Sen. Kate Bolz (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
Nebraska lawmakers moved Wednesday toward spending more to keep older people out of nursing homes, while a committee endorsed a $78 million dollar renovation of the Capitol’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
The proposal on care for the elderly by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz is supposed to help keep elderly people in their homes longer by providing better planning and services to help fulfill their needs. Bolz said services that could be provided include respite care, home based medical care, case management, medical transportation, emergency services. “In the future we will have kept a huge population of individuals who would have otherwise have entered costly nursing home care…in less costly home and community-based care,” she predicted.
Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor supported the proposal as a reasonable middle ground between leaving people in their home in unsafe conditions, and putting them in an institution. “It’s as if we had houses full of elderly who aren’t eating and the only option that appears to be available to us is to take them out for dinner. And not just take then out to the local café or a fast food restaurant or some place for a wrap, but to take them to Misty’s for prime rib every night, because we don’t have any other options,” he said of the current situation.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion said he supports the goal of keeping people in their homes. But Kintner objected to the way the program would be funded. Nebraska would spend $8 million over the next two years to get an additional $37 million in federal funds, some of which would not be available after that. “The federal government always hooks you. They always give you the money for a year, maybe two years maybe three years. And then they’ve got you hooked on the program,” he said. “Once they’ve got you hooked, then you’ve got to start spending your own money. That, my friends, is a textbook example of how to grow government,” he added.
Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop accused Kintner and others who agreed with him of being selective in their criticism of federal budgeting. “Every time we’re going to do something for a poor person, for an elderly person -- do something that has to do with Medicaid – all of a sudden a group in this body stands up and talks about the federal budget,” Lathrop said. By contrast, he continued “No one was talking about lowering taxes and whether that was a good idea when we were in the middle of two wars. No one. No one thought we needed to worry about spending money when we were starting two wars, and now we’re in a hole.”
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, the only independent in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, said it was easy for the members of the Republican majority, like Kintner, to be critical of those who disagree with them. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 30-18 in the 49-member Unicameral. Kintner acknowledged that Republicans have a numerical majority. “Well, yeah. But you know what? We don’t have a conservative majority, and that’s why we can’t control spending,” he said.
Senators then voted to give Bolz’ proposal first round approval on a vote of 31-11.
Wednesday afternoon, members of the Appropriations Committee discussed a proposed renovation of the Capitol’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. The renovation would involve moving people out of their offices in each of the four quadrants of the Capitol and its tower into leased space in successive waves.
Capitol Administrator Bob Ripley said the original system was installed when the Capitol was built in the 1920s, and the current system dates from a renovation in 1964. The entire project is projected to take 10 years and cost $78 million. Ripley was asked why it would cost so much.
“The expense of it is just the enormity of it all. It is a huge building with an enormous amount of square footage,” he replied. “It’s an historic building. You can’t just go blasting through walls. We have brick walls in the building that are two to three feet thick in some instances. So if you were building it new and you had the ability to put chases through walls wherever you wanted, well then you could run the thing any way you want. But when you’ve got an existing building you’ve got to deal with what’s here,” he said.
The Appropriations Committee voted without dissent to recommend using $11.7 million from the cash reserve to fund the first three years of the project.
How much is available to spend on other programs will become clearer after the state’s Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meets to revise its estimate of tax revenues on Friday.