Half Way Point at the Legislature & Priorities are Set

Nebraska State CapitolThis is the inaugural edition of Nebraska Appleseed’s Legislative Update, our regular look at the Unicameral’s work on issues impacting working families, immigrant Nebraskans and the communities where they live, children in foster care, access to health care, voting rights, and more.  We are sending you this edition because you have already subscribed or we hope you will after reading this update.

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Last week was a fruitful week for Appleseed at the Legislature.  It was also one of the busiest.  Last week was the deadline for senators and committees to prioritize their bills or request that a bill be prioritized by the Speaker.  Each senator gets to prioritize one bill and committees get to prioritize two bills.  Priorities are key because those bills go to the front of the line on the agenda ahead of non-prioritized bills.  Especially in a short session, this generally means that only prioritized bills are debated on the floor.

Over ten bills that Appleseed has worked on directly and deemed most important were prioritized:

  • LB 599, which would restore prenatal care coverage was advanced out of the Health and Human Services Committee and prioritized by Senator McGill.  Senator Campbell is the bill’s introducer.
  • LB 1079, introduced by Senator Mello, would provide for the establishment of bridge program pilot projects that leverage vocational training and basic education to give Nebraskans the skills to fill high demand jobs while moving them on a path to higher education.  Senator Conrad prioritized LB 1079 which was advanced out of committee with some amendments.
  • LB 1063, introduced and prioritized by Senator Cook, would improve access to behavioral health services for children by requiring Nebraska’s Medicaid program to follow federal laws and regulations when drafting the guidelines through which Medicaid makes decisions to approve or deny treatment.  LB 1063 was also advanced out of committee with some amendments.
  • LB 825, introduced and prioritized by Senator Dubas, would make several changes to improve the ACCESSNebraska system and reduce the barriers and challenges that system has created for those trying to access public benefits.  This bill will likely include provisions from Senator Conrad’s LB 1016 which also addressed problems in the ACCESSNebraska system.
  • LB 842, introduced and prioritized by Senator Harms, would continue a provision that creates an opportunity for parents on the Aid to Dependent Children program to pursue an Associates Degree to meet their work requirements.  Nebraska has been a leader in providing educational opportunities in ADC and Senator Harms has been a leader in continuing to improve this program.
  • LB 1090, introduced and prioritized by Senator Wallman, would provide grants and information to expand the Summer Food Service Program which provides hungry children much needed meals during the summer.

In addition to this long list, five bills were prioritized that deal with the reform of the child welfare system.  It is our understanding that various bills related to child welfare will be combined into the following prioritized bills:

  • LB 821 (creating a Children’s Commission)
  • LB 961 (returning case management to the state and addressing caseloads)
  • LB 820 (dealing with improvements for foster parents and a funding waiver)
  • LB 949 (requiring regular reporting and a strategic plan by the Department of Health and Human Services)
  • LB 1160 (which would require additional oversight and evaluation)

Appleseed’s Child Welfare Program has been very supportive of all these bills with the exception of LB 820 on which we had a few reservations.

Appleseed has been working on all these issues – child welfare, access to prenatal care, education and training, AccessNebraska, and hunger – for many years and we continue to be grateful for the work of the senators addressing these issues.  We are thrilled to see these important issues prioritized this session.

Of course, there are also a few bills that were prioritized that are very concerning and which Appleseed opposes.  Of immediate concern is LB 239, a voter suppression bill which will likely see floor debate this week.  Appleseed will continue to work this week with a broad coalition to oppose its passage.

In addition to all that, our Appleseed staff has continued to testify this past week on a variety of bills not already mentioned including:

  • LB 1010 to improve access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • LB 1136 which would create a wage subsidy program to provide employers with assistance and provide real training and on-the-job experience for low-income workers
  • LB 1098 which would repeal a law past last session that diverts a significant portion of general fund dollars for roads

We will continue to update you on all this important work as we now move into the critical stages of floor debate.

We are half way through but in some ways the work has just begun!

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