Senator Dan Hughes

11-7-18

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.

10-31-18

For several years, Nebraska voters have been aware of the threat of foreign actors interfering in our elections. What they may not know, however, is that election officials and the Federal government have been working and continue to work tirelessly behind the scenes to protect our elections.

Nebraska and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are working together to tackle the challenges of election security. DHS has provided support through cyber and physical security assessments, information sharing, training, and exercises. By working together, Nebraska’s election infrastructure is more resilient than ever.

My office has had close and proactive support as well from Nebraska Chief Information Officer Ed Toner and his team in cooperation with DHS. The OCIO security protections for state websites and email transmissions are cutting-edge with multiple firewalls.

Nebraska was at the forefront on working with DHS to allow resources to be extended to vendors who provide Election Services to the States. We are proud to say that all three of Nebraska’s Election Vendors have signed on to work with DHS to enhance Election Security.

In addition, Nebraska put into effect front-end and back-end protections to the Statewide Voter Registration System. First, a two–factor authentication process to access the Voter Registration System was implemented. By taking this step, it has become even more difficult for malicious actors to try to gain access. Now a username, password and a randomly generated code must be used to access the system. In addition, we worked with DHS to have an ALBERT Monitor, which detects suspicious activity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in real time be placed at our Vendor to protect Nebraska’s voter registration system.

Information sharing is a key tool for staying ahead of those who may wish to interfere, as we are only as good as our understanding of the threat. Nebraska is a partner in the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing & Analysis Center (EI-ISAC), a collaboration that brings together all 50 states and over 1,000 election jurisdictions nationwide. The Center works with state election officials to provide real-time threat sharing and cyber defense training. The EI-ISAC has ensured that Nebraska is a crucial part of a broad national defense against foreign attempts to interfere with our elections.

  These partnerships between our offices help ensure Nebraska’s elections, including those taking place yet this year and in the future, are more secure. We will continue to work together to promote strong cybersecurity practices, including threat information sharing, “cyber hygiene” scans, phishing campaign assessments, and joint exercises.

Though Nebraska has taken many steps to secure our elections, there will always be new recommendations, new technology, and new best practices where cybersecurity is concerned. We take our responsibility seriously, and the way we administer elections must continue to evolve to stay ahead of the threats, because this is a race where the finish line continues to move.

Even with all of our efforts, Nebraska’s best defense remains the paper ballot. A paper ballot cannot be hacked, and taken in conjunction with our recent efforts, Nebraskans can be confident that their ballot will be secure and counted. Your ballot is waiting for you…. Go cast it!

10-24-18

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, about $1,292,000 which is over 75% of the total money raised in support of this initiative came from 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 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.

10-10-18

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.

9-26-18

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.

9-12-18

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.