CAPITOL UPDATE from Sen. Matt Williams

Greetings District 36. The first session of the 105th Legislature adjourned sine die on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. I would like to personally thank all the senators for their time and commitment to the State of Nebraska. Being a senator is no easy task. In addition to dealing with difficult and complicated issues, each senator spends nearly 5 months away from their community, their family, and their friends. As senators we oftentimes disagree on policy and direction for our state but we all agree that each senator makes a significant commitment to serving our state.

In future columns I will be recapping this session of the Legislature. I would however like to highlight a few accomplishments. The first priority of the session was to pass a balanced budget. Despite the challenges, the Legislature closed a $1 billion hole in a $9 billion budget without raising taxes. With our balanced budget, overall spending increased by .6% over the next two years. While budget cuts were made to a number of agencies and programs, the Legislature funded priorities including the property tax credit fund, justice reinvestment programs to address prison overcrowding, and K-12 education. It’s also important to note that after closing a $1 billion budget shortfall we still have about $370 million in our state savings account for future use if necessary.

I do have concerns of how some of the budget cuts will affect constituents in Legislative District 36. The cuts made to Medicaid provider rates will make it more difficult for those most in need of care to access services in rural Nebraska, including those with developmental disabilities or in nursing homes. I’m concerned that cuts to higher education will result in a tuition increase on Nebraska students; however, the University and state colleges must be part of the solution in these difficult times. The cuts to probation, which allows for the safe and orderly release of prisoners, is short-sighted given our prisons are overcrowded and a federal lawsuit is imminent. As the saying goes we may be penny wise and dollar foolish.

I’m proud that the Legislature passed my bill, LB 518, to address the shortage of workforce housing in rural Nebraska. The lack of workforce housing was identified as the number one obstacle to economic growth by economic development professionals. I am optimistic that LB 518 will help recruit more nurses, teachers, and skilled professionals to rural Nebraska.

I would like to say a special thank you to Ron Witkowski. Ron has been the Sergeant at Arms for the Legislature since 2003. Prior to his service in the Legislature, he served 37 years with the Nebraska State Patrol. In the 1960’s Ron served as a State Patrol trooper stationed in Gothenburg. We have shared some wonderful memories of his old stomping ground. It has been fun reconnecting with Ron and we will miss having him around the Capitol.

Memorial Day is a time when many of us celebrate the beginning of summer by spending time with family and friends. I want to take this opportunity to thank the men and women in uniform who protect the freedoms we enjoy every day. To the heroes who are no longer with us, we will never forget you and the sacrifice you made for us. Thank you.