Sen. Roy Baker
District 30

Welcome

January 7th, 2015

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.

Sincerely,
Sen. Roy Baker

Priorities and Appropriations

March 9th, 2015

The fortieth legislative day occurred on Friday, March 8th. This is just five days short of the half-way point of the 90 day legislative session. We continue to have morning legislative session for floor debate on bills and afternoons are reserved for committee hearings. Hearings will continue for two more weeks. Full day sessions are tentatively scheduled to begin on Monday, March 23rd.

Not only is the Nebraska Legislature unique for being the only a non-partisan Unicameral in the country, but by our rules, each and every bill introduced, all 663 of them, will have a legislative hearing. A hearing on a bill can be as short as a few minutes or as long as a few hours. The two committees I serve on the Education Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee tend to go until approximately 5:30 or 6 in the evening.

All of the bills I introduced have been heard by the committees, and my priority bill, LB 431 has already advanced to the second round of floor debate. This bill would allow a school district to make expenditures up to a $100 thousand dollars before requiring a formal bid process which can take weeks. Currently a school district can spend $40 thousand dollars (originally set in 1979) before the extended bid process. With inflation that amount would be over $130,000. I offered this bill because many basic maintenance issues can easily exceed $40,000 and are items the school would need to replace quickly. The school board is still accountable to the patrons of the district.

The Appropriations Committee released its preliminary report for the fiscal years 2015-2016 budget cycle. The fiscal picture is very positive for the next budget cycle and the revenue growth for the next two years is expected to be around the historical average of 5 percent. After the main-line budget bills are set, the Appropriations Committee estimates that there will be approximately $50 million dollars for additional legislative bills which have a fiscal impact. Among those bills are property tax reductions, school aid, Medicaid expansion, tax exemptions, and the list goes on. All additional funding request in these bills must wait until the state budget is presented and the main appropriation bills advance. Then and only then will other requests be taken into consideration. The Appropriations Committee must have the budget bills to the full legislature no later than the 70th legislative day in this 90 day session. So those bills seeking funding must wait in the queue until the main-line budget bills are settled.

There are three major categories of spending in the state budget: Agency Operations (35%); Aid to Local Government (32.2%); and Aid to Individuals (32.2%). Agency operations are the costs to run the state agencies and those costs include things such as employee salaries, utilities, data processing, vehicles and fuel. Aid to local government covers expenditures for aid to schools (TEEOSA) and this takes up 69% of this category. Also in this category is the homestead exemption aid, community college and special education assistance. The last category, Aide to Individuals has the largest overall growth in the budget, 5.3 percent, but arguably assists the most in need populations in our state. This category includes Medicaid for low income and the elderly, behavioral health, developmental disabilities, and child welfare.

Homestead Quarter Launch Honored with LR53

February 23rd, 2015

February 10, 2015 For immediate release

LINCOLN – State Senator Roy Baker has introduced Legislative Resolution 53 (LR53) in honor of the new state quarter launch today in Beatrice, NE. Recognizing the historical significance of the Homestead Act on the settling and development of Nebraska, as well as the importance of the National Monument, Baker said the quarter is an excellent way to commemorate both our ancestors and those who reside in Nebraska today.
“The men and women who were willing to commit to working the land, completely by hand and the sweat of their brow, should be remembered and commended,” said Baker. “Those people were made of stern stuff, and made it possible for the rest of us to enjoy the life we have in Nebraska today. As this quarter circulates through our national monetary system, it will draw well-earned attention to our state.”

LR53

February 23rd, 2015

ONE HUNDRED FOURTH LEGISLATURE
FIRST SESSION
LEGISLATIVE RESOLUTION 53

Introduced by Baker, 30.

WHEREAS, the Homestead Act of 1862 was signed by President Abraham Lincoln
which gave 160 acres of land to any man or woman who would build a home and
make improvements and farm the land for five years; and
WHEREAS, the Homestead Act allowed settlement of almost ten percent or 270
million acres of public land and placed it in the hands of settlers; and
WHEREAS, in 1936, with the backing of United States Senator George Norris,
Congress passed a law which was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
establishing a new unit in the National Park system called the Homestead
National Monument of America; and
WHEREAS, the Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice
commemorates and remembers the hardships and pioneer spirit of early settlers
at the homestead site of Daniel Freeman who filed the very first claim in 1863;
and
WHEREAS, each homestead created paper documents known as case files which
exist only as paper originals. The complete collection of case files consists
of over 30 million pieces of paper stored in the National Archives in
Washington D.C.; and
WHEREAS, since 1999, the Homestead National Monument of America has been
involved in the project to digitize all 30 million documents of the homestead
case files collection; and
WHEREAS, the United States Mint’s 2015 America the Beautiful Quarters
Program will launch the Homestead National Monument of America quarter on
February 10, 2015, with approximately 10 million quarters minted each day; and
WHEREAS, the quarter design represents the essential things a homesteader
needed to survive including food, housing, and water.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE MEMBERS OF THE ONE HUNDRED FOURTH
LEGISLATURE OF NEBRASKA, FIRST SESSION:
1. That the Legislature congratulates the Homestead National Monument of
America on the 2015 launch of the Homestead National Monument of America
quarter.
2. That a copy of this resolution be sent to the Homestead National
Monument of America.

Moving Fast, or a Grinding Halt

February 23rd, 2015

I am still getting accustomed to my role as a state senator. At times things can move quickly and then one bill can bring an issue to a grinding halt. We had our first lesson this session in mounting a filibuster. Senator Kathy Campbell introduced LB 88 which would increase the fee for a marriage license from fifteen dollars to fifty dollars. The fee has not increased since the 1990’s and the cost for a county to issue a marriage license has increased. The fee increase will help cover the actual costs of providing the license. Senator Chambers views any fee increase as a tax and will negatively impact low income people. Senator Kintner offered an amendment to only raise the fee to twenty-five dollars and this amendment was adopted. Debate on the bill reached the eight hours for the closure motion but was unnecessary and the bill passed to the next round of debate.
Another bill debated this week was proposing a narrow exception to the Clean Indoor Air Act for Cigar Bars. LB 118 would allow cigar shops to obtain a liquor license, have a walk-in humidor, at least 10% of sales are from tobacco products and cigars, but not cigarettes. No cigarette smoking is allowed and no food sales. The bill advanced to the second round of floor debate.
Hearings continue with a wide range of proposals. The Education Committee recently heard testimony on Senator Al Davis LB 323. This bill would create the School Financing Review Commission. This is similar to the commission done in 1990 under Senator Ron Raikes and as a result a new funding formula for schools was adopted. However, with the changes in ag land purchases, there is a greater reliance on property tax to fund schools than in previous years. The commission will have 19 members representing, rural and urban public schools, post-secondary education, educational service units, and the three branches of government. I think this bill is essential in order to take an in-depth look at how we finance schools, stabilize and balance funding sources. I have co-signed onto this bill.
LB 178, introduced by Senator Watermeier would lower agricultural land valuation from the current 75% to 55% of its actual value for school district taxation purposes. The valuation would be reduced 5% per year for four years. Ag land would remain valued at 75% for other taxation purposes. The hearing was January 29th before the Revenue Committee.
Next week I have three of my bills before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. LB 282 would add another permissible reason for a public body to hold a closed session. It would allow a closed session for the discussion of applicants, other than finalists, who have applied for employment by the public body. LB 283 would permit school districts and educational service units to make emergency expenditures under the Emergency Management Act which are currently allowed by other local governments. LB 365 will allow school districts and educational service units to keep all books, papers, documents, reports, and minutes of such boards as an electronic record.

A New Adventure Begins

January 20th, 2015

January 7th was a very exciting and humbling day for me. The One Hundred and Fourth Legislative Session, First Session, began. The first day’s order of business was to elect all the leadership positions including Speaker, Executive Board Chair, and all the standing committees. For the first time in the history of the Unicameral, a freshman senator attempted a run for a standing committee chair. Chairmanships are usually sought after by senators who have some experience within the Unicameral.

After the opening ceremonies and the election of the chairs, the legislature adjourned for the day. However the work continued. The Committee on Committee’s met and decided which senators serve on which committees. I was appointed to serve on the Education Committee which meets Monday and Tuesday. I am also on the Health and Human Services Committee which meets Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Issues that will come before the legislature this year are the development of the state budget for the next two years, property tax relief, Medicaid expansion, voter ID, repeal of the motorcycle helmet law, state aid to education, learning community and many more.

There are a number of ways in which you can follow the Unicameral. First there is gavel to gavel coverage on the Nebraska Educational Network. This shows the daily legislative floor discussion. However, it does not include committee hearings. Second you can access legislative information via the website: www.nebraskalegisalture.gov. Here you can pull up any introduced bill this session, and when available, the fiscal note for that bill, the introducer’s statement of intent, floor debate and committee hearing transcripts. (The transcripts may take a week or two before they are transcribed and posted). Also you can access the Unicameral Update either through the website or have a printed copy sent to your address. This is a weekly publication written by the Clerk of the Legislature’s office. Each week there will be articles on various bills heard by committees or issues debated on the floor. Committee hearing schedules for the upcoming week will be listed. Every week a different senator will be featured in an article. If you prefer, the Unicameral Update can be sent in hard copy to your address. Call 402-471-2788 or email UIO@leg.ne.gov to submit your name and address.

Some senators introduce a multitude of bills. My approach this first year will be to limit the number of bills I introduce. I plan on introducing about 8-10 bills mostly relating to education. I intend to take the time to learn the rules, learn the process and get to know my colleagues.

I also want to be a bridge for the constituents of District 30. If constituents have questions or concerns with state agencies or need help getting answers, please call my office. My staff and I will make every effort to help resolve your issue, or at least get the answers you need. I have two staff in my office. Barb Dorn is my Administrative Assistant. She is in charge of my calendar, keeping me on track and on time, and general office matters. I have known Barb for a number of years. She had previous experience in the Legislature and is a resident of Beatrice. Janet Anderson is my Legislative Aide. She has over 30 years of experience with the Legislature and has worked for Senator Dennis Byars and most recently Speaker Greg Adams. Her job is to draft legislation, research issues and help constituents with their issues. You can call my office (402)471-2620 or email me at rbaker@leg.ne.gov.

Again I am honored to have been elected to serve you. I will work hard to give you a voice in the legislature.