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.

Press conference backfires. Before a press conference Monday held by veterinarians and Gov. Pete Ricketts, a proposal to tax vet services had been taken off the table as part of a bill to lower property taxes.

But railing against the tax backfired against the vets and governor. On Tuesday, State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn said she’s reviving the idea, in part due to the press conference and in part due to some clarification.

“I like dealing with the facts,” Linehan said. And the fact, the senator said, is that in order to lower property taxes you need additional revenue (from taxing services like veterinary care) to increase state aid to schools, thus relieving the burden on property taxes.

Linehan said she also had just learned that taxes on veterinary services could be separated so that bills to livestock producers could remain tax exempt, but bills to pet owners could include sales taxes. The senator said that she likes dogs and cats but that services for pets are something that should be taxed in exchange for lower property taxes.

The public will get a full view of the proposal being crafted by Linehan and the Legislature’s Revenue Committee during a press conference Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the State Capitol. A public hearing on the bill is tentatively scheduled for a week later, on April 24.

The proposal, Legislative Bill 289, calls for a half-cent increase in state sales taxes, as well as the repeal of a handful of sales tax exemptions, including, now, the exemption on vet bills for pets. Funds raised by the bill would be used to increase state aid to K-12 schools by upward of $460 million a year.

The bill creates a showdown with Ricketts, who has derided LB 289 as wrongheaded, because it raises some taxes to lower others.

The governor is planning his fifth press conference to rail against the legislative plan Wednesday morning, this time standing with owners of convenience stores to oppose new taxes on pop, junk food and bottled water.

Witness tampering. Lawmakers gave 38-0 first-round approval to a bill that would increase penalties for tampering with witnesses, jurors or evidence in a criminal case.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha said he introduced the bill to address what has been called an incentive in criminal sentences that provides a lesser felony penalty for such tampering than for the crime being charged, such as murder or kidnapping.

LB 496 was sparked by the slaying of Army Sgt. Kyle LeFlore, who was shot and killed outside a north Omaha nightclub in January 2018. A key witness in the slaying backed out after, prosecutors say, two people attempted to intimidate her.

College savings. Nebraska could help build up college savings accounts for young people under a proposal advanced Tuesday by the Legislature.

LB 610 cleared first-round consideration on a 31-0 vote. Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha introduced the original bill. Lawmakers amended it Tuesday to add provisions of LB 547, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln.

Both were among a package of bills pushed by State Treasurer John Murante this year. The Treasurer’s Office administers Nebraska’s tax-advantaged college-savings program, also known as its 529 program.

Lindstrom’s proposal would give state incentive payments to employers who contribute to employees’ college savings plans. The payments would be 25% of the employer’s contributions, up to $2,000 per plan. The program would be capped at $250,000 annually.

Wishart’s proposal would put state matching funds into college savings plans set up for children from low-income families.

The state would put in $1 for every $1 that others contribute to accounts for children whose families make between 200% and 250% of the federal poverty level. The state would match $2 for every $1 contributed to accounts for children of families making less than 200% of poverty level.

The match program also would be capped at $250,000 annually. Wishart said Murante has promised to seek donations to cover the cost of the match.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan said the proposals could make a big difference for young people. She said studies show that children are more likely to get higher education if they know an account is waiting to help pay for college.

Capitol Digest reporters photo xcapitoldigest capitoldigest

From left, World-Herald legislative reporters Martha Stoddard, Paul Hammel and Aaron Hegarty.

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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