Nebraska senators debate casinos, BPA, motorcycle helmets

By Danae Lenz, Nebraska News Service
 LINCOLN–The Nebraska Legislature debated and heard testimony on a variety of topics this week, including legalizing casino gambling and industrial hemp, regulating BPA products, repealing the motorcycle helmet law and providing assistance for low-performing schools, among others. Here are some highlights.
LR416CA, introduced by Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek, would allow a local government to put a measure on the ballot that would allow casinos within that jurisdiction. Karpisek said Nebraska is losing revenue to other states that could be used help some of the state’s budget woes. The General Affairs Committee heard testimony on the bill Wednesday and took no immediate action on it.
If passed, 50 percent of the revenue would be used to lower property taxes, 25 percent would go to elementary and secondary education, 12 percent would go to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, 12 percent would be doled out to the Department of Natural Resources and 1 percent would be put into the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund.
Marijuana; the industrial hemp variety
The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill Wednesday that would allow industrial hemp to be grown in Nebraska. The bill, LB1001 introduced by Cortland Sen. Norm Wallman, says all plants grown must contain 1 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), cannabis’ active ingredient. Growers would have to get a license from the Department of Agriculture and submit a variety of information in order to be considered.
Wallman emphasized that his bill is not intended to start the consideration of legalizing marijuana in Nebraska. Instead, it’s about creating jobs and making good environmental choices, he said. No one testified in opposition to the bill, and the committee took no immediate action on it.
Potentially harmful BPA 
Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm seeks to make regulations on Bisphenol A (BPA) stricter in Nebraska. The Agriculture Committee heard the bill, LB696, on Tuesday and took no action on it.
BPA, a chemical in some plastics that has been widely used in food and beverage packages, is suspected of having negative effects on people, especially children. Already the federal government bans BPA in sippy cups, baby bottles and formula. LB696 would require any company selling products marketed toward children to put this label on the packaging: “This package contains Bisphenol A, a chemical that may harm fetal development, which can leach into the food.” People who violated the law would be fined $10,000.
Opponents of the bill said there isn’t enough research on BPA to know what it does and that the law would negatively affect commerce because Nebraska would be the only state with such a law. But those supporting the bill said Nebraska doesn’t need its children to be guinea pigs.
Helmet law
In session this week, LB393, which would allow motorcycle riders older than 21 the option of not wearing a helmet, stalled. After eight hours of debate, the bill was put back on general file and will likely not come back up this legislative session. Senators who spoke in favor of the bill said the government should keep out of individuals’ personal business, but opposing senators said taxpayers pay nearly $50 million every year in medical expenses for motorcyclists and cited personal horrors associated with motorcycle accidents.
In-state tuition for veterans
A bill allowing veterans and their spouses and children in-state tuition advanced in the legislature this week. LB740 by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford applies to any veteran within two years of his or her discharge date. The bill is estimated to cost Nebraska universities $500,000 a year.
Help for troubled schools
LB438 by York Sen. Greg Adams would allow for an intervention team to help low-performing schools to get back up to par. Schools would be deemed priority schools until the State Board of Education says they are functioning as they should be. The intervention team would work closely with school staff and the school districts and come up with a realistic plan to get the school where it needs to be. According to Adams,a former high school teacher, the state currently has no way of helping low-performing schools, and this bill seeks to fix that. The bill was given first-round approval on Wednesday.
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