Bills to the National Guard, pet insurance among the measures pushed

A day after complaints that the Legislature had done nothing, lawmakers presented bills on Thursday addressing everything from tuition fees and National Guard morale to pet insurance.

One of the benefits members of the Nebraska National Guard receive is tuition reimbursement for undergraduate or graduate courses. But there’s currently a $900,000-a-year cap on how much the state allocates to reimburse the Guard when their members enroll in classes. Sen. Loren Lippincott said if the cap remains in place, the available funds this year would be $40,000 below what is needed, leaving 29 members of the Guard without financial assistance.

A Guard spokeswoman said between 225 and 300 Guard members have claimed tuition reimbursements in recent semesters, out of about 4,200 members in total.

Lippincott’s bill would originally have raised the cap to $1 million, but an amendment by Senator John Lowe removed it entirely, eliminating the need to adjust the cap each year.

Lippincott said the measure would help keep Guard members in Nebraska. And he quoted George Washington on the need to treat military personnel well.

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, will be directly proportional to how they perceived that the veterans of previous wars were treated and valued by their nation,” Lippincott quoted Washington as saying.

Senators voted 34-0 in the first round to pass the bill. Two more rounds of voting are required before it is sent to Gov. Jim Pillen for approval.

The morale of the Watch also concerned Senator Tom Brewer, sponsor of a bill mandating a climate survey of Watch members every two years and whenever a new Adjutant General is appointed head of the Watch. Brewer described the sort of things the survey would examine.

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“It tells you if we have wage problems, if we have morale problems over food or administrative issues. It can tell you if there is a caustic command environment. So it’s that testimony that lets people know if the people who wear the uniform and represent Nebraska and the U.S. military are being treated the way they should be treated,” Brewer said.

Brewer, a 36-year-old military veteran, said he’s not currently aware of any major issues affecting guard morale, but the requirement is more of a preventative measure. He said it might be helpful based on his experience.

“I think for the next aide general or the current aide general to actually understand the truth of what’s going on, because the military is very good at the process of what’s called ‘cover the butt’, so if there are problems and problems , usually these are hidden from the next chain of command as much as possible so that nobody gets in trouble,” he said.

Senators voted 37-0 to pass the bill.

Sen. Beau Ballard is the sponsor of the bill that would regulate pet insurance. He said it’s the fastest growing type of insurance nationwide, with sales growing 30 percent a year. Ballard said the average pet insurance costs $49 a month for a dog and $32 a month for a cat, and regulation is needed.

“LB296 creates a legal framework for the sale of pet insurance in Nebraska — a framework to protect consumers and provide a necessary requirement for insurers and agents who sell insurance products,” Ballard said.

Under its provisions, the bill would require insurers to disclose whether their policies exclude pre-existing, hereditary or chronic diseases or congenital disorders.

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Insurers would also have to disclose whether coverage would be reduced or premiums increased based on claims history, the pet’s age, or a change in geographic location.

And consumers would have 30 days to get a full refund if they change their mind after signing up, as long as they haven’t made a claim. The bill passed with a 32-0 vote.

Movement in the bills came a day after the Legislature slowed when some senators called for individual votes on governor nominations to boards and commissions — appointments normally voted on in groups.

The individual votes prompted Senator Julie Slama, an anti-abortion advocate, to claim that abortion rights advocates would slow down routine business to create time pressures later in the session that would reduce the chances of passing abortion-restricting legislation.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, an abortion rights supporter who led efforts Wednesday to slow approval of nominations, made no attempt Thursday to slow scrutiny of bills.

When asked about the difference in tactics, Cavanaugh said she thinks the Legislature needs to pay more attention to the nominations it approves and will be selective about what it is trying to slow down.

The use of delaying tactics will be tested if and when the Health and Human Services Committee introduces a bill that would essentially ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. A committee vote on moving this bill forward is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Until then, Senators have a four-day weekend, Friday through Monday. They meet again next Tuesday.