LINCOLN--Nebraska senators passed 16 bills this week, including three appropriations bills, to be presented to the governor for signing. The bills passed include Legislative Bill 203 that redefines slag -- a metal left over from things like cars that is sometimes recycled into roads -- as a product not solid waste, on a 45 to 0 vote. Many of the bills passed on similar votes. LB 271 was an exception. It would change the date for early in-person voting from 35 days to 30 days before an election day. LB 271 passed 37 to 9.
LB 79: Senators voted 45-0 Thursday to pass a campaign finance bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln. The Nebraska Supreme Court in August ruled the Campaign Finance Limitation Act, which provided matching funds to candidates who agreed to voluntary spending limits, unconstitutional.
The bill would transfer money from the now dormant Campaign Finance Limitation cash fund to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission to pay for a new electronic filing system for campaign statements.
Welfare work education
LB 240: Senators advanced this bill Thursday with a 30-0 vote to eliminate the age limitation for low-income adults who use work-related education for the opportunity to have more benefits.
The current legislation says that only people under the age of 24 can use education related to employment to earn benefits, such as English as a Second Language education. The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff, would allow people over 24 years old to have this option to participate in welfare work.
LB 271: A bill that cuts the number of in-person early voting days from 35 to 30 made it through the Nebraska Unicameral Thursday with a 33-8 vote. The 30 days was a compromise from the original proposal of 25 days for early voting.
Opponents argued that the bill could restrict voter access.
Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha introduced the bill, which was designed to prevent situations like the one where a blind Lincoln woman could not submit her early ballot because the machine for disabled voters was not ready. Nebraska voters can request a mail-in ballot 120 days before an election.
Big boost for early education
LB 495: This bill passed with a 46-0 vote Thursday and would allocate more funds to early childhood education. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, would transfer money from the Education Innovation Fund to help fund early childhood education grant programs and use general funds to make up for the money lost from the Education Innovation Fund to pay for programs such as multicultural education.
With this bill, the Nebraska Department of Education would have about $1.75 million for early childhood education grants for the 2013-2014 year, with that amount increasing by about $100,000 each year until the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
LB 528: A bill that would allow for the treatment of a personís sexual partner or partners without a medical examination for gonorrhea or chlamydia passed through the legislature Thursday. Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha introduced the bill that she said would help reduce the number of babies born with these sexually transmitted diseases. Howard said that the bill targets people who could not or would not be seen by a doctor for treatment and would help prevent partners from reinfecting each other. The unseen partners can only be prescribed medication if they are named. LB 528 passed 37-3 with 9 senators not voting.
LB 553: A bill to reduce the benefit plan for new school employees who start work after July 1, 2013, advanced through the Legislature, 33 to 0, and incorporates Amendment 803, which passed 35 to 0, Thursday. The change would not apply to employees on the plan before July 1, 2013. Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha introduced the bill because of budget concerns.
Medicaid expansion stalls
LB 577: After 10 hours and 20 minutes of debate over two days this week, discussion of this bill to expand Medicaid eligibility to some low-income adults was suspended.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, would add adults ages 19-65 whose incomes are at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line -- about $15,000 a year for an individual -- to the list of groups eligible to receive Medicaid benefits. An estimated 54,000 Nebraskans would be newly eligible for Medicaid. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay the full cost of the expansion for the first three years, until 2016. After that time, the federal governmentís share of the cost would gradually decrease to 90 percent by 2020 where it would remain.
Senators did not come to a vote on an amendment proposed by Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney that would have ended the expansion program after three years and required the Legislature to vote to renew the law. Speaker Greg Adams of York said the bill may not come back this session if the necessary votes arenít rounded up.
LB 579: Senators passed amendment 1032 on a 28-0 vote that would increase from nine to 15 the number of state patrol members who focus on enforcing the Nebraska Liquor Control Act.
Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber introduced the bill and the amendment. The amendment also set the minimum patrol members focused on the act at six. The bill advanced to incorporate the amendments, 26-1.