The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.
Support for military: Nebraska drivers could show their support for the troops — and fund employment efforts for veterans — with a new license plate option advanced by lawmakers Monday.
State lawmakers gave first-round approval to Legislative Bill 138, introduced by State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, which makes a number of changes in military-related license plates.
The measure provides for new “Support Our Troops” plates and directs proceeds to a new fund aimed at recruiting and keeping military veterans in the state. Personalized message plates would cost $70, of which $52.50 would go to the new fund. Plates with standard number-letter combinations would cost $5, which would all go to the fund.
Blood said the proposed plates are a creative way to pay for veteran employment services, given the state’s tight budget situation. She said efforts to recruit and keep veterans in Nebraska would benefit both the veterans and employers in desperate need of workers.
As advanced, LB 138 would also add to the license plate options for active-duty military and veterans and make some military-related plates free.
The new options would include separate designs for the Army and Air National Guard, plus designs honoring people who have been awarded medals for serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, Southwest Asia, the war on terror and Vietnam.
License plate fees would be eliminated, starting in 2021, for drivers who qualify for Pearl Harbor Survivor, Ex-POW, Purple Heart, Disabled American Veteran and Gold Star Family plates.
Regulation of “skill games.” Amusement games described by some as illegal “video slot machines” would be required to undergo a more rigorous state inspection before they could go public under LB 538.
More than 2,300 such games, with names like “Skill Touch,” are in use across the state at bars, convenience stores and VFW clubs, but the Nebraska State Patrol has been frustrated in its efforts to determine whether they are legal games of skill or illegal games of chance.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who introduced the bill, said the measure would better vet the games by requiring an inspection — before they are allowed to be installed — by the Nebraska Department of Revenue to determine whether they are legal. The inspection would cost $500, with an approval stamp for each approved machine increasing from $35 a year to $250 a year.
LB 538 is backed by some keno firms, which see the skill games as unfair competition, but opposed by some distributors of the games as unneeded regulation. One anti-gambling senator, Joni Albrecht of Thurston, said that the bill didn’t go far enough and that limits should be placed on the number of such games and the age of the players.
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Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha said the bill unfairly requires distributors to prove that their games are legal. He also said it could turn churches, bar owners and VFW club officials, who use the games for fundraising, into criminals.
Lathrop said he would work to resolve such concerns before second-round debate. The bill cleared the first round of debate on a 34-0 vote.
Governor campaigns against legislative plan. Gov. Pete Ricketts attended another press conference Monday — his fourth in recent weeks — to rail against the Legislature’s preliminary proposal to reduce property taxes.
This time, he joined veterinarians in opposing a proposal (that was recently dropped from the Legislature’s tentative plan) to impose sales taxes on pet grooming and veterinary services.
“Keep your paws off” these services, Ricketts said.
The Revenue Committee’s tentative property tax relief proposal now calls for new taxes on plumbing and moving services, pop and junk food, as well as a ½-cent overall hike in the state sales tax. The revenue generated would reduce property taxes by paying for K-12 education. The initial plan had called for several other new taxes on beer, home repairs and ride shares.
Ricketts maintains that it’s wrong to raise some taxes to lower others; some lawmakers say that’s the only way to significantly reduce property taxes.