Senator Sarah Howard writes –
The Legislature started the 60 day session for 2020 on January 8th. As I begin my 8th and final year in the Legislature, I want to express my deep appreciation to the people of Midtown Omaha for allowing me to represent you in Lincoln.
During the first 10 days of the session, new bills are introduced and scheduled for public hearings. Nebraska is unique in that every bill that is introduced is given a public hearing before a legislative committee so that the public can speak directly to their representatives about each bill.
As Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, I have been working with my fellow committee members to address some serious issues that arose at the Youth Rehabilitation and Training Centers (YRTC) in Geneva (Girls) and Kearney (Boys). These facilities serve youth ages 14 to 19 in the state’s juvenile justice system.
The situation at YRTC-Geneva reached a crisis point in August 2019. I and several senators personally visited the Geneva facility and saw firsthand the conditions in the living areas, the school, and the cafeteria. In the living areas, we found major unfinished repairs, significant water damage resulting in a musty smell, holes in the walls large enough for girls to fit through, broken walls with exposed mesh and lathe, and a broken fire safety system. In public testimony and through discussions Committee members had with youth, parents, staff, and community members, it became clear that challenges concerning facility maintenance, staffing, and programming preceded the crisis in August at YRTC-Geneva.
All of the girls were transferred from YRTC-Geneva to YRTC-Kearney on August 19th. The move to YRTC-Kearney mitigated the immediate safety concerns but challenges remain having both boys and girls on the same campus.
The members of the Health and Human Services Committee have worked diligently on finding solutions to the situation in Geneva. My committee members have made multiple tours of the YRTC facilities in Geneva and Kearney and had numerous conversations with the girls affected, their parents, current and former staff, and community members. The Health and Human Services Committee also held public hearings in Geneva, Kearney, and Lincoln this fall.
The Health and Human Services Committee has made 14 recommendations to address these issues in a comprehensive report to the Legislature. Legislation has been introduced to implement these recommendations.
We must make sure that the conditions that existed at YRTC-Geneva are never allowed to happen again and that we have a solid plan for the care and rehabilitation of the youth assigned to the YRTCs. The complete committee report can be found by clicking here.
As always, I hope that you will continue to share your thoughts, views or concerns about any issue before the Legislature. I always appreciate hearing from you.
January 27, 2020