The Nebraska Legislature rejected a bill Thursday that would prohibit the sale and trade of ivory in Nebraska, and that mirrors federal provisions that do the same.

The bill (LB39) went down 19-9 on first-round voting, with 12 senators present but not voting. Nine senators were excused, some of them probably because of the weather. 

Omaha Sen. Burke Harr introduced the bill because he thought the state should make a statement that it was against poaching and the illegal sale of ivory from elephants, rhinos and mammoths, he said. Some girls from his children's elementary school had asked for the bill.

"It's already illegal. We were just adding a local law enforcement angle to it," Harr said after the vote. Now, only federal law applies to the issue in Nebraska. 

A list of exceptions to the proposed ivory sale ban were provided in the bill, including firearms, knives, or musical instruments containing ivory, if the ivory is less than 20 percent of its volume, is a fixed or integral component, or the owner has historical documentation showing it was created before 1975.

Harr said the bill had the support of the National Rifle Association. 

The bill had advanced from the Judiciary Committee on a 5-3 vote, with Sens. Steve Halloran, Roy Baker and Bob Krist voting not to send the bill to the full Legislature.

During debate, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said the bill shouldn't have "seen the light of day." Halloran said the bill targeted owners of legally obtained ivory, instead of poachers, smugglers and black-market profiteers. 

The bill did not go after law-abiding citizens, Harr said, but folks already violating federal law.   

"This is not controversial," Harr told senators. "President Trump in November reaffirmed his support for this ban on ivory. Michael Savage — who thought I would be (citing) Michael Savage as an authority figure, but here I am — says this is a good thing to ban ivory. Laura Ingraham says it's good to ban ivory sales." 

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte called it "feel-good legislation," a local mandate that could add to prison crowding, and a headache for local law enforcement. 

"How many rhinos live in Nebraska? How many elephants live in Nebraska?" Groene said. "I'm missing that, too."

Sen. Paul Schumacher said he was beginning to like the bill more and more. 

"Because it was just pointed out to me that this bill protects RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and that there's a small herd that live in this room that really need protection," he said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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