Sen. Kate Bolz (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
The Nebraska Legislature Thursday overrode Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto of a multimillion-dollar effort to keep elderly Nebraskans in their homes, and out of nursing homes. But lawmakers fell short of authorizing $200 million of highway bonds to speed up road construction.
Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz wants the state to apply for up to $36 million in federal funds over the next two years. That would be matched by up to $8 million in state funds. The money would be used to expand and coordinate services to keep older Nebraskans in their homes. Bolz said that would save Medicaid expenses in the long run. "If we keep just 100 people in home- and community-based care over institutional care, our own long-term planning committee tells us, we can save $2 million per year," she said.
In his veto message, the governor described the proposal as "a new, $30 million annual expansion of Medicaid predicated on a bait-and-switch by the federal government." He added that it could saddle Nebraska taxpayers with a new program without sustainable federal funding. Thursday, Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy picked up that theme. "If we go down this road with the Balancing Incentive Payment plan -- the BIPP program -- and we fail to meet the requirements by Sept. 30 of next year, we are on the hook as a state for all of these expenses. And that’s millions and millions of dollars," he said.
Supporters of the bill said there would be no penalty if the state fails to meet requirements. But Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk complained of a lack of specifics in the bill, such as what is meant by "case management."
"I didn’t want to hear a term of ‘case management.’ I wanted to know are we hiring two caseworkers or two thousand caseworkers?" he said.
Bolz said case managers could help up to 5,000 people identify needs like home health care, adult day care, and respite care that would help them stay in their homes. And federal funds would also help pay for those services. Senators voted 30-12 to override the governor’s veto.
It also would have taken 30 votes to pass a bill authorizing the borrowing of up to $200 million via highway bonds to speed up road construction. Randy Peters, whom Heineman appointed director of the Department of Roads, opposed the proposal. That bill got only 28 votes.
Senators did give final approval to a slew of other bills, including prison reform, which passed on a vote of 46-0, and reorganizing the Natural Resources Commission to fund water projects. That vote was 48-0. Lawmakers also confirmed Michael Kenney as director of the Department of Correctional Services, on a vote of 30-9.
The Legislature will not meet again until the final day of this year’s session, next Thursday, when senators can vote whether or not to override any vetoes the governor issues between now and then.