The Nebraska Legislature just passed the halfway point of this year’s 90-day session. All bills introduced this session have received a public committee hearing and full-day floor debate begins April 2.
Several early childhood bills are working their way through the Legislature and one, LB160, was passed and signed into law by Governor Ricketts. LB160 allows communities to access economic development funds to create or expand child care infrastructure. We supported this legislation and testified in support. Read our testimony on LB160.
Property tax, Medicaid
Property tax relief has been at the top of most senators’ priority list, and they continue to work toward a solution. TEEOSA—the school funding formula—is closely tied to property taxes and many senators believe the formula needs to be changed. Medicaid expansion, passed by voters in the November 2018 election, will require funding and a plan from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The Legislature is also considering a new business development and tax incentive program to replace the Nebraska Advantage Act. As the state works to attract a qualified workforce and higher paying jobs, many senators believe Nebraska needs to modernize its incentive program. On February 28, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board voted to decrease revenue projections. Like last year, the budget debate will be contentious as senators work to ensure state programs and priorities are fully funded. In addition to these priorities, a state response to the natural disasters that devastated much of Nebraska in March is also needed. The deadline for budget bills to be on General File is May 2 (Day 70) and the deadline for budget bills to be passed is May 22 (Day 80). The Legislature will adjourn sine die on June 6.
In addition to the major issues dominating this legislative session, senators, committees and Speaker JIm Scheer have selected their priority bills. Each senator may prioritize one bill, committees two bills and the Speaker 25 bills. Priority status means bills jump to the front of the agenda for floor debate after they’re voted out of committee. Non-prioritized bills still in committee may not get their chance to be heard on the floor this session. Bills will be held over for the 2020 session, however.
Update on Early Childhood Bills
LB266 enables family child care home business owners and child care providers designated as S corporations to access the School Readiness Tax Credit, as was originally intended. First Five Nebraska worked with Senator Brett Lindstrom to introduce this legislation, and testified in support. It was voted out of the Revenue Committee and placed on General File. Without a priority designation, LB266 faces an uphill battle to make it to floor debate this session.
LB590 empowers licensed child care providers to report required trainings to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services electronically using the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System (NECPRS). Doing so would create cost and procedural efficiencies for DHHS and providers. We worked with DHHS and the Nebraska Department of Education on this bill, with both departments and First Five Nebraska testifying in support at the hearing. It was debated on the floor and passed to Select File without any opposing votes. It appears likely to be signed into law this session.
LB66 required cities to assess their current availability and utilization of licensed child care providers as part of their comprehensive plans. We supported this legislation and testified in support at the hearing. The bill was debated on the floor but failed to advance. Read First Five Nebraska’s testimony in support of LB66.
LB329, LB341 and LB459 will expand eligibility for the child care subsidy, implement a graduated phase-out as required by federal regulations and implement fingerprint background checks for licensed child care providers as required by federal regulations, respectively. The bills are still in committee. Nebraska risks a 4% penalty to its Child Care Development Fund for failure to implement the graduated phase-out and a 5% penalty for failure to implement FBI fingerprint background checks. We testified in support of LB341 and LB459. The Health and Human Services Committee has been considering amendments to the bills and possibly combining them. Read our testimony on LB341 and LB459.
LB165 is the Too Young to Suspend Act, which means children in early education programs and kindergarten in public schools cannot be suspended except under specific circumstances. This bill remains in the Education Committee.
LB311 is the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. It was debated on the floor, but did not have support to overcome a filibuster and get to a vote.
LB358 uses several tools to incentivize school districts to open preschools. This bill seems unlikely to make it out of the Education Committee.
LB564 revises the definition of facilities eligible to receive grant funding under the Civic Community Center Financing Fund. Under the revision, multi-use facilities that include child care may quality for funding. This bill is currently in the Urban Affairs Committee.
LB720, or the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, is a new business develovpment and tax incentive program and a replacement for the Nebraska Advantage Act. We submitted a letter of support because some of the incentives could be used to pay for child care. Senator Mark Kolterman prioritized this bill and it’s in the Revenue Committee. Read our testimony for LB720.
On March 19, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) had its budget hearing before the Appropriations Committee. In its original budget request to the Governor, NDE asked that last year’s budget cuts be fully funded this year. The Appropriations Committee released its initial budget recommendations February 26, which restored cuts to Sixpence and the Pre-K grant program. Read our letter of support for NDE's budget request.