Youth in focus in Legislature

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January 17, 2013 - 5:07pm

Troubled youth were among subjects discussed by Chief Justice Mike Heavican in the Nebraska Legislature Thursday, and helping foster children make a successful transition is the focus of a bill by Sen. Amanda McGill.

Heavican gave his annual State of the Judiciary address to senators. In it, he talked about a program to keep children who are involved in the juvenile justice system from being jailed while they receive services or treatment.

Heavican said pilot programs in North Platte, Scottsbluff and Omaha emphasize school attendance and parental involvement. He said 80 percent of the juveniles complete probation successfully, higher than the statewide average for their peers.

"Significantly, children do not have to become wards of the State in order to receive services from the project. Thus, not only does this project provide individualized treatment for children, but it is designed to save money for the State and to assist our juvenile courts with case management," he said.

How to help another group of young people, who "age out" of foster care, is the subject of a proposal by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill. McGill’s bill would offer services including housing subsidies, Medicaid, and a case worker to help with "life skills" for former state wards between age 18 and 21. She said currently, such help is available only if they’re in college.

McGill’s bill would expand that to people who were working at least 20 hours a week. She said there’s a great need, citing the example of young women she knows who don’t know how to pump gas when they age out of the system.

"The basic things that we learn from our parents these kids don’t have. So imagine being booted out of the foster care system not knowing how to pump gas and not having a roof over your head. What the heck are you supposed to do?" she said.

McGill estimated her proposal would cost the state about $2.5 million a year.

Another bill, introduced Thursday, deals with the contentious subject of abortion. Omaha Sen. Bob Krist is proposing to require abortion clinics websites to contain a link to a state-run web page. That page would in turn contain a link to a private organization’s video ultrasound images of fetuses at two-week intervals of development. Nebraska Right to Life said the bill will be its priority this legislative session.

Meanwhile, Gov. Dave Heineman highlighted part of his budget proposal that would build new cabins at Mahoney State Park and upgrade electrical hookups and other facilities for campers at Lake McConaughy State Recreation area. Heineman said the improvements would cost $1.7 million.

The governor also said he would announce details of his proposal to do away with income taxes tomorrow. So far, Heineman has said he would make up for $2.4 billion in revenue that would be lost – about 60 percent of the state’s budget – by eliminating some sales tax exemptions. But he has not specified which ones.

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