Session Review: Health and Human Services
Senators expanded state benefits for low-income Nebraskans, reformed youth rehabilitation and treatment centers and addressed a variety of licensure issues this session.
Senators overrode two gubernatorial vetoes to expand benefits to Nebraskans struggling with food insecurity and utility bills.
Under Omaha Sen. John McCollister’s LB108, Nebraska families making up to 165 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for the federal supplemental nutrition assistance program until Sept. 30, 2023. At that time, the gross income eligibility limit will return to 130 percent of FPL.
Lawmakers passed the bill 33-11 and it subsequently was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. In his veto letter, the governor expressed concern that the Legislature would maintain the expanded eligibility after the scheduled expiration date. A motion from McCollister to override the veto succeeded on a 30-19 vote. Thirty votes were required.
LB306, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, increases the eligibility threshold for the low income home energy assistance program from 130 percent of FPL to 150 percent. The bill also requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to allocate at least 10 percent of program funds to weatherization assistance.
Senators approved LB306 on a 38-6 vote. It also was vetoed by the governor, who objected to creation of a permanent benefit using temporary federal funding. Brandt offered a motion to override the veto, adopted 32-15, saying the bill will make the program more efficient.
LB485, introduced by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, increases the income eligibility limit for the determination of initial eligibility for assistance under the Child Care Subsidy program from 130 percent of FPL to 185 percent. The bill, passed 31-6, also increases income eligibility for transitional child care assistance from 185 percent of FPL to 200 percent.
Expanded eligibility will begin July 1, 2021, and end Sept. 30, 2023. The cost of the bill will be paid through existing federal block grant funds.
A bill to expand access to services for developmentally disabled Nebraskans stalled on select file. LB376, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, would require DHHS to apply for a three-year Medicaid waiver to start a family support program for developmental disability services. The program would:
• have an annual budget for long-term services and supports capped at $10,000 per person;
• cap participation at 850 individuals currently on the state’s wait list;
• offer Medicaid eligibility for children with disabilities by disregarding parental income;
• be administered by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities of DHHS; and
• allow families to self-direct services.
After four hours of discussion on select file, Cavanaugh filed a motion to invoke cloture, which ends debate and forces a vote on the bill. The motion failed 30-11. Thirty-three votes were needed. LB376 was not scheduled for further debate this session.
LB428, introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee, requires that youth rehabilitation and treatment center residents receive educational opportunities equivalent to those offered to students at Nebraska public schools.
Under the bill, each YRTC must maintain accreditation by the state Board of Education and provide age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate education programs.
The measure, passed 49-0, includes provisions of four other bills, all introduced by the committee:
• LB425, which requires DHHS to hire a consultant to perform a needs assessment and cost analysis for an inpatient adolescent psychiatric unit at the Lincoln Regional Center;
• LB427, which prohibits DHHS from delaying inpatient or subacute substance abuse or behavioral health residential treatment for youth under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court when such treatment has been determined necessary after the youth’s commitment to the state Office of Juvenile Services or has been ordered by a juvenile court;
• LB429, which requires DHHS to notify the Legislature quarterly of substantial changes it intends to make to YRTC facilities and programs; and
• LB570, which requires the Legislature to complete an evaluation of the state’s privatization of child welfare case management in the eastern service area by Dec. 31, 2021, and approves hiring a consultant to assist in the evaluation.
LB251, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, advanced to general file but was not scheduled for debate this session. The bill would lower from 16 to 14 the minimum age to choose to be an organ donor on a Nebraska state ID or driver license.
Licensure and regulation
Nebraska is authorized to join an interstate compact for audiologists and speech-language pathologists under LB14, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Carol Blood. The bill, passed 47-0, adopts the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact.
Under the compact, individuals licensed in a member state may practice in any other member state without having to obtain a separate license. The compact has been enacted by 13 states, including Nebraska. The Compact Commission will convene to establish rules and bylaws.
Lawmakers voted 40-1 to expand the pool of credentialed health care practitioners in Nebraska.
LB390, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil at the request of the governor, amends Nebraska’s Uniform Credentialing Act to allow certain health care providers who are credentialed in other states to apply for an expedited credential in Nebraska.
LB400, introduced by Sen. John Arch of La Vista, allows some established patients to receive audio-only telehealth for individual behavioral health services originating from any location.
The bill, approved on a 43-0 vote, allows a patient to provide verbal consent during an initial telehealth visit. Previously, Nebraskans were required to give written consent to receive telehealth services prior to those services being provided.
LB211, introduced by Murman, would remove a current requirement that reflexologists be licensed under the Massage Therapy Practice Act. Instead, the bill would create a registry for reflexologists and require certification by a national board. The bill advanced from committee but was not debated this session.
Also remaining on general file is LB86, introduced by Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard. The bill would mandate that active prescribers and dispensers who are registered under the Uniform Credentialing Act also register with DHHS for the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.
The bill would exempt credential holders who do not prescribe, dispense or treat as well as veterinarians and members of the armed forces who do not practice in Nebraska.