2013 Legislative Session Year-in-Review

nebraska-state-capital1-150x150The 2013 session of the Nebraska Legislature came to a close on June 5. All of our program staff worked hard to further policies that will build a stronger Nebraska. While we will still have to fight to insure 54,000 Nebraska’s with the new Medicaid program, we are grateful that several of Nebraska Appleseed’s priority bills discussed below became law.

Here is our Year-in-Review of the 2013 Legislative session.

Health Care

LB 577 – Introduced by Senator Kathy Campbell, LB 577 would implement the Affordable Care Act’s new Medicaid program to cover 54,000 uninsured Nebraskans. Implementing this new program would return more than $2 billion back into our economy and was estimated to save the state $2.5 million in the first two years. LB 577 remains a good deal for our state and it is the right thing to do.

The bill had strong bipartisan support from a majority of senators, but a minority of senators blocked the bill from receiving a vote. On May 16, a crowd of more than 300 supporters rallied at the Capitol to urge senators to bring LB 577 to a vote. Unfortunately, we came just shy of the 33 votes necessary to bring the bill up for a vote before the session ended.

The bill will be held over to next session, where supporters have vowed to continue the fight to pass the bill for the health of our people and the strength of our economy. We cannot thank Senator Campbell enough for her leadership on this issue, as well as Senator Nordquist, Senator Krist, and all the senators who have worked so hard on LB 577.

Please know that the support at the rally, all the phone calls and emails, and everything Nebraskans did in support of LB 577 has made a huge difference and is helping us carry the momentum into the interim. And we will continue to need your help. We can and will make this happen. If you are on Facebook please Like the “I Stand with 54,000 Uninsured Nebraskans” page where you can keep up on news and updates during the interim. You can also get information on our website and through our email lists.

Child Welfare

On May 29, the Legislature passed one of Appleseed’s top priority bills – LB 216, the “Young Adult Voluntary Services and Support Act.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Heineman on June 4.

LB 216 establishes a system of important services and support to age 21 for young people who age out of foster care as they become young adults. National research shows supports like those in LB 216 lead to far better outcomes in education and employment for these young people and greatly reduces negative outcomes.

We want to thank Senator Amanda McGill, the sponsor of LB 216, for her outstanding leadership and hard work in getting this bill passed. We also want to give special thanks for the tireless work done in support this bill to the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and the youth of Project Everlast.

LB 265 – This bill, introduced by Sen. Colby Coash, allows a more streamlined process for placing foster children in homes with relatives and kin that they know and trust. It was signed into law on May 28th. We’d like to thank our partners at Voices for Children in Nebraska who took the lead on this important bill.

Economic Justice

This was an especially active year for anti-poverty legislation. Several helpful and important bills were passed this session that will remove barriers and increase the opportunity to work by promoting education, increasing job training opportunities, and ensuring the working families can access safe and quality child care.

LB 240 was introduced by Sen. John Harms and allows adults receiving assistance in the Aid to Dependent Children program to meet their work requirement by engaging in employment-related education for at least 20 hours a week. Education is one of the surest paths out of poverty. We thank Sen. Harms for being such a champion for education and removing barriers for those who can and want to pursue this path. This bill was signed into law by the Governor on May 8.

LB 368, introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford, creates a subsidized employment pilot program which allows employers to grow their businesses and helps low-income workers to gain meaningful job experience. Under this program employers will receive subsidies to support the wages for a new employee for six months. (The support scales down to 0% by the end of the six months.) To be eligible, prospective employees must be low-income and have a dependant child in their household. This is a win-win for businesses who have the opportunity to expand their businesses and for workers who need real on the job training. The bill was signed into law by Governor Heineman on June 4.

LB 507 – The “Step Up to Child Care Act,” introduced by Sen. Kathy Campbell, improves the eligibility rate for child care subsidies allowing more of Nebraska’s working families to receive child care assistance. Until this bill was passed, Nebraska ranked last nationally in child care subsidy eligibility. This bill will allow more families to access safe child care thereby enabling them to work. The bill also creates a quality rating system that tells parents what services child care providers are giving, as well as helping providers to increase their quality of care through assistance and incentives. The bill was signed into law by Governor Heineman on June 4.

Tax Reform

Taxes took center stage in the Legislature early in the 2013 session. Sen. Beau McCoy introduced a pair of bills, LB 405 and LB 406, to eliminate the Nebraska state income tax. A very broad and varied spectrum of groups raised significant concerns about the bill, including the regressive nature of the bills, the effect on the stability of Nebraska’s revenue stream and the effect on the budget in the future, and the proposed increase in taxes in other sectors to offset the loss of the sales tax. After two extremely long hearings, the Revenue Committee indefinitely postponed the bills (meaning they cannot be heard).

As an alternative, the Legislature passed LR 155 which creates a Tax Modernization Commission to look at our current tax code and determine what, if any, reforms might need to be update our current system. Nebraska Appleseed and its colleagues have supported this idea and believe it can lead to a fair and responsible update of the tax code that ensures adequate revenue and shared responsibility.

Racial Justice

LB 99 – This bill, sponsored by Sen. Heath Mello, extends the duration of Nebraska’s law enforcement data collection efforts in order to prevent racial profiling, requires law enforcement agencies to provide a written policy to prohibit racial profiling to the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, and requires the Commission to seek funding to provide a comprehensive review of motor vehicle stops and allegations of racial profiling. It was signed by the Governor and become law on May 16th.

Voting Rights

LB 381 – Introduced by Sen. Charlie Janssen, this bill would mandate a restrictive and unnecessary voter identification system. Appleseed joined a large group of testifiers who opposed the bill in front of the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee on March 7. The bill would put a greater burden on our already overburdened election workers, and undermine our democracy by creating barriers to voting for many older Nebraskans who no longer drive, young voters and students who move frequently, people with low incomes, people who live in rural areas, and Nebraskans with disabilities.

The bill was held in committee but may come up again in 2014.

Worker Rights and Safety

LB 177 and LB 560 – LB 177, introduced by Senator Jim Smith, and LB 560, introduced by Senator Heath Mello, both address the unlawful and unjust practice of wage theft. These bills support hard-working Nebraskans by targeting those few dishonest employers who would undermine fairness for employees and a fair playing field for other employers by failing to pay for work performed. Fairness and dignity are key to any employment relationship. Appleseed testified in support of the bills. Both are still in committee.

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