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We have had 2 five day weeks of all day hearings. There have been some hiccups in the new schedule and also with the new testimony submission options. The days are busy for senators and staff alike. However, for the most part, it is going pretty smoothly. Some committees have a bigger load than others, and therefore their days are packed and make for long days.
During our all day committee hearings we do not only hear bills, but we also meet with potential gubernatorial appointments to different commissions and boards. Since I sit on the Natural Resources Committee and also the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee we hear from a number of different people up for appointment.
A few bills were heard last week in their respective committees that might be of interest to my constituency in District 44. One of those bills was heard in the Natural Resources Committee on February 3rd. It would prohibit the use of treated seed corn in the production of agricultural ethyl alcohol if its use results in the generation of a byproduct that is deemed unsafe for livestock consumption or land application. LB 507 was introduced by Senator Bruce Bostelman of Brainard who said an ethanol plant near Mead has been using treated seed corn as a fuel stock and is storing the byproduct onsite. The byproduct contains unsafe levels of insecticide, leading to concerns about groundwater contamination and other environmental problems. This bill had no opposition testimony at the hearing.
On February 1st the Transportation and Telecommunication Committee heard a bill introduced by Senator Steve Erdman of Bayard, LB 164. Currently, only cities with at least 40,000 residents can lower the speed limits on highways within their corporate limits if they feel a hazardous condition exists. This bill would allow cities as small as 500 or more residents to lower the speed limit without having the Department of Transportation approve it first.
LB 41, introduced by Senator Myron Dorn of Adams was heard in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs committee last week. The same bill was introduced last year, but because of the pandemic, it did not get debated on the floor. He reintroduced it this year, as LB 41. This bill would allow county treasurers to distribute tax revenue to townships by automatic deposit. This is already done for counties, cities, schools, fire districts, etc. There are twenty-two counties in Nebraska have townships and currently, they have to come into the courthouse and present a paper warrant in person. This would eliminate that need.
Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. My office is in room 2108 at the Capitol if you are in the Lincoln area. 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 the session, hearings, and other Capitol events.
It has been an interesting first few weeks here at the capitol. Lincoln received the second highest snowfall which brought most of the city to a stop but the legislature kept on track. We also had complications this past week of some staff and senators having to quarantine due to exposure to Covid. We are doing all we can to keep everyone as safe as possible in the building. Testing is still ongoing on a weekly basis for those staff and senators who choose to get tested.
This session is different from normal sessions for yet another reason, redistricting. This is a process the legislature must go through every 10 years. It ensures that all Nebraskans are represented equally by redrawing election boundary lines, based on population, for political, governmental, and other public bodies. Every 10 years, all 50 states must redraw the district boundaries for the US House of Representatives and state legislatures. In Nebraska, we will also draw new district boundaries for the State Board of Education, the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska, the Public Service Commission and the Nebraska Supreme Court. It is a very difficult process and one that must proceed with substantive guidelines.
There are statutory and constitutional requirements on both the federal and state level relating to equality and discrimination and there are also individual state rules for drawing plans. Redistricting plans across the country are often challenged in court and the courts will look at multiple factors when deciding on whether to reject or uphold the plans.
The Nebraska Legislature is very fortunate to have experienced people in our Legislative Research office to help guide the senators through this process. These people have spent the past year doing research on redistricting and they will help to create plans that are something the legislature can be proud of.
The Executive Board met last week and selected senators to be on the 2021 Redistricting Committee. Thirty-two senators submitted their name for consideration. The rules dictate that the Executive Board had to select 3 senators from each of the 3 congressional districts. No more than 5 senators can be of the same political party. The following senators will be on the committee, Senators; Carol Blood-Bellevue, Tom Briese-Albion, Tom Brewer-Gordon, Suzanne Geist-Lincoln, Steve Lathrop-Omaha, LouAnn Linehan-Elkhorn, John Lowe-Kearney, Adam Morfeld-Lincoln, and Justin Wayne-Omaha. This is truly one of the thankless jobs here in the legislature and I appreciate each one of them stepping up. Due to the outbreak of Covid during the 2020 census taking, receiving the data we must use may be delayed. If so, the Nebraska Legislature may have to come back for a special session this fall so you may hear a lot about this over the upcoming year.
Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is email@example.com and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.
Last week was the final week to introduce new legislation. A total of 684 bills were introduced. I have introduced a total of 9 bills this year. LB’s 190, 191, 215, 336, 393, 616, 617, 618, and 668. Three of those bills are what I have referred to in the past as shell bills. Those shell bills are LB’s 393, 617, and 618.
LB 616 proposes that if an abandoned vehicle, as defined in Neb. Rev. Stat. 60-1901, does not have license plates or valid in transit stickers affixed to it and it’s wholesale value is less than $500.00 the title shall immediately be granted to the local authority or state agency having jurisdiction thereof. Secondly, this bill would make law enforcement comply with the same 15 day notice to any lienholder appearing on the certificate of title of the vehicle and the owner of the towing vehicle, that a tower has to comply with.
LB 668 would require that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission move their headquarters to a county with a population of ten thousand or fewer inhabitants. The new headquarters shall be located at least two hundred miles or more from any city of the metropolitan class or city of the primary class. The commission shall also consider the value of the economic development incentives provided by a qualifying city or village.
As I mentioned in a prior article, the procedures for hearings will look a little different as will the options for people to submit written comments. The legislature is constantly looking at different ways to safeguard the public and our staff but still remaining open as the people’s house and letting their voices be heard. You can find more specific information about these changes on the Nebraska Legislature’s website, www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Last week we debated 3 of the rule changes that were advanced by the Rules Committee, they were:
We also debated amendments to our rules.
One of the duties of the Executive Board is to place members on special committees. Special committees are established for a specific purpose that focuses on providing legislative oversight to a policy area. We also have interstate compacts meant for mutual public policy objectives. The committee met late last week to make those assignments based on the senators that nominated themselves and the amount of positions available on each committee. A few of those higher profile committees are: Building and Maintenance, Committee on Justice Reinvestment Oversight, Education Commission of the States, Homeland Security Policy Group, Legislative Performance Audit Committee, Legislature’s Planning Committee, Rural Broadband Task Force, and State-Tribal Relations.
It has been a very busy week here at the Legislature. My office holds many responsibilities that require my attention and input on. One of the issues on the forefront is the continuing presence of Covid and the fact that many things need to be tweaked this year to try and accommodate safety concerns and social distancing.
Some of these safeguards will involve how we conduct hearings. As always, every bill that was introduced will have a public hearing, but to be more accommodating we will be holding all day committee hearings, the morning sessions will begin at 9:30 and afternoon sessions begin at 1:30. The hearings are scheduled to begin on January 25th.
I introduced a couple of bills last week. LB 215 would create consistency across the counties for 911 surcharge. Right now every county, except Douglas, can charge up to a $1.00 surcharge on landlines and $.70 on wireless users. Douglas county was capped at $.50 for both, this bill allows the county the freedom to increase this if they need to.
LB 336 would allow for a limited permit granting access to all permit areas except Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area and Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area for nonresidents of Nebraska. For a regular nonresident annual permit (access to all the Game and Parks areas including Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala) the fee would be up to $80.00 and the temporary regular permit for a nonresident motor vehicle will be up to $15.00. No less than 95% of the additional funds from the nonresident permits will be designated to help defray operational, maintenance, and improvement costs at Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala.
LB 393 is what is referred to as a “shell bill”. As Chair of the Executive Board there may be an issue that comes up after the 10 days of bill introduction that needs to be resolved and the shell bill is a vehicle to get an important issue addressed.
As some of you may have read, I introduced a rule change to close off the executive session of committee meetings to members of the media. Thes executive sessions are already closed to the general public. The reason I feel this is important is because people tend to talk more freely and we can discuss how to make changes to a bill before it hits the floor without fear of being quoted in the paper. Making law is like making sausage; you may not want to see how it all happens. We used to have a “gentlemen’s agreement” that the media would ask your permission before they quoted something you said during an executive session but that has gone by the wayside. I would much rather talk freely to members of my committee when we’re all together than all the sidebar conversations we have individually, I think when we are able to collaborate we can create better legislation.
The legislative session kicked off on January 6th. It was nice to see colleagues that I’ve worked with before as well as getting to know some of the new or returning members. On the first day there are some procedures we must go through, such as the swearing in of newly elected members, adopting temporary rules, electing permanent officers, and the elections for leadership positions. I am pleased to announce that I was elected to Chair of the Executive Board. It is the second highest position held in the legislature and I am excited to take on this new challenge. Most of the elections were fairly uneventful. There were 3 contested elections for standing committee chairpersons. Business and Labor was between Senator Matt Hansen and Senator Ben Hansen. Senator Matt Hansen was the previous chair but was ousted by Senator Ben Hansen by one vote. The Education Committee was another close race between Senator Mike Groene, the previous chair, and Senator Lynne Walz. After there was a tie in the first round of voting someone must have switched their vote in the second round and the new chair of the committee is now Senator Lynne Walz. The last contested race was for Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, the seat was open since I did not run again. Senator Bruce Bostelman topped Senator Tim Gragert. I look forward to working with all of the new and previous chairs.
Last week we started the referencing process. This is when we assign the bills that are introduced to committees for hearings. On Day 2 there were 138 bills and 5 resolutions that needed to be assigned. On Day 3 there were 74 new bills and 1 resolution. The referencing committee will meet the next 10 days to discuss which committees are most appropriate for these bills to be assigned to.
Last Friday I introduced LBs 190 and 191. LB 190 would provide a restriction and an exception relating to distributions from the Water Sustainability Fund. LB 191 would make it easier for certain irrigation districts to find electors.
I will introduce a few more bills yet this year but I am still deciding which ones I feel should be introduced now or next year. Collectively as a legislative body, most of us have agreed to introduce fewer bills this year due to the space limitations we will have in our hearing rooms as we continue to try and protect everyone that comes in to testify.
As Chairperson of the Executive Board my office has moved. I am now located on the second floor in the southwest corner in room 2108. My phone number and my email have stayed the same (402) 471-2805 and firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about the bills at www.nebraskalegislature.gov and you can also watch the live streaming video through the NET link.
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.
Sen. Dan Hughes
On Wednesday of this week we began the 107th Legislature by swearing in eight new senators. Only five of them are truly new, as we are welcoming back three veterans who have chosen to return for another term. As always, committee chair elections provide a little drama for the first day. Hopefully this year that will be kept to a minimum. There are a few contested races as I am writing this, but anyone can self-nominate from the floor to be chairman of any committee, so all races could be contested. I am hopeful that does not happen because I am currently running unopposed for Chairman of the Executive Committee. There are nine members on the Executive Committee, three positions are elected by the entire body of the Legislature: the Speaker, the Chairman and Vice Chairman. The remaining six members of the Executive Committee are elected from their respective caucuses. The three caucuses are roughly the same as our Congressional districts. This ensures that representation from across the state is on the Executive Committee.
Once the Chairs for all committees are elected, we begin the challenging task of committee assignments. Returning Senators are generally granted seniority when it comes to committee assignments. Seniors, like myself, with six years’ experience will be given priority for committee preferences. Juniors, those with four years’ experience, will follow. Then the Sophomores, with two years’ experience, and the Freshmen will be plugged in the remaining spots. This is another area where the caucuses come into play to ensure a fair representation from across the state on all committees. There can sometimes be trading of committee assignments. If the two senators wanting to trade assignments agree and the committee making committee assignments agrees, a switch can occur. This does not happen very often but occasionally takes place.
After the Chairs are elected, the office merry-go-round begins with moving offices inside the Capitol. Chairmanship offices are assigned, as Senators heading a committee have a larger staff to work with. If you are not a chair of a committee, then it comes down to seniority, again, as to where your office is going to be. Then add in that the Capitol is in the middle of a ten-year HVAC upgrade and you have many challenges. Before the HVAC project, all senators were placed on the first two floors of the building. But during each two-year phase of the construction, one-fourth of the building is being renovated and those offices are unavailable to anyone, so many senators will have offices in the tower. Any of you who have been to the capitol know how slow the elevators are, so you can imagine that the offices in the tower are not extremely popular.
It promises to be an eventful year in the Legislature. Stay tuned for more updates from me throughout the session. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can also click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch the session.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you as we wrap up this very difficult and strange year. Hopefully the year ahead is a better one. The new year and another session of the Unicameral Legislature will be upon us soon. Just as many of our holiday celebrations will look different this year, this upcoming session will look different from past sessions.
The first day of the 107th Legislature will convene on January 6th, as required by the state’s constitution. The newly elected senators will be sworn in and the body will select a new Speaker of the Legislature. The members will then move to elect committee chairman. There are 14 Standing committees. Some of those chairmanship positions are contested races. All senators have been encouraged to limit the number of bills they introduce due to health concerns related to the pandemic. The rules of our Unicameral Legislature dictate that every bill introduced receives a public hearing. Public hearings are necessary to the success of each bill, but it presents challenges as far as maintaining social distancing procedures and the public’s health. This session, most of the hearing rooms will have a capacity of only 27 people in the audience at a time. The hearing rooms have been modified to allow for some social distancing, both for the testifiers and senators. As a part of new cleaning procedures put in place this session, the pages will be disinfecting the testifier chair and table between each testifier.
We know that nothing is 100% fail proof but there is a responsibility to our staff and those who enter the capitol to help minimize the spread of Covid while remaining open to all Nebraskans. This summer when the Nebraska Legislature finished the 106th Legislative session, some of the operating procedures were changed to provide safeguards against the spread of Covid. We were able to learn a lot from that summer session but more modifications are being made for this upcoming session. The Lincoln/Lancaster County Public Health Department continues to consult with us on our procedures in the hearing rooms and the chamber to be as safe as possible.
The Norris Legislative Chamber is where the Legislature convenes to have floor debate and vote. In the past, the public was allowed to view the legislature in progress by watching from the North balcony, but unfortunately due to covid restrictions that balcony will be closed to the general public. The legislature and the hearings will continue to be live streamed so that everyone can still watch what is happening live. Senators will be able to use the East balcony if they have had possible exposure to covid and they will be allowed to participate in debate. The South balcony will be available for any member of the legislature who would like to watch the session but allow for more social distancing than is available on the floor of the chamber.
I wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a restored hope in the new year to come.
Now that the election is over and the dust has mostly settled, I will be turning my attention to the upcoming legislative session. The Legislature will have eight new incoming senators, five of which are brand new, and three that are former senators. The three former senators were term-limited out, sat out for at least two terms, and have come back for another stint. Of course, each new senator changes the dynamic of the Legislature, and finding how we all work together is key to the success of the legislative session. Since the election, I have been working to build relationships with these new senators. With senators being termed out, some of the old alliances are now gone. New alliances will need to be forged in order to get things accomplished.
I am working very hard on next year’s agenda of items and bills that I want to introduce. Several are directly related to issues within the 44th legislative district, and others are statewide issues that have the potential to benefit the majority of Nebraskans.
I have also decided to seek a change in my leadership role within the Legislature. I will not be seeking reelection as Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, a position I have held for the last four years. I have instead decided to seek the chairmanship of the Executive Board of the Legislative Council. The Executive Board of the Legislative Council supervises all legislative services and employees. The board is responsible for processing any legislation that governs the Legislature or the legislative process. That can include some of the following subject areas: legislative ethics, term limits, senator and employee salaries, legislative candidate requirements, and any constitutional amendments pertaining to these issues. Senator Hilgers served as the chairperson of the Executive Board for the last two years and has decided to run for Speaker of the Legislature. Having served for six years on the Executive Board, I feel my qualifications and my experience would serve me well as the chairman.
The 107th legislative session is scheduled to begin on January 6, 2021. However, depending on the Covid situation, it is not clear if that will come to pass, or if there will be an alternative schedule. The Legislature does have to be cognizant of the fact that we are obligated to pass a budget this session. The state’s fiscal year ends on June 30th, and we must have a new biennium budget in place before that date. One way or another we will be meeting between January and June 30th. Hopefully in the next few months, a vaccine will be widely available. In the meantime, we will continue to adhere to the health directives and practice social distancing. I am confident the Legislature will be able to meet and conduct our business in a safe fashion and get the peoples’ business finished before the June 30th deadline.
This past week we concluded our final days of the 106th Legislative session. We should have been done in the middle of April, but because of COVID, we finished on August 13. Some of the highlights of the last 17 days of the session were the passage of LB1107 and LB814. I have discussed both bills in previous articles so I will not plow that field again. But it is particularly important to note that the members of this Legislature came together and compromised to bring some much-needed property tax relief. Although the first increment of that relief will be modest, once fully implemented, there will be sufficient property tax relief for every property taxpayer in the state.
Now that the session is behind me I can turn my attention to issues for next year. With the session starting in January my time to work up legislation for it is quickly passing. Here are a few ideas I am working on.
How many of you know that we have a whiskey distillery in the 44th district? It is in Moorefield, just east of Curtis. It is a family run business and has been very successful. So successful, in fact, they are running into some volume restrictions that would prohibit them from expanding without running into a mountain of additional regulation. With just a minor change in statute, they could continue to expand their business and enjoy the benefits of economies of scale while maintaining quality. But more importantly, it will allow a Father, Son, and Grandson to work together in a family business.
Of course, I will still be hunting for a way to compensate landowners for the damage done by the state of Nebraska’s wild animals. I hope to work with the Game & Parks Commission to find the resources and the mechanism to allow for large game damage to be at least partially reimbursed to the landowner. I have had conversations with G&P in the past and have run into a brick wall with this idea. But the dynamic has changed a little with the passage of LB126, the Landowner Early Deer Hunt bill. I received cooperation from the Commissioners themselves in passing that bill, so I am hopeful the Commissioners and I will be able to work together again on this type of legislation.
Lastly, I will continue to work on reducing the property tax burden on agriculture. I know we passed property tax relief this past session, but the challenges of agriculture, especially with the drought and commodity prices well below the cost of production, cannot be overlooked when it comes to maintaining a healthy economy here in the State of Nebraska. The reliance upon property taxes to fund our schools here in rural Nebraska is out of balance and I will continue to work on finding ways to make the way we pay for our children’s education more in line with the people and property that are benefiting the most from it.