Merger of state agencies proposed

The state Department of Labor would be merged with the state Department of Economic Development under a bill discussed in a Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Feb. 2.

Under LB971, introduced by Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms, the Department of Economic Development would absorb the Department of Labor. Harms said the proposal to merge the agencies is about efficiency, not money.

“One of the lessons of these tough economic times is that state government cannot conduct business as usual,” Harms said. “It’s not about saving money or staff reductions, but efficiency in delivering services.”

Under the bill, all existing Department of Labor programs, employees and contracts would be moved to the Department of Economic Development. The bill does not call for any cuts in personnel or services. Current Economic Development Director Catherine Lang would continue in her position.

Lang testified in support of the bill, saying that while change can be difficult, the merger is the next logical step.

“We’ve been coordinating together for years,” Lang said. “This merger just formalizes an already existing relationship.”

Deb Cottier, representing the Nebraska Economic Developers Association, testified in opposition to the bill, saying its vague wording leaves too much open to interpretation.

“We cannot afford to jeopardize Nebraska’s standing on a proposal with no clear plan of how it will be implemented,” Cottier said.

Bruce Bohrer, executive vice president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, testified in a neutral capacity. He said the chamber supported the bill but hoped to be involved going forward.

“We want to be involved constructively in the future,” Bohrer said. “We are very confident in the talents and leadership of Director Lang.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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