The Nebraska State Patrol is at its lowest number of troopers since 1996, but the patrol is budgeting to fix radios and vehicles, not hire more troopers, Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln said Thursday.
Legislative Bill 579 would increase from 9 to 15 the number of state patrol members who focus on enforcing the Nebraska Liquor Control Act.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said Nebraska has about 425 state patrol members.
Coash voted against advancing LB 579 from the general affairs committee because he said enforcing liquor laws isn’t the only thing the patrols need to do.
“We do have needs in law enforcement,” he said. “We have needs for more troopers. Whether they go to liquor enforcement, child sex crime investigation; we need all of that.”
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins said assigning new officers to liquor control will free up other officers. Earlier in the debate, Bloomfield said having more patrol in rural areas gives people a sense of security.
Sen. Russ Karpisek sponsored LB 579. He said in 1987 there were 12 officers focused on enforcing liquor laws and dealing with license holders, but that was ratcheted down to nine, which is why the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission brought the issue to Karpisek.
“We’re trying to stop the slide any lower than 10,” he said.
There is currently about one officer focused on liquor law enforcement for every 600 active liquor license holders, with 5,583 licensees listed on the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission website.
As debate stretched on for LB 579, an amendment to decrease liquor law patrol officers in the bill from 15 to 10 passed on a vote of 26-1, with Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha opposed.
Several senators said it’s a budget issue, and 15 members would take away from other priority bills.
Karpisek agreed it would affect the budget. It would cost about $100,000 per additional patrol member in 2013 to 2014 and about $90,000 in 2014 to 2015, according to the fiscal note attached to the bill.
Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill said that’s too much money. Larson said to look at other 2013 priority bills and weed out some of them.
He said that setting a number in statute reduces flexibility for the Appropriations Committee to work on the budget.
The senators ran out of time to vote on an amendment by Karpisek, who said his amendment would clarify that the state patrol has power to decide if it should increase up to 15 people the number of employees dedicated to liquor enforcement.
“I think this is the piece that takes away any micromanaging that we may be concerned about because it assigns 10 members and there are currently, roughly, nine,” Karpisek said.