If you have visited the State Capitol in the past couple of years, you have seen the construction project to replace the HVAC system and upgrade the windows. There’s nothing like the cold wave of the past week to demonstrate the need for those repairs on our nearly 90 year old building.
Activity inside the building continues despite the challenges of construction or the weather. Hearings are in full swing for all of the 14 standing committees. The Appropriations Committee has moved from budget reviews to our public hearing phase. In addition to listening to state agency budget reports, we are also hearing bills that specifically propose to spend state funds.
Among the agencies reporting to us this week were the Departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation, Labor and Revenue, The Racing Commission, The Tax Equalization and Review Commission, The Workers’ Compensation Court, the State Fire Marshal and the Liquor Control Commission. This is just a sampling of about 78 agencies, with over 270 programs, that we will review as part of our committee responsibilities. There are also 48 legislative bills to be heard by the Appropriations Committee.
In these hearings, both in-person and submitted testimony is being incorporated into the official record. Both methods are effective ways to present your views on a bill. Consult the Legislature’s website for instructions on how to testify, and to find the link to NET television for live broadcast of hearings and floor debate. www.nebraskalegislature.gov
I will have five bills of my own to present in public hearings in the next couple of weeks. Of those, one appropriates funds for educational service units to restore past budget cuts. Another increases the funding for behavioral health services, which have become critical in recent months. I also introduced LB 103 in my efforts to continue to find ways to ease the financial burden on Gage county in the “Beatrice 6” case. This bill would allocate $2M in each of the next two fiscal years, to any county that has a judgment in excess of $25M rendered against it by a federal court for a violation of federal law if the total cost of the judgment is equal to twenty percent or more of the county's annual budget. This bill will be heard on Friday, February 19th by the Appropriations Committee.
Like many of you, I have become a frequent user of virtual meeting platforms. In the past, our legislative calendar would be full of breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings with constituents and organizations. These days, the schedule is packed with “zoom” meetings. To be honest, this has been a very efficient way to meet with a large number of people, while saving time and expense. Of course, it isn’t always as good as real face to face conversation, but we are grateful for the opportunity to continue to talk, learn, and gather information.
Since the beginning of the session, my staff and I have met virtually with representatives of our state’s universities and state colleges, district superintendents and ESU staff, the extension service, and the children’s commission. We have talked with several agricultural leaders, farm organizations, environmental groups and ag equipment companies. I am in regular contact with parents and advocates for the developmentally disabled and a number of healthcare providers and associations. I meet weekly with the chamber of commerce and of course, get frequent updates from our public health departments that serve both Lancaster and Gage counties.
My office also receives hundreds of emails each week and we work diligently to answer every inquiry as quickly as possible. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2620.