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Fifteen legislative days remain. In that time the legislature must debate and pass a balanced budget. This is the only constitutional requirement the legislature must complete. The legislature has always passed a balanced budget within the 60 or 90 day session. I know the senators will accomplish this goal. But what remains to be done with senators, committee, and Speaker priority bills, waiting at various stages of the process, will be determined in the waning days of session.
Speaker Jim Scheer announced on March 15th that only four priority bills have been passed thus far this session. One of those was my priority bill. Seven bills are currently on Final Reading and should be passed by the legislature. However, 23 priorities are on Select File which is the second round of debate and 52 are sitting on General File, waiting for the opportunity to be discussed for the first time. Twenty-one priority bills remain in committee for various reasons.
Once bills come to the floor, it seems more and more bills are filibustered rather than being honestly debated, amended if necessary, and then advanced. With my priority bill, there were indications of potential extended debate; but in order to move this bill forward in a timely manner, I agreed to an amendment that helped resolve some of the concerns expressed on the floor.
Not every bill given a priority should necessarily be passed by the Unicameral. Just because a bill has a constituency that may want a particular issue, senators still have the responsibility to ensure the bill is good state policy.
Two issues I would like to have the chance to debate would be property tax relief and the issue of tax exemptions on the books. A number of proposals have been offered on property tax relief, some coupled with income tax relief. Other bills propose massive reductions to property tax but no explanation of how to pay for the reductions.
A bill that addresses a large number of tax exemptions, LB1084, is still held in committee. I think this is something senators need to consider when looking at tax reform. It is not just reducing property tax, or reducing income tax, or increasing sales taxes, that will make the state’s revenue stream work. A comprehensive review of all the exemptions past legislatures have granted over decades needs to be on the table if serious tax reform is to take place. But with fifteen legislative days left, I doubt this task is doable.
Please contact me at any time with your thoughts and concerns. My office phone is 402-471-2026, and email is email@example.com.
Enjoyed meeting 4-H members Jetta and Josiah Harvey of Beatrice at the Capitol last week, along with Mat Habrock, Nebraska Assistant Director of Agriculture.
Sen. Baker and the Hickman team, at the League of Municipalities luncheon on Feb 27.
Left to Right:
Phil Goering, Council President
Doug Hanson, Mayor
Silas Clarke, City Administrator
Kelly Oelke, Assistant City Administrator/City Clerk
“Our children are not just our best future, they are our only future.”
Every year the legislature has numerous bills addressing education of our youth, juvenile justice issues, and so on. Several bills introduced this year, seem especially poignant based on the recent events in our country.
Seventeen Marjory Stoneman Douglas students and staff were gunned down on Valentine’s Day in Broward County Florida. The response across the nation is adamant that we must do more to head off school shootings. I suspect that the topic of school safety will appear this month in some form on board of education meeting agendas all across the country. Parents rightfully want assurances that there won’t be a mass shooting at their children’s schools, and are sounding off. I feel the same way. I want my 1st grade granddaughter and 3rd grade grandson to be as safe as possible, along with all of the other boys and girls and school staff members everywhere.
I sense this country is at a tipping point on what they are willing to do to prevent school violence. President Trump, an ardent 2nd amendment rights supporter, has said he supports requiring a person to be age 21 to purchase a weapon, and that he is open to discussions about assault rifles. Retailers are taking a harder stance on firearm sales. School students are stepping up as never before to say there must be changes to stop the mass shootings. All aspects must be explored.
I plan to introduce a resolution proposing an interim study to address this issue. It should not be the role of state government to decide what local school districts must do. With 240+ school districts and hundreds of school buildings in Nebraska, imposing a one size fits all solution would be foolish. Rather, the focus of the interim study will be to explore what can be done at the state level to support the efforts and needs of the local school districts.
Prior to the interim study, several bills have been introduced which could help address this violence, to seek solutions and begin the discussions.
Senator Justine Wayne of Omaha introduced LB 990 which would prohibit a juvenile who had committed a violent crime and was adjudicated in juvenile court from possessing firearms until the age of 25, unless a judge deems the person rehabilitated or if the person joins the military. The bill is in committee and there are some issues. The bill would create a new felony offense for a minor, who after being adjudicated in the juvenile court, is found in possession of a gun. Opponents of the bill saw this as just stacking more felonies on top of a youth who would get pushed deeper into the judicial system.
Senator Patty Pansing Brooks introduced LB 780 which would ban multi-burst trigger activators (bump-stocks) and firearm silencers. She has stated she would be willing to remove the ban on silencers. Her bill was brought in response to the mass shootings in Las Vegas; and since the Florida shooting, even the President has talked about banning bump-stocks. This bill is still in committee.
Youth often use electronic or social media to signal their actions. Senator Rob Clements introduced a measure that would create an offense to reflect modern technology. Under current law a person commits the offense of intimidation by telephone call if he or she telephones someone with the intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend. The offense is a Class III misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of three months in prison, a $500 fine or both. LB 773 would update statutes to reflect modern technology and include intimidation by electronic message, such as test message or email.
Your comments on these issues, as well as any facing the Legislature, are important. Please contact my office at 402-471-2620 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about all bills can be found at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
The week of February 26th is a turning point for the Nebraska Legislature. We turn from the first half of the legislative session to focusing on the last half of the session with fewer than 27 days remaining. We turn from morning debate and committee hearings in the afternoon, to full day debate for the remainder of the session. We turn from the potential of discussing any bills advanced to General File to debating only those bills with a priority designation. We will eventually turn from even those priority bill discussions to debating the state budget bills because, constitutionally, the legislature is required to pass a balanced budget.
I was fortunate to have my priority bill, LB 710, relating to civil law suits regarding debt collection, receive an early hearing date which then allowed it to be placed on General File early in the session. I selected this bill early in the session before other senators began designating their bills which also helped push this bill to the head of the pack. LB 710, was read on Final Reading on February 23rd and now awaits the Governor’s signature.
I look forward to full day debates and taking up the myriad of priority bills selected for this year. Senators each select one, the Speaker selects 25, committees select two bills each, for a combined total of 107 priority bills up for potential debate in the remaining 27 legislative days. Priority bills run the gambit of topics.
Senator Quick chose LB 1132 which would set aside convictions of victims of sex trafficking and expunge their records. LB 931 is Senator Howard’s priority bill and it would create a seven day duration cap on a prescription for an opiate issued to a person under the age of 19 years of age. Senator Murante designated LB 1115 as his priority and it would provide population requirements for establishing district boundary lines for legislative districts, Supreme Court districts and certain political subdivisions for re-districting purposes. Senator Pansing-Brooks’ priority bill, LB 158, would provide for the appointment of counsel for juveniles and counsel would remain with the juvenile through post-dispositional proceedings.
Then there are those priority bills that are broad and far reaching. One such bill introduced and prioritized by Senator Briese is LB 1084. This bill would adopt the Property Tax Request Limitation Act and remove a number of tax exemptions adopted over the decades. On the flip side, Senator Erdman introduced LB 829 to provide $1.1 billion in property tax relief; unfortunately, he does not provide a mechanism in how to pay for this or prescribe how the state would reconcile the budget.
Other bills are less grand but nonetheless important to those impacted. LB 1098 by Senator Hilgers would change the dollar threshold for certain purchasing requirements under the County Purchasing Act. LB 865 by Senator Crawford would change provisions relating to passage of ordinances by cities and villages. Senator Lindstrom’s LB 741 would change provisions relating to real property appraisers to comply with Title XI.
I would encourage you to go to the legislative website to read more about the bills being debated. www.nebraskalegislature.gov To contact me directly with your comments about these issues, call me at 402-471-2620 or use my email, email@example.com.
The week of February 12th through the 15th was a four day work week. Even though the week was short, it was nonetheless, a very important week. The Appropriations Committee, consisting of nine members, hears testimony each session on issues and entities funded by the state. On February 14th the committee heard testimony on the proposed budget cuts to the University of Nebraska. The Governor has proposed cutting the University’s budget by $11 million this fiscal year and by $23 million in fiscal year 2018-2019. This is on top of the cuts the University already sustained in the previous year. At the hearing President Hank Bounds stated the University accounts for 13% of the state’s budget but is being asked to take approximately 34% of the cuts.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am a staunch supporter of education. Having spent 43 years in K-12 education helping create school environments where students can thrive and prepare to continue on to the next step, I believe education is the best investment we make in our state and its citizens. Our young people are not only Nebraska’s best hope for our future, they are our only hope.
However, yet again, the University is being asked to absorb even more cuts. President Bounds and the administration have looked at eliminating geography, art history and electronics engineering degree programs in Lincoln, closing the Haskell Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Concord, closing the dental hygiene program in Gering and Scottsbluff, eliminating some staffing and faculty positions at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and eliminating the men’s baseball, tennis and golf programs at the Kearney campus. These programs are considered to be either “low yield” or a way to pull back satellite programs to the main campuses. These cuts total $9 million.
The initial proposed cuts offered by the Governor come to $34 million in the next year and a half. In response, President Bounds stated “We are at a defining moment in Nebraska’s history. We have a choice to make. Are we going to reaffirm the partnership between the state and its public university that has opened the door of opportunity to young people and driven economic growth for almost 150 years? Or will you decide that you no longer see the value that the University of Nebraska provides?” (Testimony by President Hank Bounds to the Appropriations Committee, 2/14/18)
I find the proposed severe cuts in appropriations to the University to be disconcerting at best. I will find it difficult to vote to approve any budget that calls for that level of cuts to our University system.
To follow the legislative process, including committee hearings and floor debate by the full Legislature, go to nebraskalegislature.gov to stream these proceedings live; or watch gavel-to-gavel coverage on NET television.
To contact my office directly, use 402-471-2620 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your communication.
As winter has persisted outside, the legislature persists in conducting its business at legislative hearings and floor debate. LB 710, which is my priority bill, seeks to clarify statutory language regarding plaintiffs who are allowed to request a court award of interest and attorney fees afforded within the statute for civil cases of $4,000.00 or less. The changes make clear to which plaintiffs the statute applies and establishes a uniform time-frame by which interest is calculated. The bill was heard by the Judiciary Committee and was clearly opposed by Senator Chambers. He believes that lower income people are adversely impacted by debt collectors. When the bill came to the floor for General File debate, often referred to as first round debate, Senator Chambers made it clear that he would filibuster the bill. Which he did. After nearly six hours of debate, I moved for Cloture, which can force debate to end. This vote has a high vote requirement (33) to protect the right of debate – but also allows an avenue to stop frivolous debate and advance an issue. The motion for cloture received 47 yes votes. The only no vote was Senator Chambers and one senator was excused for the day. The motion was successful to cease debate and LB 710 advanced to the next stage of debate, Select File, with 46 yes votes. The Speaker scheduled LB 710 for the next round of debate on Monday, February 12.
However, on the agenda, the bill preceding my priority bill is LB 758 offered by Senator Dan Hughes. His bill was also filibustered on General File by Senator Chambers. LB 758 would require state Natural Resource Districts and inter-local entities that buy private land for the development of a streamflow augmentation project to work with the county in which the project is located to reduce the project’s impact on the local property tax base. The bill is now being stalled on second round debate by Senator Chambers and will go to its full time limit before a cloture motion can be made. It is fortunate that I designated LB 710 as my priority early in the process in order to have it come up so quickly. I know my bill will make it through, but it is moving as slow as molasses.
I often hear that senators should shut down Senator Chambers, usually in a more colorful pronouncement. As frustrating as Senator Chambers filibusters are, as time consuming as his filibusters are, it is his right to speak and use the rules of the Legislature; and I would not want the system to be able to shut down anyone’s voice. The legislature has a process in place to eventually end a filibuster but at least the rules protect a lone voice or a voice of a minority group of senators who may object to a bill.
This week I have two bills before committees. First is LB 709 to be heard by the Urban Affairs Committee. This bill changes the statutes relating to plumbing boards and helps to streamline the process and clean up language that has been in place for decades. This bill was brought to my attention by the Beatrice City Administrator. It should not have any opposition at the hearing.
The second bill up this week would allow a person to use tires in building walls in a single family dwelling and have approval from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). A constituent was building a home using tires in the construction process. During the building, DEQ was made aware of tires sitting on the property, the home owner worked with DEQ to clean up the remainder of the tires and was allowed to continue building the home. This constituent asked that I introduce a bill to allow tires be used in this type of process.
As we near the half way mark of the session, I encourage you to contact me with any concerns or questions about legislation. email@example.com 402-471-2620
Legislative Update – February 5, 2018
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
The Legislature continues in its routine of morning debate on bills carried over from last year, and is starting to see bills from this year enter the floor debate as they advance from committee. Right now most of the bills being discussed from last year tend not to be controversial. These bills were not taken up last year because time ran out as priority bills took precedence and non-prioritized fell by the wayside. So it is a good thing when we can spend the first few weeks of this session discussing some of those non-priority issues.
Afternoons are taken up by committee hearings. This past week one of my bills, LB 907 was heard by the Revenue Committee. I have written about this bill in the past but on February 1, the proponents of the bill had the opportunity to speak to the merits of the bill at the committee hearing. LB 907 attempts to clarify language in the statutes indicating what types of agriculture machinery and equipment would be exempt from taxation. A District 30 constituent who builds livestock enclosures for farmers and ranchers stated the Department of Revenue did not previously tax items such as ventilation system that ensure proper air movement through a facility, or shutters or curtains to regulate temperature. These items are meant to protect the health and safety of the animals. Additional local ag producers and ag industry leaders also testified in support of the bill. The committee asked questions regarding the potential fiscal impact to the state budget, my response was that the department only started to charge tax recently and therefore the impact should be minimal. The fiscal note prepared by the Legislature’s Fiscal office, with information also provided by the Department of Revenue, has a significant fiscal impact. Now it is up to the committee members to decide if the bill has merit.
The Revenue Committee also heard testimony this week on the Governor’s property tax and income tax bill, LB 947, offered by Senator Jim Smith who is also the Chairman of the Revenue Committee. The bill would provide Nebraska homeowners and agricultural or horticultural land owners a refundable state income tax credit equal to 10 percent of property taxes paid beginning this year. This credit is available for only Nebraska residents. The bills caps the credit at $230 this year but could increase if state revenue exceeds forecasts. It is capped at $730.
The income tax portion of the bill would reduce the top individual income tax rate from 6.84 percent to 6.75 percent in 2019 and 6.69 percent in 2020. Any decrease to the income tax rate would only occur if the revenue exceeds forecasts.
The corporate tax rate for businesses with income in excess of $100,000, would decrease from 7.81 percent to 6.75 percent in 2019. The rate would decrease to 6.69 percent by 2020. For businesses with less than $100,000 would remain at rate of 5.58 percent.
The Legislative Fiscal office said the bill would cost the state in lost revenue about $2.7 million in fiscal year (FY) 2018-19, increasing to $86 million in FY 2019-20 and eventually cost $463 million by FY 2027-28. My concern is the programs that will need to be eliminated by the loss of this revenue. This bill is difficult to consider when the state is facing close to another $200 million budget shortfall on top of last session’s budget cuts totaling close to $1 billion to achieve the constitutionally required balanced budget. The Revenue committee will work to put a package together and we will wait and see what finally comes to the full legislature for consideration.
I would encourage you to follow the legislature by accessing information on line or receiving the Unicameral Update which is a weekly publication during session. You can call 402-471-2261 for more information or access the Unicameral Update at: update.legislature.ne.gov.
To contact my office directly, use 402-471-2620 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your communication.
Legislative Update – January 29, 2018
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
On Friday, January 26th, Speaker Jim Scheer laid out the road map for the remainder of the session. The legislature has sixty days to complete its work in even numbered years; and as of Friday we had completed over 25% of this session. A tool used in the Unicameral is the system of designating priority bills. Each senator is allowed one priority bill, Standing Committees each select two and the Speaker can pick an additional 25 bills. This means there are 102 priority bills designated but depending on time constrains, controversial nature of some bills, and the budget bills to create a balanced budget (which is constitutionally required) not all priority bills may see debate. The Speaker does his best to schedule every priority bill but his ‘pep’ talk on Friday was a cautionary note to all the senators to be ready on their bills and attempt to work through issues on any bill prior to its debate. This sends a clear message to senators and committees to have as clean a bill as possible when it comes to the floor. Not all controversy can be eliminated and there are always issues where no matter the compromise, people will be opposed to the change. Those bills will see hours of debate and run until a cloture motion.
My seven bills are all set for hearing. After the hearing, the committee chair schedules those bills for discussion during an Executive Session of the Committee. This is only for committee members, committee staff and the press. No one else is allowed to attend. At the exec session, the committee discusses the bills heard so far and decides to either advance a bill, with or without amendments, hold the bill (which in a short session means it is finished for this year) or indefinitely postpone the bill, effectively killing it.
Two of my bills have already had their hearing. LB 710 which changes provisions relating to civil claims of four thousand dollar or less was heard by the Judiciary on January 19. On Friday, the Judiciary Committee voted to advance the bill with amendments to General File. I hope to see this bill successfully through the process.
LB 711 which would require all passengers in a vehicle to wear seatbelts, was heard by the Transportation Committee January 23rd. The committee has not held an Executive Session yet so the bill remains in committee.
On February 1, I have two bills up for hearing. LB 907 would place a sales tax exemption on agricultural machinery and equipment and will be heard by the Revenue Committee. This bill was introduced at the request of a business owner in the district and garnered support from a number of ag interests. The obstacle for this bill will be the fiscal impact (lost revenue) which would have significant impact on the state’s General Fund.
Also on February 1, LB 1037 will go before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee. Under current law, a person holding an elective office on a city, village or school board, must declare any conflicts of interest and then abstain from participating or voting on the matter. LB 1037 would allowed elected representative to vote or make decisions relating to the board on which he or she serves. These boards have a limited number of representatives and if one or two may have to abstain, it could be difficult to the get the necessary number of votes.
Last week the Judiciary committee heard testimony on Senator Adam Morfeld’s bill in response to confidential data breeches similar to the Equifax breech over the summer. LB 757 would prohibit a credit-monitoring agency from charging fees to place, temporarily lift or remove a security freeze. The Equifax breech impacted 145 million Americans, 700,000 of which were Nebraskans, to potential identity theft. LB 757 would prevent a company whose data was stolen, to then turn around and charge the consumer fees to monitor their credit history and prevent potential identity theft. The committee has not taken action on the bill as of yet.
The Judiciary Committee also heard a number of bills relating to the Opioid epidemic. Senator Sara Howard’s LB 931 creates a 7 day duration cap on a prescription for an opiate issued to a person under the age of 19 years of age. LB 933 by Senator Brett Lindstrom would require medical practitioners to notify patients, or a parent or guardian of a patient under 18, of the risk of addiction and overdose when prescribing opiates and other Schedule II prescription medications. Other bills relating to opiates were LB 934 and 906. More information can be found on these and all bills at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Your communication is always welcome. Contact me at 402-471-2620 or email@example.com.
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