Lathrop pleased with ‘good year’ in Legislature

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Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 12:00 am

An active legislative session meant recognition for State Sen. Steve Lathrop and some big gains for Nebraska, the senator said last week in looking back on the session which wrapped in June.

Lathrop, who represents Ralston in District 12, backed a number of bills to deal with lingering issues related to behavioral health, education, Medicaid and energy issues and also fostered the state’s latest budget, one he said is showing some signs of improving after five years of economic struggles.

“We had a good year,” Lathrop said. “There are some things we took care of that we’ve had to sit on the sidelines during the recession.”

One of Lathrop’s priority bills was Legislative Bill 104 which will propel Nebraska further into the market as a wind energy producer. The bill deals with the addition of new provisions and tax incentives for renewable energy to the Nebraska Advantage Act.

“What this bill will do, especially for outstate Nebraska, is turn that area into a wind energy hotbed,” Lathrop said. “Iowa has done this and it’s time for Nebraska to cash in on it, too.”

In Dixon County, in the northeastern part of the state, Lathrop said early economic impact studies show the effects of a $350-million planned wind farm there could be a $700,000 to $800,000 in property tax relief for the county, along with 300 temporary construction jobs and 20 to 25 permanent positions.

Budgetwise, Lathrop said the Unicameral passed a conservative package, but one that should put the state in a good position for the years to come.

“We were able to get some money in the rainy day fund again,” he said. “With the budget and state aid to education, I think we were able to do a lot.”

Having worked on legislation related to behavioral health and education, Lathrop continued to throw his support behind those key issues, especially in the wake of revelations of deficiencies at the Beatrice State Developmental Center in 2011.

He was honored last month with two awards: the Nebraska State Education Association’s Friend of Education award and the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations’ 2013 Citizen of the Year award which he shared with Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha and Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha.

“As chair of the Developmental Disabilities Special Investigative Committee, he led the way reforming the Beatrice State Developmental Center,” said NSEA President Nancy Fulton in a release. “And he has not walked away from that difficult effort. He continues to be the conscience of the state and to stand up for what is right and important. Sen. Lathrop is a productive voice in important discussions and understands that quality education and good jobs are the path to a more prosperous future for everyone.”

Lathrop said the honors were humbling and validating of his legislative career’s work.

“The changes that needed to be made in order to continue to make sure we are still helping productive citizens in our behavioral health system was our way of making good on a promise,” he said.

Next year, Lathrop said the Legislature will take up some important issues left on the floor at the close of the 2013 session.

Among those was a debate on the death penalty. Lathrop said a measure to abolish the death penalty had enough votes to pass but not enough to close a filibuster in the session’s waning days and the bill would likely face a veto from Gov. Dave Heineman.

Medicaid expansion is also up for renewed conversation after LB 577. As with the death penalty, Lathrop said he thought there were enough votes to pass an expanded form of the health care assistance program, which could be crucial for the state’s rural residents.

“It’s an access to care issue,” Lathrop said.

“It means an awful lot for people who rely on our hospitals in smaller towns. A lot of those facilities would close if LB 577 doesn’t get taken up.”

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