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And then there were four. April 6 was the fifty-sixth day of the session. Four legislative days remain. On the last day of this last full week, a bill came forward by Senator Curt Friesen that would allocate foundation aid to every student across the state regardless of the needs or resources of the school district.
The current state formula to send aid to schools is based on needs (student population, poverty, growth) minus resources (property tax revenue) which then equals aid. This formula takes into consideration the local levy rate which school districts derive their funding. Some school districts are at the maximum rate of $1.05 and some have even exceeded this rate by a vote of the district electorate. However there are school districts whose levy rates are at $.60 cents or less. The school districts in District 30 range from the high of a $1.05 per $100 to $.57 per $100 (based on 2015-16 data). The disparity in the rates is due to a number of factors, districts that are land rich with low student populations tend to have lower rates. Districts that have high student growth and do not have the same amount of land or property tend to tax higher.
Senator Tom Briese has been working on a bill, now an amendment, to look at eliminating sales tax exemptions and taxing more of the services industry. Part of Senator Briese’s bill would consider lowering the sales tax rate. The amendment would include an increase in the income tax rates. These items, coupled together, would help fund state aid to schools which would then lessen the burden on property tax payers. I often hear that a tax shift is wrong. The legislature is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. I would make the assertion that if Paul has been paying inordinately more than Peter, it is time for Peter to bear his fair share. So yes it is a shift but one I think needs to be part of the discussion.
Another issue debated this week was voter identification requirements. LR 1 CA brought by Senator John Murante would require a voter to show a driver’s license or state identification card to vote. Those who opposed the measure stated this resolution would be infringing on a constitutional right and should not be encroached on in any way. This issue has been debated a number of times over the last few years. Senator Murante knew he didn’t have the votes so with the agreement of the opposition, a cloture motion was made much earlier in the debate than ordinarily done. The motion failed, killing the resolution for this session.
As the session is in its last days, there is a sense of urgency for some senators to pass their bills. However at this late date, mostly controversial bills remain, which can mean protracted and sometimes contentious debate. This greatly narrows down the number of bills which can be taken up in the limited time remaining.
March 29, 2018 – Legislative Update
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
In these closing days of session, we often hear criticism of the legislature for leaving so many contentious bills to be debated until the waning days. However, the sheer fact that the bills are controversial is the reason they are late in coming to the floor for debate. Legislative committees are where many of the disagreements on the bills are hashed out and adjustments made. Committees continue to meet on those bills long after the public hearing is over, to work on amendments and try to reach an accord. Often times consensus is reached, which makes the discussion on the floor easier. However, there are times when committee members do not reach agreement and eventually forward the bill to the full legislature to allow the entire body to debate the issue and ‘let the chips fall where they may’.
An example of a controversial bill that was stalled in committee and ultimately advanced to the floor was LB 640. Currently under Nebraska law, real estate owners in Nebraska receive state tax credit toward their property tax bills. Sen. Mike Groene’s LB640 would remove those tax credits and redirect the $220 million plus in the property tax credit fund to public school districts. The tradeoff in the bill would be lowering school districts’ statutory levy maximum from the current $1.05 per $100 valuation to $0.987.
When the bill came up on the agenda for debate on March 27, I led the opposition to LB 640.
First, there would be winners and losers under this proposal. A key provision of the bill says the only school districts to qualify for property tax relief aid are those that receive more than 55% of their general fund receipts from property taxes. In District 30, that leaves out the Beatrice and Lincoln school districts. In general across the state, school districts with higher enrollments are more likely to have general fund levies over $1.00 per $100 of valuation and those districts are more apt to receive equalization state aid and thus, likely receive less than 55% of their revenue from local property taxes.
Secondly, LB 640 provides state funding to equalized districts to backfill part of the gap created by dropping the statutory levy cap. Over the past 20 years, the State has only been able to fully fund TEEOSA (state aid) three times. It takes a leap of faith to think the state will be able to do so in the future, especially in light of LB947, which calls for a lowering of income tax rates.
If LB640 were to pass, the $0.987 levy cap would be ensconced in state statute. If Nebraska were unable to provide the replacement funding, the levy cap would remain in statute and would likely require 33 (of 49) senators to vote to change the levy cap, which might prove to be very difficult to accomplish. School districts would then be in the position of needing to do one of two things: procure a favorable vote of patrons to override the levy cap; or, make cuts in school programs that the majority of parents and patrons value.
Another controversial bill, the state budget bill, LB 944, became bogged down, due primarily to 14 lines in the bill that spelled out restrictions for the use of Federal Title X funds. Late on March 28th, a compromise amendment regarding the Title X language was adopted, and the legislators overwhelmingly advanced the budget bill to final reading. Final approval will likely occur during the first week of April and the bill will be sent to the Governor.
Another bill with the potential for hours of debate is LB 947 dealing with property and income tax reductions. Members of the Revenue Committee have very differing views on the efficacy of the proposed cuts, and concerns about the long-term impact such cuts will have on the state in future years. These fundamental differences in how the legislature provides property and income tax relief will carry over to the debate on the floor.
With eight legislative days remaining at this writing, much work and debate lay ahead. Whether in session or not, your correspondence is always welcome. You can contact me at 402-471-2620 or email@example.com. You can watch the Legislature in session on educational television or livestream the debate by clicking on the NET icon on the right side of the web page at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
March 23, 2018 – Legislative Update
In the remaining days of session a sense of urgency has set in. Urgency for the senator whose priority bill remains unheard; urgency for the budget bill to move forward; urgency for a property tax relief bill to be discussed; urgency because time is now the ticking down on legislative days in the 105th, second session of the legislature. Debate on some of these bills has been protracted because of controversial issues. Many of these bills are coming to the floor late in the session because the committees had to work through some of the controversy. Once the bills are on the floor, the disagreement doesn’t go away – it just expands to all 49 members who have different perspectives on the issue. Some issues are deeply imbedded within a bill and if not for that one particular point, the bill could be debated in a less heated manner.
One such bill is LB 944, which helps address additional budgetary shortfalls for this next fiscal year. The budget has taken center stage this past week with some debate focused on the University, but primarily discussion, and heated discussion, was on language in the bill to restrict federal Title X funds to organizations that may offer or refer a client for abortions. I supported an amendment by Senator Anna Wishart regarding Title X funds that “would prohibit funds from being disbursed to an organization that uses abortion as a method of family planning or to an organization that provides directive counseling in favor of abortion. It also would require that entities receiving Title X funding submit a detailed monthly record of expenditures to the state Department of Health and Human Services.” (Unicameral Update)
I fully support Senator Wishart’s amendment. It protects Title X funds from being used for abortions, which was already the law, but it also provides accountability for Title X funds. I believe this is a compromise that tries to appease senators on both sides.
Another bill receiving extended debate is LB 295 offered by Senator Jim Smith. The bill would provide a non-refundable tax credit equal to the amount the taxpayer contributed to a scholarship-granting organization. The Committee Amendment, which becomes the bill, would allow a tax credit as follows: Individuals – $10,000 if married filing jointly; $5,000 all other taxpayers; Partnerships, LLC’s and S Corporations – $50,000; Trusts and Estates – $50,000; and Corporations – $150,000.
It should come as no surprise that I am opposed to LB 295. Having spent my career in public education, I believe state dollars should go toward public schools. Tax credits are basically an exemption on taxes that are owed to the state on a person’s or corporation’s income. The more tax credits given away, whether for corporations in the Advantage Act or for tax credits under the Opportunities Scholarship Act, the greater the reduction in tax receipts that would have come to the state’s General Fund but would now be exempt.
LB 295 is bad state policy because it erodes the income tax owed to the state and redirects it to private schools. I have no problems with a person or a corporation wanting to support a private school with a donation, but to ask the state to designate it as a tax credit is wrong.
For the past week the legislature has been going to 10 pm or later to try to debate as many bills as possible. The long hours of debate lead to short tempers but the sense of urgency I talked about only increases.
Your opinions and concerns are vital as we finish up the last few days of session. Please contact me at 402-471-2620 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To track any legislation, go to the website at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
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.
Full day session allows senators the opportunity to move more bills through the process. However, just 20 legislative days remain in which to address the multitude of priority issues and the state budget.
On March 13th the budget bills will be taken up. At the close of the 2017 Legislative session, the Fiscal Year 2017-18 and FY 2018-19 biennial budget package was balanced. Spending was limited to a two year average increase of .6%. Since that time last June, “increases in child welfare costs, a lower than budgeted federal Medicaid match rate, and a large reduction in revenue forecasts in October 2017 resulted in a budget shortfall relative to the required minimum reserve of roughly $210 million.” (Appropriations Committee Budget Proposal, March 2018)
The only ways for the Legislature to address the budget shortfall are to increase taxes – not a popular option; or reduce expenditures, which could mean cuts in aid to K-12 schools, the University and Medicaid along with other cuts – also not popular options; or a little bit of each.
In the final proposal, the Appropriations Committee decided not to increase taxes; to make some budget reductions; and to transfer $100 million from the Cash Reserve Fund. The Committee maintained the minimum 2.5% Cash Reserve and has a very small buffer of $600,000. At this time, the projected revenue forecast does improve in future years.
However for this session, bills with any kind of fiscal impact, would be funded by drawing from the Cash Reserve Balance. I for one do not want to leave the state in that precarious of a financial situation. More information can be found in the Appropriations Committee Proposed Budget at nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/fiscal/2018proposal.pdf.
Advanced this past week was LB 44, offered by Senator Dan Watermeier. LB 44 would require remote sellers (online retailers without a physical presence in our state) to collect and remit sales tax if their gross revenue in Nebraska exceeds $100,000 or their sales in Nebraska consist of 200 or more separate transactions. Nebraskans are currently required to self-report their sales taxes on internet purchases, but many do not. This bill is not popular with the Governor. The United States Supreme Court will hear a case out of South Dakota to review the internet sales tax issue. Nebraska needs to be ready to recapture this tax revenue stream.
Every session the Speaker of the Legislature puts forth a ‘Consent Calendar’. It consists of bills considered to be non-controversial, that have no fiscal impact, and had no opposition at the hearing. Senators submit their requests to the Speaker who then reviews the requests, researches the bills and develops the list for Consent Calendar. However, if three senators object to a bill on the calendar, the bill is removed. The Speaker limits the discussion on each bill to no more than 15 minutes, at which time a vote is taken on the bill. This is an excellent tool to move bills forward that address relatively simple issues or clarify statutory language but don’t rise to the level of a priority bill.
I have submitted two of my bills for consideration to be added to the Consent Calendar list. The first bill, LB 709, brought to me by city officials in the district, would update the plumbing statutes. The second bill, LB 1037 would clarify language for elected officials who also serve on association boards connected to their elected positions. It is my hope the Speaker will place both of these bills on Consent.
If you ever need more information on a legislative issue, you can contact my office at 402-471-2620 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and my staff will assist you.
“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 email@example.com. 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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com. I welcome your communication.
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/
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