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Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln said Wednesday that one of her top priorities for the 2019 legislative session will be "making up for lost ground" in terms of funding for the University of Nebraska and programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Bolz is a member of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee.

Workforce development will also be high on her list next year, Bolz said during a state legislative forum breakfast hosted by the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce that featured remarks by Lincoln senators. 

High on Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks' priority list is what she described as a lack of adequate programming for inmates in Nebraska's overcrowded prison system.

"People will be released without the necessary programming" that prepares them to re-enter society as safe and productive citizens, she said.

They could help meet Nebraska's workforce needs, Pansing Brooks said.

Sen. Suzanne Geist said she recently has been focused on the state's school aid formula and "how to be more equitable and fair" in providing state aid to schools across the state.

Sen. Mike Hilgers also pointed to school aid and the need to make it more "transparent and responsive."

Sen. Adam Morfeld made a strong pitch for voter approval of the initiative proposal to extend Medicaid coverage to 90,000 working Nebraskans who generally earn between $12,000 and $17,000 a year.

Without that extension of Medicaid, he said, other Nebraskans will continue to see their health care insurance premiums rise to help pay for uncompensated care.

Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the gathering that there are 58,000 jobs open and unfilled in Nebraska and that is a challenge that is "limiting the growth potential of Nebraska."

That workforce shortage is compounded by the fact that there are 301,000 K-12 students in Nebraska schools today compared to 324,000 in 1975 and by the reality that two-thirds of Nebraska's 93 counties are declining in population.

Nebraska needs to attract new people to the state as well as provide an environment that keeps young people from leaving, Slone said.

Business leaders across the state are coming together now to build a plan to accomplish that, he said, pointing to the Blueprint Nebraska project that will develop a long-term, statewide strategy for growing jobs and investment in the state.

"We have kept the politicians out of the process," Slone said. "This is driven by the business community."

Look for a report from the project sometime next year, he said, probably after the 2019 Legislature adjourns in early June.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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