LINCOLN--Health care, mountain lions and programs for veterans were among topics discussed this week at the Capitol, as committee hearings wrap up at the end of February.
Chambers tames Game and Parks decision
A bill, introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, would repeal the law passed in 2012 that authorized the state Game and Parks Commission to hold a mountain lion hunting season.
LB 671 was advanced from the general file by a wide margin on Feb. 21.
Chambers said claims of dangerous mountain lions cannot be backed up with data.
"When people give these anecdotal stories, it goes against all data and scientific studies out there," he said. "These animals can and should be managed by Game and Parks, but not through a hunting season."
The bill also would eliminate limited permits currently issued to farmers and ranchers to kill mountain lions preying on their livestock or poultry.
An amendment from the Natural Resources Committee would retain the provision currently in place that allows farmers and ranchers to kill a mountain lion they perceive to be a threat. The amendment was adopted 36-0.
Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln supported the bill in floor debate, saying there is no evidence to suggest a hunting season is needed.
"Why do we need a season? Is it just for the pleasure of certain hunters who are seeking a trophy?" he said. "Mountain lions are not like deer, they're not overpopulated and don't provide food suitable for human consumption."
Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala opposed the bill. He said the Legislature should let the experts make determinations of wildlife management.
"I hope we're not going to jump back and forth on issues like this and make it look like we don't know what we're doing," he said. "We should allow Game and Parks to do their job."
Lawmakers voted to advance the bill to select file on a 31-5 vote.
Health care: how good?
The Health and Human Services Committee heard a proposal Feb. 21 to continue to examine how best to control costs and improve quality in Nebraska's health care system.
Legislative Resolution 422, introduced by Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, would build on a 2013 resolution, which designated the committee, in cooperation with the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee, to evaluate the state's health care system.
The previous resolution resulted in a conference involving policymakers and stakeholders that examined what the state's health care system will look like in 15 years, Campbell said.
"We have reintroduced this concept in LR 422 to continue the work that was started," she said, "We want to continue to provide a comprehensive review."
The review would include consideration of expanding health care delivery to rural and medically underserved areas and considering possible loan forgiveness for health are providers who practice in designated underserved counties.
Mental health care for vets
Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln introduced LB 1105 to the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 20. The bill would establish court programs that would hold accountable military veterans and service members who violate the law and provide treatment for their mental health needs.
Military personnel who come into contact with the justice system have unique problems that need special consideration, McGill said.
"The Legislature needs to acknowledge in an official way that a high number of veterans and service members experience mental health problems and/or substance abuse addiction," she said. "And those who come into contact with the justice system should have the opportunity to receive treatment as a priority."
Jim Cada of the Nebraska State Bar Association testified in support of the bill, saying a military-specific court program would be similar to alternate criminal justice programs created for drug offenders. Specialized court programs for military personnel are important, he said, because judges and staff members would be trained to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues unique to those offenders.
No one testified against the bill, and the committee took no immediate action on it.