Redistricting Work Continues; Saint Francis Contract Scrutinized

Sept. 23, 2021, midnight ·

Senators Lou Ann Linehan, Matt Williams and Mike Hilgers confer Thursday
Senators Lou Ann Linehan, Matt Williams and Mike Hilgers confer Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Legislature continued its work on redistricting Thursday, and lawmakers prepared to take a closer look at the state's child welfare contract with Saint Francis Ministries.

Thursday was another day of closed-door negotiations between senators on how to redraw congressional and legislative district lines. In a brief morning session that lasted less than 15 minutes, Speaker Mike Hilgers expressed optimism, but not certainty, that a deal could be reached and debated Friday. Hilgers thanked the Redistricting Committee and all senators for their work.

“We did make a lot of progress yesterday. And today, one of the reasons why we don’t have anything on the agenda today is in order to enable that group and other senators to be able to continue to work throughout the day and make the most use of every hour that we have, in the map room, working together to try and see if we can reach an agreement to get the congressional and legislative maps to a place where we can pass them,” Hilgers said.

Also Thursday, the Legislature’s Executive Board authorized a special committee investigating the state’s contract with Saint Francis Ministries for child welfare services to subpoena documents and appearances by Saint Francis officials. And the inspector general for child welfare recommended Nebraska terminate its contract with Saint Francis and end its 12-year experiment with privatization of child welfare. In 2019 Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration signed a contract with Saint Francis for 40 percent less than it was paying the previous provider. Earlier this year, after Saint Francis said it was running out of money, the state signed a new, emergency contract to pay Saint Francis more than its competitor bid. The inspector general’s report said Saint Francis has failed to meet its obligations, including monthly meetings with children in the state’s care and having the number of caseworkers required by state law.

Ricketts’ spokesperson Taylor Gage said the administration will review the inspector general’s report and recommendations.