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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. firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Legislative Update – January 19, 2018 Senator Roy Baker – District 30
At of the close of session on Thursday, January 18, which was the last day for bill introduction, senators had introduced 468 new bills. After a bill is introduced, the Reference Committee (basically the Executive Board of the Legislature) meets and decides which committee will hear each bill based on the most appropriate area of jurisdiction. On January 16th, hearings began. During a public hearing, some bills are short and simple and can take minutes, other bills that are more complex or controversial can take hours. But every bill receives a public hearing – a feature unique to our Nebraska Unicameral and just a half dozen other states.
Each senator is assigned a full five day schedule of hearings. I currently serve on the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee which meets on Monday and Tuesday and will hear 33 bills. I am also on the Judiciary Committee which meets on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. This year, a record number of bills, 143, or 30% of all bills introduced, have been referred to this one committee. This means the Judiciary Committee will need to hear eight or nine bills each day the committee meets.
If a recess day falls on Monday or Friday, the committee does not meet on those days. So Chairwoman Ebke has taken the unusual step of scheduling hearings on a recess day in order to accommodate the large number of bills before the Judiciary Committee.
This session, I introduced seven bills, four requested by constituents, one by the Lancaster Public Defender, another by an association and one I felt was good public policy. I will address each in future updates, as they come up for hearings.
During floor debate this past week we discussed LB 469 brought by Senator Tyson Larsen last year which requires fantasy contest operators to be licensed. Senator Larson presented this bill as a consumer protection bill, however many senators saw this a form of expanded gambling. The bill was discussed for three hours and I doubt Senator Larsen has 33 votes to force the end of debate, so I believe the bill should be done for this session.
Another bill by Senator Larsen debated later in the week was LR18CA. This is a constitutional amendment to allow those who meet the federal voting age, currently set at 18, to be eligible to run for, or be appointed to, elected office. Under the existing law, a person must be 21 years old to be eligible for the legislature, age 30 for Governor or Lieutenant Governor, Supreme Court Justice or Judge on the Supreme Court. Senator Chambers, along with others, opposed the idea stating that this age group does not have the experience and knowledge to appropriately serve in these offices. In addition, if we tie the voting age to the federal level, and by chance the federal government lowers the age or raises it, our constitution would be tied to that age. No vote has been taken yet on this issue.
Now that hearings have begun, committees will start advancing new bills to the floor and the Speaker will then set the agenda for floor debate of these new bills, beginning about January 29th. Senators will also begin to prioritize their issues which will take precedence for scheduling floor debate.
A good source for all things pertaining to the legislature is the website: www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Posted on this site will be the daily agendas, hearing schedules, information on bills, and a link to the Unicameral Update publication which reports on many of the bills being discussed. From this site, you can also connect directly to my official web page. I also post news on Facebook and Twitter. If you would like to receive this update via email, contact my office to be added to the list. Constituents are always welcome to call, write or email my office. My email is email@example.com and the office number is 402-471-2620.
Legislative Update – January 12, 2018
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
The second session of the 105th Legislature started smoothly. The first three days of session only had bill introduction, which continues for the first ten days. On January 8th, the Speaker scheduled floor debate on bills held over from last year. I have introduced six new bills to date, and will have no more. In this 60-day session, any bill that does not receive a Senator’s or Committee’s priority designation likely will not make it to the floor. The other possibility is if a bill is noncontroversial and unopposed, it may be passed on the consent agenda.
My bills are:
LB709 to change archaic provisions relating to plumbing boards – their terms of office, meetings, penalties, etc. This bill was introduced at the request of the City of Beatrice and supported by other cities and villages.
LB710 is an act relating to civil lawsuits, changing provisions relating to costs, interest, and attorney fees, when the civil claim is $4,000 or less. This was introduced upon request by a District 30 business owner.
LB711 would change requirements for use of occupant protection systems. Currently, proper seat belt use is required only for front seat passengers. LB711 would require each occupant in the motor vehicle to wear occupant protection systems, with the exceptions already in statute including taxi cabs, emergency vehicles, parade vehicles, and rural letter carriers. Child passenger restraint requirements remain as they are. Seat belt use would continue to be a secondary offense which carries a $25 fine.
LB907 clarifies sales tax exemptions for agriculture machinery and equipment, specifically equipment used for the health and welfare of cattle, swine, and poultry. This bill was also introduced at the request of a business in the district.
LB908 would provide a tire disposal exemption for use in a building system. A constituent requested this legislation.
LB 981 is a juvenile justice bill and allows a Juvenile Court to retain jurisdiction of a juvenile until the age of 21 for purposes of enforcing the court order, if the juvenile and their legal counsel consent.
In addition to these bills, I am considering signing on as a co-sponsor to a couple of other issues. I will outline those in future updates.
Key votes to date in this session first occurred on January 8 with the adoption of the permanent rules. Last session we spent over thirty days debating the rules. The timeliness in which the rules were adopted this year is more reminiscent of past Legislatures with the acceptance of legislative rules.
The next key vote occurred on debate of a bill. Senator Bob Krist declared his priority bill early this year, LB 368 which was introduced last year by Senator John Lowe. The bill would have repealed the motorcycle helmet law. After at least six hours of debate, a cloture motion to cease any further debate may be offered. In 2017, a cloture vote on the bill failed by one vote. On January 10, the cloture motion to end debate and go to a vote on the bill failed by three votes. The matter will not come up again this session. I voted against cloture. I have heard passionate pleas from constituents both for and against repeal. It was a matter of considering civil liberties vis a vis safety and people’s lives, and ultimately the latter prevailed. This outcome was a bit of a surprise, as proponents of LB 368 thought they had the 33 votes necessary.
Public hearings for new bills begin on Tuesday, January 16th. Contact my office with any questions or comments you may have. I welcome your communication as we work through the issues. firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2620.
2017 is winding down, and 2018 will be upon us in a matter of days. The second session of the 105th Nebraska Unicameral Legislature will begin on Wednesday, January 3. This is a 60-day session which will end in mid-April.
The Speaker of the Legislature has notified us that any proposals for changes in rules under which the Legislature operates must be submitted before the session starts. The Rules Committee will consider and vote on any proposals by the second day. During the 2017 session, many days were taken up discussing rules changes. There was no resolution, and finally we continued under temporary rules, those under which we had operated in 2016.
A coalition of Senators who sought to control the Legislature had argued for the extended debate, aka filibuster, rules to change. Current rules require 33 of the 49 votes to end extended debate. The coalition sought to lower the number of votes required to end debate and bring their agenda items to a vote. As I am not part of the “gang of 27”, I am not inclined to vote for changing the rules. Committee chairs and committee assignments remain the same in this second year of the 2017-18 biennium.
Nebraska’s revenue shortfall has been well publicized. Normally the biennial budget adopted in the 2017 session would not need to be revisited in 2018. However, the current 2018 revenue estimate is projected to be around $175 million short, so steps must be taken. We will receive updated revenue forecasts before the sixty day session comes to an end.
Other important areas will continue to be part of the focus for 2018: tax reform/tax relief; public school funding; overcrowded prisons and other correction system issues; physical and mental health care; and school choice, to name a few.
This will be my final year as a Nebraska State Senator. It has been an honor to serve District 30, and I plan to make the most out of my remaining time. Thank you.
To contact Senator Baker: Phone: 402-471-2620 E-mail: email@example.com Webpage: http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist30/
I spoke to the Nebraska Council of School Administrators meeting in Lincoln on December 6th. Sens. Kolterman, Bolz, and Schumacher also addressed the group. Here is “Professor” Schumacher.
Maria Talero, president of the Norris FFA chapter, addressed the Farm City Breakfast of the Kiwanis Club on November 21.
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.
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