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

A couple of weeks ago, the members of the Natural Resources Committee were invited on a tour through central and southwest Nebraska.  No senator on the committee lives west of Grand Island, except for me.  I thought it would be beneficial for committee members to see firsthand some of the infrastructure, and visit with some of the people affected by the bills we hear in the Natural Resources Committee.

We started the tour in Grand Island at the Upper Prairie-Silver-Moores Creek Flood Control Project, which is being constructed by the Central Platte NRD.  This project is important because it will take more than 1500 homes in Grand Island out of the FEMA floodplain.  Our next stop was the NCORPE water augmentation project south of North Platte.  The project, which ensures Nebraska remains in compliance with the Republican River Compact, will remain on the committee’s radar as two lawsuits on the property’s tax status will be in front of the state’s Court of Appeals within the next year.

Our visit to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis was very educational for the committee.  We learned about the programs available to students from Dean Ron Rosati and enjoyed viewing the impressive facilities.  The quality and diversity of education, and the opportunity to easily transition to a four-year college, makes this institution vital to keeping young Nebraskans in the state.

The second day of our tour focused on oil wells and public power.  Former Senator Tom Baker showed the group an oil well and an injection well around the area of Trenton, and discussed the practices that are used to protect our drinking water.  We visited Southwest Public Power District in Palisade, where Manager Curtis Kayton and his staff showed the committee how it uses technology to provide service more efficiently.  The tour concluded with a visit to Gerald Gentlemen Station, Nebraska’s largest electric generating facility, which is owned by NPPD.  It’s amazing the expertise and coordination that is required to ensure reliable power is available for us.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank Jim Bendfeldt and Lyndon Vogt, with the Central Platte NRD, Kristen Gottschalk with Nebraska Rural Electric Association, Shirley Higgins with NPPD, and Curtis Kayton with Southwest Public Power District, and several other NRD, NPPD, NCTA, and rural electric folks for putting the tour together.  We were impressed with the knowledge and dedication of the employees we met at each tour stop.  Thank you for your work and for taking the time to educate us about what you do.

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.

In my last article I discussed one proposal that is being championed as property tax relief for all property tax payers in Nebraska. That plan would rebate 50% of your property taxes paid to support your local K/12 school district. The price tag is approximately one billion dollars. This amount of money will come from spending cuts, and some of it could be made up by removing some sales tax exemptions. I asked what my constituents thought of this plan. To everyone who talked to me or sent me an email, I want to say thank you. Most of the people who contacted me were willing to look at an expanded sales tax base in order to have property tax relief.

This week I want to explain another approach to tackling our property tax problem.  This plan involves putting in place a set of triggers that will automatically divert state income tax and sales tax revenues into the property tax relief fund. The state of Nebraska has a historical growth rate in tax revenue of about 5% annually. Under this proposal, any year that the state’s revenue grows by 3% or more that revenue would be diverted into the property tax relief fund to be distributed among all property tax payers. There would need to be a cap placed on the amount of repurposed revenue at 4.5%. If the state’s revenue growth exceeded 4.5% in a given year that money could be directed toward income tax relief or the expansion of state government. The appealing thing about this plan is that it does not cost the state any money until it is in the state’s coffers because of increased revenues. The reason we need to leave the first 3% is because it takes about that amount just to keep the state even with inflation.  A couple of the less appealing things about this plan are, it does not provide immediate property tax relief as the one discussed earlier nor does it provide property tax relief every year. As with the first property tax relief proposal, I am interested in what you think about this second idea.

On another property tax related issue. I often get questions about school land. School land is the real estate owned by the State of Nebraska for the benefit of educating our children. In prior articles I have explained how the school land came to be, how the income is generated, and how the money is divided among the counties and students.  But the question came up where does it show up on my schools’ income side of the ledger.  Of the two funds the Board of Educational Lands and Funds makes distributions from, the in-lieu of tax (real estate tax) monies goes directly to the county treasurer to be paid to the appropriate school districts. The second payment is made to the Department of Education Trust Fund; it is then distributed on a per pupil basis to every school district in the state, usually in February.

I have spent the entire summer traveling around the district going to county fairs and community celebrations, by far the most talked about issue is property taxes.  With the next legislative session set to begin in January, I have no doubt this issue will be front and center on the minds of most of my colleagues in the legislature. I have visited with many of my fellow Senators and a majority of them are hearing the same thing. We need property tax relief!

There are several ideas being floated on how to accomplish this. One, is the idea to provide for an income tax credit or refund of 50% of the real estate taxes you paid to support your local school district. K/12 Education accounts for roughly 60% of your total property tax bill. As an example, if you paid $1000 in property taxes and 60 % or $600 went to support your local school, you would be entitled to a $300 income tax credit or refund. This sounds great until you look at the price tag of $1,000,000,000, (ONE BILLION DOLLARS) or more. That is a lot of tax shifting! Of course everyone wants to cut their taxes but we will need to make up for at least a majority of that lost revenue from expansion of the sales tax base or the elimination of sales tax exemptions, because there is no appetite for raising income taxes. We are currently funding the Property Tax Relief Fund to the tune of around $240,000,000 per year. Therefore, we will need to come up with the balance through a combination of spending cuts and increased sales tax revenue. Another down side is if a school district knows that half of any budget increase will be paid for by state tax revenue and not local property taxes it could be very tempting for the local school board to increase their budget. Especially, if the potential of less criticism from the district property tax payers was a possibility.

The hope of the proponents of this solution is to push this plan through the legislature next session and deal with the consequences in following years. If they are unable to get it through the legislature they will try to take it to a vote of the people in next fall’s election. Who is going to vote against cutting their property taxes? This plan is aimed at cutting everyone’s property taxes not just agricultural property tax payers. I am curious to know what the people of the 44th District think about this plan. Are you willing to pay sales tax on food in order to get property tax relief? Are you willing to pay sales taxes on services like attorney fees, haircuts, accountants’ fees, beauty salon purchases, and repair parts for your machinery, car, or pickup truck?

In upcoming articles I will be informing you about other plans that are being floated as possible property tax relief proposals. As always I encourage your feedback on the topic of my columns. I will continue to be out and about in the district this fall or you can call my office in Lincoln at 402.471.2805 or you can email me at dhughes@leg.ne.gov.

On Friday, September 22, the Natural Resources Committee heard LR 125, which is an interim study to examine public power in Nebraska.  I introduced this study resolution as a follow up to the bills that were introduced during this year’s session relating to public power and the electricity market.  While the committee indefinitely postponed those bills, the committee assured the bills’ introducers that we would continue to look at the issues behind those bills.

During the LR 125 hearing on Friday we had testifiers from the Southwest Power Pool, the Nebraska Power Association, Americans for Electricity Choice, Nebraska Power Review Board and several members of the public. The testimony mainly focused on where we are as a public power state and what the changing electricity market may hold for the industry and more specifically for public power in Nebraska. Of course there is a wide variety of opinions and that was the main reason for the LR. It is important that the Natural Resources Committee hears from all sides so any decision we make will be sound and based on facts with the best interest of the majority of Nebraskans in mind.

Prior to the hearing, Senator Brewer asked the committee to allow people to speak about a bill he introduced this past session, LB 504, a bill that the committee did not take any action on during the session.  His request was granted and after invited testifiers spoke on LR 125 the committee opened up the hearing to anyone that wanted to testify on public power, the electricity market or LB 504.  LB 504 would impose a moratorium on industrial development of wind energy projects and would require a task force study.  This bill deals specifically with the sandhills regions of Nebraska.

I myself am not an advocate for industrial wind development, I believe reliability and affordability should be the most important factors when dealing with electricity. One of my primary concerns regarding a moratorium on wind development in the sandhills, is that it would be limiting the property rights of private landowners and telling industry, whatever it may be, that Nebraska is not a business friendly state.

I certainly appreciate everyone who attend the hearing and especially thank those who testified. Electricity in today’s market is complicated and it takes a very delicate balance to keep our lights on and the rates affordable. My hat is off to everyone in the power industry for the outstanding job they do, but I am committed to making sure we are always looking for ways to do it more efficiently while maintaining reliability.

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.

I would like to welcome Grant Latimer to the District 44 office. Grant will be serving as my Administrative Assistant. He is completing his degree at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in Advertising and Public Relations with graduation in December. Grant is replacing Gera Carstenson who will be continuing her career in Florida. My staff and myself are excited to have Grant on board, and look forward to what he will bring to our office.

Last week my colleague Joni Craighead announced that she will be resigning as the senator for the District 6 seat in Omaha. Joni stated how being a state senator has always been a difficult balance between family, business and legislative responsibilities. With recent circumstances within her family, she made the difficult decision to resign. The amount of time it can take to be an effective senator can be a challenge unless you are in a somewhat unique situation. Joni is a good friend and ally on many issues and it was a privilege to work with her. I’m sorry to see her go.

NioCorp, the company developing North America’s only niobium mining project near Elk Creek, Nebraska, held a town hall meeting this past Friday. As chair of the Natural Resources Committee, I’ve been following closely the potential of NioCorp’s niobium mine project. The potential impact for the State of Nebraska would be just short of 500 permanent jobs and around 1200 construction jobs. Once financing is secured, it will take four years for the project’s initial construction, before officially starting up. The potential revenue impact for Nebraska from the project and the jobs created is significant.  The initial direct and indirect capital is projected to cost over $1 billion dollars. Projects like this coupled with the Costco chicken plant in Fremont, Buffalo Genetics in Hays County, and Facebook in Papillion, are all signs Nebraska’s industrial economy is going well. Nebraska is also in the running for a Toyota car manufacturing plant. Although a long shot, it is still good to know we are at least being considered. All of these developments will help us be less dependent on agriculture and consequently the up and down cycles that all industries face time to time.

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.

If you know of a hardworking young person who will be in college in the Lincoln area during the spring 2018 semester and who has an interest in government, policy, politics, or administration, the legislature is currently selecting for Legislative Page Positions. Pages must be high school graduates currently enrolled in a Nebraska college or trade school with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and able to work 20 hours a week from January through May 2018. It is a paid position and many Nebraska colleges offer credit for participating in the program, similar to an internship. The deadline to apply is September 28 and the Selection Committee will conduct interviews on October 13. We have had a few students from the 44th District who have done this in the past and I would encourage all college students to consider it. If you or someone you know might have an interest in participating, please contact my office.

This summer I have continued to stay busy with legislative work.  Last week in North Platte my interim study LR 160 was heard by the Urban Affairs Committee, the study included a review of current relocation incentives, a review of relocation incentives in other states, and an examination of provisions in the Constitution of Nebraska that could potentially limit the ability of the legislature to authorize additional relocation incentive options.  Currently, municipalities can use Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (commonly referred to as LB 840) for relocation incentives for new residents.  Those statutes require that these relocation incentives must be provided in the form of a grant or loan to a qualifying business as defined in the act.

Earlier this week members of the Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee and I visited the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, the Lincoln Correctional Center and the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.  We also attended a meeting with probation administration employees and then heard a presentation on the class action lawsuit that was filed by the ACLU.  On October 20, 2017, the committee will hold a public hearing on issues facing the Department of Corrections, Board of Parole and Office of Parole Administration. There is no easy fix to the problems we have in our correctional institutions but we will continue to look at all options.

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.

Since my last article, I have received a few more questions about the R-Line and wanted to give some additional facts about the project, as well as further explain my position. There are two groups in the Sandhills, one is opposing wind development and the other is opposing the R-Line, both are small but enthusiastic.

Senator Brewer and I have sat down with NPPD and had some very frank discussions about all aspects of the R-Line Project and how we have arrived at this point. Probably one of the biggest complaints is why does the line have to go north to Thedford and then east to Holt County. Why can it not go across country north east and avoid a greater distance and much of the sandhills. First, if you think of our electric grid as a spider’s web you will see there is usually a main framework of structural threads with lots of smaller and shorter interconnected threads. Well, northern and eastern Nebraska is missing one of those main structural threads that would keep the entire web from collapsing during a peak demand period or a severe weather event. Another piece of the puzzle is that the Legislature, before my time, passed a law that transmission lines can only be built on the mile or half mile lines. This is sound legislation, but it does make it problematic to build a cross country transmission line in a diagonal direction. Another fact is that most of Nebraska’s major transmission lines run east and west along the platte river valley. By building the R-Project it completes a path for power to continue to serve customers between west and east if there is another ice storm or wind event that takes down the electric grid in that area.

If you review the record, you will find I was one of the few Senators who filibustered LB 824 in 2016. LB 824 is the bill that really opened the door for wind development. The problems I have with LB 504 have to do with personal property rights and local control. First, personal property rights are very important to me as a landowner. Having the government interfere with the use of my land is something that I take very seriously. However, by the same token I must also respect the rights of my neighbors to do with their property what they see is in their best interest. There are local zoning laws in place in most of Nebraska’s counties to help with the siting of developments in an area, and that is truly local control.

If the state stands in the way of wind development what is next, pipe lines, electric lines, golf courses, center pivots, etc…? There are a whole host of well-funded groups who are just looking for an opening to advance their agenda of stopping capitalism and taking away our personal property rights, in any way possible.

Since the 2017 Legislature sine die I have been spending my time traveling throughout the 44th legislative district and one of the most frequently asked questions I have received is what the senator’s do during the interim. Although we are not spending our time debating on the legislative floor, I can assure you we are still hard at work. Our typical day consists of everything from speaking engagements, meetings with constituents in our districts, representing our districts at fairs and in parades, interim hearings and studies, to meeting with groups that have ideas for potential legislation.

During the month of June, I spent a lot of my time speaking at different events in the district. My first stop was in the City of Alma for an Open House and Dedication of the Alma Municipal Airport Terminal Building. That weekend I walked in the Palisade Pioneer Days Parade and kicked off a busy week by meeting with the Red Willow County Commissioners. The next day I traveled to McCook for a town talk over breakfast at Sehnert’s with the chamber followed by coffee with a cop and then wrapped up the day by meeting with the Furnas County Commissioners. I then started my weekend by walking in the Medicine Creek Days parade. Toward the end of June the LR 127 committee kicked off its correctional facility tours.

The first few weeks of July I have been spending time at my family farm harvesting which has taken up the majority of my days. Over the fourth of July, I stopped at the Culbertson celebration for breakfast and then went to Arapahoe for their annual parade. After a few days off, I traveled back to Arapahoe to speak at the Nebraska Health Care Central District meeting. I also joined Governor Ricketts this past week on a tour of the American Agricultural Lab Ag Testing facility. The rest of the month I will be busy attending parades and fairs in Dundy County and Perkins County, as well as, the Gosper County Fair in Elwood and others in the district.

At the beginning of August I will begin to spend more time in Lincoln for the LR 127 Committee Tour’s. During this time in Lincoln I have many appointments scheduled with different groups and lobbyists that want to discuss potential legislation.

With the summer already in full swing, the election campaigning has begun. In the past few weeks we have heard current Governor Pete Ricketts is planning to seek re-election, as well as, current US Senator Deb Fischer. Governor Ricketts has already been endorsed by the Nebraska Republican Party’s state central committee. Other candidates seeking political offices are: Charlie Jansen, who is the current State Auditor will be seeking re-election and Bob Evnen who is running for Secretary of State. At this time there is no declared candidate for treasurer of the State of Nebraska. In the legislature there are six senators that will be term limited out plus one senator who has indicated he will not be seeking re-election. This will again result in a significant number of new senators in the body.

Former Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature, Mike Flood has said he will not be running for governor in 2018. Mike Flood who is a republican from Norfolk made these comments after former Governor Dave Heineman told Lincoln’s KLIN radio that Flood would make a great governor. The former senator announced he would be running for governor in the 2014 election but withdrew the following month due to family health issues. Former Governor Heineman also expressed that he is disappointed that the property tax issue has yet to be solved over these past two years. Governor Heineman was in office for ten years and failed to solve the property tax problem. Part of the way the Heineman administration balanced the state’s budget was to cut state aid to schools and counties which caused local property taxes to increase in order to maintain services. It is very clear in Lincoln that former Governor Heineman is not very friendly to current Governor Ricketts or his administration.

This past week the LR 127 Committee had their first two tours to the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution and the Nebraska State Penitentiary. We had the opportunity to sit down with several members of the corrections state and representatives of inmate groups to discuss issues that they are facing.

These past few weeks I have spent some time traveling around the district. I first stopped in Alma and spoke at the open house/dedication of the Alma Municipal Airport Terminal Building. While I was in McCook I spoke with the Chamber for a town talk over breakfast and stopped by the Coffee with a Cop to speak with constituents. I then had the opportunity to meet with the County Commissioners from two different counties in my district; Red Willow and Furnas. If you would like me to speak at a town hall feel free to contact my office to arrange a time.

The interim is a good time for senators to look deeper into issues that need to be addressed. Next week a few of the legislative committees will begin to hold interim briefings. On Tuesday, June 27 the Health and Human Services Committee will hold two briefings, which are open to the public or you can watch them on NET livestream. The briefings held in the Health and Human Services Committee will be on rate methodology for dual-eligible and a quarterly briefing on Heritage Health. The majority of the other interim hearings will begin in late summer. I will try to keep you updated on hearings that may be of interest to the 44th legislative district.

I mentioned in my last article that I am a member of the LR 127 committee (Nebraska Justice System Special Investigative Committee) besides this committee a number of senators will be looking into issues which also affect our correctional system. LR 114 is an interim study to examine Nebraska’s statutes relating to geriatric or compassionate release laws for elderly inmates. LR 191 Interim study to examine possible legislative reforms to Nebraska’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. LR 221 Interim study to examine possible reforms to Nebraska’s sentencing laws to accommodate an option of deferred judgment probation. Addressing the issues with corrections is not a simple process, there are a lot of different things that affect the system as a whole and we must not only identify the issues within the facilities but we need to find ways to reduce the recidivism rate and keep people from coming back.

In 2016 the legislature created the Transportation Innovation Act. Created through this act is the County Bridge Match Program, this program targets $40 million to replace or repair structurally deficient county bridges. This program provides financial assistance to counties for construction costs. The first year 68 bridges were selected and of those 6 are in the 44th legislative district. Safe and dependable roads are vital to rural communities.

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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