Guns, property taxes on senators' minds

Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister testifies Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 28, 2019 - 6:10pm

Guns and property taxes were on senators’ minds Thursday.

The Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on LB58, a bill by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld to let police take away guns from people alleged to pose a significant risk to themselves or others by having access to weapons. Morfeld said 14 other states have similar “red flag” laws, which supporters said could help prevent suicides and school shootings.

Among those supporting the measure was Tom Perkins of Scottsbluff, who said it could have helped a man who told his family he was going to buy a gun and kill his wife. They did nothing about it, and Perkins said, the man then showed up at the trailer park where his wife lived. “He shot and killed his wife, and then turned to his six year old boy who said Daddy don’t shoot me. The father shot the boy and then shot himself. Had LB58 been in effect at that time, I am sure that there could have been an intervention,” Perkins said.

Representatives of the Lincoln Police, Sarpy County sheriff’s office and the Fraternal order of Police supported the proposal, saying they currently lack tools to prevent such tragedies.

Patricia Harrold of the Nebraska Firearm Owners Association was among those opposing the bill. Harrold said it was a threat to civil liberties, and an attempt to find a quick, easy solution to mental health problems.

And Lincoln criminal defense attorney Korey Reiman said that even though the bill calls for a judge to decide whether guns can be taken away, it shifts the burden of proof. Reiman said the process itself could be used as a weapon in messy domestic disputes and divorce cases.

“An angry spouse, an angry ex can file this with just a preponderance of the evidence to mess with their spouse who’s a gun owner, who loves to hunt, who wants to take the kids on an elk (hunting) trip this fall, and all she has to do is sign her name on a piece of paper and make a few allegations that he loves guns, there’s guns around the home all the time,” Reiman said. “The respondent doesn’t even get to say anything to that until it’s already issued. And once it’s issued, it’s his burden all of a sudden that he has to prove that he’s not a danger,” he added.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.   

In debate by the full Legislature Thursday, senators took up a proposal by Sen. Tom Briese to reduce the taxable value of farmland when it comes to paying for school bond issues. Briese, who farms near Albion, gave an example of a farmer with 900 acres paying 27 times what the owner of a $150,000 house in town pays for a bond issue.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango said that’s a problem in districts where town residents outnumber farmers. “When the majority of the voters in the district live in the towns, and want to have a new school, they can vote it in knowing full well that they don’t have to pay a majority of the price. And that’s the unfairness,” he said.

Briese said his proposal would mean the farmer in his example would pay less, but still 18 times as much as the homeowner. “To the extent that this proposal appears ag-friendly, I make no apologies. Ag is choking on red ink. Yesterday we heard from a farmer and a son who moved their operation out of Nebraska to Missouri because of property taxes. They couldn’t afford to stay here. They couldn’t make a profit. They were forced out of business, force to leave their native state,” Briese said.

He was referring to Frederic Oltjenbruns and his son Chris. In emotional testimony to the Revenue Committee Wednesday, Frederic Oltjenbruns described moving from Ceresco, Nebraska, where they paid $50,000 in property taxes, to Warrensburg, Missouri, where they pay $1,100.

Frederic Oltjenbruns said his family had lived in Nebraska for 150 years. “We’ve lived here all our life… I’ve got family buried here. I was born here. My son and my daughter were born here. And we feel like refugees,” he said.

In Thursday’s debate, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers blasted rural senators for not caring about his constituents. And Chambers said farmers have a choice. “If farming is a way to go broke, stop farming. If it’s cheaper to live in the city, move to the city. Nobody makes you move out there,” he said.

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz said she was sympathetic to farmers’ plight. But she suggested an alternative plan of letting communities pay for school bonds by locally-approved income tax surcharges would produce better outcomes. “Equally sharing the burden. Holding voters accountable to their votes and paying for the things that they are choosing as a community to build and do. And ensuring that people think twice and have capital construction only when necessary. Because everyone who is earning an income would pay and would pay not disproportionately, rather they would pay according to their ability to pay,” Bolz said.

Senators voted 29-1 to give Briese’s bill first-round approval, but only after he assured them it would advance no further until they have a chance to see what overall tax changes are proposed by the Revenue Committee.



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