The Nebraska Legislature yesterday gave second-round approval on a voice vote to the bills in the proposed $9.7-billion dollar state budget for the next 2 years. That leaves one more round of voting before they’re sent to Gov. Pete Ricketts
The approval came after $15-million of the $115-million earmarked for possible construction of a new prison was moved into a fund that could be used to increase programming for inmates such as classes and training.
Amendment sponsor Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha said it puts the state running on two parallel tracks – one preparing for the possibility of a new prison and the other looking at ways to reduce the need for as many prison beds.
Appropriations Committee chair John Stinner of Gering strongly supported the idea, calling it “a better balanced approach” that tells all Nebraskans solving prison overcrowding isn’t just about building, but also about programs and programming.
Lawmakers also had lengthy debate on the state’s 19 public health districts. North Platte Senator Mike Groene tried unsuccessfully to cut the $4.5-million added to the original proposal of $16-million in state funds for the health districts.
Groene questioned the need for the money, saying the districts have gotten $50-million in federal relief funds and stand to get more. He also objected to the power the districts hold.
Groene said a full debate is needed about the “power they’ve acquired/were given by irresponsible elected officials who didn’t want to take responsibility for major decisions about our constitutional liberties and rights.” His amendment to remove the $4.5-million failed 23-10.