NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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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

Transitioning into 2021
December 21st, 2020

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 will be my last article before we resume the 2020 legislative session on July 20th and finish our remaining 17 days.  We have senators and staff who need to be there in person to do their job, and with the continuous spread of Covid, the legislature will have to take precautionary measures when it reconvenes.  Some of the changes that have been proposed but could change before session are the following:

Normally the balcony is open to the public but due to restrictions, the balcony will be closed for the remainder of the legislative session. Legislative debate and hearings will still be live streamed through NET.  For those of you who watch the daily legislative activity on the internet you will see a few changes in the chamber.  

Since the legislature does not allow for the senators to vote remotely, senators who have a temperature of 100.4 or higher or who exhibit Covid-like symptoms will be allowed to sit in the east balcony, there will be a microphone so the senators can still participate in debates and they will be able to vote from there.  Also, you may see some of the senators sitting in the south balcony or under the balconies, as to allow for social distancing.  

Senator offices will be open to the public.  If you visit a senator’s office I would encourage you to wear a mask and practice social distancing.  If you would like to talk to myself or any of the other senators we are also available via email or telephone.

We still have some very important issues to address this year but with these safeguards in place we are all hopeful that we can remain mindful of the health concerns while completing the people’s work and still pass some meaningful legislation.  

An ongoing issue is wildlife damage that many landowners of the state have and are currently experiencing.  Since this is the time of the year many producers begin to see wildlife damage I encourage anyone starting to see damage to contact the Nebraska Game and Parks right away. This can be done by filling out an online form (which can be found at http://outdoornebraska.gov/depredation/), or by calling the district office at (308)-535-8025. Game and Parks will then send a wildlife biologist to assess your damage. This will give you the best chance to be issued a depredation permit to thin the herd and hopefully protect your crops. Game and Parks may also offer you other forms of assistance, including fencing, scare devices, and technical advice. The process of obtaining a depredation permit or other assistance can be frustrating at times. If you have any issues while dealing with Game and Parks, please contact my office. I am continuing to look at all options to compensate landowners for feeding the state’s wildlife.

 

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that each standing committee may designate two bills as committee priority bills. This session, the Natural Resources Committee chose LB 632, the bill I wrote about in my last article, and also LB 858 as their committee priority bills. LB 858 was brought to me by the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska, better known as MEAN. This bill reorganizes, updates, and simplifies the basic governance of MEAN, which has remained largely unchanged since 1981. Since it was designated a committee priority bill, the committee amended three additional bills into it. The bills added by the committee amendment are LB’s 367, 855, and 856.  LB 367 extends the termination date of the Nebraska Litter Reduction and Recycling Act from October 30, 2020, to September 30, 2025, and it strikes language which allows transfers from the Nebraska Litter Reduction and Recycling Fund to the General Fund at the discretion/direction of the Legislature. LB 855 eliminates legislative confirmation for members appointed to the Niobrara Council. Lastly, LB 856 extends the sunset date for the Petroleum Release Remedial Action Act from June 30, 2020, to June 30, 2024. LB 858 is currently on final reading. 

Unfortunately, two of the bills in LB 858 have sunset dates and therefore are time sensitive. The Legislature’s suspension had put these bills into a time crunch, and they must go into law as soon as they are passed so as not to interrupt the programs they authorize. In order to do this, we will need to pull the entire bill back to select file and amend it to include an emergency clause, which will allow it to be enacted as soon as it is signed by the governor. This will ensure there will be no disruption to the funds that are administered by these bills.

Another bill I introduced this year, LB 899, was designated by Senator Moser from Columbus as his personal priority bill. The bill amends Section 70-625 to give public power districts in Nebraska the authority to develop biofuels to help offset greenhouse gas emissions. This bill came out of the Natural Resources Committee on a 8-0 vote and is currently on select file. 

In addition to committee and personal priority bills, the Speaker can designate up to twenty-five Speaker Priority Bills. This year, the Speaker chose LB 803, a bill I introduced, to be one of these twenty-five bills. This bill would create a checkoff program for pulse crops. Creating a checkoff for these crops will provide additional funds for their production, research, and market promotion. Pulse crops include a variety of peas, lentils, chickpeas, faba beans, and lupine. These crops have been grown in Nebraska for quite a few years and are gaining popularity with farmers as an alternative crop. After I introduced the bill, there was some discussion if the program should instead be named the “Dry Pea and Lentil Commission” because “pulse” is a broad classification of the legume family, and Nebraska already has a Dry Bean Commission. Changing the name of the checkoff would reduce confusion. I plan to offer an amendment to make this change.

 

As I mentioned in my last article, I would like to update you on bills that have a priority status and will be debated when the Legislature resumes the 2020 session on July 20th.  Each of the standing committees are allowed to designate up to two bills as committee priority bills.  Typically, committees will use this as an avenue to combine a few bills together. The bills are usually noncontroversial and would likely pass on their own, but due to time constraints, their best chance of passing is to be included in a committee priority bill.

The Natural Resources Committee used one of their priority designations on LB 632.  LB 632 was originally drafted as a shell bill. The original bill made no substantive changes and was only meant to serve as a vehicle for other legislation to be amended into.  During the amendment process, LB 632 was deleted and replaced with the contents of LB 769, LB 861, LB 933, and LB 1201. Even though it contains several other pieces of legislation, the bill will still appear on the Legislature’s website and the agenda as LB 632.

The first bill included in LB 632 is LB 769. This bill would require each member of the Natural Resources Commission to be a Nebraska resident. Currently, there is no Nebraska residency requirement for serving on the Commission. This change would make the Commission eligibility requirements consistent with most other boards and commissions in Nebraska.

The second bill included is LB 861, which would amend the Nebraska Intergovernmental Solid Waste Management Act by creating a statewide regulatory system for containers. This would help ease the burden on retailers and restaurants, which are currently forced to comply with a patchwork of city, county, and agency container regulations. It also encourages the state to utilize recycling and secondary processes, specifically biomass and pyrolysis. 

The third bill is LB 933, it would amend laws relating to utility disconnections and reconnections. The bill would put a cap on the fees a utility can charge for disconnecting or reconnecting service. It would also allow customers to postpone disconnection by showing that their household includes an ill or handicapped individual who would be harmed by disconnection through a note from a doctor, APRN, or physician’s assistant. Utilities would be required to post certain information about their disconnection and reconnection policies online as an additional part of this bill. Utilities owned and operated by villages would be exempt from these requirements.

Lastly, LB 1201, as amended, would create a plan development group to put together a stand-alone state flood mitigation plan. The state’s current flood mitigation plan is included in the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency’s larger state hazard mitigation plan, but has not been updated for several years. The bill would require the Department of Natural Resources to complete the state flood mitigation plan and report it to the Governor and the Legislature before December 31, 2021.

 

As you may remember, the Speaker of the Legislature, Jim Scheer of Norfolk, suspended the Nebraska Legislature’s session back in March because of public health concerns due to COVID-19.  As of right now the plan is for the Legislature to resume the 2020 session on July 20th and we’re scheduled to complete our work by August 13th.  The Speaker said, “the decision to resume the session was based on the belief that Nebraska will have reached the peak of COVID-19 cases by that time-and will not have experienced a resurgence in cases following the loosening of restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.”  He also said, “Please keep in mind that I reserve the right to alter this 2020 Reconvening Session Calendar should it appear best to do so.”  There have been plexiglass shields installed in the legislative chamber and there will be other safety measures put into place to protect members of the legislature and the legislative staff. 

When we suspended the session in March, we still had seventeen days left in our 2020 session and a number of bills that were scheduled for debate.  One of the most important items we must address is our budget.  We won’t know the complete impact of COVID on our budget so we must proceed with caution.  The speaker sent out a list of all of the priority bills that have a general fund impact. We will look closely at those bills because we must be very cautious on how we appropriate funds. None of my bills were on that list.  

Due to our short timeframe, bills that have been given priority designations will be debated first and have the best chance of passing. Three of my bills have been prioritized. In the next few weeks I will give you a quick refresher on these bills and other bills of interest.

Before the legislature suspended session I designated LB 931 as my personal priority bill. It was originally introduced by Senator Halloran of Hastings. LB 931 would amend Nebraska Rules of the Road relating to vehicles’ maximum weight overload exception by allowing seasonally harvested products to be transported from farm storage to market or factory. There is some question as to whether farms can haul from their fields to bin and bin to market. Carrier enforcement was interpreting the law one way and the farmers another way. The intention of this bill is to make this clearer to everyone. This bill was voted out of the Agricultural committee on an 8-0 vote and there were no opponents. This bill is currently on Select File and myself, along with a couple of other senators, are continuing to negotiate possible minor language changes to the bill that will continue to allow agricultural producers to move their crops to market in a timely fashion and eliminate the concerns of the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Rural Broadband Expansion
December 9th, 2019

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

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

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

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

We’re Relocating!
December 2nd, 2019

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

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

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

I hope you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

Term Limits
November 14th, 2019

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

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

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

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

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

 

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

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

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

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns that you might have. My email address is dhughes@leg.ne.gov and my phone number is (402) 471-2805. You can read more about bills and other work of the Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov, and you can click on the Live Video Streaming NET logo to watch sessions, hearings, and other Capitol events.

Sen. Dan Hughes

District 44
Room 2108
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
(402) 471-2805
Email: dhughes@leg.ne.gov
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