Tax exemption on zoo and aquarium fees advanced

Membership and admission fees for zoos and aquariums would be tax exempt under a bill advanced from general file April 7.

LB419, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, originally would have exempted the purchases of nationally accredited zoos and aquariums from state sales and use taxes.

Mello introduced an amendment, adopted 41-4, which narrowed the purchases eligible for the exemption to include only the sale of zoo memberships and daily admission fees. It also would more strictly define a qualifying zoo or aquarium as one that is operated by a public agency or nonprofit corporation primarily for educational, scientific or tourism purposes.

Mello said that attractions like Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo and the Riverside Discovery Center in Scottsbluff are major economic drivers in the state.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity in our state to make Nebraska known throughout the world as a premier destination,” he said. [LB419] signals that the state is continuing to make strategic investments in tourism related economic development.”

Ralston Sen. Merv Riepe supported the bill, saying that allowing the zoos and aquariums to reinvest the exempted tax revenue is necessary for their continued success.

“Omaha has long depended upon the philanthropic generosity of many civic leaders,” he said. “Many of those leaders are aging and there’s no promise that their families will keep up that generosity.”

Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen opposed exempting membership and admission fees to zoos and aquariums.

“I fully support exempting [zoos and aquariums] from having to pay sales tax on input costs, but when it comes to exempting membership and entrance fees, that’s where I have a problem,” Friesen said. “I don’t think paying sales tax is a deterrent to people going to the zoo.”

Senators advanced the bill to select file on a 33-5 vote.

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