Nebraska adds Commission on Asian American Affairs to improve representation

May 3, 2024, 6 a.m. ·

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The Nebraska Commission on Asian American Affairs was brought into existence when the legislature passed LB1300 and Gov. Jim Pillen approved it. State Sen. Rita Sanders, the only Asian American woman in the legislature, sponsored the bill. (Photo by Jason Leung/Unsplash)

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Nebraska now has a Commission on Asian American Affairs that will join other commissions for racial and ethnic minority groups already represented in state government.

State Sen. Rita Sanders, of Bellevue, noticed a gap and sponsored a bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Jim Pillen last month. The same bill was previously introduced, but failed to gain traction in the legislature in past years.

“Thank God we got it over the finish line," Sanders said. "In the bill, there's a couple of things right that we want to make sure it's about. And to me, the education piece is vital."

LB1300 also adopts four other acts: security requirements for chemical facilities, changing some provisions to veteran aid programs and requires voter approval for certain salary increases.

The creation of the commission means Asian Americans in Nebraska will now have direct access to legislature and state government through the soon-to-be commissioners. It is meant to act as an advocate regarding housing, education, welfare, medical/dental care, employment, economic development, law and as an informational resource.

There have been outlets in government representation for Nebraska’s Native Americans since 1971, African Americans since 2021 and Latinos since 1972.

Sanders thinks it took longer for representation for Asian Americans because, in her experience, they tend to keep their heads down and focus on work. She expects in the long term, this commission could boost the state’s economy by being more welcoming to the diverse communities within the Asian American population.

“I think we’re richer the broader our culture is and the more engaging we are,” Sanders said.

She received bipartisan support for the bill.

Alan Wang, executive director for Prairie Stem and the new board president for Nebraska Asian Pacific American Leadership Alliance, is one of the people who helped support this push for representation.

“I think it’s a really important step in advancing AAPI advancement in our communities," Wang said. "For a long time, escalating during COVID, a lot of those incidents could have been mitigated if more of the community were seen and heard."

He echoed Sanders’ thoughts that the commission will address not only improvement in awareness and understanding of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but also economic opportunities for the state.

Other state commissions on historically marginalized groups commend Sanders’ actions in pushing this bill through.

“I think Nebraska is being an example for many states showing how to move forward instead going backwards. I think Nebraska is showing the importance of diversity and inclusion,” said Maria Arriaga, executive director of the Commission on Latino-Americans.

Arriaga testified in support of creating a Commission on Asian American Affairs on behalf of her own commission. She expects her office will be working closely with the new commission.

“I think it's very valuable,” Arriaga said. “I really appreciate that this finally became a reality.”

The addition comes as one neighboring state does the opposite. Iowa’s legislature recently cut its commissions for underrepresented communities. There was concern from community leaders that Nebraska may follow the same trend. Sanders said her intention was always that the commission could be temporary: If the community no longer needed it, it would cease to exist.

Wang commended Pillen for his approval during a time where some states have been going in the oppositive direction as far as diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

He said the state is now “advancing diversity as well as prosperity for AAPI community but also for the state.”

The law requires the 14 governor-appointed members of the new commission to be of Asian ancestry. Nonvoting, ex-oficio members can be appointed by the commission and do not need to be of Asian descent.