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106th Legislature, 1st Session

On May 24, the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill to establish a trust fund for brain injury research and advocacy. LB 481 was originally introduced to state intent regarding how the state Department of Health and Human Services administers the federal Title X Program. LB 642 replaced those provisions, and the bill now creates the Brain Injury Trust Fund. Disability Rights Nebraska supported LB 642.

On Friday, May 24th, Nebraska lawmakers approved a bill that would make multiple changes to criminal justice statutes. Originally, LB686 would have imposed new requirements on the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services for declaring a prison overcrowding emergency. This bill was replaced with provisions of several other bills, including LB 739. This bill would prohibit the Department of Correctional Services from placing an individual who is a member of a vulnerable population in restrictive housing. Disability Rights Nebraska support LB 739.

On May 23, the legislature gave final approval to LB 15, which requires most health insurance plans to pay for hearing aids for Nebraskans younger than 19. Disability Rights Nebraska's Public Policy Intern, Olivia Versaw, testified in support of this bill.

Senators passed LB600 yesterday, which extends a time frame for the authority of the deputy public counsel for institutions from 12 months to 24 months. Disability Rights Nebraska supported this bill.

LB 642, which would create the Brain Injury Trust Fund, was amended into LB 481. Yesterday, LB 481 advanced to Final Reading. Disability Rights Nebraska wrote a letter to senators in support of LB 642.

On May 21, a "pull" motion to bring LB 147 to the floor passed. The bill would allow teachers to use "reasonable physical contact" to protect a student, school staff, or others from "imminent physical injury." The bill would also grant teachers immunity from lawsuits unless their use of physical contact was flagrant, reckless, or used in gross negligence. Disability Rights Nebraska strongly opposes LB 147.

On May 21, Sen. Groene was successful in his third attempt to pull LB 147 out of Committee. LB 147 would give educators the authority to use physical contact or physical restraint or removal from a class in response to student behavior. In response, Sen. Pansing Brooks proposed an interim legislative study on the issue. Disability Rights Nebraska strongly opposes this bill.

On May 15, LB 686 advanced from general file. The bill would make several changes to criminal justice statutes in Nebraska, including changes outlined in LB 739. LB 739, a bill strongly supported by Disability Rights Nebraska, would change procedures and requirements for use of solitary confinement for inmates.

LB570 requires DHHS to work with an independent consultant to assist with continued analysis and revision of the Olmstead Plan. This analysis will be provided in a report to the Legislature by Dec. 15, 2021, and every three years going forward. The bill passed 44-0 and takes effect immediately. Disability Rights Nebraska strongly supports this bill.

LB 600 was amended and advanced on May 13th. The bill would extend the time frame for the authority of the state Ombudsman's Office, which handles complaints regarding the actions of administrative agencies of the Nebraska government. LB 330 was amended into LB 600 and would eliminate the July 2019 termination date for the Nebraska Children's Commission. Disability Rights Nebraska supports LB 600.

LB411, an omnibus election bill, was passed on May 13th. LB 733, a bill that expands access to the polls for voters with disabilities, was oneof the several bills amended into LB411. Disability Rights Nebraska testified in strong support of LB 733.

Senators voted to advance LB600, which would extend the time frame for the authority of the deputy public counsel for individuals who have been patients at a state-owned or state-operated regional center. Currently, the authority of the deputy public counsel for institutions extends to individuals at these facilities within the prior 12 months. This bill would extend that time frame from to 12 to 24 months. Disability Rights Nebraska wrote a letter in support of this bill.

On April 15th, the Nebraska Legislature advanced LB 323, a bill that would make changes to a program meant to help individuals with disabilities maintain employment while retaining Medicaid coverage. Disability Rights Nebraska supports this bill.

On April 8, LB570 passed General File to Enrollment and Review. The legislative bill would require creation of a statewide plan to provide disability services in Nebraska. Disability Rights Nebraska testified in support of LB570.

LB 15 made it through first-round approval in Nebraska's Legislature. The bill, proposed by Sen. Carol Blood, would require most health care plans to cover expenses associated with hearing aids for Nebraskan children Disability Rights Nebraska public policy intern, Olivia Versaw, testified in support of this bill.

A bill that would change provisions relating to assault on certain employees and officers failed to advance out of committee at its March 15th hearing. LB484, proposed by Sen. Lowe, would have made it a felony to attack employees of the YRTC. Disability Rights Nebraska testified in opposition to LB484.

The cost of hearing aids and/or cochlear implants counts for a huge, repeated expense that can reach upwards of $4000 annually. Most insurance companies need not even provide coverage of hearing aids. Public Policy Intern Olivia Versaw brings these issues to light as the Legislature evaluates the merits of a bill to change that situation.

Staff Attorney Stephany Pleasant Maness tells why LB 553 fails to achieve its purpose and will likely make it harder for both landlords and tenants with disabilities to navigate assistance animal law.  

Under LB739, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services could not place a member of a vulnerable population in restrictive housing. Disability Rights Nebraska Public Policy Director, Brad Meurrens, testified in support of this bill and was quoted in this article. “It does not require much of a stretch to understand that solitary confinement could create additional or exacerbate underlying mental health conditions for persons who are in one or more of those vulnerable populations [outlined in the bill],” Meurrens said.

This Unicameral Update article discusses the implications of a bill heard by the Executive Board of the Nebraska Legislature on February 20, 2019. LB 313, proposed by Sen. Bolz, would provide the office of Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System with oversight authority over regional centers. Disability Rights Nebraska testified in support of this bill.

Sen. Clements proposed LB 533. The bill would allow landlords to require verification from a mental health professional who is licensed in Nebraska and whose services are not limited solely to providing such verification. Disability Rights Nebraska testified in opposition to this bill, stating that our organization has issues with how some of the bill's terms are defined, implementation of the bill would be problematic, and the goals of the bill could be achieved through other means.

Over the years, the use of seclusion and restraint in schools across the United States has drawn plenty of attention. Federal data indicates more than 122,000 students nationwide were secluded or restrained in the 2015-2016 school year and students with disabilities represent 12% of the student population. Nationally, they represent 71% of students who were restrained and 66% of those students who were secluded. Recently, there has been movement at the federal level to better understand and reduce the use of restraint and seclusion. Locally, however, a Nebraska state senator has proposed a bill, Legislative Bill 147, that leans the opposite direction.

Sen. Groene proposed LB 127, a bill that would authorize the restraint and removal of students from the classroom by teachers and school administrators. Brad Meurrens was quoted in this Unicameral Update article, saying, "It could sent a confusing signal to school personnel about what rules or protocol to follow, and LB 147 could persuade schools to dilute their existing restraint policies to match the legislation." Disability Rights Nebraska opposes this bill.

Michael Warner, a Disability Rights Nebraska Board Member, spoke against LB 147 at its hearing. “Students are in school to learn,” he said. “They should not be fearful of retaliation from a teacher because they got frustrated.”

LB 247 was proposed by Sen. Kate Bolz "to establish provisions specific to the advance planning of mental health care." Disability Rights Nebraska's Public Policy Director, Brad Meurrens, testified in opposition to the bill, stating "We would like to see psychiatric advance directives in place in Nebraska. We just believe that this bill is not the vehicle at this time and issues need to be addressed in a broader discussion with a wider array of stakeholders."

Unicameral Update article listing the names of the senators appointed to the Special Oversight Committee created by LR 296 to look into conditions at mental health centers.

On April 11, the Nebraska Legislature voted in favor of LR 296, which would establish a special committee to oversee state-licensed health care facilities in Nebraska. This resolution was named a high priority on Disability Rights Nebraska's 2018 Legislative Agenda, and staff attorney, Dianne DeLair, testified at the LR 296 hearing.

The legislature's decision follows the death of a veteran at a Palmer assisted living facility in 2017. According to the resolution's sponsor, Sen. Lynne Walz, a report on the facility's conditions was not acted upon by the Department of Health and Human Services, which was the entity responsible for inspecting state-licensed facilities. The Executive Board will appoint seven members to the State-Licensed Care Facilities Oversight Committee, who will issue a report by the end of 2018.

LB 793, which eliminates an entitlement that prioritized services for high school graduates with developmental disabilities, passed on April 18, 2018. Disability Rights Nebraska's Public Policy Team wrote a letter in opposition to this bill.

LR 296 went to hearing in front of the Executive Board of the Legislature on Feb. 21, 2018. The resolution would create a special committee to look into state-licensed care facilities. Dianne DeLair, senior staff attorney at Disability Rights Nebraska, testified in support of the measure. Read more about it by clicking the title of this article or clicking this link:

On Tuesday, Sen. Matt Hansen proposed LB 1056, which would create a system for collecting data on disciplinary actions taken against students in Nebraska schools. Disability Rights Nebraska public policy director, Bradley Meurrens, testified in support of the bill. "According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, schools restrain and seclude students with disabilities at a higher rate than their peers."

LB 1066 introduced by Senator Murante of Gretna would require a Photo ID for Voting in person, creating additional barriers to voting.

LB368, which would repeal Nebraska's motorcycle helmet requirement, was stalled and is unlikely to be on the agenda again during this legislative session. Disability Rights Nebraska opposes this bill. "Unequivocally, relaxing or repealing Nebraska's helmet law is bad public policy," said Disability Rights Nebraska's Public Policy Director, Bradley Meurrens, in a letter in opposition to LB368, "If passed it would reverse decades of low injury and fatality rates for Nebraska's motorcyclists."

The legislative session is full of both expected and unexpected twists, turns, and developments. It is the place where advocacy is preached, prized, and practiced. Senators, advocates, lobbyists, and concerned citizens propose and respond to new ideas, and much more. Public Policy Director Bradley Meurrens talks about this past legislative session.

According to disability policy researchers, states might want to consider revisiting their policies on restraint and seclusion for students with disabilities. Currently, there are not any federal mandates regarding the issues of restraint and seclusion, which contributes to an inconsistency in related policies among the states.

Public Policy Director, Bradley Meurrens, discusses disability rights advocates' involvement in the legislative process. Meurrens explains why it is important for citizens to reach out to their legislators and provide their perspectives on policy.

On June 11-14, high school students will have the opportunity to take the floor at Nebraska's State Capitol. Student senators will debate legislation, hold committee hearings, and sponsor legislative bills. This invitation offers the state's teenagers a chance to explore and understand Nebraska's Unicameral Legislature.

In a 5-2 vote (with one member abstaining), the Education Committee has advanced a bill that would allow teachers to use physical force or restraint on students. Legislative Bill 595 would allow teachers and administrators to restrain or use physical force to subdue students who are acting violently or are damaging school property. Additionally, the bill enables teachers the ability to remove disruptive, unruly, or abusive students from the classroom. Disability Rights Nebraska is in strong opposition to this bill. "LB 595 flies in the face of national efforts to reduce the use of restraint (and seclusion)," said Disability Rights Nebraska Public Policy Director, Bradley Meurrens at the hearing for LB 595.

Sen. Kate Bolz proposed LB244 to extend workers' compensation benefits to state employees who endure mental health injuries while working with high-risk individuals.

Sen. Crawford proposed LB107 to members of the Judiciary Committee on February 8th. The bill would penalize adults in "special positions of trust" for sexual penetration or sexual contact with minors between the ages of 16 and 18 years old. LB107 would prohibit the defense of consent by the minor.

On February 7, LB 595 was heard by the Education Committee. The bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Groene, would weaken restrictions on the use of restraint or physical force on students by teachers or administrators. Disability Rights Nebraska was one of the many parties to strongly oppose this bill.

In lieu of this week's blog, here's a quick snapshot of action on two bills we have been monitoring: testimony on LB 417, and a letter of support for LB 442.

Sen. Merv Riepe, on behalf of Gov. Pete Ricketts, introduced 4 bills that would make funding adjustments and cuts to programs in the Department of Health and Human Services. The Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on LB333, LB334, LB335, and LB336 on January 25th.