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John Stinner

Sen. John Stinner

District 48

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The past couple of weeks have been productive for the Appropriations Committee as it finalized budget recommendations to the Legislature. During that time, I focused my efforts on preparing for debate and listening to the discussion on issues important to Nebraskans. Last Tuesday those efforts paid off as we advanced the $9.7 billion budget package to the final round of debate, called Final Reading.

Some of the highlights include prison overcrowding, the State’s contract with child welfare provider Saint Francis Ministries, and property tax relief. Although we initially planned to finish debate on the budget last Thursday, Speaker Hilgers rescheduled debate for Final Reading today on April 20.

Much of the discussion last Tuesday centered on the issue of whether the State should build a new prison or invest more towards programming. However, it is not simply an either or decision. A balanced approach involves all components. Addressing the issue of prison overcrowding is about more than just building new buildings, but developing programs to prepare inmates to reenter society and reduce recidivism.

One of the core agreements we came to was a proposal by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha to create the Prison Overcrowding Contingency Fund. AM962 created the Fund and transferred $15 million out of the original $115 million allocation set aside in the Committee’s original proposal. The main thrust of the amendment was to address prison overcrowding through programming before considering other alternatives.

The Legislature also approved AM963, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, to appropriate $200,000 to contract with the University of Nebraska on an inmate classification study. The University has conducted inmate classification studies over the years to identify the needs for each segment of the prison population. The purpose of these studies is to assess the programmatic needs of inmates and appropriate staffing for each security level.

Should the budget become enacted, the Department of Corrections would be authorized to carry out a number of other actions. The first would update its correctional facility master plan. The second would conduct an engineering study on the useful life of current facilities. Another would develop a program for a halfway-back community correction center in Omaha. The last action item would build a specialty unit for geriatric and mental health patients.

In addition to the debate on prison overcrowding, we also discussed the ongoing issue of the State’s contract with Saint Francis Ministries to manage the child welfare program for Eastern Nebraska. AM968, introduced by Sen. John Arch of La Vista, was amended into the budget to ensure that Saint Francis Ministries distributes the 2% increase in child welfare aid out of their existing contract.

Also discussed during debate was the $63 million increase in property tax credits, the second largest increase next to provider rates. This brings the total to $1.45 billion in property tax relief offered in the budget, applied via an income tax credit per $100,000 of property valuation.

Finally, there were a couple of “clean up” amendments to the budget which I introduced and were approved by the Legislature. The first was AM946, which included a number of post hoc fixes to the Committee’s original budget proposal. This amendment fixed some technical errors, provided for reappropriations (which carry over unexpended funds from the previous biennium,) clarifications to the language in the budget, and a couple of other add-ons.

AM937, which I also introduced, was approved by the Legislature to clarify matching requirements for counties receiving state aid for behavioral health regions.

I am fortunate to be associated with a hard-working committee on the important function of Nebraska’s state budget and look forward to the discussion later today.

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.

 

Now that all day public hearings have completed, the Legislature has moved on to all day debate on legislation. In addition to the Legislature’s work considering legislative proposals, the Appropriations Committee is finalizing its budget proposal as we prepare to present it to the full Legislature.

This has certainly been an unprecedented time for the Committee, with many challenges we haven’t seen before. First and foremost on everyone’s mind is how we have adjusted to the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March of last year, the Legislature passed emergency funding to secure supplies and other resources for healthcare providers. Since then, we have gone from concerns of a 10% revenue shortfall to a $500 million surplus, due in large part to federal relief and stimulus funds throughout the course of the pandemic.

Some of the major budget priorities being considered include an increase in property tax credits by $574 million, setting aside $115 million in funding for the Governor’s plan to build a new prison, and building up our Rainy Day Fund by $100 million to a total of $763 million, or 14.2% or state revenue. In addition, the Committee has made $210 million available “on the floor” to be used for other legislative proposals outside of the budget.

In addition to my work on the budget, there were 6 bills that I introduced which were referenced to the Committee and amended into the budget for the Legislature’s consideration.

LB141 appropriates $7.5 million to the Nebraska Arts Council as matching funds to assist in renovation of the Museum of Nebraska Art Collection at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. This would include existing and additional gallery space for the museum.

LB142 increases the appropriation to the Nebraska Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund by $500 thousand annually until 2030 to provide a sustainable and robust endowment. The Cultural Endowment was created to support the arts and humanities in Nebraska, and has shown incredible success in its ability to leverage private donations for the arts.

LB264 provides $100 thousand in funding for a competitive grant program established last year to award grants to certified cultural districts. These districts are based on a geographical area and feature artistic or cultural activities to promote various communities across Nebraska.

LB342 provides $2.5 million annually to the Sixpence Fund to make more widely available quality early childhood care for Nebraska’s at risk infants and toddlers. The Sixpence Fund was established as a public-private framework to provide funding for high-quality early childhood programs, specifically for developmental interventions.

LB421, as amended into the budget proposal, provides $1.5 million annually in funding for student loan repayment of rural health professionals. The legislation will help to shore up the waitlist for a state program that assists in student loan repayment for health professionals who make a commitment to remain in state-designated shortage areas. This is part of an effort to attract and retain health professionals for our rural areas of the state.

LB588 extends existing appropriations for deferred maintenance under facilities programs for the University of Nebraska and State Colleges. It increases the appropriation to the University’s program by $2.5 million and requires a 2% contribution of expended funds in the program to establish a revolving facility maintenance fund. This will put the University on a path to self-sustainability.

I also have two other bills outside of the Appropriations Committee which have advanced from their respective committees to the floor of the Legislature for debate.

LB59, advanced with wide agreement, authorizes the Nebraska Tourism Commission to enter into agreements with retailers to sell the Commission’s merchandise. This legislation will be important to marketing Nebraska as a tourism destination, especially after a tough year for the industry during the pandemic. I have requested a “consent agenda” designation from the Speaker of the Legislature to fast-track it to consideration on the floor.

LB592 allows the Western Nebraska Veterans’ Home, located in Scottsbluff, to utilize automated medication distribution machines to dispense medications to residents in its assisted living facility. This will improve the facility’s efficiency and reduce human error. The bill was advanced with wide support as well and is being considered for the Speaker’s “consent agenda” designation.

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.

A lot has happened since adjournment of the legislative session last year, especially with the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of health and safety concerns, the Legislature has adjusted to new protocols in response. I am confident that we can continue to conduct our business while keeping all involved safe and healthy.

It was reported in late January that I was among those being quarantined after the Appropriations Committee was exposed to a positive COVID-19 test. Everyone on the committee safely completed quarantine without any symptoms and continued our work conducting public hearings, beginning with the Governor’s budget proposal on Friday.

As part of the effort to slow the spread of the virus, the Legislature is conducting all-day committee hearings through Mar. 12. In normal times, the Legislature would be gathered on the floor of the Legislature in the mornings to debate legislation. This will help to minimize such gatherings while the pandemic is projected to be at a peak.

We’ve also implemented a number of other safety measures, such as restricting access to the Norris Legislative Chamber, temperature checks, free testing for Senators and legislative staff, social distancing measures, installment of plexiglass barriers, and additional cleaning procedures. The Legislature has also expanded our offerings for public input on legislation to reduce contact, as detailed on the Legislature’s website.

My top priority this session will be passing the state’s biennium budget. In January, Governor Ricketts announced his proposed two-year $9.6 billion budget for the State. Many of his priorities include controlling state and local spending, property tax relief, veterans’ tax relief, expansion of broadband connectivity for rural Nebraska, investment in a new prison, and many other priorities such as an increase in school funding.

This year I have introduced 13 bills, 10 of which were referenced to Appropriations.

The first bill I introduced was LB59, which would authorize the Nebraska Tourism Commission to enter into agreements with retailers to sell the Commission’s merchandise. This is part of an ongoing effort to expand Nebraska’s tourism industry after the 2018 announcement of the “Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone” campaign. A marked increase in demand for the Commission’s merchandise has led to the need for a wider distribution network, which is what LB59 would enable. The public hearing was on Feb. 3.

Another bill I introduced is LB392, which would enact the Prescribing Psychologist Practice Act. This is a continuation of my efforts from last year to allow psychologists to prescribe psychotropic medication under a rigorous education and training program.

The pandemic has worsened an already prevalent mental health crisis in America, with 40% of adults reporting a struggle with mental health or substance abuse, according to a CDC report. Couple this with a behavioral and mental health workforce shortage experienced in rural Nebraska, and the need for this legislation becomes primary.

Prior to the pandemic, 88 out of 93 counties were considered a federally designated mental health profession shortage area, including Scotts Bluff County. This includes psychiatrists, where the Panhandle has lost three psychiatrists since 2010.

Last year, I was able to receive input during the hearing process, and have included accountability improvements to ensure participating psychologists are properly supervised and liability protections ensured for collaborating physicians.

I have also introduced LB592, which would allow certain assisted-living facilities to utilize automated medication distribution machines to dispense medications to residents. This will help assisted-living facilities reduce human error in essential medications for residents. The public hearing was on Feb. 5.

I look forward to the coming months as the Legislature considers the priorities important to the state and to Scotts Bluff County and the Panhandle.

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:  Senator John P. Stinner, District 48 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE  68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2802; email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov.

Welcome
January 6th, 2021

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 48th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. John Stinner

Sen. John Stinner

District 48
Room 1004
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2802
Email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov
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