Voter ID hearing draws a crowd; historic horseracing on slow track

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March 7, 2013 - 5:38pm

Another proposal requiring a photo ID in order to vote in Nebraska drew a big crowd of supporters and opponents to a public hearing Thursday. Meanwhile, senators continued debating about betting on so-called "historic" horseracing.

This year’s proposal by Fremont Sen. Charlie Janssen to require photo identification to vote is similar to a proposal that failed in the Legislature last year. And many of the arguments were familiar as well. Supporters said it would be an important step to safeguard the integrity of elections.

Among them was Doug Kagan of the group Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom. He gave an example of how fraud could occur without the requirement. "I voted in the same place for many years and they knew who I was. Then they changed my polling place last year. So I walked in and I voted; they didn’t know who I was. Anybody could’ve walked in and voted and said they were me. Nobody would have known the difference," Kagan said.

Opponents argued there’s no evidence voter fraud is a problem in Nebraska, and that the bill would suppress voter turnout. Among them was Peggy Adair of the League of Women Voters. "My name on my driver’s license, which is my only current government-issued photo identification, does not match my name on my voter registration. So I’ll not be allowed to vote in person," Adair said.

Adair, whose said her name is Margaret on her voter registration but Peggy on her license, also said she could not get a provisional ballot under the bill, since that requires a person to swear that his or her name is wrong on the voter rolls, or that he or she has not presented a government issued ID.

The Government, Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee took no immediate action on the bill.

In the historic horseracing debate, sponsoring Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha argued against opponents who say the video terminals used to place bets are similar to slot machines, complete with blinking lights.

"Flashing lights don’t make a slot machine, folks. Trust me. I followed a tow truck around all morning and it never paid out," Lautenbaugh quipped.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who is filibustering against the bill, denounced the expanded gambling he said it would produce. The cause of the moral stench in this state that is spreading is gambling," Chambers declared.

Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher objected to the fact that the state constitution bans gambling with few exceptions, which could require a vote of the people to approve betting on historic horseraces. "The very fact that we are going on eight hours to debate whether we should present to the people a proposition whether or not they should allow us to allow the racing of dead animals borders on the absolute ridiculousness of both sides of this issue," Schumacher intoned.

Lawmakers have now spent just over five hours debating the issue over two days. With the Legislature off Friday/today and Monday, and having a short day Tuesday, that points to Wednesday as the time to reach the informal eight-hour mark before cloture can be invoked to force a vote on the issue.

On another legislative matter, Gov. Dave Heineman is

objecting to a bill that would provide tax incentives for Nebraska wind farms. The Revenue Committee advance the bill Thursday on a 5-3 vote.

In a statement later, Heineman said the bill would extend special interest tax breaks to out of state companies. The bill would let certain renewable energy projects collect refunds on sales taxes they pay.

Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, chairman of the committee, declined to comment on the governor’s criticisms. But in the committee meeting, supporters including Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids said the proposal would help give wind energy companies the extra profit they need for projects that would benefit rural areas.

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