Legislative Update – March 27, 2017 Senator Roy Baker – District 30
Last week I asked constituents to weigh in on daylight saving time (DST). I was pleased to hear from so many District 30 residents. First the disclaimer: this was not a scientific poll. But the responses leaned more toward opting out of DST than retaining it. Comments ranged from: waste of time (no pun intended), hard to adjust, throws off sleep schedules; to those in favor saying: more daylight for children’s sports, mowing the yard, and other out-door activities. Several suggested staying on DST year round; unfortunately federal law does not allow that option.
If the DST bill does come up for debate, I intend to offer an amendment that Nebraska may only opt out of DST if three contiguous states also opt out; our Secretary of State would be responsible for verifying that three contiguous states had opted out of DST and would then declare Nebraska officially out of daylight saving time. This amendment would help alleviate the difficulty for our border towns to conduct business in surrounding states by making sure we were all on the same time.
I introduced LB 298 which builds on a bill passed last year. In 2016, LB 746 was introduced by former Senator Kathy Campbell. Her bill established a “reasonable and prudent parent” standard to allow foster parents and individuals at child care institutions to use their best judgment in making day-to-day decisions regarding what age and developmentally appropriate extra-curricular activities youth in care may participate. Normalcy for youth includes typical kids’ experiences like getting a driver license, having a part-time job, or staying overnight at a friend’s house.
My bill (LB 298) would apply this same standard to child care institutions licensed and contracted through the Department of Health and Human Services, and Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers, to develop a plan to provide youth in their care with normalcy and to report annually regarding the implementation of the plan. The bill would also require the department to develop a plan for the immediate and public dissemination of a current picture and information on a child who is missing from care, while maintaining confidentiality of their status in foster care. When youth go missing from care, their chances of being subjected to sex trafficking increase. LB 298 and two other bills of similar topic were amended into LB 225 on March 23 and advanced to the next stage of debate.
Following are some of the issues debated this past week. For a fuller explanation and to learn more about these bills, I would encourage you to go to the unicameral website, nebraskalegislature.gov. LB 518 was introduced by Senator Matt Williams of Gothenburg to help create affordable housing for the rural workforce. In this bill, grant funds would be provided, as a one-time transfer of $12 million from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, to build workforce housing. A transfer of $1 million in both 2018 and 2019 would follow. The grants would be for owner-occupied homes and cost no more than $275,000 to construct, or for a rental housing unit that costs no more than $200,000 to construct. I support LB 518.
LB 335 would delay, and I stress delay, a rate adjustment in child care subsidies rates to providers. These subsidies provide affordable childcare to low-income families as they attempt to get off public assistance. With the tight budget constraints this year, LB 335 would freeze the current provider rates and save the state $7.4 million in 2017-18 and $1.8 in 2018-19. The Department of Health and Human Services conducts a survey to review child care rates every other year. The current rates are between 60 and 75 percent of market rates. An amendment adopted would prohibit the rates from falling below the 50th percentile. I am in support of the amendment. This bill advanced to the second stage of debate.
Senator Mike Hilgers of Lincoln offered LB 271 which would authorize the Department of Roads to conduct environmental, social and economic reviews usually done by the federal government. Allowing Nebraska’s Department of Roads to conduct the reviews will expedite the planning and development phase of a project and reduce pre-construction costs. I support this measure which also advanced.
Thursday, March 23, ended the public hearing process. Starting, Tuesday, March 28th, the Unicameral will go into full day sessions. Our day, in the Chamber, will begin around 9 am and end at approximately 5 pm. As we move into the last days of the session, we will work into the evenings, usually ending by 7 pm. In the past when the Legislature stayed in session through the evening hours, lobbyists would take turns supplying evening meals. The Speaker announced that his office would arrange for food to be brought in on those evenings, and if a senator would like to eat, he or she can ante up the few dollars for the meal. I have long thought this is the way it should work.
Your thoughts regarding legislation and your concerns are always important to me. Please contact my office at email@example.com, 402-471-2620.
Legislative Update – March 20, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
In past newsletters, I have spoken about a conservative block of senators who wanted to control much of the session and one way would be through the rules by altering the cloture motion rule. After thirty legislative days with no compromise on the rules, the legislature imposed a temporary moratorium on the rules until Day 50, Monday, March 20. During the stay on the rules debate, the legislature began to work as it was meant to: bills were debated, bills were amended and bills were advanced, many on a non-partisan basis. On Friday, March 17, Speaker Jim Scheer stood on the floor and praised senators for this work. With no rules resolution, the Speaker asked all senators who had amendments on the rules to withdraw their amendments and vote on the rules as they occurred on January 4th, 2017. One by one, the Speaker called on each senator who had amendments on the rules and asked if he would withdraw his amendments. Each one agreed. The Legislature, on Day 49, over half way through the legislative session, adopted permanent rules.
Committees are getting close to the end of public hearings on bills and have been working in Executive Sessions to discuss bills already heard and take action including advancement, amendments, holding or killing bills. I have had a few bills in hearings where I would like to work with groups over the summer to reach a compromise. LB 474 enables beneficiaries to synchronize their medications so they could order and receive them on the same day each month, instead of having to make multiple visits to the pharmacy. This would reduce medication waste, as well as the poor healthcare outcomes that result from decreased medication adherence. The insurance industry raised concerns about the breadth of the bill without having some precautions written into the bill. I agreed to work with all interested parties during the interim.
On March 15, Senator Anna Wishart presented LB 622, the Medical Cannabis Act. The bill describes and defines the regulation of production, processing, dispensing, and qualifications for associated care givers. Places where medical cannabis can be administered are delineated, as well as places where it may not, e.g., schools, correctional facilities, and public places.
Approved forms of medical cannabis are restricted to the following forms: liquid, pills or capsules; vaporized liquid or oil, topical creams and lotions, and suppositories. Smoking would not be an approved method of delivery.
Proponents and opponents testified for more than three hours. Proponents testifying described their personal circumstances, or those of a child or other loved one, that lead them to believe medical cannabis would provide relief when no other mediation has been effective.
Testifiers talked about severe epilepsy, severe chronic pain, severe vomiting, opioid addiction, PTSD, and other diseases. The opponents were law enforcement representatives and the Department of Health and Human Services. The Judiciary Committee advanced the bill to General File and Senator Wishart has made it her priority bill.
However, LB 622 carries a significant fiscal note; there would be $963,603 of state general funds needed in 2017-18 and $873,441 in 2018-19. Given the state’s serious revenue shortfall, the passage of LB 622 appears to have an uphill battle.
In my last update I spoke about LB 666. The Judiciary Committee did advance the bill to General File and I voted in favor. To clarify, the bill applies to any person who stores and transports a firearm.
I welcome and continue to receive your messages about property tax, which is of course, an overriding concern in District 30 as well as across the state. This issue will be addressed by bills coming out of the Revenue and Appropriations Committees. With the vast number of bills addressing taxes, it makes sense to wait to discuss those in detail when we know exactly which options will be brought before the full Legislature.
Your comments about Daylight Saving Time are much appreciated. At this point, sentiment runs roughly two-thirds for staying on one time all year round; about a third of people responding like having DST.
Full days of debate begin next week, so please continue to contact me as we being the last half of the session. firstname.lastname@example.org 502-471-2620
On March 7, the Department of Health and Human Services notified employees at the Beatrice State Developmental Center that there would be 39 employees laid off by April 1st. The agency stated it was ‘right-sizing’ the staffing needs of the facility. Currently 110 residents live on the Beatrice campus and numbers have been declining over the years. The main impetus for reductions in state institutions across the country is a United States Supreme Court decision in 1999, referred to as the Olmstead decision. This decision states that people with mental (and developmental) disabilities should be served in the least restrictive environment if the placement is appropriate and the person desires to be served in the community. The focus of care and placement has been toward community based programs. With the declining enrollment at BSDC, the Department of Health and Human Services has been evaluating staffing to meet all regulatory requirements, provide quality care but eliminate redundancy in staffing.
I have met many residents and family members of residents at BSDC. Families and residents alike appreciate and value the care provided by BSDC. They speak highly of the staff and the environment of the campus and the inclusion in activities in the community. The staff is caring and invested in providing the highest level of care to the residents.
Lay-offs are not easy, I know. When the Department contacted me, they assured me the employees would be given priority placement for other job openings, per the bargaining agreement, for placement in Beatrice and surrounding areas. As with any declining enrollment, reduction in the workforce is inevitable.
LB 666 by Senator John Lowe would clarify the correct method of transporting a concealed firearm. The bill would allow any person to transport a firearm, if unloaded and in the manufacturer’s packaging or a case designed for the storage or transport of firearms, to do so legally. The Nebraska Supreme Court found that a person is in violation of the concealed carry law if a weapon is in a person’s immediate reach, which includes a locked glove box. This bill would help ensure people are following the law. The bill is still in committee.
LB 25 was a bill before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on March 8th. The bill would re-instate the winner-take-all method of assigning electoral votes in a presidential election. Under Nebraska law, the winner of the statewide popular vote receives two Electoral College votes, the remaining three Electoral College votes are given to the popular vote within each congressional district. Senator John Murante of Gretna would like to see all five of Nebraska’s electoral votes go to the statewide popular vote winner. Nebraska changed its law in 1996 to split its electoral votes. Supporters of LB 25 stated returning to a winner-take-all gives Nebraska more influence in the national election process. Nebraska and Maine are the only two states which have a split system. Other states have considered it, but have not had the votes to change those state’s laws.
On Sunday, March 12, Nebraskans once again turned their clocks forward for the start of daylight saving time (DST). I have heard from some constituents that this ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’ for day-light savings is confusing, aggravating and for some, a downright waste of time. I invite you to contact me and let me know your opinion on the state’s participation in DST. LB 309 deals with this issue.
To reach me, call 402-471-2620 or email me at email@example.com. My state website can be found at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Happy Birthday to the great state of Nebraska. 150 years ago on March 1, 1867, Nebraska became the 37th of the United States of America. So on March 1st, 2017, at 2 p.m. the Legislature, Governor, Supreme Court Justices, and the Secretary of State kicked off the sesquicentennial celebration. A ceremony held in the George W. Norris Chamber in the State Capitol was the first of many events set to occur across the state during 2017. After the presentation of colors, Hannah Huston sang the national anthem followed by Secretary of State John Gale, reading the original statehood proclamation signed by President Andrew Johnson. Governor Pete Ricketts signed a new proclamation to commemorate the sesquicentennial. Eighteen third through fifth graders sang “Happy Birthday” and an Octet from Waverly High School sang “Beautiful Nebraska”. I would encourage all Nebraska to make a trip to the Capitol sometime this year and visit this beautiful building, see the mosaics, artwork and this summer, the newly installed fountains in the center courtyards.
Legislative Resolution 1 CA (Constitutional Amendment) would make a change to the Nebraska Constitution and require a person to show a picture ID or digital image prior to casting a ballot. Senator Joh Murante of Gretna presented the bill to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee on March 2nd and said that 32 states have some form of voter ID requirement. He stated voters have a lack of confidence in the integrity of the election process. The constitutional amendment would go before Nebraska voters in general election in November, 2018. Supporters of the bill believe such a law would protect the process and people from having someone walk in to a polling place, state they are someone else and vote. Opponents of the bill cite studies where voter ID laws adversely impact minority and elderly groups. The Secretary of State has consistently reported voter fraud in Nebraska is not a problem. The resolution is being held in committee at this writing.
The Revenue Committee heard testimony on March 3rd about LB 475, introduced by Senator Paul Schumacher of Columbus, regarding the elimination of the Nebraska Job Creation and Main Street Revitalization Act. This law was enacted in 2015 with up to $15 million a year in tax credits for rehabilitation, preservation and restoration of historically significant buildings. Each project is capped at $1 million. The current law has a sunset date on December 31, 2022. The purpose of the law was to help communities throughout the state but most of the approved projects have been in Omaha. Senator Schumacher believes with the budget constraints facing the state, the grants going primarily to Omaha, and the bureaucratic red tape, the law should be rescinded. The State Historical Society who oversees this grant program, along with the Department of Revenue, opposed the bill, as did representatives from Beatrice. Trevor Jones, the director and CEO of the Historical Society, stated the application process for the credits is complex and must comply with federal standards. He stated the process is constrained by the law itself. It was also stated that Omaha developers were ready to go with projects. There were 16 applications from Omaha and 14 from the rest of the state. This bill is also still being held in committee.
The State Treasurer is in charge of receiving and attempting to find the rightful owners of unclaimed property in the state. This consists of cash and other personal assets that are considered to be lost or abandoned. Every year banks, businesses, and other organizations remit unclaimed property to the State Treasurer and he in turn attempts to locate the owners through a published newsletter. The treasurer’s website is: www.treasurer.nebraska.gov, from there you can find a link to unclaimed property. My staff recognized some names and encouraged them to visit the website to see if they have a little cash out there. Information is organized by county, then last name, on the website.
A wide variety of topics have come before the Legislature in the past week. While the state’s budget and tax concerns continue to top the list, we also discussed everything from how eggs are graded to banking laws to juvenile justice issues. This demonstrates the vast array of interests expressed by the people of our state and district.
In recent days, the Legislature has been conducting extended debate on Sen. Watermeier’s LB 46, providing for vehicle owners to pay for “Choose Life” license plates. By the time you see this update, it is likely that a cloture motion will have been offered, and the vote taken. Under temporary rules, 33 of the 49 Senators must vote for cloture, to end the debate and conduct a vote.
Originally license plates served to identify vehicles. However, in recent years, the flood gates have opened for all kinds of special interest plates. As a result, we are dealing with a proposal that is perceived by some to be a billboard for a contentious issue.
Recently, I attended a press conference in the Rotunda at which the Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education rolled out their concepts. The coalition, comprised of agricultural and educational interests, includes the Gage County Property Tax Group, the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska State Education Association, Reform for Nebraska’s Future, Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, Nebraska Fair, Women Involved in Farm Economics, Nebraska Soybean Association, Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska Wheat Growers, Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, STANCE (Schools Taking Action for Nebraska Children’s Education), Greater Nebraska Schools Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau and Nebraska Farmers Union.
The two primary principles held by the Nebraskans United coalition are (1) tax reform which reduces the over-reliance on local property taxes, necessary to ensure our tax system is fair to all Nebraska taxpayers; and (2) adequate and sustainable funding of high quality K-12 education is imperative for future of Nebraska. I am an enthusiastic supporter of those guiding principles. The bill that most closely pursues those ends is Sen. Briese’s LB 313, which calls for an increase in sales tax revenue to enable a reduction in property taxes. Some tweaking of LB 313 is likely to occur, particularly as related to removing sales tax exemptions.
On Friday, February 24th, we debated LB 470 by Senator Tyson Larson. The bill would allow for the use of electronic tickets for keno although paper tickets would be available upon request. A player could possibly use a phone app to play keno, however the licensed keno operator would have to take “reasonable measures” to prevent someone outside of the premises from participating. The bill would also reduce the time from five to four minutes in between games and allow the use of a debit card for payment. An indefinite postponement motion was filed and was successful. A simple majority of those voting was needed to kill the bill. There were 24 ayes and 9 nays. I voted to kill the bill. I don’t think creating an electronic means of keno is a positive step for the state.
On February 23rd, I introduced LB 298 which would build upon a law passed last year. In 2016 the legislature passed LB 746 by Senator Campbell to establish normalcy for children in foster care. The “Nebraska Strengthening Families Act” codified the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act.
The law establishes a “reasonable and prudent parent” standard to allow foster parents and individuals at child care institutions to use their best judgment in making day-to-day decisions relating to what age and developmentally appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities youth in care may participate.
LB 298 would apply certain provisions of this Act to children placed in juvenile facilities and require child care institutions, juvenile facilities and youth rehabilitation and treatment centers to develop a written normalcy plan and an annual normalcy report.
The bill also permits and requires the establishment of a procedure for the public dissemination of a picture of and information about a child missing from a foster or out-of-home-placement subject to state and federal confidentiality laws.
During the hearing, concerns were raised by juvenile probation regarding parental rights still being in place and how the bill would take into consideration those rights. I agreed to work with those who raised these issues before moving forward. All those involved in bringing this issue to my attention will be meeting this week.
The Judiciary Committee hearings on February 22 extended for seven hours. Much of that time was given to testimony on LB173. The Nebraska Constitution provides that the state shall not discriminate against, or give preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting. LB173 would add Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) to the list. Proponents say that social justice demands the inherent dignity of all humans. Opponents cite the right of freedom of expression of religion to oppose granting rights to LGBT. It appears that LB173 will not survive a filibuster if the measure reaches the floor of the Legislature.
Whatever your concerns are, please feel free to bring them to my attention. My staff can direct you to the appropriate local and state agencies or we can work together on future legislation. firstname.lastname@example.org 402.471.2620
(Note: February 20th is the official observation of President’s Day. The Legislature is not in session on Friday the 17th or Monday the 20th. Thank you.)
The week started with debate on the rules. Again. We continued most of the week debating the rules. Again. For thirty legislative days, senators have been debating primarily one proposed rule change, the cloture rule. Some may say the legislature is wasting time. But this debate goes to a fundamental core value of our Unicameral and our republic: the protection of the minority voice. The minority voice may – as history has shown – be conservative, be liberal, it may be rural, may be urban, it may be a coalition of several depending on the issue.
Over twenty years ago, senators put the existing cloture motion in place for a very good reason. Prior to that time, a senator could put any number of proposed amendments on a bill. This virtually insured the bill’s failure. There was no option to overcome this type of tactic. The cloture rule was adopted to protect a sponsor and supporters of a bill who wanted to see if the bill could garner enough support to end the filibuster. It also protected those who had serious opposition to an issue.
The existing cloture rule allows for a set time period of debate, historically six to eight hours for the first round of floor debate. Once the time allotment is met, and no resolution for agreement is in sight, the sponsor of the bill can move for a cloture vote. This means that all discussion ends, all pending amendments are set aside and a vote is taken to advance the bill. The existing rule requires 33 yes votes to cease debate and move directly to a vote of the bill – which then would only need 25 votes to advance.
I am against any major change to the cloture rule. One change I could have supported was offered by Senator Krist. It would have required a 2/3 vote of those present but not fewer than 30 votes.
Another proposal to the cloture rule would have lowered the affirmative votes to 30, and at the same time, 17 negative votes would be required. Placing the burden on the opposition to have 17 negative votes goes against all other votes taken in the legislature. No other vote requires a set number of negative votes. If a bill or motion fails to receive enough ‘yes’ votes, it fails. That should be the standard. If a senator is unable to convince his or her colleagues of the validity and necessity of a bill, then the bill should fail.
In the meantime, committee hearings are moving right along every afternoon as scheduled. Senator Sue Crawford of Bellevue introduced LB 97 creating the Riverfront Development District Act. The bill would allow a city of the metropolitan, primary, first or second class to create a riverfront development district to fund, manage, promote, and develop riverfronts within the city limits and may not extend beyond one-half mile from the edge of the river. The district would be managed by a riverfront development authority appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council. Rivers are defined within the bill as the Missouri, Platte, North Platte, South Platte, Republican, Niobrara, Loup, Elkhorn, North Loup, Middle Loup, South Loup, North Fork of the Elkhorn River and the Big Blue. This bill could provide a wonderful opportunity for cities to develop riverfront property. The bill was heard on February 14th and advanced by the committee and reported to General File on the 15th.
On Wednesday the 15th I had the opportunity to meet and speak to members of the Leadership Beatrice group. I spoke about my longtime respect for and appreciation of Nebraska’s unique non-partisan Unicameral. Beatrice has a bright future based on the people I met.
You can contact me with your issues and concerns at 402.471.2620 or at email@example.com. The Legislature’s website provides access to copies of all bills and a livestream of action on the floor and in committees: www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
District 30 Legislative Update – February 13, 2017
Senator Roy Baker
There are times when committee hearing testimony is so poignant, one wonders how this issue has not yet been addressed. The Judiciary Committee heard LB122 on February 9. This proposed law would allow family members who are being prevented from visiting or communicating with their loved ones to petition the district court of the resident for visitation. The bill also stipulates that the court could not issue an order compelling visitation if the resident has the mental capacity to evaluate and communicate decisions and expresses a desire not to have visitation with the petitioner, or if visitation is not in the best interests of the individual.
We heard compelling testimony from a large number of citizens that elder abuse is occurring. The daughters of Casey Kasem and Mickey Rooney came from California to share their own personal experiences. Casey struggled with dementia and his three children from a previous marriage said their stepmother barred them from seeing him. Karri Kasem said she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in court battles to see her father. Mickey Rooney’s daughter related how she was prevented from seeing her father.
There are laws on the books in Nebraska outlawing isolation and exploitation of vulnerable adults. We heard that law enforcement has found it difficult to enforce those laws. This is not merely a problem that occurs in California and other states. Testifiers from Nebraska related personal experiences similar to those of the Kasems and Rooneys. We heard from people from Lincoln, Omaha, and other parts of the State. There were common threads that ran through the narratives: (1) the elder adult is experiencing some degree of dementia; (2) the vulnerable adult possesses resources; (3) someone – sometimes a relative, sometimes not – worms their way into the vulnerable adult’s life; (4) guardianships, powers of attorney, and sometimes wills are changed; (5) isolation is implemented to prevent loved ones from finding out what is going on and denying intervention by loved ones.
I have signed on to co-sponsor LB122 with Patty Pansing Brooks. I would appreciate hearing from District 30 constituents if you have a loved one who is being victimized and we will provide you with assistance.
Reduction in property taxes has been the cry of people across the state for years. The perfect storm of high valuations and drastically reduced farm commodity prices has reached a boiling point. There are a number of proposals being heard each week by the Revenue Committee. I support reducing property taxes and to balance this reduction, I believe sales tax increases will be a viable solution. I continue to be open to various solutions and have recently met with a coalition of education and agriculture organizations, the Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education. Once the revenue package comes to the floor, I will discuss this topic further in my weekly columns and newsletters.
LB 632 is a bill which would regulate craft brewers in much the same way larger beer distributors are regulated. Craft brewers are small, local, and often located in rural areas of the state. LB 632 would require virtually all beer made by craft brewers to be distributed through a wholesaler warehouse before going to retail outlets. This means a beer brewed in small town Nebraska would have to be shipped to a regional distributer – for example, in Omaha – so it could be shipped back to the small town where it was made. Even the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission’s policy allows brewers to deliver their product directly to local bars and stores.
This bill creates added burdens and expenses on small brewers with little market share compared to the beer industry as a whole. I am opposed to this bill. I think the craft brew industry is vastly different than the big producers of beer sold throughout the United States and overseas. The Associated Beverage Distributors of Nebraska say they support the bill because it creates a level playing field. There are a number of cottage industries which are not required to abide by national distribution standards. These companies are not the same and I would not advocate trying to treat them the same. I want to see small businesses thrive in this state, this bill would hamper these brewers. If at some point a local craft brewer begins to have a national distribution, then, yes, they should abide by the same wholesaler distribution requirements. Until that time, LB 632 is the wrong solution to a non-existent problem.
On a “lighter” note, I introduced LR20, a resolution to recognize the upcoming solar eclipse in Nebraska on August 21st. Gage County is situated directly in the path of totality, which as stated in the resolution, will allow us to showcase District 30 in a very unique light!
Please remember to contact my office if you any issues with loved ones in elder care, as well as any other concerns. Our office number is 402.471.2620; email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Legislative Update – February 6, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
As I write this, the legislature will begin the 23rd day of a 90 day legislative session. Mornings in the Unicameral are reserved for floor debate, afternoons are for committee hearings. Most of the time so far has been taken up with discussions on a mid-year budget reduction bill which would put cuts into place immediately. This is meant to help address the $900 million shortfall facing the state. LB 22 was advanced on a vote of 46-0 after four days of debate. The bill would cut current spending by $137 million for the current fiscal year which ends June 30, 2017. This is accomplished by making adjustments to appropriations for state operations, aid and construction programs. The bill received extended debate for two reasons. When various funds are tagged to help fill the budget gap, individuals who rely on the funds, object. One such example is the attorney services fund which is entirely paid for by mandatory fees assessed to attorneys. The Supreme Court administers this fund to admit people who qualify to practice law and for staff to maintain the records of admissions.
The other aspect driving extended debate centers on the adoption of permanent rules for the legislature. Still looming is the potential to change how the cloture vote (cease all debate and vote) is administered. Temporary rules are still in place until the new extended deadline of February 7th. Senator Tyson Larson is pushing for the change in the rules. He was asked by a number of senators to agree to drop the change in the rules and others would then pull their proposals and allow the session to move forward. Senator Larson flatly refused and so the debate continues. I believe the change he is proposing is detrimental to our process and would adversely impact senators who are in the minority from defending their arguments. As was pointed out during floor debate, this could hurt the rural senators when you consider just last year we took up the integrated farm issue to allow hog production companies to own hogs from birth to processing. This bill created a divide amongst the rural senators. Had it not been for the cloture rule, those rural senators fighting against the bill would have had their voices silenced much sooner and would not have had the fuller vetting of the bill it eventually received.
On February 1st, I introduced LB 353 before the Judiciary Committee. This is one of two bills I put forward for consideration regarding the “Beatrice 6” court judgement against Gage County. LB 353 amends a section of statute whereby a political subdivision has a mechanism to pay for judgments against such political subdivision when there are insufficient funds available and inability to raise sufficient funds. The section allows a political subdivision to borrow from the state at a low interest rate to satisfy the judgment when there is a state court order payment. Nebraska’s Attorney General Doug Peterson stated in an opinion that the state could not make the low-interest loan for the Gage County since the court order judgment came from the federal court. The bill adds language to section 13-918 which would apply this mechanism for payment of claims against a political subdivision to a judgment entered by a federal court. The bill is still in committee.
The second bill, LB 656 would change the existing Wrongful Claims and Imprisonment Act to include wrongful incarceration. It would also make the state liable for not only the state claims currently in law but would cover federal judgements as well. This hearing will be on March 9th before the Judiciary Committee. With regard to both of these bills, I will defer to the Gage County board as to when and how they would like to proceed. There are appeals in process and until a final judgement is determined, the board and the legislature cannot fully respond.
Up for hearing this week: a bill to prohibit interference with hunting, trapping or fishing by intimidation using a telephone or other communication device as introduced by Sen. Bostelman; a bill to exempt social security benefits and retirement income from income taxation, from Sen. Wayne; and a bill which adds dyslexia to the special education list, sponsored by Sen. Pansing-Brooks.
As we move through the session, please continue to email and call my office. When I am in debate or hearings, my staff records your opinions and concerns on every issue. email@example.com 402.471.2620. For information on bills and the legislative calendar: www.nebraskalegislature.gov
Nebraska Legislature Update – January 30, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
Last week Senator Bill Kintner resigned from the state Legislature. Had he not done so, the legislature would have voted on a resolution to expel Senator Kintner that very day.
The re-tweet by Senator Kintner which drew public attention and condemnation was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the pattern of disrespect for his fellow senators, it was his using his state-owned computer for cybersex, it was his all-too frequent inappropriate comments that lead to the erosion of his support among his fellow senators. The wide majority of the senators came to the conclusion the disrespect and disruption Senator Kintner’s conduct brought to the legislature and legislative process would no longer be tolerated. The Governor himself had repeatedly stated Senator Kintner should step aside.
I anticipate the Governor will appoint a replacement for that district early in February.
LB 44 and 564 have been introduced, both try to achieve the same end, to require sales tax be collected on internet sales to Nebraska consumers by online retailers who do not have a physical presence in the state. A Supreme Court decision in the 1990’s stands in the way of requiring remote sellers to collect and submit sales taxes. Recently, Amazon has agreed to voluntarily collect and submit sales taxes on purchases made by Nebraskans.
Nebraska joins several other states in forcing this tax issue. The hope is for another court case that might lead to a reversal of the 1990’s decision. The amount of sales over the internet has increased exponentially since the 1990’s and some shopping malls in the United States are now struggling due to internet purchases. States are missing out on badly needed revenue.
We completed the 17th day of the session on January 27 and are still operating with temporary rules. Customarily, a new session opens under temporary rules- those in place in the prior session – until the Rules Committee is elected, meets, and proposes any changes before the legislature votes on permanent rules.
This year, the Rules Committee agreed on no substantive changes. However, the ‘gang of 27’ wishes to abandon decades of traditions and legacy to change the rules in order to better exert their will. Before term limits, iconic state senators reviewed rules each session and apparently believed the long standing rules best served the Legislature and the citizens of Nebraska.
Rule changes are being pushed which would reverse long-standing practices. The most substantive of those is the number of votes required to invoke cloture from 33 (2/3 of the elected members) to 30. A successful cloture vote ends debate and the bill under consideration goes to an immediate vote. At present, any number fewer than 33 results in no cloture, and the item is removed from the agenda for the remainder of the session.
Very little state business has occurred on the floor of the legislature. Opponents of the proposed rule changes are taking up the time talking about anything and everything, until permanent rules reflecting the decades of past practice, respecting non-partisanship, are adopted. Here’s hoping that we can soon put this behind us, continue the non-partisan nature of the legislature, and move on with the business of the state.
I always welcome your communication. You can contact me at 402.471.2620 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the Legislature, including every bill, is always available at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Nebraska Legislature Update
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
January 23, 2017
The Unicameral has now begun the process of hearing all 667 introduced legislative bills. Unique to the Nebraska Legislature is the hearing process. Every bill introduced is scheduled for a hearing before a legislative committee. It is the one opportunity for citizens to address senators in a formal setting regarding the support or opposition to an issue. Some hearings can last a few minutes when the issue is simple and non-controversial, like a bill that is looking at trying to harmonize language from federal statutes to state law, or clarify a definition, or update citations in statutes. Most bills average 30 to 40 minutes. There are those bills however that can take hours to hear, ones that are controversial and deeply meaningful to those affected.
The two committees I serve on this year are the Judiciary Committee, and the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. The Judiciary Committee will hear 118 bills, which is the highest bill load of any committee. This committee meets three days a week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and is responsible for the following subject areas: courts, judges, juvenile codes, criminal codes, crimes and punishments, death penalty, probate, corrections, law enforcement, civil procedures, probation, parole, marriage, death, and child custody, handgun permits and possession and use of guns and other subjects. From this list of jurisdictional oversight, one can understand the large number of bills referred to this committee. These are not easy issues and often times are some of the most controversial the legislature deals with in the session.
The Banking Commerce and Insurance Committee is a two day committee which meets on Monday and Tuesday of each week. This committee has 56 bills and covers three topical areas. First the area of banking includes, banks and banking practices, credit unions, building and loan associations, loans, interest, consumer credit, industrial loans and investment companies. Under the commerce portion of the committee, areas include: Uniform Commercial Code, trusts, corporations, limited liability companies, real estate, financial acts commercial development and trade, trade names and practices. The last area the committee covers is insurance. The topics include: insurance companies, agents and brokers, policies and types of insurance, risk management and health maintenance organizations.
There are a number of ways to stay connected to the legislative process. Nebraska Education Television (NET) provides gavel to gavel coverage of the legislative chambers. If this television channel is not available to you, it can be found on the webpage for livestreaming at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Currently the senators meet only in the morning, usually beginning at 9 am and adjourning at noon.
Starting at 1:30 p.m. the committee hearings begin. The public is welcome to attend and just listen, or can offer testimony on any bill before any committee. The legislative website has a weekly hearing schedule, access to bill information which can be searched by introducer, committee assignment, or subject area. The Unicameral Update is a weekly publication and provides unbiased narratives of various bills under discussion. Free mail subscriptions are available; the “paperless” version is posted on line. I encourage you to visit the website and learn more about the issues and stay connected to the process.
I had a bill before the Education Committee on Tuesday, January 24 which would increase the probationary period for a new hire to the community college teaching staff from two years to three years. Teachers in the K-12 schools need a teaching certificate and a bachelor’s degree, whereas community colleges may hire an individual skilled in construction or welding for example, but who may not have teaching experience. Therefore, in the community college system, time is needed to help those instructors learn best practices, curriculum development, testing etc. while teaching in their area of expertise. I do not foresee this bill as being controversial.
This past week the governor sent a note to senators asking for our help to get the word out about the opportunities for citizens to serve on boards and commissions. The application form can be completed at: https://governor.nebraska.gov , look under the “Constituent Services” tab.
Please feel free to contact me with your issues and concerns. My office phone number is 402.471.2620 and my email is email@example.com.
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