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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.