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Senator Hansen’s “Cottage Foods” Bill Up For Debate Soon


Greetings to all in District 16 and the surrounding region.  As the recovery from the flooding progresses I want to thank all the volunteers who’ve donated time, money, and resources to the victims of the flooding.  I’ve seen many stories on social media and in the newspapers about the incredible support pouring into Nebraska from around the country.  Times like these are good reminders that treating people with love, respect, and dignity is still the foundation of our culture.  I hope you all are as encouraged as I am by the response people have had to those affected by the flood.  We are all truly blessed to live in America, and specifically Nebraska!

This was the final week of public hearings in the legislature.  I greatly enjoyed being part of the Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Business and Labor Committees this year.  In each of these committees, I was able to utilize my education and experience to represent the many interests of our district.  It was a great learning experience and I am excited about serving on these committees during the next session.

Since committee hearings have wrapped up for the year we will move to full days of debate starting on April 2nd.  Though we’ve accomplished a fair amount so far, we have quite a ways to go before the session ends on June 6th.  We can expect the remainder of the session to filled with debate on property tax relief, corrections issues, industrial hemp, a new business tax incentive package, and budget issues.  The Revenue Committee has yet to release its package of property tax relief bills and neither has the Appropriations Committee released its proposed state budget.  These two topics alone will be the subject of vigorous and extended debate.  On the floor this week I made a statement about the time that is wasted in the Legislature when we could be discussing important topics like property tax relief.  I’m hopeful we can begin discussing tax relief soon now that committee hearings have ended.

My priority bill, LB 304, will be up for debate soon on the floor.  Though I wrote about it briefly in last week’s column, I want to refresh everyone a bit.  This bill is referred to as a “cottage foods” bill and would allow producers to sell the same low-risk cottage foods already sold at farmers markets from their homes or at other events.  The foods sold must be shelf-stable baked goods or other products not required to be time or temperature controlled.  To bring this bill out of committee, I worked on an amendment that would require producers to take and pass a food handler’s class, have their well water tested if served by a private well, and register with the Department of Agriculture.  By including these non-burdensome requirements, I was able to ensure senator and stakeholder concerns were met and there was no opposition to the bill.  I expect this bill will face little opposition during debate, and I’m excited about the positive effect it will have for many constituents in District 16.

If you have questions or comments, please contact the District 16 office at (402)-471-2728 to speak with my Administrative Assistant, Ellie Stangl; or my Legislative Aide, Jacob Campbell.  You can also email me at bhansen@leg.ne.gov.  To follow along with the session please visit nebraskalegislature.gov or you may watch the live stream when available at netnebraska.org

 

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Senator Brasch to Present Two Bills


By Senator Lydia Brasch

Week eight of the first biennium of the 105th Legislature consisted of days 32 through 35 of the 90-day session. Monday, February 20th was a recess day in observance of President’s Day.

 

On Tuesday, the Agriculture Committee had a hearing on LB 617, a bill that would legalize and regulate the production of hemp as an agricultural product in Nebraska.  LB 617 is modeled after a similar law in Kentucky.  Both the Kentucky law and LB 617 take advantage of a provision of the 2014 Farm Bill, passed by Congress, which allows industrial hemp to be grown for research by either state universities or a state’s Department of Agriculture.  LB 617 would establish a commission within the Department of Agriculture that would license growers.  Although there seems to be increasing desire to grow industrial hemp as an alternative crop, there is concern that the Kentucky industrial hemp program, replicated by LB 617, allows commercial production of hemp beyond what is allowed under the 2014 Farm Bill.  Furthermore, as defined in the Federal Controlled Substances Act, industrial hemp falls under the umbrella of marijuana because both contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a schedule 1 controlled substance.  Until Congress removes industrial hemp from the controlled substances list, there remains considerable risk in allowing it to be grown for commercial purposes.

 

On Wednesday, the Revenue Committee heard public testimony on LB 312, 313, and 563, all of which either eliminated many sales tax exemptions or increased the sales tax rate by 1 percent. I stated in my previous column that I do not support eliminating tax exemptions, and that I do not support raising the amount of sales tax imposed by the state of Nebraska. My position has not changed. A focus on fixing the problems that are inherent in the valuation of agriculture land is, I believe, the better path to take, which is why I introduced LB 338. This bill would require that agricultural land be valued by an income-based potential rather than market value.

 

Last week the Legislature advanced LB 62 to Select File by a vote of 36-1-8. This bill repeals two sections of statute that prohibit teachers in our public schools from wearing any religious garb. The statutes were written in such a way, however, that clothing which conveys some type of secular message was not prohibited, such as political speech or slogans. Because of this, there is a strong argument that these statutes are in violation of the First Amendment, specifically the Free Exercise clause. The lifting of the ban will apply to all religions, thereby ensuring that the Establishment clause of the First Amendment is not violated. I voted in favor of this bill.

 

On Friday, March 3, I will be presenting two bills to two different committees, namely LB 309 to the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee, and LB 466 to the Health and Human Services Committee. If you are able I encourage you to come to our public hearings to testify on these bills and others. LB 309 would exempt the state of Nebraska from participating in daylight saving time. State representatives in Iowa, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, and the big state of Texas, as well as representatives from many other states on the east and west coasts, have introduced legislation to exempt their states from daylight saving time.

 

LB 466 would eliminate the requirement that certified nurse-midwives be required to be overseen by a physician – what is known as the integrated practice agreement. This change would allow certified nurse-midwives to practice in areas where there may not be a physician in their geographic area, thereby allowing greater mobility in the practice of nurse-midwives and more access to the kind of specialized care that many pregnant women desire.

 

Please contact me, my administrative aide, Courtney McClellen; my legislative aide, Brett Waite; or Rick Leonard, the Research Analyst with questions or concerns at (402) 471-2728 or by email at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov; or stop by Room 1022 (please note we have changed office location, two doors south of  previous office) if you are in the State Capitol. If you would like to follow the Legislature online you can visit http://netnebraska.org/basic-page/television/live-demand-state-government. Live broadcasting is also available on NET2.

Center Urges Support for Medicaid Redesign Act


*Jon Bailey will be at the Unicameral today, testifying in support of LB 472 and specifically discussing details of the new Center for Rural Affairs report entitled, LB 472 and Leveraging Federal Dollars to Reform Corrections. His written testimony is available here: http://www.cfra.org/sites/www.cfra.org/files/LB472testimony.pdf
Lincoln, Nebraska – Today at the Unicameral, the Health and Human Services Committee is hearing public testimony on LB 472 – a legislative proposal that would help redesign Nebraska’s Medicaid program and close the existing health care coverage gap for low-income, working Nebraskans.
“The Center for Rural Affairs supports LB 472, the Medicaid Redesign Act, for all of the supportive reasons you are hearing today and the for the reasons we supported LB 887 in 2014 and LB 577 in 2013,” said Jon Bailey, Director of Rural Policy at the Center for Rural Affairs. “We support providing health insurance to thousands of low-income working Nebraskans who are unable to obtain traditional Medicaid coverage, who do not have access to employer-sponsored private insurance, and who are unable to afford insurance plans in the health insurance marketplace, and thus fall into a coverage gap not of their making.”
Nebraska is losing over $930,000 every day by failing to provide health coverage to its low-income, working citizens and the federal funding that will provide it. Since January 1, 2014, Nebraska has lost a total of over $391 million in available federal Medicaid funds, Bailey added.
For an up to the minute figure on Medicaid dollars lost to Nebraska, see the Center for Rural Affairs Medicaid Gap Counter at: http://www.cfra.org/news/141103/medicaid-expansion-bring-our-tax-dollars-home
“Today we come in support of LB 472 for another reason,” Bailey testified. “Today, in conjunction with Nebraska Appleseed, we released a report,  LB 472 and Leveraging Federal Dollars to Reform Corrections, showing the benefits of a redesigned Medicaid program to our corrections program, our corrections population and the state’s taxpayers.”
“Nebraska clearly has issues in its corrections programs that affect the state’s taxpayers and public safety. Just as clear is the connection between mental health and substance abuse treatment and criminal offenses and recidivism. Examples from initiatives in other states and long-term research show that this connection can be addressed through mental health and substance abuse treatment to low-income people where needed and to offenders released from the corrections population or on parole or probation.”
Jon Bailey, Center for Rural Affairs
Bailey provided a copy of the Center’s report to the Committee and it can also be viewed or downloaded here:http://www.cfra.org/LB472-Reform-Corrections
Bailey further explained to the Committee, based upon Nebraska corrections data, findings from other states, and findings from research on the connections between Medicaid and health insurance coverage, necessary treatments, and criminal justice system outcomes, that:
  • A lack of mental health services and substance abuse treatment is a primary cause of re-offending, recidivism and a return to jail or prison.
  • A redesigned Nebraska Medicaid program such as proposed in LB 472 would help keep nearly 400 people from returning to prison in one year.
  • A redesigned Nebraska Medicaid program such as proposed in LB 472 would result in gross savings to the state’s correctional budget of nearly $11 million in one year.
  • A redesigned Nebraska Medicaid program could save additional state and county dollars that have already been invested or will be invested in corrections reform.
“Research clearly shows recidivism can come from a lack of health coverage,” continued Bailey. “There is a consensus among national and Nebraska research and analysis that mental health and substance abuse treatment are what many in the corrections population need. Examples from national research and from other states clearly show linking people to coverage and necessary treatments work in reducing criminal offenses and recidivism.”
Since traditional Medicaid is unavailable to most of the correctional population and private health insurance is unattainable, Nebraska needs LB 472 to make these necessary connections. The Nebraska taxpayer and public safety, as well as those in the corrections population, will all be beneficiaries, Bailey concluded.
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