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Last week Speaker Hadley again reminded us of the number of bills that need to be addressed. Our time to take up those issues is running out, and with the budget debate scheduled to start on April 30 we need to focus and stay on track.
This week we will begin working through the noon hour and up until 7:00 in the evening or later. It seems that we can spend a lot of time discussing a bill that seems simple, but then many times we start picking it apart the debate turns into something that has far broader implications than we first thought.
A bill that changed several provisions in the Liquor Control Act was amended to ban the sale of powdered alcohol, a substance that turns water into spirits such as vodka or rum. A brand of the product called Palcohol recently won approval from a federal regulator, but is now running into resistance on the state level.
LB 330 was introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson and prioritized by the General Affairs Committee. Sen. Larson argued that powdered alcohol is a relatively new product and any decision to ban it should be made by the Liquor Control Commission, which has authority over regulation of liquor in the state. I don’t feel that there is a need for this product and there is too much risk of abuse to allow this product in Nebraska.
The first round vote 32-3 moved Nebraska into position to block powdered alcohol before it reaches store shelves. Six other states have banned the product and 39 states are considering regulations this year. Sen. Mark Kolterman, sponsor of the amendment said that powdered alcohol would be too easy for kids to use and hide. He was also concerned that it would probably turn up in public places where alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
The amended bill also contains language to regulate pedal pubs, which are bicycle-like minibars that have become popular in tourist areas and entertainment districts. The regulations require pedal pubs to obtain licenses from the Commission that allow them to sell alcoholic beverages. Each license will be good throughout the state. The license holder may sell individual alcoholic drinks to customers who are 21 and older while on the pedal-pub vehicle. I do think that even though the license is good across the state, they should also be required to get approval to operate from the local officials from the area that the event is held. LB330 still needs two more rounds of discussion in order to get to the Governor’s desk.
A first-round compromise was reached after a year of negotiations on a bill that would allow transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to legally operate in Nebraska.
Introduced by Sen. Health Mello and made a priority of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, LB 629 was advanced from first-round debate 39-1. Sen. Mello said he has a final proposal that he believes will resolve the last remaining concern. This was a very complicated bill because of the issue of who’s insurance policy would cover what and when during the time that a person is working for the transportation network company. My first concern is for the passenger but the driver also needs to be covered by commercial insurance during the act of transporting a ride.
There was also concern that banks and other lenders may not know if a vehicle that they have a lien on is being used for commercial purposes. And that’s a concern because typical auto insurance coverage is nullified when a vehicle is used for commercial purposes. If you deliver newspapers or pizza with your vehicle or charge for delivering something, then that is considered a commercial use and your policy is no longer in effect. So, if an Uber driver gets into an accident, there would not be coverage from your personal insurance policy to fix a vehicle that may have been used as collateral for a loan. Most vehicle owners do not realize this is in most insurance policies that are written in Nebraska.
Sen. Mello has pledged that he would work out a compromise that would put the responsibility on drivers to prove that they had notified their lender about driving for Uber or another transportation networking company. That proof would ensure that a lender was aware one of their vehicles was being used for ride hailing so that the need for collision and comprehensive insurance could be handled by the driver or the transportation network company.
Existing state laws regulate cabs via the Public Service Commission, but those became law before firms like Uber and Lyft came into the picture. Cab companies argue that businesses like Uber and Lyft are different because they have no vehicles and no company drivers. Uber and Lyft are Internet-based services using an app on a smart phone to summon a ride from an individual who may be a full or part time driver furnishing his or her own vehicle and works for a transportation network company (TNC) such as Uber or Lyft. I was happy to see TNC’s come to Nebraska because I think this type of business could be very beneficial in the smaller communities across the state. We have a significant shortage of transportation options in some of the smaller cities, and maybe someday this will help address that issue. I personally utilized an Uber vehicle while in DC last year and admit it was the best cab ride I have ever experienced.
Provisions under LB 629 would require companies like Uber and Lyft to register with the State Public Service Commission and follow several other rules to operate.