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Nebraska Legislature convenes its 2021 session

by Adam Feser, First Five Nebraska Policy Advisor

The 107th Nebraska Legislature was gaveled into session yesterday for its 90-day first session. Eight new senators were sworn in and 17 senators took an oath for their second terms. New senators are Raymond Aguilar (District 35), Eliot Bostar (District 29), John Cavanaugh (District 9), Jen Day (District 49), Mike Flood (District 19), Terrell McKinney (District 11), Rich Pahls (District 31) and Rita Sanders (District 45).    

Senators sworn in for a second term were Joni Albrecht (District 17), Carol Blood (District 3), Bruce Bostelman (District 23), Tom Brewer (District 43), Tom Briese (District 41), Steve Erdman (District 47), Suzanne Geist (District 25), Steve Halloran (District 33), Mike Hilgers (District 21), Lou Ann Linehan (District 39), John Lowe (District 37), Mike McDonnell (District 5), Julie Slama (District 1), Tony Vargas (District 7), Lynne Walz (District 15), Justin Wayne (District 13) and Anna Wishart (District 27).

Speaker, committee chairs elected
One of the first items of business was to elect a new Speaker of the Legislature and standing committee chairs. Congratulations to these senators:

Speaker: Mike Hilgers
Executive Board Chair: Dan Hughes
(District 44)
Executive Board Vice Chair: Tony Vargas
Appropriations Committee: John Stinner
(District 48)
Business and Labor Committee: Ben Hansen (District 16)
Education Committee: Lynne Walz
Health and Human Services Committee: John Arch
(District 14)
Revenue Committee: Lou Ann Linehan
Committee on Committees: Robert Hilkeman
(District 4)

Senators may introduce bills through January 20, the tenth day of the session. Again this year, FFN will compile a Legislation to Watch list of bills with potential to affect early childhood that we’ll follow and provide updates on throughout the session. Look for a blog post on our watch list later this month.

Each bill introduced in the Legislature receives a hearing before a committee, which then votes whether to advance it to the full Legislature for debate. Senators typically spend their days in debate followed by committee hearings until all bills have been heard. However, the usual processes of the Legislature likely will look different this session due to COVID-19, as they did when the Legislature reconvened last summer after suspending the session in March.

Must pass a budget
Because 2021 is the first year of the two-year legislative biennium, one of senators’ main tasks this year is to pass a biennium budget. Legislators are expected to address and debate many other important issues this session. Economic difficulties from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to burden businesses and families, with child care being no exception. The Governor has proposed that Nebraska address prison overcrowding by building a new prison estimated to cost $230 million and, because 2020 was a Census year, senators need to formulate a statewide redistricting plan. They also likely will debate issues surrounding police reform this year.

The child care industry is experiencing extremely challenging circumstances amid the pandemic, and First Five Nebraska and senators will look to offer support this legislative session. A bill to incentivize the flow of private dollars into child care will be introduced, as will a bill examining eligibility for child care subsidy and how providers may bill for those children. First Five Nebraska will support a bill to fix a language issue in the Step Up to Quality Child Care Act to help providers looking to grow their businesses. There will be additional bills related to child care, including one on the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System (NECPRS).

We'll post our list of Legislation to Watch list on our FFN Nebraska Legislation website page later this month.

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