Capitol: Lawmakers settle compliance checks, debate tax cuts

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February 8th, 2012

Lincoln, NE – A proposal for tighter restrictions on how law enforcement officials check on alcohol sales to minors has been withdrawn in the Legislature. And Senators debated ways to provide tax relief for Nebraskans.

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Omaha Sen. Bob Krist said he supports the goal of so-called compliance checks on bars, restaurants, and stores that sell alcohol. But he has problems with the way they have sometimes been carried out. “I do think the best interest of the kids is at heart,” he said. “Sometimes the execution of those are (sic) a little zealous and a bit overbearing so we need to come back to center and do things correctly.”

Sen. Bob Krist says compliance checks are "zealous and a bit overbearing." (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Krist’s bill would have required minors working with law enforcement agencies to tell the truth if asked about their age or who they were working for. Despite objections that that would effectively “gut” compliance checks, the bill advanced through the first round of debate.

Among problems that senators said they were trying to combat were police going into a bar with a minor and asking that the minor be served, giving minors IDs that didn’t have their real address, and using minors who looked 21 or older.

Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, who opposed the bill, nevertheless said agencies including the Lincoln Police Department and Omaha Police Department had gone too far. “Lots of blame to go around here,” Coash said. “LPD, OPD, they didn’t look very closely at the guidelines that were placed in front of them. What Sen. Krist has done with this discussion is he’s brought that out into the open. He’s brought it to the attention of not only the law enforcement that needs to comply with the current guidelines, but he’s brought it to the attention of the Liquor Control Commission executive director.”

Sen. Colby Coash said the Omaha and Lincoln police departments had gone too far on compliance checks. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Hobie Rupe is executive director of the Liquor Control Commission. He said even though the fake IDs had the minors real age on them, it still was outside the guidelines agreed on between the State Patrol and the Liquor Control Commission. “Our problem was if you start going outside of what the actual guidelines allow, you’re going down a slippery slope,” he said.

“And these are compliance checks, they’re not entrapment stings. And I think we need to make sure that the existing guidelines as they are make that clear that they are compliance checks. You’re looking to see if a person is going to ask to see an ID and refuse the sale.”

Officials said they would step up training on following the guidelines. Krist then asked that his bill be withdrawn from consideration.

In a public hearing, the Revenue Committee took testimony on several bills designed to reduce taxes. There were proposals to eliminate the taxation of Social Security benefits and reduce the percentage of ag land value subject to property taxes.

Omaha Sen. Heath Mello proposed exempting the first $8,000 of owner-occupied residential real estate from property tax. Mello contrasted his proposal, LB977, with income tax cuts proposed by Gov. Dave Heineman in his bill, LB970.

“While most Nebraska families would see between $150 to $160 under my bill. In comparison, the South Omaha family earning $30,000 that governor Heineman cited in his state of the state address would receive just $30 in income tax relief under LB970.”

That led to a question from Revenue Committee Chairwoman Sen. Abbie Cornett:

“What does your bill do for people that don’t own their own home – young people or old people that are no longer in their home?” Cornett asked. “Or better yet, why didn’t you just look at putting the money in property tax credits so you get ag land relief also?”

Mello acknowledged he was being selective. “It’s not going to affect all Nebraskans,” he said. “I’ve openly admitted that. I think the reality is, property tax relief is still the number one issue Nebraskans talk about when it comes to taxes.”

The committee has not yet acted on the competing proposals.

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