LINCOLN–The Legislature finished committee hearings last week with discussions on a wide range of issues including tax-increment financing, health provider rates, immigration and early childhood education.
• LR 14CA, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, was debated for two days ending on March 26. This proposal would place an amendment on the general election ballot that would extend the TIF(tax increment financing) repayment period from 15 to 20 years if more than half of the property in the project area is designated as extremely blighted.
“The underlying goal of LR 14CA is to spur the use of TIF in those areas that need it the most,” Wayne said.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte and Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard opposed the amendment and said it will not solve the number of high poverty areas and will not be used effectively. Erdman said this amendment is a “tax giveaway that benefits developers.”
The bill died after opponents ran the clock out on debate.
• The Education Committee heard a bill on March 26 that would increase the number and quality of preschool programs across the state. LB 358, introduced by Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, would change how early childhood education is calculated for purposes of state aid and would increase state funding for expenses related to transportation of students in early childhood education. Walz said this bill “would benefit districts that normally do not receive equalization aid.” The committee took no immediate action.
• On March 29, the Appropriations Committee heard a bill that would increase behavioral health provider rates. LB 327, introduced by Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln, would increase substance abuse and mental health treatment service rates for Medicaid patients within the probation system by 5 percent in the next two years.
“This is particularly important because one in five Nebraskans will suffer from mental illness or addiction in any given year,” Bolz said.
Cathy Phillips, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and Annette Dubas, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, spoke in support of the bill. Phillips discussed the recent events throughout the state and said the “upcoming expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska, along with this spring’s devastating flooding, will strain the state’s already struggling behavioral health provider network.”
• The Judiciary Committee heard a bill on March 28 that would not allow a government employee or officer to request someone’s immigration status. LB 502, introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, would keep immigration status private even if government officials requested it.
“When Nebraskans are afraid to call for help, go to court or report crimes to law enforcement, public safety suffers,” Hunt said.
Doug Kagan, spokesperson for Nebraska Taxpayers of Freedom, opposed the bill because he said it would make “Nebraska a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.”
• A proposed amendment that would redefine the code of conduct for practicing psychologists in Nebraska was heard by the Health and Human Services Committee on March 27. LB 499, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, would require psychologists follow the new code of conduct which states the psychologist can’t accept a professional role outside their scope of competence or if it has a conflicting interest, and they must make a referral if they are unable to provide service to the patient.
“It is critical for all health care professionals to follow ethical considerations while serving Nebraskans,” Morfeld said.
Tom Venzor, director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, spoke against the bill saying the it “could cause psychologists to stop practicing rather than violate their conscience.”
• On March 25, the Education Committee heard a bill that would change the requirements of the health education programs within the school districts. LB 488, introduced by Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha, would require schools to teach age-appropriate mental health education and comprehensive drug awareness, rather than the physiological, psychological and sociological aspects of drug use. No one testified in opposition.