NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Dan Hughes

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44

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This past week N-CORPE was in the spotlight again. Senator Groene of North Platte introduced two bills that were heard in the Natural Resources Committee. LB 1123 and 1124 both deal with the N-CORPE project in Lincoln County but could also affect the Rock Creek Project in Dundy County. During the hearing Senator Groene asked the committee to not take any action on LB 1124 because provisions in LB 758 address the concerns that led to LB 1124. However, LB 1123 drew a lot of interest and we had several testifiers expressing their thoughts both in favor of and in opposition to the bill.

LB 1123 would allow the sale of the N-CORPE land to private owners. Currently the land is owned by the N-CORPE group, which is a government entity made up of four natural resources districts. Landowners for a Common Purpose, a Lincoln County group, would like the land to be held by private citizens. One testifier in the neutral position, Professor Anthony Schutz, a law professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, explained to the committee some of the legal issues with the bill that could cause problems with Nebraska’s compliance with the Republican River Compact. Senator Groene, in his opening, offered an amendment that would completely replace the original drafted language of the bill, but the language in the amendment still did not fix the concerns of those opposed to the bill.

LB 758 is scheduled for its second round of debate before the full Legislature as I am writing this article. Hopefully by the time you are reading this, it will have been passed from Select File on to Final Reading.

I would like to share that the rules and procedures for the letters for the records have changed. If you were planning to testify on a bill and are unable to attend but wish to have a written position letter included in the official hearing record as an exhibit, the letter must be delivered to the office of the committee chair (or emailed to the committee clerk) of the committee conducting the hearing on the bill by 5:00 p.m. on the last work day prior to the public hearing. Additionally, the letter must state a position of for, against, or neutral on the bill in question and include a request for the letter to be included as part of the public hearing record.

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.

Last week in the Legislature, the Natural Resources Committee and myself had another busy schedule. We were successful in getting the committee priority bill, LB 758, advanced to Select File. After the full six hours of debate, the bill was advanced by a 47-0 vote. I am pleased with the outcome and thankful for my committee’s hard work on this bill. In today’s article I would like to touch base on LB 1080 and LR 266. Both of these will have hearings next week, so I would like to update everyone on them ahead of time.

LB 1080 is a bill that would allow the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles to design three new license plates to be known as Wildlife Conservation Plates.  These plates would reflect support for the conservation of Nebraska wildlife, including sandhill cranes, bighorn sheep, and rainbow trout. A bill similar to this was passed in 2016, which created the mountain lion plate that has helped raise approximately $225,000 in funds for the Wildlife Education Fund. The commission uses this money to provide youth education programs related to wildlife conservation practices. Game and Parks receives $30 for every message plate and $5 for every alphanumeric plate. LB 1080 would follow the same guidelines allowing three new beautifully designed wildlife license plates.

LR 266 is a resolution urging the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation and the Nebraska congressional delegation to work together. We need to a find a solution that allows the people occupying lots around Hugh Butler Lake, Harry Strunk Lake and Swanson Reservoir to freely transfer their permits and to leave non-permanent structures currently in place on existing lots. It also urges the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to consider taking such action as may be helpful to bring about a solution that allows for the transfer of permits and for non-permanent structures to remain on the lots surrounding these lakes. Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation is mandating that trailer home owners vacate the lakes no later than April 30, 2020. This would make for a total of 232 cabins and trailers to be removed.

The Natural Resources Committee held a hearing last Thursday afternoon for LB 1054, introduced by Senator Brewer of Gordon. LB 1054 would change provisions relating to pre-construction hearings before the Nebraska Power Review Board and for electricity generation using wind as its fuel source. There were a lot of people who came out to testify in front of the committee, both as proponents and opponents to the legislation. There was plenty of discussion and information given to the committee. This bill has been designated as Senator Brewer’s priority bill. The committee will take some time to digest the testimony that was given, before making a decision on whether to advance it to the full Legislature for debate or hold it in committee.

Last week was another busy week in the legislature. The Natural Resources Committee had its first priority bill debated on the floor, LB 758. I had another bill on General File this week as well, LB 275, and there was some debate on other issues that are important to the citizens of southwestern Nebraska. I have been advocating for the rural communities in Nebraska this past week and will continue this effort as the session progresses.

LB 758 was heard on General File early last week, we had three hours’ worth of debate. As of Tuesday at 9am LB 758 will be up for debate again. By the time you read this there may be more information on this bill, but in order to get this article to the publications in time the most recent update is, there will be more debate. It is an important bill to southwest Nebraska to have this issue between the NRDs and the counties cleared up. Especially for the local school districts, counties, and other property tax funded agencies this legislation directly affects.

LB 275 is a bill that would allow private property owners to have abandoned vehicles towed from their property. A vehicle is considered abandoned after being left for 7 days. On January 22 we discussed this bill on the floor and it was advanced to Select File. This bill is important to owners of any private parking areas and for you on your own personal property.

This week another big item of debate on the floor was Senator Chambers’ bill, LB 449. This bill would repeal the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Management Act. The Management Act can be adopted by a county and allows them to remove or control the spread of the prairie dogs from one property to another. Currently under the Management Act if a colony spreads from a neighbors land onto your own, you could contact the county and have them help assist you in addressing the problem. Only Sheridan County has made use of this law, but it important to allow other counties to do the same. Prairie dogs are destructive to property, cause damage to crops, as well as, put livestock in danger. I opposed to this bill and in the end it failed to garner enough votes to advance.

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.

Last Thursday was the final day to introduce bills for this legislative session. There were still plenty of bills being brought to the legislature up until the last day. We ended up with an additional 469 new bills being introduced, making the total 1136 for the 105th legislative session. Some new bills that were introduced could have a negative impact on southwestern Nebraska. I have already received some calls and emails regarding a couple of these new bills. LB 1021 and LB 1022, are both bills that I will oppose. I would like to give a short explanation of each bill and my opinion on them.

LB 1021 would remove the tax exemption on agricultural machinery and chemicals, as well as, water for irrigation and manufacturing and other agricultural resources. This bill would take away multiple tax exemptions used by farmers each year. One of the main exemptions is water for irrigation and manufacturing. Taking away this exemption would have a direct negative impact on farmers in southwestern Nebraska.

LB 1022 this bill would add a tax to water used for irrigation. Any well used for irrigation that is capable of producing at least five thousand gallons of water per day, would be taxed at one cent for every ten gallons of water pumped. Irrigated land will be valued the same as dry land under this bill. LB 1022 would also create a school aid fund. This fund would consist of irrigation tax revenue credited to the fund and would be administered by the state board of education. The funds shall be used to provide payments to school districts that did not receive equalization aid, under Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA). This is an enormous tax increase on farmers, one cent for ten gallons will add up quickly.

LB 762 is a bill I introduced, it would push back the sunset date to apply for grants under the Department of Environmental Quality Scrap Tire Management Program. This has been a very popular program, especially rural areas. Through 2013-2016 there were 22,883.09 tons of tires collected through the scrap tire project.  I want to make sure these projects continue. The funds for this comes from a $1 fee collected on the sale of a new tires.

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 the Unicameral agenda is starting to take its final shape. With today being the last day to introduce bills, we will have an idea of which bills the members of the legislature feel need to be addressed this session. This week two of my bills, LB 760, and LB 819, will be heard in different committees. The following is just a short explanation of each of these bills, as well as, an amendment I will be introducing to LB 758.

As introduced, LB 758 requires natural resources districts that develop streamflow augmentation projects to work with the county where the project is located to reduce impacts to that county’s property tax base. The hearing on this bill was Wednesday, January 17. The change I will propose as an amendment at the hearing will expand on the idea and provide more detail.

The amendment would authorize the NRDs that own NCORPE and Rock Creek to make payments in lieu of taxes to Lincoln County and Dundy County where those projects are located.  Payments would equal the property taxes the NRDs are currently paying.  The amendment would also authorize such NRDs to waive repayment of property taxes paid under protest, and require public notice and accountability provisions. It’s my intention that this will be the first step in addressing several of the issues surrounding the streamflow augmentation projects currently in place to keep Nebraska in compliance with the Republican River Compact and the Platte Basin Enhancement project.

In 2016, LB 886 was passed by the Nebraska Legislature. That bill created the Volunteer Emergency Responders Incentive Act which provides an income tax credit for qualified active volunteer emergency responders, rescue squad members, and firefighters that serve a city, village, or rural or suburban fire protection district. This bill inadvertently left out volunteers serving a county. LB 760 would include volunteers serving a county and provides a mechanism for them to apply for the income tax credit that was originally intended in LB 886. LB 760 is just a thank you from the state for all our volunteers’ hard work and dedication.

LB 819 expands the allowable uses of the Department of Correctional Services Inmate Welfare and Club Accounts Fund to include programs which teach inmates skills to prepare them for reentry into the community and family friendly visitation activities. This will allow the department to provide additional opportunities for inmates to interact with their families in prosocial activities and to acquire skills which will assist them in preparing for release. Currently, inmate welfare funds may only be used for recreational activities and equipment. The welfare fund receives income from pop and canteen sales within the correctional institutions.

This year’s Legislative Session is now a week underway. As of last week, I have introduced ten new bills and a legislative resolution. Some of these bills will have a direct impact on the people of the 44th district. A couple of the important bills are: LB 758, and LB 761. The Legislative Resolution, LR 266, will also directly impact Southwestern Nebraska.

Legislative Resolution 266 asks Congress to require the Bureau of Reclamation to allow transferability of permits for lots around Hugh Butler Lake, Harry Strunk Lake and Swanson Lake all located in Southwestern Nebraska. The Bureau of Reclamation has mandated that trailer home owners at these lakes vacate by 2020. Many of you have had conversations with me about your concerns with how the Bureau of Reclamation and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is handling this issue.

LB 758 would authorize the four NRD’s that own the N-CORPE project and the Upper Republican NRD that owns the Rock Creek Project to make payments to the county to make up for lost property taxes on the land they own. They currently have been paying these property taxes, but under protest, because the state constitution says a government entity cannot pay property taxes on property being used for a public purpose. The matter went to the Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) which ruled in favor of the NRDs. The counties are currently appealing this ruling.

LB 758 will make it clear that the NRDs will be allowed to make up those property taxes. The counties and school districts have been getting the money and have been spending that money. This just assures the NRDs that they are legally allowed to pay the taxes and will not be sued for doing just that. One aspect that we may look at while in committee would be allowing the money that has been paid to the counties for property taxes to not be required to be paid back. This is one option that may be looked at for this bill.

LB 761 would allow an increase in the per diem for the individuals who serve on the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Currently, Hitchcock County is the largest oil producing county in Nebraska. We are fortunate to have an individual from Trenton who is on the commission. Currently, the maximum per diem per day is $50. This has not been raised since 1959. LB 761 would raise that per diem to $300. This money comes from the fees that are collected from oil producers. So no state tax dollars would be used for this purpose.

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.

The second session of the 105th Legislature started on Wednesday, January 3rd and will finish with our sixtieth working day on April 18th. This was my fourth opening day and I am always reminded of a statement by a senior senator on my first opening day. “This is one of only two days each session we all like each other”. Of course, the other day is closing day. That is a very true statement. Each senator works hard and is passionate about doing what they feel is right for their constituents and the state. But we have different opinions and personal priorities about how and when we need to get things done.

This year as with every year my main priority will be property tax relief. I know this might come as a shock to most of you, but I get criticism from a few every time I talk about property tax relief in my articles. This is good because it forces me to keep looking for new ways to make the point to my colleagues in Lincoln.  Recently, I have looked at the amount of tax dollars collected in Nebraska and came up with some astounding numbers as to why farmers and ranchers, in particular, are complaining loudly about their property tax burden. I looked at the amount of dollars collected by category of tax to fund government across the state. These are dollars used by government of all levels in Nebraska to provide services to us the citizens.  In this comparison, I am using only the amount of DOLLARS collected by each category of tax and comparing what we collected ten years ago to what we collect today. Sales tax dollars collected, up 17.64% in ten years. Individual Income tax dollars collected, up 32.78% in ten years. Corporate Income tax dollars collected, up 40.55% in ten years. Residential Real Estate tax dollars collected, up 26.86% in ten years. Agricultural Real Estate tax dollars collected up, 102.44% in ten years. We all know the cost of living and providing services goes up every year. But these numbers clearly show one sector of our economy is being forced to shoulder an ever larger burden of our government costs. K-12 education is the largest recipient of property tax dollars in Nebraska. It is the State of Nebraska’s responsibility to educate our children, not the local property tax payer. Property tax is not a local tax. There has been a tremendous shift of tax revenue used to fund K-12 education from sales and income tax dollars to Ag real estate taxes. That is a shift that is unfair and unsustainable, especially with the current slump in the agriculture industry.  There will be several ideas and bills brought before the Legislature this year to try and re-balance the tax playing field. As with any issue, there are numerous sides and the ripple effect of any legislation needs to be carefully considered before passage.

I will be putting together an article each week throughout the legislative session to give everyone in the 44th District additional information about the progress of the legislature. As always, I appreciate your feedback. Happy New Year!

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. A topic of debate recently has been Legislative Resolution 6. LR 6 will again be before the legislature this session. The resolution calls for Congress to hold a Convention of the States to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the amendments would impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of congress.

Last month in McCook there was meeting on LR 6.  I was unable to attend, however, I am fully aware of the Legislative Resolution and I have looked at the LR in depth. In its current form I do not support LR 6. I am not comfortable calling for a Convention of the States as presented in LR 6. With a multi-issue resolution like this, I am worried there would be a runaway Convention of States. If a Convention of States cannot be controlled to a single topic I am fearful of what the outcome might be too many of the other freedoms we currently enjoy could be in jeopardy. I am not comfortable with giving that much power to the delegates. Also, there needs to be a way to hold the delegates accountable and they vote the way the people of Nebraska would want them to.  I have received letters and emails from many of you. Some support my position and others are urging me to support LR 6 in its current form.

The issue I will support a Convention of States on, is a balanced budget amendment, with provisions to allow for additional spending in times of war and other national emergencies. We in Nebraska must run a balanced budget and I see no reason why the Federal Government should not do the same.

Specifically on the issue of term limit, I have never supported them. We already have term limits, they are elections. Our form of government is a Representative Republic not a Democracy. Therefore, the citizenry is required to play an active role on our government. If they do not, our system will not work as well as envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

I have been getting ready for the upcoming session these last few weeks. The budget will be a big issue this year, as the current forecasting board has us about $200 million short. The next forecasting board meets at the end of February, which will be a better indicator of where the state needs to be. Unfortunately, it is a short session, and if we wait until March to make any adjustments it will be tough for any agency to make the necessary adjustments before the end of our fiscal year on June 30. The good news is we still have a little over $350 million in “rainy day” funds. But I am reluctant to use very much more of that fund to balance our budget.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. As Christmas quickly approaches and the year comes to an end, there is still plenty to get done before the session starts. Over this past week I have traveled across the state to McCook, Central City and Lincoln attending LR 176 hearings held by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. LR 176 is a study of rural broadband.

The committee is looking at ways to speed the process of expanding high speed internet to all rural customers. It is reminiscent of the time when we were working to connect all rural residents to electricity. It is important to the entire State that everyone have access to high speed internet. All citizens need this access for prosperity and equal opportunity. The bigger cities have already had their broadband built to their boundaries, but the rural areas still need this infrastructure. The “last mile” is the hardest and will take a little extra funding. Part of the discussion is having telecom providers and local electric providers enter into partnerships allowing the hanging of fiber from existing poles instead of burying the fiber underground. This is just another idea of how to go about getting the job done faster. Some telecom companies have been able to build out to one hundred percent of their customers, while others are not quite there yet.

Serving the rural areas of Nebraska is becoming more important than ever. With the changing landscape of agriculture, the need for data capacity is growing exponentially. Modern agriculture is using massive amounts of data in the production decision process. Broadband is more than just streaming videos and surfing the net, it is vitally important to all our rural industries.

Expanding high speed internet will have a positive impact on Nebraska’s economy. Golight, a company that produces high powered lighting used by first responders, the military, utilities vehicles, and farmers and ranchers, is headquartered in Culbertson, Nebraska. Golight is a growing company, and without the help of high speed internet the company would not be marketing its products to customers worldwide. A good analogy of high speed internet is, it is just like the road system. Cities and towns have extensive road systems through and around their limits, but they still need pathways and abilities to connect with other cities and towns. While a road traveling through rural areas may only seem to benefit local people, our entire population still needs to have the ability to travel the state. If the rural areas have high speed internet, the entire state benefits just as we do with our roads.

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.

As some of you may have seen and heard there is a small group that has organized from Lincoln County called the Landowners for a Common Purpose. This group is trying to force the separation of groundwater rights from surface or land rights on the NCORPE property. I believe that is a very bad idea. Apparently, this group is willing to go to court to prove it can be done. Initially, the complaint has always been that no property taxes are being collected on the NCORPE property, which is not true. NCORPE is paying property taxes, but NCORPE is also protesting those taxes because state law dictates one taxing entity cannot pay taxes to another taxing entity. Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC) has ruled in favor of NCORPE, and Lincoln and Dundy County are appealing that ruling.

I have a bill drafted and it is currently being circulated to interested parties that would allow NCORPE to make in-lieu-of property taxes to Lincoln County. This bills language is similar to language currently in place to allow the Game and Parks Commission to pay in-lieu-of property taxes on property they own to the counties where such property is located. The potential of separating the groundwater rights from the surface rights would have far reaching and long lasting impacts on the State of Nebraska and especially on anyone who irrigates within the state.

One point I need to make that most people may not be aware of, a landowner does not own the water under their land, the State of Nebraska owns the water. If you have an irrigation well you must also have a permit from the State of Nebraska or a natural resource district that says you can pump water from that irrigation well. I am hopeful my legislation will satisfy the Landowners for a Common Purpose by allowing NCORPE to begin paying in-lieu-of property taxes. If it does not, the speculation brought forth by some that this may be a land grab by a few large landowners in Lincoln County may have some validity. Opinions vary slightly, but all of the lawyers, bankers, real estate agents, and government officials I have visited with about this issue are in agreement. It would not be good for the State of Nebraska nor its citizens should the land be separated from the water.

My bill also includes the Rock Creek Project in Dundy County. If the bill passes the Upper Republican NRD will be allowed to pay in-lieu-of taxes to Dundy County for the lost property tax revenue, as well. This augmentation project has been in operation a few years longer than NCORPE. It was created for the same purpose, to insure tens of thousands of irrigated acres in southwest Nebraska will continue making our region one of the most productive and reliable agricultural areas in the state of Nebraska.

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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