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

With only two months left until 2019, I am beginning to prepare for another legislative session. I need to build strong relationships with the newly elected senators and also continue to reinforce the relationships I have with my returning colleagues. Committees and senators are researching legislative ideas and beginning to draft bills. My time spent in Lincoln from now until January 9th will increase so that once the session begins I can hit the ground running working on the important issues facing Nebraska, and especially those of the 44th District.

Last legislative session I was selected to sit on the committee that was created by LR 437. The purpose of this committee is to study the current standing committee structure of the legislature and explore ways to make our system more efficient.

Committees are the first step in the legislative process for each introduced bill. Currently, the legislature has 14 standing committees. Each committee meets every week, and most meet either two or three days a week. Every bill introduced is assigned to a committee which handles that bill’s subject matter. The committee then schedules a hearing for every bill referred to them.  These hearings allow experts as well as the public to come speak as a proponent, opponent, or in a neutral capacity on each bill. Under the current format, some committees have a higher number of bills referred to them than others. For example in 2018, the Judiciary Committee had 101 bills referred to it, while the General Affairs Committee only had nine. The goal of this special committee is to help balance out some of that workload.

We are looking at a few different options on how to streamline the procedures in the legislative process. One way would be to consolidate the committees. Consolidating would seem to make the committee structure more efficient by spreading the workload more evenly across committees and senators. Another option would be looking more closely at the subject matter of certain bills and trying to find a way to divide the workload so one committee is not hearing 60 to 70 bills while some others may only be hearing five.

It is important to look at the structure of the legislature from time to time. When the legislature is running efficiently, that means we are doing the best we can for our state. With a fewer number of committees, chairpersons and committee members can become more knowledgeable in the subject of their committee. Chairpersons will also be able to dedicate more time to their committee as well. With a more streamlined legislature everyone benefits; senators, staff, and all Nebraskans.

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.

November 6, 2018, is Election Day this year. You are still able to vote early at your local election commissioner’s office. With less than two weeks until the election, I would like to remind and update you on an important issue appearing on this year’s ballot. Initiative Measure 427 was placed on the ballot after receiving enough petition signatures over the summer. The measure would expand Medicaid across the entire state of Nebraska. This week I would like to explain why I am in opposition to this measure.

The Medicaid expansion measure does not relate to everyday hardworking people of Nebraska. This is obvious when looking at the fundraising gathered to put this measure on the ballot. According to Ballotpedia.com, as of October 22nd about $1,292,000 which is over 75% of the total money raised in support of this initiative came for Washington D.C. based groups. The majority of this money was given from outside of our state and does not represent Nebraskans.

This year I urge residents of Nebraska to oppose Initiative 427. The risk of expanding Medicaid in the state will, in fact, have a negative impact on those it was created to help. The federal government requires that states provide 13 mandatory services. States may offer an additional 19 optional services. Nebraska is one of few states that provides all the optional services to those on Medicaid. If Initiative 427 were to pass there is a good chance those optional services will be eliminated. The most vulnerable Nebraskans would be impacted. People with disabilities, children, and pregnant women would have their services taken away, while the working-age adults with no disabilities or children would be the new focus.

Another disastrous impact the initiative could have would be to the state’s budget. Nebraska is unique in which we must have a balanced budget every year. According to Nebraska’s Legislative Fiscal Office and Department of Health and Human Services, if the initiative were to pass the estimated cost for the taxpayers would be $33 million in 2019-20 and up to $768 million over the next decade. Most states that have passed Medicaid expansion have seen higher costs than expected. For example, Ohio projected 365,000 new enrollees would sign up in the first year that projection was exceeded in the first seven months. Ohio’s 2016-2017 budget had Medicaid consuming more than half of their general operating funds. I ask if it didn’t work in other states, what makes Nebraska different?

Next session property tax relief is at the top of my list. If Initiative 427 passes, the state will find itself searching for the funds. This could mean a rise in property taxes or taking money away from other important services, such as education and current Medicaid. Nebraska, according to the Tax Foundation, has the 12th highest property taxes per capita in the United States. The citizens of Nebraska deserve a decrease in property taxes, not an increase. If Initiative 427 passes that decrease may not come any time soon.

Over the interim months, the Legislature continues to hold several hearings on Legislative Resolutions which are used to study issues that may lead to bills in the next legislative session and impact our state. Sometimes special committees are formed to study current issues facing the state. I sit on a special committee that was created via LR127, which was introduced last year. It created the Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee looking at not only the justice system but also a review of the role of state agencies and their involvement in the justice system. This week I would like to tell you about interim hearings and LR 127.

Committees hold hearings in the off months just like they would while in session. All legislative resolutions are assigned to a standing committee and that committee decides if they will hold a public hearing or simply study the topic. Most hearings are broadcast through the legislative website. You can find the link through which to access the hearings at the end of this article. At these hearings, there is often invited testimony, as well as, opportunities for the public to make comments. The main purpose of these hearings is to gather information on a subject. Senators are able to ask questions and learn more about the issues facing Nebraska. As I mentioned, the information gathered through these hearings can help produce legislation for the upcoming session.

LR 127 created the Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee. The committee will be meeting again on October 19th for a hearing. The hearing will cover adult justice system programs and policies implemented by the Department of Correctional Services, Office of Parole Administration, Board of Parole, Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, and the Office of Probations administration. These hearings are great opportunities for senators to learn and gather information from the professionals working every day in that field. One of the main reasons I chose to be on this special committee is because we have had some significant challenges within our prison system and I need accurate information in order to make the right decisions. The Work Ethic Camp in McCook is part of our Corrections System and I want to make sure we are doing the best job possible with the resources allocated and to ensure the public’s safety.

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 2018 election is upon us. You can submit a request to your County Clerk for a mail-in ballot. Beginning on October 9th, and until Election Day, you can stop by your courthouse and vote. Elections are exciting to me. I have not missed many opportunities to vote in my lifetime. I am not sure if it is the competition or if it is finding out the results after the weeks of speculation about the outcomes. It has never been hard for me to be motivated to exercise my right and, in my mind, my duty to vote.

With all of the ugliness in Washington D.C. these days and the gotcha politics going on in some of our statewide races, I can see why some people may be discouraged about voting. I believe most everyone wonders from time to time if their vote really matters. Having been elected several times for different offices from my local school board to now a state senator I can say without a doubt, yes, your vote matters. The votes matter not only to those on the ballot, regardless of the office, but also to the ballot initiatives that are included on the ballot as well. I believe it deserves the minimal amount of effort it takes from all of us to go and vote.

Whether or not you want the ballot initiatives to pass, and even if there is only one person to vote for in the race, we as Americans must take this responsibility very seriously. We cannot let those who have made politics a dirty word keep us from voting. We cannot let those who sling mud and spread half-truths in a race keep us from voting. If we choose to not vote, they win. We must vote and we must make informed votes. Just because something or someone has a catchy commercial or newspaper ad does not mean it should automatically gain our vote. In order for our form of government to work it requires an informed electorate.

We as citizens must educate ourselves about the candidates and the issues and vote accordingly. We must have the understanding that you are not going to agree with anyone on every single issue. We need to take the time to learn the facts and award our vote to the person who most closely aligns with our values. The only thing worse than not voting is making an uninformed vote. Consult your local newspaper, do a Google search on your computer, or take the time to reach out to the candidate and learn about them and their views. You might be surprised to find out just how down to earth most candidates are, and the vast majority of them are volunteering to do a job, for little or no pay, that is vital to our democracy. See you at the polls!

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 interim months are slowing down and session will soon be upon us. Over the last months, there has been plenty to update on as we accomplished things over the summer break. This week I would like to update everyone on a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the State of Nebraska that will help set Nebraska apart. A Memorandum of Understanding is a nonbinding agreement between two entities that outlines each entity’s responsibilities. This memorandum took many months to work out the details, it took collaboration between the Nebraska Department of Transportation, as well as, the Legislature. Being chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, it took some cooperation between my Committee and Senator Friesen, the chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

On Wednesday, September 5th a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Governor Ricketts stated that this will allow the Nebraska Department of Transportation to assume certain Nebraska Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) responsibilities.

The memorandum authorizes the NDOT to assume FHWA’s environmental review responsibilities for federally-funded transportation projects that are classified as Categorical Exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. Categorical Exclusions are the most common level of review under NEPA for infrastructure projects in Nebraska. This memorandum will take away the federal involvement up front on a project and give the State of Nebraska those environmental responsibilities. But it still allows for Federal review of the project, once completed, if concerns are raised.

Approximately 95 percent of the state’s transportation projects will now be able to be reviewed directly by the state. This will help cut the time and expenses of a project. With the environmental reviews being considered by the State of Nebraska we will continue to keep our state clean and in compliance, and the federal burden on our state will be greatly reduced.

I know there have been some concerns with the recent escapes from the McCook Work Ethic Camp (WEC). I have been in contact with the Department of Corrections Director, Scott Frakes and WEC Warden, Pam Morello. I would like to clarify that WEC is a minimum security facility and all of the inmates housed there are classified as minimum security risks. In response to the recent escapes, they will be installing razor wire around the entire perimeter, as well as, installing more surveillance cameras to help provide additional coverage to the facility at all times.

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 committee I serve as chair of, Natural Resources, is hosting its first interim hearing of the fall. Committees hold interim hearings as a result of a legislative resolution that was passed during the previous session authorizing the committee to study an issue. I introduced LR 387 after several groups asked for an opportunity to have a broader platform to discuss this growing problem. This week I would like to update you a little on the process of an interim hearing as well as what we are discussing. The hearing on Eastern Red Cedar trees is next Friday, August 31, beginning at 1:00 p.m., in hearing room 1525 of the State Capitol.

For interim study hearings, testifiers speak on a topic in general, giving their perspective on an issue and how he or she believes the Legislature should address policy on the subject. There is no “proponent” and “opponent” testimony. The hearing is an opportunity for the committee to learn about the issues related to a certain topic.

Often when a committee holds interim hearings, it invites testifiers to speak to the committee on certain aspects of an issue on which such testifiers have expertise. Since the primary goal of LR 387 is to educate and update the Natural Resources Committee on Eastern Red Cedars, we have invited some subject matter experts. Invited testifiers will include a UNL professor of ecology, the Game and Parks Commission, the Nebraska Forest Service, and Nebraska Educational Lands and Funds. We will learn more about the benefits and problems associated with the use of Eastern Red Cedar trees, the management challenges, and if there is a role the Legislature should play to help.

If any college-aged students from the 44th district are coming to Lincoln to attend school and would like to be a page, please send a resume to my office before 5:00 pm on Thursday, September 14th so that I can write a letter of recommendation for you. Your application will be due in the clerk’s office by September 28th. This is a wonderful opportunity for young adults to see how the nation’s only unicameral works. It is a great way to get involved and learn more about your state government.

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 have heard from a few people who were concerned about something I brought up in my previous article. I want to be very clear I am not advocating for the taxation of intangibles. The purpose of my last article was to point out yet one more way there are disparities between the taxation of farmland and intangibles as assets.

An update from this year’s legislative session is that my priority bill to raise speed limits has started to take effect in the district and across Nebraska. As you may have noticed some speed limits have been raised on certain highways and roadways, not all of the speed limits were changed immediately. The Nebraska Department of Transportation will continue to evaluate which roads should have their speed limit increased by 5 mph.

This is the time of year where committees will start having interim hearings. On August 31st the committee that I am chairman of, the Natural Resources Committee, will have their first interim hearing of the year. It will be a study to examine issues relating to the spread of Eastern Red Cedar trees. This is really getting to be a problem in pasture land in some areas of the state. Our study is going to explore this issue and look at what practices are working best for control. I have been out in the district this summer meeting and talking to many residents, as always please feel free to come and say hello if you see me at an event you are attending. I have also been meeting with the elected officials and staff from the ten counties that make up the 44th District. It has been good to learn what is happening locally around the district, as well as, their opinions on the legislature.

Our local budgets are currently being drafted and discussed at public meetings. I encourage all of you to attend these meetings to educate yourselves about the proposed budgets and make suggestions on how to best spend our taxpayer dollars. The budgets of these entities will have an impact on our property taxes since that is where the bulk of the revenue comes from that is used to fund our local government. The only number you really need to focus on is the difference between last year’s total budget and next year’s proposed budget total. If the new budget is higher, ask why, and make sure it is justified. You need to make your voice heard.

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 have been attending several county fairs and community celebrations throughout the district recently and during those trips, I have had the opportunity to visit with a wide range of individuals. Almost universally, property tax is the topic of discussion. I have spent many hours thinking about this problem and have yet to come up with a viable solution. I have a solution, but it is the viable part that is the challenge. This week I would like to discuss that solution, as well as, touch on a recent supreme court decision.

Many people not within agriculture look at farmers as being rich because they own land. In Nebraska, about half of the land is owned by those working the land and the other half is owned by people not engaged in farming and ranching. To everyone who owns land, it is an asset regardless of whether or not you bought it, or whether it was given to you. It is part of your net worth and part of the nest egg that is your retirement. If you purchased stocks, bonds, or have CD’s in a bank, or if you inherited some stocks, bonds, or CD’s in a bank, they are your assets as well. The real question is why we double tax one set of assets and not the other. Both produce income and we pay income tax on the amount of income earned in that year. Both can increase in value and we pay capital gains tax on that increase when we sell the asset. So why must agricultural real estate owners pay an additional tax every year on that income-producing asset and other income producing assets do not? I am fully aware the argument over taxing intangibles (stocks and bonds), that has been debated before but is it time to take another look at it? I am sure several of my colleagues in the legislature have never heard this argument. I think it is worth having again since the disparity of taxation is so great at this time, and I do not see that changing any time soon.

Lastly, I wish to address the issue of requiring NRDs to sell land it owns but keeping the ability to pump the underlying water for the streamflow augmentation projects. The opinion of the Nebraska Supreme Court is, the matter is settled. The high court has ruled the Rock Creek Project, which was developed and is being operated by the Upper Republican NRD, serves a public purpose. According to the high court, “The right to use the groundwater does not float in a vacuum of abstraction but exists only in reference to and results from ownership of the overlying land”. This statement from the court covers both the Rock Creek and NCORPE Projects. The fact is neither Rock Creek nor NCORPE has pumped any water since May 2017 and it is possible neither will have to operate this coming fall and winter. This shows the NRD’s have had the vision and determination to solve the state of Nebraska’s problem locally while keeping the local economies intact and our communities thriving.

I hope everyone has been having an enjoyable summer. I have been traveling the 44th District to multiple community events and parades. I always enjoy getting out and meeting the people of the district I serve. Please make sure to reach out and say hello to me if I am at an event with you, I always enjoy talking to my constituents. This week I would like to talk about Medicaid expansion since it will most likely be on the ballot this November.

You may have seen people working the crowds at events trying to collect signatures for Medicaid expansion over the past few months. Most of the petition gatherers were paid and most of the money to pay the gatherers came from outside of Nebraska. The Secretary of State’s office requires 85,000 valid signatures in order for the measure to appear on the ballot, the group, Insure the Good Life, collected more than 133,000, well over that limit. There is a good chance that the measure will appear on the ballot come November.

I would like to discuss some of the facts that come along with Medicaid expansion. If passed it would expand coverage to approximately 90,000 individuals that are working, abled adults, not children or elderly. Those who are in need are already covered under the current system. A question commonly asked is where the money will come from to fund this expansion. It may have to come from somewhere else in the budget and is estimated to cost between $80 and $100 million per year. The three largest expenditures within our budget are K-12 education, Health and Human Services, and the University of Nebraska. We have already reduced provider rates for some HHS programs and have made small cuts to the University. If we choose to cut K-12 education it will have to be made up in higher property taxes. There is no way to pay for expanded Medicaid without making additional cuts within our budget.

If any college-aged students from the 44th district are coming to Lincoln to attend school and would like to be a page, please send a resume to my office before 5:00 pm on Thursday, September 14th so that I can write a letter of recommendation for you. Your application will be due in the clerk’s office by September 28th. This is a wonderful opportunity for young adults to see how the nation’s only unicameral works. It is a great way to get involved and learn more about your state government.

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 discuss a couple of things that have been in the news and give you a break from property taxes.  I would like to touch on the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deals with sales taxes on items purchased on the internet, as well as, talk about industrial hemp and medical marijuana.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that states may collect sales tax on purchases made on the internet. I have always supported this and have voted accordingly in the Legislature. I always felt it is a matter of fairness with our local retailers who have always had to collect and remit sales taxes. A 5 percent to 10 percent difference in price may be enough to change consumers buying patterns. As for immediately implementing this, it is not so easy. There are still a few questions left by the Supreme Court ruling that we must answer before we proceed with changing our statutes. We will have an exemption for a small retailer who must meet a minimum number of transactions before being required to collect and remit. That number has not been established in Nebraska yet. As for directing the additional revenue, we really have no way to track this revenue coming in. We are hoping it will be upwards of $30 million for the state but there is no way to know for sure what would have been remitted anyway and how much is “new” revenue. So making statements like it should be directed solely toward property taxes is a bit misleading at best. Not that I disagree with that use of the additional revenue.

Industrial hemp and marijuana are two completely different plants. Industrial hemp would be a good alternative crop for the farmers in Nebraska. It can be used to make many different products and would certainly be a way to diversify a farming operation. Industrial hemp contains very little of the chemical THC that can make you high. Anyone trying to smoke it will soon just have a headache. Marijuana, on the other hand, can be very potent and is a different looking plant being both shorter and bushier.  The proponents of marijuana will say it will be good for farmers in Nebraska. But if you look at other states who have legalized, medical or recreational marijuana, the “farmers” are large companies who grow indoors under strict guard and growing
conditions. Marijuana is not a crop that Nebraska farmers will grow.  You cannot hide marijuana plants in a field of industrial hemp because it will cross-pollinate and make the marijuana plants useless.  I believe there still hasn’t been significant research done on the effectiveness of medical marijuana, I don’t believe it is the miracle plant that some people would try to make you believe. It is possible the federal government will reclassify CBD so drug manufacturers can produce and sell products that have gone through FDA testing. All of us would like to get medications into the hands of those who suffer from seizures but we must make sure that these products are safe.

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