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The Legislature has been convened for about four months now, but there have been a lot of things happening in the Capitol.
Major renovations are being done to the old heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the Capitol building. Construction crews will be working on one quadrant at a time, meaning that many senators’ and committee offices will have to shift around the building to accommodate the project. This will be a long process that will take roughly 10 years to complete. While my office will not be affected at this time, two of the four public hearing rooms will be.
While the Capitol building is being prepared for HVAC renovations; I have been meeting with constituents, attending summits, and have been honored with a few awards.
One of the first honors I received was the American Psychological Association’s 2018 State Legislator of the Year award. Every year, an honoree is selected for the award who has improved psychological practice and the lives of those who use their services. I believe if we are going to establish a strong mental and behavioral health workforce and adequate programs in Nebraska, psychologists can help lead the way.
In June the Nebraska School Mental Health Forum, as part of the National Center for Mental Health, honored me with the 2018 Nebraska School Mental Health Champion award. One of the biggest challenges that students face after being in a psychiatric setting is reintegrating into the school environment. In addition, rural schools face barriers to access with mental and behavioral health providers. That is why I introduced legislation to establish a pilot program in the Panhandle to partner with our schools for essential mental and behavioral health reintegration services.
In July I attended the Governor’s Economic Development Summit. The event highlighted Nebraska’s transportation infrastructure, talent development, workforce housing, and partnerships for international trade. It is an annual summit that provides leaders from businesses, trades, and the public to address the challenges and opportunities facing Nebraska’s economy. At this Summit I had the opportunity to learn from an array of speakers discussing the economy and how it relates to agriculture, education, and housing.
There has been a lot of talk about property tax relief lately, with another petition drive announced earlier this month. This interim I have been spending a lot of time studying the various proposals on the table and believe it will be one of the main issues next session. I also serve on the Economic Development Task Force and will be studying issues related to business incentives under the Nebraska Advantage Act, which sunsets in 2020.
For the 2018 fiscal year, the State was approximately $60 million over its revenue forecast. These funds are automatically deposited to the Cash Reserve Fund, or Rainy Day Fund. Currently, the Rainy Day Fund contains roughly $350 million. Restoration of the Rainy Day Fund will be a focus of the Appropriations Committee and the Legislature this session. A fully funded reserve is approximately $750 million so there will be a lot of discussion on what to do with those funds.
One of the interim studies I introduced, Legislative Resolution 442, examines the financial hardships experienced by rural long-term care providers across the State. On March 23rd, Lancaster County Court placed 21 long-term care facilities into receivership until a management plan is established. This included nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and rehabilitation centers; including Scottsbluff Care and Rehabilitation Center.
This isn’t the first time that a handful of long-term facilities have closed due to financial hardship. This is partially due to cost-saving strategies that have been implemented at the state level. LR442 will assess the adequacy of state appropriations, other related problems, workforce issues, the cost of regulations, and the mechanisms put in place by the state that affect funding sources for long-term care providers.
My other interim study, Legislative Resolution 455, will examine ways of developing an early warning system to identify and respond to fiscal distress among local government entities such as municipalities, counties, and other subdivisions. This warning system would use a series of metrics to diagnose fiscal health, of our municipalities and counties alert the state as to fiscal stress.
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.