Increasing welfare benefits, easing initiative requirements advancing in Legislature

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March 19th, 2015

(Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

(Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Welfare benefits would increase in Nebraska, and restrictions on paying for signatures on initiative petitions would be eased, under proposals advancing in the Legislature. From the Capitol, Fred Knapp of NET News has this legislative update.


Currently, a mother with one child on welfare in Nebraska receives $293 a month, plus $71 for each additional dependent – levels that Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell says have not changed in 30 years.

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Campbell is sponsoring legislation to increase those benefits. Her proposal would cost about $10.5 million a year. Campbell said that would come entirely from federal funds that an audit found the state was collecting but not using.

Among those speaking in support of the idea Wednesday was Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue. Crawford recalled hearing testimony from people about the effects of the existing level of benefits. “We heard from parents who had to rely on family and friends for money for diapers and on food pantries for basic groceries, because the $293 a month they receive on ADC payments does not come even close to meeting the basic needs of their families. One brave woman testified that out of desperation some months, she had to cut up her son’s blankets to make diapers,” she said.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus supported the proposal. But Schumacher said the state is taking a shortsighted approach to poverty. “Today we’ve heard about mothers who gotta tear up cloth in order to make diapers and all kinds of other tear-jerky kind of things. And just a couple weeks ago we heard about what was (a) rational plan — at least I thought – to actually make money, about 10-12 thousand dollars, by effectively educating young women – and maybe not so young women — about financial responsibility and family planning responsibility. We turned that idea down,” he said.

Schumacher was referring to a proposal the Legislature defeated earlier this year that would have used Medicaid funds to pay for family planning services. Senators voted 26-0 first round approval for the welfare proposal.

Senators also gave first round approval to a bill by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, to do away with the prohibition on paying people who collect signatures on initiative petitions on a per-signature basis.

Groene said that prohibition is one of several developments that have made it difficult to collect enough signatures to put proposals on the ballot. “This little line in our law about not paying petitioners by the signature just absolutely destroys grassroots efforts to get an issue on the ballot, because now you have to hire a petition company to come in and manage your petition,” he said “If you can do it per signature, you can contract with individuals to go out and get signatures. When you check the signature to be true, you pay ‘em a dollar a signature. It’s called a free market.”

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln expressed concern that making the change could give petition circulators an incentive to fake signatures, but said he supported the bill. It got first-round approval on a vote of 38-0.

Wednesday afternoon, the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy that would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Such centers have stricter requirements for equipment and facilities than those for health clinics, which abortion clinics are currently considered. Among those supporting the bill was Maris Bentley of Nebraskans United for Life. “We should all be supporting this bill, whether we are in favor of abortion or not, because it is the right thing to do to protect the health and the life of the mothers who choose abortion. Why would anyone oppose this bill when the objective is to provide improved medical care for these women?” she said.

Among those opposing the bill was Diane Loos, a physician who has practiced in Arizona and Colorado. Loos took issue with those who said abortion clinics should have to meet the same standards as, for example, clinics for eye surgery. “Many eye patients receive extensive sedation. So they also are being shuttled around in a physical plant designed for it, on gurneys, because they are asleep,” she said. “The physical plant that an ambulatory surgery center has to provide is bigger, wider and more expensive than what a clinic has to provide. A clinic, as Planned Parenthood is, is perfectly adequate for the population it serves in the provision of safe and legal abortion to those women who want it.”

No senator has made McCoy’s bill a priority, making it unlikely to be debated by the full Legislature this year.

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