|State Senator Dan Hughes gets first year under his belt|
|Written by Wauneta Breeze|
|Thursday, 11 June 2015 16:54|
State Senator Dan Hughes of Venango completed his first session of this four-year term representing the 44th District in the Nebraska Legislature. With the session over, Hughes is looking forward to getting back on the combine for this year’s wheat harvest. (Imperial Republican Photo)
By Russ Pankonin
The Wauneta Breeze
Freshman 44th District Senator Dan Hughes of Venango went to Lincoln with a pretty good understanding of how Nebraska’s Unicameral Legislature worked.
What he didn’t anticipate was just how intense the session would be—for all 89 days.
“I knew it was intense but the amount of intensity or the volume was more than I anticipated,” he said last week as he looked back on his first year in the Legislature.
A state senator faces a number of different things coming at him on a daily basis, he said.
ith 633 bills introduced, Hughes felt he needed to learn something about each one, especially on how it would affect the 44th district. “Plus, you’re doing all your other stuff,” he added.
That other stuff included floor debate, committee duties and hearings for three different committees. That’s why it’s a necessity to have good staff with some institutional knowledge, he said.
Plus, just getting a finer feel for the process took time as well, he noted.
During the first several days of the session, he said Sen. Ernie Chambers took it upon himself to educate freshmen senators.
“He went right down the rule book and performed every procedure and how to do it himself,” Hughes recalled. He demonstrated how a senator can use the rules to one’s advantage.
He said it was a fascinating experience and would have been better had it taken just a few hours instead of a few days.
Hughes introduced just one bill this year. That was on purpose, he said.
Not having to push his own bills, he was able to sit back, analyze, learn and watch how things get done in the Legislature.
It was advantageous to see how tough legislation moves through the process and what it takes to get tough legislation passed.
Win some, lose some
Hughes said it’s important to learn that “you win some, you lose some.”
Hughes voted against repealing the death penalty and voted to sustain the governor’s veto to no avail.
He didn’t care for some of the other legislation that passed, such as a property tax exemption for the Woodmen, an Omaha fraternal insurance company.
He wasn’t in favor of sales tax exemptions for zoos either, another hot button for Omaha-area senators.
By the same token, he voted for the increase in gas taxes and was part of a successful vote to override a gubernatorial veto.
Getting some of the gas tax money back to counties and cities should provide some property tax relief, he noted, while also improving the quality of local roads and bridges. He was also instrumental in securing passage of a bill to increase funding for the promotion of the dry bean industry through a higher checkoff fee.
As the only farmer in the Legislature to raise dry beans on his farm, he was the go-to expert on the issue.
Looking ahead to next year
One of the most illusive objectives in the Legislature come in the form of property tax relief, he said.
Property tax relief remains at the top of the priority list for Hughes. However, he saw firsthand while it’s so hard to accomplish that goal.
He doesn’t believe property owners in Nebraska get treated very well tax-wise. The problem is that the state of Nebraska has become too reliant on property taxes.
Higher agland values have all but reduced school state aid to many rural schools. Of the 16 schools in the 44th District, 11 of them get no state aid.
He believes the state aid formula to figure state aid needs to be redone. The formula doesn’t take into account the huge jump in ag values that have occurred in the past several years, he said, exposing a flaw in the formula.
Right now, the big schools get the big money in terms of state aid, he said, noting that’s where the votes in the Legislature are from.
He said some type of balance needs to be struck so that ag property owners don’t pay an unfair share.
He said there was a lot of discussion between senators during the session on how to best address the state aid situation. “If there was an easy fix, that would have been done a long time ago,” he said.
Hughes also wants to take a closer look at how revenue from school land is distributed. While school land is prevalent throughout the state, the bulk of it lies in western Nebraska.
In terms of lease money, bonus bids, mineral leases and royalties, far more of this money is leaving western Nebraska than is returning, he said.
That money could be a way to provide more school funding and reduce reliance on property tax, the senator speculated.
Nebraska’s non-partisan Legislature is the only such body in the United States.
Hughes said it continues to work well, adding that he never felt partisanship was an issue during the session.
Granted, there are some bills that have a partisan slant, he said. But he felt the senators voted their conscience and what was good for their district and the state, not the party.
In addition, he felt senators cast their votes based on a bill’s merit and not on the personalities behind a bill.
Looking forward to harvest
Hughes is looking forward to getting back on the combine for this year’s wheat harvest and helping around the farm.
With his commitment to the Legislature, Hughes has turned over the operation of their family farm to his son, Tyler, and wife, Ellen.
Hughes plans to travel throughout the district this summer and fall to meet with constituents and get input for next year’s session.
The 60-day session of the 104th Legislature is scheduled to convene Jan. 6, 2016.