Panel's vote sinks beer ban on boats
LINCOLN — Boating and beer will remain afloat after a Nebraska legislative committee voted Tuesday to kill a proposal that would have outlawed open containers of alcohol on vessels.
State Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff had sought the prohibition, arguing that 27 of the 48 fatalities on Nebraska waters from 2000 through 2010 were alcohol-related.
But the Legislature's General Affairs Committee voted 5-0, with two abstentions, to kill Harms' proposal, Legislative Bill 554.
Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, the committee's chairman, said the state already has a law that bans the operation of a boat while intoxicated.
He said Harms' bill could have hindered tourism by outlawing beer drinking on benign watercraft, such as the inner tubes that ply the Niobrara River and the livestock tanks floated on other waterways.
Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, who abstained, said he didn't necessarily support LB 554 but wanted to keep the bill alive to address boater safety issues. — Paul Hammel
If passed, sign bill could be very costly
LINCOLN — There's the $64,000 question and the “Six Million Dollar Man.”
And then there was a $23.5 million billboard near the tiny town of Naponee in south-central Nebraska.
That's what officials estimate that the State of Nebraska would lose in federal funds had the sign remained along U.S. Highway 136, just east of Harlan County Lake. That's because U.S. 136 is a designated scenic highway, and along scenic highways such unscenic signs touting local businesses are banned.
Defying those federal highway regulations would cost the state 10 percent of its annual federal highway construction funds, or $23.5 million.
Representatives of Naponee, population 132, said they raised money from local businesses to erect the sign in hopes of drawing lake visitors to the town's cafe, tavern and other enterprises. The sign also noted that the late David Janssen, star of “The Fugitive” TV show, was born there.
Naponee is only four miles from Harlan County Lake, but without the sign, local businessman Ted Davis said, “people pass by us every day and don't know that we're there.”
The town removed the sign after learning it was illegal.
State Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, however, has introduced a bill that would allow that sign and others along scenic highways. He asked: What benefit are scenic highway designations if towns can't attract passing motorists?
Monty Fredrickson, director of the Nebraska Department of Roads, told a state legislative hearing Tuesday that his office could consider erecting a better directional sign that would alert passers-by to Naponee, which is two miles off U.S. 136.
Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine, chairwoman of the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, said she sympathized with Naponee's plight, but the state can't change the federal regulations for scenic highways. — Paul Hammel
No opposition voiced to higher park fees
LINCOLN — State senators are looking kindly at one increase in state fees.
On Tuesday, no lawmaker spoke in opposition to a $5 increase in the state park entry fee during first-round debate on Legislative Bill 421.
That contrasted sharply to the overall tone of this legislative session. Many lawmakers and Gov. Dave Heineman have called for budget cuts and for no tax or fee increases to solve the state's budget woes.
Louisville Sen. Dave Pankonin introduced the park fee measure. He said operating hours would be reduced and some state parks would have to be closed if the annual park entry fee wasn't raised to $25. Under the bill, a daily park entry sticker would cost $5, up $1.
Pankonin also argued that it costs more for a family to visit a museum or a see a movie than it does to visit state parks and recreation areas all year.
Nebraska's current $20 annual fee is the lowest among states with entry stickers, he said.
Two years ago, a similar increase was shot down by senators. They said it was a bad practice to increase fees or taxes during a recession.
But since then, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has reduced mowing, trash pickup and staffing at parks and has transferred some parks to city ownership because of a shortage of funds.
North Platte Sen. Tom Hansen said he plans to speak in opposition of LB 421 when debate resumes Wednesday. — Paul Hammel