- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill to increase allowances for blind, older and disabled Medicaid recipients cleared the first round of voting Wednesday in the Nebraska Legislature.

With a 29-12 vote, lawmakers advanced a measure that would increase the monthly amount of allowances from $50 to $60. The bill will go through a second round of debate, where it can be killed or advanced to the final round with another majority vote.

Advocates argued the bill adjusts for inflation a rate that hasn’t been touched in 30 years, saying current allowances are not enough for recipients to purchase clothing and toiletries. Opponents called the measure piecemeal Medicaid expansion and said lawmakers should instead use the money for tax cuts.

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, who sponsored the measure, said the two mornings of debating the issue lasted longer than she expected and set the stage for themes taking shape this session.

“I think this is the shot across the bow,” she said. “People will now use it as a rallying cry.”

Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, a retired executive at Saint Francis Medical Center and chair of the revenue committee, supported the bill saying that updating the Medicaid personal allowance invests in the system’s efficiency and cuts long-term costs.

But Sen. Bill Kitner of Papillion said the bill’s fiscal note, which is just under $1 million for the next two years, leaves little room to give Nebraska residents the tax relief lawmakers have promised.

“Read my lips: Not one more dollar. It stops here,” Kitner said. “We’re going to respect the taxpayers, and I’m going to do everything I can to move tax relief through. At the rate we’re going, we’re going to go back to taxpayers for a third year and say, ‘I’m sorry, shucky darn, we spent all the money.’”

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha said stories about “grandpa’s slippers and grandma’s lipstick” can tug at heartstrings, but don’t detract from the fact that the personal allowances, even for disabled and older people, draw from already limited funds.

Sen. Tyson Larson urged senators to kill the bill in the first round, saying he does not believe the measure will advance through second-round voting.

“All of a sudden here comes April or May and we have to decide: What do we want to spend our money on?” the lawmaker from O’Neill said. “And that’s when it’ll get really nasty out there.”

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The bill is LB366

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