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106th Legislature, 1st Session

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.

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.

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: http://www.disabilityrightsnebraska.org/what_we_do/palmer-ne-lifequest-incidents.html

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.

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