More spending money for Medicaid nursing home patients; drivers licenses for "Dreamers" debated

(Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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March 3, 2015 - 5:45pm

Extra spending money for Medicaid recipients in nursing homes, and drivers licenses for children brought to the United States illegally, were discussed in the Nebraska Legislature Tuesday.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln is the sponsor of the bill to allow more spending money for Medicaid recipients in nursing homes. Currently, if someone receives Social Security, for example, they have to use all but $50 per month of that to help pay for their nursing home care.

Pansing Brooks wants to increase that amount. "These are dollars that each of us make through our lives including Social Security dollars and disability dollars that we paid for all of our lives," she said. "What we are asking here is that (the) state not take an extra $25 -- that instead the state hold back from taking from these people $25 an extra, so that they can have $75 as a personal allowance."

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash supported the proposal. Coash talked about visiting a nursing home with a Christmas tree in the lobby where residents had listed their wishes for the holiday. "This is what I saw: a pair of socks. A gift certificate so I could get a haircut. A bottle of lotion. A bottle of shampoo," Coash said.

Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln also supported the bill. Baker talked about when his in-laws moved into a nursing home. "You talk about human dignity -- my mother-in-law was used to having her hair done once a week. That’s $18. Fifty dollars doesn’t cover a month’s worth of even that, let alone other things," he said.

Opponents focused on the cost of the proposal, which would raise state and federal Medicaid payments by about $3 million each over the next two years to make up for the money residents would no longer have to pay. Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy opposed the spending increase contemplated in LB366. "Colleagues, every dollar that we spend on a bill like LB366 is one less dollar that’s available for tax relief for the people of Nebraska," he said.

And Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft, recalling the outpouring of private donations after flooding along the Missouri River and tornadoes in northeast Nebraska, suggested private charity would be a better alternative. "I’m hoping that this dialogue here brings to the alert of the private sector – corporations, organizations, groups, civics groups -- to contact their local living center and nursing homes to see what can we do? I believe that is the most prudent way to address gaps in finances," she said.

Lawmakers adjourned for the day before reaching a first round vote on the bill.

Tuesday afternoon, supporters packed a hearing room and an overflow room to testify and listen on a bill to allow drivers licenses for so-called "Dreamers" – young people brought to the country illegally who have been spared from deportation by executive action. When he was in office, former Gov. Dave Heineman opposed allowing such drivers licenses, and Nebraska is the only state not to allow them. Among those supporting the bill was Bev Reicks, Heineman’s former director of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Reicks is now president of the National Safety Council of Nebraska. She said allowing the licenses would improve safety by requiring drivers to get training and education, making it easier to identify drivers at the scene of an accident, and encouraging people not to leave the scene of an accident. "The National Safety Council calls upon our new governor and the members of the Legislature to work together for the common good of all Nebraskans to ensure that consistent, proper and secure requirements are in place that would provide an opportunity to develop a safe driving culture among our immigrant neighbors," she said.

Reicks said her position on the issue had changed after the federal Department of Homeland Security clarified its policies. She said that came as she was about to leave the Heineman administration. Gov. Pete Ricketts has said he opposes making the drivers licenses available.

Dozens of other people testified in support of the proposal, including many Dreamers who said it would help them with work and school. Two testifiers opposed it. One of the opponents was Susan Gumm, who said licenses would make it easier for illegal immigrants to compete with Americans. "Granting driving privileges to deferred action recipients makes it easier for them to compete for jobs that unemployed and underemployed Nebraskans need and deserve," she said.

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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