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Legislative Update – January 19, 2018 Senator Roy Baker – District 30
At of the close of session on Thursday, January 18, which was the last day for bill introduction, senators had introduced 468 new bills. After a bill is introduced, the Reference Committee (basically the Executive Board of the Legislature) meets and decides which committee will hear each bill based on the most appropriate area of jurisdiction. On January 16th, hearings began. During a public hearing, some bills are short and simple and can take minutes, other bills that are more complex or controversial can take hours. But every bill receives a public hearing – a feature unique to our Nebraska Unicameral and just a half dozen other states.
Each senator is assigned a full five day schedule of hearings. I currently serve on the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee which meets on Monday and Tuesday and will hear 33 bills. I am also on the Judiciary Committee which meets on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This year, a record number of bills, 143, or 30% of all bills introduced, have been referred to this one committee. This means the Judiciary Committee will need to hear eight or nine bills each day the committee meets.
If a recess day falls on Monday or Friday, the committee does not meet on those days. So Chairwoman Ebke has taken the unusual step of scheduling hearings on a recess day in order to accommodate the large number of bills before the Judiciary Committee.
This session, I introduced seven bills, four requested by constituents, one by the Lancaster Public Defender, another by an association and one I felt was good public policy. I will address each in future updates, as they come up for hearings.
During floor debate this past week we discussed LB 469 brought by Senator Tyson Larsen last year which requires fantasy contest operators to be licensed. Senator Larson presented this bill as a consumer protection bill, however many senators saw this a form of expanded gambling. The bill was discussed for three hours and I doubt Senator Larsen has 33 votes to force the end of debate, so I believe the bill should be done for this session.
Another bill by Senator Larsen debated later in the week was LR18CA. This is a constitutional amendment to allow those who meet the federal voting age, currently set at 18, to be eligible to run for, or be appointed to, elected office. Under the existing law, a person must be 21 years old to be eligible for the legislature, age 30 for Governor or Lieutenant Governor, Supreme Court Justice or Judge on the Supreme Court. Senator Chambers, along with others, opposed the idea stating that this age group does not have the experience and knowledge to appropriately serve in these offices. In addition, if we tie the voting age to the federal level, and by chance the federal government lowers the age or raises it, our constitution would be tied to that age. No vote has been taken yet on this issue.
Now that hearings have begun, committees will start advancing new bills to the floor and the Speaker will then set the agenda for floor debate of these new bills, beginning about January 29th. Senators will also begin to prioritize their issues which will take precedence for scheduling floor debate.
A good source for all things pertaining to the legislature is the website: www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Posted on this site will be the daily agendas, hearing schedules, information on bills, and a link to the Unicameral Update publication which reports on many of the bills being discussed. From this site, you can also connect directly to my official web page. I also post news on Facebook and Twitter. If you would like to receive this update via email, contact my office to be added to the list. Constituents are always welcome to call, write or email my office. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and the office number is 402-471-2620.
Legislative Update – January 12, 2018
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
The second session of the 105th Legislature started smoothly. The first three days of session only had bill introduction, which continues for the first ten days. On January 8th, the Speaker scheduled floor debate on bills held over from last year. I have introduced six new bills to date, and will have no more. In this 60-day session, any bill that does not receive a Senator’s or Committee’s priority designation likely will not make it to the floor. The other possibility is if a bill is noncontroversial and unopposed, it may be passed on the consent agenda.
My bills are:
LB709 to change archaic provisions relating to plumbing boards – their terms of office, meetings, penalties, etc. This bill was introduced at the request of the City of Beatrice and supported by other cities and villages.
LB710 is an act relating to civil lawsuits, changing provisions relating to costs, interest, and attorney fees, when the civil claim is $4,000 or less. This was introduced upon request by a District 30 business owner.
LB711 would change requirements for use of occupant protection systems. Currently, proper seat belt use is required only for front seat passengers. LB711 would require each occupant in the motor vehicle to wear occupant protection systems, with the exceptions already in statute including taxi cabs, emergency vehicles, parade vehicles, and rural letter carriers. Child passenger restraint requirements remain as they are. Seat belt use would continue to be a secondary offense which carries a $25 fine.
LB907 clarifies sales tax exemptions for agriculture machinery and equipment, specifically equipment used for the health and welfare of cattle, swine, and poultry. This bill was also introduced at the request of a business in the district.
LB908 would provide a tire disposal exemption for use in a building system. A constituent requested this legislation.
LB 981 is a juvenile justice bill and allows a Juvenile Court to retain jurisdiction of a juvenile until the age of 21 for purposes of enforcing the court order, if the juvenile and their legal counsel consent.
In addition to these bills, I am considering signing on as a co-sponsor to a couple of other issues. I will outline those in future updates.
Key votes to date in this session first occurred on January 8 with the adoption of the permanent rules. Last session we spent over thirty days debating the rules. The timeliness in which the rules were adopted this year is more reminiscent of past Legislatures with the acceptance of legislative rules.
The next key vote occurred on debate of a bill. Senator Bob Krist declared his priority bill early this year, LB 368 which was introduced last year by Senator John Lowe. The bill would have repealed the motorcycle helmet law. After at least six hours of debate, a cloture motion to cease any further debate may be offered. In 2017, a cloture vote on the bill failed by one vote. On January 10, the cloture motion to end debate and go to a vote on the bill failed by three votes. The matter will not come up again this session. I voted against cloture. I have heard passionate pleas from constituents both for and against repeal. It was a matter of considering civil liberties vis a vis safety and people’s lives, and ultimately the latter prevailed. This outcome was a bit of a surprise, as proponents of LB 368 thought they had the 33 votes necessary.
Public hearings for new bills begin on Tuesday, January 16th. Contact my office with any questions or comments you may have. I welcome your communication as we work through the issues. email@example.com or 402-471-2620.
2017 is winding down, and 2018 will be upon us in a matter of days. The second session of the 105th Nebraska Unicameral Legislature will begin on Wednesday, January 3. This is a 60-day session which will end in mid-April.
The Speaker of the Legislature has notified us that any proposals for changes in rules under which the Legislature operates must be submitted before the session starts. The Rules Committee will consider and vote on any proposals by the second day. During the 2017 session, many days were taken up discussing rules changes. There was no resolution, and finally we continued under temporary rules, those under which we had operated in 2016.
A coalition of Senators who sought to control the Legislature had argued for the extended debate, aka filibuster, rules to change. Current rules require 33 of the 49 votes to end extended debate. The coalition sought to lower the number of votes required to end debate and bring their agenda items to a vote. As I am not part of the “gang of 27”, I am not inclined to vote for changing the rules. Committee chairs and committee assignments remain the same in this second year of the 2017-18 biennium.
Nebraska’s revenue shortfall has been well publicized. Normally the biennial budget adopted in the 2017 session would not need to be revisited in 2018. However, the current 2018 revenue estimate is projected to be around $175 million short, so steps must be taken. We will receive updated revenue forecasts before the sixty day session comes to an end.
Other important areas will continue to be part of the focus for 2018: tax reform/tax relief; public school funding; overcrowded prisons and other correction system issues; physical and mental health care; and school choice, to name a few.
This will be my final year as a Nebraska State Senator. It has been an honor to serve District 30, and I plan to make the most out of my remaining time. Thank you.
To contact Senator Baker: Phone: 402-471-2620 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Webpage: http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist30/
LINCOLN SOUTH BELTWAY
The Department of Transportation shared the latest plans for the south beltway at a public hearing on October 3. The beltway will be an eleven-mile freeway, connecting US-77 on the west and Highway 2 on the east, with five interchanges.
Planning began in the 1960s for a beltway loop around Lincoln. The project was ready to go in the early 2000s, but was put on hold due to lack of funding. Now funds from the Build Nebraska Act have been earmarked for the project, supplemented with contributions from the City of Lincoln. At present, the plan is to begin the construction of the south beltway in 2020, with an estimated completion date around 2025 to 2027. Between now and 2020, the Nebraska Department of Transportation will consider further public input, make refinements, and begin acquiring the necessary properties.
The south beltway will enable some of the through traffic to avoid passing through the City of Lincoln as well as facilitating east-west traffic within the City. In the future, it is likely that beltway loop will be completed with the construction of the east beltway, connecting the south beltway eastern terminus with Interstate 80.
The City of Lincoln has continued to grow and expand in all directions. Completion of the south beltway could accelerate Lincoln’s growth to the south. Commercial development may well crop up around the beltway interchanges, including gas stations, restaurants, retail, and other. The beltway, once completed, is likely to have a significant impact on the growth of Hickman and other communities in Legislative District 30.
The south beltway somewhat follows the half mile line between Saltillo and Bennet Roads. In the present plan, interchanges will be developed at Highway 77, near 27th Street, at 68th and 82nd Streets, and approximately west of 120th Street.
Legislative Update – May 24, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
As we wrap up the work of the First Session of the 105th Legislature, I would like to announce that I do not plan to run for re-election to my District 30 seat in the Nebraska Legislature.
It has always been my wife’s and my intent, following my retirement, to relocate to be closer to our family. When I retired as Superintendent of the Norris School District in 2010, my wife and I deemed it important to remain in the area to help look after Paula’s aging parents, who were in the mid-80s and still living in their own home. Both passed away during my first year in the Legislature.
Upon completion of my legislative term in 2018, we will be moving from our current home and establishing residences in Minnesota and Arizona to be near our sons, daughter-in-law, and our young grandchildren.
I am making my announcement now to allow interested District 30 citizens in Lancaster and Gage counties time to consider their candidacy and begin the planning necessary to carry out a campaign.
It has been an honor to serve District 30 residents as their State Senator the past three years, and I will continue to carry out my duties to the best of my ability during the remainder of my term.
I have appreciated the emails, letters and phone calls to the office and the sharing of opinions, ideas, and concerns. Your communication during the interim is equally important and I look forward to hearing from you. 402-471-2620 email@example.com
Legislative Update – May 19, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
Much of the time in the waning hours of the 2017 Legislative session was been given to discussions of the budget. On May 15, Governor Ricketts announced $56.5 million in line-item reductions in the budget adopted by the Legislature. Included in the reductions:
Various motions were submitted on May 17 to override the line-item reductions for the four DHHS programs. We heard from a large number of providers from District 30, who are deeply concerned about what those provider rate cuts might mean for their rest homes, the Developmentally Disabled services, Child Welfare, and Behavioral Health providers. Most of the motions ended with 26 or 27 yes votes, short of the 30 needed to override the Governor.
In other actions in the final five days, several bills passed on final reading without controversy, including LB289, that greatly increases the penalties for sex trafficking. Increased rates were authorized for ground emergency medical transport. One additional juvenile court judge was authorized, and judges’ salaries were approved.
LB496, the Community Development Law, received 31 votes on a cloture vote, short of the 33 needed, and is done for this session. This bill would have extended workforce housing funds to rural areas.
Sen. Mike Hilgers’ gun bill, LB68, was scheduled to come up on Select File, but he pulled his bill from the agenda. He stated that he wants to work on the language over the summer and bring LB68 back in 2018.
In 2016, LB 895 was passed by the legislature calling for the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a detailed analysis of the Beatrice State Developmental Center and the Bridges program. Senators raised concerns when the reported costs of serving an individual at BSDC was approximately $450,000 per individual per year and the population was declining. After more discussion, senators also wanted an analysis of the aging buildings on the campus, compliance with the Olmstead decision (a U.S. Supreme Court Case) and how BSDC fits into the service array for all individuals with developmental disabilities.
First I would like to compliment Courtney Miller and her staff for conducting a very thorough and compassionate review of the future of BSDC and the impact any changes to the program would have on the residents. I think they did a very good job of balancing the needs of the residents, the needs of the campus and the needs of the DD community as a whole.
The report is due by June 1, 2017 to the legislature with the findings and the future vision of BSDC and the Bridges program. On May 9th the department held a public hearing on the initial findings. A number of potential recommendations were put forward but the preliminary recommendation the department deemed most appropriate was a combined service array for BSDC. The proposal would have BSDC continue to support the 109 individuals currently living at the facility. They recognized these individuals call BSDC home. Considering the average length of stay at BSDC is 47 years and the average age of the residents is 67, moving these clients out of the only home many have known for the vast majority of their life would be cruel. The recommendation also would have BSDC provide: respite services, crisis intervention support and consultative assessment services, and acute crisis stabilization as an intermediate care facility (which would be time limited service).
As for the Bridges program in Hastings, it was originally designed for high risk, behaviorally challenged individuals with developmental disabilities. However the program cannot remain in compliance with federal Medicaid Home and Community Based Services waiver regulations. The department has moved the six residents at this facility into community based services and has closed Bridges.
I think the report is the best outcome for BSDC, its residents and the Beatrice community which for decades has embraced the facility and the residents.
The last day of the current session is Tuesday, May 23rd. The agenda will include mostly housekeeping items to wrap up the business of the Legislature as we move into the interim months. As always, your communication about areas of concern is important whether we are in session or back at work in the district. 402-471-2620; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Legislative Update – May 15, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
Debate on the budget, when it came up for Final Reading, was contentious. Final Reading is usually the stage of debate that is fairly straight forward and runs smoothly, but not so with this budget package. Even though the Legislature came in with a lower budget package than the one offered by the Governor, there were a few senators who believe we did not cut deep enough. Those senators are prophesying the doom and gloom of Nebraska economy.
I believe our Appropriations Committee members have worked long and hard on the budget. They brought forward a package that looked at each agency, each program, and all spending and revenue sources. They made cuts they believed were necessary and appropriate. Reductions were made to the budgets of the University and state colleges and to roads. Funds were even taken from the state’s rainy day fund. This is not new occurrence, this is an avenue previous legislatures have used to balance the budget. A few agencies and programs were spared cuts when the committee deemed reductions in funding could cause greater harm than good. Some agencies are very small, with only a few staff. Funding to other programs, like the Department of Corrections and the stabilization aid to K-12 schools, was prioritized.
The committee took a scalpel to the budget and not an ax. Those few senators who fought the bill on Final Reading were wanting to wield the ax, lest we all return for a special session in the fall. I would rather see a cautionary budget with appropriate cuts. If, in the next few months the revenue forecast improves, then the agencies, even though trimmed, can still function and provide their services. Whereas, if cuts are too deep, some programs could be irreparably harmed, and the people served would be harmed. If revenues do not improve or decline farther in the coming months, then a special session may be necessary but the senators would then return with the facts on the existing revenue picture and not conjecture.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on day 86 of the 90 day session next week. Please continue your communication with me in these last few days of session as well as during the interim months. 402-471-2620 email@example.com
Weekly Update – May 8, 2017
Revenue. The Revenue Committee’s tax reduction bill LB461 and AM954, introduced by Committee Chair Jim Smith on behalf of Governor Ricketts, failed to advance on May 2. The cloture motion received 27 votes, but 33 votes are required. I was “not voting” on the cloture motion.
The Revenue Committee rolled LB338, the Agricultural Valuation Fairness Act, into the omnibus AM954. There appears to be support for the concept of the production model for valuing ag land, and those provisions may come back as an amendment to another bill.
I have and will continue to support measures designed to reduce over-reliance on local property taxes, while maintaining support of K-12 public schools. AM594 would not have done those things. Even the rural senators who voted for cloture expressed dissatisfaction with the bill’s minimal impact on ag land property taxes. Farm organizations on record as opposed to LB461 include Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Pork Producers Association, Nebraska Soybean Growers Association, and the Nebraska State Dairy Association. Urban senators report little demand from their constituents for lowering income taxes; most city dwellers also prefer the focus to be on lowering property taxes.
In AM954, income tax rate reductions and property tax credits would have been enacted in the future, based on ‘triggers’ – when revenue in a year would be projected to grow by 3.5%, the following year the income tax and property tax provisions would be enacted. Concerns were voiced regarding future inflation. While the rate of inflation has hovered around one percent the past few years, it is quite conceivable that we could see inflation rates of 3.5% or higher at some point in the future. Yet growth in revenue at or above the 3.5% threshold would still trigger income tax reductions and further property tax credits despite inflation, leaving the state with diminished ability to meet the basic responsibilities of state government. Appropriations Committee Chair John Stinner has stated that further cuts to the austere state budget could result in very negative long term consequences.
Questions also arose as to how the proper level of the state’s cash reserve would be restored under the provisions of AM954. The desired level is around $700 million. This year, the Legislature is dipping in to the ‘rainy day’ fund, drawing it down to $400 million. When the state’s economy improves, restoring the cash reserve needs to be a priority.
Budget. The 2017 Legislature has a $1.1 billion problem. In short, the proposed solution includes $700 million in cuts, $230 million in transfers, and approximately $170 million from the ‘rainy day’ fund. The most recent revenue forecast shows a need to find another $55 million. Appropriation Committee Chair Stinner proposes to reduce the minimum cash reserve percentage from 3% to 2.5%. This is separate from the rainy day fund – it is General Fund money kept in the checking account as excess balance to manage the ebbs and flows of month to month transactions. Sen. Stinner criticized what he has termed ‘crony capitalism’ – exemptions given to certain entities over the years that now totals $816 million.
The main budget bill is LB327. Progress toward the necessary task of adopting a budget for the next biennium was slowed when new language involving Title X was discovered in the budget bill. Title X is a federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with family planning and related preventative health services, e.g., pap smears. The new language dealt with prioritization of the agencies with regards to receiving Title X funding. Most of the Appropriations Committee had not recognized the change in language that had been slipped in. When considering the impact on clinics and compliance with federal law, it was determined the language should be removed from the budget bill, and call for further study by the committee to be designated by the Referencing Committee.
No state tax dollars are involved with Title X. It is also important to note that no state or federal dollars go to paying for abortions or abortion counseling.
As we take up these crucial topics in debate, I welcome your input and comments. Please contact me at 402.471.2620, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can track legislation and find a link to stream live debate on your computer at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Legislative Update – April 27, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
It has been a rocky road these past few days – more on roads later in this column – and it is all due to debate on the biennium budget. The Appropriations Committee has spent months preparing the budget proposals. When the committee first began their internal discussions, those members agreed that three priority areas should not be targeted for cuts, in order to prevent irreversible damage to those programs.
The three areas prioritized by Appropriations make up the majority of the state budget. 44% of the budget is dedicated to K-12 and higher education. About 35-37% goes toward aid to individuals like Medicaid, provider reimbursements, etc. And the third area of priority, which takes about 10% of the state budget, is the court system, Corrections and the State Patrol.
First, K-12 education was set as a priority and no cuts were made to TEEOSA (state equalization aid). Any cuts to TEEOSA would push K-12 education funding needs to the property tax base. Also included in the education piece is higher education; the universities, state and community colleges. Having quality education from kindergarten through the college level feeds into work force development and a better economy. Any major cuts to higher education would mean students would see significant tuition increases rates. The University of Nebraska did take a $10 million reduction in aid.
The second priority is aid to individuals which comprises almost 37% of the budget. This includes Medicaid to the aged, blind, disabled, provider reimbursements and so on. Cuts to these programs would potentially impact the elderly in assisted living and nursing homes, low income families with children and their health care, rates to providers who care for the developmental disabled or those with mental health issues. The committee saw the need to protect this funding.
The last area deemed a priority was corrections, the courts and state patrol. The Department of Corrections is facing large overcrowding problems in state prisons and has been involved in Justice Reinvestment with more programing, more parole officers, and review of sentencing guidelines for certain offenses. The courts and jails did take a reduction of $9.2 million.
The remaining agencies in state government took anywhere from 4% to 8% reductions. Money from the state’s cash reserve or “rainy day fund” has also helped address the shortfall. Senator Stinner, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, stated that Nebraska is experiencing the 3rd lowest revenue growth rate in the last 36 years. Usually when there is low revenue growth, the state has a year or two of increased revenue growth to help recover. For the past three years, the state has seen low or negative growth. So the state never had the chance to recover from the previous down-turn.
On April 25th senators began the long discussion of where cuts should and could be made. The first contentious reduction made by the Appropriations Committee was cutting $30 million from the Department of Roads which has a $1.7 billion budget. This cut equates to a 1.75% reduction in the Roads budget. Part of the committee’s rationale was that in 2011, a law was enacted that took a ¼ cent of the state sales tax revenue, approximately $60 million, and dedicated it to roads. Since current funding to roads includes a portion of the state’s General Fund revenue stream, the committee deemed it appropriate to have this agency help in addressing the budget shortfall. An amendment offered by Senator Curt Friesen of Henderson tried to take money from a Medicaid cash transfer fund to replace the $30 million cut from roads. This amendment was defeated.
On April 26th the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board came in with an additional $50 million shortfall. The committee and the full Legislature will again need to look at where more cuts can be made. A bill that would look at taxing internet sales is working its way through the legislative process and could have a potential revenue increase of $30-$40 million. However there is a court case that does not allow a state to require a business outside that state to pay sales tax. At the time the courts made these decisions, the internet was only just beginning. A point to be made is Nebraska residents have always been required to track their mail order or on-line purchases and to remit the sales tax to the state. The compliance with this law is marginal at best. Internet sales are hurting our main street stores in our communities. This bill would level the field
The Speaker of the Legislature ended the debate on LB 327, the budget bill, at 9 pm Wednesday night after it became stuck in extended debate on Title X women’s health funding. Some senators expressed concern that language in the bill could cut funding going to Planned Parenthood agencies in the state. These agencies provide basic women’s health services, including such things as cervical cancer screening and family planning services. State law does not allow any state or federal funds to be used for abortions. Senators from the opposing sides will get together before the next round of debate to try to reach a compromise.
The budget should be passed by May 10 and will go to the Governor for any potential line-item vetoes. At that point senators will once again have the opportunity to review those cuts and consider any over-rides we deem necessary.
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