With the 2014 legislative session all wrapped up, it’s time to reflect on all of the hard work that has been done at the Capitol this year for kids in Nebraska. The victories at the Legislature this year have shown us that working to improve the well-being of children across the state takes a great deal of commitment and collaboration. Although it is a challenging task and plenty of work remains, we are pleased to see that our state Legislature has continued to make investments in Nebraska’s children and future.
You can find our full Sine Die Summary of Bills below, but a few highlights from this session include:
The Legislature passed LB 359 aimed at addressing the “cliff effect” in the child care subsidy program where a small raise pushes a family over the eligibility threshold and makes child care unaffordable. Families will now be allowed a 10 percent earned income disregard for ongoing assistance at their annual review. The bill was also amended to include a bill that helps ensure that families on public benefits aren’t penalized for pursuing higher education.
The Legislature also took an important step aimed at improving the efficiency of our public programs by establishing a committee to make recommendations to address the ongoing problems with our Access Nebraska public benefits application system.
Nevertheless, the Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour. Our Family Bottom Line report released earlier this year showed that Nebraska families can’t survive on $7.25 per hour.
Additionally, the Legislature didn’t take action on a bill that would have streamlined asset limits in our public benefit programs. This would have helped make our public programs work better for both participants and program staff.
The Legislature also failed to pass a bill that would have helped more kids have access to the School Breakfast Program. Nebraska currently ranks almost last in the nation for the number of eligible kids participating in the school breakfast program.
The Legislature also took a step forward in child health with the passage of LB 505 (now LB 254) to ensure that more insurance companies are required to cover effective early intervention treatment for kids diagnosed with Autism.
Nebraska passed another significant overhaul of its juvenile justice system, LB 464. The most significant part of this bill requires that the cases of most youth start in juvenile court rather than adult criminal court. This will not only make it easier for youth to be held accountable in more appropriate, effective ways, but will also improve public safety. The bill also reformed a recent Nebraska law requiring students automatically be referred to the court system after missing a certain number of school days. With the passage of LB 464, schools are now required to work collaboratively with students and parents to address barriers to attendance, making court involvement a last resort.
For the many youth in the child welfare system who linger for long periods of time in foster care or age out of the system, the Legislature passed LB 908. The bill creates a better system for permanent guardianship, which is especially important for kinship families.
In another victory for child welfare, the Legislature authorized the implementation and evaluation of an alternative response pilot project in Nebraska, with the passage of LB 853. Instead of a one-size –fits all front door, our child welfare system will better be able to keep kids safe by partnering with their families in low and moderate-risk cases.