In Nebraska, bills that advance out of the Legislature and are signed by the Governor typically become law three months after the Legislature has adjourned sine die, unless the bill contains an emergency clause, rendering it in effect upon approval by the Governor. With all bills passed during the 2015 session now in effect for several weeks or longer, we decided to take a look at what this year’s biggest policy changes mean for children and families in our state.
LB 15 – Originally written to update existing laws regarding the Guardians ad Litem (GALs) assigned to represent children in abuse or neglect proceedings, LB 15 was eventually passed with an emergency clause requiring the Supreme Court of Nebraska to enact standards for GALs, thereby providing a mechanism for judges to hold underperforming attorneys accountable.
LB 15 became operative on April 30, and the Supreme Court adopted changes on June 24, clarifying the duties and roles of GALs to better serve a child’s legal and best interests in court.
LB 243 – Under this bill, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will establish a Family Finding pilot project in at least two of its service areas. The Family Finding model seeks to locate and engage family members of children in foster care, with the goal of legal and emotional permanency. The department will refer a portion of all cases in the selected pilot areas to Family Finding providers.
As amended, LB 243 also included provisions from LB 441 that makes important changes to the Bridge to Independence (b2i) program, which provides important supports and services for youth aging out of foster care until the age of 21. Now, youth aged 16 or older may choose to participate in the b2i in lieu of an extended guardianship subsidy if they have entered into a guardianship agreement. Additionally, youth who entered into a subsidized guardianship or adoption are eligible for Medicaid coverage up to 21. Finally, all youth aged 16 or older exiting foster care must have an independence hearing that addresses goals and plans, supports and services, and information about the b2i program.
The Family Finding sections of the bill took effect on August 30, while the b2i changes became operative on May 28.
LB 566 – Important changes to the Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Act (NICWA) took effect in August with the passage of this bill, which strengthen children’s rights and the state’s obligations in judicial proceedings involving Native children. The bill builds upon existing state law to strengthen and clarify procedures to ultimately enhance family and cultural connections for Native American children and families involved in the child welfare system.
Changes to the NICWA took effect on August 30.
Stay tuned for more updates on new laws that took effect after the 2015 Legislative session!