First responders in Nebraska would be offered annual “resiliency training” to help combat and cope with post-traumatic stress disorder under a bill given initial approval by state lawmakers on Wednesday.

State Sen. Mike McDonnell, a former Omaha fire chief, said that 1 in 4 firefighters on average will visit an emergency room during their career for physical injuries on the job.

But, he said, “We don’t think about the mental injury. A lot of times we don’t see it. It’s hidden.”

McDonnell made Legislative Bill 963 his priority bill.

It was introduced by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, a decorated military veteran, who said that he received treatment for PTSD, but that was 11 years after he was shot and wounded in battle. Brewer said that PTSD has contributed to an epidemic of suicides among veterans that now numbers 22 a day.

“Our first responders numbers are starting to increase,” said Brewer, who is chair of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Lawmakers gave first-round approval to LB 963 by a 42-0 vote. They also gave initial approval for $440,000 a year in funds from the state for the resiliency training, which is voluntary. Brewer said that research shows such training reduces PTSD and helps first responders cope when confronted with traumatic rescue and fire calls.

LB 963 is also intended to make it easier for a first responder to obtain workers’ compensation insurance when they are unable to work or volunteer because of trauma. If they get a PTSD assessment when they are hired as a first responder, that provides an assumption that a later on-the-job event caused their trauma, under the bill.

Taxing skill games

Taxing the 3,000 “skill” video games that are located in 900 convenience stores and veterans clubs across the state could bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue to help lower property taxes, a legislative committee was told Wednesday.

But manufacturers and distributors of such machines urged the Revenue Committee to wait until next year to decide whether to tax such devices. By then, state regulations will have gone into effect and the outcome of an initiative petition drive to legalize casino gambling will be known.

“It’s premature to look at this now,” said Walt Radcliffe, a lobbyist for American Amusements of Bellevue. “The face of all gambling in Nebraska could change dramatically in the next 12 months.”

Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said that the idea of taxing the skill games arose last year, when he and other senators were looking for new tax revenue to shift taxes off property taxes.

Briese said it was difficult to estimate how much revenue would result from a 10% tax on profits from the machines. But former Sen. Loran Schmit said it could be upward of tens of millions of dollars.

Already, the machines have generated about $675,000 in new registration and licensing fees, according to Briese. He said he may reintroduce the idea next year since none of the skill game representatives voiced opposition. Such a tax is already imposed in the state of Arkansas, he said.

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