Nebraska Sen. Roy Baker began his last legislative session on Wednesday, and it’s looking like the budget will be the predominant focus for the second session of the 105th Legislature.
Baker, who represents District 30 of Nebraska, which covers Beatrice and Gage County, as well as parts of Lancaster County, said that the Legislature was just getting revved up with proposed bills.
Over the past week and continuing through the first few days of next week, Nebraska state senators will be putting in new bills for consideration. Then bills will go to the referencing committee which will determine what legislative committee each bill will go to.
Sometime around Jan. 16, Baker said, the senate will start to hold hearings for bills on the floor, and senators will have an opportunity to take up some of the bills they weren’t able to get to last year.
Because of the revenue shortfall this year, Baker said there are some tough issues to decide on concerning what expenditures will be cut from the budget. Those decisions will be based on reports from the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory board, whose next report is due out in February.
“At this point, it looks like there's about $173 million that would have to be chopped and, hopefully, the picture will be a little bit more favorable in February,” he said.
What stays and what gets put on the chopping block can be a contentious issue, Baker said.
“That's the one predominant issue, I guess, is budget,” he said. “And then we have people who will make a run again at income tax relief. Then you've got another segment of the legislature saying, 'No, not income tax relief. We want property tax relief.' So, there will be some good debates on the whole idea of tax relief and how you make that work in a year when you're short on revenue.”
Add to that the yearly debates on some of the ideological topics like gun control and Medicaid expansion, and the Legislature is in for a lively season.
With the last four years being both his first and last term in office, Baker said that he’s learned a lot from his fellow legislators. He came from a 43-year career in education, including a brief stint as interim superintendent of Beatrice Public Schools, which he said helped him in dealing with educational issues. Having a diverse set of backgrounds inside the Legislature is important, Baker said.
Legislators have to know something about everything because hundreds of bills are discussed every year, he said. Oftentimes, bills don't deal with your specific field of expertise. Being able to rely on people with medical backgrounds, legal backgrounds and farming backgrounds to name a few really provided for some good discussion, as well as arguments, he said.
“You have to learn how the system works,” Baker said. “How all the moving parts move together.”
At the end of his term next January, Baker said he’s planning on moving closer to his children and grandchildren. He and his wife will split their time and live near their son and grandchildren in St. Paul, Minn. during the warmer months and near their older son who lives near Phoenix, Ariz. during the winter.
“It's probably not an ideal situation what I'm doing, just going one term, but that's something that I determined, that when the time came, we were going to move to be closer to kids and grandkids,” Baker said. “Family's the most important thing to me. Unfortunately, that means I just serve four years.”
Being a member of the nation’s only unicameral system of governance and the smallest legislature in the United States means one person’s vote has a lot of influence, he said. When you’re one of 49 people, one person can make a difference, he said.
“Sometimes people ask me what the biggest surprise has been,” Baker said. “I'd have to say the biggest surprise for me has been how often my vote mattered. Whether a bill passed or didn't.”