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
The 2016 Cattlemen’s Ball, bringing thousands of people to District 30, will be held at the Lienemann’s on Highway 77 north of Cortland, on Saturday, June 4. For a complete schedule including Friday night events at Nebraska Innovation Campus and special activities in District 30, a chance to stay at the Governor’s Mansion, the Clint Black concert, ticket information for both days and all the details about this benefit for cancer research follow the link to the website: https://cattlemensball.com/
The One-Hundredth and Fourth Legislature by the numbers.
Sixty days does not seem like a long time for the legislature to meet. Yet there were days where debates dragged on for hours on seemingly inconsequential issues and then days where the pace of voting was swift and sure. This year there were 24 filibusters compared to only 14 last year.
In this short session, 446 bills were introduced; and 664 bills were introduced in 2015, for a total of 1110 bills. Of these, 210 bills were passed into law this year along with 243 bills from last year. With all the filibusters, only those bills with priority designations were heard in the last three or four weeks of the session. 107 bills were designated as priorities and eventually 78 of those priority bills were passed by the Unicameral.
Eleven senators are term-limited out of office this year. Senators Bloomfield, Campbell, Coash, Cook, Gloor, Haar, Hadley, McCoy, Mello, Schilz and Sullivan have served their two term limit. Five of these senators are chairpersons of a committee and one is the Speaker. They leave with a great deal of knowledge on issues and a passion to work hard for the citizens of this state. They will be missed.
April 20th was the sixtieth and final day of this session. Vetoes made by the governor were taken up that day. Three appropriation bills had line item vetoes (the bills passed but only after the Governor made selective cuts in these spending bills). The Governor vetoed several bills, but LB 947, allowing immigrants with lawful presence in the United States to apply for professional licenses, received two hours of debate before senators overrode the gubernatorial veto with 31 ayes, 13 nays, and 5 present and not voting.
The Governor made closing statements to the Legislature. Senators indefinitely postponed (killed) all bills not enacted this session according to the rules, so those issues will need to be introduced again in the future to be acted upon. Other motions were made regarding directives to the Clerk of the Legislature for the final postings of the Legislative Journal – and with that a final motion was made to adjourn sine die which formally ended the session.
The lights in the chamber were turned off, desks cleared, and senators headed home. The interim months of 2016 begin the work of researching potential legislation, working on interim studies and constituent issues.
I would like to make the constituents of District 30 aware of opportunities available to youth and adults alike. The Unicameral Youth Legislature is an opportunity for high school students to attend a four-day camp, June 5-8. Held at the State Capitol, student senators will sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral. Senators’ staff take an active role in the camp and work as advisors to the student senators. More information can be found at: www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-2788.
For the adults in the district, the Governor is always looking for good people to fill vacancies on various boards and commission. To see positions available, follow this link:
www.governor.nebraska.gov/board-comm-req. Applications can be filled out on-line.
Please continue to contact me at any time throughout the interim with any issues that concern you. firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2620.
The 104th Session of the Nebraska Legislature is drawing to a close. For these past two years, I have served on the Education Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee.
In the education realm, I came into the 2016 legislative session believing the most imperative issue was changing the Learning Community provisions – especially eliminating the common levy. The Learning Community was created by the Nebraska Legislature and began on January 1, 2009. The Omaha Public Schools attempted to make all eleven school districts part of OPS under an old ‘one city – one school district’ law that had never been used in the past. The Learning Community accomplished the freezing of school district boundaries. However, the common tax levy proved to be untenable to the districts involved. In 2014 the member schools all agreed on changes that should be made. We failed to enact any of those changes in the 2015 legislative session. The eleven superintendents came to me in the summer of 2015 and asked me to use my influence to make important changes in the 2016 session. I was able to work this bill through the process and consider my involvement in the passage of LB 1067 my greatest accomplishment of the year.
In the Health and Human Services Committee, I introduced three bills, all of which passed. LB 722, my priority bill, establishes the Stroke System of Care Act. The main provision of this act establishes a statewide system by designating hospitals as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, a Primary Stroke Center or an Acute Stroke Ready Hospital. The purpose of the Act is to improve the overall outcomes of stroke patients.
LB 721 provides for the licensure of surgical first assistants who help the surgeon in the operating room. As the result of a credentialing review, referred to as the 407 process, completed by the Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Division in January, 2016, LB 721 was introduced. It creates a process for licensure of surgical first assistants and sets the education and training requirements. A grandfather clause allows former assistants to go through an approval process with the department to begin practicing again.
LB 899 brought Nebraska statues into compliance with lead free federal regulations regarding materials used in public water systems. The department has been in compliance with the new regulations for a few years but needed the state statute to mirror the federal law.
I appreciate that many of you reached out to my staff and me on issues that were important to you. On most of the significant issues, public opinion was divided and it was impossible to please everyone. We were always open to listening to the thoughts of District 30 citizens and those from all parts of Nebraska. Please continue to contact me over the summer and fall months if there are state government issues you want to discuss. email@example.com 402-471-2620.
The big story of the week was the decision by Senator Ernie Chambers to slow down the law-making process for the remainder of this 104th Legislative Session. Senator Chambers was able to accomplish that by using the rules of the Legislature.
According to those rules, up to six hours of debate time can be consumed the first time a bill is debated, before a cloture vote can be taken. Thirty three votes are required for cloture (cease all debate). If the thirty three votes are attained, then the bill can be voted on for advancement. On Select File, four more hours of debate are allowed before cloture. If a bill advances to Final Reading, two more hours of debate are allowed.
With the stall tactic employed by Senator Chambers earlier this week, little will be accomplished in our remaining days. Some important, good bills will not make it in 2016. Speaker Galen Hadley has moved to suspend the rules to get some of the most important bills through final reading, including the two property tax relief bills, LB 958 and LB 959, so those bills will be voted up or down this session.
LB 958 directs $20 million to farm and ranch land owners. LB 959 removes the minimum levy requirement for qualification for state equalization aid. This benefits primarily rural school districts. I support both LB 958 and LB 959.
Another bill that will be fully heard is LB 1067, which would change the Learning Community of the Douglas and Sarpy County school districts. An important provision is the elimination of the common levy – that levy is harmful to the rural Springfield-Platteview and Douglas County West districts.
Senator Chambers was upset by the defeat of LB 1056, The Patient Choice at End of Life Act, (Die with Dignity) and the passage of LB 10, making Nebraska a winner take all state with regard to presidential elections. LB 1056 had no chance and I was present and not voting.
While the Unicameral is officially nonpartisan, the nature of LB 10 was partisan. I voted for LB 10 along with the Republicans, and the Democrats voted against the bill. Senator Chambers was convinced that Governor Ricketts had contacted the Republican senators to pass the bill. Neither the Governor nor anyone from his office contacted me at all. “Winner take all” is the practice in all other states except Maine.
The Legislature ended its work week on April 7 and we come back on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 12th and 13 to try to get a few more bills across the finish line. We then recess for five days and return on April 20th. The Governor is given five days (not counting Sunday) to return any bills with vetoes to the legislature. On April 20th, the last day of session, overrides will be taken up if desired. At the end of that business, the Legislature will close out the 104th Session and adjourn sine die (the final adjournment of the session).
As we approach the end of the session, your contact is as important as ever. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2620.
One of the best locations in the entire United States for viewing the August 2017 eclipse will be in District 30! For more information follow this link: http://www.eclipsebeatrice.com
March 31, 2016 District 30 Update
Many hours of discussion focused on tax issues this past week. Education bills LB959 and LB1067 were advanced to select file (the second round of debate) after extensive floor debate. LB959, introduced by the Education Committee on behalf of Governor Ricketts, will provide approximately $8 million of additional state aid to primarily small and rural districts. This should result in property tax relief in those communities. Diller-Odell, Freeman and Tri-County are among the districts that will benefit. LB959 removes the requirement that a district have a minimum levy of $0.95 per $100. Districts will be able to receive equalization aid no matter how low their levy is, if they are entitled under the state formula.
LB959 also restricts the levy for the Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking Fund (QCPUF) to $0.03 per $100 without voter approval, as well as ways those funds may be used. The current QCPUF levy limit is $0.052 per $100.
LB1067 would terminate the common levy for the eleven school districts in Douglas and Sarpy counties. This was a priority of the Governor. Currently, the fiscal note on this bill is $13 million, but there may be a reduction when the bill is debated on select file. The purpose of the common levy was to provide stability to the inner city poverty areas. Accordingly, additional state funds are included to address extreme poverty schools all across the state.
LB 958, the second bill of the Governor’s tax package, was advanced after six heated hours of debate. The bill called for an additional $30 million dollars to be added to the $204 million already in the tax credit fund. The additional dollars would be specifically directed to agricultural landowners. The amount was eventually reduced to $20 million. Senators who spoke against the bill were not opposed per se to the property tax relief but rather believed the bill only focused on agricultural land property tax relief and did not consider income tax relief as well. Others felt this bill might create a budget shortfall in the next few years. A portion removed from the bill would have limited the amount of unused restricted funds that community colleges could carry forward from year to year. Many of us believed this would hurt community colleges, mainly Southeast Community College, and Metro Community College, who have done a great job of educating students and quickly responding to the changing needs of higher education.
We also debated LB 884, by Senator Scheer this week, which would apply turnback tax provisions to any publically or privately owned hotel located with 600 yards (currently 200 yards) of an eligible facility. Expanding the area to be included for the turnback not only will help Lincoln, Omaha and Ralston which have arenas, but helps smaller communities as well. Under existing law, 70 percent of state sales taxes generated by retailers near an arena are turned back to the city to help pay for the new facility. Thirty percent is placed in a fund that provides development grants to smaller communities across the state.
District 30 has benefited from this fund. Grants were given in the amounts of $28,000 to Firth for the Community Center, Odell’s Rice Lodge and Conference Center received $88,000, Carnegie Building Civic and Cultural Center in Beatrice received $318,000, the Community Center in Hickman received $375,000, and $74,050 went to the Panama Community Center.
As amended, the bill would also allow cities to use the turnback tax to pay for capital improvements on the facilities in addition to helping pay off the principal and interest on the bonds. The bill was advanced to the second round of debate.
As always, I encourage you to contact my office at email@example.com or 402-471-2620.
Ten working days remain for the Unicameral this year. In legislative terms, this is a short time in which to address many of the issues remaining in the queue. As specified by the Speaker, Senators’, committees’ and Speaker priority bills will be the focus of the waning days of the legislative session. There are 33 priority bills on General File and 15 on Select File. Some of these issues may not require extensive debate, others may take hours.
One major policy which senators will debate next week is LB 1032, the Transitional Health Insurance Program which would expand Medicaid for people who do work but cannot afford any of the insurance options under the Affordable Care Act. [This bill was bracketed on March 29 and will not be debated again this session.] We will also take up LB 1067 relating to changes to the learning community in the Omaha area.
In a rare occurrence, the Revenue committee held an additional public hearing on Thursday to address amendments to LB 959 due to substantial changes in the original bill. The Speaker will schedule LB959 for debate as well, now that the Revenue Committee has advanced that proposal to address the need to reduce property taxes. LB 959 is the one Governor Ricketts has supported in an attempt to address the impact of high agricultural land property values of recent years.
The second piece of the proposed property tax package to be discussed is LB 958 and the amendment AM2617. The amendment would restrict a community college board to a 3% carryover in unused budget authority and would dedicate future additional property tax credits to agriculture and horticultural land. The total amount of credits for all other real property would remain at the 2015 credit level. It is anticipated that an additional $30 million will be allocated in the next biennial budget for property tax relief directed primarily to agricultural land owners.
Senator John Kuehn of Heartwell introduced Legislative Resolution 378CA commonly known as the Right to Farm Act. It would have placed a constitutional amendment on the November 2016 ballot. LR 378CA declared a guaranteed right of Nebraskans to engage in farming and ranching practices; and prohibited laws abridging the right of citizens to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices.
“Right to farm” is good in concept, and I along with many of my fellow senators wish to be supportive of Nebraska’s #1 industry. However, the bill contained multiple subjects, likely making the language unconstitutional. By our Nebraska constitution, a proposal to amend the constitution can only contain one subject. Several major agriculture organizations and numerous senators agreed that more work is needed on the language. Many also believe any such protections of agricultural practices should be in state statute rather than in the state constitution. Senator Kuehn moved to bracket his own bill citing concerns about constitutional language and also the time that would be taken up on the floor to debate all the issues on this proposal. I commend Senator Kuehn for being mindful of our limited time.
District 30 Update
Focus on Education
The Education Committee completed its work on March 17. Two bills were advanced out of committee: LB 959, the Governor’s bill; and LB 1066, the technical cleanup bill. Action on the bills will be critical as another step to reduce property taxes.
Amendment 2622 replaced LB959, which originally contained eight major provisions. My office solicited and received feedback from school board members and school officials from all over Nebraska. The responses strongly indicated that some of the provisions would have crippling effects on many school districts. Ultimately, the Education Committee voted to approve AM 2622, which includes the following:
When the minimum levy requirement first went into place, it was tough to explain the logic as to why we would have to levy more than we needed, or else lose dollar for dollar in state aid the next year. After splitting the difference the first year, the board kept at the minimum levy thereafter. The budget of expenditures was not increased; instead the additional tax dollars were placed in cash reserve – which came in handy when that campus was struck by a tornado in 2004. Back then, it was thought the minimum levy requirement was bad public policy, and I still think that.
Previously, the committee advanced LB1067 which will modify the Learning Community provisions. While this bill pertains only to the eleven school districts located in Douglas and Sarpy counties, I have worked to support the agreement reached by the districts involved. The most important aspect is the removal of the common levy, which has been to the great disadvantage of the more rural Springfield Platteview and Douglas County West (Valley and Waterloo) schools. It is likely there will be amendments offered when the bill is debated on the floor. The Omaha and Ralston school districts believe there should be more state support for their schools that have extreme poverty populations.
On Friday, March 18 the legislature spent the day on Consent Calendar bills which are non-controversial or have technical clean-up language. I had two bills advance on this agenda. LB 1002 would allow education service units to pay membership dues to associations. This language mirrors existing statutes which allow school boards to pay association dues. The other bill was LB 899 which updates the Nebraska definition of ‘lead free’ in the Safe Drinking Water Act to comply with the federal definition enacted in 2014. The Department of Health and Human Services has been educating, training, and implementing the new standards for two years so this bill just updates the statutes.
District 30 Update
Today on Select File, which is the second round of debate, the full legislature took up my priority bill, LB 722, which creates a system of care for stroke patients. As a member of the Health and Human Services committee, I worked to amend the bill to significantly reduce the costs of implementing the Act from the original estimates provided by the fiscal office. Both the committee amendment and the bill were quickly approved and the bill was advanced to final reading.
The Health and Human Services Committee advanced LB 1032, with amendment AM2473. This bill is the Transitional Health Insurance Program (THIP), introduced by Sen. John McCollister.
AM2473 sunsets the program after three years. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would be required to hire a consultant to analyze performance measures, revenue generated and savings attributable to the Act. A report must be submitted to the Governor and the Legisalture six months prior to the legislative session when the program would terminate.
The amendment also appropriates $63 million from the Health Care Cash Fund for the THIP fund, for purposes of the state match for newly eligible persons’ coverage.
Three Health and Human Services committee members are for the bill, and three are against the THIP. I am the seventh member and the decision came down to my vote. I voted to advance the bill, reasoning that an issue of this magnitude should be decided by the full body of the Legislature and not terminated by the seven member committee.
While the main state budget is formed and advanced during the first session of the biennium, adjustments are made during this second, shorter session. Budget items of note to be debated include: road construction, the prison system, and work at Offutt Air Force Base.
A plan has been advanced to the floor (LB960) to create a transportation infrastructure bank with a $50 million transfer from the state’s cash reserve. Approved by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee this week, the bill is a compromise resulting from work with the Governor to improve Nebraska’s infrastructure. The amended bill contains a 10-year extension of the bank, meaning a total of at least $450 million in funding for the infrastructure funding program over its lifetime. The statutory authority for the infrastructure bank would terminate on June 30, 2033.
The Department of Correctional Services submitted significant requests for additional funding for purposes including operating funds, continuation of the county jail program, and additional facilities at the Lincoln Community Corrections Center. The Governor’s recommendation funded the agency request, and the Appropriations Committee concurred. In addition, the committee added $1.5 million one-time funds in FY2015-16 for staff recruitment and retention efforts.
The Appropriations Committee also recommended a $13.7 million transfer from the cash reserve to improve the Missouri River levee near Offutt Air Force Base, to help secure federal funding to rebuild Offutt’s crumbling runway and keep the 55th Wing in Nebraska.
The Appropriations Committee is leaving $10 million for any bills that might come out of the Revenue Committee or from senators’ proposals for the remainder of the 2016 session. This includes bills to provide tax relief. The two-year average increase in the budget is now at 3.7%. Floor debate on the budget bills is expected to begin next week.
Your emails and calls are always encouraged. firstname.lastname@example.org 402-471-2620