YORK – District 24 State Senator Jana Hughes met with the York County Commissioners this week, to talk about their concerns and future legislative issues.
Hughes has been all over the district for the last few months, as this is the interim period between legislative sessions. Sen. Hughes said she has been greatly enjoying meeting with constituents, being back in the district every day and hearing what’s important to those in her district.
“This is a great place to work and raise families and I want it to stay that way,” Sen. Hughes said. “That’s why I ran for this position in the first place, why I want to serve.”
Sen. Hughes has completed her first year at the unicameral.
“And I want to make sure I am completely accessible to those in the district,” she said. “So please, tell me what you are concerned about, ask questions, reach out.”
As far as topics which could come up for discussion in the future, she said the governor currently has a task force looking at appraisals/valuation processes – she has spoken with York County Assessor Kurt Bulgrin about that topic and said she is curious to see what the task force comes up with.
She also said there was to be a hearing on the Nebraska Plan that afternoon, which could lower taxation on ag land.
“And I know you are very aware about the ongoing talk about getting rid of state inheritance tax,” she said to the commissioners. “And with that conversation comes the question of where would the shortfall (of revenue) come from, be made up if that happened. That’s something we’ll need to watch.”
“We obviously need to work hand in hand with the state,” said Commissioner Randy Obermier. “Sometimes our funding is stressed because the state asks us to do certain things but doesn’t provide any funding to pay for it.”
“Yes, that’s called unfunded mandates,” she added.
“Yes, it is and we are very aware of that,” Obermier agreed. “There are things we have no control over which then financially affect us.”
One example they discussed was the “pink postcard” situation which started last year. The pink postcards were state mandated, requiring taxing entities to send out these postcards and having special public meetings when growing their budgets by more than 2%. The practice, both agreed, has caused great confusion since it was created and in some cases great volatility. Hughes said she felt there could be other ways to increase public involvement in the budget process which would be more effective.
“We spent $5,000 to send out those postcards this year,” Obermier said. “It’s tough because there is no teeth in it anyway and ours turned into a Q&A session after the seven required steps were achieved.”
“I also read where you are having issues with high inmate costs?” Hughes asked.
“We all are, all the counties are,” Obermier responded. “One big problem for us, because we are along the interstate, is that if offenders are stopped on Interstate 80 they come here, to our jail and we, York County, pay for their bills.”
Hughes also noted how law enforcement can’t just decide to not stop or arrest anyone because of money, “because that wouldn’t be good for the county, the state or the United States for that matter. So yes, there is a problem with all that because the counties have to pay the bill for that.”
Sen. Hughes took notes of all the topics discussed, with the intention to look at each more deeply and bring forward the information as part of future discussions for solutions.
“Another issue that we would like to see addressed is public legal defense,” Obermier said, explaining how the county has had problems in the past with certain court-appointed attorneys holding back defense bills until the end of a case. But the problem creates a sudden, very large bill being presented to the county – one the commissioners did not expect – after a case has drug on for nearly two years sometimes. “It is a budget breaker and we’ve had that happen. My question is if the state legislature could make them bill counties on a more timely basis.”
“One topic, an ongoing issue that has been dangled in front of York County residents, if you will, is the expansion of Highway 81 from York to the north,” said Commissioner Daniel Grotz. “Are there any further discussions of pushing forward?”
The expansion of the four-lane highway quickly moved from the Kansas border to York in the early 2000s. It was supposed to continue on, to Columbus – as this stretch is what still remains as a two-lane. But it stopped at York and hasn’t moved forward since.
Sen. Hughes said it was her understanding this project has been promised to happen in the near future and she said she is hoping to start hearing real details in 2024.
Grotz asked about her priorities moving into the next legislative session. Sen. Hughes said she wants to push for regulations in Nebraska requiring vaping products to be FDA approved before they can be sold. She said that would cut down on products being clearly marketed toward teens and even children. She also wants to work toward a recycling project which would direct unused but still viable prescription drugs back to the market, saving costs for underinsured/uninsured individuals. She recognizes the state’s take-back program in which unused prescription drugs are destroyed – but a program in Iowa is thriving where institutional unused drugs (which are unopened and still usable) are collected and cleared for pharmacies to distribute.
“I’d like to see us find solutions to as many issues as we can without legislation, if that is possible,” Hughes noted.
Commissioner Stan Boehr asked if there is any discussion, on the state level, about how to tax electric vehicle use as those vehicles are not subject to the state’s gas tax. Sen. Hughes said that conversation is starting and will likely be more prevalent in the future as the use of electric cars becomes more popular.
Commissioner Woody Ziegler told Hughes how he is “very interested in us using paper ballots and doing all hand-counting of ballots in elections.”
“Don’t we all use paper ballots now?” Hughes asked.
“Well, yes, but I would like to see them only be counted by hand,” Ziegler said, noting the secretary of state’s office is “not in favor” of such a process. “I would like to see a way for permission to be given to a county if a county would choose to do so. The interpretation on that isn’t there at this point. This is a personal thing, not a board thing, I am addressing.”
The commissioners thanked Sen. Hughes for her visit and she reciprocated, encouraging them to reach out at any time.