Fourth of July is over and summer is now well underway. The Legislature has been adjourned for well over a month now, but lots of things have been happening at the Capitol.
After the Legislature adjourned on May 23rd I went back to the district to spend time with family and constituents in the district. Within the first couple weeks many of the special committees at the Capitol started to host a variety of briefings, meetings, and hearings to discuss the policy topics that they oversee.
One of those special committees which I am involved in is the Legislature’s Planning Committee. The Planning Committee began the interim by reviewing data from the Center for Public Affairs Research (CPAR) at the University of Omaha used in policy decision making. For example, data on housing statistics for District 48 shows that as of 2014 there were 16,354 housing units with a total population of 36,684 people. 23% of those housing units were built in 1939 or earlier. This comprised the largest segment of homes in the district. This shows a great need for the expansion of affordable housing.
In addition to my responsibilities with the Planning Committee, I am also serving on the Economic Development Task Force, which was created this year with the passage of LB641. The Task Force is responsible for addressing Nebraska’s economic development policy and providing its recommendations to the Legislature. During our research, we will gather input from various state agencies including the Department of Economic Development (DED), research institutions such as CPAR, and various other stakeholders throughout the state.
Much of the discussion at last month’s Task Force meeting was centered on the issues of state tax incentives for businesses and workforce education. Courtney Dentlinger, the Director of the DED, discussed the incentives Nebraska offers through the Nebraska Advantage Act. Some of these components include tiered incentive packages designed to attract investment into the state’s workforce and the distribution of Community Development Block Grants, which are designed to transform our communities and spur economic growth. For the next meeting, we will be discussing higher education and how it translates to the workforce using data provided by the Department of Labor.
Another activity I have been engaged in is working towards investment in early childhood education. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute’s Early Childhood Workforce Commission has been a great champion toward this cause. The Workforce Commission is a gathering of public and private sector leaders who are dedicated to expanding and strengthening our early childhood workforce. Due to low pay and other circumstances, there is difficulty in hiring and retaining people who want to work in early childhood education. Research has shown that commitment to the workforce in this industry leads to improved outcomes for children in the earliest phase of their lives. This equates to better living conditions and opportunity for our communities.
In keeping with the workforce theme as one of my priorities, I introduced a legislative resolution this year (LR238) which would provide an interim study for the funding of behavioral and mental health internship programs for rural Nebraska. In a recent article published by the Associated Press, my resolution was mentioned as one solution to the workforce shortage. Demand in the health care industry continues to grow in rural Nebraska, but the supply for professionals in behavioral and mental health professions is lacking. My interim study will address that issue.
I have also been involved in the Legislature’s Building and Maintenance Committee, which is tasked with addressing the state’s need for repairs of state-owned property. The Capitol building, State Office Building housing major agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the DED, and university campuses all are under the purview of the Building and Maintenance Committee. There are approximately 3,300 state buildings in Nebraska, with many needed projects such as fire alarm replacement at the State Office Building, replacing an outdated heating and air conditioning system at the Capitol, and roof replacement at the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln.
In addition to my responsibilities at the Capital and across the state I have spent time with many constituencies in the district. Interim is a great time to acquaint myself with the issues occurring in local governmental jurisdictions such as Scotts Bluff County Board of Commissioners and the City of Scottsbluff. It is also a great time for me to coordinate with them on pending legislation that would have an effect locally, such as my bill to allow the use of tax increment financing (TIF) for the development of affordable workforce housing, LB496. It is still pending in the Legislature.
I have also been meeting with other constituencies throughout the district such as members of trade organizations. Some of the organizations I have met with so far include those in healthcare, childcare, and private business organizations. Putting myself at the “ground level” of my constituencies gives me a deeper understanding of how policy at the state level affects others. Last but not least, the past month has been spent getting to know individual constituents and which issues they care about the most. I am always open to doing what I can for the constituents I represent.
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. 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.