Senator Dan Hughes

1-23-19

This week three of my bills will be heard by their respective committees. First up is LB 143 in the Judiciary Committee. This is a bill I introduced in response to an incident that occurred in Red Willow County.  A member of the crew working on a road became frustrated with the speed of traffic that was traveling past them while working, and in attempt to slow the traffic down slid a rake in front of an oncoming vehicle.  This was very dangerous and fortunately no one was hurt, but as it turns out the law is very vague about charging someone for this type of action. LB 143 will allow a misdemeanor charge to be filed for such an action if there was no damage as a result. If damage occurs, to either property or to persons, additional more severe penalties would be called for. 

The other bills of mine that will be heard in the Natural Resources Committee are LB 126 and LB 127. Both of these bills deal with landowners and deer hunting. Second only to complaints about property taxes, deer population and the damage they cause is next on the list of complaints I hear most about from the 44th District. From the damage to crops and the damage caused by collisions on the roads, I receive many calls and emails wanting me to do something about our deer population in southwest Nebraska. I have visited with Nebraska Game and Parks officials multiple times about these problems and have had very little response to our concerns. LB 126 and LB 127 have gotten their attention. Both of these bills address issues coming from the landowner point of view on this issue. I have no illusions that either of these bills will pass as written, but this will be a good starting point to begin the discussions with Game and Parks about how they intend to manage the wildlife populations, especially in southwest Nebraska. The landowners are the ones footing the bill for feeding the entire deer population all year long and suffering the damage to fences, hay stacks, grain bags, and trees. I am hopeful that as a result of this hearing, Nebraska Game and Parks will be a little more sympathetic to the losses that landowners face and we will be able to find ways to offer assistance or compensation to affected landowners. In doing some rough calculations it is costing landowners close to $50 million per year just to feed the deer in the state of Nebraska. If you add elk, pronghorns, and turkeys that number goes even higher. 

I am anticipating a few residents from the 44th District will be traveling to Lincoln to testify in favor of my bills that are up before the Legislature this week. I appreciate any time someone from the 44th District comes to Lincoln and takes the time to stop by and see me at the Capitol.

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.

1-16-19

Last Wednesday, January 9th was the first day of the 106th Nebraska Legislature’s first session. We voted to elect a chairperson for each 14 of the standing committees. I was re-elected to serve as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. I am happy to retain the role as chairman and am thankful that the body of the legislature believes in my ability to serve in such capacity. 

Along with electing the chair people of each committee we also assign members to the various committees. Every senator, except the Speaker, serve on committees. Each senator must sit on a committee Monday through Friday. Different committees meet on certain days and schedule hearings for all the bills assigned to them. I will chair Natural Resources every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Monday and Tuesday, I am on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. I am also a member of the Executive Board and the Referencing Committee. The Executive Board meets as needed throughout the session, while the Referencing Committee, which refers introduced bills, resolutions and gubernatorial appointments to the standing committees according to subject jurisdiction, meets for the first 10 days of the session.

The first day of session was full of activity, the new and re-elected senators were sworn in and the legislative body voted on chairmanships. On the second day, senators began submitting bills for this session. On the first day of bill introduction, there were 135 bills introduced. I imagine we could see as many as 700 bills this session. Senators have until the 10th working day, January 23rd to introduce new legislation.

The capitol building is chaotic the first few days because of the shuffling of offices. Every two years there is an office “lottery” for the new senators and current ones that are interested in changing offices. It can be a hectic few days for everyone moving offices and for the freshman senators setting up their new offices. Of course, there is a whole host of new staff personnel trying to become acquainted with all of the senators and veteran staffers. Currently, the southwest quadrant is closed for construction which means there are 18 senators located in the tower of the building. With 13 new senators and new chair people, there has been a lot of movement as everyone tries to settle into their new offices. Since I am staying as chairman for Natural Resources my office is still located in room 1210, which is in the southeast corner of the first floor. 

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.

1-09-19

The new year is officially upon us and the 2019 legislative session is underway. This year is a long session which includes 90 working days and will tentatively run until June 6th. The reason that every other year is a longer session is due to the fact that we have to come up with a budget plan for the next two years. I would like to update everyone a little on my plans for this session and take a look at our current budget status.

The revenue picture is not great, revenue projections are still not meeting expectations. We are short of revenue meeting our current biennium budget which ends June 30, 2019. Hopefully, we will see some additional revenue coming in from the full implementation of sales tax on internet purchases. All internet retailers are supposed to be collecting sales taxes beginning on January 1st, whether or not that is the case will not immediately be clear. The legislature will need to do some things to make sure that the taxes are implemented correctly. We will need to define a minimum number of sales before you have to remit taxes and/or a minimum dollar amount that must be met before sales taxes are collected and remitted.

I will be introducing several bills dealing with Game and Parks that should come before the Natural Resources Committee. One is a deer hunting bill that would allow qualifying landowners to have early access to hunting on their land. Another is a bill at the request of G&P to allow the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles to design three additional license plates to be known as Wildlife Conservation Plates. The plates reflect support for the conservation of Nebraska wildlife, including, sandhill cranes, bighorn sheep, and cutthroat trout.

Another bill I will be introducing would make throwing or dropping objects at a motor vehicle illegal. Objects in the path of or striking a vehicle traveling at a high speed or even slow speeds can not only cause damage to the vehicle but potentially its driver and passengers.

I am also considering introducing a bill again that allows county boards in counties with 15,000 residents or less to adopt a resolution or allow residents to file a petition, requesting the submission of the question to voters regarding the nomination of all county officers elected on the primary election to be listed without a political party designation. The top two candidates from the primary regardless of party affiliation would then be advanced to the general election. 

I am working with other senators on property tax reduction possibilities. The challenge is how do you pay for that and most of those discussions revolve around removing exemptions from the current tax code. I think we need to take a look at updating our tax code as we have evolved from a production economy to a more services-based economy. Our revenue streams are out of balance and some adjustments need to be made.

12-19-18

 I hope everyone is enjoying this Christmas Season and is well on their way to completing all their holiday preparations. As we get closer to the start of the 2019 session we are starting to hear more again about changing the way we value agricultural real estate for taxation purposes. Some people have begun touting switching from a “recent sales” valuation based system to an “income potential” valuation based system. The main reason it is being promoted is the belief that it will deliver property tax relief to the owners of farm and ranch land. I disagree. 

Changing how we determine the value will not reduce the number of tax dollars owed, especially if you live in an unequalized school district. Property tax relief, to me, is reducing the amount of property tax dollars being paid. In my recent travels across the 44th District and talking to citizens, I am hearing that land values are beginning to come down from the highs of a couple of years ago. Low commodity prices and increases in interest rates are both significant factors in this trend. While this trend will eventually reduce the tax burden on agriculture real estate it will not be providing relief quickly enough for some of our producers. If we are going to provide property tax relief it must be for everyone. 

Residential, commercial, and agricultural taxpayers need to see substantial reductions in their tax bills. If we are going to achieve this we are going to have to raise revenue from other sources. I think we should be looking at removing some sales tax exemptions. Some people are not a fan of raising one tax to pay for another, but we are already doing that with the Property Tax Relief Fund. Those dollars are sales and income tax dollars collected by the state and distributed back to the counties to reduce property taxes. 

Our current system of funding our schools is out of whack and needs to be addressed. If the value of everyone’s home had quadrupled and the subsequent explosion in property taxes being collected under our current law would have taken place, we would not be having this discussion because it would already have been taken care of. The sentiment of, if you don’t like paying the taxes, you can always sell it, takes on a little different hue under that scenario. 

In my mind, our government should not be picking winners and losers. We should be trying to level the playing field so one group doesn’t have an unfair advantage or suffer a significant disadvantage compared to another. There are lots of ideas being discussed among my colleagues and myself about how to deliver property tax relief, but more importantly how to pay for it. There will be a big change in the membership of the Revenue Committee in the Legislature this coming January and I am hopeful the new members of that committee will heed the call from everyone across Nebraska that WE NEED PROPERTY TAX RELIEF NOW!

12-5-18

I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving weekend spent with family and friends. Now that it is December, things in Lincoln are beginning to gear up quickly. I have spent the last week meeting with people about future legislative work and finishing some interim hearings for the committees I serve. I would like to give a short update on some things I will be finishing up before the 2019 session starts on January 9th.

Last Friday, November 30th the Natural Resources Committee held its second interim hearing. It was held in Omaha and dealt with public power in the state. LR 464, introduced by Senator Wayne of Omaha, wanted to discuss many aspects of public power. Net metering was the only topic of interest from the lone citizen testifier. Currently, Nebraska’s net metering law allows someone who has a private electrical generation to contribute as much as 25KW toward their own power consumption without paying any fee to be connected to the grid. All wind and solar generation are inconsistent and therefore unreliable, so anyone with wind or solar must have access to the power grid to have power available at all times. Some people in the state want to raise that cap to 100KW without paying the connection fee. That ultimately means those not using private electrical generation will be forced to pay more to maintain the lines, transformers, and personnel costs.

On Monday, December 17th, I will be in hearings for the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. We will be having two separate hearings, in the morning we will be hearing from the Nebraska Department of Transportation on their annual needs. Then in the afternoon, we will be talking about LR 424. Legislative Resolution 424 was introduced by Senator Friesen of Henderson. The resolution was created to study a comprehensive list of issues related to autonomous vehicles. Some of the issues to be looked at include, vehicle classifications, testing, safety standards, and cybersecurity.

As the final weeks of 2018 come to close, I am looking forward to the year ahead. As you begin to travel for the holidays I urge you all to stay safe and updated on weather conditions. Winters in Nebraska are never predictable, make sure to use caution as you prepare to travel.

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.