Nebraska State Patrol crime lab

A small portion of the firearm library at the Nebraska State Patrol crime lab.

GWYNETH ROBERTS/Lincoln Journal Star

The Legislature killed a bill Tuesday that would have allowed counties to raise the fee paid by people applying for handgun permits. 

It also approved a bill (LB100) that would require mental health boards to use clear and convincing proof when removing disqualifications once it had determined a petitioner was mentally fit to possess a firearm or obtain a firearm permit.

A bill (LB81) brought by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue would have raised the fee for handgun permits from $5 to $25. The fee has remained at $5 since it was first introduced in 1991, but the number of annual permit applications has quadrupled in the past decade.

The change in the fee amount was an attempt to alleviate the increased labor costs the counties are facing, Blood said.

During debate, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard offered an amendment that would have required the state to pay all handgun permit fees. That amendment failed on a 16-26 vote. Twenty-votes were needed. 

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne also offered an amendment to have the permit be raised, but be good for five years. Now a permit holder must reapply in three years. That amendment passed on a 36-10 vote. 

In the end, a motion to kill the bill was put forth by Sen. Tyson Larson of O'Neill and passed on a 27-17 vote. 

Blood said she was trying to help counties that have seen a rise in expenses with increases in permit applicants. 

"We cannot insist that they continue to do work that they are not fairly compensated for," she said of the counties. 

In Lancaster County, Capt. Josh Clark of the sheriff's office said the number of applications took a big leap in the early 2000s and the sheriff's office had to hire an extra civilian employee to keep up. He has a staff of 10 civilian employees now who handle 10 to 20 applications a day, at the counter, doing background checks, printing, scanning and mailing the permits or notifying applicants if they are denied. 

In the past five years the number of applications in Lancaster County were 4,600 in 2013; 2,800 in 2014; 4,000 in 2015; 4,700 in 2016 and 3,400 in 2017.

Some senators would have the state do away with permits altogether.

Blood said law enforcement officials tell her the permits have helped them in doing their jobs and solving crimes. 

"This is another tool to use to keep the public safe," Blood said. 

Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers said that while unfunded mandates forced on counties were serious issues, he didn't support having a fee of any kind on the ability of Nebraskans to exercise their constitutional rights to have a gun. 

"And I certainly cannot support an increase of that particular fee," he said. 

Sen. John Stinner's bill to require mental health boards to use clear and convincing proof when removing disqualifications from a person's right to possess a firearm advanced on a 37-0 vote. 

During last year's hearing on the bill, Tom Perkins of the 12th Judicial District Board of Mental Health said it could be a challenging and sobering experience for boards of mental health members to decide on restoring gun rights, and a grave responsibility.

The standard of proof needs to be as clear as that used to determine whether or not a person is both dangerous and mentally ill, 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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