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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.
Legislative Update – April 24, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
Day 70 of the first session of the Unicameral is the day the new state budget for the next two years is presented to the Legislature. Monday morning was day 70. Senator John Stinner, the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, held a budget briefing for senators and staff. By now Nebraskans know the state is facing a significant reduction in state revenue to the tune of $1 billion. The Appropriations Committee has worked for the last three months to hammer out the details of addressing this shortfall and still ensure the state can meet its financial obligations. The debate will begin this week.
The financial downturn can be largely attributed to revenue growth of just .3% in FY 15-16 and 1.3% in the FY 16-17. These are the third lowest back to back revenue growth years over the past 36 years. Not only was revenue growth low, it also occurred very quickly.
The state is required to have a 3% minimum reserve, basically a savings account. The legislature tends to keep a higher reserve, usually 7%, for instances when the revenue falls short. The Nebraska Economic and Forecast Advisory Board (NEFAB) meets four times per year and runs calculations to determine projected growth or reductions in state revenues. In the summer of 2016 the NEFAB reduced its projections of revenue growth, meaning the projected revenue fell short of expectations. This board will meet again on April 26 and provide new projections. It is important to remember that General Fund revenue growth is cyclic and there are highs and lows. The job of NEFAB is to help predict those highs and lows. The average growth in revenue over the past 35 years is 4.9%. The Board forecast for 2017-18 equated to a 1.3% growth.
The Appropriations Committee average spending growth in the budget package is 1%. The committee prioritized a few funding areas believed to be essential to a solid budget. Increases in state funding were given to priority areas which include: corrections, equalization aid to schools, provider rates for behavior health and developmental disabilities, children’s health insurance fund, and special education to name a few. Areas cut were: aid to Universities and State Colleges, various programs in the Health and Human Services system, Medicaid, aid to local governments, and public health aid, among others.
For a more detailed review of the state budget, go to: http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/pdf/reports/fiscal/2017proposed.pdf
A major issue that will be debated on Monday is LB 595 introduced by Senator Mike Groene of North Platte. LB 595 would provide for the use of physical force or physical restraint or removal from a classroom in response to student behavior. I believe Senator Groene had good intentions with the bill and is trying to improve it with his amendment. We all want a safe learning environment in our classrooms. State law already gives guidance to teachers, administrators and school boards on the appropriate steps to take when dealing with a student who may pose a risk to themselves, other students, teachers or school property. Existing law allows a teacher or administrator to use physical contact short of corporal punishment to the degree necessary to preserve safety, order and control in the school environment.
There are legal issues created by LB 595. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires accommodations for students with disabilities in accessing educational programs. LB 595 contradicts federal enforcement actions and civil rights with respect to seclusion and restraint of vulnerable children and may be discriminatory on its face.
There are practical concerns as well. The bill would allow a teacher to ban a student from a classroom. However, in small rural school districts there may be only one section of an elementary grade level, or there may be only one section of a particular course in any size of school.
I have an amendment that replaces the bill and reflects a court decision already on the books that allows a teacher to defend oneself and others in the classroom. If this amendment is adopted, I would have no objections to the bill.
To close, I will cover the budget and the proposed tax reductions in more detail in the next newsletter as our debate on these issues unfolds. If you would like to contact me, my phone number is 402-471-2620. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find information on bills and access NET television’s livestream of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Legislative Update – April 10, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
On Friday, April 7th, the parent and guardian association of the Beatrice State Developmental Center (BSDC) and I hosted a tour of the facilities for some of my fellow senators and their staff. Sen. Merv Riepe, current chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, and Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings attended, as well as Kate Gotsdinger and Evan Schmeits from Sen. McDonnell’s office (Omaha) and Oliver VanDervoort from Sen. Blood’s office (Bellevue). Developmental Disabilities Director Courtney Miller was also on hand to field questions. About 24 people were present. This was the first time the other senators had been to BSDC. The parents and guardians always do an excellent job of showing the facilities at BSDC as well as advocating for their loved ones.
The range of topics discussed in the Unicameral is as varied as the people of our wonderful state. On Wednesday, April 5th, the senators debated and advanced LB 300 introduced by Senator Bob Krist of Omaha, which eliminates the statute of limitations for civil action brought against a perpetrator of sexual assault of a child. The original version of the bill allowed a person who was a victim of sexual abuse as a child to bring a civil suit within 12 years following the victim’s 21st birthday.
An amendment adopted during debate would apply the bill retroactively and allows a victim to file a civil suit within 35 years of his or her 18th birthday or within three years of the bill’s operative date, whichever is longer. Senators who spoke on Wednesday talked about the years of therapy sometimes required. This bill would allow a victim to bring a suit when they are emotionally ready to take on this action.
There were concerns raised about the constitutionality of applying the retroactive clause to cases that have already been considered closed. Senator Bob Krist offered an amendment that would add a severability clause which means if any portion of a bill is declared unconstitutional, the remaining portions of the bill would still be valid. The bill advanced 29-3.
A bill important to Beatrice and communities with riverfront land would create a new economic development tool to use. Bellevue Senator Sue Crawford introduced LB 97. The bill gives municipalities the ability to create, by the adoption of an ordinance, a Riverfront Development District and a Riverfront Development Authority to oversee and manage the district. Municipalities can use this tool to effectively fund, manage, and promote strategic municipal economic development and tourism efforts on riverfronts across the state. A city could fix and charge rents and fees; install pedestrian shopping malls, plazas or other facilities; construct boardwalks, barges, docks and wharves; develop, manage, and coordinate public activities and events within the district, to name a few.
In LB 97, a city would be required to set a cap on the bonding, and an occupation tax or special assessment tax could not be imposed on the same property if the boundaries overlap. Due to the fiscal note, the vote was “on principle” with the understanding that the bill will not likely reach final approval this year. At this point, the bill has advanced to the second round of debate on a 39-0 vote.
Released last week but not yet debated was the highly anticipated revenue tax package LB 461. This bill has taken weeks and weeks of discussion by the Revenue Committee members, and is sure to bring diverse opinions on which tax cuts are appropriate: property tax or income tax, rural or urban. The bill would phase in cuts to the top personal and corporate income tax rates; agricultural land would change from market value to income capacity, annual aggregate growth of ag land values would be capped and these values must fall between 55 percent and 65 percent of market value.
The Governor believes that an income tax cut for the top income earners is essential in order to succeed in getting property tax reductions passed. Some senators believe property tax relief is the primary goal. The debate on this bill will be intense and heated. If anyone would like to read the proposed amendment to LB 461, which becomes the bill, information can be accessed on nebraskalegislature.gov. I will address LB 461in more detail once the bill is debated.
Legislative Update – April 3, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
This time of year school kids start counting down the days until the summer break. Senators do the same, however we count the days with concern knowing what still needs to be accomplished in the last 32 days of session. It sounds like there should be plenty of time, but on day 70, the Appropriations Committee is required to advance the biennial budget bill. The Revenue Committee is formulating a property tax and income tax reduction plan, and the Education Committee is looking to address state equalization aid to schools. All this in an effort to address the nearly $1 billion shortfall over the next two years.
Along with these various proposals, the Legislature continues working on 49 individual senator priority bills, 25 Speaker priority bills, and 34 committee priority bills. Each senator is allowed one priority. This designation moves the bill ahead of other bills without such designation. Some take only a short time to discuss and advance. Others take hours at each stage of debate.
Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha offered LB 75 as his priority bill for this year. LB 75 would restore voting rights to a felon upon completion of the felony sentence or probation. The current law requires a two year waiting period. Senator Wayne stated that approximately 95 percent of people in prison will re-enter society at some point, and having the right to vote is one more way for successful reintegration. The right to vote provides involvement in the democratic process. There was opposition by Gretna Senator John Murante who chairs the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. His concern is the constitutionality of the bill wherein the constitution ties voting rights of ex-felons to the restoration of civil liberties. However senators advanced LB 75 to the next round of debate on a vote of 28 ayes and 8 nays.
LB 276 offered by Senator Joni Albrecht of Thurston would allow for a restraining order or injunction to be imposed against anyone who sells or represents corn seed as a hybrid variety that does not meet identity standards. A person who violates this prohibition would be guilty of a Class III misdemeanor. The Department of Agriculture would report violations to the Attorney General or the appropriate county attorney for prosecution. The bill clarifies the definition of hybrid seed corn and the process of cross fertilization as it relates to hybrid seed corn. The bill advanced to Select File 39-0.
Senators also gave a 39-0 thumbs up to LB 91 introduced by Omaha Senator Robert Hilkemann. When a baby is born, state law requires a number of new-born screening tests to be performed. Last year, 27,000 newborns were screened and 58 were identified with a metabolic or genetic diseases. Early detection is essential to the best health out-comes for these children. The bill would update the definition of metabolic diseases, defines pharmaceutically manufactured foods as those that are chemically synthesized or processed for the treatment of inborn errors in metabolism, adds three more diseases to the screening panel, and sets a limit of no more than $20 on the Department of Health and Human Services.
Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks of Lincoln was successful in getting first round approval of LB 289. This bill would increase penalties for a number of crimes, including pandering and human trafficking for labor or sexual exploitation. The senator stated that this bill would send a strong message to those engaged in trafficking that Nebraska will no longer tolerate inhuman treatment of our people. The bill increases the penalty for pandering or trafficking of an adult from a Class III to a Class II felony, punishable by 1 to 50 years in prison. The bill imposes even stronger penalties for sex trafficking offenses involving a minor. Some senators raised concerns that the bill may inadvertently catch people who have no knowledge that the person may be a victim of sex-trafficking victim. For instance, a patron who tips an exotic dancer has no idea if the person is a victim or not. Another issue would be a prosecutor who may threaten a trafficking offense to coerce a confession. Senator Pansing-Brooks offered to work with senators who had concerns about the language. The bill advanced to select file 42-0.
Two of my bills easily advanced to the second round of debate last week. LB 122, which I prioritized for Sen. Pansing-Brooks, helps assure visitation of elders in care; LB 225 as amended includes my bill (LB 298) to give normalcy to children in licensed care facilities.
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.
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