The approaching 2022 legislative session is emerging as a rare moment of challenge and opportunity for Nebraska, state senators and business leaders told a Lincoln Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast audience on Tuesday.
The combination of a billion dollars in federal pandemic recovery assistance that the state has received for one-time investments along with an accompanying healthy flow of state revenue offers "some significant opportunities," Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers of Lincoln said.
"We have a lot of money," he said.
"This is a critical moment that matters for Nebraska," Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the breakfast audience.
It's an opportunity to address the state's economic challenges, with workforce development dominating the list, he said.
Housing, education and child care challenges also face the state, Slone said.
Hilgers has his eye on so-called Star Wars water development projects that could be initiated with the one-time federal pandemic funding, leading to a lasting impact on recreation, tourism, flood control, economic development and water sustainability in the state.
Hilgers is chairman of the Statewide Tourism and Recreational Water Access and Resources Sustainability (STAR WARS) Committee that is considering projects throughout the state, including the possibility of constructing a large reservoir between Lincoln and Omaha.
Kristen Hassebrook, the Nebraska Chamber's executive vice president for legislation and policy, told the breakfast audience that the Chamber is "very excited" about the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was signed by President Joe Biden on Monday, but not supportive of the proposed $2 trillion social spending package that may follow.
The infrastructure package provides funding for roads, bridges and rural broadband, she noted.
Capital used to be the No. 1 challenge for businesses in Nebraska, Slone said, but now 92% of employers say it's workforce.
Five Lincoln state senators addressed the gathering with a focus on their plans for the 2022 legislative session.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said she plans to address multicultural needs and propose juvenile justice legislation, including reforms that change the current practice of dealing with truancy in the criminal justice system.
Sen. Suzanne Geist said she has her eye on small business needs while applauding the Ricketts administration's action negotiating a significant pay increase for state correctional officers.
Sen. Adam Morfeld suggested the need for an apprenticeship tax credit, expanded access to health care and action to "break the barriers" that sometimes prevent people from reporting sexual assaults.
Morfeld also pointed to the need for "better public transportation" with an eye on a future high-speed rail link between Lincoln and Omaha.
Sen. Matt Hansen said he will center on housing needs, which is one of the challenges in workforce development.
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