'Sausage making' in full swing

Friday, February 22, 2019

McCOOK, Neb. — Although no property tax relief bills have been advanced so far in the Nebraska Legislature, it’s not for lack of trying.

Discussion on three property tax relief bills lasted almost 10 hours last week in the revenue committee, said Dist. 41 State Sen. Dan Hughes Thursday morning.

Speaking at the McCook Chamber of Commerce legislative conference call, Hughes said discussion on the bills started at 12:30 p.m. and lasted until 10 p.m., with everyone “defending their piece of pie.”

None have advanced but Hughes said revenue chair Sen. Lou Ann Linehan afterward called a meeting of the three senators who introduced the bills, Sens. Tom Briese, Mike Groene and Curt Friesen. It’s a good sign, he said, of maybe a bill coming out of committee that’s “doable on the floor.”

Coming up with a compromise of sorts on a bill, a process Hughes wryly called “sausage making,” is imperative for a bill to advance, he said. The revenue committee is sincere in their efforts, Hughes believes, adding that he hopes whatever bill is crafted, he can support.

“I’m less optimistic than I was in the beginning but have not lost hope,” he said.

Any substantial property tax will require some shifting of taxes, he maintained. He pointed out that’s already occurring when the state makes up the difference in state aid to schools when property taxes are not enough.

State senators have been working their way through bills, Hughes said, with 35 on final reading, 29 on select file, the second stage of debating and voting and 41 in between general file, the first time the full legislature debates and votes on a bill, and enrollment and review, when adopted amendments are included in the bill and wording and technical aspects are checked.

“No heavy issues” have been debated yet, he said, although three hours was spent on LB 399, that changes the name and provisions on the Americanism Committee now required in public schools. The bill did not advance from general file.

Among other changes, it would have required public schools students to take a civics test and made it a misdemeanor if the law was violated. State law currently mandates an Americanism committee, where three members of a school board serve. Amendments offered during the debate included instead of taking a test, students would have the option of attending a public meeting and writing a paper on it, or a student between the 8th and 12 grade presenting a project or paper on a person or event in American history. An amendment would have also removed the misdemeanor charge.

Hughes said he supported the bill as it’s a good idea that students know “how and why we got here.”

Patriotism is “not about standing up and saluting a flag” but understanding “who we are as a nation and how we differentiate from other nations.” He pointed to the 2016 election and the outcry about the electoral and popular vote. The United States is not a democracy but a democratic republic, he said, who believes the electoral vote protects the minority population.

Other issues Hughes talked about in response to questions posed by participants at the conference call were:

-- LB 155, heard in the natural resource committee where Hughes is the chair, would remove from statute the statement that the use of eminent domain by public power for transmission for privately developed renewable energy generation facilities is a public use. It provides the requirements privately developed renewable energy generation facilities must meet in order to bypass the state's approval process and clarifies that only consumer-owned electric suppliers operating in Nebraska may use eminent domain for transmission. Hughes said he is not a proponent of the green energy movement as it’s not always reliable. People want to be 100 percent green but they also want their conditioning and electricity, Hughes said, even after dark when the when the wind stops blowing. He related a conversation he had with someone about Google preferring Omaha because of its renewable energy and when pressed about the efficiency of it, the individual said it was “a matter of accounting.”

-- Hughes’ own bill, LB 277, that would protect farm operations and public grain warehouses from nuisance lawsuits if they existed before a change in the land use or occupancy of land, has not yet advanced from the Agriculture committee. Hughes said the impetus of the bill came from a hog operation in another state who was sued by homeowners who built their home near the operation. The bill would not eliminate current nuisance laws regulating noise, dust, insects or odors. Several farm organizations supported the bill. Those with opposing testimony included a professor of law at the Nebraska College of Law who said nuisance lawsuits act as a “backdrop” that property owners can use to protect themselves in instances when a regulatory authority cannot consider or predict a farming operation’s impact on neighbors, according to the Unicameral Update, the Nebraska Legislature's news source.

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