The 106th legislative session wrapped up on Friday, May 31. There were many great accomplishments and victories this year in the Nebraska Legislature, but the early adjournment does not come as easily to those who did not find the time — or votes — to pass their priority bills: tax reform and business incentives, to name a few.
It was no surprise that property tax relief continued to be a strong focus for our 49 state senators, but finding the means to afford relief without raising taxes, shifting taxes, or cutting vital programs is where the challenge continues to lie. This scenario is just one example of the ripple effect throughout the Legislature. No one ever said politics is simple, but understanding where the focus is, what is at stake, and what remains to be done is an important tool to effectively advocate for public policy.
As in any odd-numbered year, senators are required to pass a two-year biennium budget. In prior years, lawmakers faced the added challenge of a sizeable deficit to the General Fund, which required programs to be cut in order to balance the budget. This year, General Fund receipts were near the targeted amount set by the Nebraska Economic Forecast Advisory Board, which allowed the Appropriations Committee to build in extra funding for property tax relief, a new prison, a bump in the school-aid formula known as TEEOSA, and rate increases for behavioral health, long-term care providers, and Medicaid providers.
The $9.3 billion budget was comprised of seven bills, but Children’s Hospital & Medical Center (Children’s) primarily focused on LB294. Among the many provisions in the bill, Children’s actively supported the Medicaid budget, specifically the 2 percent increase each year in Medicaid, child welfare, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provider rates, as well as the 4 percent increase in behavioral health provider rates. Looking forward to 2020 when Medicaid expands to adults (Oct. 1), an extra $50 million was built into the budget for operational costs and preparedness. The actual cost will be an interesting number to track and will be necessary as lawmakers prepare for the next biennium budget in 2021.
On May 21, the budget package advanced on Final Reading on a 35-12 vote, narrowly overcoming the filibuster. Governor Pete Ricketts (R-NE) had 5 consecutive days following advancement (with the exception of Sunday) to sign the budget into law, veto line-items in the budget, or veto the budget entirely. On Memorial Day, the Governor signed the budget into law without any changes. We are grateful for the hard work of the Appropriations Committee members for crafting a bipartisan budget and for the Governor and his staff for working so closely with the Legislature to advance the best two-year budget for Nebraska.
Aside from the budget, Children’s was actively engaged in a number of other issues and pieces of legislation, including but not limited to:
- LB13– A bill from Senator Carol Blood (D- Dist. 3, Bellevue) which exempts breastfeeding from public indecency offenses (General File with AM147);
- LB15– Another bill from Senator Blood to enact the Adopt the Children of Nebraska Hearing Aid Act (Presented to the Governor on May 23, 2019);
- LB29– Introduced by Senator Mark Kolterman (R-Dist. 24, Seward) that changes provisions related to telehealth to further extend access. (Approved by Governor on March 21, 2019);
- LB149– A bill from Senator Dan Quick (R-Dist. 35, Grand Island) that would raise the legal age for using vapor products to 21 years of age. (Presented to the Governor on May 28, 2019);
- LB251– Adopt the Child Hunger and Workforce Readiness Act, introduced by Senator Lynne Walz (D-Dist. 15, Fremont). The bill remains in committee, but has the option next session to pass;
- LB404– Introduced by Chairman of the Appropriations Committee John Stinner (R-Dist. 48, Gering), which seeks to make three distinct categories of funding for Medicaid to better track dollars ahead of expansion implementation. The bill was amended to the mainline budget bill LB294, which advanced to the Governor’s desk;
- LB529– Introduced by Senator Mike Groene (R-Dist. 42, North Platte). Children’s opposed this bill as it sought to change the property tax exemption status for hospitals. The bill remains in committee;
- LB556– Introduced by Senator Sara Howard (D-Dist. 9, Omaha), further strengthened Nebraska’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to allow for interstate data sharing with other state PDMPs, added requirements for identifying patients, and allows all MCO’s and Nebraska Medicaid to access the PDMP. (Approved by the Governor May 1, 2019);
- LB634– Introduced by Senator Robert Hilkemann (R-Dist. 4, Omaha), would require three-point safety belts on school buses. (In committee);
- LB727– Also introduced by Senator Walz, would require each school district to designate one or more mental health points of contact for each school building for providers to contact with parent permission. (In committee).
Work continues over the interim to prepare public policy priorities for the following year. Our Nebraska lawmakers balance their time as full-time statesmen with careers, family, and other obligations, and we at Children’s want to say how grateful we are for their service to their state.
To stay current with public policy updates, please visit ChildrensOmaha.org/Advocacy-Outreach and register for weekly legislative updates and the full state and federal bill guide list.