NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. Dan Hughes

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44

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On April 11th my priority bill, LB 1009, was passed by the Legislature. This bill authorizes the Nebraska Department of Transportation to increase highway speed limits. The speed limit can be increased by a maximum of 5 mph on two-lane highways, four-lane divided highways that are not part of the state highway system, expressways and freeways that are a part of the state highway system, and on portions of highways in Douglas, Lancaster and Dakota counties. Originally the bill would have allowed for certain stretches of I-80 to be raised to 80 mph. This was taken out of the bill during debate on the floor of the legislature. There was some pushback from the truckers association during committee hearings on the bill which resulted in this being eliminated. There were some safety concerns about onramp lengths and being able to reach the appropriate speed before merging in with traffic. After July 19th you will see some of the speed limits across the state change. This will not all happen at once, the speed limit posted will remain the legal limit until the signs are changed.

LB 449 was vetoed by the governor on April 23rd.  This bill would have repealed the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Management Act. I along with other senators fought this bill throughout the process. I am glad the governor vetoed the bill.  Prairie dogs are pests to farmers and ranchers and can cause extensive damage to crops and rangeland. Currently, only one county has adopted this act, but it is important to keep this law in place in case more landowners in other counties need help with controlling these rodents.  Allowing the counties to use the law as leverage, if needed, can help solve problems in the future on this issue. Over the interim months, I will be looking at ways to help make this law better. I would like to keep the act on the books, but there needs to be a few things defined more clearly in statue.

The petition drive for 50/50 property tax relief was suddenly abandoned a few weeks ago. We must find some form of property tax relief for our state. With this option being abandoned the issue will most likely not be addressed until session next year. The call for a special session to address property tax relief was also unsuccessful. We needed an additional 20 senators to sign on and that didn’t happen. I am still looking for a path forward for property tax relief and will be asking many of you this summer and fall for your input.

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 legislature has adjourned Sine Die for the 105th Nebraska Legislature Second Session as of April 18th. This was the final year of my first term as a state senator. I enjoyed my first four years in the legislature serving the people of the 44th district. This week I would like to give an update on some of the key legislation that I carried that will directly affect you in southwest Nebraska. I have mentioned these bills in my past articles but would like to give a final update on LB 758, LB 1008, and LR 266.

LB 758 allows the four NRDs that own the N-CORPE project in Lincoln County and the Upper Republican NRD that owns the Rock Creek project in Dundy County, to make payments in lieu of taxes. LB 758 was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Ricketts. The bill had an emergency clause attached which means it is currently law. This is an important bill for the 44th district because it ensures the local school districts and counties will continue to receive property tax dollars, even if TERC were to rule against it.

LB 1008 was a “Christmas tree bill”, which means the committee had rolled multiple bills together into one. LB 1008 contains bills to raise liquidated damages on poachers for certain game violations, raise the per diem for Oil and Gas commissioners, give the Power Review Board authority to assess a fine, extended the sunset date for the state’s scrap tire program, and also resolves a problem for public power. This bill contained three of my own bills, these are important issues that face southwestern Nebraska. The biggest of which will allow public power generators to keep their daily cost of generation information from being disclosed to their competitors.  LB 1008 was delivered to the Governor and signed into law on April 11th.

LR 266 is a resolution urging the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, as well as, 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. Currently, the Bureau of Reclamation is mandating that trailer homeowners vacate the lots at the lakes no later than April 30, 2020. This would make for a total of 232 cabins and trailers to be removed. LR 266 was adopted on April 11th, and we will be passing this information along to the Nebraska Congressional delegation.

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 you all know the legislature has adjourned for the year. I am as disappointed as you, that we were unable to provide any tax relief. I have always stated that property taxes, especially agricultural and real estate taxes are way out of line. I was one of the thirteen senators who signed a letter to the secretary of state asking for a special session to deal with all property taxes. Unfortunately, I do not believe there are another twenty of my colleagues who are willing to join the call for a special session.

We have a situation today in Nebraska where our tax collections are out of balance and a majority of my fellow senators have no incentive to make a change with the current situation, because it is working to their advantage. Several of them have sympathy for the property tax issue but when it comes right down to it, the status quo is preferable to making some tough decisions.

We have three main sources of revenue to fund our government in Nebraska: income tax, sales tax, and property tax. For several years each of these revenue streams contributed about one-third of the funds necessary to pay for the needs of our citizens. From roads to K-12 education to welfare to prisons to post-secondary education, the citizens of Nebraska pay for the things we demand through taxes. Over the last forty years, we have been shortening the leg of the stool that represents sales tax receipts by exempting certain categories. Lately, online shopping has accelerated that revenue stream depletion as well.

In the past when the state ran short of money it was relatively easy to cut state aid to counties and schools in order to balance the state’s budget. The local property taxpayers then had to make up the difference. When we talk about tax relief in the legislature the governor, several of my colleagues and the chambers of commerce cry, “we cannot allow a tax shift”. That statement rings pretty hollow since the shift has already occurred from sales to property, especially over the last ten years. Where was the cry then? It only came from those of us in agriculture who were paying an ever increasing percentage of the bill.

There is always room for efficiencies in government, and if the government is run like a business, when revenue is short, you prioritize your spending. Property taxes are state taxes, but our local school boards and county boards are the ultimate deciders of how those dollars are spent. The budgets for our schools and counties are being developed and finalized as we speak. We have elected our neighbors to make those decisions for us and I know they always welcome input from their constituents on the budget. I encourage everyone to go to the school board meeting and the county commissioners or supervisors meeting and learn where the money is spent and then make suggestions where money can be saved. Learn the facts about our local budgets, offer constructive suggestions, and you may be surprised by your efforts.

This is the last week for this year’s legislative session as we will adjourn Sine Die on April 18th. My colleagues and I have worked hard these past few months on trying pass legislation that helps Nebraskans all across the state. I appreciate all the words of support you have given me during this session. I am proud to represent to people of the 44th district. This week I would like to update you all on the passage of the budget, as well as, an interesting bill that could replace the statues that represent Nebraska at the Capitol in Washington D.C.

In my article last week I laid out some of the reasons why LB944, the mainline budget bill, was having trouble getting passed. This week I am pleased to report that a compromise was found and we were able to send all the budget bills to Governor Ricketts’ desk. The amended version continues to prohibit the referral of a patient to an abortion service. A referral is limited to recommending a pregnant woman to doctors, clinics or other persons or entities for the purpose of obtaining an abortion. The governor signed all the budget bills into law on April 4th without any line item vetoes.

LB807 introduced by Omaha Senator Burke Harr would replace the two statues in National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. In 1864, congress established this hall and allowed each state to have two statues to represent their story. Currently, J. Sterling Morton and William Jennings Bryan are the two statues for Nebraska and were installed in 1937. This bill would replace those with Willa Cather and Chief Standing Bear. I believe it is an appropriate time replace these statues with two of Nebraska’s notable people. There is no cost to the state to replace the statues and the current statues will be returned to Nebraska.

I had the pleasure of having Reverend Johnny Walker give the prayer of the day of April 3rd. Reverend Walker is the pastor from West 1st Chapel in McCook. It was an honor to have another great minister representing our district give the morning prayer.

I would like to give another reminder to any high school students that would be interested in participating in the Unicameral Youth Legislature program that is held every summer. This is a wonderful opportunity for young students to get to see the behind the scenes of how the nation’s only unicameral works. Students participate in all the activities of a state senator and discuss issues important to the state. To learn more visit: nebraskalegislature.gov/education/unicamyouth.php

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.

Over the past few weeks the budget has been debated several times. I hope by the time you read this we have been able to pass all the budget bills through final reading and have them on the governor’s desk. The budget can be a confusing topic to which a lot of questions can arise. One of the budget bills, LB 944, has been the focal point of a lot of controversy, debate and deadlock. This week I would like to explain some of the issues with this year’s budget.

LB 944 is the mainline budget adjustment bill for this session. The bill was introduced by Speaker Jim Scheer at the request of the governor, recommendations for state operations and state aid to schools and agencies are included in the bill. Once the Appropriations Committee finished making the Legislature’s adjustments, the full body engaged in the first round of discussion that lasted long into the night. Many of my colleagues had issues with the language included in the bill that refers to Title X funding. There were a handful of senators that lead the charge to filibuster and take this bill to cloture on multiple occasions.

Twice we voted to invoke cloture on LB 944 and failed. The reason this bill has caused so much headache for the Legislature is that Title X deals with funding disbursement to health clinics that can also provide abortions. In the past, state audits have indicated that Title X funds may have been used for abortions. The current language in LB 944 would ask that health clinics separate the funds used for abortions so no tax dollars are used. This is a subject that people have strong opinions on and therefore caused some extended debate on the floor.

Senators on the left and right side of the aisle have been trying to compromise on language that will make both sides happy. It has been a difficult and long few weeks trying to pass this budget bill. On Wednesday of last week, both sides came together and for the most part we were able to craft a bill that most of us can live with. The bill passed on a 44-4 vote late that night. I am confident that we will pass this bill and the rest of the budget bills. I anticipate we will hear from a few of my colleagues on final reading, but in the end we will have the votes to get LB 944 to Governor Ricketts. I think there may be a couple of areas within the budget that the Governor may consider line item vetoes on, but we will have to wait and see.

It was my pleasure to host Reverend Becky Saddler of the 1st United Methodist church of Arapahoe to give the opening prayer to the Legislature on the 27th. I extend an invitation to all of the ministers in the 44th District to do this and several have accepted. Thank you Reverend Saddler.

Things are moving fast in the Legislature and we’re in the home stretch. With less than 10 days left this session we have a lot to get done. Last week one of the Natural Resource Committee’s priority bills was heard on General File. LB 1008 is a “Christmas tree bill”, which means the committee has rolled multiple bills together into one. LB 1008 contains bills to raise liquidated damages on poachers for certain game violations, raise the per diem for Oil and Gas commissioners, give the Power Review Board authority to assess a fine, extend the state’s scrap tire program, and also resolves a problem for public power. Typically these bills are non-controversial and gives us the chance to address some smaller issues.

On Thursday of last week, LB 1008 was heard on General File, this bill contains an amendment that will allow public power in Nebraska to withhold competitive or proprietary information related to generating costs that would give an advantage to competitors who also produce electricity. There was some opposition to this bill by a small number of senators who have concerns with this portion of the committee amendment to LB 1008. Those who oppose the bill have an axe to grind with public power.

The public power language was amended into LB 1008 in response to a Nebraska Supreme Court case, Aksamit Resource Mgmt v. Nebraska Pub. Power Dist., which was issued on Friday, February 23, 2018. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court, stating that the public power entity did not prove that the release of information would serve no public purpose. The court liberally construed the meaning of “public purpose” and that, absent a statute clarifying how competing policy interests should be balanced, a policy debate on fossil and renewable fuels was serving a public purpose.

There were several maneuvers used by opponents to try to stall the bill. During the three hours of debate on LB 1008, little time was spent discussing the merits of the bill due to procedural rules challenges and motions to split up the bill into separate parts. We will have another three hours of debate on the bill this week before a motion can be made to end the filibuster. If this bill should fail to pass it will have a detrimental effect on all Nebraska ratepayers. I am hopeful it will be advanced to the next stage of debate by the time you read this.

I enjoyed seeing yet another high school this last week, Southwest High School out of Bartley brought over 25 students to come visit and explore the capitol. I look forward to seeing another group of fourth graders on April 9th. Please as always feel free to stop by my office whenever you are in Lincoln. It is always nice to see my constituents and friends.

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.

Day forty-four was last Thursday and with only sixteen working days left in this year’s short session there is still plenty to be discussed. Last week, we started late nights, debated the budget bills, and passed another one of my bills on to select file. I would also like to clear up some confusion with the amendment I added to LB 822.

The budget is an important topic this session. We had three bills related to the budget debated last week. LB 946, LB 945, and LB 944. On Tuesday we discussed these bills until nearly a quarter to midnight. LB 944 dealt with Title X funds, which are given to healthcare clinics. One of the big issues is, in the past some of this money went to fund abortions. With the language included that was voted out of committee by a 9-0 vote, and past the first round of debate, the part of those clinics that are providing abortions must be paid for by separate and distinct funds. Meaning no tax dollars can be used to fund abortions. This change in no way stops funds flowing to our health clinic in McCook.

Late nights started last week in the capitol. During the remainder of this session the Speaker will designate a handful of days that we will work late nights. On these nights the full body will stay and try to work through the agenda and address as many bills as possible. If necessary, we can continue debate until 11:59pm. These nights are necessary, with only sixty working days this session and more than 500 bills introduced this year we need more time to debate these important issues.

My third bill of the session was advanced to select file, LB 760. LB 760 is a common sense bill that helps the county volunteer first responders. In 2016, county volunteers were unintentionally left out of a tax credit. With the passage of this bill they too will be able to receive the credit. There was a little debate on the bill, it passed on a 33-0 vote.

To clear up some confusion with LB 822, the amendment that the committee adopted is the result of a compromise between media representatives and public power. The amendment is important to our utilities who produce power in Nebraska, but more so to Nebraska ratepayers. The amendment will allow public power in Nebraska to withhold competitive or proprietary information about generating costs that would give an advantage to its business competitors who also produce electricity.

I would like to thank both Elwood High School and Bertrand High School for coming to visit me last week. I always enjoy having people from district come to visit. The students were very engaging and interested in the political process. If you are ever in Lincoln please feel free to stop by my office.

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 I would like to update you on the status of LB 98, AM2191, which is an amendment I filed on LB822, and a meeting held in Cambridge regarding updates to Resource Management Plan. Also, a dangerous fire happened in McCook that was caused by high winds and dry conditions.

LB 98 was debated before the legislature last week, it was a bill I mentioned in last week’s article. LB 98 did not garner enough votes to invoke cloture, which means the bill is dead for this year. The bill would have extended the time a natural resources district’s authority can use a special three-cent levy in fiscal year 2025-2026. This levy was only available to NRD’s that are designated fully or overappropriated. The levy helps the NRDs meet their obligations under the state’s groundwater management laws by providing them with a tool to raise matching funds that are usually required for access to state funds.

The Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing on AM2191 which is an amendment that would allow public power in Nebraska to withhold competitive or proprietary information that would give an advantage to its business competitors. At the close of the hearing, I asked the public power and the media representatives to immediately come to my office. Once seated, I respectfully directed them to work out their differences, draft compromise language, and not leave my office until it was done. I’m pleased to report that it worked. The language that the committee adopted is something that everyone is comfortable with. The full Legislature will debate the amendment in the near future.

Last week the Bureau of Reclamation held a meeting in Cambridge and over 250 people showed up. Too many people who invested in these cabins were not informed of the upcoming mandate that they would need to move their cabins by 2020. According to one attendee, “It is fairly common that our Federal government creates a mandate that over-reaches the boundaries of good governance. They often times enact regulations that are neither practical nor beneficial for large portions of the population. When this happens, it should be the duty of every good citizen to stand in the way and halt this ill directed course. There are no neutral positions in this – you either allow big government overreach through your inaction, or you do not.”

Last week there was a grass fire on the northwest side of McCook that threatened parts of the city. The fire caused the elementary school to be evacuated and the students were relocated to the high school and YMCA. I would like to thank all of the firefighters, police, first responders, local farmers and volunteers for helping extinguish the fires and staying around to make sure there were no flare ups. We are thankful for all of their hard work in making sure the fires did not affect more people and cause more damage. Nineteen different fire departments responded to the call for mutual aid. In addition, I would like to thank those who provided water and food for all the volunteers. The whole region answered the call to help the McCook community. That’s just how we do things in Nebraska.

The legislature last week kept itself busy and productive. All the bills have had their hearings and early in the week the legislature began full day floor debates on Wednesday. The Natural Resources Committee will hold one more hearing before the end of session. It has been a privilege to chair a committee with such great members. This week I would like to update everyone on status of LB 758, and inform you on LB 98, and the forecasting board’s report.

LB 758 was a bill I introduced this year and one of the Natural Resources Committee priority bills. The bill allows the four NRDs that own the N-CORPE project in Lincoln County to make payments in lieu of taxes. This bill ensures that counties will continue to receive property tax dollars, even if TERC came back and ruled against it. LB 758 was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Ricketts. An emergency clause was attached which makes the bill law immediately after he signed it.

LB 98 will be debated next week. The bill would extend the time a natural resources district’s authority can use a special three-cent levy to fiscal year 2025-2026. The three-cent levy can only be used for groundwater and integrated water management in districts in basins that are fully over appropriated. The levy helps the NRDs meet their obligations under the state’s groundwater management laws by providing them with a tool to raise matching funds that are usually required for access to state funds

Last week the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met and delivered some good news for the state. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year the forecast increased by $25 million, this would go directly into the rainy day fund once collected. For the 2018-2019 fiscal year the forecast was $30 million, this is an increase from the previous year’s forecast. This is important to the state, we are in a budget crisis and need every penny we can get.

Earlier this week a group of fourth graders from the Perkins County public schools came to visit the Capitol. They got a tour of the capitol. I was able to talk with the students about the legislative process and how unique our unicameral is. I always enjoy when people from my district come to visit. If you are ever in Lincoln please feel free to stop by my office.

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.

We are over halfway finished with the 2018 legislative session. Last Tuesday was the last day for senators to pick which bill they want to designate as their priority bill. I made Senator Murante of Gretna’s LB 1009 my priority bill. Last week my bill LB 761 was heard in the Natural Resources committee and early this week LB 759 was heard in Revenue. I would like to update everyone on each of these bills, and go into more depth on my priority bill, LB 1009.

LB 761 is a simple bill that would increase the per diem for the three Oil and Gas Commissioners to $300 per day. The per diem has not been increased since 1979. The per diem would be paid out of the Oil and Gas Commission cash fund. The Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s operation cost is paid primarily by the conservation tax proceeds collected by the Nebraska Department of Revenue from a tax assessed on the value of all oil and gas produced in the state.

LB 759 would reinstate a sales tax on the sale of memberships, admissions, and the purchases of any national accredited zoo or aquarium that is operated by a public agency or nonprofit corporation primarily for educational, scientific, or tourism purposes. This was the last sales tax exemption that the legislature granted, it only makes it fair that it is the first to be reinstated. We are in a budget shortfall and every penny counts.

LB 1009 would add language that would classify a super-two rural highway which currently isn’t in statute, this is important to district 44 since the first super-two highway in the state will run from McCook to North Platte. This bill also gives the authority to the Department of Transportation to increase the speed limit by five miles per hour on some state highways if they deem it appropriate. It would also allow the Department of Transportation to raise the maximum speed on segments of I-80 from 75 mph to 80 mph, after engineering and traffic investigations. This bill would put our roads and highways in compliance with federal recommended standards. I am confident that this bill will make it out of committee and will be heard by the full body of the legislature.

I would like to give an early reminder to any high school students that would be interested in participating in the Unicameral Youth Legislature program that is held every summer. This is a wonderful opportunity for young students to get to see the behind the scenes of how the nations only unicameral works. They participate in all the activities of a state senator and discuss issues important to the state. To learn more visit: nebraskalegislature.gov/education/unicamyouth.php

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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