4-17-19

LB227, the ag nuisance bill I introduced, was filibustered during the first reading on general file on April 8th. However, I had enough votes to bring it back for a second three hours on Wednesday, April 10th, and to break the filibuster that day. It was eventually passed through to select file. 

Before it is heard on select file, I will bring a new clarifying amendment forward. Throughout this process I have amended the original bill which I believe resolves the concerns of a few senators. The Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Farm Bureau, my staff, and I have worked diligently to answer all questions, decipher the legal language, and to create compromise with previously-opposed Senators. We are still in the process of making the bill more amicable to some of the senators by introducing another amendment. By doing so, I feel we are gathering more floor votes which may assist in getting this bill passed. I want to remind everyone the goal of this legislation is to offer certainty for agriculturalists who want to make an investment in their operation from frivolous lawsuits like those in North Carolina. Providing surety is a cost-free way that we as a legislative body can spur development and grow Nebraska’s economy. 

On another very important note, I have received multiple letters regarding nursing homes and Medicaid reimbursement rate issues. The constituents who reached out to me have highlighted four different bills related to this issue. Those bills are LB181, LB403, LB404, and LB468. Since this is a priority issue for so many constituents, I want to discuss the status of these bills and where I see them going. 

LB181, LB403, and LB404 appeared in the Appropriations committee March 25, 2019. None of them were prioritized and have not been scheduled for general file.

LB468 appeared in the health and human services committee March 1, 2019. It was prioritized by Health and Human Services, which means that it will be heard on the floor this session. Since then, an amendment to the bill has been filed by the committee. It has not been placed on the agenda yet. 

While it is possible for the three bills in Appropriations to advance out of committee, it is highly unlikely for them to appear on the agenda because they were not prioritized. It is also unlikely because the budget is coming out on Day 70, May 2nd, at which time we pause all other business and focus only on the budget. On a brighter note, the Appropriations Committee may choose to incorporate the ideas from those bills into the budget. 

Even if that happens, we are back to the same story that our state has limited funds to split between government services like K-12 education, programs for the elderly and vulnerable, and paying for corrections and prisons, plus everything else. To top this off, we have not seen the effect of Medicaid Expansion which was voted into law last year and will take effect on October 1, 2020. Yet, we will have to build money into the budget this year to pay for the increased bureaucracy to administer the additional medicaid funds next year. Those Medicaid Expansion funds will not address or increase medicaid reimbursement rates. 

I am aware of the issues for nursing homes and facilities in our area, and appreciate the outpouring of feedback regarding it and the need for property tax reform. 

4-10-19

As I write this, we’ve been in full-day debate for one week, and the tone of the legislature last week was not well. There is a lack of trust within the body, and certain members have already begun engaging in time-consuming behaviors. If this continues, late night floor debate may begin sooner than in previous years and could continue for the remainder of session. However, we were moving through bills rather quickly before full-day floor debate started, so we are not behind. Last week actually gave everyone some time to study bills and become prepared for the coming weeks. 

We are merely days away from beginning the budget process. The budget will be based on the February 2019 revenue forecast by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board (NEFAB) for the upcoming 2019-2021 biennium, and the forecast will be revised again in April. In general, the revenue forecast showed a decline in the rate of growth. According to the Nebraska Legislative Fiscal office, the 37-year average general fund revenue growth is 4.8%, adjusted for tax rate and base changes. The projected revenue growth for the current year is 4.3%. For FY2019-2020 NEFAB projected growth is 4.2%, and for FY2020-2021 NEFAB projected growth is 3.0%. Projected revenue growth for both of these years is lower than the current year and the historical average.

In addition, our state has immediate flooding expenses to factor in. I anticipate this budgeting process will be difficult because of all these factors. However, I am committed to pushing for property tax reform. 

On a property tax note, LB483, Senator Erdman’s priority bill to change the valuation of agricultural and horticultural land. It was read on general file on March 20th, and Senator Erdman added an amendment to it to clarify language. Unfortunately this is a very complicated bill and most of the non-farmers in the body do not understand it. I am still not convinced the effort of changing from sales to income based valuations will be a benefit in the long run. 

Another bill regarding property tax relief was Senator Linehan’s bill, LB512, which was read on the floor last Friday. This bill would have changed provisions related to property taxes. For example, if a person loses their house to a fire on January 3rd, it is currently taxed at 100% of the valuation for the remainder of the year. This bill would change that and give those who experience such losses relief from taxes since they would no longer be able to utilize their property. Even though this bill was filibustered by Senator Chambers, it should eventually pass as there is broad support for it.

4-3-19

All day floor debate began this week. Session is more than halfway finished, and I anticipate the pace and focus of the legislature will increase. Tuesday, April 2nd, was the 51st day of session. That is important because we will change focus from bills, to passing the budget on the 70th day, and we have to have a budget passed by the 80th day of session. That may seem like a long way off, but it will arrive very quickly. 

My personal priority bill, LB268, regarding telecommunications and broadband service is on the agenda and hopefully by the time you are reading this it will have passed the first round of debate. This bill would make it easier for some rural citizens to obtain high speed internet from a different company other than their current telephone provider. It will not help a large number of rural people get high speed internet right away, but it will allow a few more to get it, and more importantly it should apply additional pressure on telephone companies to build out faster.

LB227, my bill expanding nuisance protections under the Right to Farm Act is also scheduled on the current agenda. It was given a priority by the Agriculture Committee. The actual date of debate will vary depending upon how quickly or slowly we discuss other bills ahead of it on the agenda. There is some talk of extended debate on this bill by a couple of Omaha senators. 

LB227 provides the current levels of protections now given to Ag and public grain warehouses may continue after a change in the operation. Some examples, could be a change in ownership, the building of additional pens or barns in a livestock feeding operation, or just changing the crops being raised on a farm. All county zoning, setbacks and capacities, must still be adhered to and dust, flies, and odor abatement measures must be taken. Aside from having meetings in my office and discussing the bill’s intent with other Senators on the floor, I have gotten practice discussing this concept with the University of Nebraska Beef Scholars class of 2020 and Collegiate Farm Bureau. I have had great support from the agricultural groups who brought this bill to me, Nebraska Cattlemen and Nebraska Farm Bureau. I am confident we have put together a strong case for expanding the current law. 

If you would like to speak directly to me about legislative issues, join the Great Plains conference call Tuesday at 8 AM CST and McCook Chamber Conference call Thursday at 8 AM CST.   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.

3-27-19

Session is now more than halfway finished, and there is much work yet to be done. I think we will see the pace start to really pick up now that most of the committee hearings are finished and priority bills have been designated. We will begin all day debate on April 2nd.

As I had hoped, the agriculture committee designated LB227, my bill which makes changes to the Nebraska Right to Farm Act, as their committee priority bill. This means that LB227 is guaranteed to be debated on the floor during general file. Because the committee selected that as their priority, I selected LB268 as my priority bill. LB268’s intent is to make it easier for a customer of a telecommunications company to switch to a different company that offers better service in an adjoining exchange in Nebraska. I support this because I believe competition makes businesses more efficient and benefits consumers.  With high speed broadband access and availability of other telecommunications such a hot button issue, this bill will help ensure our rural communities continue to grow and have access to the best possible service. 

The Natural Resources committee selected LB177 and LB700 as our priority bills. LB177 changes the bonding sunset date for the Papio NRD for flood control projects and LB700 is related to decommissioning and reclaiming land used in wind energy production. Both of these bills are very timely due to the recent flooding in eastern Nebraska and the continued push to build more wind turbines our state.

Game and Parks are planning to hold meetings for Southwestern Nebraska landowners regarding property damage caused by wildlife. If you have experienced damage to crops, stored feed, or stored grain due to deer and other game species, this is a meeting you need to attend. I have had discussions with G&P about this issue and the current G&P administration does not believe this is a problem. I hope everyone who has been frustrated with the damage caused by deer and other game species will attend one of these meetings and voice their concerns. I understand G&P has held meetings in the past and nothing has changed, but this time G&P knows there are several senators who think G&P should be paying  for the damages caused by the game they are managing. G&P makes millions of dollars from marketing our game species to hunters, but  is unwilling to help pay to raise them. The landowners of the state need to be reimbursed for feeding all of those animals. Show up and let your voice be heard.

All of the meetings will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. The schedule is:

April 2 – Wauneta, Wauneta Senior Center, 231 N. Tecumseh St.

April 3 – McCook, Red Willow County Fairgrounds 4-H building, 1412 W. 5th St.

April 4 – Oxford, Fire Hall, 310 Odell St.

3-20-19

Two of my bills, LB302 and LB127, passed on final reading on Friday the fifteenth. All Transportation and Telecommunications and Natural Resources committee hearings are finished. I will be using my afternoons for the next two weeks to study the bills coming up on the floor, and looking at all of the priority bills. 

Other committees are still holding hearings on their remaining bills. Those committees have until March 28th to complete hearings. In total, more than 700 bills were introduced this year and all of them have had or will have a public hearing where anyone can come and testify. After March 28th, we will start full day debates. Those nights can get long, but I am looking forward to them because we will see many bills start moving. 

Our Senator priority bills were named this week as well as the Committee priority bills. Giving a bill a priority designation means that bill gets to jump to the head of the line for full floor debate. Giving a bill a priority designation does not help a bill get out of committee, it just guarantees that the bill will be heard by the full body during General File debate. As I am writing this article I have not chosen my personal priority yet

Also, please share the folowing opportunity with any high school students you know. The time has come to apply for Unicameral Youth Legislature, which is a four day long simulation of the legislative process. High school students are invited to come experience the process of creating rules and bills at the Unicameral with Senators and staff June 9-12, 2019. To learn more about the program, visit www.NebraskaLegislature.gov/uyl and for a complete list of Nebraska’s free civic resources for Nebraskans of all ages, visit nebraskalegislature.gov/students. 

If you would like to speak directly to me about legislative issues, join the Great Plains conference call Tuesday at 8 AM CST and McCook Chamber Conference call Thursday at 8 AM CST.   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.

3-13-19

We are now to the point in session where all my bills have been heard in committee, and many have been scheduled for general file. There are still some being decided upon by committees, which we are monitoring closely. I will select my priority bill by the nineteenth of March. Selecting a bill as a priority ensures that it will be heard and debated on the floor, as long as it has been advanced by the committee of jurisdiction. There are many considerations for designating a priority bill. First, I want to select a bill that I feel strongly about. I also want to select a bill that has a strong chance to be successful on the floor during debate.
On the committee side, the Natural Resources committee hearings are wrapping up. LB367 was heard by the committee without much discussion last Thursday, as anticipated. That bill made small changes to the  Nebraska Litter Reduction and Recycling Act. It extends the deadline of the act to September 2025, and eliminates a sentence in statute which allowed transfers from this self-generated fund to the general fund. 

The bills coming up in Natural Resources this week are LB606, LB285, and LB509. LB606 is a bill introduced by Senator Groene giving Natural Resources districts the authority to develop water augmentation projects for improving the flow of water. LB285 is a McCollister bill related to appropriations, and intends to provide state funds for a study of the Nebraska Power Review Board and to create public policy related to it. That bill also specifies that it will create an emergency, so that the funds are appropriated and the study actually happens. Lastly LB509, another McCollister bill, changes a definition in statute related to customer-generated power, net-metering, and what a qualified facility is. It’s a technical bill. I believe the overall goal is to allow power utilities freedom in rate-making as more and more customer-generators pop up and enter the power market.

Finally, we will welcome 100, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders from the district to the Capitol this week. Perkins County Schools is bringing down their fourth graders and Medicine Valley Schools is bringing their fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Preparations for this and other visits began many weeks ago, and we are ready!

If you would like to speak directly to me about legislative issues, join the Great Plains conference call Tuesday at 8 AM CST and McCook Chamber Conference call Thursday at 8 AM CST.   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.

3-6-19

This week has been a busy one, with the highlight being meeting with the McCook Senior Leadership class. Interacting with them gives me hope, knowing that those intelligent, respectful young men and women will be our future community leaders. 

I introduced LB144 to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday, February 27th and LB632 to the Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, February 28th. LB144 is a bill to make county elections nonpartisan on the primary ballot in counties with less than 15,000 residents. There are only 19 counties which have greater than 15,000 residents. LB632 is the Natural Resources Committees shell bill which I introduce in case of emergencies or if unexpected issues come up that need to be addressed before the end of the session. 

Many of have been following LB155, Senator Brewer’s eminent domain bill. That bill did not pass general file, it was a few votes short. LB227, my Right to Farm bill, is still in committee and we’re currently considering adding an amendment to it. I am considering making this bill my priority bill, but have other important bills I am considering which are of great importance as well. 

Moving ahead to this week, I started Monday in Grant at the Perkins County Government Day luncheon. It’s always a joy and an honor to speak with people from the district about the importance of our government and the need to be engaged. 

Tuesday, I introduced LB228 to committee – this is known as the Living Donor Protection Act. An example of a living donor is someone who donates a kidney to another person. Specifically,  it would make it unlawful to: decline or limit coverage for life, disability or long-term care insurance; preclude a person from donating all or part of an organ as a condition of receiving life, disability or long-term care insurance; and consider the status of a person as a living organ donor in determining rates for coverage and otherwise discriminate against a person under any life, disability, or long-term care insurance policy due to the status of such person as a living organ donor. In short, this bill protects Nebraskans who have the heart and ability to do save another’s life, from unfair treatment as a result of doing so. 

I am introducing LB367, my final bill, on Thursday to the Natural Resources committee. The bill makes small changes to the Nebraska Litter Reduction and Recycling Act. It extends the deadline of the act to September 2025, and eliminates a sentence in statute which allowed transfers from this fund to the general fund. 

As I am sure you have heard by now the State Forecasting Board has lowered its projected revenue amounts for the current fiscal year ending June, 30, and has also lowered the projected revenue for each of the next two fiscal years. This means the state will have less money to work with than we thought. However, our economy is still growing, and the state will collect more money than it did last year. Our budget will be larger than last year, just not as large as predicted last October.