~A proposal to ban the sale of novelty cigarette lighters morphed into a debate on the so-called ‘nanny state’ in the Nebraska Legislature Tuesday. Meanwhile, a tax bill to benefit the poor was introduced, in part to make a point
The proposed ban defines novelty lighters as those designed to resemble various other things, including cartoon characters, toys, and guns. Its sponsor, Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings, said the idea behind banning their sale is to keep them out of the hands of children, who might mistake them for toys and wind up setting fires that produce severe burns or even death.
At a public hearing last year, volunteer firefighters supported the proposal, while a representative of grocery stores, where lighters are sold, opposed it.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion argued keeping lighters out of the hands of kids is the job of parents, not the Legislature. Kintner said the same logic supporters used for banning novelty lighter sales could apply to other things children could hurt themselves with, from drain cleaners to knives. “To be honest with you, there’s no end to the nanny state. We can regulate, we can make every kid wear a helmet and pads everywhere they go. I mean, it never stops. We need to hold parents responsible. If you let your kid play with a lighter, novelty or otherwise, then you should be held responsible,” he said.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers disagreed. Chambers said he and his wife had been extremely careful taking care of their four children. But he said he appreciated government-mandated safety measures, such as labels on poisonous materials. “Not everything that merchants put on the market are beneficial. And it’s the responsibility of the society to mandate care, caution and consideration when people selling products are going to be allowed to do so and they have certain benefits as a result. The government ought to protect people, and it ought to protect them from their foolishness,” he said.
Seiler, a lawyer, framed the issue much more narrowly. “What we’re talking about is an attractive nuisance. There’s a whole body of law out there that talks about ‘attractive nuisance.’ Why do you have to build a fence around a swimming pool? Because it’s an attractive nuisance. It’s not because of parental rights. It’s because when that child sees that pool, he’s going to go for it. When he sees this lighter, he’s going to go for it ‘cause it’s a toy,” he said.
Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, who opposes the ban, offered an amendment to say if sales are prohibited, that prohibition won’t take effect until next year. Coash said that would give retailers at least a chance to sell already purchased inventory. Senators defeated that amendment on a vote of 29-17, then recessed for the day without reaching a vote on the bill itself.
Meanwhile, on the next to the last day for bill introduction, 27 new bills were proposed. They include one by Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley and nine other members of the Tax Modernization Committee, which studied Nebraska’s tax system this summer and fall.
The proposal would create an income tax credit for low-income households. It would range from $340 for a household of four with no income, to $40 for the same size household with income of $25,000.
That approach stands in stark contrast to the emphasis by Gov. Dave Heineman and business groups on the need to lower the tax rate on the top bracket, above $58,000 of income for a married couple.
Hadley said in addition to providing relief for low income people, the proposal is also designed to highlight a point. “One of the main purposes of the bill is also to show people that our tax system needs to be looked at throughout the spectrum, from the low income to the high income. We’ve heard a lot about the high income people paying too high a percentage. Well, actually this bill shows that the lower income, that tax burden is a higher percentage for them than it is for the higher income. So it is a balancing act that we’re trying to look at both ends of the spectrum,” he said.
Hadley said the calculation that low income people pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes depends on looking, not just at income tax rates, but at sales and property taxes paid as well.