The 2017 Nebraska Legislative Session came to an end last Tuesday, concluding a session that contained several setbacks for efforts to improve opportunities for hard-working, low-income families and children.
Still, a few important advancements were made to improve access to justice and opportunity for more Nebraskans. Your support and hard work, combined with some outstanding leaders in the Legislature, helped make these positive steps happen!
Big cuts to vital investments for vulnerable Nebraskans
As the 2017 session neared the end, the Legislature passed a balanced budget approved by the Appropriations Committee. However, Governor Pete Ricketts made further drastic cuts with line-item vetoes of more than $50 million — the largest of which hit the most-vulnerable Nebraskans the hardest.
More than $30 million was cut from providers of important services in Medicaid, behavioral health, developmental disabilities, and child welfare. Many State Senators, advocates, and community partners attempted to protect these important investments, however the Legislature could not override these vetoes.
Combined with the President’s recently proposed cuts to anti-poverty programs, the Legislative session continued an alarming trend of asking Nebraskans who have the least to sacrifice their health and safety when the budget is cut.
A budget reflects our morals and priorities. The vast majority of Nebraskans know it is important for our policies to allow every Nebraskan the opportunity to have a secure and healthy future, to get a quality education, and to meet their basic needs. When we stop investing in people, we leave large parts of our communities behind, and that hurts us all.
These cuts endanger hard-working Nebraskans who are trying to get ahead, and they are in direct conflict with Nebraska values.
Bills to improve opportunity, restore essential rights fall short
Several efforts fell short this session to help Nebraskans with low incomes meet their basic needs and Nebraskans who have completed felony sentences restore important rights.
Senators passed LB 75 (Sen. Justin Wayne) to end the punitive two-year delay for voting rights to be restored once a Nebraskan finishes a felony sentence, but the bill fell victim to another veto.
Sen. Adam Morfeld’s LB 311 to remove a ban on food assistance for people who have completed a sentence for a drug conviction remained in committee this session. It could come back up in 2018.
Committees also failed to advance bills to expand Medicaid to provide life-changing health coverage to nearly 100,000 working Nebraskans (LB 441, Sen. Morfeld), put a stop to predatory lending practices by payday lenders (LB 194, Sen. Tony Vargas), and give a long-overdue raise to the income limit for families to be eligible for food assistance (LB 358, Sen. John McCollister).
Mixed results for youth in foster care
Senators passed several bills to improve opportunities for Nebraska’s youth in foster care, however that progress was tempered by the Governor’s funding cuts to important foster care services.
Senators passed LB 225 (Sen. Sue Crawford), which contained several advances to the foster care system including making sure that youth in the juvenile justice system have access to important normalcy experiences. Sen. Kate Bolz’s LB 180 also passed to provide clarity about when a juvenile’s court case can be transferred from juvenile court to district court via a bridge order.
Several other bills could come back next session after being introduced in 2017. Sen. Bolz introduced two of these bills: LB 411 would clarify that efforts must be made to place siblings in foster care together even if they have no prior relationship, and LB 179 would allow young Nebraskans who age out of the juvenile justice system to participate in the Bridge to Independence program.
Sen. Anna Wishart also introduced LB 226 to remove barriers for youth in foster care to get a driver’s license.
Protecting voting rights and key investments
The Legislature defeated several harmful efforts that would have damaged our ability to make vital investments in hard-working Nebraskans and restrict voting rights.
Senators filibustered dangerous tax bill LB 461, which would have cut income taxes for Nebraskans with the highest incomes but did little for everyone else. Instead, it would have forced damaging cuts to schools, child welfare, and other important investments that give all Nebraskans a better quality of life.
Voter suppression measure LR1CA also was quickly voted down. This proposed amendment would have mandated voters produce a photo ID when voting, which is a costly and time-consuming barrier that has been proven in other states to disenfranchise many eligible voters.
Big wins for Nebraska students, refugees, and immigrants
Late in the session, the Legislature passed LB 512 (introduced by the Education Committee) that contained a package of protections for students at Nebraska’s postsecondary colleges in the event the institution goes out of business. It also cleared the way for local organizations to get grants that would let them provide free meals to children in the summer months.
State senators also passed a pair of resolutions supporting immigrants and refugees in the final week of the session. LR 26 (Sen. Vargas) recognized the value of DREAMers – young immigrant Nebraskans who grew up, attended school, and contribute their skills to local communities in our state. LR 27 (Sen. Bolz) proclaimed appreciation for the long-standing contributions of refugees to Nebraska and the belief Nebraska must continue our proud history of refugee resettlement.
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And, we’ll let you know how you can take action to get involved and make your voice heard to both state and federal elected officials all year long!
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