This session Senator Kate Bolz, senior member of the Appropriations Committee, introduced LB 356 to create the Civic Engagement Endowment Fund.
What is it? An annual appropriation of $75,000 to the Nebraska Arts Council to establish a grant program to support the work of nonprofits and community organizations. The funds are to be used for such projects as the promotion of volunteerism, nonpartisan voter registration and education, civil discourse, neighborhood organization work and development, and activities that increase confidence in civic institutions.
What is civic health? The civic health of a community is measured by civic engagement indicators including volunteering, charitable giving, working with neighbors, attending public meetings, groups membership, and group leadership.
In 2015, Civic Nebraska released the first ever Nebraska Civic Health Index, measuring the civic health of Nebraska. And we did pretty good, ranking high in volunteerism and charitable giving, but when it came to attending public meetings and interacting with elected officials – not so much.
To improve our civic health we need programs that bridge social, geographical, and generational barriers to deepen the connections to our communities. Unfortunately, for many local programs, funding is hard to come by. So many projects and programs in communities are too big for a pass the hat, but too small for a grant from a large foundation. We need something in the middle, something to provide that $3,000 to encourage Native American voters on reservations to vote, $2,000 to the downtown association to get community input on economic development, $5,000 to sponsor a leadership training for all neighborhood leaders in Omaha.
That’s exactly what LB 356 does – removes the financial, administrative, and geographic barriers that so many nonprofits and community groups seeking to promote civic engagement in Nebraska face and provides the means to do so.
In short, Senator Bolz is ready to invest in Nebraskans.
The Appropriations Committee will have a public hearing on LB 356 on Wednesday, March 15th. The bill has been prioritized by the Appropriations Committee.