you, citizens of District 48, for allowing me the great opportunity to represent you.
As the Session winds down, there are less than 10 days remaining, a lot of work is being done. Senators are working through lunch and staying into the evening trying to get as many of the issues debated as possible.
The Governor approved our budget with no vetos. Included in the budget is funding for three of my bills, the federally qualified health centers, the Access College Early Scholarship Program, and the Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund. The budget contains adjustments for state agencies, funding for an infrastructure bank for expressways, bridges and economic development, ongoing prison reform, deferred maintenance for the state’s community colleges, as well as funding for repair of a levee around Offutt Air Force Base. Overall, spending growth was held to 3.5%.
Over the past week, we have debated some controversial issues. One was Senator John Kuehn’s right to farm constitutional amendment. I supported this bill as it is important to protect our farms and ranches in Nebraska. The bill generated extended debate with many Senators expressing their concerns about the bill. Because it appeared there would be no agreement on the bill, Senator Kuehn agreed to bracket LR 378CA until April 20, 2016, essentially killing it for the year.
Medicaid expansion was another bill that generated strong debate. Many Senators had misgivings about the expansion of Medicaid saying it was too costly, the federal government could not be trusted to keep up their funding, and that expansion in general was not sustainable. While this bill would have been the most conservative expansion plan in the country, operating as a three-year pilot project, with no compromise or agreement on the bill, it was bracketed until April 20, 2016. The introducer of LB 1032, Senator John McCollister, has said he will bring this bill back again next year.
The Governor’s property tax proposal bills came up for debate this week. The first bill, LB 959, would make small changes to the school funding formula in hopes of providing progress towards property tax relief. These changes are expected to provide about $8.5 million in property tax relief, however, financing would need to be made up from the state’s general fund. LB 959 was advanced to Select File. The second part of Governor Ricketts’ property tax proposal, LB 958, generated a little more debate. The bill cleared first round debate and was advanced to Select File, but not without much discussion, tense negotiations between urban and rural Senators, and ultimately a last minute compromise. Under the compromise, agricultural land owners would get an additional $20 million in property tax credits, down from the Governor’s proposed $30 million.
My priority bill, LB 1082, was signed by the Governor. This bill changes the powers and duties of the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The bill will require periodic sampling and reporting of fracking wastewater, as well as monitoring of produced water transporters. The bill also reduces the promotional duties of the Commission, allowing it to focus on health and safety issues relating to oil and gas in the state. It has been a long journey, with a lot of of interim work including hearings, town hall meetings, and reviews, but we came up with what we thought was a good step forward in protecting our state’s underground water supply.
Many issues have yet to be debated. Some fairly controversial ones are up for debate next week. LB 643, Senator Tommy Garrett’s medical marijuana bill carried over from last session, will generate much discussion and debate. This bill currently has five amendments pending so debate will be robust. LB 10, Senator Beau McCoy’s winner-take-all bill, also carried over from last year, will be debated. This bill would award all electoral votes to the statewide winner of the presidential race. Nebraska is the only state in the nation other than Maine to award its electoral votes by district rather than bundling them all for the winner. Also up for debate is LB 745, Senator John McCollister’s Game and Parks Commission bill. This bill would raise all Game and Parks permit fees. Senator Ernie Chambers has introduced over a dozen amendments to the bill, so I anticipate extended debate on LB 745. These, as well as many other bills, are waiting for debate before the final day of the legislative session, April 20, 2016.
It has been an extremely busy session. A lot has been accomplished, but a lot remains to be done. I want to thank my constituents, as well as all the citizens of Nebraska, who have taken the time to contact me via telephone, email or written letter expressing your views and concerns.
High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 5-8. At the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.
Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Speaker Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are also available.
The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.
To learn more about the program, go to www.nebraskalegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-2420. The deadline for registration is May 15.
A new forecast of the State’s revenue was completed on Friday. The forecasting board raised its revenue forecast by $30 million for the two-year budget period that ends on June 30, 2017. By law, $17 million forecasted for the current cycle must go into the cash reserve, or rainy day fund. The remaining $13 million can be utilized for priority bills that have appropriation requests or revenue reductions. The Chairman of the Appropriations Committee had stated early this session that it would be our goal to leave $10 million for this purpose. The Appropriations Committee can now finalize our mid-biennium budget, with floor debate beginning March 9.
Individual and Committee priority designations were due on February 19, with Speaker priority designation being announced February 22. Individual Senators get one designation, Committees get two and the Speaker gets 25. Priority bills and consent calendar bills will be the only bills heard on the Floor for the rest of the session so selection of which bill to prioritize is really significant and can be a real balancing act between other bills of importance.
My priority bill is LB 1082. LB 1082, introduced by Senator Ken Schilz, is a bill to change certain provisions related to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It is a culmination of hearings, fireside chats, town hall meetings, fall hearings by the Natural Resources Committee, and attendance at an EPA review session and States First review. The bill would revise the policy and purpose of the Commission, eliminating the encouragement that it promote the industry, and replacing it with language that supports development of the industry in a responsible manner while promoting health, safety and the environment. The bill would require that notice of an application for a commercial underground injection well be provided to the affected local governing body and the NRD where the well would be located; require Class II injection well operators to sample and analyze fluids injected at least once annually and provide data to the Commission; and require operators to keep bonds current. The bill would authorize the Commission to conduct periodic sampling and reporting of injection fluids; certify and monitor produced water transporters; conduct periodic evaluations of financial assurance requirements; and to require public information meetings and forums for public interaction on permit applications.
Not all of the concerns expressed during the process are included in this bill because they were out of the scope of the Commission, and may be within the purview of the Department of Roads or Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. However, I believe the people of western Nebraska were heard loud and clear relative to this matter.
The Legislature is almost half way through the 2016 session. We have debated several bills thus far, and many more issues are still waiting to be debated, including Medicaid expansion, prison reform, cigarette taxes, property tax cuts, as well as debate on the budget.
Last week, I had hearings on three of my bills. LB 713 is a bill that provides funding for the Access College Early Scholarship Program. The ACE Scholarship Program and the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Program are the only programs that provide grants solely to Nebraska high school students with significant financial need. Low-income students who have access to dual-credit options while in high school would be the benefactors of LB 713. Dual-credit courses provide college-level, advanced skills training in career academies focused on the needs of local industries, most often provided by the community colleges, whose graduates are more likely to stay and work in their community. According to the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, the percentage of students participating in dual-credit courses not identified as being eligible for free and reduced lunch, a common indicator for poverty, is approximately 9.3% The percentage of students who do qualify for free and reduced lunch participating in dual-credit courses is only 6.8% The intent of LB 713 is to provide additional funding to the Access College Early Scholarship Program so that the percentage of students in poverty who have access to dual-credit options while in high school will be comparable to those students who are non-poverty students.
LB 923 is a bill that would appropriate funds for federally qualified health centers. Nebraska’s federally qualified health centers are local, non-profit community based health providers that serve low income Nebraskans and medically underserved communities. The centers provide quality, affordable, integrated primary care and preventative services including medical, dental and behavioral health services. There are seven centers located throughout Nebraska. The health centers receive federal and some state funding. They also charge individuals with no access to public or private health coverage on a sliding fee scale dependent on their income. These centers can turn no one away. Now, more than ever, our uninsured numbers are skyrocketing, and we must help support the centers to fill a vital role. New funding through this legislation will allow centers to serve another 12,000 Nebraskans statewide. Investing our dollars in health care will allow these people to continue to work, support their families and participate in their communities. The additional funding that would be provided in this bill would not solve all the problems of the uninsured, but it begins to reach out to more families so they can get the care they need. I want to thank Jeff Tracy from CAPWN for traveling to Lincoln to testify in favor of LB 923.
Finally, LB 715 would continue funding of the Nebraska Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund beginning on December 31, 2017, continuing through December 31, 2026. The Nebraska Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund was created in 1998 to provide stabilization of arts organizations, fund arts education programs that have significant statewide impact, and advocate for the importance of the arts to our economy, education and quality of life. The Cultural Endowment Funds have been spread throughout the entire State in the form of grants. These funds not only improve the quality of life within Nebraska communities, but are an economic tool to attract and retain a quality workforce and maintain a tax base we so desperately need for our infrastructure support.
The 104th Legislature, 2nd Session is underway and we have just completed the first ten days. Bill introduction is complete and hearings on all introduced bills have begun. We have started debate on last year’s carryover priority bills. Extended debate has occurred on anatomical donations, poker, co-payments for inmates, and meningitis vaccinations. Many more contentious issues will be coming up and I expect thorough debate on each bill. We have until February 19 to declare our priority bill. This is significant because in a short session, only priority bills and consent calendar bills (non-controversial bills advanced out of committee with no dissenting votes) will be debated.
Major issues for our legislative session appear to be rebalancing the budget, property tax relief, school financing, Medicaid expansion, and a highway funding bill brought by Senator Smith. This highway funding bill, also called the Transportation Infrastructure Bank, is of great interest to me as it has implications for the Heartland Expressway, and is an initiative put forth by Governor Ricketts.
I have introduced nine bills this year. Along with those nine bills, an amended Oil and Gas Commission bill, this year introduced by Senator Schilz, will be presented to the Natural Resources Committee. This bill reflects proposed changes to the Commission commensurate with the discussions, meetings, public comments and concerns expressed throughout the year. I do want to thank Senator Schilz and the Committee for their diligence in this matter.
One of my bills, LB 773, is on early childhood development and establishes a task force to study local needs regarding the early childhood workforce, the ability of the current state systems to meet the needs identified, and an agreement on the competencies necessary to close the achievement gap for children at risk of failing in school. Findings and recommendations are to be reported to the Legislature no later than December 1, 2017. I am passionate about this area because I see the direct linkage with children entering kindergarten ready to learn and reducing special education costs, reducing behavioral problems, reducing dropout rates and teen pregnancies, and ultimately reducing crime and the cost of corrections. This bill has already had a hearing before the Education Committee where it had 12 testifiers in support.
As always, I welcome your comments and input, and I encourage you to telephone my office or email me.