Legislative Update: May 25, 2017

The Legislature adjourned Sine Die (which literally means without any future date being designated) on Tuesday. and are scheduled to convene next January for a 60-day session.

This was a tough session in many respects. The state faced a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion, which forced the Appropriations Committee to implement budget cuts and cash fund transfers. Never before has our state faced a budget shortfall of this magnitude by implementing cuts alone. In previous sessions, they also increased state revenues by expanding the tax base and increasing tax where it made sense. The debate between spending and revenue largely dominated the session and will certainly come back in some form next session.

In spite of this, we also had some really great victories this session. The Women’s Fund is proud to do this work with all of you. Thank you for calling your senators, emailing them, meeting with them, and more! Your voices were critical to help hold the line against bad legislation and to amplify good legislation, and we will need them even more in the year ahead.

During the interim, we will spend time on key legislative resolutions and explore how to move forward critical issues. Below are more details on our policy priorities and where they stand at the end of this session.

We look forward to continuing our efforts to build support for policy solutions to tackle gender equity through women’s leadership, economic security, sexual literacy and ending violence against women. As we do, we look forward to working with you to improve the lives of women in girls across our great state.

Thank you for standing with us. Read on to learn more about how we fared in our priority areas:

Trafficking

This session, we had a major victory for anti-trafficking efforts. LB 289 raises penalties for traffickers and those who solicit trafficked individuals, and increases protections for survivors. LB 289 was also amended to include the following sexual and domestic violence provisions that will:

  • Establish a sexual assault protection order;
  • Close the gap on renewal for domestic violence protection orders; and
  • Allow a victim of sexual assault to seek termination of the parental rights of the perpetrator if the court finds it is in the best interest of the child.

The bill’s sponsor and champion, Senator Pansing Brooks, and all the senators to who signed onto the bill were critical to get this bill to the finish line! Additionally, Senator Schumacher’s contributions were invaluable; his objections to the original bill gave us the opportunity to develop and strengthen it, making it a better piece of legislation. Read more in this Omaha World-Herald editorial.

Payday lending

LB 194, a bill sponsored by Senators Vargas and Linehan which would have increased protections for payday loan consumers, did not make it out of the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. Though this was a blow for those advocating for policies for economic self-sufficiency, the bill is still alive. The Women’s Fund and our partners will be working to move this issue forward before the next session begins. We will not back down from an issue that harms so many.

Paid family and medical leave

Though we fought hard for paid family and medical leave, LB 305 did not make it out of the Business and Labor Committee. We will be working with Senator Crawford, the bill’s sponsor, and our partners in the interim to continue to push for this vital program, which is critical for the economic well-being and self-sufficiency of families.

Equal pay

Equal pay was on our minds as the legislature took steps to address the issue of wage gaps this session through LB 354, which was introduced by Senator Kolowski. LR 143, sponsored by Senators Kolowski and Pansing Brooks, resolves to conduct a study during the interim that will look into pay disparities based on gender and race, and focus on methods for eliminating wage gaps. This study will be useful to inform future legislation to abolish discriminatory disparities in wages.

Family planning

While LB 120, which would have drawn federal funds for family planning services, did not get out of committee, we had a couple  important victories around family planning this session.

  • The state’s budget bill, LB 327, aimed to divert Title X funding away from clinics that focus on family planning services and related health care. This would have created serious barriers to healthcare for thousands of Nebraskans who count on those clinics for care. These clinics are particularly important for low-income, rural families. Because of our supporters and the hard work of our partners, senators heard our voices and removed that part of the bill, which means four major clinics around the state will stay open.
  • LB 427, introduced by Senator Vargas, was amended to add in LB 428 and was passed by the Legislature by a solid majority. This bill will ensure pregnant and parenting students have the support they need to successfully complete their education.

Taxes and Budget

In addition to the issues above, we also worked alongside many partners to thwart efforts to pass LB 461, a tax cut package that, once fully implemented, would have cost $458 million per year in state revenue. As we have said before, at a time when we are facing a massive budget shortfall, it is irresponsible to even consider income tax cuts. This issue will continue to be a hot topic during the interim and as we move towards the next legislative session. Please continue to communicate with your senator as to why you oppose tax cut measures that will drain state revenues and force even further budget cuts that impact women and girls.

Early on, we were concerned the budget would include a devastating cut to domestic violence and sexual assault programs, as the Department of Health and Human Services was eyeing to reduce those programs by 50%. Working with our partners, we successfully stopped such a cut.

However, there were budget cuts to other programs that will impact vulnerable Nebraskans. The Appropriations Committee presented a bill that balanced the state’s budget with a mixture of cuts and cash fund transfers. The Governor returned the budget with some line item vetoes that made further cuts to provider rates under Medicaid, Behavioral Health Aid, Child Welfare Aid, and Developmentally Disabled Aid

These budget cuts will have a serious impact on people’s lives, on their ability to rise to their challenges. We are especially concerned about how these cuts will impact low-income women and girls. Please reach out and share stories that represent the human impact so that as we move to the next session we can demonstrate the toll such cuts have on people and communities.

In addition, we will keep our ears to the ground for any indication of a special session should state revenue projections continue to decline.

Thank you all again for your support– though the next session doesn’t begin until next January, we’ll be working hard in the interim and keeping you updated! We’re excited to continue working on critical issues that will improve the lives of women and girls in Nebraska, so that all Nebraskans have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

One thought on “Legislative Update: May 25, 2017

  1. - Sally Bernhardt

    Thank you all for your hard work on these important legislative topics. The women of Omaha will continue to work hard to support your efforts!

    Reply

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