NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Dan Hughes

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44

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During this interim, the time between when a session ends and the next session begins, I’m visiting with different county boards throughout the 44th legislative district. It is a great way for me to find out how things are going in their counties and answer any questions they may have about what went on during this past years session. Many of the laws the Legislature passes affect counties, pertaining to issues such as county operations, taxes, roads, jails and courts, and elections. It’s important to touch base to discuss the effects of new laws.

Towards the end of the summer Legislative Committees will start holding interim study resolution hearings on a variety of topics. A few of the interim studies have been scheduled and they’re listed on the unicameral’s website www.nebraskalegislature.govCurrently, the Appropriations Committee and the Judiciary Committee have hearings scheduled in September and October.

A few of the hearings that may be of interest to residents of our area:

LR 181 introduced by Senator Myron Dorn of Adams, NE. It is a study to examine new funding streams for financial stability of the simulation-in-motion Nebraska (SIM-NE) program. The program uses 44 foot trucks which house two simulation spaces: an emergency room and an ambulance module. Each truck is staffed by licensed, experience healthcare professions and they provide a realistic scenarios for emergency medical services and Critical Access Hospital staff so they can get a hands on experience.

LR 210 introduced by Senator John Stinner of Scottsbluff. The intent is to analyze programs and agencies that are active in addressing workforce and talent shortages, and identify options to assist in filling vacant high-wage, high-demand, and high-skills jobs. Both of these hearings are scheduled for Friday, September 27th.

LR 212 also introduced by Senator Stinner is a study to assess the financial position of the Nebraska Brand Committee and to identify core operational needs and opportunities for efficiency improvement. This hearing is scheduled for Friday, October 4th.

I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

This year’s legislative session came to an end on day 84 of the possible 90 day session. Of the more than 700 bills which were introduced and heard in committee hearings this year, more than 200 bills will become law. Some might say the legislature failed to solve the most pressing issues facing the state of Nebraska, and in my opinion they would be correct. Property tax relief, business incentives, and the way in which we fund K-12 education are all topics which need to be addressed sooner rather than later. But we should not only focus on the negative. It’s also time to take inventory of the accomplishments that we did have as a legislative body.

A couple notable accomplishments include appropriating additional dollars to nursing homes for Medicaid recipients, in the budget and setting aside funding for the Governor’s Emergency fund which was most recently used for flood disaster relief. We did provide some property tax relief by adding an additional $51 million to the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund. Bringing the total to $275 million per year for each of the next two years. Another personal goal was to raise Game and Parks’ awareness of wildlife depredation in our district. That goal was successful, and I will be introducing legislation next year to further that endeavor. I also passed the following bills into law:

LB127: This bill expanded the definition of immediate family for purposes of limited deer permits.

LB128 was amended into LB356: This bill allowed the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles to design additional license plates to be known as Wildlife Conservation Plates.

LB227: This bill updated and enhanced the protections in the Right to Farm Act originally passed in 1982.

LB302: This bill was introduced at the request of the Governor and merged the State Energy Office and the Department of Environmental Quality. The combined agencies are renamed the Department of Environment and Energy effective July 1, 2019.

LB719: This bill streamlined the process for scrap recyclers and junk and salvage yard to send mandatory reports to the DMV who will then report to NMVTIS. This will eliminate duplicative reporting requirements for scrap recyclers and junk and salvage yards.

Most importantly, I am grateful for the opportunity to be here and serve you all. This session was a mixed bag; I remain hopeful that the bigger picture issues can be addressed when session reconvenes next year. Until then, my Lincoln office will still be open. Article updates will come out on a monthly basis. Reach out to my staff or myself with questions or concerns. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Last week we had multiple late nights, staying past 11:30 PM on Wednesday, May 22nd. These late nights were not as productive as they could have been. We did not accomplish my main priority, property tax relief, this session. I am disappointed that disagreements on the strategy for accomplishing both business incentives in LB720 and property tax relief in LB183, distracted and divided the body.

Thursday and Friday were spent mostly on Final Reading. If a veto occurs, the bills passed on Thursday and Friday may be brought back for a veto override. Those passed beyond that point – for instance, this coming Thursday – do not have an opportunity for a veto override due to the rules of timeline of the legislature. We expect most of them to be signed into law.

I also want to take a moment and recognize that Monday was not just a holiday. It is a day to remember those who have gone before us, especially our veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. Tuesday and Wednesday were recess days. We will reconvene to tie up loose ends on Thursday and Friday. Friday will be Sine Die, the final adjournment for this half of the session.

Tensions ran high at the end of session, hindering our ability to get big picture things done. I am hopeful that everyone will regroup and rebuild trust during the interim so that these issues can be addressed. My personal goal for next year is the same as this year: meaningful and sustainable property tax relief for the benefit of all Nebraskans.

As of last week, the weekly Great Plains conference call and McCook Chamber Conference call have wrapped up for the year. However, I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent, so I’ll be attending many events in District 44 during the interim. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

This past week, we’ve been working on the budget which is very contentious as I expected it to be. Normally budgets pass with a simple majority and do not generate as much discussion as the one this year. Specifically, there were concerns with one provision of the mainline budget bill. The length of debate and discussion about that provision caused us to take a cloture vote, which failed. When the bill was brought back up again, the controversial provision was voted on and was allowed to remain in the bill. LB294 then passed the second round of debate and did appear on the agenda for Final Reading on Tuesday, May 21st.

Another significant topic is LB720, commonly referred to as the ImagiNE Act. Briefly, the ImagiNE Act is an incentive program to attract out of state businesses to Nebraska and retain businesses in our state. If you’d like more technical information, search LB720 on https://nebraskalegislature.gov/ or contact my office. The idea of incentives is not new – those who support it believe it makes us competitive with other states in attracting businesses to Nebraska. The current incentive package is called the Nebraska Advantage Act, which is set to expire next year, which replaced another previous incentive bill commonly known as LB775.

This year, there has been extensive debate on LB720. Being a proponent of free markets and a conservative, I support creating an environment where businesses can thrive. That means lowering property tax rates so businesses can keep and invest more of their income to grow and hire more employees.

We discussed the medical marijauna bill for three hours last week. The introducers lacked votes to break the filibuster, so the bill will not come back this session. I believe that is what they wanted; the introducers of LB 110 want to get medical marijuna on the ballot in 2020. The fact that the Legislature did not pass the bill will help their campaign. As a word of caution to all, there are going to be several petitions circulated throughout the next two summers to put issues on the 2020 ballot. Please make sure you know what you are signing. Most petition circulators are typically paid for your signature – make them explain the petition to you in detail and do not give up your signature without an explanation.

Lastly, this past weekend Josie and I had the pleasure of attending the Nebraska State Track Meet in Omaha. We enjoyed seeing athletes from each school district in Legislative District 44. There are truly so many exceptional young people in southwestern Nebraska, we should all be proud of them. Also, I want to congratulate all of the seniors who graduated from high school this year. The diversity of our young people is amazing, and it is fun to hear their future plans and dreams. I am inspired by the quality of our young men and women and am confident that the future of our state and nation is in good hands.

This past week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Nebraska Water Resources Association’s water roundtable. Weekly roundtable meetings allow those interested in water policy to share information and get updates on a variety of water topics. I gave a recap of the work the Natural Resources Committee has done so far this session, and shared our plans for the interim. Those plans include studying ongoing and upcoming issues, holding hearings, and touring in various parts of the state to visibly see the impact of water and water policy in our state.

LB289 does not appear to have support to move from general file which was not obvious when it first came out. LB289 is a bill which, in short, shifts taxes from property taxes to sales taxes in order to rebalance how government is paid for in our state. LB289 is not a perfect bill, and not everyone agrees with it, but in my opinion, the ag community cannot wait any longer for property tax relief.

As far as the budget is concerned, the Governor had included $51 million for property tax relief in the initial budget which would have been distributed to taxpayers through the property tax credit relief fund. The $51 million is an estimate of online sales tax revenue to be collected this coming year. The revenue committee took $25 million of that property tax relief funding out during committee and reallocated it to the state’s cash reserve fund. They did so because the state’s cash reserves are lower than many believe is wise. However, after much discussion on the floor, the body voted to move the $25 million back to the property tax credit relief fund.

Another point of interest in the budget is that LB403 and LB404 have been included as line items in the budget. It’s my understanding that these bills may assist in increasing Medicare reimbursement rates to nursing home facilities. This is a serious concern for many in our district, and my office has received nearly 200 letters regarding the issue. I appreciate the time that many of you have taken to reach out. Hopefully, these line items help mitigate the reimbursement problem faced by so many facilities in our district and around our state. That being said, the spread between the private cost and Medicare reimbursement is wide, so I know these bills will not solve the issues entirely. It’s also worth noting that line items can be vetoed by the Governor, so even if the additional funding passes the Unicameral, it is not guaranteed.

If you would like to speak directly to me about legislative issues, join the Great Plains conference call Tuesday at 8 AM CST and McCook Chamber Conference call Thursday at 8 AM CST. I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

Now that LB227 has passed, I have shifted my focus to other bills and priorities. One such bill is LB719, a bill I introduced at the request of auto recyclers and scrappers. The intent of the bill is to streamline the process of surrendering titles for junked motor vehicles to the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles and reporting inventory of junk or scrap vehicles to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). Both of those actions are mandated by law, but can be time-consuming and/or result in multiple or incomplete records. I have submitted this bill for consideration to the consent calendar. I hope it will be added and passed.

Bills that will successfully pass the consent calendar are noncontroversial and should pass easily, but would otherwise not be placed on the agenda because they did not receive a priority. There is a slight risk in placing a bill on the consent calendar – if a bill does begin a discussion which lasts longer than fifteen minutes, the bill is removed from the consent calendar and will not pass. Because LB719 is so narrowly focused and is noncontroversial, I do believe it would pass on the consent calendar.

Aside from that, my main focus for the rest of this session is property tax relief. The revenue committee voted LB289 out of committee on the afternoon of April 30th. The sales tax exemptions to be eliminated include; pet-related services, moving services, storage, hair care and hair removal services, nail care, skin care, tattoo, home services and repair (including plumbing, HVAC, and electrical), interior design, taxi, limo, rideshare, lawn care, parking, swimming pool cleaning, dating, telefloral, wedding planning, weight loss, personal training, clothing alteration, candy, pop, bottled water, ice, and car repair.

The budget came out of committee May 2nd. Following that, we had recess days Friday and Monday for the purpose of studying the budget and formulating questions. Another briefing was held on Tuesday morning before we began discussing the budget. As of Wednesday, the budget is the only issue we will discuss that until it is passed. This process can last for a few hours or many days, and typically takes a week. I think moving through this budget too quickly would be a disservice to all Nebraskans. We as Senators need to take our time and have the tough conversations on the floor to achieve equitable and sustainable property tax relief.

If you would like to speak directly to me about legislative issues, join the Great Plains conference call Tuesday at 8 AM CST and McCook Chamber Conference call Thursday at 8 AM CST. I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

Throughout the past week, my office worked with many interested parties and Senators to reach compromise on LB227. Senator Lathrop, who initially opposed changing the existing Right to Farm Act, filed amendment 1485. AM1485 was the compromise amendment and is intended to appease most parties. It then appeared on select file last Thursday, at which time the amendment was discussed on the floor. It was received well and the negotiation process was praised by other Senators. The bill quickly passed on to final reading. I anticipate it being signed into law. This legislation expands protection for agriculturalists interested in growing or changing their operation.

In other news, Senator Chambers’ annual bill to repeal the death penalty was discussed on the floor last Thursday as well. Friday was a short day of session – we passed multiple bills through final reading to the Governor’s desk. Senator Dorn’s bill, LB472, to allow Gage County to levy a sales tax to pay for their Federal judgment, was indeed vetoed by the Governor on Wednesday. Senator Dorn’s motion to override the veto on LB 472 is scheduled on the agenda for April 30th. At present, I do believe Senator Dorn has enough votes to override the veto, but time will tell. In general, I disagree with allowing counties to levy a sales tax, but doing so seems to be a more equitable way of satisfying the federal judgement than placing it all on Gage County property taxpayers.

On a personal note, I’m heartened by the start of planting season across Nebraska. Long nights are scheduled to begin next week, and it’s days and nights like those when I long to be in the tractor more than just weekends. But when engaged on the farm, I remember why it’s imperative I am here at the Capitol. Our district needs a voice here in the budget discussion so we can continue our livelihood and operate our businesses. That means solving the issues related to property taxes. We’re finally to the point when we can make that happen. We will begin the budget process May 2nd. For the following ten days, we’ll debate our state budget and how taxes will be spread out among Nebraskans. My goal is to rebalance our revenue streams within the State of Nebraska. Not everyone agrees on how our state should get there, but I am open to all ideas, keeping the final goal of long-term property tax reform in mind.

If you would like to speak directly to me about legislative issues, join the Great Plains conference call Tuesday at 8 AM CST and McCook Chamber Conference call Thursday at 8 AM CST. I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

This week has been a short week. We had two recess days off in observance of Easter. Last Thursday, we passed multiple bills through final reading which will head to the Governor’s desk.

Notably among them was LB472, known as the Qualified Judgement Payment Act, to allow Gage County to levy a sales tax for payment of a federal judgement against the county. For background, the county is required to pay 28 million dollars for violating a federal law when prosecuting a criminal case. Although I do not support the notion of allowing counties the right to levy sales tax, the only alternative appeared to be increasing the property tax burden on Gage County residents. Even then, it would take years for the landowners of Gage County to repay the burden. I voted for the bill on that premise because I do not believe that property tax payers should bear all the burden. The Governor is expected to veto this bill. That being said, it passed final reading on a 43-6 vote, and should have enough support to override the veto.

Senator Wayne’s LR14CA also passed through final reading last week. It is a constitutional amendment with the intent of spurring new development in extremely blighted areas and allowing TIF, tax increment financing, to extend to 20 years. I am not in favor of extending the length of time from 15 to 20 years because it sets a precedent for other areas to ask to do the same. If used correctly, TIF can be very helpful and, we do have some success stories in our district. However, I do not want to create loopholes which may lead to abuse or elimination of the program. I also realize that programs like this disrupt competition in our free market system, so I think we need to be very cautious when making changes.

Turning from other Senators’ bills to my own, I am still working on amending LB227 for when it is placed on the agenda for select file.

If you would like to speak directly to me about legislative issues, join the Great Plains conference call Tuesday at 8 AM CST and McCook Chamber Conference call Thursday at 8 AM CST. I always enjoy hearing from the Nebraskans I represent. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805.You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

LB227, the ag nuisance bill I introduced, was filibustered during the first reading on general file on April 8th. However, I had enough votes to bring it back for a second three hours on Wednesday, April 10th, and to break the filibuster that day. It was eventually passed through to select file.

Before it is heard on select file, I will bring a new clarifying amendment forward. Throughout this process I have amended the original bill which I believe resolves the concerns of a few senators. The Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Farm Bureau, my staff, and I have worked diligently to answer all questions, decipher the legal language, and to create compromise with previously-opposed Senators. We are still in the process of making the bill more amicable to some of the senators by introducing another amendment. By doing so, I feel we are gathering more floor votes which may assist in getting this bill passed. I want to remind everyone the goal of this legislation is to offer certainty for agriculturalists who want to make an investment in their operation from frivolous lawsuits like those in North Carolina. Providing surety is a cost-free way that we as a legislative body can spur development and grow Nebraska’s economy.

On another very important note, I have received multiple letters regarding nursing homes and Medicaid reimbursement rate issues. The constituents who reached out to me have highlighted four different bills related to this issue. Those bills are LB181, LB403, LB404, and LB468. Since this is a priority issue for so many constituents, I want to discuss the status of these bills and where I see them going.

• LB181, LB403, and LB404 appeared in the Appropriations committee March 25, 2019. None of them were prioritized and have not been scheduled for general file.

• LB468 appeared in the health and human services committee March 1, 2019. It was prioritized by Health and Human Services, which means that it will be heard on the floor this session. Since then, an amendment to the bill has been filed by the committee. It has not been placed on the agenda yet.

While it is possible for the three bills in Appropriations to advance out of committee, it is highly unlikely for them to appear on the agenda because they were not prioritized. It is also unlikely because the budget is coming out on Day 70, May 2nd, at which time we pause all other business and focus only on the budget. On a brighter note, the Appropriations Committee may choose to incorporate the ideas from those bills into the budget.
Even if that happens, we are back to the same story that our state has limited funds to split between government services like K-12 education, programs for the elderly and vulnerable, and paying for corrections and prisons, plus everything else. To top this off, we have not seen the effect of Medicaid Expansion which was voted into law last year and will take effect on October 1, 2020. Yet, we will have to build money into the budget this year to pay for the increased bureaucracy to administer the additional medicaid funds next year. Those Medicaid Expansion funds will not address or increase medicaid reimbursement rates.

I am aware of the issues for nursing homes and facilities in our area, and appreciate the outpouring of feedback regarding it. I am also aware of the budgetary strain we are facing, and the need for property tax reform. Creating this year’s budget will be a challenge.

As I write this, we’ve been in full-day debate for one week, and the tone of the legislature last week was not well. There is a lack of trust within the body, and certain members have already begun engaging in time-consuming behaviors. If this continues, late night floor debate may begin sooner than in previous years and could continue for the remainder of session. However, we were moving through bills rather quickly before full-day floor debate started, so we are not behind. Last week actually gave everyone some time to study bills and become prepared for the coming weeks.

We are merely days away from beginning the budget process. The budget will be based on the February 2019 revenue forecast by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board (NEFAB) for the upcoming 2019-2021 biennium, and the forecast will be revised again in April. In general, the revenue forecast showed a decline in the rate of growth. According to the Nebraska Legislative Fiscal office, the 37-year average general fund revenue growth is 4.8%, adjusted for tax rate and base changes. The projected revenue growth for the current year is 4.3%. For FY2019-2020 NEFAB projected growth is 4.2%, and for FY2020-2021 NEFAB projected growth is 3.0%. Projected revenue growth for both of these years is lower than the current year and the historical average.

In addition, our state has immediate flooding expenses to factor in. I anticipate this budgeting process will be difficult because of all these factors. However, I am committed to pushing for property tax reform.

On a property tax note, LB483, Senator Erdman’s priority bill to change the valuation of agricultural and horticultural land. It was read on general file on March 20th, and Senator Erdman added an amendment to it to clarify language. Unfortunately this is a very complicated bill and most of the non-farmers in the body do not understand it. I am still not convinced the effort of changing from sales to income based valuations will be a benefit in the long run.

Another bill regarding property tax relief was Senator Linehan’s bill, LB512, which was read on the floor last Friday. This bill would have changed provisions related to property taxes. For example, if a person loses their house to a fire on January 3rd, it is currently taxed at 100% of the valuation for the remainder of the year. This bill would change that and give those who experience such losses relief from taxes since they would no longer be able to utilize their property. Even though this bill was filibustered by Senator Chambers, it should eventually pass as there is broad support for it.

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44
Room #1210
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2805
Email: dhughes@leg.ne.gov
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