Session Review: Executive Board

Executive Board chairperson <a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist01' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Dan Watermeier'>Sen. Dan Watermeier</a>
Executive Board chairperson Sen. Dan Watermeier

Legislative oversight, performance audit reporting requirements and redistricting concerns topped the list of Executive Board issues considered by lawmakers this session.

Oversight

Senators created a special legislative committee to look into state-licensed care facilities housing residents diagnosed with mental illness.

LR296, sponsored by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, will study conditions in assisted living facilities in which many of the residents are diagnosed with a mental illness. The committee also will examine the recent closures of mental health centers in Palmer and Blue Hill, as well as the effectiveness of state Department of Health and Human Services’ regulation, licensure and administration of services through the state’s behavioral health regions.

The Executive Board appointed seven state senators to serve on the committee: Sens. Curt Friesen, Steve Halloran, Lou Ann Linehan, Dan Quick, Theresa Thibodeau, Lynne Walz and Anna Wishart.

The oversight committee, approved on a 26-13 vote, will issue a report to the Legislature by Dec. 15, 2018.

Reporting requirements regarding the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems were strengthened this year.

Currently, all cases of death or serious injury of a child in a foster home, private agency, child care facility or other program licensed by DHHS must be reported to, and investigated by, the office of the inspector general of Nebraska child welfare.

LB1078, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, adds to that requirement all allegations of sexual abuse of a state ward or a juvenile on probation, in a detention facility or residential child-caring agency.

The bill also requires that the annual report of the DHHS Division of Children and Family Services include the number of sexual abuse allegations that occurred among children being served by the division and those placed at a residential child-caring agency.

Also required is the number of corresponding screening decision occurrences by category, open investigations by category and agency substantiations, court substantiations and court-pending status cases.

Included in the bill are provisions of Crawford’s LB1073, which require DHHS to include in their existing weekly report to the Foster Care Review Office whether relative and kinship placements are licensed or received a waiver.

Also included are provisions of LB411, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, that bolster reporting requirement to ensure that reasonable efforts are made to place children in state care with their siblings.

DHHS is required to file a written sibling placement report with the court within 30 days of a juvenile being placed in state care and at specified intervals while he or she remains in state care. The bill also clarifies that a sibling can be in the group of parties to a case who may file a motion for joint-sibling placement, visitation or ongoing interaction between the siblings.

DHHS must file a notice of placement with all of a child’s known siblings. A parent or sibling may choose to opt out of receiving such notifications.

The department also is required to make reasonable efforts to place siblings together, even if there is no preexisting relationship between them. It is left to the court to determine what constitutes such reasonable efforts.

LB1078 passed on a vote of 49-0.

LR288, a measure also sponsored by Bolz that would have created the Nebraska Child Welfare Death and Abuse Special Oversight Committee was considered by the Executive Board but was not advanced.

Performance audit

LB936, introduced by the Legislative Performance Audit Committee and passed 48-0, improves performance audits of the state’s tax incentive programs. The Legislative Audit Office is a legislative division that was created to conduct performance audits to review state agency programs in order to evaluate the agency’s success in effectively implementing legislative intent.

Among other changes, the bill extends from three to five the number of years between audit reviews of tax incentive programs. It also requires that audits analyze the cost per full-time worker and whether job growth businesses receiving tax incentives is at least 10 percent above industry average.

The bill defines a high-quality job as one that averages at least 35 hours of employment per week and pays wages that are at least 10 percent higher than the statewide industry sector average. The wage also must equal or exceed 110 percent of the Nebraska average weekly wage if the job is in a county with a population of less than 100,000 inhabitants, or 120 percent if the job is in a county with a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants.

A second measure aimed at improving oversight of the state’s tax incentive programs through strengthening reporting requirements was narrowed significantly on general file but was not scheduled for select file debate.

LB935, as originally introduced by the Legislative Performance Audit Committee, would have made an array of information regarding the programs available and accessible to the Legislative Audit Office.

As amended on general file, the bill would have required the state tax commissioner to allow one designee from the state Department of Economic Development to review limited tax data—subject to strict confidentiality—only for the purpose of assisting the audit office with tax incentive program performance audits.

Senators approved LB751, also introduced by the Legislative Performance Audit Committee, which requires that only reports of regulations mandated by law—rather than all regulations—be reported to the Legislative Performance Audit Committee. Agencies are required to report to the committee as to why regulations have not been promulgated in a timely manner.

The bill also removes a requirement that the Executive Board or the appropriate standing legislative committee receive annual reports regarding mandatory regulations that have not been promulgated within the time frame required by law. Instead, the bill requires agencies to include that information in the reports that they already provide to the Legislative Performance Audit Office.

LB751 passed on a 48-0 vote.

Redistricting

The Executive Board considered two proposals regarding the Legislature’s redistricting process.

Currently, the Legislature is responsible for drawing new governmental boundaries every 10 years after the decennial census for districts pertaining to the U.S. House of Representatives, Legislature, Public Service Commission, University of Nebraska Board of Regents and the state Board of Education.

Redistricting will be undertaken next in 2021.

LB974, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would have prohibited consideration of the political affiliation of registered voters, demographic information other than population figures and results of previous elections when drawing boundaries for legislative districts. Information required by federal law or the U.S. Constitution would be exempted under the bill.

LB975, introduced by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, would have adopted the Redistricting Act to codify in state law the legislative resolution that guided the last redistricting process in 2011.

Neither proposal advanced from committee.

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