NORFOLK — Senator Bob Krist called it his darkest day in the legislature and he wasn’t talking about the lighting.
Krist was referencing the Unicameral’s inability to override a line-item veto by Governor Pete Ricketts that removed $3.6 million of funding from developmentally disabled service providers.
“It’s because of people not engaging in a conversation and not listening to what the people of Nebraska need,” Krist said. “That need is to make sure that people who are most vulnerable are taken care of, that’s the state’s responsibility.”
Now the groups that provide residential services and vocational training to the developmentally disabled, like NorthStar Services in northeast Nebraska, are hurting. NorthStar CEO Alan Zavodny says they have trouble finding staff and paying a fair wage, especially with health insurance going up.
“Our funding just, frankly, hasn’t been able to keep up,” Zavodny said. “We understand that the state is in a bad position and we want to be a part of the solution. But, it needs to be prioritized a bit more because the continuation of continuing to provide for these services is really at risk.”
Zavodny wants Krist to be service providers’ voice. That’s why Krist was in Norfolk on Thursday night to host a townhall meeting; to address the situation that both men said was at a crossroads.
“These folks have provided a tremendous service for the state for years and they need to be heard and we need to listen to them,” Krist said.
Krist, who is running for governor as an independent in 2018, fielded questions and concerns from a group of about 40 people. He said the funding cuts didn’t need to happen and that he will look to restore the money through deficit appropriations.
Krist has a daughter who is missing part of a chromosome so he said he understands the plight of the families at the townhall. He says it is one of the main reasons he is running for governor.
“This one is personal,” Krist said. “This one really is personal in terms of what my family has seen and what I have seen in the nine years I’ve been in the legislature.”
The 2018 legislative session begins on January 3rd.