An Exceptionally Productive Legislative Session
By Governor Dave Heineman
Dear Fellow Nebraskans:
The 2009 legislative session just concluded. I am pleased to report that working together with state senators, we made progress on a number of important issues.
This year's session was very important due to the economic challenges we face. Two years ago, we restrained spending which positioned Nebraska to weather the fiscal storm facing our nation. The budget approved this year takes another step forward in preparing for the potentially difficult economic challenges that lie ahead. Once again, we enacted a balanced budget that contained no tax increases, prioritized education funding and maintained a strong cash reserve.
Another essential component of our strong budget was the work of the Education Committee, which revised the state aid formula to help meet the needs of school districts in the coming years. This was a difficult task. I hope that ensuring new funding for education will allow us to refocus on the critical education issues of strengthening academic excellence, closing the academic achievement gap, early childhood programs, assessments and teacher quality.
The new budget also includes increased funding for the developmentally disabled by allocating approximately $100 million for the Beatrice State Developmental Center and new community-based services.
Working with legislative leaders, we proposed new services to support children and families dealing with behavioral health challenges.
As a result, we will now develop a statewide hotline for families facing a behavioral health crisis staffed by professionals trained in mental health assessment; a family navigator program to provide follow-up assistance and one-on-one support to families contacting the crisis hotline; and new services for families that adopt or serve as guardians of a child with behavioral health challenges.
This expansion of services is particularly important. Approximately half the of the children and teens involved in last year's Nebraska safe haven cases had been adopted or placed in a guardianship with a relative. Studies show continuing services is effective in helping families through the transition and ensure a child's placement is a permanent.
These measures were part of comprehensive package that provides additional funding for Nebraska's behavioral health regions, and encourages more medical residents to pursue a psychiatry residency.
At the beginning of this session, we had two other issues that needed to be addressed. The first was that Nebraska had a death penalty, but lacked a legal means of execution. After a serious and thoughtful debate, lethal injection is now the law of the land. We also addressed the need for immigration reform. The step we took this year will help ensure that state benefits only go to those entitled to them.
LB 63 was among the bills enacted this session that strengthen penalties and created new crimes to address gang-related crimes, particularly in urban areas. The bill will provide law enforcement and those who work in criminal justice new tools to address areas of escalating crime and most importantly encourage more effective crime prevention efforts.
With the passage of LB 561, Nebraska moves forward by expanding the Community-Based Energy Development program that promotes the development of wind energy by allowing private companies to invest in wind projects. Wind energy will be expanded because of this bill, and it will bring additional investment to our rural areas in the coming years.
This was an exceptionally productive session. I want to thank the members of the Legislature for their diligent work and their focus on addressing the important issues that will ensure Nebraska's continued growth and progress.