Back in January, lawmakers and advocates declared that the 2012 Legislative Session would be the “Session of Children.” Looking back at the conclusion of the session, we see that still holds true. 2012 was a busy session for Voices for Children in Nebraska. We testified on a record number of bills and had many of our priority bills pass.
Legislators took promising first steps towards comprehensive reform of Nebraska’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems this session. Bills that came out of the LR 37 interim study have laid a foundation for stakeholder involvement, strategic planning and evaluation, and greater system stability. Most importantly, clear caseload standards along with the funding to make them a reality will reduce the confusion children and families have undergone from constant transition and instability. In the years to come, Nebraska can make policy decisions to safely and effectively reduce the number of children we remove from their homes from the base of a stable child welfare system.
Legislators rejected a proposal that would have moved the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers to the Department of Corrections, instead devoting funds for more staff and limiting the age of admission to 14 years of age instead of twelve. The Unicameral made important strides towards keeping more youth involved in the juvenile justice system in their homes and communities, transferring over $8 million for a pilot project run by the Office of Probation in Douglas County, Scottsbluff, and North Platte (the 4th, 11th, and 12th Judicial Districts).
One of the most significant victories for kids this session was the restoration of prenatal care for all low-income Nebraska babies. Nebraska provided this care until a policy change in 2010. We know that prenatal care can prevent a variety of health and developmental issues that can impact a child throughout his or her life. Small investments in prenatal care can save money by preventing the costs associated with health and developmental issues. Thanks to the passage of LB 599, Nebraska will return to its longstanding policy of ensuring that all babies have access to this essential care under Medicaid.
One unfortunate loss for kids this session was the defeat of LB 1020. This bill was initially passed by the Legislature but vetoed by the governor. LB 1020 would have provided grant funding for the start-up costs associated with school-based health centers. School-based health centers are an innovative model for providing health care to children who might otherwise lack access. The bill failed to garner enough votes for the veto to be overridden, but we hope that the Legislature will consider funding this in the future.
Another important policy change this session was the passage of LB 825, which restores in-person access to public benefit programs. Many Nebraskans were struggling to access public benefit programs through the new online and phone service system. LB 825 will ensure that struggling children and families who need assistance can have in-person access to these services if they need it.
Another concern for the future of our state’s children was the passage of LB 970, which provided a small cut to income taxes. Although Voices for Children supports tax cuts for lower and middle income families, we opposed this bill because it will result in a significant increase in the state budget shortfall. Budget shortfalls have historically resulted in cuts to services for children and families, and we believe that it is irresponsible to shortchange children’s health and education for a tax cut that only provides a very minimal amount to most Nebraska families. We hope that the Legislature will work to persevere investments in children in spite of measures passed over the last two years that are likely to create challenges to the state budget.
Child Welfare Legislation
Juvenile Justice Legislation
Economic Well-Being Legislation