E-15 mandate advances; Pillen signs permitless concealed carry

April 25, 2023, midnight ·

Senator Tom Brewer, left, shakes hands with Governor Jim Pillen following signing of permitless concealed carry bill (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Senator Tom Brewer, left, shakes hands with Governor Jim Pillen following signing of permitless concealed carry bill (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Legislature gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill requiring gas stations to sell gasoline containing more ethanol. And Gov. Jim Pillen signed into law a bill allowing Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

When it comes to gasoline, most Nebraskans are probably familiar with the blend of 10 percent ethanol sold at many gas stations. A proposal by Sen. Myron Dorn would require most gas stations to sell gasoline containing 15 percent. If stations install new pumps or replace 80 percent of their existing pumps, then they would be required to offer so-called E-15. They would also receive a tax credit of five to nine cents per gallon sold over the next five years. Around 40 percent of corn grown in Nebraska is used to manufacture ethanol. Near the outset of Tuesday’s debate, Sen. Justin Wayne voiced his objection to the bill, highlighting what he saw as a conflict with conservative, free-market ideology.

“We call ourselves a conservative state, where we're passing a mandate to prop up an industry. Now I'm supportive of the industry, but I'm just not understanding why we are propping up another industry but only for corn? Why do we not have hydrogen or chargers being mandated to gas stations? Why are we mandating this? And I would just like an answer, and I'm asking, truly, my conservative colleagues who believe in the free market to explain that to me,” Wayne said.

Sen. Steve Halloran, chair of the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee, compared legislative support for ethanol to support for the petroleum industry in oil-producing states like Texas, Oklahoma or North Dakota.

“They will universally support an industry that's predominant in their states. That's just the reality we're dealing with here. Agriculture is the largest industry. Does this help agriculture? Yes, it does. Does it give consumers more choice at the pump? Yes, it does. Does it give consumers more choice for lower price fuel? Yes, it does,” Halloran said.

Sen. Mike Moser said while ethanol-blended fuel is cheaper, it also produces lower gas mileage than regular gasoline. Moser offered other reasons to support the mandate.

“I think it's good for farmers. Yes. I think it's good for the country in that it burns a local resource, more so than what they pump out of the ground in the Middle East. So those are the reasons that I support it. And I think those are reasonable explanations for my support,” Moser said.

Sen. Teresa Ibach emphasized the economic and environmental benefits of ethanol.

“The ethanol industry is so supportive of jobs which lead to economic security in our state. That all is relative and leads back to agriculture, which is our number one industry. It also provides clean energy, which, anytime that we can agree with the EPA, I think it's a good day,” Ibach said.

But Sen. Megan Hunt said the government shouldn’t be telling businesses what to sell.

“It restricts freedom of choice. It limits people's ability to make their own decisions about the profitability of their business. And as Nebraskans we believe in limited government and individual freedom. And mandating the use of ethanol -- E-15 -- for gas stations is a clear example of government overreach,” Hunt said.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh echoed that argument, sarcastically comparing the ethanol mandate to proposed legislation restricting abortion, trans health care, and drag shows.

“We mandate women's health care… We're attempting to mandate health care decisions for children over their parents’ rights. We're attempting to mandate how individuals and families in this state interact with a specific art form. We are attempting, Senator Wayne, to become a nanny state,” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh, Hunt and their allies who are opposed to trans health care restrictions stretched out the discussion for the cumulative eight hours allowed on first round debates before the Legislature voted for cloture, to end debate. Lawmakers then voted 32-1 first round approval of the bill.

Only Hunt voted no, but 13 senators abstained. The bill still needs to be amended to match the compromise worked out in the Agriculture Committee.

Following the ethanol debate, the Legislature adopted an amendment to a health bill, extending expanded SNAP -- or food stamp -- benefits for another two years. They also approved $6 million over the next two years for expanded training to address a nursing shortage. That bill is now poised for final passage.

Also Tuesday, Gov. Jim Pillen signed into law legislation allowing Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The bill eliminates the time and expense of undergoing training and getting a permit from the State Patrol.

Surrounded by supporters of the legislation, Pillen said it upholds the constitution, and praised its chief introducer, Sen. Tom Brewer.

“Signing this bill upholds the promise I made to voters across the state to protect our constitutional rights and promote our common sense, conservative values that all Nebraskans live by. Thanks to Senator Brewer. Senator Brewer has been working tirelessly on this goal for years,” Pillen said, as the supporters applauded.

Nebraska becomes the 27th state to approve such a law. It will take effect three months after the Legislature adjourns. That’s currently scheduled for June 9, which would make the new law effective in early September.