A little more than a year ago, the Legislature’s “Session of Children” adjourned after lots of hard work and heated debate. As the 2013 Legislative Session drew to a close and more bills crossed the finish line, it is incredibly encouraging to see that the Legislature’s commitment to investing in children hasn’t waned. Not only has the Legislature maintained their commitment to maintaining last year’s victories for kids, but they are also willing to go a step further and take on new challenges.
A complete list of bills are below. Here are a few highlights:
This year, the Legislature built upon its work from last year’s child welfare reform bills in a number of important ways. LB 265 removed barriers to placing children in the foster care system with adults they know, love and trust like godparents, coaches, and teachers. The bill also made licensure more accessible for relative and kinship homes. Studies have shown that when children are raised by loved ones the trauma and loss from parental separation are both reduced.
Lawmakers also gave approval to other important measures that invested additional dollars in our child welfare system. LB 216 extends voluntary services and supports to youth who have yet to find a permanent, loving home between the ages of 19 and 21, easing the transition to adulthood. LB 530 takes steps towards fair payment to foster parents.
One of the major accomplishments of the 2013 legislative session, were the steps taken towards comprehensive juvenile justice reform. LB 561 overhauls our current juvenile justice system, invests an additional $14.5 million and places a focus on keeping kids out of the juvenile justice system unnecessarily, ensuring they can access services close to their homes and communities, and reducing Nebraska’s reliance on detention and incarceration. Over the course of the next year, many of the responsibilities for the juvenile justice system will be transferred from the Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) to Office of Probation Administration, part of the judicial branch. Nebraska’s Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs) will remain open and under OJS, although a report is due to the Legislature on December 1, 2013 on recommendations for their future.
The Legislature also took some other important steps. LB 44 brought Nebraska into compliance with the Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision, ending mandatory life without parole for youth. LB 464 advanced to Select File, where it awaits debate next year. The bill would ensure the cases of all youth begin in juvenile court.
The Legislature took a step forward in helping more children access behavioral health services with the passage of LB 556. This bill allows for the expanded use of teleheath, which connects providers with children when they cannot be physically present in the same location. The bill also created a pilot project on integrating behavioral health screenings into primary care settings. The pilot project will last for 2 years and results will be reported back to the Legislature.
The Legislature failed to pass LB 577, which would have allowed adults with incomes of up to 133% of the federal poverty level to access health insurance through Medicaid. This change would have impacted an estimated 55,000 Nebraskans and the failure to pass this bill will leave a gap in insurance availability as the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented in January 2014. LB 577 was stalled by a filibuster on General File and we hope that the Legislature will work to make progress on this issue over the interim.
The Legislature made significant progress on early childhood with the passage of LB 507. This bill establishes a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for child care programs that will be mandatory for centers receiving large amounts of public funds. The rating system will allow parents and providers to assess the quality of care being provided and give providers a pathway to make improvements. The bill will also provide higher payment rates for quality care. The bill increased eligibility for child care assistance for the first time since it was cut in 2002. Eligibility will increase from 120% of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 125% FPL in 2014 and 130% FPL in 2015. This change will help ensure that more kids are in a safe place while their parents work.
Taxes and Budget
The Legislature passed a moderate budget that starts to make smart and targeted investments that the state has not had funding for in recent years. After several years of budget cuts, the 2014-2015 biennial budget invests in things like home visiting and education that can help improve the quality of life for our state’s children and families.
Proposals to eliminate or drastically reduce the income tax and rely more heavily on regressive forms of taxation like sales tax were handily defeated. LB 405 and LB 406 were indefinitely postponed and the Legislature instead chose to create a committee to study tax policy over the interim and make recommendations with the goal of making changes to state tax policy in 2014. Voices for Children will continue to monitor major changes to our state tax structure and support a revenue structure that allows for adequate community investments and does not increase taxes on lower income Nebraska families.
Safety – Child Welfare
LB 216: Extending Supports and Services for State Wards (to 21 years old)
Safety – Juvenile Justice
LB 44: Eliminating Juvenile Life without Parole (JLWOP)