Extension of public counsel authority advanced

Senators advanced a bill April 23 that would extend a time frame for the authority of the deputy public counsel for institutions.

Sen. Lynne Walz
Sen. Lynne Walz

The public counsel—also known as the state Ombudsman’s Office—is an independent office that handles citizen complaints regarding the actions of administrative agencies of Nebraska state government.

Currently, the authority of the deputy public counsel for institutions extends to individuals who have been patients at a state-owned or state-operated regional center within the prior 12 months. LB600, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, would extend that time frame from 12 to 24 months.

Walz said the bill would provide the public counsel with more information to assess the needs of individuals as they transition out of the state’s regional centers.

“This would allow for more follow up with individuals who have been released from regional centers to see if they are receiving the necessary supports and services, as well as give us a more robust examination of the mental health needs and systems challenges within regional centers,” she said.

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz introduced an amendment, adopted 26-0, to include provisions of her LB330. The provisions would eliminate the July 2019 termination date for the Nebraska Children’s Commission. Bolz said the commission was established in 2012 in response to the state’s failed attempt to privatize Nebraska’s child welfare system.

Under the amendment, the commission would become a permanent forum for collaboration among state, local, community, public and private stakeholders in child welfare and juvenile justice programs and services. It also would streamline the commission’s duties and shift its administration to the Legislature.

The new commission—which would consist of 15 governor-appointed members—would be funded through the Nebraska Health Care Cash Fund. Bolz said funds are available due to the expiration of a study that was approved by the Legislature and since has been completed.

Sen. Kate Bolz
Sen. Kate Bolz

She said the commission houses five subcommittees created by the Legislature that examine foster care reimbursement rates, the prescription of psychotropic drugs for state wards and other issues.

“If we don’t take action, the legislatively created committees will have no home base to work from,” Bolz said. “The commission has proven its worth, done great work, submitted reports and made lives better for our state’s children.”

Following adoption of the amendment, senators voted 30-0 to advance LB600 to select file.

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