NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Dan Hughes

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at dhughes@leg.ne.gov

2020 Session Kickoff
January 15th, 2020

Happy New Year! As we swing into the next decade the second session of the 106th Legislature commences on Wednesday, January 8th. This will be a 60-day session that is scheduled to last until April 23rd. Bills will be introduced in the first 10 days of this session plus we still have all of the carryover bills from the first session. Public hearings are scheduled to begin Tuesday, January 21st. Committee chairpersons and members remain the same in this second session. As Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, I will be addressing bills that carried over from the first session as well as any incoming bills that directly relate to the committee and our main concerns.

Of course, property taxes are still the number one issue for me. Fortunately, the State of Nebraska has had some additional revenue come in above projections and consequently, we have some extra dollars to direct toward property tax relief. The challenge, now that we have some money to work with, is how do we redistribute those dollars where they are most needed. I am still of the opinion the agriculture producers of the state need relief first. It was agriculture’s real estate taxes that have more than doubled in the last 10 to 15 years. This is due to a flaw in our state aid to schools funding formula. There has been a tremendous tax burden shift from the state taxpayers onto the backs of our farmers and ranchers. They are the ones who deserve relief first. Hopefully, we can accomplish that upfront and craft legislation that will grant property tax relief to homeowners and commercial property taxpayers in 2021. And hopefully set the state on a course of less reliance on property taxes for years to come.

A big topic of contention last year was the ImagiNE Act, LB720. I am a firm believer in incentives, e.g., attracting businesses and retaining quality employees. LB720 is set to replace the Nebraska Advantage Act which expires at the end of December 2020. The Nebraska Advantage Act provides incentives to recruit businesses in Nebraska and aids in creating a quality workforce to challenge our neighboring states. It will have a slim chance of passing if changes are not made to the original version and not enough time is spent discussing the contents of the bill and its lasting effects. The challenge for me will be making sure that funding will not be concentrated in the eastern ⅓ of the state and verifying that funding will be allocated across the state.

My office has moved to the southwest quadrant of the Capitol, into room 1117. We will be located here for approximately 18 months or so as the original location of the Natural Resources office will be in the new phase of renovation.

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.

Welcome
January 8th, 2020

Thank you for visiting my website. It is an honor to represent the people of the 44th legislative district in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

You’ll find my contact information on the right side of this page, as well as a list of the bills I’ve introduced this session and the committees on which I serve. Please feel free to contact me and my staff about proposed legislation or any other issues you would like to address.

Sincerely,
Sen. Dan Hughes

December 2019 Interim Article
December 9th, 2019

On April 17, 2018, Governor Ricketts signed LB 994 into law which created the Rural Broadband Task Force. The core responsibilities of this task force include reviewing broadband issues in relation to feasibility, ratification, and cost-effectiveness. They released their findings in October of this year; rural broadband speeds have significantly increased since 2016, but present new woes. 

The legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee is paying close attention to this issue. We are trying to encourage the build-out to rural Nebraska by telecom companies that have territorial jurisdiction. We are also fully engaged with the Public Service Commission of Nebraska to make sure those internet providers are meeting their goals. There are significant federal and state matching funds available to support the build-out to rural Nebraska. An estimated one in ten rural Nebraskans reports extensive limitations from their home internet service provider. Modern advancements are an aid in resolving this limitation; e.g. fixed wireless using mid-band spectrums like 5G, low earth orbit satellites like StarLink, and TV white space. Currently, 89% of Nebraskans have access to fixed broadband of at least 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up compared to 63% of rural Nebraskans. Rural areas tend to be charged up to 37% more on average than their urban counterparts who have faster speeds, wider coverage, and little to no data caps.

Our schools have made significant investments in computers for our students and we need to make sure they can fully utilize those purchases by making sure internet access outside of the school campus is sufficient. This disparity creates an inconsistent environment for students; those who are unable to complete homework from home and those who have access. This is due to a number of issues: having no internet provider in the area, slow speeds, or data caps. Libraries in rural areas are able to ease some student woes. Unfortunately, not enough of these institutions apply for E-Rate funding. This is due to the difficulty of the application process and concerns about filtering content for students. 

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.

There’s a lot going on at the state capitol building.  Not only are we gearing up to start the 2020 legislative session that will begin on January 8th but over 20 senators and staff will be moving office locations.  These office moves are a result of the renovation project to update the heating and air conditioning system from steam to an HVAC system. Geothermal wells were dug a few blocks away and have completed digging about half of the needed wells. When completed there will be 225 wells and will feature a closed-loop system. The current heating and cooling systems are more than 50 years old.  Additional projects include: fire sprinklers added to offices, the fire alarm system was updated, the windows were updated to be energy-efficient, and the outer hallways had dropped ceilings removed which allows for more natural light. In the offices, the walls were repainted and new carpet was installed in order to return the capitol to its original color scheme. In order to keep the capitol open and as many offices as possible within the building, restoration will be completed in phases going quadrant by quadrant. The southwest quadrant was in phase 1 and was recently completed.  This is a lengthy undertaking and it’s not expected to be completed until 2025.  

In the early 2000s, the exterior of the capitol went through an extensive multi-phase restoration which was completed in 2010.  Some of the restorations included the sower, bronze windows, the copper roofs, masonry at the tower, base, and courtyards. Our state capitol is a historic landmark and these repairs and rehabilitation are vital to preserving our capitol.

My current office, room 1210, is located in the phase 2 quadrant my office will start moving into room 1117 next week and should be in that office for the next 18 months. After phase 2 is completed we will be moved back into room 1210. We will then move the office back into room 1210 after phase 2 is completed. Our phone number will remain the same.

I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving.

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.

I am contemplating introducing a constitutional amendment during this incoming 2020 legislative session that would put a lifetime limit on serving in the Legislature. No one would be allowed to serve in the Legislature after being elected to three 4-year terms. It would give Nebraskans an opportunity to vote on making a change to our existing term limits that are set for the Legislature. 

I feel that a three-term maximum would allow senators to best represent their constituents without creating lifetime politicians. Current term limits are two consecutive 4-year terms. Returning senators can run for the Legislature again after 4 years have passed from the initial two-term limit. Currently, Nebraska has the shortest term limits in the country. Six states have lifetime bans on length of service and it ranges from 12-24 years. We also have a one-house system in our state. In other states, officials tend to serve in the house and then run for the Senate or vice versa.  In comparison, 14 other states that have term limits are authorized to serve 6-16 years in the house and potentially 8-16 years in the senate if they decide to run for that elected position. Six states enacted term limits in the early 1990s and all were nullified by the early 2000s.  

The first 4 years as a senator are dedicated to absorbing a plethora of challenging issues while building strong relationships with colleagues and members of various organizations. The next 4 years are devoted to passing substantial legislation for voters. When introducing legislation there is always a need to work through the pros and cons that translate to well thought out and effective legislation. Passing legislation is not as simple as introducing it one year and having it enacted by the end of that session. By adding another 4-year term it gives the senator the best opportunity for crafting legislation and using their experience and knowledge to best serve the citizens of Nebraska.  

Nebraskan voters wanted term limits and voted to have them enacted in 2000. Although term limits result in the loss of institutional knowledge, I do feel this constitutional amendment would be a better solution for both the institution and the citizens of the state.  

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 Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met this past Thursday where there was discussion of an increase in the previously projected revenue forecasts for FY2019-20 and FY2020-21. The current fiscal year began on July 1. This board provides an advisory forecast of general fund receipts used by the Legislature to craft the state’s budget. The board meets three times a year and determines whether they have a necessity to raise or lower revenue projections. They use these estimates to determine how much tax money the Legislature has to shape the state’s budget. They are projecting an overall increase of $160.9 million in revenue for FY2019-20.  Within the first three months of FY2019-20 revenue projections were $76 million above what was forecasted at the time. We even had a 5% increase in tax collections in the month of August that the state Department of Revenue announced in September. There is an additional $265.9 projected increase that is to be expected for FY2020-21. By law, these additional projected funds must be added to the state’s rainy day fund which would bring our Cash Reserve to $616 million.

During our last session, the Legislature adopted a budget that increased Medicaid provider rates, fully funded K-12 school aid, and also put $51 million into the state’s property tax credit fund, bringing it to a total of $275 million. This reduces the amount owed on property tax bills and the tax load upon Nebraskans.

The governor said the new forecast will allow property tax relief to move full steam ahead during the upcoming legislative session and I hope that is true.  There are still ongoing discussions on how to provide tax relief and I am hopeful the legislature will find a way to make meaningful changes. There will also be other demands for this additional revenue. I am sure most of you have been following the staffing challenges within our prison system which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Plus we have made several reductions in spending growth over the past three years and the agencies affected will be looking to recover some of those dollars as well.

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.

In this week’s article, I want to talk about the interim hearing that the Natural Resources Committee held last month in Scottsbluff and McCook. LR 142 was introduced to take an in-depth look at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, especially how they are handling big game wildlife management. Part of the discussion during the interim hearings also included the management of the state’s recreational areas, in particular, Lake McConaughy and Hugh Butler Lake north of McCook. 

In Scottsbluff, we heard testimony from several landowners who are having major problems with either deer, elk, antelope, or mountain lions on their properties. One landowner had documented the damage caused to one of his pivots of corn last year and it amounted to over $100,000.00. He provided a yield map from last year’s harvest along with facts and figures of the cost to condition his cow herd ahead of pasturing that pivot because of all of the corn knocked down by the elk so as not to lose any of his cattle to acidosis. Interestingly, just within the last couple of weeks, the commission has issued 50 elk kill permits for this landowner’s property due to a drone video of the same herd in his cornfield causing tremendous amounts of damage again this year.  Unfortunately, it took interim hearings for the commission to respond to the ongoing mass destruction to help alleviate future damage. I have heard from landowners over the past five years and up until now, the commission has not responded as fully as they should have. Several of the commissioners were in attendance in both Scottsbluff and McCook and I am hopeful their first-hand experience of the frustration of landowners with the commission’s management of big game will help the commission change its management of the situation. When I hear comments from a state agency that part of the problem was that landowners were planting a lot more corn than they have in the past, it concerns me that there is little regard for the landowners who need to make a profit to stay in business.

The fact that the landowners who are paying the feed bill for the state’s wildlife without any compensation whatsoever is wrong. And that same attitude is held by many within the hunting community as well. Some may think that because farmers receive subsidies from the federal government that they have the right to hunt anywhere they want on the farmer’s land. The federal farm subsidies that we all help pay for are not for access, and certainly, do not authorize hunters to trespass.  They do entitle the people of the United States to one of the safest food supplies in the world, one of the most abundant food supplies in the world, and one of the cheapest food supplies in the world. The commission needs to keep in mind that they have tremendous responsibilities not only to the hunters but to those who are trying to make a living. It is time for some changes in how the commission manages its responsibilities. I believe we have made a clear statement that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission needs to be more responsive to the complaints of landowners who have large herds of big game destroying their crops and pastures.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made the effort to attend one of the interim study hearings the Natural Resources Committee held this past month in Scottsbluff and McCook. I appreciate everyone who testified and brought information to the attention of the committee members. 

Despite Senator Groene trying to make a case in the Legislature for selling the land owned by NCORPE, the Natural Resources Committee has done a very good job of sifting through the innuendo we have heard about the project and its management.  As state senators, it is our job to become informed on the issues, learn the facts, weigh the risks versus the benefits, and make the best decision for all of the affected parties. Passing legislation to placate one small group of individuals does not justify making a change in water law that could have far-reaching consequences for decades to come. It is important to remember that the NCORPE land was for sale to anyone before the NRDs purchased it. I, for one, am grateful the  NRDs had the vision and guts to step in to solve a State of Nebraska issue and save a majority of the irrigated economy within their jurisdictions. It is a fact that up to 60% of the irrigated land in the Upper, Lower, and Middle Republican NRDs would have been shut down if NCORPE were not in place. In the area within Lincoln County that is covered by the Twin Platte NRD, a similar amount of irrigated land would have had to be idled to make sure a sufficient amount of water was flowing down the Platte River to meet Endangered Species Act requirements. 

The locally elected NRD boards control the situation, as it should be.  They understand that a decision to dispose of the property cannot be made in a vacuum.  There are multiple factors to consider, including the legal risks of new legislation that has not been tried in the courts.  The future of the project must be considered, in relation to managing the local aquifer and the project’s infrastructure. New easements would have to be obtained if the property were sold. If it became necessary to expand the project, there are significant expenses that could arise that do not exist now.  Any benefits of owning the land would be lost, including revenue from leases, and access for the public to hunt. The NCORPE board must also consider the value of grassland that is not fully established. Although most of the NCORPE is well on its way to becoming productive range land, the native grasses need to establish and that takes time.  There would also be nuisance factors to deal with, since there would be neighbors overlapping the project’s operations, by not owning property on which the project operates. I also applaud the NCORPE board for working to consolidate its holding into a solid block to reduce its impact upon neighbors. Selling distant parcels and replacing those acres with others closer to the main block is good management of the project.

September 2019 Interim Article
October 15th, 2019

Now that we are past Labor Day the legislature’s interim hearings start to gear up.  Most interim hearings occur here in Lincoln at the state capitol, but as Chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee, it is important to me to occasionally have interim hearings outside of Lincoln.  In the coming weeks, the Natural Resources Committee will be traveling to western Nebraska for their first hearing to discuss LR 142. It is an interim study to examine any matter concerning the Game and Parks Commission.  It will be held on Wednesday, September 18, at 9:00 am (MT) at the Western Nebraska Community College, Harms Advanced Technology Center located at 2026 College Park in Scottsbluff.

The following day on Thursday, September 19, in McCook at the Mid-Plains Community College in McMillen Hall, Room 213 located at 1205 E. 3rd St. in McCook.  We will have two hearings; the first will be LR 114, beginning at 9:00 am (CT). It is a legislative resolution to examine the conditions under which the board of directors of the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Enhancement Project (NCORPE) and the Rock Creek augmentation project may dispose of real property each owns related to the projects.

Then at 11:00 am (CT), we will have a second hearing on LR 142 to examine any matter concerning the Game and Parks Commission. During my years of serving as your Senator, the second most brought up issue after property taxes is Game and Parks management of deer. I continue to have calls every week about the deer damage caused by the large number of deer in our area. Landowners, this will be your chance to come and tell me and my fellow Senators of the challenges you face and hopefully your thoughts on how to handle this problem. Game and Park’s leadership will be there and listening as well. I hope you will come and give us and them your thoughts. I have tried working with G&P on solutions for 5 years and have made very little headway. I am hoping with a good turnout and lots of input we will be able to come up with solutions that will make up for some of the damage the states wildlife population is causing to landowners.  

The public is welcome to attend and testify at any of these hearings.  You can view the calendar for all upcoming hearings on the legislature’s website, www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

I want to remind everyone that if you know of any college students who may be interested in getting involved in the legislature I would encourage them to apply to work as a page for the 2020 legislative session.  Legislative pages do a variety of jobs in the legislature such as: assisting the presiding officer, assisting committee staff, running errands for the senators, etc.  The deadline for submitting applications and letters of recommendation will be Friday, October 4, 2019, at 5:00 pm (CT), do not wait until the last minute because a letter of recommendation from my office will also need to be included in the application.  Please contact my office if you have any questions, 402-471-2805.  

Last session I was appointed to the LR 87 committee.  The committee is tasked with continuing the work of the select interim committee created the year before, the LR 437 committee, the intention is to fully and comprehensively analyze possible improvements and changes to the standing committee system.  Currently, there are 14 standing committees in the legislature. In Nebraska each bill introduced is assigned to a standing committee based on the subject matter of the bill and then it will be heard before that committee, at the hearing members of the public are welcome to come and testify on the bill.  Every senator except for the Speaker of the Legislature are assigned to committees and based on the number of days that committee meets a senator may be on one to three committees. Every so often we must examine our current committee structure to find the most effective way to evenly distribute the bills introduced each session.

Over the interim I will continue to update you on upcoming interim studies that may be of interest to our district.  Both of the LR’s outlined below will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on Friday, September 20, 2019 at 9:00 am in room 1003 in the State Capitol Building. 

LR 116 introduced by Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha is a study to examine the long-term fiscal sustainability of the Nebraska Health Care Cash Fund.  The NHCCF provides funds to over 20 government programs and it is slowly losing money. For long-term sustainability we have to set priorities for what the money will be spent on.

LR 184 introduced by Senator Dan Quick of Grand Island.  It is a study to examine how to provide a sustainable and adequate stream of state funds to local public health departments to ensure they are able to meet their core responsibilities.

If you know of any college students who may be interested in getting involved in the legislature I would encourage them to apply to work as a page for the 2020 legislative session.  Legislative pages do a variety of jobs in the legislature such as: assisting the presiding officer, assisting committee staff, running errands for the senators, etc. The deadline for submitting applications and letters of recommendation will be Friday, October 4, 2019 at 5:00 pm, do not wait until the last minute because a letter of recommendation from my office will also need to be included in the application.  Please contact my office if you have any questions.  

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.

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44
Room #1117
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2805
Email: dhughes@leg.ne.gov
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