- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians could get a tax break under a bill slated for debate in the Nebraska Legislature.

Members of the Revenue Committee advanced the measure Wednesday on an 8-0 vote.

The bill by Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis would allow active volunteer emergency responders to claim a $250 credit on their state income taxes. Davis has chosen the bill as his legislative priority for the year, increasing the odds that lawmakers will vote on it before the session ends.

Davis said the bill is intended to recognize responders who frequently have to sacrifice work, family and vacation time to be on call. Because they work for little or no pay, Davis said the responders provide a tax savings in their communities.

“It’s an ‘attaboy’ to those people who do all the good work,” said Davis, a rancher and former volunteer firefighter.

The bill would go into effect in January 2017 and cost the state an estimated $2.2 million annually.

Rural Nebraska relies heavily on a patchwork of volunteer services. Many departments have struggled to recruit younger volunteers to serve as firefighters and emergency medical technicians. At the same time, the state has increased its training and record-keeping requirements for emergency medical services.

Senators convened a hearing in October to gather input on how to address the problem but have not taken action this year.

Some of the solutions proposed included regionalization of services and providing more rural representation on the state’s emergency medical services board. Using a combination of paid and volunteer emergency personnel was also mentioned as an option, as some local governments have done.

Some senators have questioned whether increased training requirements and costs are a barrier, although doctors say the state shouldn’t lower its standards.

Lawmakers considered a $500 tax credit for volunteer firefighters in 2013, but the bill died in committee.

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The bill is LB886.

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