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102nd NE Legislature, Here We Come

The Nebraska State Legislature will convene on Jan. 5 to start a new legislative session.  While a lot of legislation that goes through the body can seem unexciting or inconsequential, there’ll be plenty of big issues to address this year.  We expect the capitol to be anything but dull in 2011. Here are the issues we’ll be keeping tabs on:

Immigration
Prenatal Care
Budget
Pipeline

Immigration
We know that State Senator Charlie Janssen plans to introduce legislation like that introduced in Arizona which requires local law enforcement to check the status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.  We expect Governor Heineman to fully support the legislation.

We also know that Arizona’s SB1070 law has been suspended while the state is embroiled in a costly legal battle.  Immigration enforcement is the purview of the federal government.  Arizona is also losing money because of boycotts.  Artists won’t perform, conventions have pulled out and tourists are avoiding Arizona until the issue is resolved.

We know Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will have a hand in this fight.  Kobach was behind Arizona’s SB1070, Fremont’s immigration ordinance and a lawsuit against the state’s Dream Act.  Kobach has also worked for nativist organizations like FAIR that the renowned Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group because of their nativist rhetoric.

Prenatal Care
In the last legislative session, prenatal care was allowed to lapse for Nebraska women.  Governor Heineman claimed it was an immigration issue, and that undocumented women were using the state’s prenatal programs.

We don’t see this as an immigration issue; we see this as a health and human rights issue. Regardless of the mother’s legal status, the baby is an American citizen.  Without proper prenatal care, babies are at higher risk for birth defects and long term health problems.  Without access to prenatal care, women are more likely to seek abortion as an alternative.

Nebraska Right to Life even opposed the recision of prenatal care to Nebraska’s mothers.  While they endorsed Heineman’s re-election, we hope that they stand firmly by their platform of protecting life, and challenge the governor on this issue.  Helping women access prenatal care PROTECTS LIFE.

In addition to the moral component, this can also be viewed as a fiscal issue.  Prenatal care is relatively low-cost to the state compared to the money the state will spend taking care of sick babies who will have health problems throughout their lives.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists says for every $1 spent on prenatal care, $3.33 is saved on postnatal care and $4.63 in long-term care costs.

Budget
There is lots of fiscal pain in Nebraska’s future.  The state legislature has already trimmed all the perceptible fat from the budget and has asked all the state agencies to provide a list of cuts they would make if their budgets were reduced by 10%.  It looks like this hypothetical will become a reality and most of the suggestions will be accepted.

We’re all for a balanced budget.  It’s one of the things that’s kept our state afloat during this economic downturn.  But you can only trim so much fat until you start hitting vital organs. Governor Heineman is still stubbornly refusing to consider revenue increases.  Meanwhile, our schools are already spread thin, and we’re falling short on our Medicaid obligations.

We know Heineman faults health reform for new Medicaid costs, but we’ve already proven that the report he commissioned unrealistically overestimated costs, and the federal government will be picking up 98% of the new Medicaid costs.  He’s also tried to pit education and Medicaid against each other.

Fighting the deficit with only spending cuts is like fighting with one arm tied behind your back.  Is there a chance you could still win?  Sure.  But why handicap yourself in such an important fight?

Pipeline
We are so proud of the work Nebraskans have been doing to challenge TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.  All the testimony we heard at the legislative hearing last week and the opinions expressed at the Nebraska Farmers’ Union Convention were just outstanding.  But we’re not resting on our laurels.

We’re still waiting for Secretary of State Clinton to decide whether or not to issue a permit to TransCanada to build the pipeline.  We don’t expect anything before March.  Our state officials should not be waiting on the State Department to take action when they can also be protecting Nebraska’s landowners and natural resources.

Nebraska currently has no entity that oversees pipelines in the state.  Our eminent domain laws are lax, and TransCanada has already tried to take advantage of that.  TransCanada has no fund to compensate landowners when a spill happens.

We’ll be kicking of the legislative session with a rally in front of the capitol building to remind our elected officials to protect our land, water and fellow Nebraskans.

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BOLD Nebraska
208 S. Burlington Ave., Ste 103, Box 325, Hastings, NE 68901