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. email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Legislative Resolution 20
Introduced by Sen. Roy Baker, District 30
Whereas, on August 21, 2017, the State of Nebraska will experience an extremely rare total solar eclipse, which occurs when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, causing a narrow track of darkness across the earth; and
Whereas, the solar eclipse will begin at approximately 11:30 a.m. Central Time and reach its peak of darkness at approximately 1:00 p.m. Central Time; and
Whereas, total solar eclipses occur with relative frequency but rarely over inhabited land masses; and
Whereas, the path for the eclipse in August will extend from the Oregon coast through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, making Nebraska a prime location for people to view the eclipse; and
Whereas, this is an unprecedented historic event for Nebraska and offers people from across the United States the opportunity to view a rare celestial event in Nebraska; and
Whereas, the total solar eclipse will give a number of counties across the state the opportunity to showcase Nebraska in a unique light.
Now, therefore, be it resolved by the members of the One Hundred Fifth Legislature of Nebraska, First Session:
District 30 Legislative Update – February 13, 2017
Senator Roy Baker
There are times when committee hearing testimony is so poignant, one wonders how this issue has not yet been addressed. The Judiciary Committee heard LB122 on February 9. This proposed law would allow family members who are being prevented from visiting or communicating with their loved ones to petition the district court of the resident for visitation. The bill also stipulates that the court could not issue an order compelling visitation if the resident has the mental capacity to evaluate and communicate decisions and expresses a desire not to have visitation with the petitioner, or if visitation is not in the best interests of the individual.
We heard compelling testimony from a large number of citizens that elder abuse is occurring. The daughters of Casey Kasem and Mickey Rooney came from California to share their own personal experiences. Casey struggled with dementia and his three children from a previous marriage said their stepmother barred them from seeing him. Karri Kasem said she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in court battles to see her father. Mickey Rooney’s daughter related how she was prevented from seeing her father.
There are laws on the books in Nebraska outlawing isolation and exploitation of vulnerable adults. We heard that law enforcement has found it difficult to enforce those laws. This is not merely a problem that occurs in California and other states. Testifiers from Nebraska related personal experiences similar to those of the Kasems and Rooneys. We heard from people from Lincoln, Omaha, and other parts of the State. There were common threads that ran through the narratives: (1) the elder adult is experiencing some degree of dementia; (2) the vulnerable adult possesses resources; (3) someone – sometimes a relative, sometimes not – worms their way into the vulnerable adult’s life; (4) guardianships, powers of attorney, and sometimes wills are changed; (5) isolation is implemented to prevent loved ones from finding out what is going on and denying intervention by loved ones.
I have signed on to co-sponsor LB122 with Patty Pansing Brooks. I would appreciate hearing from District 30 constituents if you have a loved one who is being victimized and we will provide you with assistance.
Reduction in property taxes has been the cry of people across the state for years. The perfect storm of high valuations and drastically reduced farm commodity prices has reached a boiling point. There are a number of proposals being heard each week by the Revenue Committee. I support reducing property taxes and to balance this reduction, I believe sales tax increases will be a viable solution. I continue to be open to various solutions and have recently met with a coalition of education and agriculture organizations, the Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education. Once the revenue package comes to the floor, I will discuss this topic further in my weekly columns and newsletters.
LB 632 is a bill which would regulate craft brewers in much the same way larger beer distributors are regulated. Craft brewers are small, local, and often located in rural areas of the state. LB 632 would require virtually all beer made by craft brewers to be distributed through a wholesaler warehouse before going to retail outlets. This means a beer brewed in small town Nebraska would have to be shipped to a regional distributer – for example, in Omaha – so it could be shipped back to the small town where it was made. Even the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission’s policy allows brewers to deliver their product directly to local bars and stores.
This bill creates added burdens and expenses on small brewers with little market share compared to the beer industry as a whole. I am opposed to this bill. I think the craft brew industry is vastly different than the big producers of beer sold throughout the United States and overseas. The Associated Beverage Distributors of Nebraska say they support the bill because it creates a level playing field. There are a number of cottage industries which are not required to abide by national distribution standards. These companies are not the same and I would not advocate trying to treat them the same. I want to see small businesses thrive in this state, this bill would hamper these brewers. If at some point a local craft brewer begins to have a national distribution, then, yes, they should abide by the same wholesaler distribution requirements. Until that time, LB 632 is the wrong solution to a non-existent problem.
On a “lighter” note, I introduced LR20, a resolution to recognize the upcoming solar eclipse in Nebraska on August 21st. Gage County is situated directly in the path of totality, which as stated in the resolution, will allow us to showcase District 30 in a very unique light!
Please remember to contact my office if you any issues with loved ones in elder care, as well as any other concerns. Our office number is 402.471.2620; email is email@example.com.
Legislative Update – February 6, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
As I write this, the legislature will begin the 23rd day of a 90 day legislative session. Mornings in the Unicameral are reserved for floor debate, afternoons are for committee hearings. Most of the time so far has been taken up with discussions on a mid-year budget reduction bill which would put cuts into place immediately. This is meant to help address the $900 million shortfall facing the state. LB 22 was advanced on a vote of 46-0 after four days of debate. The bill would cut current spending by $137 million for the current fiscal year which ends June 30, 2017. This is accomplished by making adjustments to appropriations for state operations, aid and construction programs. The bill received extended debate for two reasons. When various funds are tagged to help fill the budget gap, individuals who rely on the funds, object. One such example is the attorney services fund which is entirely paid for by mandatory fees assessed to attorneys. The Supreme Court administers this fund to admit people who qualify to practice law and for staff to maintain the records of admissions.
The other aspect driving extended debate centers on the adoption of permanent rules for the legislature. Still looming is the potential to change how the cloture vote (cease all debate and vote) is administered. Temporary rules are still in place until the new extended deadline of February 7th. Senator Tyson Larson is pushing for the change in the rules. He was asked by a number of senators to agree to drop the change in the rules and others would then pull their proposals and allow the session to move forward. Senator Larson flatly refused and so the debate continues. I believe the change he is proposing is detrimental to our process and would adversely impact senators who are in the minority from defending their arguments. As was pointed out during floor debate, this could hurt the rural senators when you consider just last year we took up the integrated farm issue to allow hog production companies to own hogs from birth to processing. This bill created a divide amongst the rural senators. Had it not been for the cloture rule, those rural senators fighting against the bill would have had their voices silenced much sooner and would not have had the fuller vetting of the bill it eventually received.
On February 1st, I introduced LB 353 before the Judiciary Committee. This is one of two bills I put forward for consideration regarding the “Beatrice 6” court judgement against Gage County. LB 353 amends a section of statute whereby a political subdivision has a mechanism to pay for judgments against such political subdivision when there are insufficient funds available and inability to raise sufficient funds. The section allows a political subdivision to borrow from the state at a low interest rate to satisfy the judgment when there is a state court order payment. Nebraska’s Attorney General Doug Peterson stated in an opinion that the state could not make the low-interest loan for the Gage County since the court order judgment came from the federal court. The bill adds language to section 13-918 which would apply this mechanism for payment of claims against a political subdivision to a judgment entered by a federal court. The bill is still in committee.
The second bill, LB 656 would change the existing Wrongful Claims and Imprisonment Act to include wrongful incarceration. It would also make the state liable for not only the state claims currently in law but would cover federal judgements as well. This hearing will be on March 9th before the Judiciary Committee. With regard to both of these bills, I will defer to the Gage County board as to when and how they would like to proceed. There are appeals in process and until a final judgement is determined, the board and the legislature cannot fully respond.
Up for hearing this week: a bill to prohibit interference with hunting, trapping or fishing by intimidation using a telephone or other communication device as introduced by Sen. Bostelman; a bill to exempt social security benefits and retirement income from income taxation, from Sen. Wayne; and a bill which adds dyslexia to the special education list, sponsored by Sen. Pansing-Brooks.
As we move through the session, please continue to email and call my office. When I am in debate or hearings, my staff records your opinions and concerns on every issue. firstname.lastname@example.org 402.471.2620. For information on bills and the legislative calendar: www.nebraskalegislature.gov
Nebraska Legislature Update – January 30, 2017
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
Last week Senator Bill Kintner resigned from the state Legislature. Had he not done so, the legislature would have voted on a resolution to expel Senator Kintner that very day.
The re-tweet by Senator Kintner which drew public attention and condemnation was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the pattern of disrespect for his fellow senators, it was his using his state-owned computer for cybersex, it was his all-too frequent inappropriate comments that lead to the erosion of his support among his fellow senators. The wide majority of the senators came to the conclusion the disrespect and disruption Senator Kintner’s conduct brought to the legislature and legislative process would no longer be tolerated. The Governor himself had repeatedly stated Senator Kintner should step aside.
I anticipate the Governor will appoint a replacement for that district early in February.
LB 44 and 564 have been introduced, both try to achieve the same end, to require sales tax be collected on internet sales to Nebraska consumers by online retailers who do not have a physical presence in the state. A Supreme Court decision in the 1990’s stands in the way of requiring remote sellers to collect and submit sales taxes. Recently, Amazon has agreed to voluntarily collect and submit sales taxes on purchases made by Nebraskans.
Nebraska joins several other states in forcing this tax issue. The hope is for another court case that might lead to a reversal of the 1990’s decision. The amount of sales over the internet has increased exponentially since the 1990’s and some shopping malls in the United States are now struggling due to internet purchases. States are missing out on badly needed revenue.
We completed the 17th day of the session on January 27 and are still operating with temporary rules. Customarily, a new session opens under temporary rules- those in place in the prior session – until the Rules Committee is elected, meets, and proposes any changes before the legislature votes on permanent rules.
This year, the Rules Committee agreed on no substantive changes. However, the ‘gang of 27’ wishes to abandon decades of traditions and legacy to change the rules in order to better exert their will. Before term limits, iconic state senators reviewed rules each session and apparently believed the long standing rules best served the Legislature and the citizens of Nebraska.
Rule changes are being pushed which would reverse long-standing practices. The most substantive of those is the number of votes required to invoke cloture from 33 (2/3 of the elected members) to 30. A successful cloture vote ends debate and the bill under consideration goes to an immediate vote. At present, any number fewer than 33 results in no cloture, and the item is removed from the agenda for the remainder of the session.
Very little state business has occurred on the floor of the legislature. Opponents of the proposed rule changes are taking up the time talking about anything and everything, until permanent rules reflecting the decades of past practice, respecting non-partisanship, are adopted. Here’s hoping that we can soon put this behind us, continue the non-partisan nature of the legislature, and move on with the business of the state.
I always welcome your communication. You can contact me at 402.471.2620 or email@example.com. Information about the Legislature, including every bill, is always available at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Nebraska Legislature Update
Senator Roy Baker – District 30
January 23, 2017
The Unicameral has now begun the process of hearing all 667 introduced legislative bills. Unique to the Nebraska Legislature is the hearing process. Every bill introduced is scheduled for a hearing before a legislative committee. It is the one opportunity for citizens to address senators in a formal setting regarding the support or opposition to an issue. Some hearings can last a few minutes when the issue is simple and non-controversial, like a bill that is looking at trying to harmonize language from federal statutes to state law, or clarify a definition, or update citations in statutes. Most bills average 30 to 40 minutes. There are those bills however that can take hours to hear, ones that are controversial and deeply meaningful to those affected.
The two committees I serve on this year are the Judiciary Committee, and the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. The Judiciary Committee will hear 118 bills, which is the highest bill load of any committee. This committee meets three days a week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and is responsible for the following subject areas: courts, judges, juvenile codes, criminal codes, crimes and punishments, death penalty, probate, corrections, law enforcement, civil procedures, probation, parole, marriage, death, and child custody, handgun permits and possession and use of guns and other subjects. From this list of jurisdictional oversight, one can understand the large number of bills referred to this committee. These are not easy issues and often times are some of the most controversial the legislature deals with in the session.
The Banking Commerce and Insurance Committee is a two day committee which meets on Monday and Tuesday of each week. This committee has 56 bills and covers three topical areas. First the area of banking includes, banks and banking practices, credit unions, building and loan associations, loans, interest, consumer credit, industrial loans and investment companies. Under the commerce portion of the committee, areas include: Uniform Commercial Code, trusts, corporations, limited liability companies, real estate, financial acts commercial development and trade, trade names and practices. The last area the committee covers is insurance. The topics include: insurance companies, agents and brokers, policies and types of insurance, risk management and health maintenance organizations.
There are a number of ways to stay connected to the legislative process. Nebraska Education Television (NET) provides gavel to gavel coverage of the legislative chambers. If this television channel is not available to you, it can be found on the webpage for livestreaming at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. Currently the senators meet only in the morning, usually beginning at 9 am and adjourning at noon.
Starting at 1:30 p.m. the committee hearings begin. The public is welcome to attend and just listen, or can offer testimony on any bill before any committee. The legislative website has a weekly hearing schedule, access to bill information which can be searched by introducer, committee assignment, or subject area. The Unicameral Update is a weekly publication and provides unbiased narratives of various bills under discussion. Free mail subscriptions are available; the “paperless” version is posted on line. I encourage you to visit the website and learn more about the issues and stay connected to the process.
I had a bill before the Education Committee on Tuesday, January 24 which would increase the probationary period for a new hire to the community college teaching staff from two years to three years. Teachers in the K-12 schools need a teaching certificate and a bachelor’s degree, whereas community colleges may hire an individual skilled in construction or welding for example, but who may not have teaching experience. Therefore, in the community college system, time is needed to help those instructors learn best practices, curriculum development, testing etc. while teaching in their area of expertise. I do not foresee this bill as being controversial.
This past week the governor sent a note to senators asking for our help to get the word out about the opportunities for citizens to serve on boards and commissions. The application form can be completed at: https://governor.nebraska.gov , look under the “Constituent Services” tab.
Please feel free to contact me with your issues and concerns. My office phone number is 402.471.2620 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.