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Nebraska senators reject proposed handgun fee increase

January 9, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers rejected a bill Tuesday that would have raised the cost of a handgun permit from $5 to $25, with some senators arguing that counties shouldn’t impose any fee.

The legislation hit a wave of resistance despite arguments that it would help counties cover the rising cost of processing permit applications, a requirement imposed on counties by the state.

Lawmakers voted 27-17 to indefinitely postpone the measure, killing it for the rest of this year’s session.

Nebraska’s three most populous counties — Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy — have seen a sharp increase in the number of permit applications that need to be processed while the fee has stayed the same for the last 25 years, said Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, the bill’s sponsor.

Blood said the Legislature’s reluctance to allow such fee increases creates pressure on county boards to raise property taxes. She said she had been willing to work with her colleagues to try to find a compromise. Senators also rejected a proposed amendment to shift the cost from counties to the state, but adopted a measure that would have let permits remain valid for five years instead of the current three.

“We are ripping off taxpayers when we choose to not rise to the responsibilities we have in the Legislature to make sure fees cover the expenses that we ask our counties to carry,” Blood said.

Gun-rights groups argued that the increase is too large and questioned whether it reflects the actual cost of processing permits. The bill would generate an estimated $120,000 a year for Douglas County, encompassing Omaha, and Lancaster County would see a $121,500 revenue increase in the current fiscal year.

Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln said raising the fee could prevent some low-income residents from exercising their Second Amendment rights to legally own a gun.

“I cannot in good conscience support having a fee of any kind for having Nebraskans express their constitutional right,” he said.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus said he was concerned that lawmakers have been relying on fees to finance government operations because they don’t want to raise taxes.

“All those kind of fees confound and aggravate the taxpayer and are due to our reluctance to admit that you’ve got to have taxes in order to do what you deem to be good in government,” he said.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said lawmakers should consider raising a number of different fees that have remained stagnant over the years, rather than singling out individual expenses.

For example, he said the fee for serving court papers such as lawsuits has not increased in decades.

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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