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With only 11 legislative days left, there will be a lot to work on before the close of session on April 18th.
Last Friday the Legislature debated the State’s $8.8 billion two-year budget on Select File, the second round of debate, after failing to advance on Wednesday. So far the Legislature has advanced a proposal to take $100 million from the State’s Cash Reserve Fund, also called the Rainy Day Fund. This leaves $296 million in the Fund.
Included in the budget are provisions to transfer $14.7 million from various cash funds into the General Fund to shore up the State’s $173 million shortfall. These funds were determined as sustainable and stable, coming from a source of revenue that is at least equal to expenditures.
For the mainline budget, the Appropriations Committee recommended reductions to the Governor’s across-the-board second year biennium cuts from 4% to 2% for state agencies and 4% to 1% for higher education. This was due to a more favorable state revenue forecast. The Committee also had to address approximately $83 million in deficit increases. Within the Department of Health and Human Services, Child Welfare’s request for an additional $55 million was the largest.
Unfortunately, the Legislature came to an impasse for a second time on Friday and failed to receive the votes necessary to advance, despite receiving a 9-0 vote to advance from committee and being advanced by the Legislature from General File, the first round of debate. There will be continued debate until the Legislature meets its obligation to pass a budget.
The language being debated would bar health clinics from receiving federal Title X funding if they perform, assist, provide counsel in favor of, or refer for abortions. There was lengthy debate on concerns for access to services and concerns over the State losing Title X funding due to violations under federal law.
A few of my bills have also been addressed by the Legislature over the past few weeks.
LB775, the State Park System Construction Alternatives Act, was signed into law last Wednesday. It would allow the use of Design Build for Nebraska Game & Parks construction projects. Design Build will allow Game & Parks to contract with a single entity to handle all subcontracts instead of managing all subcontractors itself. This method will save the State time and money on more efficient construction methods.
LB802 was another one of my bills which was amended into the budget and sits on Select File. It would create the Promotional Cash Fund for the Tourism Commission. It establishes a better method of handling ad revenues and puts them into a designated fund, implementing industry best practices.
LB803 was also advanced to Select File earlier this month. As amended, it would grant the Department of Education the authority to grant a waiver to certification requirements for early childhood educators. If signed into law, the Department will have to develop new rules and regulations to carry out the waiver process and otherwise keep early childhood education programs in compliance. This bill addresses workforce shortages, such as the one we see with the Head Start Program in Western Nebraska.
The Legislature debated a bill that I had prioritized in early March, LB98, introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen to extend the sunset on Natural Resources Districts’ 3¢ levy authority for groundwater management projects. Unfortunately, it was defeated. Without this levy authority, NRDs will have to resort to other methods such as water use restrictions or user fees.
Finally, LB496 sits on Select File. It would allow the use of tax increment financing for the construction of workforce housing. It was debated last year, but fell just one vote short of passing a filibuster. I am looking forward to debate later in the session.
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.