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For the last four weeks, the senators have dealt with some of the most difficult and divisive issues. There have always been splits, whether rural versus urban, or conservative versus liberal. The decisions this session have transcended those labels. This year I have seen rural against rural and conservative against conservative. There is a saying that we “leave the best for last”. I believe we left the “hardest” for last.
A split among the rural senators occurred on LB 176. Currently meat-packers have to buy their hogs from independent producers. Senator Ken Schilz’ bill, LB 176, would end the ban on meat packers owning their own hogs. Supporters of LB 176 say this bill would keep Nebraska on par with surrounding states who have seen their market shares increase because they allow for ownership of hogs by meat packers. The opponents believe it will mean the demise of the independent small producers by pushing them out of the market and possibly having no place to sell their hogs. The rural senators who usually have a like-minded perspective on these types of issues saw a cavernous divide. This split left many urban senators wondering what is the best policy choice. I had talked to a number of hog producers in the district who also were divided. A few liked the idea and others did not. In the end, the bill failed to receive enough votes to end a filibuster. The bill likely will be back next year.
Medical marijuana was on the agenda for this week until Senator Tommy Garrett asked the bill to be pulled. The bill would have allowed the use of the oil, high in cannabidiol, that has shown promise in reducing seizures in initial studies. Senator Garrett pulled his bill in order to work on issues raised during debate. However, Senator Crawford was successful in ensuring a pilot study be done at the University Medical Center. The drug would be provided to people with severe seizures. I believe the pilot study will give us valuable information on the helpfulness of the drug and any side-effects – which we can use for future discussion.
Next was LB 623 by Senator Nordquist for dreamers, or DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals). This bill will allow 2,700 kids to get a driver license every two years. These young people were brought here as young children, have been educated, live and work here. The governor vetoed the bill but 34 senators overrode the veto. Nebraska became the last state to enact this legislation.
Another issue that generated heated debate was the gas tax. The bill added 1.5 cents a year for four years to help fund the repair of deficient bridges and roads across the state. The money is divided in thirds, one third to the cities, one third to the counties and one third to the state. The increase to cities and counties totals $4.2 million for fiscal year 2015-16, $16.9 million for FY2016-17, $29.6 million for FY2017-18 and $42.3 million for FY2018-19. The increase to the department totals $2.1 million for FY2015-16, $8.5 million for FY2016-17, $14.8 million for FY2017-18 and $21.2 million for FY2018-19. When the Highway Trust Fund was created in 1969 it imposed a ‘user fee’ (the gas tax) to fund road construction and repair. Now cars are more fuel efficient and road construction costs are much more expensive. In order to ensure safe roads and bridges, an increase was necessary.
“Common sense tells us that it will cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it disintegrate and have to start over from scratch. Clearly this program is an investment in tomorrow that we must make today.” (President Ronald Reagan in his remarks on signing the surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982.)
The most contentious issue this session occurred on Wednesday, May 27: the repeal of the death penalty. I once believed the death penalty was a good tool for prosecution, a good punishment for the state to impose and a just penalty.
Up until I began my campaign, I frankly rarely thought about the death penalty. I began pondering the matter as I realized the question would likely come up during the campaign. My opponent and I were asked this question at a forum. I stated that all of my life I have been okay with the death penalty, but now I am at a point where I view life in prison with NO CHANCE of parole as an acceptable option.
After listening to all the senators who sat though the hearing on the bill, testimony from those closest to this issue, hours of debate and after reviewing much information, I opted for life in prison without the possibility of parole.
One argument presented is that the death penalty is a deterrent. If this premise is true, very few murders would occur since Nebraska has had a death penalty in place for decades. Yet, from 2006 to 2013 in Nebraska, there were 453 murders/manslaughters (according to the Nebraska Crime Commission reports). With only ten on death row, the death penalty has been inequitably applied to those charged with murder. It is used as a threat to elicit confessions as seen in the case of the “Beatrice Six” and is costing the state millions of dollars in reparations. The drugs to carry out the death sentences are nearly impossible to access and this creates more avenues for costly appeals. There already are numerous appeals by those on death row and the appeals cannot be limited because of due process.
I received hundreds of emails, letters, and phone calls on this issue. I asked my staff to keep track – and positions on this issue were split virtually down the middle, 50-50.
I was elected to represent District 30, to listen to the constituents, study relevant information, listen to the debate, and use my judgement. I have done so. I do respect your opinion and regret that my vote on this matter does not meet with the approval of some of my constituents. And as always, I encourage you to contact me with your views.
The last twenty days of the Legislative session have arrived, bringing the most intense and controversial issues as expected. There are many “business as usual” items on the agenda as well.
Two of my bills were advanced to Select File on April 29th, as part of the consent calendar. Senators submit their bills to the Speaker for his consideration to place bills on the Consent Calendar. Basically, bills must be non-controversial, have the support of the committee chair, and have no fiscal impact.
The first bill I had on Consent calendar was LB 283 which adds school districts and educational service units to the entities that can apply for an emergency proclamation in the event of a disaster. The Norris School District applied for an emergency proclamation following the F4 tornado on May 22, 2004. The proclamation was granted despite the state statutes technically granting access only to “local governments”. Following a disaster, the primary need is to be able to act more swiftly in securing and approving bids in order that recovering from the disaster can proceed in a timely manner. LB 283 assures that school districts and ESUs can access the provisions of the Emergency Management Act.
Next, LB 365 adds new language which permits a school district or educational service unit to keep required records as an electronic record. This reflects the method often used by districts and ESUs in storing records. Electronic records can be stored and retrieved more efficiently.
The long awaited budget proposals came out this week and the budget bills were extensively debated and then advanced. The state budget has a spending growth of 3.1% which is the 3rd lowest spending growth for the state in the last 30 years. The only lower spending growth budgets were in 2003 and 2009 where both years saw extreme economic downturns.
The budget includes an additional $60 million into the property tax credit fund. This will provide a credit equal to $93.33 per $100,000 of valuation. Without the additional money, the credit would have been $65.33 at the current $140 million level.
The legislature also approved the increase in provider rates for developmental disabilities of 2.5% to help address rate equity. An additional 1.5% increase was approved for clients who are transitioning from K-12 programs into adult services. Behavioral health, which refers to substance abuse and mental health, sees a 2.5% increase for provider rates.
Two other major proposals were addressed in the last couple of weeks, generating hours of debate and numerous phone calls and emails to my office. It was very obvious these are two issues that are important to people in District 30. First is the repeal of the death penalty, LB 268, changing the penalty to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. I voted to advance this bill. I believe there are issues with the expediency of trying to carry out the death penalty, issues with obtaining the drugs for lethal injections, and problems with years and years of appeals, thus leaving the use of the death penalty at a standstill.
The other issue is LB 599 which would give a lower minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to a young student worker who is 18 years old or younger and attending a public or private school. Senator Ebke who introduced the bill stated that young people getting their first jobs are untrained and inexperienced in the workforce. If the student leaves school, the employer must pay the state minimum wage of $8. This by far and away generated the most phone calls and emails into my office, with 85 – 90% against imposing a different wage. I eventually voted no on this bill. I think that young workers, like any workers, need to be trained, but after that initial period, those ‘student workers’ provide a service to the employer. The bill advanced to the next stage of debate but will need 33 votes to pass because the minimum wage was changed by the initiative process and voted on by the people; the Nebraska Constitution requires a higher threshold of votes in the Legislature to override the will of the people.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FOR MORE INFORMATION:
April 21, 2015
Unicameral Information Office
Sen. Roy Baker invites students to youth legislature
High school students are invited to take on the role of state senators at the Unicameral Youth Legislature June 7-10. 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.
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators and staff.
“As a school administrator throughout my professional career, I recognize the value of this type of summer opportunity. Every one of our state’s students, regardless of career path, needs to be prepared to become an active, educated voter,” said Senator Baker. “This camp offers a firsthand look at our one-of-a-kind, one-house Legislature and a very innovative way to learn about state government outside of the classroom setting.”
Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Speaker Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are also available.
The Office of the Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature coordinates the Unicameral Youth Legislature. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Extension 4-H Youth Development Office coordinates housing and recreational activities as part of the Big Red Summer Camps program.
To learn more about the program, go to www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl or call (402) 471-0764. The deadline for registration is May 15.
Recently Senator Chambers angered most of the citizens of Nebraska with his inflammatory remarks regarding police officers. His comments were made in a Judiciary Committee meeting during a hearing on a gun bill. When those remarks came to the attention of the other members of the Legislature and to the general public, the negative reaction was immediate and strong. Sen. Chambers’ remarks were extremely inappropriate and disturbing to me. I signed a resolution along with 47 of my colleagues, voicing our support of and appreciation of our law enforcement officers. I also had a private one on one personal conversation with Senator Chambers.
Senators’ right to free speech on the floor and in committee meetings is protected by Nebraska Constitution, Article III, Sec. 23 (1875) “No member of the Legislature shall be liable in any civil or criminal action whatever for words spoken in debate.”. There is no provision for the recall of a state senator and a senator can only be expelled for illegal activities. Senator Chambers’ poor choice of words, distasteful as they were, did not breach the law.
Even with this issue, the legislature continued its work on the floor. LR 7CA by Senator Paul Schumacher as amended would put term limits on the next general election ballot to allow three four-year terms for the members of the legislature. Senator Schumacher respects the term limits imposed by the voters. However as an equal branch of government, the senators are at a disadvantage to the executive branch. Issues are complex and experience and knowledge are so quickly lost with two terms. In addition, many staff who have the institutional knowledge we rely upon, will be retiring in the next few years and senators need to gain experience to best represent their district. The bill advanced to the next round of debate.
From term limits we moved to an increase in the state’s gas tax. The impetus for the introduction of LB 610 is the deterioration of the bridges and roads throughout the state. With more fuel efficient cars and inflation costs of road repair, the current Highway Trust Funds cannot keep pace. The bill would increase the tax by 1.5 cents per year for four years up to 6 cents. The funds would be divided as follows: one-third to the state, one-third to the counties, and one-third to the cities. I supported the increase not because I like taxes but unless we keep our roads and bridges viable, our state will not see economic development and the roads will become dangerous. The bill has two more rounds of debate.
LB 106 by Senator Dan Watermeier would adopt the Livestock Operation Siting and Expansion Act. I received a good amount of emails and phone calls both supporting and opposing the original bill. As originally introduced the state would set a matrix for zoning regarding these operations. After extended debate, the bill was amended to make the bill a voluntary tool for counties who have spent a great deal of time establishing their own zoning regulations. I think being a voluntary tool developed by experts is a good source of information for counties to access and then continue to develop their own zoning standards to best fit their county. This bill advanced to Select File and eventually Final Reading.
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.
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.”
ONE HUNDRED FOURTH LEGISLATURE
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;
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
2. That a copy of this resolution be sent to the Homestead National
Monument of America.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again I am honored to have been elected to serve you. I will work hard to give you a voice in the legislature.
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