Legislative Updates

 

NSEA Legislative Update – May 27, 2015

In This Update:

  1. Bill to Improve the OPS Pension Plan Stalls
  2. 2015 Priority and Education Bills of Interest

 

Bill to Improve the OPS Pension Plan Stalls on Floor

This past week, LB 448, a bill to improve the stability of the Omaha Public Schools Retirement Plan and place the plan’s investments under the direction of the Nebraska Investment Council, failed to advance.  The bill was bracketed until April 15, 2016, without objection, by O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson.  LB448’s future is now uncertain, as it will need to be un-bracketed before debate on the proposal may continue.  It is important that the bill advance during the 2016 session in order to improve the financial integrity of the OPS Plan, and to protect the plan against future attacks upon both defined benefit plans for teachers in the State of Nebraska. 

In the past, senators favoring alternative defined contribution type plans such as Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy have used these funding issues to call for major structural changes for the two school pension plans in the state.  The statewide School Employees Retirement plan (which covers roughly 80 percent of teachers) is 83 percent funded, whereas the OPS Retirement Plan is 74 percent funded.  A funded ratio of 80 percent or higher is a benchmark often used to establish the financial health of a pension plan.  It is believed that once the changes of LB448 are in place, the funded ratio for the OPS plan will begin to improve at a greater pace.  The statewide plan is projected to be 100 percent funded by 2020.

LB448 would make the following changes to the OPS pension plan: (1) it further aligns the benefits of future members of the Omaha School Employees Retirement System (OSERS) with the benefits of the statewide School Employees Retirement System; (2) it moves investment authority from OSERS to the Nebraska Investment Council; (3) it restructures the administration and governance of OSERS to more closely align with the Public Employee Retirement Board's governance of the School Employees Retirement System; and (4) it creates greater State funding parity between the School Employees Retirement System and OSERS.

Although there was not a recorded vote on the bracket motion, prior votes during general file debate clearly showed whether senators supported or opposed the bill. Below, is how your senator voted on this important OPS pension reform bill (Senators Craighead and Garrett were excused and not voting). “Not voting” senators were considered “no” votes unless they were not present. 

Senators who voted in favor of the OPS Pension reform bill:

Baker, Bolz, Campbell, Chambers, Coash, Cook, Crawford, Davis, Gloor, Haar K., Hadley, Hansen, Harr B., Hilkemann, Howard, Kolowski, Krist, McCollister, Mello, Morfeld, Nordquist, Pansing Brooks, Scheer, Schumacher, and Sullivan.

Those who voted against the OPS pension reform bill:

Bloomfield, Brasch, Ebke, Friesen, Groene, Hughes, Johnson, Kintner, Kolterman, Kuehn, Larson, Lindstrom, McCoy, Murante, Schilz, Riepe, Schnoor, Seiler, Smith, Stinner, Watermeier, and Williams.

 

2015 Priority and Education Bills of Interest

As of today, the Legislature is on day 87 of a 90-day session.  The session will conclude this Friday, May 29, 2015 ahead of schedule as sine die (adjournment) will occur on the 89th day.  Gubernatorial veto overrides of the death penalty and other likely bills will be the highlight of the next three days.

LB 185 (Bolz) Appropriate funds to implement the Master Teacher Program Act.

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Included in main budget bill LB 657 and signed by Governor.

Appropriates $1 million each year for the Master Teacher Program Act.  Provides incentive grants and additional salary for teachers seeking and obtaining National Board Certification. The Master Teacher Program Act was first enacted in the 2000 Session of the Legislature and at the time never received funding following its enactment.  During this session, proposed funding was reduced to $470,000 and included in the main budget bill, LB 657.

LB 232 (Nordquist) Adopt the College Choice Grant Program Act.

NSEA Position: Oppose.     Status: Remains in the Education Committee - Kolterman priority bill.

Creates the College Choice Grant Program Act.  Provides for awards made directly to eligible students attending only private state colleges demonstrating substantial financial need.  Shall be administered by the Postsecondary Education Commission in conjunction with eligible postsecondary educational institutions. General Fund appropriations would be required to support financial aid to be awarded under provisions of the Act, and the level of such appropriations would be at the discretion of the Legislature.

LB239 - Provide for a Coordinator for Educator Effectiveness and educator evaluation

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Amended into LB 525 by AM1306 and signed by Governor.

LB 239 requires the Dept. of Education to appoint a Coordinator for Educator Effectiveness to work with schools, educational service units, postsecondary educational institutions and other education stakeholders to develop and make available evaluation models for educators, provide training to implement the models and facilitate the collection of data to determine model effectiveness.

The bill provides grants for up to two years to school districts to implement an evaluation model for effective educators and to obtain training for administrators and teachers for such model.

LB 323 (Davis) Create the School Financing Review Commission.

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Remains in the Education Committee.

Establishes the School Financing Review Commission consisting of nineteen members. The Commission is to conduct an in-depth review of the financing of public schools, which includes specified areas for review that are identified in the bill.  The Commission ceases to exist on December 31, 2016. The Commission may hire staff and consultants and obtain assistance from the State Department of Education (NDE) and Department of Revenue in acquiring data.  The Commission may contract for any necessary facilities, equipment and services. Intent language provides that general funds of at least $100,000 shall be appropriated to carry out the duties of the Commission.  A similar review has been proposed as an interim study committee in LR 344.

LB 343 (Kolowski) Provide funding for schools offering certain programs and courses as prescribed.

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Amended into LB 525 but on Select File the proposal was removed.

Creates a $2 million dedicated source of funding for public schools that implement and offer quality career and college readiness programs, including, but not limited to, programs of excellence, dual-enrollment, and career academies.  School districts are eligible to be reimbursed for each student who successfully completes one or more of these programs.  Also creates the Career and College Readiness Fund.  Money in this fund is available through grants to support schools that are in the initial implementation phase of a college and career readiness program.  The underlying appropriations bill funding provisions of AM1493 in LB 525A did not advance on General File.  Language for LB 343 in LB 525 was later removed on Select File.

LB 448 (Nordquist) Change provisions of the Omaha School Employees Retirement System.

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Placed on Select File and then bracketed until 4/15/2016.

As amended by the committee amendment, the bill makes the following changes: (1) further aligns the benefits of the Omaha School Employees Retirement System (OSERS) members with the benefits of the statewide School Employees Retirement System; (2) moves investment authority from OSERS to the Nebraska Investment Council; (3) restructures the administration and governance of OSERS to more closely align with the Public Employee Retirement Board's governance of the School Employees Retirement System; and (4) creates greater State funding parity between the School Employees Retirement System and OSERS.

LB 509 (Cook) Change provisions relating to a poverty allowance under the state aid formula.

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Amended into LB 525 by AM1347 and signed by Governor.

Changes provisions relating to the poverty allowance in the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act. The bill eliminates provisions, which currently disqualify a district from receiving the poverty allowance in an ensuing year when poverty expenditures do not equal 50% or more of the allowance. It also decreases the required amount that a district must spend on poverty expenditures in order to avoid having a poverty allowance correction. Poverty expenditures must equal 105.26% rather than 117.65% of the poverty allowance. It also increases the allowance correction from 85% to 95%. Another penalty, which provides a poverty allowance correction of 50% when a district does not meet the required elements of a poverty plan is reduced to a 5% correction. It is assumed the changes will be implemented beginning In FY2016-17.

LB 519 (Sullivan) Provide for school and student aid, grants, and assistance as prescribed.

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Approved by Governor on May 13, 2015.

Allocates the Nebraska Education Improvement Fund (lottery funds) in FY2016-17 though FY2026-27. The bill requires the State Department of Education (NDE) and the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education (CCPE) establish competitive innovation grant programs and provide assistance to students for costs of obtaining credentials for trade occupations that are experiencing shortages of qualified workers.  Establishes a new best practices allowance in the state aid to schools formula and requires the Department of Labor to annually certify a list of trade occupations that are experiencing shortages of qualified workers.  Provides that programs and activities funded immediately prior to the termination of the Education Innovation Fund and the State Lottery Operation Trust Fund shall be fully replaced with funding from the General Fund based upon budget requests submitted by NDE and CCPE.  A committee amendment has been attached, similar to LB 589, which will continue the Excellence in Teaching Act providing $1.2 million in tuition reimbursement for teachers.

LB 525 (Sullivan) Change provisions relating to education.

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Approved by Governor on May 27, 2015.

Change provisions relating to the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System, advertising for bids, admission of homeless students, the deputy commissioner of education, academic content standards, adjustment of educational service unit boundaries, and the State Council on Educational Opportunity for Military Children; to eliminate provisions relating to annual school meetings as prescribed; and to harmonize provisions.  Amendments have been adopted to incorporate provisions of LB 239 establishing a grant program for educator effectiveness, and LB 509 making changes to the poverty allowance in TEEOSA.

LB 599 (Ebke) Provide a minimum wage for certain young student workers.

NSEA Position: Oppose.     Status: Failed to advance on Final Reading.

The bill would create a lower minimum wage rate for student workers. Adds language creating a young student workers wage rate. Employers may pay young student workers who are 18 years of age or younger, do not have a high school diploma, and who do not qualify for the training wage rate of Section 48-1203.01 or the student-learners’ wage rate of Section 48-1203(3), an hourly rate of $8.00. A maximum of 25% of the total hours paid by the employer may be at the young student workers wage rate.  The operative date of the bill would be January 1, 2016.

LB 623 (Nordquist) Provide for issuance of motor vehicle licenses to persons with lawful status.

NSEA Position: Support.     Status: Presented to Governor on May 21, 2015.

The bill will require Department of Motor Vehicles to issue drivers licenses or state identification cards to about 2,300 individuals (including high school students) who may demonstrate lawful status pursuant to the bill. These individuals are granted lawful status for a period of time by the federal government under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. A committee amendment has been proposed providing that an individual who has an operator's license or state identification card issue based on approved lawful status and if the basis for the approved lawful status is terminated, then the individual shall return the operator's license or state identification card to the Department of Motor Vehicles.