Legislation to head off tax increase advances; child booster seat age would be raised

March 8, 2018, 5:20 a.m. ·

Nebraska legislators stand for moment of silence in memory of former Rep. and Gov. Charles Thone (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Nebraskans would be spared a tax increase as a result of federal changes, under a bill advancing in the Legislature. And children would have to use car booster seats longer, under another proposal advanced.

Federal tax changes passed in December included abolishing personal exemptions. Because Nebraska’s income tax system is linked to the federal, the result would be a state tax increase of more than $200 million if no adjustments were made, according to the Nebraska Department of Revenue. Sen. Jim Smith’s bill is designed to avoid that, by creating the state’s own personal exemption.

Sen. Bob Krist proposed an amendment to say upper income people would not qualify for that exemption. “This would ensure the state doesn’t raise state taxes on lower and middle income,” Krist said. “It also recognizes that high income families are likely to see significant tax cuts, which has been I guess the mantra of this governor in terms of lowering taxes on the higher end. That’s a consequence of federal law and there’s really nothing we can do about that.”

Krist’s amendment would have done something about that, by limiting the state’s personal exemption to individuals with income under $100,000 or couples under $200,000.

Smith said Krist’s amendment would amount to a tax increase. He said his own bill “keeps Nebraskans whole from the changes at the federal level – all income earners: low income, middle income, high income – it does not increase their taxes.” However, Smith said, Krist’s amendment “does increase taxes on higher income earners.”

Sen. Kate Bolz cautioned the tax increases Smith was trying to avoid are uncertain, and the state needs to make sure it has enough money to balance its budget. “I think it’s important to balance not only our responsibilities in response to federal level changes, and our responsibilities to prevent tax increases on all Nebraskans, but particularly on low and moderate income Nebraskans. But I also think it’s our responsibility to make sure that the tax policy changes we’re making don’t have inappropriate effects on our long-term ability to budget,” Bolz said.

But Sen. Merv Riepe said increasing taxes on upper income people to help balance the budget was the wrong way to go. “The revenue in question has never been ours to appropriate. These dollars are not revenue for spending, and belong to the hardworking men and women of Nebraska. And I’m going to do all that I can to see they are able to keep these dollars,” Riepe said.

Senators defeated Krist’s amendment on a vote of 24-12, before giving Smith’s bill first-round approval on a vote of 38-0.

Senators also acted on a proposal by Sen. Robert Hilkemann, to raise the age that children would be required to be in car booster seats from the current level of up to age 6, to up to age 8. Hilkemann said the average seatbelt is designed for a 165-pound man and hits children in the wrong places, especially if they put the shoulder belt behind them to be more comfortable. “The lap belt can ride up against the abdomen. And during a crash, the soft tissue of the abdomen allows the lap belt to actually compress into the body causing internal abdominal and spinal fracture injuries. The shoulder belt, if positioned improperly behind the back or on the neck, can cause head and neck injuries,” Hilkemann said.

Sen. Steve Erdman said parents should decide how their children ride. “There’s all kind of things we can try to do to force people to protect themselves. Sometimes people have to make their own decisions. And I believe that’s my approach to life is, you make decisions, and then the consequences are what they are. I’m in a quandary as to whether I should support it. It looks like it’s more government regulations, and I’m definitely not for more government regulations,” Erdman said.

Erdman was one of only three senators to vote against the bill, which got 36 votes in favor to gain first-round approval. It also requires children up to age 8 to be seated in the rear seat if it’s not occupied by other children and if seatbelts are available, and requires children up to age 2 to be in rear facing seats, unless they outgrow the manufacturer’s specifications for the seat.

Also Thursday, the Natural Resources Committee advanced what is, in effect, a new exception to the public records law, to protect information from public power generators that could give an advantage to private business competitors. A Nebraska Supreme Court decision last month said information had to be considered public unless its disclosure served no public purpose. The new language would allow keeping confidential any information which “a reasonable person, knowledgeable of the electric utility industry, could conclude gives an advantage to business competitors.” The proposal advanced on a vote of 8-0 and now goes to the full Legislature for debate.

And, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tyler Davis has stepped up his efforts to keep fellow Democrat Bob Krist off the May primary ballot. Secretary of State John Gale rejected Davis’s argument that Krist missed a deadline to register as Democrate. Davis has now asked the Supreme Court to consider the issue. Krist said his lawyers are working on a response, adding “We expect a quick decision from the Court so that voters can have the opportunity to choose the best candidate to take on Pete Ricketts in November.”

Here's a video demonstration of why advocates say the booster seat age requirement should be raised: