LINCOLN — The stiffest opposition to a bill aimed at improving the quality of child care and early childhood education in Nebraska could be its price tag.

Legislative Bill 889 would provide tax credits to parents of young children, child care workers, child care programs and businesses that support early childhood programs.

State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, who introduced the measure, said the credits are designed to get more Nebraska children into high-quality programs.

He said the bill dovetails with Nebraska's Step Up to Quality ranking system, which was passed in 2013. The credits would help offset the higher cost of meeting those quality standards.

High-quality child care and education programs pay dividends to the state by helping children get off to a good start in life, backers of the bill told the Revenue Committee on Wednesday.

They said those early years are critical in laying the foundation for children's intellectual, social and emotional development throughout their lives.

But Mello, chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that the cost of his proposal is too much for the state to afford now.

Legislative fiscal staff estimated that the credits would mean a $10.1 million loss of revenue in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017.

The loss would grow to $29 million by 2020-21, as more preschool and child care programs improve their quality ranking.

Mello said he is working on changes to the bill that would bring down its cost. He did not outline those changes Wednesday.

LB 889 is modeled after a Louisiana tax credit package passed in 2007.

Geoffrey Nagle, president and CEO of the Erikson Institute in Chicago, said the Louisiana credits have succeeded in getting more low-income children into quality programs and encouraging the development of more quality programs.

Backers of that package touted it as economic development for the child care industry, as well as child development, he said.

Supporters of the Nebraska measure include the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

No one testified against LB 889 Wednesday. But the Open Sky Policy Institute, a Lincoln-based think tank, sent a letter saying that Nebraska cannot afford the credits when the state is facing a budget shortfall.

The institute said the money would be better invested in things such as bonus payments for child care programs that boost quality and raising eligibility levels for child care subsidies to parents.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

Nebraska could ease rules for front-end license plates

LINCOLN — Passenger cars without front-end license plate brackets could drive legally with only a rear plate under a bill advanced by Nebraska lawmakers.

Senators gave first-round approval to the measure on Wednesday with a 25-3 vote.

The bill by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk would allow motorists to request a decal instead that would have to be placed on the driver's side front windshield. The Department of Motor Vehicles would charge a $100 fee when the vehicle is registered.

Nebraska requires vehicles to display front and rear license plates but has carved out numerous exemptions over the years. Vehicles that are allowed to show only one plate include motorcycles, trucktractors, buses, dealer vehicles and registered "special interest" vehicles.- AP

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