Smoking/vaping age would rise; Ricketts overriden; tax plan advances

Sen. Mike Groene confers with Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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April 30, 2019 - 5:36pm

The age for smoking or vaping would be increased under a bill advancing in the Legislature. Senators overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts veto of a tax bill affecting Gage County. And the Revenue Committee advanced a major proposal to change taxes and school funding.

Right now, the minimum age for vaping and smoking in Nebraska is 18. But that would increase to 19 under a bill that advanced in the Legislature. Sen. Dan Quick introduced the measure. Supporters like Sen. Bruce Bostelman said the increase is needed to fight an empidemic of vaping in school. “It is so easy for students to bring devices in to vape, to juul, to dab, whatever those things are, in the school system now. Tthey have a very difficult in managing that,” he said.

Sen. Curt Friesen offered an amendment that would have raised the minimum age to 21. Sen. Mike Groene spoke against the move, saying vape parlors had been good for North Platte, which he represents. “We have a couple of storefronts in North Platte that now are filled with young people that have an adult in the room, watching over them, that are not on a dirt road drinking alcohol with the wrong group, or in or out smoking pot in somebody’s basement. They found a group they can hang with and tell the other ones ‘No, I don’t do that. I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs, I vape,” he said.

Friesen’s amendment was defeated, 25-22. So was another by Sen. Justin Wayne, that would have exempted vaping from the Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans smoking in restaurants. Senators then voted 40-0 to give the bill first round approval.

Also Tuesday, sentors overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of a sales tax bill that applies only to Gage County. That’s home county of the so-called Beatrice Six, six people who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a collective total of over 70 years for a 1980s rape and murder. DNA evidence later proved someone else committed the crime, and a federal court awarded the defendants $28 million, which, with attorney’s fees and interest, has now reached $31 million.

The bill Ricketts vetoed would allow the county board to impose a half-cent sales tax to help pay that judgement. Sen. Myron Dorn, sponsor of the bill, LB472, said without it, all of the money would have to come from property taxes. “LB472 will give some property tax relief, and it will help pay off the $31 million judgement,” he said.

In his veto message, Ricketts said the legislation should not be allowed to break the precendent of letting voters decide on sales tax increase. Sen. John Lowe echoed that argument in urging senators to uphold the governor’s veto. “Let’s not let this one pass. Let’s find another solution for Gage County – one that will work. I have faith in the people of Gage County, that they will vote in favor of this. And it needs to go to a vote of the people,” he said.

Only two senators – Steve Erdman and Rob Clements – who had previously supported the bill switched to support the governor’s veto, and it was overridden on a vote of 41-8.

And, the Revenue Committee has advanced a plan to lower property taxes by raising sales and other taxes. The committee voted 6-0 for the plan, with two abstentions, from Sens. Friesen and John McCollister. It would raise sales taxes half a cent, cigarette taxes 36 cents a pack, tax home and auto repairs, and raise other taxes, all to increase state aid to schools and lower property taxes. Ricketts has opposed the plan. The committee is also working on a proposal to create a new generation of corporate tax incentives, something that Sen. Mark Kolterman, who switched from opposing to supporting the property tax plan, has insisted on.




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