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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.