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State senators were together at the annual Legislative Council on November 16-17, held this year on UNL East Campus; learning more about issues we will face in the upcoming session.
On November 8th, my staff attended the IANR Fall Summit which focused on building partnerships to find sustainable and creative solutions to critical issues in Nebraska.
LINCOLN SOUTH BELTWAY
The Department of Transportation shared the latest plans for the south beltway at a public hearing on October 3. The beltway will be an eleven-mile freeway, connecting US-77 on the west and Highway 2 on the east, with five interchanges.
Planning began in the 1960s for a beltway loop around Lincoln. The project was ready to go in the early 2000s, but was put on hold due to lack of funding. Now funds from the Build Nebraska Act have been earmarked for the project, supplemented with contributions from the City of Lincoln. At present, the plan is to begin the construction of the south beltway in 2020, with an estimated completion date around 2025 to 2027. Between now and 2020, the Nebraska Department of Transportation will consider further public input, make refinements, and begin acquiring the necessary properties.
The south beltway will enable some of the through traffic to avoid passing through the City of Lincoln as well as facilitating east-west traffic within the City. In the future, it is likely that beltway loop will be completed with the construction of the east beltway, connecting the south beltway eastern terminus with Interstate 80.
The City of Lincoln has continued to grow and expand in all directions. Completion of the south beltway could accelerate Lincoln’s growth to the south. Commercial development may well crop up around the beltway interchanges, including gas stations, restaurants, retail, and other. The beltway, once completed, is likely to have a significant impact on the growth of Hickman and other communities in Legislative District 30.
The south beltway somewhat follows the half mile line between Saltillo and Bennet Roads. In the present plan, interchanges will be developed at Highway 77, near 27th Street, at 68th and 82nd Streets, and approximately west of 120th Street.
As one of the speakers at the Homestead National Monument on Eclipse Day, August 21st, I talked with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
Official proclamation for the eclipse, visible in much of Nebraska and especially District 30, on Monday, August 21st. Lora Young, director of the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce joined me as Lt. Gov. Foley presented the documents.
The Lincoln, Omaha and Nebraska State Chambers of Commerce sponsored their annual Federal Legislative Summit on August 9th at the SAC Museum. Congressmen Smith and Fortenberry, and Senators Fisher and Sasse addressed the gathering.
Legislative Update – May 24, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
As we wrap up the work of the First Session of the 105th Legislature, I would like to announce that I do not plan to run for re-election to my District 30 seat in the Nebraska Legislature.
It has always been my wife’s and my intent, following my retirement, to relocate to be closer to our family. When I retired as Superintendent of the Norris School District in 2010, my wife and I deemed it important to remain in the area to help look after Paula’s aging parents, who were in the mid-80s and still living in their own home. Both passed away during my first year in the Legislature.
Upon completion of my legislative term in 2018, we will be moving from our current home and establishing residences in Minnesota and Arizona to be near our sons, daughter-in-law, and our young grandchildren.
I am making my announcement now to allow interested District 30 citizens in Lancaster and Gage counties time to consider their candidacy and begin the planning necessary to carry out a campaign.
It has been an honor to serve District 30 residents as their State Senator the past three years, and I will continue to carry out my duties to the best of my ability during the remainder of my term.
I have appreciated the emails, letters and phone calls to the office and the sharing of opinions, ideas, and concerns. Your communication during the interim is equally important and I look forward to hearing from you. 402-471-2620 email@example.com
Legislative Update – May 19, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
Much of the time in the waning hours of the 2017 Legislative session was been given to discussions of the budget. On May 15, Governor Ricketts announced $56.5 million in line-item reductions in the budget adopted by the Legislature. Included in the reductions:
Various motions were submitted on May 17 to override the line-item reductions for the four DHHS programs. We heard from a large number of providers from District 30, who are deeply concerned about what those provider rate cuts might mean for their rest homes, the Developmentally Disabled services, Child Welfare, and Behavioral Health providers. Most of the motions ended with 26 or 27 yes votes, short of the 30 needed to override the Governor.
In other actions in the final five days, several bills passed on final reading without controversy, including LB289, that greatly increases the penalties for sex trafficking. Increased rates were authorized for ground emergency medical transport. One additional juvenile court judge was authorized, and judges’ salaries were approved.
LB496, the Community Development Law, received 31 votes on a cloture vote, short of the 33 needed, and is done for this session. This bill would have extended workforce housing funds to rural areas.
Sen. Mike Hilgers’ gun bill, LB68, was scheduled to come up on Select File, but he pulled his bill from the agenda. He stated that he wants to work on the language over the summer and bring LB68 back in 2018.
In 2016, LB 895 was passed by the legislature calling for the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a detailed analysis of the Beatrice State Developmental Center and the Bridges program. Senators raised concerns when the reported costs of serving an individual at BSDC was approximately $450,000 per individual per year and the population was declining. After more discussion, senators also wanted an analysis of the aging buildings on the campus, compliance with the Olmstead decision (a U.S. Supreme Court Case) and how BSDC fits into the service array for all individuals with developmental disabilities.
First I would like to compliment Courtney Miller and her staff for conducting a very thorough and compassionate review of the future of BSDC and the impact any changes to the program would have on the residents. I think they did a very good job of balancing the needs of the residents, the needs of the campus and the needs of the DD community as a whole.
The report is due by June 1, 2017 to the legislature with the findings and the future vision of BSDC and the Bridges program. On May 9th the department held a public hearing on the initial findings. A number of potential recommendations were put forward but the preliminary recommendation the department deemed most appropriate was a combined service array for BSDC. The proposal would have BSDC continue to support the 109 individuals currently living at the facility. They recognized these individuals call BSDC home. Considering the average length of stay at BSDC is 47 years and the average age of the residents is 67, moving these clients out of the only home many have known for the vast majority of their life would be cruel. The recommendation also would have BSDC provide: respite services, crisis intervention support and consultative assessment services, and acute crisis stabilization as an intermediate care facility (which would be time limited service).
As for the Bridges program in Hastings, it was originally designed for high risk, behaviorally challenged individuals with developmental disabilities. However the program cannot remain in compliance with federal Medicaid Home and Community Based Services waiver regulations. The department has moved the six residents at this facility into community based services and has closed Bridges.
I think the report is the best outcome for BSDC, its residents and the Beatrice community which for decades has embraced the facility and the residents.
The last day of the current session is Tuesday, May 23rd. The agenda will include mostly housekeeping items to wrap up the business of the Legislature as we move into the interim months. As always, your communication about areas of concern is important whether we are in session or back at work in the district. 402-471-2620; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Legislative Update – May 15, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
Debate on the budget, when it came up for Final Reading, was contentious. Final Reading is usually the stage of debate that is fairly straight forward and runs smoothly, but not so with this budget package. Even though the Legislature came in with a lower budget package than the one offered by the Governor, there were a few senators who believe we did not cut deep enough. Those senators are prophesying the doom and gloom of Nebraska economy.
I believe our Appropriations Committee members have worked long and hard on the budget. They brought forward a package that looked at each agency, each program, and all spending and revenue sources. They made cuts they believed were necessary and appropriate. Reductions were made to the budgets of the University and state colleges and to roads. Funds were even taken from the state’s rainy day fund. This is not new occurrence, this is an avenue previous legislatures have used to balance the budget. A few agencies and programs were spared cuts when the committee deemed reductions in funding could cause greater harm than good. Some agencies are very small, with only a few staff. Funding to other programs, like the Department of Corrections and the stabilization aid to K-12 schools, was prioritized.
The committee took a scalpel to the budget and not an ax. Those few senators who fought the bill on Final Reading were wanting to wield the ax, lest we all return for a special session in the fall. I would rather see a cautionary budget with appropriate cuts. If, in the next few months the revenue forecast improves, then the agencies, even though trimmed, can still function and provide their services. Whereas, if cuts are too deep, some programs could be irreparably harmed, and the people served would be harmed. If revenues do not improve or decline farther in the coming months, then a special session may be necessary but the senators would then return with the facts on the existing revenue picture and not conjecture.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on day 86 of the 90 day session next week. Please continue your communication with me in these last few days of session as well as during the interim months. 402-471-2620 email@example.com
Weekly Update – May 8, 2017
Revenue. The Revenue Committee’s tax reduction bill LB461 and AM954, introduced by Committee Chair Jim Smith on behalf of Governor Ricketts, failed to advance on May 2. The cloture motion received 27 votes, but 33 votes are required. I was “not voting” on the cloture motion.
The Revenue Committee rolled LB338, the Agricultural Valuation Fairness Act, into the omnibus AM954. There appears to be support for the concept of the production model for valuing ag land, and those provisions may come back as an amendment to another bill.
I have and will continue to support measures designed to reduce over-reliance on local property taxes, while maintaining support of K-12 public schools. AM594 would not have done those things. Even the rural senators who voted for cloture expressed dissatisfaction with the bill’s minimal impact on ag land property taxes. Farm organizations on record as opposed to LB461 include Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Pork Producers Association, Nebraska Soybean Growers Association, and the Nebraska State Dairy Association. Urban senators report little demand from their constituents for lowering income taxes; most city dwellers also prefer the focus to be on lowering property taxes.
In AM954, income tax rate reductions and property tax credits would have been enacted in the future, based on ‘triggers’ – when revenue in a year would be projected to grow by 3.5%, the following year the income tax and property tax provisions would be enacted. Concerns were voiced regarding future inflation. While the rate of inflation has hovered around one percent the past few years, it is quite conceivable that we could see inflation rates of 3.5% or higher at some point in the future. Yet growth in revenue at or above the 3.5% threshold would still trigger income tax reductions and further property tax credits despite inflation, leaving the state with diminished ability to meet the basic responsibilities of state government. Appropriations Committee Chair John Stinner has stated that further cuts to the austere state budget could result in very negative long term consequences.
Questions also arose as to how the proper level of the state’s cash reserve would be restored under the provisions of AM954. The desired level is around $700 million. This year, the Legislature is dipping in to the ‘rainy day’ fund, drawing it down to $400 million. When the state’s economy improves, restoring the cash reserve needs to be a priority.
Budget. The 2017 Legislature has a $1.1 billion problem. In short, the proposed solution includes $700 million in cuts, $230 million in transfers, and approximately $170 million from the ‘rainy day’ fund. The most recent revenue forecast shows a need to find another $55 million. Appropriation Committee Chair Stinner proposes to reduce the minimum cash reserve percentage from 3% to 2.5%. This is separate from the rainy day fund – it is General Fund money kept in the checking account as excess balance to manage the ebbs and flows of month to month transactions. Sen. Stinner criticized what he has termed ‘crony capitalism’ – exemptions given to certain entities over the years that now totals $816 million.
The main budget bill is LB327. Progress toward the necessary task of adopting a budget for the next biennium was slowed when new language involving Title X was discovered in the budget bill. Title X is a federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with family planning and related preventative health services, e.g., pap smears. The new language dealt with prioritization of the agencies with regards to receiving Title X funding. Most of the Appropriations Committee had not recognized the change in language that had been slipped in. When considering the impact on clinics and compliance with federal law, it was determined the language should be removed from the budget bill, and call for further study by the committee to be designated by the Referencing Committee.
No state tax dollars are involved with Title X. It is also important to note that no state or federal dollars go to paying for abortions or abortion counseling.
As we take up these crucial topics in debate, I welcome your input and comments. Please contact me at 402.471.2620, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can track legislation and find a link to stream live debate on your computer at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
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