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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: email@example.com.