Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 30th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.
You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.
Sen. Roy Baker
Several of the major bills facing the Legislature this session have strong opinions and arguments on both sides. It takes time to examine the facts and make sure everyone is heard. That includes you as a constituent, you are always welcome and encouraged to contact my office with your views, and to provide any information that will help me during debate.
With that in mind, I would like to address LB 289. I know many gun owners are anxious to clarify the gun laws in Nebraska. This is such a crucial issue, it is especially important to get it right.
I am in support of LB 289 in its overall concept. However, the devil, as they say, is in the detail. When the Legislature adjourned on Tuesday, it was my understanding a compromise was in the works to allow larger cities like Lincoln and Omaha to tailor their laws to provide for law enforcement issues specific to metropolitan areas which do not normally occur in rural communities. I thought this was appropriate and wanted to see this added.
However, the sponsor of the bill was unwilling to allow any amendments to be added to her bill on Wednesday after all. Without the compromise, I felt LB289 left cities like Omaha and Lincoln in a precarious position.
We need consistent gun laws that constitute good, statewide policy. Laws that will protect valid gun owners from unintentionally violating a law in a different jurisdiction and guarantee freedom of movement. I also want to see protection for the most vulnerable in our society. As a former school administrator, I am highly sensitive to the tragedies across the nation in recent years.
Second Amendment rights must be preserved and defended for all responsible gun owners — but like you, I believe we should work hard to keep weapons out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill for the well-being of us all. It may seem unfair for law abiding citizens to wait, but as I said, a law of this magnitude needs to be done right.
I am already working on clear language to introduce in the next session. It is my intent to work with Senator Ebke (the introducer of LB 289) and Senator Morfeld (who suggested an exception for Lincoln and Omaha) over the interim to develop a bill that will ensure consistency and protection for lawful gun owners across the state and address law enforcement and public safety issues, particularly in our two largest cities.
District 30 Update — With the start of the second year of a two year cycle, senators jump right in to floor debate. Many bills left over from last session are scheduled right away. The first few on this list resulted in long hours of discussion and some of those required a cloture vote to cease debate before a final vote could be taken.
With that in mind, what do flying sky lanterns, donating one’s organs, poker, and pigs have in common? Obviously, debate on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature. In the past several days senators have discussed banning sky lanterns due to the potential, and in some instances, realized fire risk. LB 18 by Senator Johnson advanced. Senator Watermeir had a bill that would require a person to indicate if they would like to have their name placed on an organ donation list. The bill is on second round of debate. Is poker a game of skill or a game of chance thus making it gambling? LB 619 was filibustered and a motion for cloture (to cease all debate) failed. This moves it to the bottom of the bill list. It most likely will not come back up for debate.
January 20th, we began debate on LB 176. This bill, by Senator Ken Schilz, would remove the restriction of packers owning hogs from farrow to finish and processing. This issue has two clearly divided lines. Smaller, independent hog owners want to keep the protection in place which prevents packers from owning hogs. Their argument against the bill is eventually independent producers will be shut out of the open market with no place to sell their hogs because the packers will only use hogs produced by their contracted farmers. Those in support argue that Nebraska is the last state to prohibit packers from owning hogs. This group states that Nebraska hog production is flat while surrounding states have seen double and triple growth in hog production; and that raising contracted hogs provides a safety net to producers. I have heard from both sides, those strongly supporting and opposing the issue. I listened carefully to the debate on the floor of the legislature. Great arguments were made for and against. The preponderance of the calls and emails received favored rejection of LB 176. Ultimately, that was the deciding factor for my decision to vote against LB 176. The bill did advance. There will be further debate.
On January 22 I introduced my first two bills for this session before committee. LB 721 would create a licensure process in the Department of Health and Human Services for surgical first assistants. These are people who help the surgeon and are directed by the surgeon before, during and after the surgery. The second bill, LB 722, creates the Stroke System of Care Act to improve the overall outcomes of stroke patients. It would designate hospitals as a Comprehensive Stroke center, a Primary Stroke Center or an Acute Stroke Ready Hospital; and emergency medical service protocols would be developed to assure consistent care across the state.
I always welcome your communication: 402-471-2620 firstname.lastname@example.org
District 30 Update
Lincoln — And so it begins. On January 8th, 2016, the One Hundred and Fourth Legislature, Second Session convened. The first day we elected a new chairperson for the Nebraska Retirement Committee, Senator Mark Kolterman. Senator Jeremy Nordquist resigned, leaving that chairmanship position open. Replacing Sen. Nordquist to represent District 7 in Omaha, is Senator Nicole Fox.
During the first three days of the session, senators began the process of introducing more bills. On Monday, the 4th day of session, Speaker Hadley scheduled debate of proposed rules changes. There was one proposal which garnered a great deal of debate. It was a proposal to require the senators to have an open ballot when electing leadership positions. Many senators felt this could impact senators’ ability to work with one another and allow partisan politics into our non-partisan legislature. The proposal was defeated.
On Tuesday of this week we started full day debate on bills held over from last session. First up was Senator Dan Watermeier’s bill, LB 47 which would require an applicant for a driver license or identification card to answer a question regarding whether to place his or her name on the Donor Registry to donate their organs and tissues at the time of death. Currently, this question is optional. After six hours of debate, the bill did advance.
On Wednesday we began debate on carry over bill LB 619, as introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson, which would give a special designation to poker as a game of skill rather than as a game of chance.
I have introduced five bills. LB 721 would create licensure for Surgical First Assistant Practice, LB 722 creates the Stroke System of Care Act; LB 899 changes the lead free definition for drinking water to mirror the federal definition; LB 903 is a 73 page bill that re-writes portions of Learning Community statutes. This bill has agreement from the superintendents of all 11 schools districts that are part of the learning community in Omaha and the surrounding areas; LB 904 would allow school districts in the learning community to opt out of a learning community if the population of the school district is below 12,000 residents.
Finally, I would like to let you know how you can stay informed on legislative proceedings. The Nebraska Legislature’s website is the best place to start. www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Among the many features on this site you can access information on legislative bills, the hearing schedule for those bills, information on senators, and read the Unicameral Update.
The Unicameral Update publication is an excellent source of information and provides articles on various bills either in committee or discussed in the chamber, the hearing schedule and more.
As always, you can contact my office and speak to Barb Dorn, my Administrative Assistant who manages my schedule. Janet Anderson is my Legislative Aide and she handles legislative issues and constituent services. My office phone number is 402-471-2620 and my email address is email@example.com.
Nebraska Unicameral Update
Sen. Roy Baker – District 30
PROPERTY TAXES. The first recommendation of the 2013 Tax Modernization Committee regarding property taxes was to increase the state aid commitment to schools to offset property tax use and reduce property taxes as a share of total state and local taxes. To that end, the Revenue and Education Committees conducted a series of joint meetings to explore possibilities.
The final meeting was held on November 30. No legislative bill will be introduced by the joint committee. It is likely there will be several bills brought forward by individual state senators. The intent of those bills will likely center on some of the concepts discussed by the joint committee, including but not limited to the following:
A contributing factor to the current imbalance in property taxes resulted from rapidly escalating land values over the past several years, while residential valuations decreased following the housing bubble burst. Recent information shows that residential valuations are now increasing again while ag land values have plateaued or even decreased in some areas. Over time, the current imbalance will self-correct to some extent, though not likely fast enough to suit many.
Beatrice State Developmental Center. Legislative Resolution 32, passed by the 2015 Legislature, provides for the continuation of the Developmental Disabilities Special Investigative Committee. The Committee has been in place to provide ongoing oversight of the placement and care of the developmentally disabled in Nebraska since 2008, following the temporary de-certification of the BSDC. I serve as the vice-chairman of the committee. We held a joint hearing with the Health and Human Services Committee on December 17. We heard extensive testimony from Courtney Miller, recently appointed Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Ms. Miller also serves as the interim director of the BSDC.
There is a strong trend nationally not to place developmentally disabled persons in institutions. With the goal in mind of placing individuals in the least restrictive environment, more people are being served in home and community based programs, with proper support. The trend does not take the BSDC off the table – there are some residents for which the BSDC likely is the least restrictive environment. Director Miller stated that she and her DD staff will be working with the Executive Branch over the next year to develop a plan for what the BSDC should look like and be like in the future. We anticipate receiving the report of that study in December, 2016.
As always, I welcome your communication. Feel free to contact me on these matters, or any other subject related to the Legislature. Please join our email list to receive the monthly District 30 newsletter. My Capitol office telephone number is 402-471-2620; the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist30/ and we are also on Facebook, search for Roy Baker.
State Senator Roy Baker
Beatrice State Developmental Center Legislative Resolution 32 was passed in the 2015 session to provide for the continuation of the Developmental Disabilities Special Investigative Committee. The Committee has been providing ongoing oversight of the placement and care of the developmentally disabled in Nebraska since 2008. The BSCD had been decertified, resulting in a loss of $25 million per year of Federal funding. That funding has been restored, and the Department of Justice has closed the case.
I serve on the committee, and was tasked to focus on BSDC. My staff arranged a tour of the BSDC for the Senators on the committee, and the staff hosted us on October 21. We had the opportunity to see the facilities, visit with staff at all levels, and with parents and guardians.
We learned that the population being served in the 1970’s was over 2,000 with approximately 3,000 staff. Clearly the Center was a major employer in the Beatrice Community. Today, the number of developmentally disabled is down to 116, with around 550 employees. There have been no admissions since 2012 and only four since 2010. There has been a clear trend across the country to look to community based programs instead of institutions, with the focus on better integration into mainstream society.
The parents and guardians all told us that they don’t see the BSCD as an institution, but as a home for their loved ones. When residents were moved out of the BSCD into community settings during the crisis, the displaced residents were unhappy and did not fare well, particularly the behaviorally challenged.
With a dwindling number of people being served, many of the facilities on the campus are not being utilized. The costs of providing services exceeds $400,000 per person served per year, with about 60% Federal funding. The State’s share of BSDC budget is over $22 million per year. The Investigative Committee is committed to providing the same high level of care in the future to the current residents, while realizing we have to have a plan in place to take into account the new realities.
Tax Relief and School Funding The Revenue and Education Committees have met jointly for a series of sessions to discuss how to provide property tax relief via increased funding of K-12 schools, who would in turn be required to lower the amount of local property tax requests. In effect, nothing would change for school districts – they would be neither better off nor worse off. It is likely that the additional funding would be a stream separate from existing State Aid (TEEOSA). The additional funding might come via foundation aid per pupil, increased reimbursement for special education expenditures, and/or increasing allocated income taxes up to the 20% level. Any changes in the existing State Aid formula would be separate from this discussion, and most likely initiated in the Education Committee. Changes in the State Aid formula that might be considered include: elimination of the minimum levy; reduce ag land valuation from 75% to 65% just for purposes of calculating equalization aid; and eliminating the averaging adjustment, which would bring more school districts back into receiving equalization aid.
The next step is to hold public hearings on the concepts. Testimony on LR332 from the Revenue Committee and LR344 from the Education Committee will be heard at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 12.
Feel free to contact me on these matters, or any other subject related to the Legislature. My Capitol office telephone number is 402-471-2620; the email address is email@example.com
State Legislature Update
Sen. Roy Baker, District 30
PROPERTY TAX RELIEF STUDY REPORT
The Education and Revenue Committees have been holding joint sessions this summer and fall in an attempt to explore increasing state support of public schools as a mechanism to provide property tax relief. The first recommendation by the 2013 Tax Modernization Committee regarding property taxes was to increase the state aid commitment to schools to offset property tax use and reduce property taxes as a share of total state and local taxes.
There have been several situations over the past fifteen years that have substantially impacted Nebraska’s economy and the manner in which the public schools have been funded. The burst of the dot.com bubble occurred in the early 2000’s, which impacted retirement systems and the overall economic health. The Legislature was forced to reduce the state’s commitment to school funding, and raised the maximum general fund levy limit from $1.00 to $1.05 per $100 of valuation. The result was a greater reliance on local property taxes among the revenue sources.
The housing bubble burst occurred between 2007 and 2012. Home values bottomed in 2012. Housing was a key factor leading to the recession in Nebraska and across the nation. Home values are just now back to where they were in 2007, in general. As a consequence of that housing bubble burst, the taxable valuation of residential property flat-lined or went down.
Meanwhile, a good cash-grain economy in the agriculture sector led to rapidly increasing farm land values. The value of farm land has doubled or even tripled in some instances in a span of just a few years. Farm land owners are bearing more of the local property tax load, and are understandably not happy about it.
Taxes of any kind have never been popular. Senators report hearing the most dissatisfaction with property taxes, more so than with income and sales taxes. Farm land owners have led the outcry for fairness and property tax relief.
Rural senators on the committee suggest finding a way to provide some property tax relief targeted toward agricultural landowners. With the number of urban senators exceeding that of rural senators, the success of such proposals is in question. In the committee work sessions, we have heard the recitation of both urban and rural myths, each side believing the other has more tax loopholes and is somehow better off.
The State of Nebraska does not collect any property taxes. Thus, the only way that the Legislature can impact local property taxes is to provide more state support to local governmental subdivisions. The Legislature has taken small steps in recent years by providing property tax credits to all property owners. The 2015 Legislature boosted the annual amount allocated to property tax credits to over $200,000,000. Some property tax relief is better than none, but has not been enough in the eyes of many.
Most members of the committees agree that the state aid to schools equalization formula, known as TEEOSA, should remain in place, and that any additional state support of schools should be distributed to all public school districts in the state, equalized and non-equalized. In return, the districts would lower their property tax requests by the same amount as the supplemental aid.
The two largest school districts in District 30, Beatrice and Norris, both of which are equalized, have experienced increased taxable valuations, primarily due to the higher farm land values. However those districts have seen their state equalization drop as a result of the higher valuations, and have been unable to materially reduce the property tax levy. School finance has been unpredictable the past few years. Districts that used to be solid financially are now not, and others that were in poor shape financially are now in a good position.
It is probable that some school districts are being managed more efficiently than others. However, it does not appear that the current property tax concerns are the result of runaway spending by school districts, counties, or other governmental subdivisions. School districts already operate under spending limitations and property tax levy caps.
Attempts by your Legislature to solve the property tax dilemma by stepping on local control is not likely to be well received. Past attempts to impose State control over the property tax entities have not been successful. In 1996, voters rejected property tax limits for governmental subdivisions 490,113 to 167,204. In 2006 voters rejected the imposition of a state spending limit, with only 28% voting in favor. Again, it should be noted that school districts are restricted by spending limits.
As the joint Education – Revenue meetings continue, I will keep you informed. There are no easy answers. The goal is to reach consensus on legislation to be introduced in the 2016 session.
Your input is always welcomed. You may contact my office by telephone, (402-471-2620), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit in person.