Welcome to a new year of Legislative Updates from Voices for Children in Nebraska! While Nebraska’s 102nd Legislature has only been in session for a week, over 300 bills and resolutions have already been introduced. Many of these directly impact our state’s children and families.
Throughout Legislative Session, we’ll be bringing you weekly updates on the measures the Legislature is considering that affect Nebraska’s children and families the most. We’ll also let you know how we’re using our voice to advocate on their behalf and what you can do to help.
Throughout session if you have any policy-related questions, comments, or concerns don’t hesitate to contact us.
Since July 2009, Nebraska has been in the midst of privatizing its child welfare system (read the Voices for Children summary here). On January 3, the state turned over ongoing case management in the Eastern and Southeastern Service Areas to private lead contractors, KVC & NFC. The decision to further privatize was made while the legislature was out of session, and Senators are now making their concerns heard and taking a number of steps to try to improve the child welfare system. Below are a list of measures that have been introduced up to this point. Also watch for a Legislative Resolution in the coming days that will charge the HHS Committee to examine child welfare reform efforts in the state.
- LB 79 (McGill): Would establish a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Fund to increase training and recruitment, expand CASA to new counties in Nebraska, and encourage innovation. Funds would be provided by a new $1.25 filing fee. Hearing: Judiciary Committee,Thursday, Jan. 20 at 1:30 PM in Room 1113
- LB 80 (McGill): Would remove the presumption in statute that DHHS’ case plan (now created by lead agencies) is in the best interest of the child. This would allow judges to consider testimony from all parties involved equally.
- LB 92 (Howard): Would require DHHS and private lead contractors to follow national caseload standards. It also would require that DHHS submit a report on caseloads by July 1 of each year and suspend the CEO without pay until the report is received.
- LB 94 (Howard): Would allow adoptive parents to read a child’s case file after submitting a petition for adoption. Hearing: Judiciary Committee, Thursday, Jan. 20 at 1:30 PM in Room 1113.
- LB 95 (Howard): Would require lead contractors to be nationally accredited.
- LB 177 (Campbell): Would address parts of Fostering Connections, including kinship care, sibling placement, and independent-living transition plans.
- LB 199 (Dubas): Would require DHHS to create a methodology for payment of foster parents and would require all contractors to provide timely payment consistent with the methodology.
Over the first week of session a number of bills that directly affect families’ economic opportunities and access to health care have been introduced. While Voices for Children has not yet decided on our priority bills here are a couple we’ll be watching closely.
- LB221 (Janssen): Would require the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a program to screen ADC recipients for use of controlled substances the results of which would impact eligibility. Voices for Children is concerned that this bill could create additional financial hardships for vulnerable children.
- LB240 (Nordquist): Would create the Nebraska Insurance Choices Exchange Task Force which would study, evaluate, and develop recommendations on establishing a state health insurance exchange as required by federal law. The goals of this task force include developing recommendations to reduce the number of individuals who lack health insurance, decreasing health care costs, and providing consumer education.
- LB269 (Conrad): Would increase licensing fees for Payday Lenders and establish a Financial Literacy Fund as the recipient of these fees. The Financial Literacy Fund would support non-profit groups offering financial education to children in grades K-12.
On Friday, January 7, two different measures were introduced that address the issue of JLWOP in Nebraska. This May, the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that JLWOP sentences for non-homicide cases were unconstitutional. The ruling was based on youth being less culpable for their crimes and more capable of change since their brains, social, emotional, and impulse control are still developing.
- LB 202 (Council): Based on California legislation, this bill would allow for JLWOP cases to be resentenced after the person serving the term has served a certain number of years, starting with 25 in 2011, and moving to 15 depending on the sentencing date.
- LB 203 (Council): Would remove the life without parole sentence and replace it with a term of 50 years to life for those 16 and older at the time of the crime, and 40 years to life for those under 16 at the time of the crime. Those sentenced would be eligible for parole after 20 to 25 years.
For more information on the issue visit the Nebraska Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.