During the 2019 session of the Nebraska Unicameral we monitored numerous bills that could have an impact on our membership and determined whether to support, oppose, or take a neutral position. Here are some of the important areas addressed by the Nebraska Restaurant Association during 2019 and what to anticipate in 2020.
Omaha Plastic Waste. Over the past two years, the City of Omaha has been attempting to implement a plastic bag ban. Since this specific ban would mostly impact grocery stores, our friends in the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association (NGIA) and the Nebraska Retail Federation (NRF) have taken the lead and have been successful to date in delaying implementation. However, it still has considerable support and we do not believe it will stop with grocery stores. The supporters of this proposal will eventually want to address countless other items such as carry out containers, straws, and other plastic products that significantly impact the restaurant industry. The Legislature and/or other cities are likely to follow Omaha’s lead. The NGIA and NRF have invited us to get more seriously involved in the discussion with the intent of developing a logical and comprehensive industry led plan. The bottom line is that the overall “Plastic Waste” issue requires our serious attention. Simply opposing it is only a temporary solution. Unless we can propose positive solutions that we can live with to our elected officials, we could very well end up with restrictions that are very costly. Your input is not only welcome, it is truly needed.
La Vista Restaurant Tax. In August, the LaVista City Council proposed adding a restaurant tax to be paid by the customer and collected by the restaurant at the point of sale. As we all know, a very high percentage of restaurant meals (fast food included) are paid via credit or debit cards. Other cities, including Lincoln and Omaha have a similar tax but most allow the collecting restaurant to receive 2% of the tax collected as a collection fee. This is simply to address the credit card swipe fees that the restaurant will pay to the credit card service for putting the tax on a credit or debit card. As originally proposed, the LaVista tax did not allow the collecting restaurant to receive the 2% fee. Jim Otto, our lobbyist, attended the August 20 meeting of the LaVista City Council and brought this to the attention of the Mayor and Council members. As a direct result of our involvement, the proposal was amended, and the Council passed it with the 2% fee to the restaurant included.
LB400. Increase Minimum Tip Wage. Senator Megan Hunt introduced the bill that would set tipped minimum wage at 50% of the State minimum wage ($4.50/ hr.) by 2021. NRA Executive Director Jim Partington testified in opposition to the bill at the hearing on February 11, 2019. His testimony pointed out the all employees make at least the minimum wage of $9 per hour and the average wage of wait staff is $12.67 per hour statewide and tipped employees earn considerably more. However, the bill was advanced by the Business and Labor Committee to the full body of the Legislature and had significant support but not enough support to overcome the filibuster that we encouraged. LB400 did not pass in the 2019 session but it is still alive as advanced by the committee and could be reconsidered by the body in the 2020 session.
LB289. Property Tax Require Reduction – Raising Other Taxes. The Nebraska Restaurant Association opposed LB289 at the Revenue Committee hearing. The comprehensive Revenue Committee package would have increased the state sales tax rate by one-half-cent, hike the state cigarette tax and eliminate several sales tax exemptions while dedicating all of that
increased revenue to property tax reductions delivered through increased state aid to schools. There were not the 33 votes needed to overcome the filibuster. It did not pass.
LB383. Increase Minimum Wage. Senator Dan Quick introduced the minimum wage increase each year based on the most recent 5-year period consumer price index (CPI). The increase would be limited to no more than a 3.5% increase and included a freeze on the tip wage at the present level. NRA testified in opposition. The Business and Labor Committee did not advance the bill but could do so in the 2020 Session.
LB305 and LB311. Paid Sick Leave and Medical Leave Insurance. Senator Sue Crawford introduced both pieces of legislation. The NRA is opposed to both bills.
LB305 requires one hour of paid sick time for every thirty hours worked. This included part time employees and affected employers with four or more employees. In addition, an employer couldn’t require an employee to search for or find a replacement worker to cover the hours during which the employee is on paid sick time.
LB311 creates a fund similar to unemployment where employers pay into a fund from which paid leave will draw. Base is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters preceding the first day of a covered individual’s benefit year. Employees are eligible for benefits after 26 weeks of consecutive employment. An individual may use paid family medical
leave to care for a family member or domestic partner. Leave consists of up to 12 weeks during any benefit year if such leave is taken for a qualifying reason.
Both LB305 and LB311 face challenges including opposition from the business community and significant costs to the state. Both bills were advanced by the Business and Labor Committee but did not pass in the
2019 session. Both will still be alive for the 2020 Session.
LB304. Expansion of Cottage Food. The Nebraska Restaurant Association moved to a neutral position on LB304 when the Agriculture Committee added an amendment to address food safety. LB304 would require that cottage food producers comply with five basic requirements: (1) register with the Department of Agriculture, (2) take a nationally accredited food safety and handling class, like ServSafe, (3) label their foods as homemade and that they may contain allergens, (4) comply with any local food safety and handling guidelines, and (5) if private well water is used to produce food, the well needs to be tested for nitrates or bacteria before producing and selling food. The bill passed the body and was approved by the Governor.
LB732. Food Truck Vendors. We opposed the initial version of this bill because it imposed significant limitations on local control of zoning and regulatory issues. After discussions with Senator Vargas these limitations were removed, and the bill focused on reciprocal recognition of county permits and streamlining the permitting process for mobile food vendors. We took a neutral position on the final draft of the bill, but it did not pass in the 2019 session. We expect to see it back next year.