A new legislative session begins this morning, a 60-day session of the Unicameral.
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk expects child welfare to be a top priority in the session; a complicated issue he says.
“Well, it’s complicated, because it’s everything,” Flood tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview in his Capitol office. “It’s Medicaid. It’s foster care. It’s privatization; doing the right thing for these kids and, at the same time, being mindful of the taxpayer’s dollar and making sure that what we do is done efficiently.”
State Auditor Mike Foley criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for failing to publicly bid multi-million dollar contracts with private sector providers. His audit disclosed that Nebraska’s effort to privatize child welfare services has increased costs by 27% over the last two years. The legislature’s Performance Audit Committee faulted the leadership of the Children and Family Services Division within the Department of Health and Human Services, stating that Families Matters lacked transparency and accountability. A 425-page report released by the Health and Human Services Committee contains 18 recommendations. The top three include returning case management to the state, creating a Children’s Commission and establishing a Department of Children’s Services.
Gov. Dave Heineman, earlier, announced changes in response to the criticism while maintaining that the state will stick with the privatization matters he implemented.
The budget will be another priority, according to Flood. He says this will be the first time in four years the legislature has entered a session with state revenue exceeding projections. The Speaker says he wants the legislature to focus on keeping a robust cash reserve while it considers tax cuts and tax reform.
Though Nebraska enjoys the second-lowest unemployment rate among states, economic development initiatives are expected this session. Flood wants the legislature to consider measures to keep the state competitive in its tax structure and review the Nebraska Advantage Act to ensure it continues to attract business to the state.
The length of the session shouldn’t make a difference, according to Flood, who points out that a 60-day session simply begins floor debate sooner than the longer session. Floor debate could be held as early as next week.
The legislature returns to the Capitol after a successful special session that saw a resolution to the vexing problem of the Keystone XL pipeline, but Flood doesn’t expect carry-over from that session which ended prior to Thanksgiving. He says each session stands on its own.
“For me, it’s not so much about the day to day, it’s as you look back at the session, what did you or did you not accomplish,” Flood says, “and that starts and resets every year when we bang the gavel for the first time.”