Mar 03

At Nebraska legislative hearings, just who gets to be heard?


Don Schuller just wanted to give his five-minute speech and go.
The farmer and retired civil engineering technician from Wymore drove to Lincoln and spent seven hours hoping to testify against Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposed income tax cuts during a public hearing last month, only to be turned away by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee for lack of time.

“I feel like I’m a reasonable person,” Schuller said Thursday. “I’m not all that acquainted with how the hearings work, because this is the first time I’ve attended. But I didn’t like how it was handled.”

Nebraska is one of the few states that guarantees a public hearing for each of the hundreds of bills lawmakers introduce every year. The longstanding tradition is intended to foster transparency and accountability in government.

But it causes some headaches, too.

Scheduling the hearings is an inexact science: No one can predict just how many people will want to speak or how many questions senators will ask. Testimony can stretch late into the evening, dashing plans of laypeople and lawmakers alike.

And because there isn’t enough time in the legislative session to discuss each bill on a different day, hearings usually cover three bills or more.

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, chairman of the Revenue Committee, said he limited testimony on the governor’s income tax bill to make time for a related measure scheduled for the same day.

“Is it appropriate to have those folks go until 11 o’clock or midnight, or is it best to try to limit and structure the testimony in such a way that you try to get as much of an opinion on both sides of the issue into the record as possible?” he asked.

Many people who were interested in the later proposal, the governor’s plan for reforming agricultural property valuation, were farmers and ranchers who drove to Lincoln from far-flung parts of the state, Smith said. And scheduling the two bills for different days wouldn’t have been fair to people who were interested in both.

“We also had a very active committee that chose to take up a considerable amount of that time.”

One-fifth of discussion on that bill was dominated by a single committee member asking questions, he said.

Committee chairmen usually limit individual speakers to three or five minutes, with exceptions for testimony from subject-matter experts and public officials, including the senator who introduced the bill. Committee members can extend a person’s speaking time by asking questions.

In extreme cases, committees can limit overall testimony to a set amount of time for each side.

That happened at least twice this year, once in Smith’s committee and again Wednesday in the Health and Human Services Committee, during a hearing on a bill that would change occupational licensing for cosmetologists, audiologists, nail technicians, massage therapists and barbers.

That rare morning hearing was ended promptly at noon because of events to mark Nebraska’s 150th year of statehood.

Dozens of people who opposed the bill were unable to testify. Its sponsor, Omaha Sen. Merv Riepe, is the committee chairman and decided to end the hearing at noon — a decision announced in advance through a news release but not included on the agenda.

Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, a committee member, disagreed with the scheduling decision and brought it up on the legislative floor Thursday morning.

“There is no celebration so big that it should keep us from doing the work that George Norris (father of Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature) dreamed of, and that Nebraskans deserve,” Howard said.

Committees typically know in advance when a bill will be controversial, and take that into consideration when scheduling the hearing.

Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete should know. 

She’s chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, which deals with notoriously contentious topics such as medical marijuana and gay rights, and tends to draw testimony that is extensive, passionate and often redundant. 

“I feel very seriously that if people want to come and talk, they have a right to come and talk,” Ebke said. “It would have to be a truly dire situation for me to shut them down.”

Legislative rules give committee chairmen wide latitude in establishing ground rules.

Lobbyists and other regulars at legislative hearings know those rules in advance and plan around them, but outsiders often don’t.

The rules can also change at the last minute, usually to accommodate an unexpected number of speakers.

Most committee chairmen make a point to announce the rules at the start of each hearing.

Walt Radcliffe, a longtime Capitol lobbyist, said this isn’t the first year people have been turned away when they expected to testify on bills.

Different committee chairmen handle it with different levels of tact, he said, but all lawmakers should respect that public hearings are for the public, not for senators to have a “soliloquy.”

“It’s the only time, really, that they interact face-to-face in a sanctioned, public forum.”
Source: Norfolk Daily News

Mar 03

Nebraska Tobacco Quitline To Provide No-Cost NRT


Beginning March 13, the Nebraska Tobacco Quitline is providing a two-week supply of over-the-counter nicotine replacement aids at no cost (one of the following: gum, patches or lozenges) while supplies last.

To qualify, the caller must be:

  • Nebraska resident over the age of 18 who is ready to quit tobacco,
  • Registered with the Quitline and complete one coaching session.

Callers will be screened for medical eligibility to receive the free medication.

Callers can contact the Quitline 24/7 at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669).

For Spanish, call 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (335-3569). Translation is available in more than 170 languages.

Medicaid recipients are still eligible for a 90-day supply of prescription nicotine replacement therapy at a very low cost.  Individuals with private insurance should contact their insurance providers about their cessation prescription benefit.  The fax referral form can be found at

This offer coincides with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national Tips From Former SmokersTM campaign.

Health care providers who are referring patients to the Quitline should continue to use the fax referral form on the website.  Thank you for sharing this with individuals who might benefit from this opportunity.


Funding for this project is provided by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services/Tobacco Free Nebraska Program as a result of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

Mar 03

Tackling Tobacco: February 2017 National Legislative & Regulatory Roundup


NATIONAL REPORT — Tobacco legislation and regulation is constantly under review at the local, state and federal levels. In this monthly roundup, Convenience Store News highlights the latest proposals and approved changes happening across the United States.


Phoenix — A move to increase the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 statewide has been shot down. House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Weninger (R-Chandler) said he would not hear the bill because it places an unnecessary restriction on 18-year-old residents. The proposal, House Bill 2335, needs a hearing in the committee to advance.


Indianapolis — The Indiana Ways and Means Committee is reviewing legislation that would raise the state’s cigarette excise tax and raise the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. Both were approved by the state Public Health Committee in early February.
If passed, Indiana HB 1578 would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50 to nearly $2.50, with a larger tax increase for bigger cigarettes. The bill also has language that could repeal smoker protection laws, which are state statutes that protect tobacco users from discrimination from employers or potential employers.


Topeka — The state House of Representatives and Senate has forwarded Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to raise cigarette taxes to their chambers for debate, without formally endorsing it. The measure could come up for debate in March. Brownback’s proposal would increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1 a pack to $2.29.


Helena — Montana State Sen. Mary Caferro (D-40th District) proposed a bill to increase the state’s tobacco tax by $1.50. If the measure passes, the increase would put the total sales tax at more than $3.20 a pack. The revenue would be used to offset cost of healthcare programs.

Also in Montana, The Senate Judiciary Committee heard a bill in early February that would add electronic cigarettes and vaping products to the list of prohibited tobacco items in the Clean Indoor Air Act.


Bloomingdale — Borough officials approved a move to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. The measure passed on first reading, with a final vote slated for March 7. The ordinance would also hike the penalty for businesses that sell to underage buyers. Under the new structure, fees for first- and second-time offenses could go up to $500 and $750, respectively, from $250 and $500. The borough also can revoke licenses.

In addition, officials voted in favor of a license and fee of $750 for businesses that sell electronic cigarettes. The final vote is also scheduled for March 7. The license would apply to any smoking device, whether electronic or other powered device, that can be used to deliver nicotine or other substances to the person inhaling from the device, including but not limited to, an e-cigarette, cigar, cigarillo or pipe, or any cartridge, refill or other component of the device or related product, including but not limited to refills such as liquids, gels, waxes and powders.

City of Trenton — Trenton joined a growing list of New Jersey towns to ban the sale of tobacco products to consumers under 21 years old. The statewide minimum legal buying age is 19. The vote came on Feb. 16, and goes into effect 20 days later. Retail outlets violating the new rule face penalties ranging from $250 to $1,000. The city’s health department can also suspend the retail food establishments license of a violator for up to three days.

Trenton — A New Jersey State Assembly panel approved legislation sponsored by Assembly members Herb Conaway, Jr. (D-Burlington) and Daniel Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) to ban the sale of flavored electronic smoking products in the state. The move is an effort to prevent the products from being targeted to young people.

A separate measure approved by the panel would also prohibit the use of coupons and promotional offers for both tobacco and vapor products.

The first bill (A-3704) would specifically prohibit the sale, the offering for sale, and the distribution of electronic smoking devices and related products that have a “characterizing flavor,” meaning the device imparts a distinguishable flavor, taste, or aroma prior to or during consumption.

This bill would amend the existing law to expand the prohibition on the sale or distribution of flavored cigarettes to include flavored electronic smoking devices, cartridges, components and other related products, including liquid refills.

Anyone found in violation of the prohibition established under this bill would be liable to a civil penalty of not less than $250 for the first violation, not less than $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third and each subsequent violation.

The bill would take effect immediately upon enactment.

The second measure (A-4620), sponsored by Conaway, would prohibit the use of coupons, price reductions, and price rebates in connection with the sale or offer for sale of tobacco and vapor products to consumers at retail.

A violation of this prohibition would be punishable by a civil penalty of not less than $250 for a first violation, not less than $500 for a second violation, and $1,000 for a third or subsequent violation, which would be paid into the treasury of the municipality in which the violation occurred.

Additionally, a licensed tobacco retail dealer found to have committed a violation would, following a hearing, be subject to an additional administrative penalty or suspension of the dealer’s license. The license would be subject to revocation following a second violation.

This bill would take effect two months following enactment.

Source: CSNews

Mar 03

Texas Legislator Seeks to Ban Smoking on State-Owned Property, College Campuses


A college campus isn’t generally thought of as an ideal place to light up a cigar, but if a bill introduced into the Texas legislature gets passed, it won’t only be an less than ideal place, it will be an illegal place.

On Wednesday, Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, introduced H.B. 2652, which seeks to prohibit the use of cigarettes, tobacco products and e-cigarettes in all state-owned or leased buildings, on all state-owned or leased grounds, and on any college campus that receives state funding. Should it get passed, the ban would go into effect on Sept. 1.

The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Source: Halfwheel

Mar 03

Arkansas Legislature Wants to Raise Tobacco Smoking Age to 21


ARKANSAS – – The Arkansas Legislature is considering a bill that would raise the legal age to use or buy tobacco to 21.

The bill was introduced Monday by Arkansas State Representative Fred Allen.

The four-term Democrat’s proposal would prohibit sale of vapor products, nicotine patches, e-liquid products and rolling papers to anyone under 21.

It would also authorize police or school officers to confiscate tobacco products and a minor could get community service if they’re convicted of a crime and has a tobacco product on them.

Stan Brown doesn’t agree with the new bill saying the age limit is fine where it is at.

“I believe that a person is 18 years old, and they’re in a position that they can serve for our country and willing to put their life on the line for their country for our freedoms and things of that sort, then they should at least have the right to smoke,” Brown said.

The bill would move Arkansas in line with California and Hawaii that have 21-year-old limits.

Chicago and New York City also have similar laws in place.

Source: NWA

Mar 02

UNL to look at smoke-free campus


The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is entertaining the idea of becoming a smoke free campus.
“I think it creates a better positive experience for visitors and students at that campus to not have to deal with the smells of smoke or seeing cigarette butts on the ground,” student senator Scott Schenkelberg, who submitted the proposal to Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN), said.
Right now, UNL is the only University of Nebraska campus to not have a smoke-free policy.
Source: KLKN

Mar 02

Input sought for smoke-free campus policy at UNL


University administrators and student leaders are conducting a survey to gauge interest in creating a tobacco/smoke-free campus policy.

The survey will measure support for and against a policy to prohibit the use of all smoke and vapor products (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookahs, electronic cigarettes and similar devices) campuswide, including outdoor areas. The university currently prohibits the use of tobacco products inside and within a designated proximity to campus buildings and sports venues, as well as inside university vehicles.

Faculty, staff and students can complete the online survey from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. March 8. Student responses will be collected through the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska elections, specifically senate bill No. 14. Students will be able to access the ASUN ballot by logging into MyRed. Faculty and staff will receive instructions via email to access the survey.

Adoption of a policy would place the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a growing list of colleges and universities nationwide that have adopted or are in the process of approving a tobacco/smoke-free campus protocol. Nationally, there are more than 1,755 campuses that are 100 percent smoke free and an additional 1,331 that prohibit electronic cigarette use.

The university is the only institution in the University of Nebraska system that does not have a tobacco-free policy. Other Nebraska institutions of higher education — including Creighton University, Bellevue University, Clarkson College, College of Saint Mary, York College and the Nebraska Methodist College — have adopted smoke-free campus policies.

Among Big Ten peers, the university is one of three institutions that does not totally restrict the use of tobacco products on campus.

Tobacco use causes more than 480,000 deaths per year, and more than 16 million Americans suffer from tobacco-related disease. Eliminating tobacco use on campus may mitigate second-hand impacts of smoking and may help other people quit using tobacco products.

The ASUN Campus Life and Safety Committee and the Tobacco-Free Campus Taskforce are working together to pose the survey question to campus.

Source: UNL News Today

Mar 02

Students able to vote on UNL becoming a smoke-free campus


On March 8, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., University of Nebraska-Lincoln students and facility will be able to decide whether the university should be a smoke-free campus on a survey through the ASUN ballot to inform potential ASUN legislation. The survey was brought to the ballot by the ASUN Campus Life and Safety Committee and the Tobacco-Free Campus Taskforce.
If the student body votes “yes,” UNL could join other smoke-free colleges such as Creighton University, the University of Kansas, and over 1,755 others if the new policy is proposed. The other University of Nebraska schools have already adopted similar policies as well. Nebraska is one of three Big Ten schools that hasn’t opted to go smoke-free.

UNL already prohibits smoking in buildings or in close proximity to them. Smoking has been gradually fading since the 1940s when it was discovered to be a leading cause of lung cancer. Since then, policy makers have been attempting to warn potential smokers of its harmful effects. Now, only 15 percent of Americans smoke .

However, a new trend of e-cigarettes is growing on campus, and this survey would address vapor as well. A 100 percent smoke-free campus includes vapor products such as e-cigarettes.

Students and faculty who have strong opinions on either side of the matter are encouraged to include their voice in the decision and complete the survey.

Source: Daily Nebraskan

Mar 02

Lincoln Journal Star Editorial, 3/1: Drop plan to cut tax for wealthy; Consider Raising Cigarette Tax


This is absolutely the wrong time for the Legislature to be talking about income tax cuts.

That’s the most obvious takeaway from the lower revenue projections set Monday by the Economic Forecasting Advisory Board.

The income tax cuts pushed by Gov. Pete Ricketts should be declared dead in the water. State senators should kill the bill immediately. They’ve got more urgent problems.

State government already was in a huge financial hole. Now it’s grown to mammoth proportions.

The preliminary budget drawn up by the Appropriations Committee would have left the state $134 million under the minimum reserve required by law for the budget period ending June 30, 2019.

That shortfall loomed despite the deep cuts in current spending recommended by Ricketts and already approved by the Legislature.

Now, according to the new projections, the budget gap has grown by $152.8 million to $287 million.

The current crop of senators should be grateful for the prudence their predecessors showed in leaving intact a large budget surplus accumulated under better economic conditions.

The OpenSky Policy Institute has correctly noted that in previous budget crises the Legislature has also taken actions to boost revenue.

The Journal Star editorial board has suggested a couple of possibilities, including eliminating the sales tax exemptions for soda pop and candy, which could raise $10 million to $15 million a year. Another possibility is raising the state cigarette tax, which ranks 41st in the country, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids.

Nebraska’s state cigarette tax of 64 cents a pack is far below the national average of $1.69 cents a pack, and less than half that in the neighboring states of South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas.

Such actions could soften the impact that spending cuts will have on hard-working Nebraskans.

One of those impacts will be sizable tuition hikes nearing double-digits for University of Nebraska students, NU President Hank Bounds told senators Monday. As Rachel Flaugh, a student regent and student body president at the University of Nebraska at Kearney said, tuition hikes of that size “will limit our opportunities and send the wrong message to Nebraska’s future leaders.”

In Lancaster County officials are desperately scratching for enough money to repair bridges so it can reopen county roads. Farmers, faced with property taxes that are among the highest in the nation, are howling for relief.

And the governor and a coterie of state senators – some of whom were elected with the governor’s financial support — are still pushing income tax cuts that primarily would benefit the wealthy?

This is a spectacularly bad idea under the current economic conditions. If the governor won’t drop the proposal on his own, state senators will have to do it for him.


Source: Lincoln Journal Star

Mar 02

Bill filed to make all state campuses, buildings tobacco-free


AUSTIN – A member of the Texas House of Representatives took a step forward Wednesday to make all state-funded college campuses and state buildings tobacco and smoke-free.

Representative Rick Miller filed HB 2652, which would ban the use of e-cigarettes, cigarettes and other tobacco products on properties owned or leased by the state.

According to Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, as of Jan. 2, over 1,700 U.S. college campuses are now 100 percent smoke-free, 1,400 of which are also tobacco-free.

“We all know it: Tobacco kills. In fact, tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in Texas and in the United States, and close to 24,500 Texans — our friends and neighbors — die every year of tobacco-related causes,” said Eduardo Sanchez, MD, chair of the Texas Public Health Coalition.

If HB 2652 becomes law, it would go into effect a little after the start of the 2017 fall semester for most Texas schools: Sept. 1.

Source: KVUE