Food trucks teaser

State Sen. Tony Vargas told a state legislative committee Tuesday that the growing food-truck industry in Nebraska is hampered by a "patchwork" of city-by-city rules and sometimes high fees.

LINCOLN — An Omaha senator wants Nebraska to be more “food-truck-friendly.”

State Sen. Tony Vargas joined some food-truck operators on Tuesday in telling a state legislative committee that the growing food-truck industry is hampered by a “patchwork” of city-by-city rules and sometimes high fees.

For instance, it costs $100 a year to license a food truck in Omaha ($200 if operating in downtown Omaha), $300 in Bellevue, $275 in Papillion and $175 in La Vista.

Under Vargas’ Legislative Bill 732, trucks would be required to obtain a state license for $75 and pay no more than $40 for a health inspection. Cities and counties would be barred from adopting more restrictive regulations, under the proposal, which the senator said would encourage entrepreneurs.  

“This allows Nebraska to prove it’s a food-truck-friendly state,” said Vargas, during a public hearing Tuesday before the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee.

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Food truck owners said it’s sometimes difficult to discern the different regulations in different communities facing their mobile eateries. Tom LeBlanc, who operates a Cajun and barbecue truck, said it’s getting more and more expensive to operate due to licensing fees and health inspection costs.

But officials with the state restaurant association and the City of Omaha testified against LB 732. They said that local communities need the power to regulate food trucks as they see fit.

The city’s lobbyist, Jack Cheloha, said that Omaha reached a compromise with food truck owners so they didn’t park right in front of existing brick-and-mortar restaurants. They are also required to collect the city restaurant tax, like regular eateries. 

The Agriculture Committee took no action on the proposal Tuesday.

Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran, who chairs the committee, said LB 732 will require some amendments before he could support it, including allowing local communities to continue to enact local regulations.

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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.

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