LINCOLN — A legislative race in northeast Nebraska has touched off a scrap metal skirmish.
Van Phillips, the challenger in Legislative District 17, accused Sen. Dave Bloomfield this week of not disclosing a financial interest in an amendment that Bloomfield introduced to speed up payments on scrap metal sales.
Phillips said Bloomfield's business stood to benefit from repealing a regulation intended to make it harder for thieves to sell stolen copper on the scrap metal market.
“We have higher expectations of our elected officials that they would not operate in a manner to benefit financially from their actions as a state legislator,” Phillips said Monday.
On Tuesday, Bloomfield said that nothing in the amendment would have allowed him, or other scrap metal dealers, to make more money on copper. He said he consulted with legislative staff members, who agreed that he didn't need to complete an ethics disclosure form before introducing the amendment.
“There's not a conflict of interest,” Bloomfield said.
Furthermore, he said, he plans to stick by his pledge not to engage in negative campaigning.
“I'm not going to go into the mud now,” Bloomfield said. “If he wants to go there, he has to play by himself.”
The two Republicans are running for the nonpartisan office in the district that represents Dakota, Thurston and Wayne Counties. Bloomfield was appointed to the seat in 2010 and finished the May primary with 1,835 votes, about 800 ahead of Phillips.
Phillips said he plans to release campaign ads that highlight Bloomfield's scrap metal amendment. For those who would accuse him of employing a negative attack during the campaign's final week, Phillips said: “I'm not the one who introduced the amendment.”
Phillips said he probably will not file a formal complaint with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
The issue involves a 2008 state law that required salvage metal buyers to pay no more than $25 in cash per day to someone selling copper. Payments in excess of $25 must be made by check, and those exceeding $150 must be mailed.
The Legislature sought to address rising copper thefts by discouraging those who sought quick cash.
Bloomfield introduced his amendment last session during debate on Legislative Bill 1049, which added another category of restrictions to the scrap metal law. On the floor, Bloomfield argued that the payment delays do little or nothing to deter copper thefts.
“It merely causes further inconvenience to honest, hardworking people trying to make an honest dollar,” he said, according to the Legislature's transcripts of the debate.
His amendment failed on a 20-1 vote.
Bloomfield, a retired truck driver, said Tuesday that he operates a business called BS and T Enterprises that frequently involves scrap metal sales. He has listed the business on his state financial disclosure forms.
Frank Daley, executive director of the Accountability and Disclosure Commission, declined to comment Tuesday on the dispute. However, Daley did say a financial benefit to an elected official must be apparent for a conflict of interest to come into play.
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