Budget cuts passed, opioid education campaign launched
February 14th, 2017
Lincoln, NE – The Legislature gave final approval Monday to cutting more than $137 million from the current state budget. And officials announced a public education campaign aimed at trying to prevent an opioid addiction epidemic.
The budget cuts approved Monday were the first installment on closing a roughly $900 million shortfall in the state budget for the current and next two fiscal years. They included taking back about $77 million that agencies had left over, unspent from the last fiscal year, and another $60 million in cuts to their budgets for the current fiscal year.
The cuts were largely along lines recommended by Gov. Pete Ricketts, with other actions, including taking money from the cash reserve, deferred until later.
Senators agreed to some exceptions to Ricketts’ proposed cuts, including adding back $4 million the Supreme Court said was needed to implement sentencing reforms enacted two years ago, and another $3.5 million for providers of services to developmentally disabled people.
Sen. Bob Krist proposed exempting another $4 million cut to the Legislature’s budget. Krist, ousted this year as chairman of the Legislature’s internal governing Executive Board, argued the money would be needed for expenses associated with the upcoming $125 million renovation of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the Capitol.
“There are things in this building and things that the Legislature does that are not funded properly. There are things in this Capitol along with (the) Capitol Commission that are not funded properly,” Krist said.
Sen. John Stinner, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, opposed Krist’s proposal. Stinner said the Legislature would be setting a bad example by exempting itself from budget cuts. He said there would be other chances later to adjust the budget for future years, but the Legislature should act now to cut this year’s budget.
“I would ask today that we set aside our differences. Get this passed so that all of the adjustments, and all the exceptions, and all the agencies and all the committees have some level of certainty so that we can move on,” Stinner said.
Lawmakers rejected Krist’s amendment. They then voted 43-1 to cut off debate, and approved the budget cuts on a vote of 42-3.
Sen. Adam Morfeld argued those votes were a sign the Legislature does not have to change its rules to make it easier to defeat filibusters.
“This morning was a perfect example of how this body can function under the current rules. We overwhelmingly did the people’s business, invoked cloture, and…overwhelmingly passed a budget deficit bill,” Morfeld said.
The fight over the filibuster and other rules is scheduled to resume Tuesday.
Also on Monday, Gov. Pete Ricketts and other officials announced the launch of a public education campaign to underline the dangers of opioid abuse. Ricketts said the goal is to prevent opioid abuse from becoming an epidemic in Nebraska, as it has in Ohio, New Hampshire and some other states.
Attorney General Doug Peterson said people become addicted to prescription opioids, then when they run out, start stealing other people’s prescription medications. He said the education campaign, including $300,000 worth of public service announcements on television and radio, would be targeted at young people, among others.
“Young people don’t have a full appreciation – they’re somewhat deceived that if it’s in a brown bottle, that the brown bottle means a doctor prescribed it – it can’t be that dangerous,” Peterson said.
And Peterson said people should think differently about keeping unused pain killers.
“I think the notion was ‘Well gee, that took care of my knee surgery but you never know when I might need a pain reliever down the road.’ Fact of the matter is that’s pretty dangerous and you need to get those out of the cabinets and properly disposed of,” he said.
According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, 149 Nebraskans died of drug overdoses in 2015, of which at least 54 were opioid-related. The rate of opioid-related deaths in the state rose slightly from 2.4 per 100,000 people in 2005 to 3 per 100,000 in 2015. Still, Nebraska’s rate of drug overdose deaths remains about half the national average.
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